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Some lessons learned on my first attempt at a 600km

So. I made an absolute horlicks of it, and ended up being sick in a hedge again, and didn't get round. Anyway, let's start with some good stuff...

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This is the mountain road from Llanidloes to Machynlleth. It's an extraordinary road, and on a day like Saturday it's the equal of anywhere I've ridden, anywhere in the world. It is simply majestic.

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I mean, look at that. Wales is simply stunning, and this bit even more so. Seriously, go and ride this road. That's an order, soldier.

Now, at that point life was good and the legs were strong. So, what went wrong? Well, I didn't have a plan. And because I didn't have a plan I didn't pace myself properly. Mostly that, but other stuff too.

I was planning to ride with Liam and Eleanor, both TCR veterans, who I was sure would get round (and they did, of course). I didn't see them at the start and I was worried about getting left behind, which seems kind of ridiculous now. But anyway, when everyone rolled out, so did I. And I had a nice group to ride with as far as the first stop at Bronllys. After that I hopped on the wheels of a couple of VC167 riders from up north, and hooked up with Ian from Cambridge. And after a while we also bumped into Graham from Bristol, who I've known for ages, so that was three of us. We got as far as King's YHA in Dolgellau together. It wasn't busy: we were among the first there.

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Now, obviously, what I should have been thinking was: I'm really early here, and that means I'm going too fast. I need to back off, take maybe an hour's rest, and find a slower group.

What I actually did think was: I am an Audax God. I shall have this knocked on the head by Sunday lunchtime.

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Looking at Graham and Ian's finishing times, they both finished in under 32 hours. I was never, ever looking to do it that fast. I was thinking maybe 35 hours at a push, but more likely a bit nearer the full-value 40 hours.  I was just wanting to get round. I did the first 200km, including stops, in just over eight hours. The alarm bells should have been ringing. But it was fun being at the pointy end.

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Anyway, it all started to unravel over the Llanberis pass and down into Bangor. Suddenly I couldn't hold Graham's wheel any more and my stomach was in knots. And I knew at that point that I'd messed it up. I struggled to Menai, got my unicorn sticker, tried to eat some soup, couldn't, and was sick in a hedge.

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Now at this point I should have taken the decision to just hide out for a few hours and try and recover a bit, because it was still really, really early - I'd knocked off the first half in under 13 hours. But instead I necked a couple of stroopwaffels and headed out to see if I could make it to King's and a decent slab of sleep. I felt awful. 

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The climb over Snowdonia to Beddgelert was purgatory. It's not even very high. It was all I could do to keep the pedals turning. I was really cold, and couldn't warm up. I was uncomfortable on the bike; of all the bad decisions I made, trying to reapply chammy cream by the side of the road, in the dark, while still wearing my mitts, was probably the worst.

By the time I got to the crossroads where the route headed left to Dolgellau, I'd made the decision that I was going to carry on back to Harlech and try and find somewhere to sleep for the night. We'd seen a hotel when we were looking for a pub for an info control there. We hadn't noticed that the hotel was actually closed and empty. That was a blow. I tried the three B&Bs in town without success, and finally lucked out at the Y Branwen pub at the bottom of town, that had one room left. The nice chap at the desk asked me if the lady had told me about the rates, but we looked at each other and we both knew that whatever the rate was, I'd be paying it. The dog barked at me because I smelt bad.

Now, even at this point, I could have carried on. It was only 11pm. The next control at Dolgellau was an hour and a half away and closed at 0824; I hadn't followed the route sheet route but that wouldn't matter so long as I was at the control in time. So I could have left the pub at half five after a comfy few hours' sleep, got my stamp and carried on. I didn't know this, though, because I didn't check the brevet card, because I wasn't making good decisions. In my head, I'd already failed to finish. So instead I slept in, had breakfast at half eight, and by the time I rolled out I was already a DNF. To be fair, it was a nice breakfast.

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I'd made provision to get picked up in Newtown, which was 100km away, and I took it really easy and knocked it off in a stress-free five hours, thinking for every single second of those five hours how stupid I was for not riding at a similar pace the previous day. We passed a lot of BCM riders on the way back to Chepstow.

Anyway, lessons learned. And I did have a very nice day of riding in Wales. Next time I'll try and make it two nice days.

 

 

Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.

15 comments

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iwood265 [4 posts] 5 months ago
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Sorry to read your attempt came to an abrupt end and you could no longer stomach eating/drinking or keeping anything down.  Was this purely a lack of 'pacing' or do you unwittingly suffer from GID - gastro intestinal distress.  When your stomach decides it's had enough it is pretty much game over for most people, unless you know how to limit the effects or have a plan B. 

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peted76 [1176 posts] 5 months ago
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And why wouldn't an ex Bog Snorkelling Champion naturally be an Adaux God swatting heroic century's away like they were flys! It was probably the stroopwaffels what did you in. 

Big lolz!

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dave atkinson [6440 posts] 5 months ago
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iwood265 wrote:

Sorry to read your attempt came to an abrupt end and you could no longer stomach eating/drinking or keeping anything down.  Was this purely a lack of 'pacing' or do you unwittingly suffer from GID - gastro intestinal distress.  When your stomach decides it's had enough it is pretty much game over for most people, unless you know how to limit the effects or have a plan B. 

certainly i do suffer from some form of GID when i go too hard for too long. i think it's to do with eating/drinking too much and my stomach emptying less quickly when i'm exercising, which is certainly a thing. i suppose it must be worse for me somehow, but i haven't really managed to find a solution for it, except to just go more slowly  1

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vorsprung [289 posts] 5 months ago
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I felt a bit dubious on the first bit of the ride back to Menai which I left just after 9pm.  I was ill last week and this year my mileage hasn't been great.  I was feeling sleepy and finding it difficult to hold the wheel of anyone that passed me

Anyway, I stopped for a coffee on one of pubs on the route

After this I chatted to people as I rode, took caffeine tablets and ate chocolate 

The long A470 climb is actually a good thing at that stage of the ride.  It gives you an aim and keeps you warm

I got back at Kings before 2am

 

One of the rules of long distance riding is that everyone will have a bad patch at some point.  And part of the nature of the bad patch is negative emotions and not considering the facts.  Don't beat yourself up with making mistakes, everyone does

 

 

 

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1961BikiE [418 posts] 5 months ago
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Sorry to hear about the DNF. I assume that due to your gastric issues you had that you were running on empty which affects mental performance as well as physical. Then the poor decisions start. I have to say, the lie in at the pub was probably the best thing you did, followed by the breakfast. Pushing on may have had serious affects on you. Lesson learned I hope.

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PpPete [51 posts] 5 months ago
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Shame, you were looking so good at King's YHA,
(I was the volunteer asking about the bamboo bike)   

We've all done it though, whatever our level of ability, and funnily enough the worst thing you can so is train!  That just gives you confidence to go just a little beyond the comfort zone.  Come into an event 'undercooked' so your legs tell you to back off after 20km, and you might find it all goes much better !

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Simon E [3436 posts] 5 months ago
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Great that you enjoyed some of the most brilliant roads & views in the UK (my home turf) in beautiful weather but sorry to hear that you didn't get to finish. Well done to those who did.

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cdean [38 posts] 5 months ago
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Sorry that you didn't complete the ride, but at least you got a very entertaining write up out of it!

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dave atkinson [6440 posts] 5 months ago
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PpPete wrote:

Shame, you were looking so good at King's YHA,
(I was the volunteer asking about the bamboo bike)   

We've all done it though, whatever our level of ability, and funnily enough the worst thing you can so is train!  That just gives you confidence to go just a little beyond the comfort zone.  Come into an event 'undercooked' so your legs tell you to back off after 20km, and you might find it all goes much better !

good to chat to you at king's! yeah, i was feeling dandy then  1

off bamboo racing on thursday, so we'll see how that goes. who knows, it might make it out on an audax one day. probably not the BCM though

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dave atkinson [6440 posts] 5 months ago
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1961BikiE wrote:

Sorry to hear about the DNF. I assume that due to your gastric issues you had that you were running on empty which affects mental performance as well as physical. Then the poor decisions start. I have to say, the lie in at the pub was probably the best thing you did, followed by the breakfast. Pushing on may have had serious affects on you. Lesson learned I hope.

yeah, at the time and given the quality of my decision making, it was probably the best course of action. wish i'd looked at the card though and made a plan.

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markysparks [12 posts] 5 months ago
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Thanks for the write up Dave, shame about the DNF. I've only done one 600km and I still consider it my toughest biking challenge. I have a few medals from triathlon and other bike rides but the Super Randonneur is the one that means the most to me.

The thought of the distance ahead is usually enough to stop me going off too fast but I always found eating and resting difficult to get right. I get fed up with sweet/stodgy stuff and long for proper food. One of the best things I've found is flavoured milk drinks, because they're easily digested I suppose.

I also took the 'luxury' option and booked myself into a travel inn at about 350 km - I could only use the room for about 2.5 hrs due to time constraints, but it was the best £60 I ever spent as I don't think I could have carried on much further. That hot shower and brief lie down was enough to see me through the second half.

Anyway, you've got some good experience for the next attempt and you'll feel elated when you complete it  - just think of it like the Riccione Gran Fondo but do it in slow motion 

 

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ChrisB200SX [848 posts] 5 months ago
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dave atkinson wrote:
iwood265 wrote:

Sorry to read your attempt came to an abrupt end and you could no longer stomach eating/drinking or keeping anything down.  Was this purely a lack of 'pacing' or do you unwittingly suffer from GID - gastro intestinal distress.  When your stomach decides it's had enough it is pretty much game over for most people, unless you know how to limit the effects or have a plan B. 

certainly i do suffer from some form of GID when i go too hard for too long. i think it's to do with eating/drinking too much and my stomach emptying less quickly when i'm exercising, which is certainly a thing. i suppose it must be worse for me somehow, but i haven't really managed to find a solution for it, except to just go more slowly  1

Have you looked into fat adaption? I think it's how full ironmen train their bodies to burn mostly fat as fuel, I think it will involve going a bit slower though.

Sounds like you made some schoolboy errors and learnt the hard way.

Also, thinking logically, simply and clearly, under race conditions, extreme pressure or whatever, is really difficult, most people can't do it. It takes practice and I believe you've got to be very motivated to apply yourself, but it is a skill that can be learnt.

Chapeau for attempting such a distance!

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700c [1267 posts] 5 months ago
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Great photos and an entertaining read. The problem with publishing a blog is you open yourself up to lots of 'helpful' criticism from internet pundits! But thanks for doing so anyway  1

I suppose there's a point at which most mortals can no longer go at a decent pace in order to get round. Thats why I'd never audax. For me, 300km done quickly would be preferable to 600km of soft-peddaling-arse-numbing hell, but each to his own!!

(In fact, 300km at any pace is beyond me at the moment )

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alotronic [580 posts] 5 months ago
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What Vosprung said. 

Top marks for being audacious and landing yourself right in the poo and at least trying to find your own way back out of it. 

Love the Audax God bit, been there, suffered horribly because of it too. BCM is a tough ride to recover on. And totally with you on the run of bad decisions front. I did the same on PBP in 2015, not really relising I actually had enough time left, then aced (slowly!) LEL having learnt very similar lessons. There is no doubt you are fit enough but it's as much about gastric fortitude than anthing else. And there is always a bad bit on a long Audax!

You should look up Flatlands later in the year. The clue is in the name. An 'easy' 600 the main difficulty is finding somewhere to rest your head and the likely headwind. Doesn't have the cachet of BCM but a good intro.

Then, of course, you have to try PBP. No you *need* to because you are a cyclist and a journalist  1

PS When I feel like I have suffered on a ride reading this always makes me feel better: https://theadventurecapitalist.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/lel-2017-part-2/ 

 

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wycombewheeler [1342 posts] 5 months ago
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I completed BCM last year, perhaps because I always intended to stop for the night at penrhyndeudraeth at 350km and not at kings, I figured on 5 hours sleep, and got more like 7 due to a fast saturday.

Having planned to stop there it was always in my head to get up early and squeeze into kings before control closed.

reckon you could have easily finished inside 36hours had you done this, start at 5:30, 250km in about 12 hours is not so severe, and the day would be spent passing slower riders who had less sleep which is a confidence boost, the body rewards success with endorphines making it easier to keep going. Probably at cost of more pain afterwards, but the job is done then.

Maybe its also because I routinelky train my stomach by feeding it a mix of junk and decent food, so it doesn't go into shock when I jam the calories in on these rides.

Top photo shows menai bridge way before sunset, proving you had plenty of time in hand. I think its as much a mental game as physical.