Time limit 128h 20'
7 August 2022
1768 m elevation
It’s 10:15 on the big day, the start of LEL, and I’m feeling on only moderate form. I’d tried to bank sleep in the run up to the start, but have actually been sleeping badly for days. So when my starting group – U – gets going it’s a relief to finally stop worrying and be on my way. The first few kilometres out of London are stressful; there is too much traffic and the other riders seem a bit hectic, but after half an hour or so we are in the rolling fields of Essex and I begin to settle in. Some of the other riders from the U group are still bouncing around and one of the overseas riders nearly gets hit by a car on a turn, because he was looking the wrong way.
|At the start in Debden|
I start chatting with a rider who is more evenly paced – his name is Ian and he is a doctor from Newcastle – and we pick up a silent Brazilian rider and make good progress north. Fairly soon we reach familiar territory. It is an odd sensation to pass Cambridge so closely, knowing I won’t be here again for another five days. The task suddenly feels overwhelming. To distract myself, I try to provide some local colour, pointing out Chapel Hill, our local climb. Ian is decidedly underwhelmed by our 3.6% climb over one kilometre. We pick up two more riders, Dan and Stuart, and form a good group that takes us to St Ives, the first control, by just before 2 pm. After a quick stop for lunch, Ian and I decide to carry on north together through the Fens. I attempt to rein in my desire to offer a potted history of the Fens, and after a couple of hours we reach Crowland (site of a Benedictine abbey…) the furthest I have gone from Cambridge.
We continue north to Boston, as the silt fens replace the peat fens. The landscape is flat, it is hot and a headwind is draining. Still, I’m happy that we are holding a good pace. My power output is a bit on the high side and I wonder if I will have to pay for this in the coming days, but I’d rather make progress now and get a longer rest overnight. I had planned to reach Hessle before midnight, having booked a room in the Premier Inn there to avoid a control that must surely be crowded on the first night. At this point, Ian and I have been riding and chatting together for some hours, and we seem well matched. Spontaneously, I suggest that he might share my hotel room, provided I felt in a few hours that we were still getting on. Surprisingly, he takes this strangely qualified proposal well. We reach Boston just in time for dinner. The controller at Boston tells us that we’re the first riders from the U starting group that he’s seen. We really have been flying! We decide on a slightly longer rest this time because we feel quite dehydrated.
Onwards to the next control in Louth, now luckily just a short section of 51 km. We finally leave the Fens and reach the Lincolnshire Wolds as dusk falls. A second dinner at Louth, and it's clear that the temperature and headwind are starting to take their toll. Everyone at the control looks hot and tired. I’ve gone from thinking “this is the easiest 300 km I’ve ever done” to “it’s been a long day and it’s not over yet”.
|Dusk falls over the Lincolnshire Wolds|
We leave the control on the way to Hessle into the falling dark and a welcome drop in temperature. As we get closer to Hessle, I repeat my offer of the hotel room (Ian has passed my internal test), and I sense that he’s glad to take it up. Just before midnight, we reach the Humber bridge which is guarded by volunteers. The bridge is usually closed to pedestrians at night but open for cyclists doing the LEL. But that means that the entrance to the bridge has to be monitored by volunteers all night. For the first time, the monumental effort of the volunteers really dawns on me. We ride across, the dark estuary below, the giant structure of the suspension bridge above us.
|Crossing the Humber bridge|
The control at Hessle is indeed very busy, so we grab a quick meal and head for the hotel. It’s been months since I booked it, and I have a slightly uneasy feeling about exactly what kind of room I have. I ask the receptionist whether a twin room is available. It is not, so I’m now looking at sharing a bed with someone who was a total stranger at 10 am this morning. Oh well, impossible to rescind the offer now, so we’ll just have to make the best of it. I ask the receptionist for a second duvet. While I wait, two male cyclists arrive, with similar plans, complaining that they have to share a bed now. My sympathy is limited. The bed is comfortable, I’ve never not slept deeply on a multi-day audax, but the situation is too strange. I worry about the next day’s climbing. I can’t sleep.
3480 m elevation
By 4 am I’m ready to abandon any attempts at sleep but I can tell that Ian is asleep, so I give him some more time. We have, or rather Ian has, decided that we should carry on riding together today as well. I’m sceptical, because it’s clear that he’s a stronger rider than me and a great climber. I also know that I overdid it a bit on the first day, so will probably be slower today anyway. I hope he does not feel obliged to keep riding with me just because of this hotel room. When we eventually return to the control for breakfast, it’s clear that the Premier Inn was the right call. The dorms are full and there are people lying under the tables in the canteen hall. I’m glad I spent my sleepless night in a quiet and comfortable bed, rather than here.
We set off, reaching Malton control for a second breakfast, rather slim with only bran flakes and yoghurt (milk has run out) and two toasters for everyone. Ian is now on familiar territory, so he suggests a stop in Helmsley before we start climbing to cross the North York Moors. Yes, we are really in Yorkshire now! Helmsley is a pretty town, and a number of other audaxers have decided to stop here. I get some extra carbs from the Coop, Ian’s fuelling needs call for roasted peanuts, and we get a nice coffee. Not bad at all. Immediately out of Helmsley we start climbing up into the North York Moors. Hills covered in purple heather are bisected by deeply incised river valleys. I’m enjoying the challenge of the climbs, fairly steep, never too long, and helped by my 34-34 gearing. I pass Peter, a Swedish rider I met on a previous audax. We have a quick chat but I must keep the pace up, because Ian is quick as a mountain goat. Reassuringly, he never has to wait too long for me. When we reach the top of one of the plateau, there are some Indian riders sleeping in the sun, and another is taking a picture of sheep. I wonder just how different this landscape must seem to them. It feels very far from the flatlands for me.
|I'm quite enjoying these ramps (Photo IB)|
|Crossing the North York Moors|
Not long after crossing the Moors, we are directed to the first secret control. We stop only for a quick snack, before continuing to the control at Barnard Castle. The route is fairly flat and unchallenging, but there is a headwind, and we both lose our good mood from a few hours earlier. We reach Barnard Castle, famous for *that* eye test, at 3:30 pm, a lot later than I expected. The boarding school is a lovely location for a control, the food is great and there is even a masseur on hand, but everyone has struggled to get here. I talk to another German rider who says, “I feel like a zombie, riding among zombies”. Still, we must carry on. My original plan had been to reach Moffat that night, but at this rate we’ll be lucky to make it to Brampton.
|The secret control|| |
We set off into the evening sun, towards the Pennines. Because a cattle grid is being replaced, the benign road across Yad Moss (never more than 3%) is closed and had to be replaced with two much more challenging climbs: Chapel Fell and the climb out of Weardale to Alston. I’m excited. I enjoyed the morning’s climbs much more than battling it out into the subsequent headwind, and I’m determined to put in a good effort. Ian is clearly in his element. Chapel Fell is indeed hard, ramping up to 15% before the top, but I hold on, and the golden evening sunlight over the hills is a real reward. We descend rapidly (in Ian’s case extremely rapidly) down to a village called St John’s Chapel, for a quick cake stop at a pop-up café that has appeared for the LEL riders, before heading towards Alston. The route gradually rises out of Weardale before hitting what seems like a wall with a road going vertically up. I commit to not walking and struggle to the top. A road sign welcomes us to Cumbria. We rapidly descend into Alston together with a few other riders and still talk about going onwards to Moffat after Brampton, but I feel fairly spent now. Ian is keen to continue and I wonder what I will do. As darkness falls, Ian also seems less convinced by pushing on. He has developed pain in his Achilles tendon over the course of the day and tiredness has caught up with him too, so we decide to stop in Brampton.
|I have managed Chapel Fell (photo IB)|
|Welcome to Cumbria|| |
The control is busy but well organised. The food is good and plentiful, there is a shower, and we book beds from 10:30 pm to 3:00 am. I lie on the airbed. It’s quite comfortable and with earplugs and an eye mask, I don’t notice the snoring and constant activity in the gym hall. But I can’t sleep. Time passes, my legs are sore, so I go to get some ibuprofen in the bag on my bike. I try to find a toilet, but the single womens’ toilet is also the shower and now there’s a queue of dead-eyed women, because a large number of riders have arrived in the middle of the night. In almost tearful desperation I’m ready to walk into the men’s shower room but then a volunteer points me to a loo in another building. I lie down again. I can’t do this. I can’t ride all the way to Scotland and back with no sleep. This is it, I’m going to have to scratch. And then I make a deal with myself: surely I can ride another 170 km to Edinburgh. That will be half way and if I still feel bad I can take the train home. Decision made, I drop off to sleep for an hour or so.
3639 m altitude
I’m awake by 3 am and make my way out of the gym hall. As I leave there is a queue for the beds that the 3 am risers have just vacated. The control has turned into a scene of humanitarian crisis. Riders are sleeping everywhere, in every corridor, every room, even outside. Hundreds must have arrived in the night, and sleepless volunteers have been doing their best to accommodate them. I eat some glutinous porridge and wait for Ian to appear. I try chat with a rider who has just arrived, but no real conversation is possible. After a while, I check at the dorm and find that they’ve forgotten to wake Ian. When he appears in the dining hall, we make a plan. Given that Eskdalemuir, the last control of the Scottish loop, has no sleeping facilities and Innerleithen is only 210 km from Brampton, we decide that we will have to do the entire loop – 370 km – today to return to Brampton. I decide not to think about my desire to scratch from just a few hours earlier and we get going.
|Crisis at Brampton|
The road to Moffat, the first Scottish control, is only 75 km and fairly flat, and as soon as the sun rises my mood improves. We reach Moffat at 7:30 am for second breakfast. It’s an excellent control, with a great spread of food and snacks for the road. To make it back to Brampton today, it’s clear that we have to be extremely efficient at the controls, so we don’t stop long before starting the longest leg of the day to Dunfermline, 130 km. As we climb up the Devil’s Beeftub out of Moffat, a longish climb with a gentle gradient, we are joined by a group of Brazilians, among them our silent companion from the first day. They are hardened audaxers, having done much climbing in Brazil, but they are enjoying the varied landscapes and hot and dry weather of LEL. The climb is followed by a series of long descents, and we are propelled faster by a tailwind. I feel euphoric. We find that other riders often freewheel downhill, and so, even while I’m not particularly fast at climbing, we are overtaking many riders on the descents simply by keeping the pedals spinning downhill. My fatigue recedes as we cross the Scottish Borders, over gentle hills, passing through heather-covered valleys, open farmland land and by a lake. At one point we try to form a group with two other riders but my legs aren’t strong enough to hold on so we leave them to it.
|I have reached Scotland|
|Having a good time on one hour's sleep|| |
|A reservoir not far from Edinburgh|
Hard to believe, but we cross the Forth bridge at just after noon in glorious sunshine and rising temperatures. And then we are already at the turn-around control at Dunfermline. The control offers a dram of whisky and I can’t think of anything worse, but the Thai curry and crumble with custard go down well.
|One of the Forth bridges|
Now we head south, but first we have to cross through Edinburgh, a tedious stretch of the route. The traffic and rutted road surfaces grind on my fatigued mind and I trail behind Ian. Eventually though we leave the city behind and are back among rolling fields and then more desolate hills, called the Granites. We can see Edinburgh with Arthur’s Seat and the Firth of Forth far in the distance and it’s a relief to have gained some kilometres after all.
Kilometerfresser takes a rest with Edinburgh, Arthur's Seat and the Firth of Forth in the background
|Passing over the Granites on the road to Innerleithen|
|Just in time for dinner at Innerleithen control|
We reach the control at Innerleithen by about 6 pm and it now seems ludicrous that we ever considered stopping here for the night. Food, water, toilet, and we’re off again. There are a few more easy climbs and pleasant descents over bracken-covered hills. Eskdalemuir is only 50 km away and, while I’ve slowed down a bit, it’s still clear that we will definitely reach Brampton tonight. Eskdalemuir is a small control in a pretty valley, by a river. The food is delicious: pasta and soup. Despite the heat, I’ve had a real craving for soup at the controls, perhaps needing the salt. I’m happy to see another woman in Eskdalemuir, possibly the first female rider I’ve seen all day. Even though the control is lovely, we’re in and out in half an hour, ready to reach Brampton late at night.
|Dusk falls just out of Eskdalemuir (photo IB)|| |
The sun sets and a full moon rises above the hills. It’s still very warm. As we ride through the dark, we come across another rider, Nathan, who turns out also to be from Cambridge. It’s nice to exchange some information about cycling in Cambridge, though it feels very distant from where we are now. Ian has gone quiet and seems morose, and when we stop to put on more kit, Nathan goes off ahead. I think I know what’s going on here. Feel sad, eat sugar -- it’s a simple formula. I give Ian some jelly babies, and not long afterwards he perks up again. Even so, the last hour to Brampton stretches interminably. It’s very dark and difficult to get a sense of our progress, and we are both feeling very tired. We try to make conversation, but there’s not a lot left to talk about. Eventually two volunteers in high-viz jackets appear out of the dark to guide us towards the entry to the control. I could cry, I’m so happy to see them.
Brampton is now much calmer than the night before. We have clearly made it ahead of the big bulge of riders. Nevertheless, the volunteers tell us that a crowd is only 45 minutes behind. We have the option of a bed immediately, or dinner and the risk of not getting a bed later. We opt for the beds. I have a rapid shower and head for the dorm. And finally – sleep comes.
3272 m altitude
I wake at 6 am, having had a solid five and a half hours of sleep. I feel great. We have broken the back of this monster ride. Just one more day of climbing and we’ll be back in the flatlands. I grab a serving of glutinous porridge and go to find Ian in the dining hall. He looks terrible. The pain in his Achilles heels did not get better overnight, as it had the night before, and he’s not happy. He thinks steep gradients particularly will make it worse. We discuss taking the route over Yad Moss instead of Chapel Fell and walking past the cattle grid building site, and it seems a more sensible option. Having come this far together, I find the idea awful that Ian might have to scratch because of worsening tendinitis.
We set off for Alston, where we load up on carbs once more. I get a coke – drink of champions – and then Ian suggests heading for Chapel Fell after all. Ever since we crossed northbound, I’ve had a sense of dread about the southbound crossing. It is clearly steeper that way, and the road drops in an almost straight line down the hill. Still, I think I would feel embarrassed if I hadn’t tried, and so I’m glad he feels up to it now.
The road up to the Weardale crossing drags on. My power numbers have decreased every day and are now decidedly unimpressive. In spite of his tendinitis, Ian bounces ahead. The last 500 meters up to Weardale are a series of ramps of about 15%. I try my best to keep going, but I have to stop and take a break. I feel a bit tearful. This is harder than I expected. I reach the top where Ian is already waiting and we descend quickly into St John’s Chapel. And then we’re off towards Chapel Fell. “On this climb I’ll stay with you”, says Ian, before disappearing before my eyes. I watch his orange jersey move rapidly up the hill, and I hate myself and him in equal measure. There’s a headwind, so every time I stand up to climb I’m pushed back by the wind, and if I stay seated I don’t have enough power to make progress. Others around me are struggling too. An Indian rider slows to a halt, doesn’t clip out in time and falls over. I carry on because I know that if I stop now I can’t clip in again and I hate myself for not offering to help. Eventually I have to walk anyway. I feel terrible. When the road flattens a bit, I manage to clip back in and so I reach the top. Now I’m really crying.
I cross Chapel Fell again and not in a good mood (photo by IB)
A hand passes me a flapjack. LEL supporters, among them the legendary audaxer Drew Buck, have set up camp at the top of Chapel Fell to help tired riders like myself. I can hardly believe it. They are so kind and a flapjack and water is just what I need. Meanwhile Ian has had a relaxing break up here, including time to brush his teeth, wondering just how much longer it would take me to reach the top. I feel like the worst cyclist in the world. We start the descent to Barnard Castle. I should love this: two hard climbs done and we are heading south! But I’m still feeling weepy and as we progress to Barnard Castle I fall further and further behind. I just want to get off the bike and sit down. Wait, what was the formula? Feel sad, eat sugar. I finally realise I’m bonking and start cramming jelly babies in my mouth, but they have no apparent effect. Did I buy sugar free sweets by mistake? I barely make it to Barnard Castle. I walk into the dining hall crying, but at least I know what I need to do. I make myself a cup of tea with about ten spoons of sugar, and then another, and after a few minutes my hands stop shaking and I start to think straight again. The kind face of Joaquin appears whom I met during the ‘Asparagus and Strawberries 400’ audax in May. Disappointingly he has had to scratch because his rear hub failed, so he returned to London to get it fixed and then got the train to Edinburgh to complete the ride south from there. He previously told me he had to scratch LEL in Edinburgh in 2017, coincidentally because of Achilles tendonitis, so he has some unfinished business. I grab some lunch and then some more and wonder if it was enough to dig myself out of the hole I’ve just fallen into. Clearly I’m now paying the price for skipping dinner in Brampton. We head outside to rest on the grass. Ian leaves me in peace for a total of 3 minutes, and then he pushes to get going.
|The dining hall at Barnard Castle|
Surprisingly, I’ve recovered well and quickly. The first half of the next leg back to Malton goes fast. The terrain is flat farmland and we form a train with some other riders, picking up more and more as we go. This train is moving. My good mood has returned, and I can see some decent power numbers again. Ian and a Spanish rider are taking most turns at the front. I’m frustrated at the selfishness of riders further back who take it easy in the draft, and so I make sure to take a turn as well. But after a couple of hours of riding in a group I can feel my energy declining and when we reach a hill I get dropped off the back. Ian detaches himself from the group as well. He is really a star. On numerous occasions I’ve been more like a ball-and-chain dragging behind him and he could probably be faster without me, but we’ve worked well as team so far and so he’s sticking with me now. We come across some supporters in a village and they kindly give us water. It’s really very hot now.
Pulling a train towards the Howardian Hills (photo by Rimas Grigenas)
Just 50 km more to Malton and then on to Hessle to sleep. Only, flat roads have now been replaced by a landscape that seems to consist entirely of steep ramps and short descents with poor road surfaces, sharp corners and limited visibility. We pass numerous sleeping riders under trees and hedges who are trying to keep out of the worst heat of the day. It’s steeper here but not too different from the rollers of Suffolk and Essex that I know, so I just resign myself to our slow progress. Suddenly Ian stops. He needs a break and he’s very annoyed. The Howardian Hills are totally unlike his preferred terrain of long climbs and fast descents, and he vows never to come here again. I agree. I too can’t see much that’s positive in these hateful hills, area of outstanding natural beauty they may be. We continue to Malton, but I can tell that Ian is not doing well. I offer him my wheel, which he accepts, and so we drag ourselves onwards to the control. When we get there, Ian is in a bad way. He slumps over his bike and now it’s his time to get emotional. Feel sad, eat sugar. I think that’s definitely what he needs, but he’s clearly also in a lot of pain. I locate the control’s first aider who brings an ice pack for his tendons and I go and find dinner for both of us. I am quite doubtful about whether he will be able to carry on and I really don’t want to spend the night in Malton, but if his state is like mine earlier, then he’ll probably feel much better after some food. Indeed, after a bit more than an hour he’s fed, medicated and ready to head to Hessle.
Crisis point. We need to stop (Photo by IB)
A beautiful sunset is followed by a magical moonrise. The peacefulness of night riding settles over me. After an hour we come across a parked car by the roadside with a hand-painted cardboard sign just saying LEL. Two supporters, called Gavin and Chelsea, have set up a table and are handing out sandwiches, bananas and coke. Gavin attempted LEL in 2017 and now he’s out here supporting riders in the middle of the night. It’s really moving.
|Sunset on the way to Hessle|
Supporters Gavin and Chelsea offer sandwiches in the middle of the night
We ride on, chat for a bit and then I ask Ian to take my wheel. And so, very slowly, we reach Hessle just before midnight. The control is fairly empty, because we are now well ahead of most riders, having not stopped during the day. We head to the canteen to find plug sockets to recharge lights and bike computers and there we collapse on the floor. 1200 km in four days and it shows. A concerned controller appears, offers us various cables so we don’t need to go back to the bikes to get them, and Ian gets first aid treatment by a very kind medic called Nathan. I find food for both of us and we have a quick chat about how we might reach the finish. Ian’s tendinitis risks being ride-ending for him and so I suggest that we could stop overnight in Cambridge tomorrow, only 200 km away, and then attempt to reach the finish on the following day. Ian is desperate to finish, so we decide to break up the remaining distance that way. I feel a bit sad, because I know I can cover the whole distance in one day, but I tell myself that it’s not a race and we’ve been such a good team that I’m not sure I’d be in Hessle at this point without him. Plan decided, we head to the dorm. This time I fall into a deep sleep almost immediately.
What riding 1200 km looks like
1897 m altitude
We make quite a slow start. Fatigue makes it hard to get organised. As we leave, a woman arrives in tears. She has ridden alone through the night with agonising saddle sores. I’m glad I’ve not had to face low moments like this on my own during this ride. As soon as we get going, I realise I have my own saddle issues. The skin on my sit bones has been chafing for days and I’ve been taking painkillers to numb the sensation. Now, however, it seems that the skin has been rubbed raw and I’m in quite a lot of pain. Ian advises me not to “take homeopathic quantities” of painkillers and so I alternate ibuprofen and paracetamol until some of the pain wears off. It’s good to have a doctor along on this ride.
|Humber bridge reverse|
|Above the mist|
We cross the Humber bridge once more, and head through the Lincolnshire Wolds which I last experienced in the dark. It’s pleasant rolling farmland, but I’m now tired of hills and just want to reach the Fens. Ian has been chatting to another rider and I overhear him say, “yes, and we are heading to Debden tonight”. Are we now, I think to myself. Maybe we can finish today after all. At Louth, I pay an outrageous amount for a small tub of sudocrem for my sores, but at this point I would have paid any price. We continue towards Boston. Temperatures have hit the 30s again and there is a head-cross wind so we systematically take turns on a straight road that stretches along a fenland drain with cabbage fields on the other side. We make good progress, but the silence and the monotony of the landscape are mentally fatiguing.
Boston’s church tower, the Boston Needle, appears in the distance, just in time for lunch. I sit with to two Japanese riders who are still fully kitted out in arm and leg warmers. Not for the first time I’m amazed at how differently acclimatised to the temperatures riders from all over the world are. There is also an Indian rider suffering from Shermer’s Neck, a condition where the neck muscles just give out and it is no longer possible to hold one’s head up. It is often ride-ending. I feel very sorry for him. To have come so far only to have to stop now… We are worried how the next 90 km to St Ives will unfold and decide to abandon turn-taking in favour of chatting to pass the time, though conversation topics don’t go much beyond ‘interesting animals’. There is a heat dome over the Fens, but we progress steadily. Just before Whittlesey we catch up with Aidan who rides a tricycle. He rides like a metronome and keeps stops to an absolute minimum. I can’t imagine how he’s managed some of the steeper descents with his trike. He says something about it moving “like a wheelbarrow”. We take a break at a petrol station in Whittlesey for a coke and ice cream, and I think back to when I stopped here in 2020 when I set out to ride my first imperial century. What a struggle that was, and today 160 km seem like a reasonable distance.
|On Welland Bank|
We reach St Ives just after 6 pm, have a quick dinner and head for the guided busway. I guide Ian past the infamous car trap, the dangers of which were much-discussed in the LEL Facebook group. The going is smooth, we have a tailwind, and, despite having 1400 kms in our legs, our speed on the busway is respectable. We turn off to Girton and then head into Cambridge where my friend Gill waits for us with cold water and Lucozade. It is lovely to see her, but now my mind is just on finishing. Heading out of Trumpington, some riders overtake us and eventually we form a scrappy train that includes a tandem. I’m glad at the extra momentum, but the pace is not even, there are too many surges, people refuse to take turns, and Ian is once again pulling most of the time. “I’m too tired” is not really an excuse from a German rider whom I have encountered a few times now and who seems to have the knack to attach himself to fast groups, but without doing his bit. I’m relieved when the group falls apart outside Saffron Walden. I’ve burnt a few more matches and I have very few left.
|On the guided busway having survived the car trap |
|We have reached Cambridge|
We reach Great Easton before 9 pm. The last control and our brevet card is now almost full! I now have to face a problem, I’ve been ignoring all afternoon. I have unexpectedly started my period. I’m mid-cycle and what I thought was some random spotting has now unfortunately turned into the real deal. All controls up to now have had menstrual products in the women’s toilets but not St Ives or Great Easton. There’s nothing I can do and I’m resigned that this is now just one more way my body is letting me down. We head out into the dark to complete the last 45 km. Riding through the night once more, I feel a pang of sadness. This is it. We will be finished soon, but I wish we could continue.
Just beyond Stansted a woman comes out on her balcony and cheers us on. I wonder if she sits watching for LEL riders day and night, and then I realise that she must have been dot-watching online and saw Ian’s tracker coming up. This has happened a few times already, but I’ve only worked it out now. The last few kilometres before Debden are hilly and neither of us now have the patience for windy, lumpy terrain. Silently, we go as fast as we can. “We can just make it in under 109 hours.” Ian speeds up, I get on his wheel and within minutes people in hi-viz vests appear to guide us into the finish control. I’m disorientated, having expected another 3 km to go. I get off my bike. I laugh with relief. We run to the control to get our last stamp. It is 11:14 pm.
|The brevet card is complete!|
What makes a good team?
While I have ridden audaxes with other riders, sometimes for hours, I have never teamed up with someone for a whole event, let alone one that lasts five days. Ian and I worked really well as a team and we both reflected a bit on why. First of all, we had the same approach to how we wanted to tackle the event: maximise daytime riding and keep stops short to get longer breaks for sleeping at night. We were well matched in terms of speed, even though as the event progressed, I slowed down more than he did. We also had similar riding styles, trying to be efficient on rolling terrain and fast on descents. Second, we complemented each other at critical points. Because I started cycling only in 2020, I’ve spent the majority of my time riding audaxes alone. I have had many low moments, most of which were caused by underfuelling or tiredness, and I've learnt to accept these feelings as part of the experience without placing too much significance on them. This helped me manage my own moods during LEL, but also made me aware of when Ian’s low moods might be caused by underfuelling. On the other hand, Ian really helped me keep my momentum up. I felt a strong sense of accountability, both on and off the bike. Third, the fact that we didn’t know each other before the ride was a big advantage, because it was always clear that we would be free to go our own ways, if the team stopped working at any point. I was prepared to ride LEL mostly on my own and I think I would have made it round, but probably not as quickly and not without any real low points. And as an added bonus, I picked up some medical factoids along the way, like what really causes stomach ulcers...