Friday night analysis

Where to start........

Probably 6.30am on Friday with the kids getting up and a full work day.  

I'll make no apologies that this may be a long blog post, but I want to recall and record as much of this as I can.  Partly so that everyone can see what this entails and partly because I want to record it for my own records.  This challenge has been big, and I want to be able to remind myself in the coming months and years.

In a very positive way, Friday night was a learning experience.  As I write this on the Monday after, I'm really glad I did it for so many different reasons.

The plan.

My plan was to ride the route south into London and go to Buckingham Palace.  Simple!  I wanted to check the route, get myself acquainted with night riding and find out what I had in store.  Plan wise, I had two choice - aim for a representative finish time (around 8 am on a Sunday) and ride a shorter route, or ride a long distance for the fatigue and finish at anytime.  I opted for the former, and in hindsight it was the right plan.

Friday night nerves.

First, it was tough but not as fearful as I thought it might be.  I fully confess that on Friday I was apprehensive as riding unsupported into the night is a risk.  I was riding solo on a lightweight bike with only the contents of my pockets and bottles to keep me going on very quiet country lanes and empty A-roads.  Had anything happened, I would have to fix it myself, seek refuge anywhere possible or hope for phone signal and rescue.  Going over 300 km / 200 miles distance wise wasn't onerous, but doing it knowing that everyone else was sleep gave it a different slant.  Understandably, Mrs Stav wanted updates when and where I could.

In terms of preparation, I did the least possible during Friday day to make sure I had energy for the evening.  Pretty much all kit was sorted short of final clothes selection and the weather forecast wasn't startling.  I knew that I would be going into head winds for some periods and repeatedly checking the MetOffice website showed rain and heavy rain moving east as the night went on.  I could expect heavy rain around Peterborough, sunset around 8.53pm and sun up 5.01am.  As the ride time approached, I made the final route choice and opted for the intermediate distance option.

The settle in.

So getting into the ride wasn't too bad at all.  Setting off from Notts was very familiar and a number of late evening riders were finishing their evening rides while I was on my way out.  Riding wise, the first 20-30km is usually the phase where my body adapts and settles and this was no different.  I thought I was going to regret opting for yellow tinted lenses over clear lenses but as the light dropped I was glad I had the anti-glare.  A minor point but at least I wasn't squinting at every on coming car and something I will use in the coming weeks and night rides.  After a few light showers/spots of rain, I stopped outside Lincoln, checked in with Mrs Stav, put on knee warmers and headed out east.  My data for this phase looks good and what I expected.  All going well!

Headwinds and rain.

My route I had modified from the published LEL route and what I had tried previously in daylight.  As LEL can have riders riding the route at any time of day depending on their pace, the route uses a lot of mnor roads to keep fatigued riders away from the traffic.  However, I can predict where I will be.  So instead of using some of the minor roads, I used some of the main A roads in the dead of night.  These were far faster, less taxing on navigation and better road surfaces.   Then at the point where my direction headed due south, the head winds kicked in.  And kicked in at 5 - 15 mph for the next 10 hours.

Trying to overcome the headwind was tough.  Based on Lynsey's work and the 3 hour lab test, I should be able to hold around 170 Watts indefinitely providing comfort and food.  In training this has given me around 30 kph.  However with a 10 - 25 kph headwind that cancels out the first 100 Watts giving me a net forwards power of 70 W.  To maintain 30 kph, I'd have to put out 270 Watts.  Shit.

And this wasn't the end of the hardship.  Heading into the Fens, the heavy rain that had been predicted hit too.  This gave two issues.  First issue is physical.  I ride as any rider does with a jersey with rear pockets, so as soon as I put on the Gore-Tex my pockets are hidden and I can't reach food.  Secondly, the Gore-Tex for no matter how breathable it is, traps heat which puts up my core temperature - my body now has to work harder to keep cool.  The net effect is less food and a higher energy demand.

Now in every respect it was going to be an extremely tough ride to try and balance energy, pace, temperature and comfort.  If I'd taken off the jacket I could cool and go faster, but getting wet would then strip heat from me too quickly and I would have frozen.  If I keep the jacket on, I risk over heating.  With the head wind, no matter what I do, I'm going to burn maybe a third extra in calories.  So I settled in and fight.

By the time I reached London, yep, my body was ruined.

The Strava data looks something like this:

For data, you can see where the headwind started to takes it's toll.  The first 100km or so averaged 31 km/h, 127 bpm, 57 rpm and an estimated 157 Watt average before the turn south - the kind of performance I getting used to and expect of myself.  Once onto the southern drag, my pace dramatically drops to 22 km/h average.  Even accounting for my natural drift down through riding, my heart rate goes to 110 bpm and my estimated power is around 80 Watts.  The very straight section through the Fens showed 24 km/h average, 123 bpm and an estimated 78 Watt average - power cranks for tell a different story.

Through the sparsely populated sections in Lincolnshire and going into Cambridgeshire, I had the luxury of unimpeded roads with very little to stop me in terms of junctions or traffic.  The closer to London I got, the more stopping and starting there was.  By the end, the repeated stop-starts felt like punches to the thighs.

Elevation wise, you can see how flat the area is - no more than a few meters in rise or fall at any time until around 250 km to 325 km where it becomes a little more rolling going into the Thames valley.


Yeah, tough ride in every respect and I'm far from negative about it.  But in terms of head space, a good mix.  Mentally, missing the pace will always hack me off.  I shouldn't be going that slow, but then again, that headwind!  I'm not an athlete so 270W for 10 hours isn't going to be in me.

Riding through the night was no where near as bad as I thought.  Relaxing into the night, with the right kit I was pretty comfortable.  At no point was I too cold or fearing my safety.  The roads were extremely quiet so I never feared being knocked off or anything happening because of another human - the badgers running out in front of me scared the crap out of me though.  If anything, I really enjoyed the hardmanness of it - a solo rider, turning the pedals, heading through the night with wind and rain lashing the face on a trek to the capital city.  #Rule5.  This whole challenge is taking it's toll on family life, but I can see the appeal of the nomadic, wandering cyclist life Steve Abrahams leads appeals.  If I didn't have the lifestyle I lead, I think myself, the Genesis and a Carradice would be racking up many more hours in the dark.

I wasn't sure how I'd cope with the lack of sleep.  In reality, it was never an issue.  It was going dark by he time I was leaving Nottinghamshire, Lincoln shot by with the lights of pubs, I missed last orders north of the Fens, the rain and dark were just that, and by the time I was south of Peterborough I could see that the sky was starting to get lighter.  Dawn was approaching and I hadn't felt any waves of tiredness and as the sun came up I could feel my body tell me it was a new day (Sheldon Cooper's schedule of bowel movements I could rival and that slight clammy feeling of being awake all night clung to me) but I didn't feel too bad.  It was only when I stopped at Sal and Geds' house at around 3pm on the Saturday did my body decided it had had enough.  I have had discussions with Lynsey about if I should use caffeine.  This time I didn't and I'm of the opinion of all or nothing.  Once using caffeine, you're on it for the rest of the ride.  I didn't use anything on Friday night which I think helped with Saturday morning as there wasn't the see-sawing of caffeine levels.

Once question that often comes up is music, or something mental to keep me stimulated while I ride.  I'm not a fan of blocking my ears when riding for safety reasons as you can often pick up cues from the sounds around - rainfall, tyres of surfaces, wildlife or traffic lurking around corners etc.  So normally my mind wanders a fair bit, I get earworms to play with and I think about what's ahead.

A very fitting earworm from Peterborough area. 

I've got to mention something about the Fens.  In the daylight, it's weird with flat straight roads with an occasional landmark.  In the dark, it's a weird place with flat straight roads and the occasional landmark that appears, comes into view through the dark and goes again instead of being visible to miles before you get to them.  At one point at the start of a long straight a HGV pulled into the road in front of me and for the next 20 minutes it's lights slowly crept away from me, only disappearing from view when it turned a corner a couple of miles ahead of me.  I'd read about this place in the dark and I can see why endurance cyclist in the night give it respect - if I'd been more tired or further into the ride, I can see why people hallucinate with moving lines and sirens tempting you to the bank.

Sirens.  They must have scared of by the rain on Friday night.

"Wow, I've heard about you guys."

One thing I found was my reception with people I met.  I had planned on stopping at Spalding for more food.  There's a 24hr garage there so I could bank of getting more food and as I was there when everyone else was getting more booze for after the pub, I got a number of comments.  One fella asked me what I was doing so I explained the reason for the ride, the training and the event. "Wow, I've heard about you guys.  You're mental.  Don't you like ride, and just keep going??  How do you do that??"

By the time I'd reached the Duxford area, I found a Co-Op for another fuel stop.  To me, it had been a long ride so I grabbed what I wanted and started eating.  A well-to-do fella started a conversations with "Going far?" so I replied "Something like that" and explained.  When I said that I was doing 230-ish miles and nearly there, he was amazed.  When he asked about how long the challenge was and I explained "around 420 miles" he gave a very polite "Fuck me" and walked off with his morning paper and pint of milk.

The final group(s) of people were those doing their Saturday morning spin through Epping and the Party Bike in the City.  By the time I reached London, I was a skinny man on an old road bike who looked a bit tired, none of then knowing what my ride had entailed.  I'm sure when they reviewed their rides on Strava with the Flyby option they would have got a bit of a shock.  I enjoyed having a laugh with the Party Bike gang ("Can I slipstream you??")


One bit that I need to address is the route I explored coming into London.  London drivers are crap.  Their behavior is very different to other parts of the UK and unfortunately I plotted a route through Hell - the A414/M11 junction.  The place was never designed with a cyclist in mind.  I need to rethink that section.

Lead out and sprint on the Mall.

By the time I'd reached Epping, I confess I was blown.  Man with the Hammer was lurking somewhere and I was only just keeping him at bay.  I did stop at a local bike shop to pick up more gels, but by this point I was already massively in calorific debt.  As the route passes close Sal and Ged's house, Ged offered to come and join me for the last section into the City.

The route into London via Leytonstone is lined with shops selling different world foods.  By this point I could have easily ditched my bike for any number of places to eat.  I would have emptied my wallet and sunk my teeth straight into the doner kebab skewer.

Riding the Cycle Super Highway was good but the burst of spinning up the legs then stopping for lights was just masochistic!  As we rode into London, I knew some of the route from previous visits, and the sense of excitement still builds as you go passed the landmarks, see the lions of Trafalgar Square, head under the arch and ride  ride up the Mall.  Riding up the Mall was fun and less traffic than I expected - a good sign!

Final bit back.

The Mall closed out the major section of the ride and all that was left to do was the 20km or so out to Woodford Green and rest.  Ged and I stopped for a hotdog by the Palace (thanks Ged!), picked our way back out through the city streets and joined up with the rest of the families.  362 km (225 miles) done, a lot learned, a very tough but good ride under the belt and a bit of kip in Essex.

By the end, I had been up from 6.30am on Friday through to around 3pm Saturday (around 28 hours straight), done a full work day and then ridden Nottingham-Lincoln-London with a ride time of 14 hours 52 minutes and a total elapsed time of 18 hours 43 minutes (including stops, hot dogs and riding back out to Woodford).  I'd battle harsh conditions, been below pace but I think on track in terms of training.   The challenge still has more to come, but this was a big stepping stone.

In 46 days I'll be back!

Lead out man Ged.

Thanks and gratitudes.

  • Massive thank you and gratitude to Mrs Stav for being amazingly supportive in this one.  It's mentally tough for all of us and while I'm cycling, she's dealing with added parental responsibilities.  Couldn't do it without her
  • Thank you to Sal, Ged and Tandy for hosting our family on Friday night.  Thank you also for the shower, food, bed and support.  Thank you to Ged for being my lead out man and shouting hot dogs in the park.
  • Thanks to Lynsey for the work so far and supportive texts - the encouragement in the last 100 km was well timed!  


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