Tuesday, 31 March 2015

ElliptiGO PBP Qualifier - The Dean 300 Audax ride

6 intrepid ElliptiGOers on the start of The Dean 300 Audax: L to R: Carl, Stu, Shane, Andy, Chris and Alan
So with the 200k PBP qualifier out of the way things now start to get a little more serious. To quickly recap - qualification for PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris) requires you to complete a randonnée series - 200/300/400/600K rides within the qualification times. This was 'The Dean' 300k starting and finishing in Oxford with an advertised 4,000 metres of ascent to be completed within the 20hr cut-off window. That's just 9.5mph average speed which sounds easily doable, but when you start taking into account the fuel stops, the hills, the wind, the night section, and riding an ElliptiGO you soon realise that we would probably need most, if not all of that time.
The weather forecast had looked pretty dreadful all week, but as it got closer things didn't look so bad with rain forecast for only part of the day, and despite a head wind on the outward leg we would hopefully benefit from a nice tailwind to take us all the way back to Oxford. The route itself was a anti-clockwise loop out through the Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean, into Wales before coming back across the Severn Bridge and heading home.
The Dean 300 route & elevation profile
The team assembled was the best of British from the North (Team ElliptiGO Preston!) and the South (Team Shires..., oh and Essex - sorry Carl ;-) Team Preston even have their own ElliptiGO Preston branded gear too, courtesy of Shane who's an authorised ElliptiGO dealer and mechanic. That's the great thing about the ElliptiGO, as well as Audax in general, is that it brings people from all walks of life together to share the experience and adventure. And this was just another small chapter in this unfolding adventure that is PBP.
It was an early 6am start at the Peartree Park and Ride just north of Oxford. We lined up ready to GO (if not quite raring at this stage ;-) Breakfast was cheese and ham croissants with Mars Milk and coffee.
ElliptiGO taking pride of place at my bedside in the local Travel Lodge
The 300k broke down nicely into six 50k sections. This was a DIY style Audax ride meaning there were no manned controls where your brevet card is stamped as proof of passage. Instead at the end of each 50k section proof of passage was a receipt from a local shop, services or ATM.
Section 1: Oxford to Stow-on-the-Wold
The first section was Oxford to Stow-on-the-Wold (44k) which was described as 'lanesy with a bit of climbing'. That just about summed it up and it came in that order too. It was gentle start as Team Preston-Shires set into their stride. No drama and easy riding with a very sustainable pace set up front as we took it in turns to lead out. The wind was certainly noticeable but it wasn't unbearable. The major climbs came late in the first section as the talking stopped and we got our heads down. But it was early on and on fresh legs they proved no problem. We soon rolled into Stow-on-the-Wold and were on the look out for the 'as-advertised' BP garage. Shane was eagle-eyed and spotted it.

Andy and Chris at Stow BP garage - and yes we were displaying our disabled blue badge ;-)

Section 2: Stow to Newent
Stow to Newent (57k) continued where section one left off with more climbing! There was an absolute cracker at the 40 mile mark just before Bishops Cleave (as can be seen from the elevation profile opposite). The rest of the section flattened out to the relief of the team (especially Shane!) and was a mix of B roads, lanes and into the Cotswolds hills. A notable incident (avoided) was on a steep descent where the bumps in the road surface caused by front handlebar bag to fly off landing right in front of me. If it had got wedged under my front wheel it might have been trouble but luckily it landed with a bump and off to the side. Phew. 100k complete as we rolled into Newent and stopped at the Co-op.
Newent - Three hoisin duck wraps, and two crème eggs later and I was ready again :-)
Section 3: Newent to Chepstow
Newent to Chepstow (49k) was a rather hilly affair! It was also the most beautiful section too as it wound through the Forest of Dean. I was relishing the challenge and actually come alive on the hills. They just seem to suit my riding style on the ElliptiGO, and I was feeling strong. I'm not sure everyone in Team Preston-Shires agreed though. And unfortunately it was this section where we had to part ways with Chris who was battled with severe leg cramps. He tried to shake it off and ride through it but he was visibly in a lot of discomfort, and at one point had to jump off the ElliptiGO half way up a hill such was the pain. We rolled into Chepstow as Chris headed for the train station, and the five of us set off for the Severn Bridge. This was another highlight of the ride and the first time in the ride where the strong North-Easterly wind was now behind us. Just after we stopped at the Motorways services much to the surprise of on-looking motorists who weren't quite sure how we got there.
Wales back into England - The Severn Bridge looking a little bleak but twas fun!
Moto services at half way! Refuelling courtesy of BK and Costa. Stay awake Shane!
Section 4: Chepstow to Malmesbury
Chepstow to Malmesbury (49k) was.... yes you guessed it more climbing! Mostly short and sharp with the occasional longer climb. The most striking of the climbs was up to the Somerset Monument at Hawkesbury Upton. The pattern of ride was firmly set by now. We were all riding strong and well as a team. Naturally our pace was different on the climbs but overall no one was holding anyone back and the K's were ticking by nicely, helped by that ever-present tail wind! Oh thank you God.
Malmesbury town centre - does anyone know here Carl's coffee is!?... hehe
Section 5: Malmesbury to Membury
Malmesbury to Membury (56k). Just 100k to GO now and we were entering the night section. A team vote taken that we all set our rear lights to constant rather than flashing mode. Flashing LEDs directly in front can be really distracting and horrible on the eyes.  It was an awesome fast section that I really enjoyed. And whilst we couldn't see them we passed two Wiltshire White Horses as we crossed over the Marlborough Downs and along two ridge lines. There was one long climb where the group split but we were all rewarded once at the top with a nice long rolling descent where I hit my top speed of 59KPH. It would have been 70 in daylight I reckon. The control was at Membury motorway services where it was a case of fuelling up on caffeine for the final 50k into Oxford. Team Preston-Shires was still riding really strong and I was so pleased with how things were panning out.
Section 6: Membury to Oxford
Membury to Oxford (50k) was just a blur of lights, lanes and B roads. Andy despite saying at the services "guys my legs are gone so you're going to have to take it easy on the last section" then preceded from the getGO to set a relentless pace all the way to Oxford. I was totally cool with this as we took advantage of both the continuing tail-wind and positive descent for the final 50. We all performed exceptionally well and held a fast but steady pace. Hitting Oxford town centre on a Saturday night as the pubs spilled out and queues for nightclubs lined the street was an interesting sight. Five guys clad in Lycra on ElliptiGO's can look odd when you're sober so I can only imagine what they made of us in their state. I had at least two offers from drunk females for a ride. It didn't cross my mind for a second....honest! We were soon heading out of Oxford centre and north to Peartree Park and Ride where it all started 19 hours ago. It was 1am Sunday morning (2am with the clocks GOing forward). It was a job well done and real team effort. Well done team Preston-Shires :-) That's two down and two to GO in terms of official qualifying rides. But with the 400 and 600k rides still to GO this was really just a walk in the park.
Finished! 300k in 19 hours.
Our thanks GO to Andrew Rodgers the Audax ride organiser who I thought chose an excellent route with real variety in terrain and scenery which kept it interesting all the way. I'm sure not everyone in the team was rejoicing at the sight of yet another climb but I personally loved it. It was also perfect training and preparation for my second 300k ride in two weeks time in Wales - Yr Elenydd which has 5,000 metres of ascent and returns to the same area as the Mille Cymru including the infamous Devil's Staircase.  

Friday, 27 March 2015

ElliptiGO Chiltern 100 PBP training ride recap

Quick recap of last weekend's PBP training ride. I write these posts on my phone early in the week but it seems never get around to posting them until the Friday....

This one was more unusual as I made a last minute decision to ride through the night on Friday. So after a full day at work, getting the kids to bed, and then a social with the running club out bowling on Friday evening I returned home at 11:30pm got kitted up and went straight out into the night for a 100 miler. This was great mental training for PBP because on a multi-day continuous event you are going to be feeling far from fresh or even like getting back on the bike.

Chiltern 100 route
I actually really enjoyed the ride on what was a clear night as I rode around the hilly Chiltern 100 route with its infamous 20 or so climbs. It was uneventful except for the badger who darted out from the undergrowth and gave me a heart attack. Not sure what it is about night rides... whilst they are quiet and peaceful my heart rate is always one or two beats higher as I anticipate what might jump out at me. Other wildlife spotted was an owl, deer, foxes and rabbits. In fact I think they outnumbered the number of cars I saw on the entire route.

The 104 miles took exactly 9 hours including a few stops to take on some food. The Watlington bus shelter was a particular highlight as I enjoyed a chicken wrap and Starbucks takeout frappacino. I didn't feel exhausted or tied at the end of it which bodes well. And then it was a full day with the family before I finally crashed out around 9pm on Saturday night.

It's the Dean 300k starting tomorrow (Saturday) at 6am in Oxford heading west to Ross on Rye and back. I'll be joined by 5 others on ElliptiGO's so despite the rain and high winds forecast it still promises to be a great ride.

Friday, 20 March 2015

ElliptiGO 200k PBP training ride

Sunset over Northamptonshire turbines
A little late with this post but here's a recap on last weekend's ElliptiGO PBP training ride...

I sent a message to ElliptiGO training partner Idai on the Thursday to see what his training plans were for the weekend. I knew I had to get some miles in but wasn't feeling particularly motivated to ride alone. With Mothers day on Sunday the options were a little limited but we settled on a late afternoon getaway on the Saturday and looking to finish around midnight to the early hours. It was a relief to be riding with someone and I was already looking forward to the ride. 

The route would take us North from Milton Keynes from Northamptonshire and into Cambridgeshire. A mix of some fast main country roads as well as some more pleasant back country roads which I prefer. The total loop was 110 miles with some extra bonus miles having ridden from Leighton Buzzard to MK first.

Idai and I getting ready to GO!
I'd also managed to download the route to my Garmin eTrex from Idai's Strava page. Many may not know this but you can click on anyone's ride on Strava, and go into the setting for that ride and export either a GPX or TCX file. You can even edit the route first straight from the map extending the start or end of the route. Awesome feature which I will definitely be using again.

Returning to the ride we had a strongish head wind for the first 60 miles and whilst when we turned for the return leg it died down a little it didn't feel like we were benefiting as much as we should. Why is that! The worst thing about the wind though was the cold. I'd checked the temperature before hand and it was forecast around 5 degrees. Not too cold so I thought I'd be ok with a base layer, cycle Jersey and wind proof jacket. But it wasn't enough and I was pretty cold throughout the ride which made for what should have been an easy ride tougher than it should ever have been. But it's these mistakes in training that helps to ensure you don't make them for the main event. Whatever the forecast in future I will never not take a spare base layer. Lesson learnt! 

Oundle High Street, Northamptonshire
So another 132 miles (203k) in the training bank. I got home at 1am after splitting off from Idai to return home our separate ways at Junction 13 - M1. 

Highlight of the ride was riding through Oundle which was a beautiful English town - a real gem of Northampshire. 

Also sharing this ride with Idai made such a difference on this occasion. Even though we are now riding this distance almost weekly it doesn't make the time go any quicker. It's still 10 hours plus of riding which in those conditions would have been pure misery riding alone.

My next Audax/PBP qualifier is The Dean 300k from Oxford at the end of the March. Looking forward to that one and thankfully will have company for that too with Alan McDonogh also riding it. The cut off is 20 hours which should be enough for us to ride a easy/steady pace. There is however over 3000 metres of climbing so our stopping and fuelling strategy will also be key as we can't afford to waste too much time stationary.

This weekend I may ride the Chiltern100 route but haven't decided yet when I can fit that in.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

ElliptiGO - Audax Horsepower 200 ride report... The journey to PBP continues

This was my second 200k Audax ride of 2015 as PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris) training continues [ridden on my ElliptiGO as always]. I'd already completed the required 200k PBP qualifier in January (Oxford Poor Student) so I was approaching this one as a training ride, before stepping up to 300k qualifying distance at the end of March. It was also a good fitness test to see if I'd improved, which I certainly hoped I had as my fitness was severely lacking a few months ago. Since then I've started commuting to work again at least once a week (85 mile round trip) and joined a gym getting in a 2-3 sessions a week.

The Horsepower 200 was a circular route starting and finishing in Dunmow, Essex via Snetterton in Norfolk and Newmarket. A great route that took in plenty of quiet country roads with good views, and more importantly good road surfaces. The surface makes such a difference on the ElliptiGO with the smaller 20" wheels and high rolling resistance so it was a real pleasure at times to scoot along with so little effort.

Horsepower 200 route
Horsepower 200 elevation profile 
It was a relatively flat course too with a few undulations but nothing serious as can be seen from the course elevation profile. So great planning from Audax organiser Tom Deakins who like so many others in Audax volunteer their time and services selflessly to manage and host Audax rides every single weekend of the year. A huge thank you to Tom and his team. 

For those readings this that maybe haven't come across Audax before, they are the long-distance cycling association in the UK established in 1976. AUK oversees the running of long-distance cycling events across the UK, and, using a system of timed checkpoints, validate and record every successful ride. Their website is www.aukweb.net which details every Audax ride that are usually less than £10 to enter and are organised by normal folk. They represent great value for money - far better value than your often over priced Sportives. The key difference with Audax is that the focus is on self-reliance and self-navigation so don't expect any fluorescent pink arrows or powergel packets littering the countryside. Instead riders are armed with a route description providing turn by turn instructions, and more common place now a GPX file(s) provided either by the RD or fellow riders which you can upload to a compatible GPS device to follow as you ride. My first Audax was Mille Cymru last June, and I plan to do many many more.

The Horsepower200 was definitely a ride of two halves. The weather was fine and sunny (probably the best of the year so far!) and Carl and I thoroughly enjoyed the first 100. 

Carl and I setting off from St Mary's Church, Dunmow
We could hardly believe how well things were going averaging 23kph (14.5mph) for the first 100k (that's pretty good for an ElliptiGO in case any cyclists are reading). We both felt great and importantly the effort we were putting in was minimal. We guessed we were benefiting from a tail-wind but we didn't know how strong it was until the turn-around point at half-way in Snetterton. Fuelled by 2 sausage rolls, a cappuccino and carrot cake we soon found out. 

Snetterton race track - the Big Shop cafe
As soon as we exited Snetterton race track and headed back south we were hit with a strong headwind from which there was little shelter or rest bite. In amongst the trees it calmed down a bit but that wouldn't last as we found ourselves back on the open plains of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. The scenery somewhat took our minds off it, and we upped our effort to try and maintain our average speed. It was quickly obvious that you really can't fight it especially on the ElliptiGO where you ride so upright. We remained focused and positive and moved forward abet a little slower.

After a very long and torturous straight drag up to Newmarket we hit the 150k (unmanned) control. Petrol stations are your best friend on Audax rides and this BP garage was no exception. One ice cream and Frijj milkshake later I was fuelled again and ready for the last 50k. We got our heads down and completed it with minimal fuss just in time to witness the sun set over a great day out.

Our total elapsed time was 10hr35m and moving time 9hr21m. I'm actually surprised that we were stationary for this long as we didn't waste any time at the controls. The pleasing thing was that our moving time was 1.5 hours quicker than the Poor Student 200 in January despite the headwind so as a fitness test I'm pleased with the result. But it has also shown me just how much more work and training there is still to do in the continued build up to PBP. But that's still 5 months away!

Next up is the Dean 300 on 28 March. This will be the first serious test with a cut-off time of 20 hours so a long ride which requires a completely different approach to the 200. Steady and efficient pacing will be far more important, as will proper food and clothing choice with a night section thrown in the mix. Fingers crossed for more sun but less wind! 

At the finish back in Dunmow.

With no photos taken of the ElliptiGO in action on this ride here's an artists impression!