03 May 2012

Ride report: Green & Yellow Fields 300 km audax

For the first time that I can recall, I did not wake up to an early morning alarm to catch a train to the start of a ride. Instead, I had handed in my PhD thesis that same morning, and worked pretty much all day. It seemed like I was going to be productive. We had also signed up for an unusual ride starting at midnight, from a random town called Manningtree in the Essex county. It was going to be Lucy's first attempt at riding a 300 km, and only my second one following the Dean 300 in March.

Left work on time to have a siesta, having not had enough sleep during the week. Riding all night meant I had to catch up on sleep or else it will turn into a unpleasant experience. From our previous rides with the Fnrttc folk, we already knew how tired we feel after a long night of riding. Similar to when you go out all night, you can easily fall asleep anywhere and anytime, and the same applies here. Somehow managed to fit in a two hours siesta and were soon on our way to Manningtree. A few riders were going on a pre-ride curry, something very English it seems, and we decided to join them.

Once at the station, we asked a local about the location of the High Street and he dared to ask what we were doing in full lycra at 9:30 pm. After Lucy explained our intention to ride from there to the top of Norfolk, and back down, he just wished us luck. This, together with a facial expression of "you're mental/what?/get a life/why?" seems normal when we get asked about where we're going or came from. After a short ride we arrived at the restaurant and had the promised curry with another 12 riders, some of who had ridden a good number of miles from places such as London, Greenwich or Cambridge, to the start.

Bike park at the curry house
The ride itself was not meant to be particularly challenging or over difficult terrain. The overall climb was just about 1000 m, which is rather flat, given the distance. The only problem would be riding through the whole night, and into a great deal of the second day. And of course, the great English weather. All those problems will make a presence at various points during the ride.

Left the curry house and headed for the station to meet up with the rest of the riders, about 40 in total. The atmosphere was nice, and once again,  good reassurance that we are not the only crazy people in this part of the world getting ready for a ride, with forecasts of down to 3C and potentially heavy showers. While chatting to one chap about his custom made Roberts frame, we saw people leaving. It was 00:01.

23:55 at Manningtree station, ready for the off
The first leg of the ride involved 75 km to the first garage control. The weather seemed rather good, and I was still feeling optimistic to those comments over dinner "I've checked the forecast and it said dry overnight, with the occasional shower the following day". We managed to stick to one group, but were left behind shortly afterwards and ended up riding with a Scot and Paul (with whom we've completed Up the Uts earlier in March). I did not attempt to talk to the Scottish guy, as literally could not understand a word of what he was saying. After all these years in the UK it was very discouraging. Paul kept him entertained until we somehow dropped him, never to see him again on the ride.

At some point rain started and we decided to put some waterproofs on. It turned out to be a good decision, as it was very cold by then, and the last thing you want is a soaked, cold body in the middle of the countryside. Paul had stopped a bit earlier and we thought we had lost him, so ended up going round in a roundabout waiting for him in order to keep the warmth up. A police car was resting nearby, and surely wondered what the hell we were doing past 2 am in that heavy rain. Luckily they did not bother to ask. At around 4 am we made it to the garage control, which we were all looking forward to. Warmth and hot coffee were waiting for us. We later learnt that the nice man in the garage had actually opened the shop for us, as it usually only serves through the hatch. What a huge difference that hot drink made!

A typical audax photo. Garage control, 4 am.
Lucy's GPS predicted sunrise in 2.5 hours from now. We set off again for yet another 75 km to the top of Norfolk, where a hot breakfast would be waiting for us. It was on this section were I hit my first down of the ride. I cannot remember much of it now, just feeling very tired and trying to avoid looking at the GPS or anywhere other than the horizon. Luckily for us, rain had stopped and we were dry, but still very cold.

We then joined the A1065 for almost 40 km. Although a busy road during the day, it was very quiet at night and we enjoyed it very much. It is on one of these roads where I think to myself how nice it is to be doing this. The scenery was fabulous, with trees lining the road on both sides. The sun was also trying to break through the clouds. I had to stop and take a picture, while seeing Lucy and Paul get lost in the horizon. 

Light beam and the A1065 at sunrise, 5 am (ish)
The kms went past very quickly. We were in good spirits and very much looking forward for a sit down meal in the halfway control. Not much happened here, just kept the pedals moving, fought a little bit with my sleep deprivation, and tried to enjoy the ride as much as possible. The scenery was quite nice and I kept myself entertained (and hot) sprinting up to take pictures of the scenery, Lucy and Paul.

Well worth the effort!
Paul in night riding mode
We made it to the café control, near Burnham Market at 8:30 am, and seemed to be at the back of the peloton. 153 km down. Another 150 km to go. Not too bad, and weather was holding up at this point. We were well within the time limits, with more than 1.5 h to spare. The next section, however, was not very enjoyable due to traffic along the B1355. Surely this road should have been fine for the faster riders, but for us it was not. Being an area with plenty of quiet lanes it was a shame that the organiser had picked the faster route instead of the more scenic. We tried to keep a decent average to the suggested control, a Waitrose in Wymondham. It was on this part of the route where my tummy problems started, with quite a lot of pain and the visits to the toilet. Once at the Waitrose, we got another receipt as proof of passage and enjoyed 5 minutes of sun.
My Canyon in audax mode, having a break
Left the Waitrose past noon, while seeing some threatening clouds head over us. Rain started hitting on us shortly afterwards, and did not really stop for the next 2 h. Next control will be in another 60 km, or 3 h of riding. The roads seemed a lot better now, more scenic and with plenty of green and yellow fields (thus the name of the audax, duh!!!). Rain stopped and I had a chance to take a few more pictures.

Lucy 's still going strong
No idea what the green is. The yellow is rapeseed.
Although we rode pretty much on our own for the entire day legs, we met a few others on this section. In fact we were pleased to see that we were not the youngest ones on the ride, as two other audaxers appeared to be in their early twenties, which again, is good for reassurance. Once again, I started to feel pretty crap here, in need of sleep and/or caffeine. I would have gone for a short nap here, but then I thought...20 more km and you can have tea and cake to keep you going. Easier said than done though. 20 km is not that short when you're tired, hungry and with stomach aches. I stopped thinking too much about it, stuck to Paul's wheel and carried on.

Shortly before the stop, we saw a very nice sign of what audaxing is. One of the riders had a snapped chain, and was covered in grease. That, together with the rain, had made it impossible for him to re-join his chain with his power link. However, another rider had stopped, took his gloves out and fixed the chain in seconds. Made a note on the tools to carry while out audaxing: nitrile gloves. Carried on for a little while to reach the last control: a Farm Shop.

First ever visit to a (posh) farm shop
It was a shame to be in this very nice farm shop in lycra and somewhat in a hurry. I was not feeling great and wanted to get going. But it was the right call. Lucy too was feeling tired and we stopped for some cake and tea. The menu looked great, but at this point, and with only 30 km left, I just wanted to get back to the station and have a beer.

Left the control to find ourselves on a dual carriage way. Weird, we thought. It did not appear as such on the maps, but somehow it was. Our thoughts were the same again, why would the organiser put us on these unpleasant roads? Lesson learnt for the next ride though: pick your own route if it does not look great.

The last 15 km went by very quickly, again on quiet lanes. Hit a few short hills, which were good to keep us awake. Pulled into Manningree station minutes past 6 pm, and a gigantic storm rolled in literally minutes behind us.

A pub in a train station. What a great idea! It actually got featured on the guardian as one of the best 10 railway cafes in Britain! Got our last receipt upon ordering a beer and an icecream. To our surprise, we happened not to be the last ones, as two more riders turned up after being hit by rain and hail from that storm we had just missed! Got on the train and fell asleep pretty much immediately.

Job done. 300 km. What's next Lucy?
Although the legs were feeling absolutely ok, I think it was the toughest ride I've ever done. It was not the distance nor the terrain, but the night riding and the lack of sleep from previous days. Also, have to sort out food habits while out on long rides. They say food is one the most difficult thing to master in long-distance events. I am certainly not surprised!

That's it for now, until my 400 km event in June.

The stats for the day as shown on the GPS screen:

- 47.2 km/h max speed
- 14 h 55 min riding time
- 3 h stopped time
- 302 km (plus another 20 km to & from the station)
- Rolling average: 20.3 km/h
- Overall average (including stops): 16.9 km/h

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