London-Edinburgh-London


Perhaps my most prized possession - frame number ii5, still covered in road dirt from being unclipped at 900 miles of riding.
London - Edinburgh – London was……. An experience! First off, the all-important Strava image and link.  
And the bling.....



** Now I should put an excuse for the delay in posting this…….but I’ve been busy……… For the past 3 months I've effectively been doing two jobs plus normal life.......buying a house, being a dad, trying to find scratches of sleep and taking any slim opportunity I can to see if I can do a medium distance training ride. There are a billions things I hoped and wished to do, but exhaustion is a kicker. **
As the event is such a major event, and by its very nature very fatigue inducing batterdness that the event brings on, certain bits are slightly blurry.   Plus I’m only getting to write this up some time after the event – I have had a family party straight after, two days of work and then straight off on holiday to a remote Scottish island where the waves hit cliffs, rock and beach are the main interests and ISM frequencies are something “mainlanders” have to be concerned about.  But this is my account.

The build up

The build up to LEL was brilliant.  Physically, over the few months leading up to LEL I felt like I had made a lot of ground on my training to get to where I wanted to be before the event.   Riding 600 km had become relatively easy or at least a comfortable prospect.  In the weeks running up to LEL, I did an extremely tough 600 km solo ride through the Peaks (with a hell of a lot of climbing) which tested my body and metal strength far more than I had expected and by the end of it, I felt alright which had given me a lot of confidence going into LEL – although riding 1,400 km wasn’t something I had experience on so still a lot of anticipation and caution.   In the final weeks I did a really fun and fast 80 miles blast around one of my local loops after work on the Blue Steel bike and it felt just like epic fun.   My body (bar a minor left ankle tendon injury) was in really good shape and everything felt “set.”   With 10 days to go to the start line, I felt very well prepared mentally and physically.  Just where I wanted to be.  All looking very good!
Before other previous events I had taken the MTB out as a way of spinning but not training.   This time the week before the event was rather filled (Mrs Stav with work commitments and my work had been demanding) so instead I did a low power spin on the turbo trainer with Zwift and a few vidoes – no Sufferfests this time, just random stuff to occupy the mind and loud music.   I didn’t go into the event as rested as I had hoped but not in a devastating way.
As ever, as the days drew closer weather watching became a pre-occupation and it didn’t look overly optimistic but not sole destroying.   I had experienced bad weather and knew I had kit for it, so all I had to do was survive it, ride within my ability and I’d ride it out.

Plan of attack

My plan of attack was open to change but I had a number of goals which I had hoped to work towards.  First goal was to finish within the time period.   Second goal was to finish in around 80 hours.  Goal 1 I had a strong feeling I could do; Goal 2 was a personal goal that I really wanted to do due to the event being every four years and this may be my only chance.   Plan for Goal 2, but be happy with Goal 1.

Check in and the flag drops

In the spring, my sister-in—law and her husband very generously offered to loan us their house as a base camp for LEL.  They had booked a family holiday and as their house was only 5 km from the start/finish, it was a perfect launch pad.  I finished work on the Friday, so Saturday morning the Stav family members head to Essex for check-in, bag drops and last meals.  
Time for the booking in.   "One for a return trip please!"
We headed straight to Loughton where the LEL HQ was based and started the check in process.   Kit was transferred into my rider drop bags, my documents were checked, frame numbers given out and a start line meal ticket pocketed.  Compared to other events I have done, LEL had a very different feel.   Often in Sportives (particularly the larger, higher cost/km and more corporate events), there is a lot of kit-sneer and snobbery.   I’m often in the faster groups (thanks to training), but my Concorde is 18 years old and looks rather shabby.   In the faster groups unless you have [next years yet to be released flagship model] bike, pristine shoes, that years bespoke tailored jersey with fabric just released from the Tour de France and new water bottles then you are looked down upon as being inferior or out of place.  LEL is not like that.   In the bike park, kit was very varied but all had the same quality – it was selected because it had a purpose, it had been tested over thousands of kilometres and it hadn’t failed.  It may have been the latest and greatest kit, something from eBay, passed over the tabletop at a cycle jumble or found in the spare parts bin, but it would be lasting more than 1,500 km at least.   The cycle-snob ego wasn’t there – everyone had 1,400 km on their minds and respected other people's equipment choices.  The bikes in Loughton had a massive diversity – steel, alu, Ti and CF frames; tandems and tandem trikes; two, three and four wheeled velomobiles; recumbents, Bromptons and flat tops; bikes from UK, US, most of the EU, Asia and South America.  Fantastic!
I signed it somewhere.......
Once all done at LEL HQ, time to go to Stav base camp in Woodford Green and full the reserves.
In Woodford Green, the Stav party ate well and slept as a family for the last time before going different ways.   In the morning, Mrs Stav and the kids headed up the course to Castle Howard where they would join Jim and Ginny, Chris and Em for a few nights camping and exploring.  I was left in the house for the final preparations, packing my saddle bags and getting ready to ride.   If you know that nervous calm period where you’re pinning on numbers, selecting your best socks, making sure you have just what you need and not leaving behind anything essential, then that’s the feeling.  It appears that it’s the same nervousness you get on 100 mile sportive compared to 900 mile audax.
Creature comforts for 900 miles.   My life in a bag.
Time to ride. 
Around 1.30pm with an hour and a half to spare, I made the short journey up to Loughton for the start.   The feeling was a mix of anticipation, excitement and terror.   18 months of training were about to swing into action, but at the same time the neurosis of “am I ready? Did I pack enough kit?  Did I pack too much weight? What was that creak?? Did I over train??   Did I train enough??”  Pretty much all the normal emotions, just on a slightly grander scale.   
An hour to the flag drops.
Checking in, I cashed in my meal ticket, chatted with other riders (there was a girl riding for a Liverpool club who had a Bianchi MegaPro, my dream bike as a 18 year old) and waited nervously.  Around 2.45pm, as I waited to be scanned into the start line, the 3pm starters were called and around 20 of us moved into the start pen.   I was with an eliptigo, a number of Italians and a few others as we all made small talk and waited for the clock to hit 3pm.   Garmins were started…….

Riding North

Just before 3pm, we had the all go and set off.
If you’ve ridden a mass start sportive, the usual cautious bit kicks off as you try and gauge the ability of riders around you.  The last thing you want to do is miss read someone else's behaviour and end up clipping a curb, being pushed into traffic or overlapping a wheel.   As the release groups were small, the bedding in period was quick, and before we knew it we were riding smoothly.
For the first section, it was a bit like an international club run.   Very quickly I started working with a group of Italians and the km’s fell quickly.  There was an urgency to the riding but well within threshold levels and by rotating we worked well.   I was feeling good, did several big turns on the front before dropping back and then returning to the front.  Everyone was buoyant and quickly we started to see the numbers from waves which had started earlier.   Heading out to the first checkpoint at St Ives, one of the Italians saw my number and said “Aleecks, you ride like a train.”   Goal 2 was looking promising.
After St Ives was a flag marker turn in my mind – Kings Ripton.   Here there is a junction which I know well.   From St Ives you turn right into the Fens and the route to Scotland.   Or, like in training, you can go straight on for the route back to Nottingham after 300km training around the Humber and down through the Fens; or turn left for Cambridge.   I’ve had many rides cross this junction so it sticks out in my mind.   Turning into the Fens I picked up an Italian from the earlier group and an Asian (Korean I think, or Hong Kong) and we worked into the flat lands.   The next section I knew well and we covered with ease up to Spalding which I hit before dusk.  A feed, refresh, check lights and layers and get ready for the next section and riding into the night.  
From Kings Ripton, through Spalding on and on towards the Lincolnshire Wolds are long sections of open exposed roads that are fast and flat and between us the afternoon quickly turned to evening and clear skies – so clear with the lack of light pollution we saw shooting stars overhead as we headed.  The fella I was riding with was happy to see them as he explained that the city lights where he lived masked them.  Pretty quickly we covered the Fens, hit Hornchurch and Lincolnshire Wolds to find Louth.
Boom!  Feeling good, fast and fresh.
In training, Louth had annoyed me – that fucking one ways system!   This time with the route well marked, the checkpoint was found quickly but it was extremely busy.  A lot of riders had picked Lough as their first night stop so beds were busy and the queue for food took a while.  But the food was filling and well needed.  I didn’t want to stop long here, so food eaten, checked out and back into the dark.
The next section was a bit I wasn’t sure on.   The roads around here have quick gradient changes but no major climbs and although I had ridden around here in training, I didn’t “know” it.  One climb caught me off guard but once near Caistor II knew then what to do and got back on track.  Riding through the first night, Barton-on-Humber fell quickly, then Humber bridge was crossed and on to Pocklington.   All these roads I knew well from training and last year (even if reversed), I knew what to expect and it felt “homely” being back there.   
Pocklington was far quieter than Louth where I fed again and headed again into the night.  Little gutted that I missed out at the bakery in Pocklington itself as their Yum-Yums kicks ass, but it was late night/early morning.  I knew well that after Pocklington there were a number of small climbs in the Castle Howard area and by this point I was a little behind my personal goal schedules but still riding really well.   I felt comfortable (even if smelly) and confident and by early morning I was on the climbs up to the Castle Howard estate.   Very quickly I found the monuments and the long avenue leading to the campsite and the road side party that was my family waiting to see me.   Seeing their faces was a real boost.
After Castle Howard, the roads settled, the A1 was crossed, Thirsk was ticked off and Castle Barnard was calling.   Last year I missed out on the iconic bridge to the south of Barnard Castle, but this year I crossed it.  The checkpoint was in the most amazing school reminiscent of Hogwarts.   It was an unbelievable venue for the event as the dining hall is panelled with the school's sporting achievements dating back to the late 1800’s.   By this point, I was in much quieter checkpoints due to the bulk of the field still being behind me after the Louth stop so feeling very confident and doing well.   Goals 1 & 2 looking good!  Here I also had my first (short) sleep knowing that Yad Moss was calling.
Yad Moss is a formidable area.  The climb itself is fairly long, never especially steep but it is exposed in the second half.   Once out of the vegetation and onto the more barren moorside, there is very little for protection from the wind.  If rain is mixed in, there is no-where to hide.   On the ride north, thankfully it was hard, but dry.   It sapped a lot of energy and the wind did make it difficult but bearable.  Over the top of the climb, the wind slowed descending as bike handling took more concentration but glad to have it done.  On the route profile, Yad is one of these lumps that it’s good to have ticked off.
At the bottom of the Yad is Alston which was another mental tick, and then on to Brampton.  Alston did have an optional checkpoint but at that time, I shot past it before I realised where the turning was and the moors around here are stunning, but with Brampton in sight I pushed on to get there to be ready to leave before being too late into the night.  At Brampton I had a bag drop, but as I was comfortable (and stank) so I didn’t use it.   By the time I left Brompton, darkness was falling and the roads were getting easier.   The slow rolls in the borders made covering distances easier, and then out of the dark, white dynamo front lights appeared – the leaders were heading in the opposite direction.  While it was brilliant to see them, I had hoped to have missed them as they would still have been in the northern loop but as they were around 9 hours ahead of me by start time, I avoided fixating on them and concentrated on keeping my own ride going.   But then a major ride development was about to hit….

Bloody borders

Leaving Brompton I was running well – fed, watered, fatigued but relaxed and pretty much where I wanted to be.   Then I noticed that a cough was getting worse and a feeling that something had irritated something in my chest.  It felt a bit like when you have phlegm you can’t kick out mixed with gravel annoying the back of your windpipe.   I have had this feeling once before – while training in the Peak District on a damp day in the spring of 2013, something got into my lungs which caused me to cough and cough hard while breathing deeply in climbs.   The result was that I coughed up blood all the while riding the remaining 50km back to Nottingham.   That time had resulted in teaspoons of blood at a time being coughed up in the back garden and once checked out at NEMS, it was found that I had caused ruptures in the lining of my throat and/or lungs which was causing me to cough up the blood.  This time, I could feel it was worse.
As I passed through deserted but lit towns flanking the A74M, at one point I stopped and coughed violently and noticed I was coughing up a mix of blood, mucus and chunks and lumps of something pink.  There wasn’t anyone around and I still had a number of km’s to go along quiet roads before I would get to Moffet and knew that I had to go on before I could do anything.  Apart from SOS’ing from a mobile phone, not much option other than riding on!  I had in my mind that there was around another 500 miles to ride in total and that I wasn’t going to quit, so I decided to reduce my tempo to stop myself breathing too deeply to see if I could avoid coughing.  My speed would drop but at least I would still be moving forwards.   If I could get my breathing to settle, I could at least limit the damage rather than making it any worse.  Riding on I was very aware of the feeling of excess saliva and blood accumulating at the back of my throat and trying to work out each time to clear out if I should risk coughing it up or swallowing.  I knew swallowing would potentially unsettle my stomach but coughing would cause further ripping and rupturing.   Occasionally after I had a coughing fit I’d get back into street lights or check point I would notice blood splattering my handlebars and Garmin (on reaching London and putting the bike on the car roof, I notice blood still hanging onto my rear mech, 800 km’s, wind and rain later).   I was moving, but not at the pace I had wanted.   The other thought very clear in my mind was that quitting would mean having to re-negotiate training and LEL 2021 based on a DNF.   I ride on.
In this section, the audaxers trait got well observed.   On these quieter roads, I noticed in a number of bus stops LEL riders making their homes for the night.   And then the weather turned.  While riding towards Moffett the route is pretty straight and traces the route of the M74 – it’s a practical route, beats the crappy road surfaces around Lockabie but a little boring as a little featureless in the dark.   At one point, a heavy rain front dropped its motherload just as I found a motorway underpass so I hid with another rider while the worst passed.  
Bleeding lungs, bad weather – time to scrap Goal 2 and aim at Goal 1!   
Moffet was found in the dark and ticked off nicely.   A brief nap, a feed and time to ride on again.   Alive, still good but slightly compromised, I was still up for this!
Blooded but still going for the long run
After Moffet, the road to Edinburgh is beautiful – when you can see it and when you don’t have to feel it!   The road rolls and climbs through romantic misty woodlands and forests steeped in history and intrigue before crossing the moors and heading down slowly through long descents dotted with small communities towards Edinburgh.   I know this area is stunning and well worth visiting – but at 900 km, lack of sleep, 100 meters visibility in the dawn/morning mist on the climbs and a road surface which send vibrations through your forks and wrists on the descent, you just want to get it done!   When the final climb up to the outskirts of Edinburgh was found and the short descent to the school – “London-Edinburgh level: unlocked!”  Hell yeah!  My stomach was hurting, my lungs have bled, my head felt like it was in it’s own sleep deprived little bubble but half distance was done.

Edinburgh

At Edinburgh, I stopped and ate.  I even had a sleep (around 90 minutes).  The checkpoint was rather quiet with a good turnover of riders while I was there.  I had little knowledge how I was doing compared to other riders in the event at this point.   I was aware of numbers but as riders had start times upto 12 hours ahead of me, I had jumped a lot of people in the early section but probably been jumped with bleeding lungs, the concept of where you were in the bunch was a little abstract with a fuzzy head!  While I ate, I noticed a group of riders (two young looking girls along with a young looking fella and a couple others) at one of the other tables.  I had seen them at Brompton previously so we must have been roughly matching pace.  One of the girls was a little distraught while the other girl appeared stronger.  It appeared that the event was getting to her, but her story was about to get more epic.

Riding South

Leaving Edinburgh was pretty tough – legs were trying to wake up again and the day was warming up, head winds were picking up and now entering uncharted territory as I passed my own previous distance personal best and roads I hadn’t ridden before.   The route south took a different route to the Northbound and headed into some beautiful countryside with a number of rises and falls, each of which had a head wind just to make it a little more fun.  On one rise, I found the group from the Eds checkpoint having a mechanical – chain/rear mech damage.   I offered help, but they were well covered.
For the next section, I really enjoyed the valleys and with how tough they were.  The route ran through an area which I’d be happy to re-visit and stay in with the family, tent and walking boots.  There was a little shelter from the wind and in general progress was slow and tough with no flat roads.   The descents were fast and sweeping and all was rolling well.  If there was ever a stereotypical shortbread tin lid picture view, then it came from here.
Inerleithen and Eskdalemuir were ticked off fairly quickly and both these checkpoints were in stunning locations, nestled into Scottish valleys and either of them would be worth investigating more with walking boots or a mountain bike.  Eskdalemuir also had a psychological boost.
From Eskdalemuir, the roads picked up speed as the light dropped.   The more moorland pass like roads started to change to valley roads and rolling borders and on one section I was passed by the girl and fella from before.   But this time the girl was in a different place.  The fella had a speaker playing music while she shot passed me giggling on a single speeder.   It appears that as her rear mech was toast, they had fixed her chain length to give two gears – one for flat/descents, stop and change for climbing.   From being distraught in Edinburgh, to nearly being DNF’d by a mechanical to shooting passed me giggling, every rider has a story.
Heading out of Scotland, we picked up the A6 and headed back to Brompton reversing the routes we had done earlier.    I reached Brompton around 11.30pm and took the opportunity for a two hour sleep before riding on as I had a tactic.  As I knew that the winds would be lower during the night, I wanted to start the Yad Moss climb before the winds picked up so opted to leave Brompton 4 am.  I had a breakfast and then headed off with very few people around me.
Sun rise in this area was very picturesque as trees turned from silhouettes to full colour.   At some points back lit trees on the horizons almost looked like giant heads on spindly necks until they came into focus as trees.    I scored a road kill (dumb bunny) and headed for Alston which was an optional check point.   On the road towards Alston, I realised that something was feeling right so I opted to stop and feed/drink before taking on the Yad.   I’m glad I did as I felt my body temperature drop massively.   I hugged/drank three large coffees while wrapped in blankets and tried to fight falling asleep for around an hour before I was able to move on – exposure episode #1 done.
Climbing the Yad early, it’s a climb that is pretty much unforgiving to the simplest thing to do is start and keep spinning in any gear that moves you forward and that’s what I did.  Bugger any aspirations of setting a fast time over Yad when you’re two thirds of the way through a super-audax.  Ignore everything else, and just keep spinning.   On the way up, the van I saw on the way north was still there – a rider who didn’t get on to LEL this time but wanted to be part of the event was shouting support and willing us on with flapjack.  To see him encouraging us on is what the audax community is all about and thank you to him!
I dropped over the Yad, down through Teesdale which felt like it never stopped undulating and limped into Barnard Castle.   The last climb from the river up to the school hurt massively as by now my digestion was shot and my stomach was cramping bad, but I was at least at Barnard Castle and heading south.   Goal 2 was out the window, but Goal 1 was still looking promising, abate painful.
By the time I had reached the checkpoint, food was about to switch from breakfast to dinner menus and pancakes, bacon a syrup was about to disappear.  Luckily I got the last batch and they tasted fantastic.   More fluid, milk to calm my stomach, a short nap, and interview for the local paper and then time to get going again.  Between the organisers and riders, there was talk of a weather front coming across…..
From Barnard Castle south I crossed the A1 where the next real weather front hit us.   I’d ridden in the heavy rain under the A1 and on through Middleton Tyas - the kind of heavy rain which feels like being pelted by peas, not just a bit of rain while doing your high-street shopping.   Not long after here, the rain worsened and I struggled to keep warm.   I found two other LEL riders from London sheltering in a bus stop so joined them while the weather passed but quickly realised that stopping my make me drier (or at least stopping me getting wetter!), but without moving my body temperature was dropping further.   A local (very posh gastro) pub was around the corner so I hid and ordered the biggest hot chocolate they’d do and ate all their sugar cubes.   Stopping long enough to warm up I survived exposure #2 before riding on into the now lighter rain. In hindsight, this was the 4 am tactic paying off – a lot of riders were hit by this front on the Yad and then retired at Barnard Castle.  One of the points of highest DNF’s was due to exposure on the Yad.
After Thirsk, the optional check point at Coxwold was passed and as night fell I worked my way towards Castle Howard.  By this time, the family Stav had had to head back to London, so I was met on the road side by Jim and Ginny.   By now, my stomach was extremely painful and seeing a friendly face on the road side was more than welcome (thank you Jim and Ginny!).   In the Castle Howard section, I got to see one of the real standout image of the event.  The road past the Castle is a long straight avenue which drops and rises over the distance of maybe 1.5km or more.   As you pass the campsite and look along the road, all you can see is a line of red lights of riders ahead of you stretching out for the next 1.5km, every red light being a rider fighting the distance and dark heading to London.  Very cool image.
After the Castle, the roads wound towards Pocklington through country lanes that twisted and turned. Pocklington appeared to take ages to arrive while I worked with a Dutch couple and a fella who was feeling the effects of fatigue and frustrated by being “nearly there” for far too long.
By now I had estimated that I’d have around 24 to 36 hours more time on the road to go and with the time in hand, I could afford to sleep in exchange for banked time and still be within the time limit.  Pocklington also held my drop bag, so after eating, I grabbed 2 hours sleep and a (cold) shower, switched kit and felt ready for the next full day on the road.
One thing to note was kit selection.   Up until Pocklington south, I had been in the same shorts and jersey ever since leaving London.   They may have reeked and the smell broke UN conventions, but they were comfy. These shorts had better padding in the crotch but were tighter across the thigh, causing some pressure which I wasn’t sure was slowing me.   The shorts I switched to were looser on the thigh, but older so I figure the lower thigh pressure may have eased things.  I have used them for thousands of km and up to 600 km in a single sitting so pretty comfy but the padding is worn.   Maybe 20 km after Pocklington, the difference in padding was very, very, noticeable and not in a good way.   But at least my new LEL jersey was comfortable and smelt fresh.
Missed the bakery in Pocklington (waaay too early in the morning) but now on familiar roads.
Leaving Pocklington was very positive.   Daylight was coming up, I had showered, eaten (milk was settling my stomach), and the roads to the Humber were well known.  The immediate exit from Pocklington I had done only weeks before and even at this point the climb didn’t phase me.  At Barton-on-Humber a large group of us stopped at a small corner shop for an unofficial check-point (drugs!) before heading into the Lincolnshire Wolds.  I knew these roads well and familiar towns and villages were passed easily.   After Caistor, the road dropped and then went into a series of climbs which in training had kicked me – personal points were scored on a climb I hated but climbed easily this time, even with the winds picking up, stomach pains and a lot of km’s in the legs.    
Now south of the Humber, there were two or three points on this section extremely strong gust almost pushed me off the road.  These frustrated me massively as I knew i could do these roads, but the fatigue and having to concentrate on cross winds was dropping me below the speed I wanted to do.   Surviving it, I got to Louth.
By this point, being a later starter and slowed due to conditions a lot of riders had passed through Louth since my last visit, Louth had a smell that was………...indescribable but I’ll try.   At checkpoints, the usual process was to get to the front door, remove shoes and then walk into have Brevet cards stamped and find food.   By this point in the ride and with my stomach being unsettled, the smell of racks of soggy, sweaty cycling shoes was like a impenetrable wall!  I’m sure my own shoes didn’t help but I did get closing to heaving a few times!
After Louth, the roads become a lot flatter heading into the Lincolnshire plane as the Lincolnshire wolds run out.   Over the next section there isn’t any real elevation gain until somewhere near Kings Ripton so happy days!!  Riding these roads is very sensitive to conditions - on a good day you’ll average 40kph with ease, on a bad day you’ll struggle to maintain 15kph.   On this day, it was towards the 15kph as cross winds and occasional very heavy showers passed across.   I worked with a number of groups to try and keeps pace and share the winds until I nearly cracked.
Around Hornchurch I lost the wheel of a peloton and carried on solo until the stomach cramps I was suffering with became insufferable.   At this point it became the closest I’ve every come to climbing off the bike during an event and one of the handful of times I haven’t finished a ride.  On the road side I sent a message to Mrs Stav as my head was telling me to quit but at the same time that I should ride on.   After all the training and over 1,000 km, quitting isn’t something that comes likely.  Every time I pushed on another 20 - 30 pedal strokes, my stomach would cramp down, I’d lose power and I’d have shooting pain across my abdomen which would bring me to a stop. After talking to Mrs Stav (sorry for putting you in that position!) I carried on - the choices we pretty slim, it would be a train home from Hornchurch or ride on.  So time to ride.
As winds eased a little and the roads almost became auto-pilot, a rider from the Boston CC saw me in pain on the road and asked if i was OK.  He had seen a number of us riders out and we started talking.  I explained that I was in pain so he very generously offered his wheel and to pace me on the road south, switching from his evening ride to being a LEL leadout hard man of the flat lands.  As wide headed south, he did a fantastic job of maintain a very consistent pace, holding me in his draught and picking up more riders as we rolled to Spalding.   He even lead us out right upto the checkpoint and if it hadn’t been for the support of a local club rider, I think my LEL may have been scratched on those exposed roads.
At Spalding it was time to refill, refuel, re-assess where I was and now I had the mindset of “only 200km more on familiar roads.  That’s a training ride!!”  Leaving Spalding, I rode with several small groups on the open and exposed roads on the dykes, headed through Crowland as the light started to drop.  By now I was feeling far better and the calm evening conditions, flat straight roads came to my advantage as I could relax, churn a gear and just keep riding.   
Back on the open roads running down through Thorney I worked with around 5 other riders before my stomach started to kick out again.   As I thought something like an antacid might help, I pulled off from the group and found a local to ask him if there was a shop anywhere nearby.  He’d seen for the past few days LEL riders passing through but wasn’t sure what was going on so I explained and asked him if there was a local shop nearby.  Straight away he said “not until the next village, but I can help you!   I’m sure my wife has some Andrew's powder somewhere, and I live just over there, will that help??”   10 minutes later and a rummage through his wife’s cupboard he brought me half a pint of Andrews and gave me the rest for more onwards journey.   Thank you stranger!!
After that, my stomach settle until Whittlesey where I knew there was supermarket and another LEL rider sat outside.  He didn’t speak the most English but was unmistakably a LEL rider with the same problems as me so I nipped in and bought twice the amount of Tums and gave him some freebies.   We chatted with some White Van Man fellas who thought we were bonkers and rode on into the night……
The next section down through Pondersbridge and on to the small rise before Kings Ripton shot by extremely quickly and by now I was motoring really well.  These roads have a good rolling surface, I’ve ridden them a number of times and with the night section giving good conditions, churning out a 30kph roll was just fun.  Only by the time I was dropping into St Ives did the road surface make me regret my shorts choice, but from St Ives I knew I was nearly home and dry.   Confidence was sky high!  I sat at St Ives and checked out time in hand, distance to go and what I needed to do.   Even if I rolled in single digit mph’s I’d make it but I wanted to push on further.
From St Ives, the route deviates from the northbound leg and heads through Cambridge to Great Eastern and then snakes round to London.  On the guided bus route towards Cambridge, the path is quick and easy and km’s dropped extremely quick.  Running into the city of Cambridge, a lot of the lights were on in restaurants from their evening services and a few late night tourists were taking night shots of the sights…….while groups of smell cyclist shot through.   I also found out that Cambridge has a lot of cobble stones…….
Coming out of Cambridge, I ad hoc rode with a group of international riders (mainly Korean, Malaysian and Indian I think!) before riding off from the front of them with a fella called Patrick.   Some of the weirdest parts of riding in this style of event is the fact that you can meet people in the dark, chatter away and have no idea what they look like.  As you ride in the dark your eyes are observing the road surface for potholes, car lights front and back and your peripheral vision picks up on where the person you’re riding with is positioned next or near to you.  In the dark, you can be aware of people turning their head to talk to you, but may only glimpse a facial feature from a street light or road sign and never see their face.  The section out of Cambs it was cool to reminisce about pro-riders of the 90’s, life, training and LEL.   Only approaching Great Eastern with short climbs di my stomach start cramping again and Partick rolled on ahead.
At Great Eastern, I was so close to the end but sleep deprivation was really kicking me.  My plan had been to micro sleep and then ride on and get LEL bagged.   Even with sun rise approaching, I asked the LEL support team to wake me after 20 mins.  After 20 mins, they woke me, I went back to sleep for another 20 mins!   I can safely say that (even after the sleepless nights after new born babies) that is the most sleep deprived I’ve ever felt.   I think my wife’s Facebook post sums up the near final relief:
The final section from Great Eastern to Loughton, it felt like a nice final morning ride.   An Asia rider was around me playing music, I chatted with a local and another LEL rider on the final bit and probably in the most dazed and painful ending of any ride I’ve ever done.   The final 2 km has a snide joke as you pass the back of the school grounds before having to ride around the estate before the final approach to the school gates.   On that final roll in, you get to see other LEL riders come the other way and everyone of them gives you a nod or full shout out.   And at the finish line, I found my family, all smiling.
Loughton and London - Edinburgh - London done.  1,446 km, 200 meters.

Fini.

I don’t think I’ve ever finished a ride in that mixed state.   A massive mix of elation of doing it, the pain of stomach cramps, seeing family and the amazement of riding 1,400 km in the time limit.   At the finish line, I took my brevet card for the final stamp and scan and got my medal.  London-Edinburgh-London 2017 completed.
Note:   Loughton, Epping UK, not MD US.
After the scan I was ushered through for my finisher's photo which I confess does an amazing job of making me look good by that point!  In a sleep deprived and adrenaline fuelled haze, I pipped the Garmin and headed for food with my kids having fun trying to find my drop bags in the school hall and nicking my baked beans.

Leaving London.

Straight after finishing on the Friday, we were due to be at a family party in the midlands that afternoon so stinking and half asleep we got back to Woodford Green, changed, packed up and headed to Leicester where the rest of the Stavrinides, Wilson, Chapman and Johns were waiting.  After a recovery shandy and oedema kicking in, I survived till about 10pm before passing out.  
The rest of the weekend was parties, milk and kahlua and falling asleep while the party went on around me.  A fantastic weekend.
Recovery shandy, trying to drain oedema from my feet.
The party

Thanks to be had

Riding this is a very solo battle. My legs did it, my lungs objected, my fingers are still swearing at me. But there are a lot of people that need credit for this:

  • Firstly, Mrs Stav. She's my everything. She watches my dot on Google maps, supports me when I need it and humiliate/chides me when I need that too. She is amazing and love her.
  • My kids for being on the road side to see an exhausted dad roll past!
  • The whole extended family (Wigans, Wilsons, Stavrinides, Johns and Chapmans) for the support and encouragement and my workmates for the messages and texts of support.
  • The LEL event - supporters, staff, riders, organisers......all of them!   The event will be with me for life!
  • Loughborough University and Lynsey Wilson for 2 years of support!
  • Steve Abrahams, Mike Hall, Krsitoff Allergert, Juliana Buhring and all the other riders for being more bonkers than me and inspiring me to do something epic.

The follow up and fall out......

I have a lot I could write about in terms of the psychology of riding these events, the emotions and life after. I've also even written a fair amount of it, but it is filed in the "to do/complete" list while house moves and career stuff swirls around and carries on. If I have around 4 hours to sit and put it into a cohesive blog.........I skip it, clip in and either be out on the road or in Watopia.

Comments

  1. Thanks for taking the time to write this, great read!

    ReplyDelete

Post a comment

Popular Posts