11 July 2012

Ride report: Hereward the Wake 300 (via Ireland!)

Friday July 6th and I found myself on a commuter train full of suits out of central London heading for Bishop's Stortford. What a complicated name for a town, even worse to pronounce if you are Spanish! I was about to embark on yet another loooong (overnight) ride. On this occasion also, with a night time start. The distance to cover, something in excess of 300 km.

The 15 km or so from the station to the start in Great Dunmow were not the most pleasant, with plenty of traffic due to the proximity of the area to Stansted Airport. But the roads were pretty well surfaced and I arrived with plenty of time to spare. At the car park the usual sight of people assembling their bikes, chatting, getting the brevet cards etc, and a very pleasant sunset with warm temperatures to allow shorts and short-sleeves.

Sunset in Essex before the off. 8:45 pm
At 9:01 pm, with British punctuality, the town crier (dressed in the most appropriate clothes) gave a speech and let us go. It certainly was the most special off for an Audax I have been to.

19 of us and the town crier
The first 50 something km to Cambridge were ridden in almost no time. Despite trying not to push very hard (I thought - I still have 300 km ahead of me!) I found myself at the front with a guy sporting a PBP vest (the Paris-Brest-Paris official), a woman with a time trial bike and bigger calves than mine, and Nick with proper audax gear (i.e. steel frame, bar bag and all that). The four of us made very good progress and managed to average nearly 29 km/h. The time trial woman was doing this as her very first audax, and funnily enough, was fluent in Spanish. So there I found myself having an interesting chat in Spanish, on a warm Friday night. This is lots of fun! Getting into Cambridge, being a Friday night, was sort of amusing, but could not stick around for long. Got our ATM receipt and carried on.

The next section was also very flat and I could feel a bit of tailwind pushing us up North towards Peterborough. At some point, time trial woman and PBP guy shot off and so I rode with Nick until the next control. Together we made good progress at a more relaxed pace, yet managed to keep the average pretty high for my standards, completing more than 100 km in less than 3h 30 min. Quite impressed at myself, although I think the wind helped a lot!

At the Peterborough control we saw PBP guy and time trial woman again, but they left minutes after our arrival, and we would not see them again. Ate a chocolate bar and drunk an orange juice to obtain the precious receipt. The roads were completely empty at this point, and I decided to (finally, being almost 1 am) put knee and arm warmers on. Still, quite amazed at the British summer, so far so good. 

Heading out of Peterborough, we took the lanes again. Mist had settled down in the area and made the whole thing very atmospheric as Nick described. The terrain became more rolling, and we could now feel not only the little hills, but also the headwind. The average dropped a bit, but we were still in good spirits. It was good to have Nick as a companion, as so far I had never ridden on my own at night. Also, it meant some conversation in the darker hours, when you feel more sleepy. Luckily, despite the lack of caffeine intake thus far, I was quite awake. However, the stomach was starting to make funny noises and I could feel problems coming. At some point they became so bad that I had to tell Nick to carry on. I stopped a few times to recover, feeling weaker and weaker every time. Eventually, I sort of felt a bit better and pressed on on my own. This was at 140 km into the ride.

For the next 60 km I would ride solo, through the night. There has to be a first time for everything, so here I was in the countryside enjoying the misty, wet roads of Bedfordshire. But I was having a great time to my surprise, and really enjoyed my solo time. Got to see the sunrise and felt obliged to take some pictures

The sun is about to rise. 4:00 am, somewhere in Bedfordshire
I kept on riding, and stopping every time stomach problems came back, until the third control at Newport Pagnell. I was very much looking forward to getting some hot food and drink here, but realised they only opened the services proper at 6:00 am, and it was 5:00 am. Luckily I had been carrying my own pasta salad (being inspired by Javier's reports on diariodeunbiciorejon) just in case I could not find palatable/convenient food. Also, because I am not new to an upset stomach on long rides, and I thought home-made stuff was a safer bet should problems arise). Made yet another visit to the toilets, and ate half of the pasta.

While waiting, another rider arrived. It was Bruce, who I had seen sleeping some km earlier in true audax style, in a bus shelter. He had been feeling very sleepy and decided to go for a 20 min nap. After some chatting I felt a lot better and said good bye to him.

The roads were still super quiet, and I was again on my own. Felt quite energetic, so tried to press on a bit. I had noticed that the routesheet was not fully accurate with respect to the km markings and meant the ride will be 15 over the proposed km. Not a big deal I thought, but I was probably not going to make it under 15 h (my quickest 300, the Dean) anyway, so slowed down a bit and stopped every now and then for pictures, food and water.

Empty roads. Silly o'clock.
Nice isn't it?
I was not sleep deprived, but started to see signs indicating Ireland 3/4 of a mille to go. I knew I was travelling West and long distances, but not as far as Ireland! Yep, there's an Ireland, England. 

I don't appear too convinced
Not far from Ireland I stopped for some more food. Stomach problems had gone for now, so I decided to get a coffee and a baguette at the Biggleswade control. Sat down on the sun and relaxed for a bit. By then Bruce had also arrived, and we chatted for a while. Not sure if because I had been riding for very long or what, but he did not seem to understand much of what I was saying, and I was finding it quite frustrating! I think my accent deteriorates significantly when riding and especially when tired. But could not do much else other than repeating...

More riders arrived, and I had to visit the toiled one more time. It would be the last, luckily. Bruce set off, and I followed him shortly afterwards. The roads were still quiet. Started to see quite a lot of club riders, and even another guy riding a Canyon. He had a top end bike, but despite his efforts to stick to my wheel, he could not catch up. I was trying to keep an steady pace, but felt that it would be nice to talk bikes with him. After I slowed down and chatted a bit, I found out he was on his way to a club ride, to which I was kindly invited. I had to decline though. Told him that I had been riding since 9 pm and for some 280 km, to which he replied: in two days right? - No, since yesterday. Non-stop. Oh, so you may want to take it easy then - he said. He was quite right!

I then caught up with Bruce. He was a very experienced audaxer, having just ridden the Mille Alba up in Scotland, a 1000 km ride in the most precarious of the Scottish weathers. Together we made good progress to the last control in Reed, at a "biker's" cafe. But bikes of the motorised type. Grabbed a quick drink and set off again, for the last 50 km. It was good having Bruce as a companion, it made the last section seem a lot easier. Also, got good advice regarding rides and cycling clubs in London, as well as some funny memories of his audax outings. 

The weather had been fantastic so far, but of course, we had to get some rain, this being the rainiest July in recent years. I had just got a text from Lucy saying that rain was super heavy in London, so I guess we would get it sometime soon. I was right, and it hit us with no time for putting the water proofs on. The roads became so slippery that when I tried to stop to put the rain gear on, I slipped off. Not harm or injury, but it was such a stupid fall.

With non-stop heavy downpours we managed to get back to Great Dunmow by 12:30 pm. Tom and his son, who had organised the ride, greeted us with a bacon/sausage/egg/onion rolls, which I ate in milliseconds. After some more chatting I was ready to head back to the Smoke.

Back at HQ
All in all a very good ride despite my stomach problems. Home by 3 pm having ridden for more than 360 km since leaving work on Friday...not too bad is it? My fastest ever 100, and 200 km distances, and a good rolling average for such a long ride. A 9 pm start means very little traffic, sunrise and sunset all in one go. Very nice scenery in the morning hours. And very good company. Definitely on my list for 2013, perhaps as training for London-Edinburgh-London (or Madrid-Gijón-Madrid, or even both?). Who knows. Being caught by the bug, as the veterans call it.

The stats for the day:


  1. Nice report; I was suffering with your stomach problems. Glad to see you managed to overcame them.

    Also, a 300k brevet riding through the night in July? Note taken for next year's preparation for LEL. And, of course, I will carry my own pasta salad ;-)


  2. Yep, it was a brilliant ride in (nearly) perfect weather. We also did a similar one in April, with a midnight start, plenty of rain and cold overnight. It certainly is good preparation for long(er) rides according to the other experienced people we've met along the way. Tom is running it again next year as prep for LEL.

    LEL is too on my plans, although it's a shame it clashes with Madrid-Gijón-Madrid too.