When I last wrote on this subject it was Spring, I was full of excitement, and really happy that I was going to be riding this attempt as part of a team. Myself & my friend Laura were to be riding, and my husband (The Hubster) would play a supporting role providing ‘domestique’ duties at each control ensuring a consistent supply of food, a guaranteed bed at any control we needed, fresh clothes, and batteries/chargers for our electronics. This support was to be with Dora, our trusty Transit Van.
Fast forward a few months, and we are now a team of 2 – that’s me, and the Hubster at each control with Dora.
How did it get to this?
Laura and I had a plan through 2018 that would include lots of long distance rides, through each of the qualifying distances to make sure that we were in the best shape possible to go into 2019 and the qualifiers. I already knew how my body reacted to the distances, lack of sleep, energy levels and food disagreeing with me. However, to that point Laura had only completed 200k rides, and so needed to experience and discover how her own body reacted to the additional pressures of the longer rides. Being vegetarian, it was to present it’s own unique challenges.
As we had planned it to be a voyage of discovery for her, I was happy to go along with the way that she wanted to tackle the events so that she could find her own stride. I knew that I could complete all the distances in my own ‘full value’ way, but we had to learn to ride together. I haven’t ever had to tackle a series of long rides with others before, being a solitary rider ordinarily.
My riding style is usually to try to push on to each control making the most of any ‘easy’ sections to go a bit quicker. Then have around 20 mins stop at every other control, with a longer stop on the alternative controls if they fell around mealtimes. For me, having a longer stop in each 6 hour period rests my legs sufficiently to be able to continue along at a similar pace in the next stage. It adds a bit of time, but ensures I don’t bonk or slow my peddling down too much. It also means I can pretty much keep going indefinitely if it’s not a seriously hilly ride.
Laura had a different approach, it was clear that after a longer control stop, it took her much longer to get going than me. Once her legs cooled off, it took a while to get back on the pace. Her ideal stop durations were 15-20 minutes regardless of the length of the ride to avoid the issue of ‘cafe legs’.
I felt it would be good for me to be try to gain a bit of time by having shorter control stops, so I tried following her method, and we started on our plan to increase ride length from 200k to 600k over a few months.
To get us started for the year (Feb) we decided to do a practice 200k, and logged a DIY on a route that I was very familiar with. It had a rolling style for the first 120k, and then was completely flat, following the south coast cycle route home. It was a fabulous cold but sunny day, and all started well. I had a slight sore throat at the start, but figured it would sort itself out. After the turn, on the way home, it was clear that my throat wasn’t going to improve, instead my glands became very swollen, and my voice disappeared completely. On what was supposed to be the fast section of the ride, I found myself getting slower and slower, rapidly running out of steam. We got back, but this turned out to be the beginning of a series of colds, flu, chest and throat infections that were to plague me for a couple of months.
Our next 200k was a calendar event (The Kennet Valley Run) in March, but unfortunately I had spent much of the previous month ill from before. Although I felt much better on the ride, I had lost any speed, and had no energy for the uphill sections. We got through the ride, but I certainly held Laura up. The chest infection returned after the ride, and so I continued to struggle to get back my fitness that I had gained through the winter.
At the end of April, we entered the Oasts & Coasts 300k. It’s a favourite of mine, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it a tough one. There are a lot of hills in the first 100k, as the ride winds its way down through the Weald of Kent, past Oast houses and castles. The scenery is rolling rather than extreme. I felt ok at this point, and we plodded on through at a fairly consistent pace. Then the ride changes in style and turns very flat riding as it follows the coast across the reclaimed landscape of the Cinque ports. The flat sections really took their toll on me, as I was still behind on my fitness after the earlier illnesses. At Folkestone, we bumped into another rider who was hopelessly lost and couldn’t find his way out of the town and back onto the route. He joined up with us and rode the rest of the ride with us. I was struggling but still moving forwards. It looked like it was going to be a full value ride but that we would get back with a little time to spare. It wasn’t to last though and about an hour to the end, I got a major case of the dozies. I knew that I needed a power nap, and I had exhausted all of my go to tactics to try to stay awake.. Thankfully, as our duo was now a trio, I suggested that Laura rode to the end with our new friend so that she could at least finish the ride in time. She did, and I arrived around 20 minutes after the cut off. Laura 3 – Marcia 2. It was however lovely that Tom the organiser waited until I got back and still provided me with much needed food.
Laura had many suggestions on how I could have done things differently to have finished quicker, but I know my body, and I was simply not ready for a 300k ride after having been ill for much of the previous 2 months. I was determined to pick up my fitness quickly as I had booked myself in for a 400k just a few weeks on.
To prove to myself that it was just a fitness blip, I decided a couple of weeks later to retry the DIY 200k that we had done in Feb. I struggled at the start, by found my mojo about half way round. After that, I had a really good ride back and could feel the strength slowly returning to my legs. Hurrah, I was back in the game.
May saw the start of the longer rides. At the beginning of May is the Brevet Cymru and I had unfinished business with this ride. 3 years earlier I had entered this as both my 2015 PBP qualifier, but also my first 400k. It was then that I learned a lot about what NOT to do on a long ride, and with inclement weather as well, I had finished 1 1/2 hours out of time. However, I had loved the ride, and decided I would be best tackling it on my own if I was to retry it.
I camped in the start/finish control car park over night, and was raring to go in the morning. Unfortunately, in the first 100k I started experiencing significant problems with my gears. They would jump out every time I put any pressure on the pedals, and I just couldn’t keep it in gear at all. This is not a good situation for a long hilly ride in Wales. I adjusted them as best as I could and they would hold for a while and then start to slip again. I was left with about 4 gears that I could use, and the rest were hopeless. I made a decision to get to the next control, which was both on the way out and back, and if I couldn’t fix them there, I would ride back. This would mean I would end up with a 200k instead on a 400k, but the route would have been tolerable with the limited gear options I had. I was gutted though, as I had been making really good time, and for the first time in ages was feeling really strong. However, about 10 miles from the control a Good Samaritan found me stopped on a bank, kicking and swearing at my bike, and stopped to help me. With two of us, suddenly it was possible to make better adjustment of the gears, and he got them working almost entirely. If they held, then the ride was back on again for me. Hold they did, and I was able to continue, and complete the ride in the time limit. I wasn’t even quite last on this occasion. Job done, and I was feeling much better about future rides.
The dodgy gears however didn’t last much longer, just 3 miles into my next ride, the gear cable snapped and I was left doing a 40 mile ride in single speed. The Audax Gods had clearly been on my side in Wales.
Girls French Trip
Now that I was feeling stronger again, the timing of a long weekend in France on our bikes was perfect. Three of us took our bikes over to St Malo, planning 3 long days of riding, and also picking up a few bits of the official PBP route.
The first day was a bit of a sightseeing day, and as such our planned ride was shortened a little, as we enjoyed a new route along the coast instead. When riding our pace was good. I was quicker in the morning, and slowed a little in the afternoon, Laura was the other way around.
On the second day the plan was to ride to Fougeres and then follow the PBP route to the next control at Tintenac before returning to our Gite. It was on this day that the differences between myself and Laura really showed themselves. I was raring to go in the morning, and happy to go at a good pace, whilst Laura took around an hour or so to get into her stride. We decided to ride through our first stop as none of us felt particularly tired, and so we stopped a little later for a really quick refreshment stop. From then on, Laura just got quicker and quicker, and rode ahead with our other friend that we were travelling with. I couldn’t muster up any additional speed at this point.
Once we arrived at Fougeres we stopped for around an hour for lunch. This was just what I needed, and I was really comfortable with a higher pace, and made short work of the long hill climb out of the town. Unfortunately Laura got a puncture just before the climb so I had to go back down again and wait, and then climb the hill again. I had no problems after that in maintaining a good pace, but Laura again took a while to warm up. It was same after our final stop of the day.
On the last day, we decided we didn’t want to do another long ride, and had an easy day, sight seeing locally on the bikes and just enjoying the glorious weather and scenery.
This trip is when it started to really dawn on me that we needed to come up with a different ride strategy if we were going to ride together on PBP………(to be continued)