11 May 2013

Riding the Yr Elenydd 300 km audax

As extracted from the organiser's website "Yr Elenydd is the original Welsh name for the high plateau between Abergwesyn, Tregaron and Rhayader. The largest and most remote area of the Cambrian mountains. It is an ancient name, being first recorded in the 12th century by Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) in his Journey through Wales. To the north lies the slumbering sodden mass of Pumlumon, to the south the militarised wasteland of Eppynt. The east of this little-known mountain range dips into the splendour of the Wye valley and the English speaking Borders, while the west dissolves into the Welsh speaking heartland of Ceredigion"

A favourite ride in UK audax circles, Yr Elenydd is an event I have been looking forward to riding since I first heard about it last year. Too much hesitation, and, at the time, only one 300 km event under my belt, meant I left it until it was too late to register. It sold out. This year I made sure I registered in January. Great organisation, good quiet lanes and some hills are the main features of this ride.Also a good one to do on a budget, as basic accommodation is offered at the start and finish, all included a mere tenner.

The weather is finally warming up over here, and so I had a bit of a difficult time choosing my layers. I knew it could get cold up on the Welsh mountains, but the forecasts predicted temperatures over 12 degrees by midday. Rain was expected from noon onwards, coming from the Southwest, accompanied of southeastern winds towards the night section. A pair of thick merino shocks, merino jersey with an extra thin layer underneath, plus a high-vis vest were the chosen layers. That, and winter (supposedly waterproof) gloves.

Shortly after 10 pm I rode the 10 km from the train station to the start of the ride, in Upton Magna (near Shrewsbury). It was a nice, warm ride. A the car park I met with a Hugh, who I would end up riding most of the event with, and whose plan was to sleep in the car. Inside the hall I found about 20 riders already sleeping - I appeared to be the latest arrival. Only one snorer - that was great news!

The organiser started setting up breakfast at 5 am, so really did not get much more than 5 hours sleep, but that seemed enough. Beans on toast, butter, jam and coffee did the job for me. At 6:01 am we set off into the empty lanes heading south towards Shabdon airfield. 95 people or so started the ride.

Still yawning, 5:55 am
It felt good to be a part of large field, and the first stage really felt easy. It was quite sunny and warm, and with the empty lanes, we hit the first control in the front of the peloton. Only a couple of lumps so far, and the help of the group into a slight cross wind, meant I averaged over 25 km/h on this section. I rode with different people, but mostly with Hugh, the guy I met in the car park the night before, who was on a rather old steel bike with 39-25 gearing - not the easiest choice for the hills that were to come!

Shabdon airfield was still very quiet when we got there. Being an aviation enthusiast myself, and could not resist the temptation to go around and look at the different small aircraft that were scattered around. It was a shame not see any of them flying, but it certainly was cool to be controlling at an airfield café with plenty of aviation pictures!

Shobdon airfield control, the last bit of sun that we would see
A porridge with bananas and nutmeg was my choice for food, even though I felt like bouncing the control, it seemed wise to get some food in. I saw some interesting bikes here, including a guy on a 6-speed Brompton, a tandem, and one with a Rohloff and flat bars. Lots of titanium around also.

Nice Cessnas 152
Hugh and I set off on our own and again made good progress to Builth Wales. Not many hills to speak of, but the sky turned into a more familiar overcast with rain threatening in the background. We caught up with many riders, and eventually pulled into the control (the Co-Op at the garage). Some bread, rice pudding and brownie did the trick for me before we headed into the infamous mountain road to Tregaron just after Beulah.

Empy roads
Thick forested areas were the common sight on this road, but it would have been much nicer without the promised rain from the Southwest. I guess being in mid-Wales implies rain most of the time, but luckily it was still rather warm, so I cannot really complain. A bad decision on my side was to keep my waterproof jacket in my saddlebag on this section thinking that I would be too sweaty and hot on the hills. The road was as nice as promised, barely any traffic, and good scenery despite the rain. In a way, it made it more Welsh.

This should be a road, not a track

Bits of snow left, in April
The Devil's staircase, a consecutive three steep hills that took us up to nearly 500 m of elevation, was next on the menu. But just before the hill we had a check point, which also provided calories in the form of home-made cakes. Although I really wasn't wanting to stop just before a big hill, I could not resist and had some sustenance while seeing other rides go up the 25% incline in the background.

Beulah to Tregaron mountain road

More of the same mountain road (looking forward to riding it in dry weather!)
I set off on my new 30 chainring (from a newly fitted triple chainset!) and grinded up the hill. There was no problem with traction, and even though it was steep, I did not have much trouble going up it. Sure enough, I wasn't much faster than the people that were walking it, but I try and keep to my tradition of no walking hills unless on a mountain-bike outing. I finished the hilly bits feeling strong, and then it was time to grab on to the brakes for a tricky descent.

Fantastic control - plenty of cake before the 25% Devil's staircase climb
Wet and gravelly roads are not a good sigh for a road cyclist. Even worse if it is steep downhill. Wet rims don't provide very much braking power, so even though I was applying the brakes for much of the downhill, I wished I had good v-brake or disc-brakes instead. We took it easy and slowed down on the many sections that could involve a bad fall. The final few ramps into Tregaron were pretty straight and clear of debris, so we freewheeled into the town for another feed.

On to the 25% first hill (this would be the last picture I took, due to constant rain from here on)
The Bowls Club provided very limited choice of food, a bit overpriced in my opinion, but otherwise quick and comfortable. A jacket potato with beans was my choice. A rider came in having just fallen on the descent, and that was the end of his day, having to return on his own to Shrewsbury. We would take it even easier from here on--having just a bad fall can ruin your day. I did not take any more photos after Tregaron due to the very wet weather we encountered.

From Tregaron we followed the B4343 headed North. It was a nice rolling road, mostly flat, which gave our legs a bit of a rest for the potentially windy next mountain section. We were more than half way into the ride now, with only a few more meters to climb, with a headwind and lots of rain though.

I was still not wearing my waterproof, but even though I was totally soaked, I felt rather warm. On the next hilly sections I told Hugh to go ahead without me as my stomach started to send warning signs. I then felt weak and started to be passed by many others. I put my small ring on and just got on with it. Lots of rain and a stiff headwind were my only companions until the next control, and this certainly wasn't the most pleasant section of the ride. My only goal was to keep pedalling, drinking (food just did not appeal at this stage!) and aware of the debris and holes on the road. I had to remind myself on a number of occasions that these bad patches are normal and that it would get better, at some point.

At the top of the hill all I could see was fog, rain, and a strong headwind hitting on my face. Because the climbing was mostly out of the way, I started to cool down. On the descent I felt a bit cold, but I was so desperate to get to a toilet that I just kept going. The control could not be too far and it was all downhill from memory.

Indeed, Rhayader was a welcome sight and the proposed control a relief. I ordered my food quickly and went into the toilet. The food was nice here and I could've continued on with the Hugh and the other riders that I had been with on the earlier stages, but because of my stomach being so upset, I had to spent way too much time trying to recover. I was also shivering from the descent, being totally soaked to the skin, so drying out my kit did not seem like a bad idea either.

A total of three consecutive visits to the toilet did not provide much relief, but I just had to get going. I ate as much food as I could (all bland stuff!) and got my waterproofs on. Then I noticed that my headset had developed some play, perhaps due to the bumpy roads and braking. After a quick fix I kept going, trying to follow other riders ahead of me, which was all but impossible.

This not being the first time I have similar problems, I know they eventually go away, but I just had to keep eating and drinking as much as I could. I tried to think about what causes this upset stomach, and ended up narrowing it down to the beans I sometimes eat while audaxing. I usually doesn’t happen when I tour, do permanent rides (where I never get the beans, it seems), cycle abroad or do any other kind of exercise.

The fifth leg of the ride was about 57 km, which at the time seemed rather long. Even though I had a good feed at the previous control, I felt like I was running on a very empty fuel tank. I needed the small ring on sections that I would normally get up on the middle ring. Luckily, there were not many hills to speak of, and I just carried on trying not to focus on the remaining km. Sunset was also approaching, and so my aim was to just get to the control before it got completely dark. Another visit to the toilets was also necessary on this stage, but that seemed to be the last one. My stomach felt normal once again after that.

At around 9 pm I finally got to the designated control. The tea rooms at Little Brampton was probably one of the best controls in my short audax career. They sorted out my brevet, and asked whether I wanted beef or veggie stew, and a choice of dessert. Before I even sat down I had the food served on the table. It was really tasty as well, with unlimited bread and a free drink. The dessert was equally good – apple crumble with custard. I had a relaxed meal, chatted with another guy who also did the Outer Hebrides tour a few years back, and set off for the remaining stage on my own at 9:45 pm

It was now completely dark but still warm. The roads were totally empty and in good condition except for the hundreds of frogs (tods) that seemed to be everywhere. Every black dot appeared to be a frog – I have never seen so many, and did my best not to run over any of them. That kept up my concentration, surely.

I caught up with some fellow riders, good indicator that I was feeling better and the strength had returned to my legs. Their rear lights were too bright though, to a point that it was rather uncomfortable, and even though I enjoy riding with people, I decided to let them go and ride solo for the remainder of the ride. I love night riding, especially when all I saw was two or three cars coming opposite direction until I reached Shrewsbury.

The road climbed ever so slightly to almost 400 m. It was the Long Mynd area, but in the dark, I barely noticed it. The organiser promised a pretty much all the way downhill stretch to the arrivée, which was great news. I could see the km go down so quickly, and in a way, I was sad I was about to finish this ride. The night section had been one of my favourites, and I was feeling totally recovered again. I took it easy till the end though, as there was no real rush to get back, having a bed booked at the hall to spend the night. I was still well ahead the closing time (2 am, it was now 11:30 pm) so just tried and enjoy the solitude of the Shropshire lanes.

At 11:42 pm I made it back to Upton Magna, where the great volunteers were serving a pasta bake and sponge with custard. Much needed food which I was so thankful for. I wish I had brought a celebratory beer with me, but that’s something I will put on the list next time.

I chatted with other riders and all agreed this had been a good ride, a bit wet, but warm. Apart from my stomach problems, I did not find it as challenging as I had anticipated, but this was probably helped by my recent 30 teeth chain ring. I need to find out what causes the problems, so will try and avoid beans for now on and see what happens. Other than that, it had been a great day out, in good company, and on some great quiet lanes and roads.

Many thanks go to John Hamilton and his team of helpers for putting up with all of us, make our camp beds two nights in a row and providing all the feeds at the HQ. I now understand why Yr Elenydd is so popular. Also, I left with a good feeling that I can tackle long distance rides with more lumps than the ones we are used to in the Southeast. It should also provide good training for the highlight of my season: the Bryan Chapman Memorial 600 km.


  1. I'm riding this next week! Although I've ridden numerous +100 mile events, this has me terrified! Thanks for allaying some of my fears and making me look forward to it (.... a bit)

  2. Hi Rich. It is indeed one of my favourite UK routes. Nothing to be worried about. Just pack some good waterproofs and make sure the brakes are in good working order! Enjoy it