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Avalon Audax

Ironjediby IronjediJun 17th 2015
Having spent most of the year working on my running, and building up a strong base on the bike commuting to work, the one thing I had neglected was my swimming (as per usual). I ended up making contact with the legend Mark Kleanthous (@ironmatemark) for some advice. I talked with him about everything that I had been doing - training, eating, racing - and what plans I had for the future. He was a great help as he has a wealth of knowledge and experience and is probably one of the most experienced coaches out there in the triathlon and ultra-world. A voice I certainly respect. It was reassuring to find out that I was heading in the right direction and he was able to give me advice regarding the remainder of the year in the build up to the Triple Ironman in September.

One of the interesting things that he said was that with a solid base of 250 miles commuting during my working week, there would be no need for me to try and fit in long rides. This was a relief as I had been worrying about how I was going to fit them in and build up to the race distance of 348 miles. He suggested that I should forfeit them and concentrate on other aspects of my training â€" most importantly my swimming. However, Mark did think that it would be a good test to complete the two 400 km rides I had scheduled in. This would be a chance to put theory into practice. One of the rides I had entered was a 404km Audax (254 miles in old money). This was planned for 5th June starting at 10.30pm with a cut off time of 27 hours meaning I would need to be finished by 1.30am on Sunday 7th June. Eeeeeessssssssayyyyyyyyy right?

Having never entered an Audax before and not really knowing what to expect, I arranged to ride with a couple of guys I knew who had ridden shorter Audax's. However none of us had ever tackled this distance. Up to this point the farthest that I had ridden on a bike was only 232 miles at the Double Brutal 2 years ago.

So the 5th June was soon upon us. I met up with David and Andy at the pub in Clayhidon, Devon where the Audax would start. It was dark but not overly cold. I arrived around 10.15pm having been dropped there by Wendy. I could see a mass of bikes set up outside. There was a real mixture of old and new bikes with Carradice traditional carry bags or the more modern Apidura bags. I didn’t have any of that tosh and had borrowed a pannier rack (seat post fitting from Halfords and matching bag suitable for a mountain bike). With the sight of all these Carradice bags I could tell this was an experienced mix of cyclists. I walked into the pub and could see a few of them already drinking pints of real ale and lager. I grabbed my route card feeling completely out of my depth. These guys and gals were hardened and experienced Audaxers.

For anyone who hasn’t done an Audax before, this is how it works; you get a route card with directions on, which to be honest you need a degree in Audaxing to understand, and a card that you either get stamped or signed at designated control points along the route. If a control point is not manned, you obtain a receipt with your time on to prove you’ve been there. There is no sweep vehicle and no recovery service if you have a mechanical breakdown. Basically you’re on your own. Good Luck! Thankfully for me both David and Andy had Garmins on their bikes and had downloaded the route so I had no need to sweat over directions. This was just as well, as having read them and then ridden the route, I would have doubled the time it had taken by just stopping and trying to work out where to go.

The three of us had agreed to ride together, make it as enjoyable as possible, eat loads of food (which is one of my favourite pastimes) and finish together having not fallen out. As usual I had packed for just about every eventuality. I had extra warm clothes, waterproofs, extra gloves, hat, tool kit, 4 spare tubes, two bottles and a hamper of food which included sandwiches, raisins, dried apricots, 9 bars, Jackoatbars and extra drinks. My pack was massively heavy and must have doubled the weight of the bike!

At 10.30pm there was a quick word from the organiser and we were off. I positioned myself near the back of the pack. 48 people started and we took up the whole width of a narrow Devon lane, all lit up by an array of flashing front and rear lights. It was like being at the main light parade at Disney. It was really cool. We whizzed along the lanes, dominating the road as it flew by. I thought that this would be a social event and people would talk a little however it seemed that everyone just had their heads down as we raced along in silence. We headed through Hemyock, Culmstock, Uffculme, Willand, Halberton and towards Tiverton to the first Control Point. We remained in this massive peloton until Tiverton. I was later surprised to find that on Strava I had hit a number of PR’s over this section. The speed to Tiverton was mental. I was a little disturbed as I had hoped that this would not be the pace we would remain at throughout the 404km.

The three of us hit the Tiverton Control point and got our card stamped at 11.25pm (24km done). The next part of the route headed up the A396 past the Black Cat and up onto Exmoor over Wheddon Cross and down to Minehead. The Control point at Minehead was at 71.8km. The peloton had broken up by the time we reached Tiverton and small groups rode together. The three of us ploughed on and every so often would see the rear lights of other bikes ahead. Without any real agreement between us we took it in turns driving the front of our trio, would catch the group in front, they would latch on for a bit and then we would speed up again heading for another set of rear lights in the distance. As we passed the Black Cat junction we saw a group ahead and caught them quite quickly. It contained a guy on a single speed and another guy on a fixed wheel. This prompted a conversation about the unknown world of Audaxing and how you could build up more points for completing routes on bikes with certain difficulties and put them towards qualification for the Paris â€" Brest â€" Paris Audax (1200Km) . I won’t need to qualify for that just yet!

Andy and I took the lead at the front and drove the group to the top of Wheddon Cross and down towards Minehead. By now the temperature had dropped and the air was damp but still pleasant. Arriving at Contol point 2 (Minehead) was mad. It was a small house in a residential street which had a number of bikes parked on the lawn. It was quite a funny scene. A load of chaps dressed in lycra, wearing cycling shoes and helmets, walking around on a cream coloured carpet whilst the two lady occupants walked around offering tea and coffee from tea pots and cafeterias plus there were the most amazing flapjacks. It was as if this was a normal weekly affair for them. Their kindness and patience were first class. Did I tell you the flapjack was amazing! I downed two cups of coffee and four pieces of flapjack.

With 71.8km under our belt and the time being 1.16am we headed out onto the A39 and into the darkness, all the way through Williton, Bridgwater, Chedzoy avoiding the A39 and then re-joining it just before Street and Glastonbury. The Audax is set up so that you reach Glastonbury Tor as the sun rises behind it, hence the “Avalon Audax”. There would be no sun rising for us though as we were flying through there prior to the sun poking her head out at us.
After passing through Glastonbury we headed out towards Wells and then turned off down the longest and straightest road I have ever ridden. It was perfectly straight for about 3 miles. We then had a series of hills to climb to get over and past Frome to CP3 (Bathway Services at Beckington (174km). As we headed towards Frome the sun came up, it was absolutely stunning. We arrived there at 5.54am and ordered a coffee and a breakfast pastry. This consisted of pastry filled with beans, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage. Now I like my breakfasts but I do not recommend this pastry on a normal day........

We stayed there for a while, fuelled up and then headed towards Bath, North Bristol and on to CP4 at Chepstow. Prior to getting to Bath we travelled along the Bristol Bath Railway Cycle. This is an old railway line and it has two tunnels. They were amazing - incredibly long, a little eerie, really quiet and immensely warm. After Bath we headed around the northern edge of Bristol. The cycle paths around Bristol were really well signposted. At one point I was closely following David and Andy. Feeling tired I experienced a momentary loss of concentration whilst looking at the stem of my bike (all Chris Froome like) and as I looked up I realised they had stopped. Too late, I rammed my brakes on but with not enough time to react I hit into the back of David and went over, flying on to the pavement. After the initial shock, and having given it my best dying swan impression, I dusted myself off. A bit of road rash on my left knee, hip and hand but other than that I was good to go. Time to wake up!
We soon reached the Severn Bridge. The wind had really picked up but it was pretty cool crossing the bridge in the bright sunshine. After the bridge CP4 was at a Tesco in Chepstow (234km). We arrived there at 8.49am. I ate some sandwiches, a 9bar, a jackoatbar and a banana. I was quite envious of Andy's croissants filled with ham.

We stopped for about 30 minutes and then headed back over the bridge and onto Wotton Under Edge, first passing through Thornbury. We arrived at the Edge Café CP5 (261km), got our cards signed and sat down for breakfast at 10.30am. Our pace had dropped significantly. I think this was down to a number of factors. Tiredness, the need for a decent breakfast and the wind - it had really picked up and was blowing straight in to our faces the whole time. I refueled with poached eggs and bacon on toast and a cappuccino.

After breakfast we headed to CP6 (310km) arriving at 2.02pm. We fought the wind all the way there, passing through some stunning places, Bradford Upon Avon being one of them. The wind was sapping and quite demoralising, it was like riding through treacle burning loads of energy with not a great deal to show for it.

The route now wound it's way through the Mendips and eventually down to Glastonbury and out towards Wedmore. I got quite cross at this point, we seemed to be doing a massive detour away from where we needed to be, just to go through a nature reserve. I don't know whether it was tiredness or just confusion about the route but it seemed a pointless change of direction.

However, we were soon heading towards Taunton on A361 through the Somerset Levels and still into a driving headwind. We stopped at West Lyng so David could stretch and I could lay out on the road. We were all low on fluids and keen to get to the finish which was within striking distance. Whilst there a car stopped to check if we needed any help as two of the three of us were lying on the floor next to our bikes and it clearly looked as if we had crashed. I knocked at a nearby farm and the old Somerset farmer was very kind and filled our water bottles up for us.

After this Andy suggested we race the last section as quickly as we could to make it back by 7pm. Really, in an hour? This would mean the last 16 or so miles in an hour with a massive hill at the end. David and I were thinking 7.30pm would be a more realistic time. Anyway off we went at warp factor 9, through the centre of Taunton and up the final climb through Angersleigh. David and Andy got up to the top of the hill well before me and the three of us then headed back down to the pub at Clayhidon for the finish. I arrived about a minute after David and Andy at 7.02pm. I was the 11th person back.

I was pretty blown away with the result and the fact that I had finished in 20 hours and 32 minutes. What a ride!! I felt ok and had more left in the legs which is good as I will need about another 100 miles of cycling in them and then about 80 miles of running when it comes to the Triple in September. The Mark Kleathous theory was right. I do not need to do extra long rides, my daily commute should do the job nicely. My backside and back also held out well, saddle sores were under complete control. My body was craving normal food and as part of our entry (£18) we also got a meal in the pub. I opted for the chicken curry and once I started eating I picked up, enough to eat a further dinner later at home. I celebrated with a bath full of BetterYou Magnesium flakes and then some body butter to help with recovery. I was back to running and swimming the next day followed by a week of commuting in preparation for the Wales Velothon a week after the Audax.

Audaxing ? I would probably do one again and it makes for a good Strava ride!!
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