My first Audax ride: 35 hours and 600km through the Welsh countryside
By Vilas Silverton
Vilas Silverton from the Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team took part for the first time in a 600km Audax ride, a long-distance cycling challenge also known as a Brevet or Randonee. Although they are not races, they do have time limits (in this case 40 hours) and require riders to pass through certain checkpoints en route to prove passage. Below is Vilas' entertaining account of what transpired:
The ride started from a small village hall near Tewksbury in England at 5.00am and headed into South Wales before crossing over to the west coast, heading northwards towards the top of Wales before returning back to the start in England. The ride contained 10,000 metres of climbing which, I discovered, is rather a lot!
Before the event I was excited and a little nervous, my longest ride to date had been 220km with Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team colleague Garga Chamberlain, which was made very difficult by poor weather conditions (ie non stop rain, and winds strong enough to blow you off your bike). However, since that ride in February, I had done other long rides that felt much better. After struggling to follow paper maps on my first Audax ride, I quickly bought a garmin which massively cut down the time I lost at road junctions etc where I was not always sure which way to go (directions are not my strong point!). This device had my route loaded onto it, so I could follow a little arrow on the screen which told me what roads to take.
After checking all my equipment the week before, studying the route, and carbo loading for 3 days, I felt really thrilled to be able to start at dawn with about 40 other riders on the day itself. To begin with, we rode easily as a pack to the first checkpoint at Monmouth, which was 50 km away and got receipts from an ATM to prove we had got there. I was happy to ride with others at this point, as I couldn’t get my garmin to work at the start.
After the easy first section, we started heading into the hills of Wales where the group broke into pieces and people rode in small groups of 3-4 or just solo. By this time I had figured out my garmin and so was perfectly happy to ride at my own pace. Quite often, this did mean I enjoyed riding in the company of others, but I was also not worried about riding alone.
It rained gently most of the first day but it was warm also, so I rode in shorts, short sleeved jersey, gilet and arm warmers. It was a bit too warm for a rain jacket - for now. My plan was to err on the side of being too warm rather than too cold, as I didn’t want to use up energy by getting cold/keeping warm. In a long ride such as this, I kept the pace very easy on the hills and rode steadily on the flatter sections. This was to keep my heart rate low and stay as far as possible in the ‘fat burning zone’.
In training, I had some difficulty with digestion, and was a bit worried about getting through the event if nothing would stay down. I need not have worried however, and ate well at cafes and supermarkets en route. I also took a number of energy bars etc with me as some sections of the route (up to 100kms) passed through isolated and exposed countryside where there was nothing to eat (unless you are a sheep).
Around 12.30am I arrived at a control point that had beds and here many riders stopped to sleep. I felt quite good however, and decided to keep going. I did stop long enough for some pasta and a change of clothes (I had sent a bag on ahead). This meant I could change out of my wet shorts and socks - luxury! It also meant I could swap my leg warmers for full length tights for the night although the night time temperature probably didn’t get below 10 degrees centigrade.
I was really looking forward to riding in the night. The roads were very quiet, just a few cars now and then, but as I rode through the darkness, I had owls, bats and sheep for company. I couldn’t see the beautiful countryside at this point but I was happy to keep moving. Having helped at some multi-day running races in the past, I am acutely aware that night time is a special time for doing things. Most people can run or cycle in the day, but if you can forego sleep for a while to achieve an important task, it feels magical to me.
The consequences of riding for 24 hours with no sleep were starting to catch up with me however, as I started hallucinating at around 4.30 am. I saw people walking around in the road and cars coming towards me that did not really exist. I was also having a bit of trouble keeping my bike going where I wanted it to. I promised myself a sleep at the next control.
I was enjoying the night section though, particularly as the weather was dry. However, that changed after a few hours, and all my lovely dry clothes got soaked again, so I sat down on a deserted road, struggled to put on my waterproof jacket, shoe covers and neoprene gloves. About 6.5 hours after setting out from the previous checkpoint, I arrived cold, wet and uncontrollably shivering at the next one, a community centre/village hall in mid-Wales. A nice lady made me the classic dish of baked beans in tomato sauce on toast (she may have been an angel?) however, as my stomach was a bit sensitive, I couldn’t finish it, unfortunately.
Another rider was there too, and a few helpers asked me about Tejvan (Pettinger, Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team hill-climb champion) and his exploits. I was happy to have my mind distracted by other things at this point and very grateful to be wearing Sri Chinmoy’s name on my kit for all to see.
Spotting a blanket in a corner of the hall, I asked to borrow it and wrapped myself up and went to lie down, still wet and shivering. I awoke about an hour later, feeling warmer and better, so I put my wet shoes and socks back on and headed out of the door.
As the last section had been so hard, I foolishly thought the next one might be a bit easier. It was a bit shorter, certainly but the hills were very steep and relentless. They were very small lanes that went straight up hill sides rather than gently curving around. Since 150km however, I had pain in my right knee which meant I couldn’t really put much force through the pedals. As the pain was on the outer edge of my knee, I figured it was just the ITB that was tight and pulling on the joint, so I massaged it at every stop in order to keep moving. I was praying hard that this inconvenience would not stop me riding. I was very grateful that my knee pain would allow me to remember Guru too (Sri Chinmoy also was affected by knee pain during his considerable sporting career). The direct consequence of this situation is that I had to walk up the steeper slopes even though I had low gears on my bike. For a sporting cyclist, this is quite an ignominious position to be in, but here I was, limping up hill after hill in my slippery cycling shoes while pushing my bike. My focus at this time was to keep moving. If I couldn’t ride fast, I would ride slowly, if I couldn’t ride, I would walk, if I couldn’t walk, I would hobble and limp, and that was where I was right now.
At least I didn’t feel tired, the hour nap had done the trick, and I wasn’t cold. These were two big positives. In time, the rain eased, and the kilometres ticked away. Due to the steep, wet and gritty lanes however, I had a new problem, my brake blocks had worn down to such a degree that I no longer had a rear brake and my front was on borrowed time. Thankfully, the last stage of around 70 kms was on bigger, flatter roads that didn’t require me to use the brakes very much.
Before the event, I was concerned that I might not make the 40 hour cut off, but as it turned out, I rode the final stage feeling really good and riding strongly. With most of the ride behind me, I felt able to raise the pace, and gratefully, I finished in 35.5 hours.