London Edinburgh London 1400

Ride report from David Thompson:

Summary — What an experience !

Boiling it down to memories that will stick, I’d say the rolling terrain, the food and the sheep vie for top spot. Sheep are everywhere — close up, in the far, far distance on the road alive and on the road as road kill. There have to be more sheep than people !

The good:

– the food
– the overall organization
– the weather
– the scenery
– the overall experience
– the riding company, mostly my friend Hamid

The bad:

– the rough roads at times
– the weather (note also in the good !)
– my consistency

The ugly:

– cannot think of anything

This was a tough ride, overall. I haven’t added up the total amount of climbing but it was significant and made more so by the fact that about 200 miles of the 875-or-so is flat. There were significant grades at times, steeper than many on the Shenandoah which has a lot of climbing.

The weather was exactly as expected, extremely variable with sun, rain, wind, cold, hot, mist.

It’s a ride well worth doing for Randonneurs. It’s incredibly well organized and supported and gives you a taste of the U.K. that you’ll only see at a bicycle pace.

My Plan

How does one tackle 1400 km ? Well, if there’s a sleeping Control at 350 km, logic would have one think of 4×350 km days. 350 km is a reasonable ride for a day (for a randonneur !) and seems eminently do-able, even four days in a row.

In fact, the time limit on this 1400+ km ride is 116+ hours. Four days adds up to 96 hours, so that certainly leaves plenty of room for “slippage” if some of those days are longer than 24 hours …. In this context, don’t think of a calendar day, think of starting and ending 350 km, sleeping and then starting another 350 km day.

Besides, on a day ride, vs. a long brevet that starts in the evening, I don’t like the 400 km distance. There’s something about it — too long — that makes me very anxious to get off the bike, mentally as well as physically tired.

The ride has 10 Controls outbound, including the start at Loughton and turnaround at Edinburgh and 12 Controls inbound. Most Controls have some sleeping arrangements; many have showers. One of the outbound, at 620 km, is not represented inbound and three of the inbound are not outbound.

The large number of Controls means that if you are getting sleepy, you have an opportunity to take a break. All of the Controls are inside — that’s an important consideration. All have food and most have a huge variety of snack as well as comfort food.

The Food

Oh yes, the food. I ate more comfort food over a four day period than I’ve probably eaten cumulatively in the last few years ! Shepherd’s pie and pasta in incredible variety with multiple choices at each Control means that even if you’re not particularly hungry, there’s likely something that appeals to you. In fact, I ate too much. All that comfort food slows you down as your stomach diverts blood to handle it all ! I’m more used to a more liquid diet with some solids thrown in — V8, Gatorade, chocolate milk etc. etc. They don’t last as long but they’re quicker burning.

The Chronology

Back to my ride chronology and how it played out against my 4x350k plan …

There was a staggered start of about 50 riders at a time, starting at 6 a.m. There were also some riders who started at 5:30 — those were by invitation, like Ken Bonner, who had done the ride before and posted good finish times. That 5:30 group had rider numbers starting with “A”; I was B15 – second wave, rider 15.

As usual on these things, I set my own pace. I don’t particularly like drafting, unless it’s riding with one or two companions and never close drafting. For me, that’s hard on the knees, takes too much concentration and isn’t, quite frankly, fun. I have no desire to stare at someone else’s butt for 4-5 days, nor do I want to maintain the kind of disciplined pace that is required at the front or even in a small group.

So … 30 km into the ride, I was alone, the A and B riders all ahead of me, as far as I could tell. A small group of C riders (6:15 start time) passed me. A fast-moving D group of four, without so much as a seat wedgie, flew by. Further down the road, not at a Control, that group of four was taking sustenance from a support van — tch tch !

Getting close to the first on-the-road Control, Peter Grant and Dave McCaw went by and I decided that for the next few kilometres I’d latch on. That was short-lived, however, as I only spent a few minutes at the Control and was leaving as they headed inside. For a good chunk of the day we’d see each other at the Controls, me leaving as they arrived I rode alone, enjoying the sunny warm day and great English countryside.

The first 99 km to that Control, St. Ives, was rolling. The next two stages of 81 km to Kirkton and 68 km to Market Rasen were almost flat. The riding was easy. There was a tailwind.or a cross-tail, which made for easy rolling. The roads were in good shape, my 28’s absorbing any unevenness.

Another 84 km would get me to Pocklington, 350 km on the day. My original plan was to sleep there (remember that 4×350 plan) but my friend Hamid had convinced me to strike for Thirsk, at 397 km. I had therefore sent one drop bag there (we were allowed two) and the other at Edinburgh. Even so, I wasn’t sure that was what I really wanted to do so I carried a change of shorts, jersey and socks with me.

Things got a lot slower on the stretch to Pocklington. Climbing and now rain slowed me down significantly. A heavy downpour and lightening made riders and cars pull off the road. A torrent of water and mud three inches deep made things interesting going through one little town. I was adequately dressed with my heavy MEC raincoat and even had my leg warmers and rain pants in reserve. The leg warmers did get use later on; the rain pants were left in my Edinburgh drop bag.

Even so, I was at Pocklington at 8:18. I probably could have slept but wasn’t particularly sleepy. I decided to continue to Thirsk, only 65 km further but that turned out to be a long 65 km. Narrow rough roads, steep grades, mostly alone in the dark, I was slow. I got into Thirsk at 12:22.

Hamid had been running about 1/2 hour ahead of me before Pocklington. He’s always faster on the first day and has no difficulty picking up a paceline. I don’t remember the exact time, but think that he was an hour ahead getting into Thirsk – he was ahead of that flash thunderstorm. Lucky him !

I cleaned up at Thirsk, had a welcome hot shower and got some sleep, not much, but enough to keep me going.

I only spent 15 minutes at the first couple of Controls; about 1/2 hour at Pockington and then 1:45 at Thirsk. I know, that’s not much sleep, but it was all that I needed. After that, Control time was typically in the 1/2 hour range through the rest of the ride, other than Edinburgh and Great Easton, where I got some sleep.

The sleeping arrangements were in a large gymnasium-like area with about 250 blow-up beds. That repeated itself at some other major Controls. Thirsk was lightly occupied (Hamid was there somewhere too) when I put my head down and more beds were occupied when I left.

In contrast, when I got to Edinburgh, I was one of fewer than 10 occupying those beds. When I got up, all 250 were occupied and there was a waiting list — recent arrivals eating and waiting for a bed.

With my short stay at Thirsk, I was now ahead of Hamid, but not much. I would be leaving Controls as he arrived. He arrived in Edinburgh about 1/2 hour after me and we arranged to leave together.

The section from Thirsk to Edinburgh — roughly 300 km — has a lot of climbing. It turned out to be a fairly long day. I got in to Edinburgh at 8:13 p.m.; Hamid and I planned at 1 a.m. departure. Hamid’s wife and brother-in-law were waiting for us in Edinburgh; Hamid went to the hotel with them. I put up with a semi-cold shower here, which was a disappointment.

As I was prepping to leave Edinburgh, Peter and Dave were eating, getting organized to get some sleep. I don’t think that I was riding any faster, just spent less time at Controls and, in particular, getting less sleep (I think). We haven’t had a chance to compare notes.

Edinburgh to Traquair and then to Eskdalemuir were very slow. Climbing, cold, misty, not highlights. They might have been highlights in daytime, probably great scenery.

Hamid got his wish at one of these, yes, there was a bottle of Scotch available for a shot. I needed something that was truly warm, like coffee, not pseudo-warming, like alcohol ! I had coffee. These two Controls, short runs, would have been a great place to stop had I extended the day that ended in Edinburgh, but that’s hindsight, always 20-20.

It was now daylight. We’d left Edinburgh shortly after 1 a.m. and didn’t get into Eskdalemuir until 6:56 a.m. Six hours to do 86 km, including Control time of course, is very slow.

Hamid was committed to making Pocklington that day, making both it and the last day, 350 km days. We were now in tune. 300 of that 350 got us back to Thirsk at 8:41.

To my delight, my cousin Allan, who I’d visited in Yorkshire prior to the ride, was there to meet us. Allan had introduced me to the local cycle club and while riding with them, encountered another rider who said that he would be working Thirsk … and there he was. That was fun. As a result, we spent more time in Thirsk than planned, since we’d only expected to eat and grab a change of clothing out of our drop bags so that we could change and sleep in Pocklington.

Onward … we got to Pocklington at 2:21 a.m. — yes, the days are now stretching out. However, we then planned to leave at 6 a.m. to do the last 350. Hamid wasn’t sure if he’d do it all because he had told his wife Shab that she could see him at the end. if we arrived in the middle of the night with her not there, well, that wouldn’t have been good.

Starting out from Thirsk to Pocklington we had some more rain. When the rain stopped, the wind started and of course it was then a cross-headwind. It was really blowing. We made St, Ives, 119 km from the end, at 9:25 p.m. It had been slow going. Hamid stopped to sleep and I continued on.

The section from St. Ives to Great Easton was not a good one for me. Mentally I was kind-of weirded out, it’s middle of nowhere; no other lights or riders around, thinking what-if-my-gps fails or simply deposits me in the middle of nowhere. Eventually though, I did get there. Mentally I needed a break so I crashed there for 1/2 hour which became 45 minutes sleep time, 1:15 at the Control overall.

Refreshed mentally and physically — it’s amazing what a short sleep will do for you, even if that’s simply lying across three chairs — I finished the last 4 km stretch which descends to Loughton but has a lot of rolling thrown in for good luck.

I finished up at 6:12 a.m. … yes, it had turned out to be a 4 day ride plus 12 minutes.

There were definitely places where I could have cut time but it all has to be taken as a package. Pushing faster somewhere would probably mean more break time; it’s hard to say.

Had I taken more time, I’d have seen some parts in daylight that I only saw at night, but it’s hard to simply stop and wait for daylight if you’re ready to roll.

It was fun.

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