“You can’t predict but you can prepare” – Howard Marks
Self-Calculation and Using a Timeline. These are without a doubt two of the most important things I have learned whilst riding DIY audax events. They came about after I rode a 1400km DIY from Bath to Lindisfarne and back in May 2016. Up to then whenever I entered a DIY audax I blindly accepted the maximum time allowance listed on the virtual brevet. The problem is: the auto-calculator is sometimes wrong! I found this out the hard way on the Lindisfarne 1400 when I wrongly believed that I only had 98 hours maximum to complete the ride. In fact I actually had over 116 hours but only found that out after I finished thinking I had run out of time. Since then I also benefit from using a Timeline to aid me during the planning stage and also when I am riding the event itself.
So lets start at the beginning and explain that a DIY audax is a permanent event that you can ride at any time pretty much anywhere you want once your proposed route has been accepted by the regional events organiser. I had already successfully completed quite a few DIY’s of distances from 200km up to 600km. I planned this 1400km over the winter of 2015/16 and was advised by Tony, our helpful and friendly regional organiser, how he wished me to submit a non standard distance on the entry form. All went as he suggested and I got my ‘virtual’ brevet as usual. The ‘virtual’ brevet lists the official requirements of your ride such as rider details including name, address and membership number. It also includes the route details you have submitted such as date of ride, distance of ride and control points you will pass through. Just as on a ‘physical’ brevet card you carry on a calendar event. What is different about the virtual brevet is that you never touch it, it is an electronically held record and it includes a ‘zipped’ (electronically minimised) .gpx file of the route you intend to ride.
Here is a copy of a virtual brevet from a recent 200km I rode. As you can see the virtual brevet lists details in 2 main boxes.
The upper box contains the rider and ride details and the lower box lists check points. Highlighted by the RED BOX are the distance and Minimum & Maximum Time Allowed based on 30kph maximum speed and 14.3kph minimum speed for the distance of 200km
This is a closer view of that highlighted box. Note that the total distance needs to be at least the ‘Points Distance’ but is often slightly more. 202kms in this instance.
What I had completely forgotten to take into account were the lower minimum speeds required for the longer distances, not catered for on the drop down menu on the entry form. This had an exponential effect on the Maximum Time Allowed for my 1400km DIY. As it had never been an issue until then, I simply did not give it any thought. I just always accepted the time allowances the virtual brevet auto-calcuates based on each submitted distance. In effect it is a spreadsheet.
It was only on the third evening of the 1400km somewhere in Yorkshire that I realised I was struggling to keep up with a schedule I had set myself based on 98 hours. I had built up a 20 hour time buffer after the first day but had hit a bad headwind on the second day and surrendered a substantial chunk of that surplus. On day three I crossed the Yorkshire Dales and had four really hard summits to cross. By that evening I was beginning to have serious doubts about my progress. What compounded the issue was accumulating fatigue rapidly slowing my thought processes and I was struggling to figure out what the problem was.
I recall thinking that the time allowance was either wrong or that I was simply no longer able to ride a 1400km audax ride at the required speed. A quick mental calculation seemed to suggest the time allowance of 98 hours was roughly correct. I arrived at this by figuring that the Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) 1200km randonneur time allowance was 84 hours maximum and add on another 200km at 14 hours and together that would total 98 hours. BUT, I also knew that PBP had a maximum time allowance for the tourist group of 90 hours and I also remembered people saying on the London-Edinburgh-London 1400km I had ridden in 2005 that the longer distance meant a slower average speed requirement which translated into longer optional sleep periods. OR was it that I was now older and just too slow?
I have a vivid memory of stopping at a petrol station for coffee as it got dark and trying to do the maths on my phone calculator. I had always switched off mentally when people went into the detail of all the different ride abbreviations such BP, RM, BRM, etc. as it simply bored me. I now cursed myself for not taking more notice. I made a decison that I would finish the distance no matter what, even if it meant finishing outside the time allowance and a failed brevet attempt. So I eventually finished in 108 hours and 27 minutes. I got home and out of courtesy more than anything I submitted my gps. ride file to Tony Hull, the organiser and explained that I had run out of time. I went to sleep for about 6 hours and awoke to a lovely email from Tony explaining that I had in fact succeeded as the correct time allowance was 116 hours. I had even finished with over 8 hours to spare! Tony realised that the DIY auto-calculator had not taken the non-standard distance into account. I felt a bit stupid but quickly decided to learn from my own mistake. It always pays to own your own mistakes and use them as learning opportunities.
I made a film of that ride as my first attempt at vlogging. A bit cringeworthy but I guess it tells the story!
How to self-calculate
By doing a websearch for Audax time allowances a page like this will appear and you will find a PDF of Audax Regulations and Appendices as shown below.
In section 9.7.1 of this PDF you will find the speed requirements for each of the distance bands as shown below.
In the case of my 1400km DIY you can clearly see that it fits into the 1300 to 1899km band which requires a minumum speed of 12kph. The formula for the maximum time allowance will be: (distance ÷ speed = time). So using my 1402km total distance divided by 12kph, I get 116.83333 hours. Bingo! Next you need to convert the decimal fraction of an hour into minutes and the formula for this is: (decimal fraction x 60 = minutes) as there are 60 minutes in one complete hour. Therefore: 0.83333 times 60 is 49.9998 and you would round that up to 50 minutes. So on my 1400km Lindisfarne ride I actually had a time allowance of 116 hours and 50 minutes.
So all my planning and accommodation booking were out by 18 hours and 50 minutes because the minimum speed required was 12kph and not 14.3kph, all because I had used the DIY entry form in an unconventional way just to enter a non-standard distance. Imagine an airliner on the runway but just a couple of degrees off being centrally lined up as it accelerates. Instead of taking off it would probably end up in a field! Well the Yorkshire experience was like me realising I was heading off a runway. By Oxfordshire the following night I had come off that metaphorical runway, when I was forced to sleep in a church porch for several hours due to complete exhaustion.
So the major lesson learned was that when you are experimenting and pushing the boundaries do not automatically rely on technology as it was not designed with this in mind. After all the ethos of Audax is self-sufficiency and DIY stands for Do It Yourself. Being able to self motivate gives you a terrific advantage.
I view a timeline as punching a hole in the present and using it to look at a point into the future. You can then work backwards using staging posts or markers. A bit like a sniper identifying a distant target and clearly focussing in on it along a sightline. Then lining up a rifle by using sights directly in front of the eye and at the end of the barrel with the target. The distant target becomes fuzzy….but it is still very much there.
So taking my 1400km DIY as an example you can now project 116 hours and 50 minutes into the future and plot it onto a timeline. In my case I use a calendar to calculate what time of what day I will start to find out the cut off time. I started my 1400km DIY at 05:00 on a Monday so that meant I had until 01:50 Saturday. That is 4 complete days plus 20 hours and 50 minutes.
I can now begin to break this down into days and nights. In my case I am quite comfortable riding 300km a day, plus about another 10% at my pace. Much more than that and in my case I suffer from sleep deprivation. So I will try and plan my stops accordingly. That may mean trying to book accommodation around the 330km mark or just deciding that is when I am most likely to tire and be thinking about looking for a bivvy location leading up to that point.
I cannot stress enough how much this knowledge helps. When I tire I am actually prepared for it and better able to cope with it since adopting this strategy. Some refer to this as a pre-mortem approach. Instead of identifying a problem after it has happened, you recognise the probability of it beforehand and so prepare for it. Its like the difference between a check up and an autopsy! This is empowering in such a positive way, especially when tiredness would otherwise be an obstacle to thinking a problem through.
Another benefit of a timeline is you can mentally super impose it over a clockface during the ride itself. In my case I find this really useful as when I tire I find the mental arithmetic more and more difficult. The clockface is much easier to visualise and calculate on. Even on shorter 200 and 300km rides I practice this. Say for instance I ride a 200km ride and have a 14’07” time allowance and I start at 07:00. I now know that my cut off time is 7 minutes past 9 o’clock that night. The further I progress into a long ride the more I compare the Garmin estimated time remaining figure in hours & minutes to my clockface of actual time remaining to make calculations of how much ‘Real’ time I have in hand. On the longer rides this really does pay dividends when evaluating my progress and gauging how much sleep I can allow myself. I always try to keep a minimum of one hour in hand to allow for any late mechanical problems or to avoid getting stressed at traffic lights or other delays.
This year, 2018 I rode a 1200km DIY between Bath-Great Yarmouth-Aberystwyth-Bath and finished with just 47 minutes in hand. The timeline saved me as I tired rapidly on the final day due to fatigue and lack of sleep. When I had entered this event I had no idea that I would have a 335 mile leg into a strong headwind. I was able to adapt on the road and re-calculate how to proceed on substantially less sleep than hoped for by using my timeline.
It really does work!
Use time as a resource just as you would food or drink.
Think of your time allowance as an asset that you can deploy strategically.
NOT as a time limit which is a liability working against you.
By slightly altering this frame of reference you can give yourself a massively beneficial psychological effect. It’s like a gaining superpower!