Before each Audax I have my routines. The things that I normally do, that make sure that I have every chance of success.
1 – Route planning – I always take a careful look at the route provided, and particularly on rides that I have never done before, I will check the provided GPX against the route sheet just so that I am happy with where I am going and there are no surprises
2 – If the GPX is a continuous one, for routes of 200k or more, I split the route. The number of sections will depend on the style of the ride, the distance and my mood at the time. There is a two-fold reason for this. Partially it’s due to my choice of navigation device. I use Garmin (currently the Edge Explore 1000). Despite them being wonderful, they don’t cope too well with really long routes. It’s not uncommon, after turning them off at a control, for the turn by turn navigation to stop alerting. It’s not a major issue, but certainly irritating.
The other reason is psychological. I find that a really long ride it more palatable when viewed as a series of shorter rides, that just happen to be one after another. You can’t miss a control is the route only goes to and from each control. When tired, this is pretty useful. Also, Garmin can provide an ETA – which works best if for each section you don’t turn off the device.
3 – Work out my timings. I have a desired average speed, and slowest desired average speed, as well as working out the control cut off times. I also work out the maximum stoppage time at each control. It sounds very controlled, however these are just to guide me. Whenever I haven’t done this, I have failed to finish. I really just use these as an estimate, and in reality, try to aim for somewhere between the first two figures, always mindful of the cut off time. Having this guide motivates me, especially if I am ahead of schedule, but also gives me a bit of wiggle room in case of issues.
4 – Being really close to the start the night before. I bought a Transit van (Dora) a couple of years ago with the intention of converting it to a camper van. At the time of writing it is still just a van – however, with my camping equipment it converts to a pretty comfortable and warm mobile tent quite quickly, and I have spent many a night in a community centre car park ready to just fall out in the morning right at the start of the event. I usually rock up sometime before 9pm, find somewhere to eat, sort myself out and fall asleep soundly until the alarm goes off.
5 – Breakfast – a quick porridge breakfast, a cup of tea and I’m there ready at the start.
The 3 Down
This was supposed to be a nice easy 300k. It was billed as rolling, and fixed friendly. In relatively familiar territory, and fine weather forecast, it was a sure fire finish for me. One of my Pompey Pedal Pushers ladies had decided to also enter, as her first 300k. I knew there was no risk for me, as she’s a really strong rider, and would cope without any issue.
My preparation however, did not follow my normal routine. The last few weekends had been exceptionally busy, including organising and moving my son half way across the country the weekend before. Due to potential road closures, the organiser sent out the final details only about 3 days before the event, and work meant that I didn’t get chance to do the usual route checks for a new route.
To add to my woes, the mapping software that I would normally use to split my routes wouldn’t accept the GPX file, and so I was fiddling around with a different app and trying to split the route that way. Routes split, I blindly loaded them up, printed off my timings sheet, and route sheet, and much later than planned on the Friday night set off to the start to sleep in the car park. I arrived around 10:30pm and just had to grab a curry locally.
My friend Lata had borrowed her husbands satnav, and was still getting used to using route sheets. So she was happy to rely on my experience and let me lead the way, all the while comparing it to her route sheet and Garmin.
The first stage went really well, we agreed on everything and got the first control in Pangbourne in good time. Although we were mainly ride alone, we knew there were still people behind us, and we were only just behind others. It was nice to see others at the control, and enjoy the 2nd breakfast provided.
Straight out of the control we took a wrong turn, but quickly put it right. All was good until we started to head towards Newbury. A couple of minor variations in our route, saw our navigation go different ways, but end up back on track again, until we got to Thatcham. Lata said that her device was showing the route as running down a road parallel to the one we were on. However we were still heading in the same direction, just a road apart. We explained it by being a minor gps satellite variation as sometimes the signals get a bit confused.
Later we got to a set of traffic lights, and the variation continued – my route said right, Lata’s said left. We went right…….
Before we knew it, Lata lost sight of the route completely on her device and we headed towards Newbury – following the route that my device was showing.
Eventually on the outskirts of Newbury we hit a canal path. Since it was tarmac’d, and sometimes Audaxes do follow cycle paths we followed it. All the while, we were a bit confused as to while Lata’s GPS wasn’t showing the route at all anymore. Well, I was confused, Lata was too polite to tell me I was wrong.
As the canal towpath changed to gravel and then to grass, we knew we had gone very wrong. We had 2 options, either retrace our steps, or look for the first exit to a road, and work out how to get on the right route. We looked for the nearest road – not as easy as you would expect it turned out.
At this point we were unaware just how far off course we were, and focused simply on getting off the canal and onto a road heading south. Eventually, we found a road that headed to Kintbury and followed it. Happy to finally be heading in the right direction we continued along until we arrived at the next junction, to work out where to go next.
I won’t bore you with the details, but we discovered we were a really long way off route and that heading towards Whitchurch by any means – but avoiding the very fast A34 was the way to go. We wasted a lot of time checking our direction at every junction, but eventually were heading towards Stockbridge and the next control.
We arrived at Stockbridge within time, but decided that since we had covered 27 extra km, and had gone as quick as we could to try to make up time, we would stop and refuel here before moving on. It could very well be our last chance to sit down now that we were so far behind the plan.
The staff in the lovely Woodfire pizza and coffee house were so accommodating. Despite having missed all the food and drink that had been provided, they made us poached eggs on toast, and coffee at no charge, stamped our cards, and let us sit inside.
On leaving here we were on a mission. We had time to make up, and there would be no more long stops. We headed towards towards our next stop at Fordingbridge, trying to make up as much time as possible, which we managed without too much trouble. After a quick stop at a petrol station we were soon on our way to the turn point in the New Forest, when we met the wind. Lovely and helpful for the first half of the ride, but it was to slow us down considerably on the return. We battled into a direct headwind across the forest road. It’s a beautiful scenic undulating road, but on our mission to make up time, we had to take it in turns at the front, with heads down, and battle to wind until we were able to change direction.
The remainder of the ride was uneventful. We spend as short a time as possible at all the controls, but were unable to pick up the pace as much as hoped to be able to make up time. Even though we rode strong, the wind direction countered our best endeavours to go quicker.
At the last control, I was still in with a small chance of finishing on time, so I bade farewell to Lata, and ploughed on ahead. Unfortunately, the final section took just a bit too long, and I finished eventually, but after the cut off.
My navigational issues had cost me the qualifier, and Lata’s first 300k. Not a mistake I shall make again.
I did subsequently get my 300k qualifier 3 weeks later, but that’s another painful story that I may share later.