London Edinburgh London 2013
LEL is a 1419km Audax event held every fours years starting and finishing in Loughton. After my disastrous 2012 in which I broke my femur, LEL was an ambitious target, but I felt that I needed something challenging to aim for. My training started 1 Jan – very gently at first but by the start of the event I’d managed 7000km, my longest single ride being 480km, instead of the 600km I’d been targeting. Up to two weeks before the event, I was still not sure if I’d go through with the ride and had almost settled on riding to Edinburgh and catching a train home. A couple of good rides in the few weeks before the event lifted my confidence and I felt good about doing the full distance.
I have done three Paris-Brest-Paris’s in the past – with a best time for the 1230km event of 53hrs, so I did know what to expect, but was in a lot better condition back then with plenty more miles in my legs – especially in 2011.
Day 1 Loughton to Pocklington, 334km
I only managed a few hours sleep the night before, probably just nerves keeping me awake, but not ideal. I had chosen a late start – and was in the last group – the X group with a start time of 10:30 on Sunday morning. The way I saw it was that I had 950 domestiques up the road to chase. We all set off in good spirits, a certain Steve Abrahams carrying a bottle of Jack Daniels that he intended to consume throughout the course of the ride! A small group of seven of us formed – the X-Press train – and we blasted the first 100km to St Ives in just over three hours. A quick bottle refill and we were back on the road, but now the train had split up and I found myself riding with just one of the riders from our existing train, a German chap called Franz. We were to stay together for almost the entire ride. We steadily ticked off the next three controls and arrived at Pocklington at 23:25. My leg was swollen and aching so it seemed a logical place to grab some sleep, a shower and a decent feed. I really should have known better than to eat something that was a little spicy, I definitely paid the next day for that pasta sauce with terrible heartburn – rookies error! Due to the amount of people wanting to rest at Pocklington, our sleep was rationed to three hours, so we were woken at 3am.
Day 2 Pocklington to Edinburgh, 369km. Total so far 703km
Not far out of Pocklington, Franz and I caught up to a Greek woman called Vasiliki, she knew a friend of mine that I finished PBP with in 2011, Steffen. (He was currently at the head of the field with the eventual first man home). She was a very good rider and full of enthusiasm for the event and cycling in general, definitely a good person to have around. Apart from a short period where Vasiliki had bike problems and told us to go on whilst she had her bike fixed, we three rode the rest of LEL together. Usually Vasiliki disappearing up the hills, Franz disappearing down the hills and me doing some towing on the flats. This section of the ride was filled with hills and stunning scenery, although the weather was chillier and wetter.
My diet for the day consisted of solely breakfast cereals and sponge puddings with custard, I wasn’t going to risk any more heartburn. It’s a bit strange having weetbix and pudding at every meal time. But it seemed to work and I still felt strong.
A friend of mine, Duncan Milligan, who currently lives in Edinburgh had offered to meet us in Edinburgh. As we were arriving at Edinburgh at 23:35, there he was standing at a roundabout waiting for us, our first fan! Thanks Duncan.
Day 3 Edinburgh to Thirsk, 297km. Total so far 1000km
Again an early start, and this was the coldest section of the ride only about 9C. Luckily we had a couple of shorter stages to get us warmed up. At Traquair, an interesting ‘painkiller’ breakfast of whisky and cake awaited us.
Vasiliki, Franz and I were still in good spirits. It was great to ride with someone who was always saying ‘ I am so happy’ (in a Greek accent), and we definitely let an impression on a lot of other riders as we passed through the different controls. Vasiliki was determined to look her best, even though the rest of us had given up a long time ago, she might have been the only person on the ride to have lipstick, eye-shadow and an eyeliner pencil in the pocket of her cycling top! By now Vasiliki had a big following back home thanks to my wife passing on our progress through facebook – she became known as ‘Turbo Girl!”
At Eskdalemuir, our navigating let us down, and we did an extra 18km loop – not the first time we’d made a ‘detour’, and not the last. Luckily our chosen route was absolutely stunning and quiet, so we didn’t mind too much, but we did promise to all try and concentrate on not adding any extra miles to our ride!
At the same time, my rear wheel had been playing up since Edinburgh, a grinding noise in the hub and when we spun the wheel, it didn’t spin for very long. It progressively was getting worse, so we needed to find a bike shop ASAP. I would have been happy to buy a new rear wheel. We finally found a bikeshop – near to Brampton, and the mechanic put in new bearings and cleaned it up, it definitely felt a lot better. Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of the problems, the freehub also started playing up. Often the freehub wouldn’t engage immediately and I had to keep constant pressure whilst cycling. As soon as I free-wheeled and then started pedalling again, often the freehub wouldn’t engage, totally upsetting any rhythm. I didn’t have much choice except to carry on and hope it would last to Loughton.
We arrived at Thirsk at 22:54 and decided to get some good sleep and try and push through to the end the next day. With our detour, bike problems and the hills we still felt like we’d had a successful day.
Day 4 Thirsk to Loughton, 419km. Total 1419km
Today was going to be our longest stage, luckily we had the flat roads across the fens, surely we’d fly along those? Not with the brutal headwind we encountered, so after a long slog, we finally arrived at St Ives at 21:00. We were all starving looking forward to a good feed and the chance to fill our pockets… Unfortunately St Ives was not that well equipped food wise, there was some stodgy pasta, a plate of bread and jam and a plate of tomatoes!? Nothing to fill our pockets with to keep us fuelled up. The rest of the organisation along the route had been excellent, but this was a blow, as we had 130km still to go, and we had nearly 900 metres of climbing to do in the dark.
A large group of us formed at St Ives and we thought we’d have safety in numbers for the ride home. The problem with this is that you are only as fast as the slowest rider. It was slow going, the roads to Great Easton were very rough with lots of potholes – which made the ride dangerous. My lights were not as bright as I’d have liked them, so I was going very slowly at times. It was 81km to Great Easton, and we arrived there, eventually, at just before 2am! By now I needed new batteries before venturing out, we hadn’t passed any service stations or open shops since St Ives. I was given some new batteries by a fellow cyclist, but my light must have got wet at some time and just wasn’t happy. I decided to try and dry it out with the hand dryer in the bathroom and told Vasiliki to head off with the group. In the worst instance I’d have to hang around until it got light. Luckily there were lots of jam doughnuts at Great Easton, so I stocked up my depleted sugar levels whilst I fiddled with my light. I managed to get the light working and left Great Easton at 3:10am, at the same time as another rider (yacf: Zanda) was leaving. He was still super strong and I asked to hang onto his wheel. He wasn’t hanging around, and we completed the last 45km’s to Loughton in 1hr 20 minutes. It was 4:30am on Thursday 1st August. I’d finished in 90hrs (and 50seconds). Our total distance with all our navigational issues was 1475km, riding time: 63hr57min, average moving speed: 23km/h. Calories burnt: lots – the equivalent of losing 3kgs in four days!
It was definitely tougher than PBP, not only the extra 200km’s, but the smaller, rougher roads give you more of a pounding, having to navigate yourself, rather than follow directional arrows is much more difficult and the hills (when it is hilly) feel steeper. But, it is a fantastic route, with amazing scenery – in my opinion much more interested than PBP.
Thank you to my two amazing riding buddies, you made it so much more enjoyable. Thank you to everyone for their support especially my long suffering wife and her patience whilst I got in the miles.
I’ll definitely be back for more in 2017, hopefully back to full fitness by then.