Snippets from whippets
I am standing at the start next to a couple of guys on expensive titanium bikes with deep-section carbon wheels (the defacto choice of the Ultra). They were skinny, they carried fuck all. One of them mentioned the TransAm he’d done. So a ten or eleven hour day for them, with a short stop or two. I was thinking more like 14 to 16 hours.
I set off at the end of the first wave, the fast guys gone in a blink of a tail light. I sighed – oh to be young and fit. But then when I was young there were other things to be doing, so I refocused on my goals, tried not to dream too much of keeping 30kph averages, and got on with my plan.
My plan was simple. 130bpm max on the flat, 150 on the hills, ride by myself.
The heart rate thing was easier to understand than the ride by myself ethos. But apparently I am riding the Normandicat 900 in not many weeks and I need to solo pacing training as I will be doing the entirety of that alone, in ‘no drafting allowed’ bikepacking ethos.
Also I am sick of looking at lycra arses. The whole idea of this is to get out of London, get off the CS2, see the countryside. Take a tour. See the countryside a little quicker than a tour.
So the first hour was spent watching fast people from the later waves zipping by. Of the 30 or so who did this precisely one said hello.
Friendly lot Audaxers. Or maybe the faster ones don’t think of themselves as Audaxers – do they think they are slumming it?
Whatever. I started saying hello as people passed, seeing who was generous enough to reply. Not many. To stop myself raving about this just let me say the TransAm whippet and I have a lot more in common than the drivers who are trying not to kill us most of time. A hello costs nothing and is a useful investment for later.
I knew from doing the Willy Warmer that this series was not particularly gluten-free friendly so the piles of flapjacks and porridge and beans on toast was not entirely useful to me, so I chugged a tea, grabbed a banana and moved on quickly.
It was beginning to warm up a bit now and the route from here all the way to half way was excellent. A nice climb over White Hill and the beautiful Test valley were real treats as I had never been this way before.
Towards the end of the leg someone rode up beside me and said ‘Kia ora’ and I met the other kiwi audaxer (so that’s me, Nik and Chris) and we had a chat for a while about this and that. Something that is easy to talk about with kiwis is the how much better the heating in houses is in the UK, and how much harder it is to find peace and quiet in the hills, how much less remote things are here.
At the next control there was another pile of gluten-heavy treats which looked amazing but I had to skip. I hopped up the road to a Co-op and got a range of standard Audax fare – Muller rice, flavoured milk, couple of bars. No doubt this confused Chris deeply as I just disappeared on him. Still, had to ride on, stick to the plan.
Never having been here I was surprised just how different and wierd this was. I mean I was expecting the odd horse or two, but there were dozens of horses, and ponies and apparently feral bulls. Which explained the strange lack of trees in the forest. A lot, I think, lost to the English navy in the mists of time and empire.
With the tailwind and a slight down hilll it was a very quick ride down to Fordingbridge, possibly the most literally named town in England. I was glad it wasn’t wet or too windy, this exposed high ground would be an absolute horror in really bad weather.
I hit the co-op for lunch good and took a leisurely stop of 25 minutes eat some rolls beside the river. It was almost warm enough to be pleasant. At this point it was 12:30 and I had maintained the unfeasibly high average speed of 26kph. At this point I realised that the tailwind, while not massive, was definitely helping out, which meant only one thing at the half-way point.
And indeed that happened. The quick ride down to Fordingbridge was matched by an equally slow grovel back up over the Forest into a headwind. It was many riders low point. Average speed for the next 50km was just over 21kph, a substantial drop in pace.
At about 160-180km I just lose my ability to really push up hills and just have to plod away in a lowish gear. It’s not even about trying – I noticed that I couldn’t really get my heart rate up to where it had been before lunch – I was now pulling around 120bpm which is basically touring pace. I know from experience that I was in the performance zone now that I would be entering in longer rides of the year – that pace that enables you to just keep going but it neither exhilarating nor glacial. Ultra-pace for me.
Finally stopping at an info at 200km I knew I would be ok for the last 100 but it wasn’t going to be fast. I was wondering earlier in the day if I might be able to make it back in less than 14 hours, but now I was wondering if it might be slipping back to the more traditional 16. The fast riders would be doing it in around 11 hours.
Only one way to find out… another 17km and we were at co-op 3, this time I went for fruit and a lot of liquid and a warming vending machine-bred coffee. It wasn’t cold but the temp had dropped back down to what it had been in the early morning.
So about 90 km left. The next target was 50km further on, so I was reckoning on another 2.5 hours of plodtastic riding.
I was fine on the flat and slow up the hills. There weren’t too many hills and the scenery was still good, but it did feel like we were coming back to civilisation. The trade off for a flatter route in the last 40 or so km was having to take to the valley of the M4 corridor, which is as shit a place as it sounds.
Usually on a ride I have a spell of ‘can’t really be arsed with this anymore’ and sure enough it turned up on this leg. Part of the riding solo all day routine was a way to bring it on in order to get used to it, and so I spent half an hour practising putting it aside using various strategies.
Strategy one: objectify. In actual fact this was one of the best 300s I had ridden. A respectable time so far, ridden solo without any bad dips – a great day out! Strategy two: Place attention outside yourself – look at the lovely scenery! Strategy three: use previously practised aural triggers to displace negative thoughts (aka sing to yourself, or use mantras). Strategy four: Accept it and suffer it out.
Maidenhead, edging on Slough, unlovely towns built around malls and railway stations that most people who lived in the countryside ebb in and out of like a tide of grey flannel every day. Endless fucking Range Rovers parked in driveways. Old ones, new ones, every one an arsehole.
After a stop at the Sainsburys (variety!) at Winersh – where I had two very expensive but rather delicious chocolate-covered marshmallow bars – it was the final 40km of bad road into a thickening dark. A brief flirtation with the ring-roads of Maidenhead and a lot of being hustled by Minis, endless roundabouts and dipping under and over trunk routes, all a bit of a bore after the delights of the day so far.
On balance I wouldn’t mind more laney and up and down at night, but I appreciate that keeping if flat and easy to route is probably a better option for most.
The Marshmallow bars did the trick through, I was good all the way in, and this final 100km was done around 23kph average and without any physical collapse. I came in on the dot of nine for fifteen hours and feeling like I could go another round if needed. 13 hours riding and 2 off the bike, solid.
Finally there was some control food I could eat – rice pudding and tinned fruit – so I did my best to eat as much of that as I could feeling that it was a bit justified given the entry fee and my failure to eat more than a banana of it thus far… As I did so I had a nice chat with the organiser about the previous life as a DJ.
As with the Willy Warmer this was a well organised ride with a carefully curated route and a large turn out – expect a few fast people and some club riders doing the ‘ride/coffee/ride/puncture’ routine.
The route is really great, I would ride the first half of it again in a heart beat. The last 40km I could do without and *maybe* if I did it again i would reroute some of it, but that’s a minor quibble.
It’s traditional to finish a ride report thanking the other riders but I didn’t have any. What I am finding is that riding solo is often about as quick and often easier because the pacing is more even – you aren’t trying to keep up with anyone, you are not too strong for anyone else. Of course solo mode is also distinctly anti-social, but on a big ride like this I didn’t feel like that was a bad thing; it was my day to ride and I achieved it in having hit my plan head on and did well knowing that there had been no hiding – an honest days riding on a great parcours.
A bit of a classic and happy enough to be part of the Gandalf Peloton.