Our girls French trip was a real eye opener for me. Here I was with a riding partner that I loved to ride with, who had a similar pace to me, but who had very different rest & recovery requirements to me. This could be a real problem. We needed a way forwards, but I had no idea what that was to be.
Just a couple of weeks later, was the infamous Bryan Chapman 600k. Again in Wales, instead of going across Wales E-W-E, this one traveled to the top and back. For me, it was to the be first event of this distance in a couple of years so I was very out of practice, however, I had been banking my sleep, was feeling quite strong in my legs and was really looking forward to another Welsh ride.
Laura on the other hand was in uncharted territory.
The terrain for this ride isn’t too troublesome. There are long climbs, but they are mostly steady rather than steep, and reward the rider with awesome descents and fabulous views. Controls were a mixture of commercial cafes, and village halls. A night control was set up with the takeover of a youth hostel (Kings) on the edge of Snowdonia and was available in both directions. We were particularly looking forward to this control, not just because it had beds, but also friendly faces. One of our club riders was volunteering here, as well as some other south coast based Audax organisers.
We started well on the ride, me being stronger on the earlier climbs and feeling good. Laura took a bit longer to get going, but we soon found our rhythm together and enjoyed the morning. We kept the early controls short, and hardly stopped at all. We were making good progress and there were still plenty of other riders behind us. Once we headed further north into Snowdonia the tables turned. I started to slow, and Laura became stronger and quicker. She was able to power up the hills, where I needed to take it a little more steady. The scenery was becoming more and more beautiful, and the sun was getting hotter.
When we arrived at Kings youth hostel on the way up, we didn’t stay too long. We had planned to get to the top of the ride and then return to the hostel between, 3-5am and get a couple of hours sleep. The next section was stunning, entering my favourite parts of Wales. We went through Barmouth, and followed the coast along to Harlech as the sun was starting to set. It was the most amazing of sunsets that day.
Again, we picked up another rider, and he was about the same pace as us, so our two became three again.
The next section going into the night was up the Pen y Pass in Snowdonia. It was dark and suddenly very cold when we reached the hostel at the top. Eventually around midnight we reached the turn around point just after the Anglesey suspension bridge. I was shattered. Had I been riding alone, I would have chosen to stop here for a couple of hours for some sleep. One of the things I have discovered about countering possibly sleep deprivation on these multi day rides, is that on the first night, I should try to get at least some lay down sleep between midnight and 3am. Even a 30 minute total body shutdown works wonders and can get me through. Missing this usually results in a very bad case of the dozies, multiple requirements for side of the road ‘power naps’ and then me riding slower and slower.
However, we stopped for just 30 mins for food, although I did insist on a quick 10 min power nap on the table, and then we left.
All was well for the first couple of hours, but I knew I was struggling. It had also got really cold, and the further towards Snowdonia we got, the colder the temperature became. Eventually, just after sunrise I could stay upright any longer. I needed a nap, so I told the others to go on without me, and I’d see them back at Kings. I had a bench, ate some food, and nodded off for about 15 mins. That refreshed me for around another hour, but still not enough. There are only so many times a quick power nap will refresh and it would seem I had reach that limit. A few miles away from the warmth of Kings the temperature plummeted even further and was now around 2 degrees below zero. Compared to the 30 degrees of day before, this was an extreme difference. I was tired again, so when I found an enclosed bus shelter, I wrapped myself up in a space blanket and had another power nap. I eventually got to Kings about an hour after Laura. After some food I settle down on the sofa for a better nap. I knew I didn’t have the luxury of time any more, and a proper bed would have been dangerous.
Laura left the hostel about 1/2 hour before me, and went on her way. I said I would try to catch up with her later – knowing that after some sleep all would be well again.
I was on the cusp of the time limit so it was touch and go whether I would finish in time. However, I was full of enthusiasm and continued on my way.
What I hadn’t realised was that Laura was also now riding on her own, but had started to feel unwell. The weather was stunning, although a little too hot for the task ahead. She was experiencing cycling belly and was unable to keep any food down. At one point she couldn’t even keep water down. I on the other hand a few miles behind her had managed to scoff down a huge bacon sandwich, and was munching on a pork pie. I had also reached the point when there was no food that I wanted to eat, although I forced some down, and started to recover quickly.
Food and digestion is a funny thing on these rides. The body isn’t really designed to do what we do. It doesn’t know how to process what we eat when we spend 24 hours + peddling without much rest. Our bodies are trying to both digest while we are moving, AND fuel us at the same time. Although we had planned our food strategy to eat real food, and keep grazing as we were moving, this just didn’t really work well enough for Laura.
I continued to enjoy the ride, although being on my own I was starting to get a bit bored of my own company. As we started heading into the 2nd evening, I could see that I was unlikely to be able to get back before the cut off point. I had fallen too far behind when I was struggling to stay awake. As I didn’t need the ride for a qualifier, I knew that it didn’t really matter whether I completed or now. I still made the assumption that Laura ahead of me was fine. We had little to no phone signal, so couldn’t communicate with each other very well. I worked out that I was around 40 miles to the end, but that if there was a train at the next town, I might just take that back to the start, and at least get back at a decent hour.
Then I got a message from Laura’s partner (who was also on the ride). Laura had abandoned as she felt too ill to continue, and she was holed up in a pub on the route back drinking tea. He was going to finish the ride and then drive back and collect her. I’d said that I was also planning on abandoning due to being out of time, so he offered to take us both back if I could get to where Laura was.
It was a blessing in disguise for me, since it turned out there were no suitable trains to the start, and riding back would have been the only option anyway. Long after the pub owners had gone off to sleep, our knight in a shiny car came to collect us and transport us all to the end point. Poor guy was shattered though as he had also ridden the ride, and used up much of the allotted time limit.
I took the DNF on the chin, and knew it was mostly down to a poor sleep strategy for me, but I know that it got to Laura. She was very concerned about the food issues, and how she would cope on other long rides and if indeed she could work it all out before 2019.
A month later, we were due to do another favourite ride of mine – and the one that was my successful PBP qualifying ride in 2015. The ride is the Avalon Sunrise 400k. It’s an unusual ride in that it starts at 10:30pm, and you ride through the night and return the follow night – if you’re slow like me.
My plan for this ride is to have some food, catch a couple of hours sleep, then start. Since I had completed it before when I was less fit, I had figured that it shouldn’t have been too much of a challenge this time, especially with more of these long rides under my belt.
A key part of being successful on an overnight ride is to not be sleep deprived before the event. The generally accepted way to ensure this is to ‘bank’ sleep in the week leading up to it. Make sure that you have a full week of long nights sleep, and also maybe lay off the caffeine for a few days. This strategy worked well for me in the Brevet Cymru earlier in the year. However, this time, I had not been sleeping well, with an average of just 5 hours sleep a night over the week. Although due to circumstances outside my control, my planned 2 hours sleep before the ride hadn’t panned out either. Can you see where this is leading…..
The first 200k went exactly as expected, and although we were at the back of the group, we had a good ride. There is something quite magical about having an ordinarily busy and quite dangerous road all to yourself in the early hours of the morning. We saw the early morning mists across the Somerset levels, and then travelled for miles along old railway paths through Bath and Bristol towards the Severn Bridge to the turn around point. This is were my sleep woes hit me again. Just like on the Bryan Chapman, I knew I needed some rest. My legs were tiring, but more than that, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. No amount of coffee was helping either. I could see where this was going with me, and that I was significantly slowing Laura down. I suggested that she go off without me, as I needed a nap, but she shouldn’t have to wait for me.
She continued on, and although tired and needing a short stop and tea in a pub, made it back to end in time.
I had my nap, and then continued on. All was well until I got back onto the Somerset levels between Glastonbury and Taunton. This section is long, straight and featureless at night. Although an easy ride, it’s tough to find a reason to stay awake. I was fading fast and I knew that as soon as I could find somewhere suitable to rest my head, I would sleep. I sent a message to the event organiser and to Laura to not wait for me. I was ok, but would not be finishing in time.
Eventually I found an open sided workshop and settled down for some sleep. I must have needed it, as it was a couple of hours before I surfaced and headed to the finish. I eventually arrived around 3:30am and collapsed into my bed.
The next morning I met with Laura and her partner for breakfast and we recapped on the ride and the previous rides. It had dawned on me that although I loved riding with Laura, our riding requirements were just too different. I had realised that each ride that I had done on my own, using my own strategies, had resulted in success, but each that I rode with Laura, trying her strategies were DNF’s for me, although she mostly completed in time. On a pace perspective, we are not worlds apart. But our sleep and rest strategies just didn’t align. She didn’t want to ride alone, and enjoyed company, I didn’t mind either way. I enjoy riding with others, but am more successful when I can finish on my own.
I didn’t know how we could resolve this so that we could successfully complete PBP as a team.
Laura’s partner had also planned on riding PBP, although was planning on riding it with some of our other club members. But he had is own share of difficulties during the year with an injury suffered after a fall. They both went away and gave more thought to the challenges ahead.
The conclusion was that neither of them wanted it enough on this occasion to continue to chase the dream.
I can honestly say that I was sad to no longer be continuing this journey and PBP with my good friend, although given our riding differences and my inability to adapt to her style, I may have more chance of success riding it my way. She also would have more likely succeeded without me if she had decided to. Although I suspect that our finishing times would still have been about the same.
So here it is, I have had lots of practice at the longer rides – finishing some but not others. I have also ensured that I have ridden at least 1 x 200k (or equivalent) ride each month since Feb 2018. I have just 1 more to go to complete the ‘Randonee Round the Year’ award and get my name listed in the hall of fame.
My next step is to get back in the gym to improve my strength & speed over the winter months, so that I am in the best shape I can be for the actual qualifiers in 2019.
I will blog much more in 2019 with progress of my training and qualifying attempts, and hopefully the event itself in August.
Happy New Year.