Preparation for a 600km Audax

This coming weekend, 28th/29th July 2012, I’ll be riding the 600km 3 Coasts Audax.  The time limit is about 40hrs, which means that setting off at 6am Saturday and I have until 10pm on Sunday night.  Ideally I’d like to aim for a 6pm finish on Sunday night, grab a few hrs kip and then try to get home… but I might be pushing hard to achieve that.

First consideration… the bicycle.
My fast light road bike is really comfortable and (by definition) fast and light.  It is perfect for a sprightly ride and really improves my efficiency by requiring less effort to move around.
My tourer isn’t a heavy bicycle, but the gearing is lower, the saddle a bit further back, the bars a bit more upright and it does weight slightly more.  It can also carry a barley saddlebag on the back.

Having done the Bridges and Beaches on the fast road bike, I found that as I became tired I was putting slightly less effort in at the pedal, this resulted in slightly more weight on my other contact points – hands and rear.  I think that 250km is about the maximum comfortable fast distance I can ride on that bicycle.

My tourer demands a more relaxed riding style and as such reduces my average speed a little, so a long ride take longer.  However, the bigger pedals, comfortable Brooks saddle and slightly more upright riding position mean that I am comfortable for longer.  So I’m sacrificing speed for comfort, but in return I’m spending longer riding.

My second consideration… carrying capacity.
This relates to the bicycle to a degree.  The road bicycle has no mudguards, a small seat pack for the bit I need in most repairs, and it takes my frame pump.  I stopped using CO2 cylinders after a recent puncture, there is no room for error with a CO2 cylinder and you can’t inflate the tube slightly to look for holes.  I found the Blackburn framepump more versatile and really doesn’t weigh much anyway.

My tourer, by nature, can carry anything.  I can add or remove racks and trailers for hauling pretty much anything, but for Audax purposes I stick to the Carradice Barley.  It isn’t the largest of luggage bags but I solo’d Land’s End to John o’Groats with it as my only luggage so I think it can do an overnight easily!  The Carradice Barley allows me to add a raincoat, possibly an extra baselayer, overshoes, spare batteries for lights as well as the obligatory repair bits and pieces.  There is a temptation to add more than you need, something I’m learning to resist.

For the 3 Coasts 600 it is becoming clear that I need to take my tourer with a lightly loaded Carradice.

Lightly packing.
There are several things which I cannot call packing as such, items which will be on the tourer when heading into the night or doing an Audax:

  • Mudguards
  • Blackburn frame pump
  • Carradice Barley
  • Dinotte front light and battery pack
  • Rear light
  • Spare batteries for both front and rear
  • Directions / Route sheet using the handlebar mount, a plastic clip to hold the instructions in front of me
  • Bike computer (Strada wireless) for distance and time
  • 2 water bottles, one with carbohydrate drink and the other with sugar-free salt drink

So, what to pack if I want to call it “light”.  Some of this will depend on the weather forecast.  I think as a minimum I need:

  • 2 inner tubes
  • tyre levers
  • a repair patch kit
  • a couple of zipties
  • a multitool
  • a quick-link chainlink
  • (1st aid kit)

I have taken to carrying a 1st aid kit, it fits in one of the pockets of the Carradice so I might as well leave it there.  When it comes to clothing, in addition to whatever I’ve chosen to wear for the day, I could possibly take:

  • rain coat and/or rain cape
  • gilet
  • overshoes
  • rainlegs
  • merino baselayer
  • lightweight fleece
  • arm warmers
  • leg warmers

I took all of this and more on the DIY300 to Glasgow, and needed every piece.  I was freezing cold in Alston at 3am and it was drizzling.  However, for the 200km Bridges and Beaches I only took the gilet and left the arm warmers at home.  The rainlegs are a wonderful invention, even in pouring rain they keep your thighs dry and this is most of the job done.  The rain cape is my favourite wet-weather item, but difficult in windy conditions and can really slow you down.  But the feeling of being cool and dry even in the heaviest downpour is remarkable.

The calorie intake issue.
In terms of nutrition, the final question is what to carry to keep me fed.  I like to stick a piece of Jamaican Gingerbread in my back-pocket for those moments stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat.  But beyond that I like to plan where and when I’ll stop so that I can find food while out riding.  The only downside is trying to find food with a nutritional content worth having.  24hr garages are superb for foraging, but there is very little you could call proper food.  My absolute favourite nourishment on any ride is:

  • Ham rolls, preferably on a seeded brown roll 
  • Winter vegetable soup or Walker’s Broth
  • Beer
  • Espresso
  • Fruit smoothie

These feel like proper food items which your stomach can digest and agree with.  I don’t really like cake or chips because after you’ve eaten them they tend to sit heavily in the gut, diverting bloodflow from your legs to your stomach.  I also try to steer clear of energy gels, they are sticky, yucky, and the results are far too short term for me.  I’d rather my body learned to use the copious amounts of fat stores I have than cheat and go for easy sugary foods.  In trying to train my body to use fat instead of sugar, for several years now I try to go for a “fasted” bicycle ride once or twice a week.  Just a 10 to 20 mile ride, but skip breakfast before I go.

My final ultimate “bonk” food.
When everything has gone wrong nutritionally and I can’t go further… a Snickers bar and a can of Redbull.  Yuck I know, but it really works like an electric shock to the system, kick-starting my legs and getting me another 20 miles down the road.

Anything else to prepare?
Bicycle – check.
Clothing – check.
Food / Drink – check.

There is still a lot to prepare though.  The bicycle needs to have a thorough safety check, I look at the brakes and the tyres, looking for cuts or damage which would stop me.  I check bolts, headset, seatpost; wiggling and rocking the bicycle for obvious signs of parts about to drop off.  You can’t be sure of everything, but you can have a really good try.  Make sure that anything you can’t repair on the road doesn’t need repair before you set out.

Taking responsibility… the other part of preparation is to take responsibility for yourself.  Know the route as best you can.  Take the route sheet instructions and make sure you’ve read them, try plotting them on a site like bikehike or bikeroutetoaster and then use Google Street View to look at complex junctions so you’ll recognise buildings as you approach them.  Don’t think, “It’ll be okay, I’ll find my way round” – there will definitely be something strange that takes some understanding, so improve your chances by checking it out.  I usually photocopy a page from my motoring atlas for the bigger picture, just in case I find myself lost and having to find a new way to my goal.

So if the bicycle is ready, in good working order, there is a sensible choice of clothing and lighting to get me through the night, I have food and drink sorted and I know where I’m going… I’ve increased my chances of success.  The only thing I need to to do now ride my bicycle.

Last things which can result in a failed Audax.
It is important to remember that this is just riding a bicycle.  Nobody is paying me to do this, I should be aiming to have fun and enjoy myself.  Remember to sit in a pub and have a beer, eat well, look around and take photos.  But also I have to remember that this is only a bicycle ride and that there may be more important matters to attend to.  My family, their health, my health… I have bailed out of three Audaxes this year due to those three items.  The 200km Roses to Wrags, the 300km Plains and the 400km Severn Across; I have put us ahead of all these rides and I hope I have the common sense to continue to do so.

9 Comments

  1. Some early feedback from friends on my preparation plans.

    1. Take some butt cream and a spare pair of shorts. 600km old shorts are a touch unpleasant.
    2. Take some ibuprofen – to get you through.
    3. Take topical pain relief, sometimes the stomach cannot handle painkillers.

    … oh dear, the reality of this is quite ugly isn't it.

  2. I hope you have fun.

    Being prepared gives you so much more confidence to cycle beyond 100 miles for the first time and reach 125 miles; 200 kilometers. I hope you are saving this attempt at 200km for a day when the weather is lovely, warm and dry.

  3. I've signed up to do this event again in 2014… and it will be running in two weeks time. I've read back through these notes and realised how much better my preparation was in 2012, when compared to this year. I must remind myself that this is a 600km event and not be blasĂ© about it.

    I'm looking forward to riding this again.

  4. Hi Graeme, good to read about your preparation. on 400 & 600km what do you do with regards sleep. I've not gone beyond a 200 yet but have a 300 planned with aspirations for longer still but can find little in the way of advice.

  5. Hi wobbly1.

    Probably the reason it is difficult to get good guidance is that it tends to depend on your own circumstances, but if you look at the yacf.co.uk discussion forum and read some of the threads on the audax discussion board you'll find lots of good advice.

    If you are a fast rider, you can choose to have a rest – some do, others don't.
    If you are a slow rider, you have less choice.

    My first 300 was an overnight ride, I deliberately started at 7pm because I was cycling to a friend's birthday party in Glasgow and wanted to get there early in the afternoon.
    My most recent 300 was a purely daylight ride, from 5:30am to 9pm. So no sleep needed that time.

    I like overnight riding, so skipping a night's sleep hasn't been a problem for me, but not everyone will enjoy that.

    The only 400 I've done is the "Old 240" – this was a hilly ride and we really didn't have a time buffer for sleeping. I believe it is based on an old CTC 24 hour / 240 mile event, so there is no intention of sleeping. Reading the experience of some people on the Severn Across (which I would like to do one day) they had enough time for a short nap at Membury Service Station.

    With a 600km event I know people who ride through, even on a beautiful ride like the Bryan Chapman. The calendar 600km events often have a base or planned rest point at about 350 to 400km, so with an early start it is possible (at about a 20kph average) to get there aroundt midnight. I like to enjoy the event as the organiser designed it, so will take a nap and then experience the last 250 to 200km in the sunshine (or rain).

    I am not a fast rider, but I don't waste time at controls, so I tend to make ground quite well and build up a time buffer. This gives me choices.

    With the 2014 edition of the 3 Coasts 600 in a couple of weeks I will probably repeat what I did last time. Eat from 1am to 2am, sleep until 4am, eat by 5am and get on the road again in the early light. The second day’s views are really beautiful and it would be a shame to miss them by ploughing on through the night.

    Consider the longer events, like the Mille Cymru (MC1k); I intend to take full advantage of the organisers sleep stop plans – I don't want to miss any of the Welsh riding experience.

    Consider LEL… I would like a 3 sleep strategy; Thirsk, Edinburgh, Pocklington… it really is going to depend.

    Paris-Brest-Paris? I'd like to ride it as 3x 400km events.

    And after all that the only honest advice I can give you is that you need to listen to your body. If you need to stop – stop. When you are resting you are not actually wasting time, you are building strength for the next leg. Audaxes, I'm sure you know, are not races. So if you take 32hrs or 40hrs to complete a 600km event you are still a finisher and that is the only mark of success.

    I hope this has helped, but just to say again; there are lots of audaxers at the yacf.co.uk forum and they are very welcoming. There is a vast array of experience on that site and many of the riders arrange to meet at the start and say hello – making everything nice and friendly.

    God bless.
    Graeme.

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