So I had a plan, I packed a few packets of trail mix for the drop bags for between controls treats and rode down to London on the Saturday, luckily before the heavy rain started.
Arriving at the Start location in Loughton mid afternoon signing in was super quick and easy and the two colour coded drop bags were filled and deposited. Everything was being controlled by barcode scanners and was very well organised. Food was available and I chatted with a few guys from India who needed some guidance on dealing with roundabouts and the cold.
Checking out the varied collection of machines used to do this event, and marvelled at the velocar’s there, probably the only riders who will actually enjoy the fens. The rider of this is on twitter
Waking at 3.30am to get some breakfast the rain was pelting down, this was all going wrong, but luckily for the 30 min ride through Epping forest to the start it had stopped. The joy of fitting mudguards as I hit the considerable lying water. A bacon roll and coffee and the 70 strong 5am start group rolled out. Keeping together for a short time, the superb route quickly hits open countryside and the speed merchants were off.
After maybe half an hour at tempo I rolled off and soon found a solo rhythm made easier with the side to tail wind in places. A stop for a train and I was joined by a rider of similar pace; as I was soon to learn a lot of riders like to ride with others. Makes sense on these long social rides but I often feel pressurised to climb faster than normal as I like to chill on the hills. As I was chasing a target though I went with the flow when I could. Around this point we caught up to Eric from France. It was evident that there was a bit of a puncture fest going on as we passed stricken riders, the strong rain had washed plenty of new sharp flints onto the road.
Hitting StIves and familiar roads at 8:57 I was already up on schedule and had the first experience of the quiet controls. being first on the road the helpers who tended to outnumber the riders were almost using us as training, keen to help with anything. I had a bacon roll and a sit down chat with Eric in Franglais, it was suprising not to see a breakfast on offer and I was in fear of what the food was going to be like at this point.
Setting off again (11 min break) I was quickly joined by Eric, It was obvious he was keen to pair up in effort as the flat Fenland roads to Ramsey and Spalding made it harder in the wind. he seemed very strong and I wasn’t comfy but had a go, then strangely he faded just before Spalding. At this point we were passed by the first duo of 6am starters, fair play they were motoring.
Spalding at 11:18 over an hour up on schedule and time for real food. A proper big spread as most of these meals were from now on. Big school kitchens with a range of hot meals, time for a jacket and beans.
Once again super quiet and great helpers, some already helping out a fellow Tripster rider with a loose front SP hub, I warned them to be careful and not to disassemble it. (11 mins here, seemed longer tracker doesn’t lie)
A Fixed Pompino rider I recognised as Tim Pickersgill from the YCC challenge was leaving as I arrived. The meal must have spurred me on as approaching Louth later I caught him up. Introductions made we rode together, well sort of, two radically different styles: He stomping away up the climbs, with me trying to get back on the descents, not easy, boy those legs can move at some RPM. Louth arrival at 14:50 now 1hr40 up on schedule and a whopping 7 Hrs in hand on the minimum completion time.
With a big 60 mile stretch and the tough Lincs Wolds coming it was yet another full meal, curry and some rice pudding. Is it possible to keep this up, 4 square meals a day. Eric joined us after a while. On leaving Tim wanted to ride together but it was starting to rain so I made a hasty retreat. I wasn’t averse to riding together but thought surely he must be tiring because I caught him up. Well that was soon dispelled as he caught me on the long climb out of Louth and we did the whole next section pleasantly together. Eric joined us after a while and our trio worked well up and over the Humber bridge and through to Pocklington for dusk.
Up until now we had been so lucky, arriving at very wet stretches of tarmac or seeing black storm clouds pass us by, progress was very good without interruptions.
Pocklington at 19:30; over 200 miles done was a great feeling, and I could sense Tim and Eric were in no rush. I was keen to get onto Thirsk for the maximum rest time there so after a quick snack and some well needed donuts I was off solo. The next section was tough for the end of a 200 plus mile day. Round York through the Howardian hills, passing a huge statue/crypt at the top of one steep climb, that to my warped mind looked like a sacrificial alter where Yorkshireman will sacrifice weak cyclists. It cruelly dipped up and down in steep ramps, through picturesque grounds and narrow gates in walls. narrow grit strewn lanes soon had the puncture gods claiming me as a victim. Tubeless liquid spurting out of a big front cut in the dark, a quick anchovy insert and we were away again without to much distress.
Thirsk at 11pm well up on schedule and over 10 hrs up on minimum time. A great feeling and some good food, collect the drop bag and have a shower. They provided towels which made this easy, no need for my small travel towel then. The control was packed as you can see from below, and I booked in for sleep 40 mins later. yes they even scanned you into sleep. The air beds and blankets were in a darkened sports hall away from noise, and you were woken up at your selected time, perfect.
Slept like log until awoken by the cold, definitely a two blanket night. After a snack of toast and a chat with Robin who remembered me from the Highlands Audax last July. The tracker tells me I left Thirsk at 3:47 to start day 2.
Barnard castle is a very impressive building and as hoped in my plan it was the place to get a top cooked breakfast. Perfect after a warm up to get some hot fuel and coffee down. 07:08 arrival and I had been tardy at Thirsk as now only 30 mins up on my 80 Hr schedule. Another rider meeting with Ian from Cambridge after we had met on one of the Sussex events. 40 mins here so getting less efficient but with Yad Moss climb to 2000ft ahead it was needed.
Setting off Ian soon powered past me on the steeper starting section as light rain fell, but the TransAm must have done some good as I easily reeled him back in on the long drag to the summit, chatting and taking pictures eased the pain and soon it was descending fun and that’s the last I saw of him. (Ian finished in 90 hrs)
Found Fixed Tim again at Brampton eating, our last point of contact it turned out. Arriving at 11:40 (5 mins up on schedule) had another big meal and met up again with Robin and his German speedy pal, and left 24 mins later. At most of the controls they had standpipes set up outside which made it easier to top up, something must have went wrong at Brampton. On the way to Moffat on roads I did last year, first swig of the water and it tasted foul, like drinking a chemical cocktail. A fast pair overtook me but then I soon saw then pull over to a shop shouting bad water as they poured theirs away, so not just me then. They caught me later with a far Eastern guy on the train, until his waterproof blew off and wrapped round my face briefly to delay him.
The introduction to super rough roads of Scotland started here, wrists started to ache. This had been noted by the organisers and they offered an alternative route, with more climbing. Meeting up with Robin he said his legs were burning and that it was a brutal option, the fact I got there first sort of proved that as they were very fast riders.
The school at Moffat (arrival 15:15 bang on schedule) was a fabulous modern building and once again lovely food meant a 30 min stop. For the first time a selection of cakes made me realise how much I was missing sugar. the usual long rides are fuelled on cakes and chocolate snacks but for LEL it was all real meals and I think I was getting low on blood sugar.
Out of Moffat its a long steady incline climb onto open hillside, the fast pair, the German and the waterproof dropper all passed in peleton and pulled away, adios as I span along. it was sort of downhill all the way to Edinburgh now. Unfortunately plenty of it was on the roughest surfaced road I’ve ridden on for ages, it was hell and had the potential to shake all your fillings loose. The final approach to Edinburgh is pleasant, dropping on to an old railway line cycle path, you arrive at the control barely seeing an urban areas. Strange to think you have ridden to the capital of Scotland but barely see any off it, especially for all the overseas visitors.
The turn point arrival at 19:06 was 14 mins ahead of my 80 hour schedule. I was elated 11 hrs 30 to spare and still early evening. It was a ghost town though, groups of volunteurs hanging around chatting or eating and I was the only rider eating at one point. my drop bag here was wasted really, I didn’t need the snacks in it just yet, but had to load them up to carry anyway. To be honest this was the only stop where the food disappointed, just a poor selection for hungry riders about to head out into a cold night. I had an omelette for the protein. Leaving Edinburgh with a clearing sky and calm wind spirits were high. I had done this whole section last year on riding down from Scotland and new it would be hard in bad weather.
The section to Innerleithen passes round the back of the Glentress mountainbike park. A couple of peaks and great quiet open glens to pass through, a lovely route as the sun dropped. But so did the temperature and on the fast descents it was a taster of what a long nights ride it would be for some of the riders. it’s a short hop to Inners, I guess a safety check for riders in an isolated section, I bounced this grabbing a stamp only at 22:15 still spot on schedule.
Not waterproofs, but the supplied over booties to walk around the controls in, shoes off please.
It got dark, vey dark no lights on up here and the rain fell. Very happy to reach Eskdalemuir at 1:17. now an hour behind schedule. The original plan was to head on to Brampton to sleep, but I realized that meant I would meet a mass of riders on the way North and that would be carnage. Here again the small control was so quiet, 10 helpers and me. Joy of joys they had cake and custard to follow some food. No showers but a quick strip wash and slept until 5am and had some cereal before getting away at a tardy 5:50 am.
Pretty soon the heavens opened especially on the A7 so no photos as everthing on lockdown. Waterproof on first time, and rivers of water pouring across the roads. At least if wasn’t cold and the roads were quiet until Longtown. The North-South routes meet again and I expected to see riders but was amazed to meet the bulge coming other way. riders every minute at least, solo, in groups, full waterproofs, some looking frozen. many cheery waves and some shouts of well done to me, I felt sorry for what they had to face ahead of them, the heroes of this ride
As appreciated Brampton was heaving so bounced that with just a stamp at 8:42 still 8hrs30 time in hand. Scene of the bad water yesterday I had a bottle left so didn’t risk it again, big mistake. later I tried the optional control at Alston but it was night time only. Up Yad Moss again, which was not as hard as I imagined and should have stopped for coffee being offered by a friendly camper van spectator, damn me for being competitive. Riders on the road now became sparse, I wondered if I could work out who was last on the road, turns out anyone here was well out of time already.
Dropping to Barnard Castle, the roads were bone dry, off the Pennines and all was calm again. Back to quiet controls, checked in at 12:50 now 10 hrs in hand again so climbing ok then. After 7 hrs of snacks I wolfed down a huge meal of chicken and pasta and custard with pudding, plenty of drinks too, sadly it would appear to late. An amazing location to eat in, walls panelled in wood carved with the names of sporting champions of old.
Off on the thankfully dry roads now I felt stuffed, not unusual the amount I eat, but this feeling didn’t ride off. My stomach felt like it was lead filled, doubling up in pain, drinking lots to try and help the digestion, this was slow going. Finally I threw up, it was a relief at first but a worry that all the liquid came up too. I felt more comfortable on the bike and speed came back again. Into Thirsk still only 5pm and now 10hrs46 in hand.
Here it all fell apart, as soon as I smelled food I felt sick again, the wonderful helpers mixed up some salty cordial to help with rehydration but it would not stay down. I booked a bed for 3 hrs to see if that would help and had a shower. On getting up I tried a jacket spud and beans, and settled down for a nice chat to Chris Phillips a fellow unsupported racer. Unfortunately he had to watch me struggle to get outside in time to throw up yet again. Game over there was no way I was going to suffer through this just for a finishers medal, I had blown it despite all the time in hand, decision made to catch the train home I declared myself a DNF
On reflection it looks like I just failed to realise just how much wearing waterproofs in mild yet pouring rain caused me to dehydrate. I rarely wear waterproofs, you get just as wet in them from sweat, but that was special rain. On eating a big meal the body then needs liquid to digest it, I tipped over the edge and there is no quick recovery from that point on.
A great event and a great experience, a lesson learned; it’s fun to be fast but add 17 hrs extra and choose the earliest start for that time limit would provided much more option to have a good social ride. Not a fan of the need to pre-register on Saturday then hang around, but appreciate that’s needed for the organisers.
At the time of writing I am one of 300 DNF’s and 300 more riders out of time. Fellow Gorilla is still battling the fen winds overnight Thursday having arrived at the Spalding control with 1 min in hand. (he has since DNF’d at StIves running out of time when sleep was required)
The web site for tracking information provided by LEL was superb, with a riders number you could check how they were doing and exactly the last point they checked in and out of. Great for checking up on friends old and new while riding, and afterwards to see if they completed successfully.