Saturday, 21 May 2016

Getting back on the GO! Preparation for the Wild Atlantic Way Audax ride

With less than 4 weeks until the start of the Audax Ireland Wild Atlantic Way ride I thought I should jump back on the blog and tell you all what I have been up to in preparation for this gigantic ride of all rides.

Lets make no mistake the Wild Atlantic Way Audax ride (WAWA) is definitely the toughest challenge I have ever taken on. 1,400 miles to be covered in 175 hours whilst climbing over 20,000 metres of ascent. I genuinely do not know if I can complete the distance within the strict cut-off time but what I do know is that I will finish. 100%! Even riding 200 miles in one day on the ElliptiGO is tough. This ride requires me to repeat this 6 times in a row surviving on just 2 hours of sleep a night if I'm lucky. So what preparation have I done.... well lets just say that at least this won't be a long blog post!! [editors comment: actually yes it is :-) but its a good read I promise].

The build up for WAWA really only started in March. Christmas and the new year saw me do very little training. I haven't been running much lately and only occasionally got out on the ElliptiGO. The plan was quite simple. To repeat the training cycle that put me in good stead for the Paris-Brest-Paris ride the year before. So this involves completing a Super Randonneurs series of a 200KM, 300KM, 400KM, and 600KM rides. This gradual build up is perfect for the early season and gets the legs going again.

I started at the back end of February with a short Audax ride - Chiltern Grit 100. I hadn't ridden this far in a while so I just wanted to test the legs and didn't feel quite ready for a 200KM yet. The 100KM went well and by riding to and from the event from home the total ride was actually nearer 150KM. In March I hooked up with two ElliptiGO buddies - Tim and Andy, and we rode The Dean 300KM from Oxford to the Severn Bridge in Wales and back. Now things were getting serious. They were way ahead of me in terms of fitness but I held on. It was a thoroughly enjoyable ride even if the last 50KM were a really struggle. My legs simply had nothing left but I reminded myself that it was early days in my training and I couldn't expect not to feel like this after riding 200 miles to Wales and back.

Myself, Tim and Andy on the Dean 300 (waiting for our lasagne!)
The Dean 300 Route and Elevation profile
Next up was a solo DIY ride. My friend Idai from ElliptiGO had ridden a 400KM route recently from Milton Keynes across to Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, and back. I needed to keep upping the distance so this looked perfect. I'd also never ridden this far alone before as I much prefer the company of others on long rides. Its just more fun and the time passes so much quicker. However I was also very aware that on the Wild Atlantic Way I will indeed find myself riding alone for long periods of time. Perhaps even days on end so a solo ride was essential training to toughen up mentally.

DIY 400 - aka the Windy Fens 400
It was a good training ride in that it threw everything at me. Sun, wind, rain, cold, major mechanicals, hills, and it felt sooooooo long! I think it is at the 400KM distnace where you really start to enter the realm of endurance riding. Anything less than this can easily be covered within a day, but 400KM takes you all through the night and challenges you in ways that a shorter ride just doesn't do. I was really happy [relieved] to finish, and rode straight to Church still in all my gear as I was due to stand up in front of everyone there and tell them about the WAW challenge. Why? Because I'm raising money for my Church and I have just reached the £2,000 mark.

So what was next? Well the mechanical I mentioned meant I was without my ElliptiGO. The rear wheel rim had actually split clean through so I had a major wheel build to get done which took some time to sort out. But my training could not wait and so perhaps rather extravagantly I bought myself a new ElliptiGO bike - but not just any ElliptiGO. The new little brother in the range the ElliptiGO Arc.

My New ElliptiGO ARC!!

The Arc is different to its bigger brother. It is more compact, lighter, and has a more circular elliptical motion which means that it concentrates the effort a lot more in the quads. The result is a fantastic workout that is not for the faint hearted. The cadence of the Arc is also a lot higher than the standard ElliptiGO meaning its a really good cardio workout as well. So I did plenty of shorter faster training on the Arc over the next month and thoroughly enjoyed it. And it will definitely feature alongside the ElliptiGO in all my future training.

With the ElliptiGO now fixed it was decision time as to my next event. I had the Bryan Chapman Memorial (Classic) 600 Audax ride in the calendar which was the following weekend. But with no long rides on the ElliptiGO for the last 4 weeks I felt I needed to bridge the gap with something before I took on 600 very hilly kilometres in Wales! And so as a totally spare of moment decision I drove up to Preston the same night as I picked up my fixed wheel in London to ride the Heartbeat 400 with Andy. The Heartbeat 400 was a really tough circular route through the Ribble Valley, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors, before turning around and doing it all the way back.

Heartbeat 400 Audax route and elevation profile
I don't think Andy or I quite knew what we had coming on this one! The total climbing on this event was 5,000 metres which is pretty significant over this distance but it wasn't so much the total ascent figure that made it so tough but the nature of the climbs. Each one seemingly getting steeper than the last. With many over 20%. Each climb brought the ElliptiGO to a near stand-still as we slowly crawled up. And there was little relief on the other side either, as the descents were just as steep thus preventing any easy freewheeling. This ride was a real brute and it was beating us. The Audax cut-off time for 400KM is 27 hours. We hit halfway just 1 minute inside the official cut-off time. The previous section in the North York Moors was some of the toughest riding I have endured. Repeated hills with a massive headwind which even on the flat made progress painfully slow.

By the time we reached 300KM after 1am in the morning we were over an hour behind the cut-off time. We were still in good spirits all things considered but it was cold. I was also getting very sleepy and struggling to concentrate and keep my eyes open. Andy and I slept under a sheltered doorway of a cafe in true Audax style. 45 minutes of sleep made a huge difference. When we woke it was freezing so we quickly got our stuff together and headed onwards. We obviously knew being over 2 hours behind the cut-off that an official finish was well out of our grasp, but a finish is finish and it was just a training ride for the main event (Andy will be joining me to attempt WAWA as well!).

After many more stops in the final 100KM including a Full English Breakfast at a very popular roadside biker cafe, and a Subway for lunch, our ride was finally over. It had taken us 31 hours to complete the distance. 4 hours over the official cut-off time. We weren't too down hearted though and knew we had given it our all. But we also knew that the terrain in Ireland won't be dissimilar to what we rode today and so this was a very stark reality check for me. This ride was great physical preparation for WAWA but mentally it was a huge blow to my confidence. I just hoped that I could recover in time for the next weekend and the Bryan Chapman Memorial (Classic) 600KM.

I didn't ride all week instead just recovering from the physical and mental battering I had just taken. I waiting until the Wednesday to decide how I felt and whether I would ride the BCM600. I think I was always going to do it anyway but wanted to give myself a chance to consider if it would do me more damage than good. I'm so glad I rode it!

Audax Bryan Chapham Memorial (BCM) Classic 600
The BCM600 is one of the eagerly awaited events on the Audax calendar. It's always over subscribed and a classic Audax distance. I said earlier that 400KM is where things go up a notch. Well 600KM is a totally different affair. Those extra 200KM make all the difference and need to be respected. 600KM (just short of 400 miles) to be ridden almost continuously with a cat-nap at half way is a huge undertaking both physically and mentally. I went into this ride relaxed and had already forgotten the exertions of the previous weekend. I was joining Tim for this one. I opted for a very early start driving from home to Chepstow for the 6am start. That meant waking up at 1:45am! Again all good training for WAWA where I will have to survive on very little sleep anyway.

I arrived with plenty of time, set up the bike and eventually found the village hall hidden in the middle of a housing estate. 2 Welsh cakes and 2 cups of tea for breakfast. Tim arrived and soon we were off. I won't give a blow by blow account of this ride. What I will say is that this ride righted all the wrongs from the previous weekend and has left me brimming with confidence that had been so shaken before. The climbs were still immense and so LOOOOOONG but the gradient of the climbs in Wales meant that they were actually ridable AND enjoyable. And the long smooth descents were heaven. I hit a new top speed on the ElliptiGO on this ride of72kph (45mph). And that made all the difference to the overall time. You could actually make back time on the descents which was simply impossible the previous weekend. The scenery from start to finish was amazing and the weather was perfect during the day. At night the temperatures in Snowdonia National Park dropped severely. I was wearing every layer I had. Tim somehow survived in shorts but he admitted they were a mistake!

The BCM600 result - Tim and I clocked the fastest-known time on an ElliptiGO over the 600KM distance. We complete the BCM600 in 36hrs and 10 minutes. 4 hours under the 40 hour cut-off time. We even had time for a 1.5hr sleep as well. Some photos of our adventure in the Welsh hills below.

Thanks for reading and sorry for the prolonged silence on my blog. If you would like to support my Wild Atlantic Way ride please go to Thank you

Tim & I after a steep climb up from Bwlch Y Gle dam

Bwlch Y Gle dam. Stunning!!! We enjoyed scenery like this all day long

Yes this is Wales! Blue skies!!!
First 'hot meal' rest stop at the Youth Hostel with Phil Whitehurst (also taking on WAWA!)

Note the 40% gradient climb!!! Luckily it wasn't on our route!! Phew....
New GB made Alpkit set-up for Eating-on-the-GO. It worked brilliantly. 

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