On the weekend of the 21st July George and Jess attempted to complete a 600-km Audax UK event as a pre-qualifier for Paris-Brest-Paris 2019. Having both completed London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) in 2017, there was an air of confidence about the pair. It’d be hard work, but they’d get it done.
For anyone who might not be aware of what Audax UK is or means, it’s a cycling club that specializes in randonneuring (long distance cycling events). You can get annual membership for a nominal fee, which enables you to enter events all year round. From 100-km rides to 1400-km epics. The emphasis is on completing the distance within a time limit, but doesn’t place importance on the finishing position of riders. You can cycle alone or in a group. You can carry all your snacks or you can stop as and when you please. The only thing you absolutely MUST do, is pass through each control point to get a stamp in your brevet card or collect evidence that you were at the control (a till receipt or an answer to a question). The completed brevet card gets sent away, validated and then HURRAH it’s all done.
In the weeks running up to the event, they didn’t particularly think about doing lots of miles; just training regularly, sometimes competing in TTs or crit races. They both felt fit and ready as the day drew nearer. Equally, they were well prepared in terms of equipment. Both bikes were kitted out with Parcours wheels, Kogel Bearings ceramic jockey wheels, InfoCrank power meters and Wend waxed chains. The 600 would be a good opportunity to test everything to the extreme, with up to 40 hours of riding without much stopping time and, ideally, no bike maintenance.
The nutrition strategy was established based on their experience at LEL. Expect to be able to stop for meals (whether that be at Control points or petrol stations/pubs), but carry enough snacks for the entire duration of the ride. Fine. It’s quite weighty, but reduces the number of extra stops. They carried fruit bars, white icing, blocks of jelly and breakfast biscuits – essentially lots of simple carbs.
So, on the Friday evening, Jess and George packed their frame bags, which would fit a set of baggy shorts to sleep in (there would be a control at Oxford, 350km in, where there’d be sleeping facilities of some description), snacks, arm warmers and gilet, battery pack and cables. Lists were checked and checked again, and everything that needed charging was charged. Perfect.
At 6:08am (after some last-minute faffing) they rolled away from the start (the front of an Abbey in Battle) and straight up a hill.
They’d established a ride plan, which was ‘ride fast not hard’, aiming to spend the majority of the time in power zones 2 and 3, and using each other’s wheel to move through the course as quickly, but effortlessly as possible. The first 80km flew by and they were on the ferry at Tilbury crossing. The sun was well and truly up, as they disembarked the tiny boat that had somehow managed to transport about 16 riders and their bikes, much to Jess’s concern that they’d have to wait for the next one.
It was hot and the air was dry. In these kinds of events it’s tempting to just keep moving. Every time you stop to refill a bottle or buy a coke, the clock is still ticking and you might see another rider cruise by (not that it’s a race… ahem). But they overcame the urge to power on through and stopped frequently for refills.
It was on one of these drinks stops (technically an ice lolly stop) on the side of a road, somewhere between Braintree and Great Dunmow (around 190km in), that Jess sat quietly wondering why she couldn’t take a deep breath without bursting into a coughing fit. Hoping it was down to dehydration or the dry heat, she ate her Calypo and gulped down some water before climbing back onto her bike and following George down the road.
From here on in, things went a bit pear shaped. Resorting to shallow breathing, Jess tried to keep moving at the same speed they’d been doing all day. Only now, she wasn’t so comfortable. George was on the front, checking back time and time again to find that his team mate was always just a few too many meters adrift of his wheel. “Are you OK?!”, “Yes!” “You sure?”… “YES!”. She wasn’t. Her lungs were getting sorer all the time and she began to feel dizzy.
This section of the ride was ending at St. Albans. Although they’d chalked off 250km, there still was an awfully long way to go. They stopped outside a Kebab shop, ordered some chips and decided to call it a day. Amongst all the preparation and planning, the exercise-induced asthma that Jess had struggled with in her teens (and occasionally reared its head on harsh winter days when running), had clearly made a comeback. Unfortunately, this had never occurred to her when they were planning this event. So, her inhaler was sat at home…somewhere.
It was a disappointing end to the weekend; however, there were a few important lessons learned and the riding they did was great. Looking back at the ride files, they achieved their ‘ride fast not hard goal’ with 51% (Jess) and 55% (George) of the ride being in Zone 1 and 24% (Jess) and 23% (George) in Zone 2, meaning that without ‘Lung Gate’ and any other issues, they most definitely would have completed the 600km within the 40-hr time limit.
With the exception of a slashed tyre and a couple of punctures, the bikes performed beautifully and rolled smoothly. Something to be improved in future would definitely be the packing. Pack for the worst-case scenario (essentially, a first aid kit) and include fewer snacks. There are enough places to pick things like cereal bars and sweets up en route and it saves lugging them about. Of course, this is route-dependent. If you’re off to do an Audax in the middle of nowhere, check the route for potential refuelling points, and if there aren’t many, you’ll have to pack more snacks.
If the idea of Audaxing interests you, you can find all the information you need on their website here. The events are low key, challenging and definitely quirky!