November #srrty

I set out #srrty in my last post So an update on how things have been progressing, what routes I have been riding and why.

Starting in 2014, as previously mentioned I began to design my own ‘DIY’ Audax events using online mapping tools (such as Strava & RidewithGPS), submit them for approval and then ride them. The ‘DIY by GPS’ option has the advantages of being a paper free system which not only speeds the whole process up but allows you to use your GPS track as proof of passage virtually anywhere, whereas the traditional method of obtaining paper proof such as timed & dated receipts limits you to population areas.

I design routes with the aim of exploring new and interesting areas while at the same time I’m always interested what ideas friends come up with and often get inspiration from them. For example, I noticed that Bikey Mikey often uses the same route as a way to gain points for the AUK championship, so I decided to ride this myself out of curiosity. His route, ‘The TORtoise 200km’ uses cycle paths to join Bath & Bristol and then to loop around the Mendips onto the Somerset levels to Glastonbury. It returns on mostly the same roads, although there are options to vary this in places. I thought about extending this into a 300km and after a bit of trial and error I came up with the ‘Blackmore Vale 300km’ which goes to Templecombe and back. I rode this route several times over the summer of 2015 ironing out any issues such as which roads to avoid at busy times, identifying possible winter flooding spots and finding alternative options. It occurred to me whilst riding it that I could utilise this route to try and solve a problem I have with tiredness.

No one enjoys struggling to keep up in a group or the demoralising feeling of getting dropped but for me a pattern had emerged over the years which seemed to confirm I do not cope with sleep deprivation very well over the longer multi-day distances. Often on 600km events I found the sleep control at over 400km was just too far for me to reach comfortably. Consequently I would arrive either too late to get a bed or have to stop for power naps in bus shelters, meaning the second day was often a matter of just hanging on to the finish in a state of near exhaustion. I started to wonder if I would just be better off sleeping at 300km and accepting I would have longer to ride next day. I eventually thought to myself, “I’d rather ride 300km feeling refreshed on the second day than ‘only’ riding 200km feeling shattered.”

So I decided to try out this theory using a DIY 600km in spring knowing that if it did not work out at least I had given it a go and could either modify it a bit, or bin it and move on. I used the Templecombe route on day one back to my house at 300km which made logistical sense. My own shower, prepared hot food of choice, my own bed, clean clothes etc. It just seemed a no brainer, although there was of course the double edged sword of it being too easy to give up on the second day by waking up in my own bed!

I rode 3 of these ‘homebase 600’s’ during the spring and summer and the results were beyond my wildest expectations. Not only did I not have a problem getting up the following day, I woke up rested and raring to go and I even got round in daylight on one of them. It felt a bit like cheating because it suddenly seemed so easy compared to the past. The real test however would be in a calendar event away from home. So during my 600km qualifier for Paris Brest Paris, the Bryan Chapman memorial where the official sleep control is Dolgellau youth hostel at over 400km, I decided to sleep instead at the halfway point. Menai Bridge control at 300km is a village hall and is usually used for resting by those really struggling. Being my PBP qualifier it may have appeared high risk but I felt confident with the ‘homebase’ experiments which had given me a real dose of self confidence.

On the event I got to Menai at dusk, had a chat and meal with some mates and then rolled out a cotton sleeping bag and slept there until the control closed at 02:00. It was brightly lit, fairly noisy and I could hear comments about me being made but I was prepared for all that with ear plugs and an eye mask. I woke up all alone except for two helpers in the hall and one other cyclist departing. A feeling of detachment and being on the time limit at this stage did hit me a bit but I snapped myself out of it quickly. I set out as last man on the road but soon passed the other cyclist in pitch black Snowdonia who assured me he was okay, just struggling and needed to ride at his own pace. Onwards through the night and I started to see cyclists wrapped in space blankets in bus shelters and under picnic benches on my way to Dolgellau. This really perked me up as it confirmed to me I had made the right decision and even though it began to rain I was on a massive high as I rode into the official sleep control at Dolgellau youth hostel. After a quick breakfast I left before many of the sleepers had risen knowing I had not only eliminated any deficit but was now ahead of more riders and feeling better than I ever had on the long climb out of the valley. So I had discovered that by using the time allowance more efficiently I had figured out a way to turn a major weakness into something I could control to a certain extent.

On a late season 400km DIY I rode with a mate I found that I was struggling really badly with tiredness in the night and finished at dawn shattered so decided to apply what I had learnt from my homebase 600’s. I told myself surely it would be easier to wake up and ride another 100km than 300km as I had done on the 600’s. Again I used my DIY Blackmore Vale 300km routeĀ  back to my house as a sleep stop. With less distance would come less time allowance though, so I would have to manage the timings more carefully. Firstly, I tried riding from Bath to Marlborough and back which although had potential all night coffee stops was quite tough due to poor road surfaces around Chippenham and a few long drags which tired me.

Next I tried a loop out to the Wylye valley along the A36 in the dead of night and returning along the quieter lanes of the Wiltshire cycleway as traffic picked up after dawn. Once again it had drawbacks and a car squealing to an emergency stop behind me on the A36 convinced me it was unsafe even (or maybe more so) in the middle of the night. The driver profusely apologised and sought assurance I was okay but admitted he had fallen alseep at the wheel.

Then I came up with a 100km loop around the Vale of Berkeley which got me out of Bath on the cyclepath, onto the A38 with it’s cycle lanes and into the lanes around the Severn estuary. It worked perfectly and so I now had a 400km route I was happy with and that would be ideal to ride in winter. During my October 400km Super Randonneur ride I broke a spoke near Glastonbury at around 250km and although I borrowed a spoke key from a bike shop I only made the buckle worse by trying to stop the wheel rubbing on the mudguard. I was able to limp home and change bikes then ride my 26 inch wheel touring bike on the Vale of Berkeley night 100km leg. The silver lining of this episode was during this night ride I realised that using wider tyres may be a sensible choice during the night sections on my winter 400km rides to offset the risk of ice and darkness.

On November 1st I rode the Blackmore & Severn Vale 400km for the third consecutive month running and this is the route I plan to use until at least February when the days become longer to consider other options:

That’s enough for this post, next time I will write about how a scary sleeping incident turned out to be very beneficial, a cheap supermarket alternative to expensive sports drinks and the connection between Ronnie Barker and day two of my autumn & winter DIY 600 route…