I woke with a jolt thinking I’d overslept; what control am I at? How far to London? It took a split second to think this, and only slightly longer to realise I was at home and LEL had finished days ago. London Edinburgh London was complete: I’d done it. I didn’t have to get up and ride my bike today, I could have a lie in. I rested back on my pillow and listened to the aches of my body. The soles of my feet were still numb, my knees ached and even after another full night’s sleep there was no feeling in two fingers on each hand. I usually get my wife a cup of tea in bed every morning, but for these past few days coffee has been arriving on my bedside table instead, but is often cold before I’m awake enough to drink it. I’m hoping that I’ll be sleeping normally again tonight and ready to make tea in the morning. My wife puts up with so much.
Note to self: Imagine it is 2021 and you’re thinking of entering LEL. Before you go ahead, remember that it hurt a lot. Remember that you had 12 hours to complete the last 50km and you seriously thought you might not make it. Do remember the elation, by all means, but also remember the anti-climax. Do remember the positive emotions, but also remember the tears. Do remember that you were strong enough to do it – but also remember the weather was in your favour. Remember that 34% of riders didn’t make it to the end in time – over 500 riders failed to complete the event they entered. But also remember…
London Edinburgh London / 1440 km / 110 hours : Wooo hooo!
Graeme, let me remind you of some things:
On Friday 28th July you caught the train to Doncaster, met Andy and Rob and travelled south in Andy’s campervan – getting dropped off at the more comfortable of the VC167 HQs… the Premier Inn in Waltham Abbey. The more hardy VC167 party crew were camping at Debden House nearer the Loughton start line.
Saturday 29th July – registration along with 1500 riders from 54 countries – sat around soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the bikes of all shapes and sizes: tandems, trikes, tandem trike, recumbents, moutlons, bromptons, and all things steel, carbon and titanium. Went for a pint at the Victoria Tavern on the recommendation of one Mark ‘Hummers’ Hummerstone. A fiver a pint! (We’re not in the Kansas anymore Toto.) Tried to tell everyone that beer in Durham is £1.40 a pint but was clearly making myself unpopular.
Sunday 30th July – your start time was 12:30pm so after a leisurely breakfast at the hotel you headed the 6 miles to Davenant School to watch the early riders start. The organisers had set up time-lapse photography and you made it your mission to appear in as much as possible.
Here was your ride strategy… ride within yourself. If the group was moving faster than you – drop back. Listen to your body and ride to your own ‘Perceived Power at Knee’.
It was important to you that you minimise time at controls. You knew that it wasn’t the average speed between controls which was important – it was the average speed from leaving one control, to leaving the next control… stopped time contributed to your average speed:
- 21 kph moving. 45 minutes stopped. Average pace for a 100km section: 18.1 kph.
- 20 kph moving. 30 minutes stopped. Average pace for a 100km section: 18.1 kph.
- 21 kph moving. 30 minutes stopped. Average pace for a 100km section: 19.0 kph.
From this you understood that reducing your stopped time was ‘free speed’. Some said that if they rode fast they had longer to stop – but you decided to work this the other way round: ride within yourself and be ruthless about stopped time. In the main your strategy worked, arriving and leaving each control fresh… at least for the first day.
Looking at the route and dividing it up into stages based upon sleep gives the impression that this was a series of day rides, but this doesn’t really do the truth justice: You left Loughton at 12:30pm and rode north through St Ives, Spalding, Louth and over the Humber Bridge to Welton covering about 325km and stopping to eat and sleep at home. You slept 2.5 hours and set off in the early morning to ride through Pocklington, Thirsk, Barnard Castle and Brampton before reaching Moffat (640km) in the early hours and stopping for another 2 hours sleep. You woke with extreme cramp in your thigh and exhaustion but set off in the pre-dawn up the Devil’s Beeftub heading for Edinburgh (720km). You reached Edinburgh 46 hours after leaving London. After a 30 minute food/rest stop you turned round and headed south. It was much windier heading south. Much windier; and you struggled to Innerleithen and Eskdalemuir. You made Brampton in the dark and thought that pushing on to Barnard Castle was a good idea – thankfully there was somewhere to sleep in Alston (900km) because you had the dozies and were daydreaming. 3 hours sleep in Alston and on the climb to Yad Moss you took a wrong turn; riding towards Stanhope. You fool. You realised and returned to the Yad Moss climb, and the long descent with a headwind to Barnard Castle. You still had energy at Barnard Castle and were joyfully optimistic. In the afternoon you rode to Thirsk, Pocklington and home again for a shower and change of clothes at Welton. Finally you pushed on to Louth but had a puncture on the way. It was midnight and there was wind and rain as you fixed the puncture, limping into Louth (1180km) at 1am, you asked for a 5am wake-up call but woke naturally at 3:30am, and so waited for Dean. You both wrestled with the severe headwind to Spalding and this reduced you (Graeme) to tears. You were extremely slow to Crowland and stopped for a pint before taking on the route to St Ives alone. In Cambridge you stopped for an afternoon coffee and then continued to Great Easton getting there at 9pm. With 12 hours in hand you seriously doubted your body could get you to the finish – but you pushed on with a group, the sociability of which carried you along, finishing at 2:20am. You’d ridden 1440km (895 miles) in four and a half days.
What can you remember?
I remember a long conversation with a Metropolitan Policeman from Audax Club Hackney and his impending change of career from front line to crime prevention through architectural design. Working with architects to plan safer buildings, removing the obvious hidden corners which can be scary to walk through at night, using his extensive knowledge of fighting crime to design living spaces to be crime free.
I remember Audax Club Hackney stopping to help every waif and stray who’d broken down beside the road – and was left with the impression that their club has a culture of looking after the weakest and nurturing other riders. I met John ‘Comedy Off-Road’ Sabine who refused to be seen coming out of a dead-end road.
I remember meeting the ‘Party Peloton’ just north of the Humber Bridge – a very large group of VC167 riders making their way to Pocklington and looking for a 24 hour garage to act out some Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics in person. “I’ll have ten KitKats and a motoring atlas.”
I remember Anita Clementson at Thirsk control shouting hello and me wondering who Lisa was, or Elisa was… until I realised it was Anita – not Lisa. Meeting Marcus Coupe in Thirsk who seemed already to be busy looking after mechanical failures on bicycles.
I remember texting Carol, ‘600km done, only 800km to go’ and then bursting into tears. This was my Samwise Gamgee moment… ‘This is it, if I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been’.
I remember Kat Chandler at Barnard Castle giving me the most welcome hug ever, and showing me around the facilities. I remember being introduced to Mr ‘David’ Larrington and thinking he didn’t look like the big brown bear I’d imagined him to look like, and yes, I would like food.
I remember riding with Andrew Preston and talking about the development of needle-less injection systems for drug users which eradicates the ‘contaminated needle’ problem and had seriously reduced the transmission of AIDS and other diseases between regular drug users. We also enjoyed the climb of Yad Moss northbound and tried to remember where we’d met before.
I remember the descent of Yad Moss, tucked into an aero-position and feeling like I was flying downhill.
I remember miles and miles of riding with Mark Lison and Dean Clementson; simply enjoying the route, the scenery, the weather and the pleasure of living on planet audax for days on end.
I remember waking in Moffat, naked and with cramp in my thigh: trying to get bibshorts over an out-stretched leg while desperate for the loo.
I remember singing “Band on the Run” by Wings – but I only knew the line “Band on the Run” and ended up singing it over and over again.
I remember riding through Broughton and thinking, ‘I’ve been here before’ – recognising the pie shop from my Durham to Iona pilgrimage. I ate here and it solved all the stomach problems I’d experienced in Moffat. Suddenly I was happy again!
I remember getting to Edinburgh and realising I’d cycled there from London in less than two days.
I remember Anne Young came past me on the last climb before Innerleithen and suggested I draft her. I couldn’t keep her pace – but then wondered why? Was it really too difficult or was I imagining it? I caught her by the top and we provided shelter for each other into the strong wind on the descent to the control.
I remember Adam Young and his Dad, Martin. Adam was riding fixed gear and his Dad disappeared into the hills of Eskdalemuir. Adam was wonderful company in the middle of some gorgeous scenery and helped me to keep up a good pace at a time when I was beginning to dawdle.
I remember stopping for ice-cream on the way to Eskdalemuir and enjoying what felt like a touring holiday through wonderful scenery.
I remember Peter Bond serenading riders with a song he’d written specifically for LEL riders passing through the Eskdalemuir control.
I remember forgetting I was on LEL and thinking it was a nice social ride into Alston – but I couldn’t figure out why we were having a social ride so late in the night.
I remember fixing my bar tape with a cable tie.
I remember Drew Buck’s motorhome parked halfway up Yad Moss offering free hot drinks and flapjacks to all riders.
I remember being mesmerised by Dean and Adam’s fixed gear cadence.
I remember a conversation with Mick Fisher and Rob Wood about getting your garmin to display tyre pressure.
I remember Marcus Coupe in Thirsk fixing my bar tape properly. A self-sufficiency fail, but a community-sufficiency win. Deep gratitude to Marcus for giving me a break while I ate some food.
I remember coming into South Cave from North Newbald, Dean and I were being followed by two extremely large yellow combine harvesters that couldn’t possibly pass us safely. It must have looked strange to on-coming motorists; seeing two cyclists followed by an escort car with flashing lights, then what might look like the Vogon constructor fleet, then a queue of cars stretching back to Market Weighton.
I remember getting washed and changed at Welton on the way south so I could finish looking good!
I remember swapping from Assos chamois cream to Sudocrem and – wow – was that a mistake. I went from slippery cream which had kept me in good shape, to sticky cream which initiated a descent to bottom pain. I should have stayed with Assos cream: it had worked brilliantly.
I remember getting filthy fixing a puncture on the top of the Lincolnshire Wolds, at midnight, in the wind and rain.
I remember that I’m the guilty person in Louth who woke everyone on site with the loudest bang possible: I had requested a 5am start, but woke naturally after 1.5 hours sleep feeling refreshed and without the pain I’d struggled with at Moffat and Alston. I was feeling a lot stronger. However, while packing my luggage and sorting out the chaos of my toolkit, I unscrewed the CO2 cylinder from the previous night’s puncture – forgetting that I’d not completely used it. The explosion was immense as the inflation head came to pieces and shot in different directions. I gave my rider number as V26: Dean’s number.
I remember Dean and I discussing bicycle technology. For example… Assos shorts come with a maximum recommended stretch/compress cycle, by configuring your garmin with both the Di2 gear selection and a cadence sensor you can get a ‘change shorts’ warning on your cycle computer. Also, if you connect a helium balloon to the rear of your bike via a fibre optic cable, you could display your current location and strava performance data onto the balloon so that others can track you on the road in real time. If you used a drone to fly above you, you could project images of yourself cycling onto the balloon so that following riders could have a birds-eye view of your ride in real time.
I remember getting caught up with a group working together to shelter from the fierce wind in the Fenland to Spalding: unfortunately they wanted to do over 25kph; but with a little guy in front of me on the drops I was working extremely hard in the group just to stay part of it, let alone taking my turn on the front. It was the most ridiculous situation to be in, and I looked for the first chance to drop away. My knees felt destroyed by the effort. I limped into Spalding with a burning anger at myself for having been drawn into this nonsense after being so sensible for over 1000km. I was seriously wondering if I could go on and it reduced me to tears. I was emotionally incapable of holding back my distress – and yet I was surrounded by caring friends – Dean wanted to help and Adam offered me eye-drops! I’m sorry Adam – it wasn’t dust in my eyes, it was tears.
I remember meeting Simon who was in distress too – he was a 100 hour rider who was out of time and suffering with knee pain. We limped along together to Crowland and decided that what this holiday needed was a pint of beer outside the ‘LEL-bubble’. The usual ‘local vs audaxer’ conversation took place.
I remember surviving the Fenland headwind southbound using sugar-frosted-cherry-bombs of energy and jumping from corner shop to corner shop to refuel. I lent the bike into the sidewind and hardened up. This was earning the jersey. This was the loneliest and hardest part of the ride, desperately hoping for a turn in the road, or a hill, or anything to shelter from the hot air, sunshine and howling wind.
I remember St Ives and playing with the rush-hour traffic: weaving through the roadworks to come sweeping into the control with a huge wave of enthusiasm. I met Robert Bialek, another 100 hour rider who was out of time. Dean arrived shortly afterwards, as did Simon. We had a great conversation and plenty of food.
I remember heading for the last control; Great Easton, we chose the ‘through Cambridge’ route and rode along the cycleway as a massive peloton; for half the distance two Audax Club Bristol riders took the front, and for the second half, Dean and I led the group all the way to the edge of Cambridge. It was delightful to be part of a massive group of riders.
I remember Cambridge demanded coffee – we stopped outside King’s College and cheered LEL’ers while enjoying a bit of refreshment.
I remember becoming weaker and weaker as we approached Great Easton. The night grew darker, the lanes narrower and everything steeper: I arrived at Great Easton with 12 hours in hand but utterly drained. I was seriously concerned that the final 50km couldn’t be covered in 12 hours!
I remember the incoherent prayer of the exhausted, snippets of scripture and common worship pieced together:
I look to the hills, where does my strength come from? It comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. The stars sing of his majesty. What are we human beings that you should have regard for us? We are but dust; like flowers of the field, the wind goes over them and is forgotten. Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not his holy name. Thank you for this day: thank you for where we are and when we are and who we are and how we are. Thank you for the pain and the joy, thank you for this bicycle and for the pilgrimage I’m on. Thank you for my friends and for everyone making this possible. Keep us safe on the road – protect us from close passes and aggressive drivers. Glory to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
I remember being unable to sleep for fear that I would wake up too late and miss my deadline. I went to examine the OS map in the corridor and see if there was a route with less contour lines. While examining the relevant B and A roads, Olaf Storbeck from Audax Club Hackney came along, as he’d heard my knees were hurting and said he was putting together a team to guide into Loughton along his easy routes. There was a group of near-dead Italians and he wondered if Dean and I be willing to shepherd at the back if he led from the front? So ‘Team Limp’ formed and all eleven of us followed mother-hen, Olaf, along empty morning roads .
I remember the volunteers – the cheerful people at every control only too willing to help with a tray, point you at food, encourage you, refill water bottles.
I remember seeing a mechanic at every control, usually with a bike on a stand – enabling riders and their bikes to continue.
I remember Chris Crossland seeming to have cloned himself and exist at multiple controls.
I remember Danial Webb making time to talk to riders in the midst of coordinating this event.
I remember seeing Mary-Jane Watson happy at the start, the only rider from the Isle of Man; and then the sadness I felt when I discovered she’d been unable to finish – and I still don’t know why.
I remember discovering Andy Wills hadn’t been able to finish due to a stomach bug, that Gordon’s bike had broken, and that Keith Benton, at 76 years, had completed but was 2 hours out of time.
I remember cycling the 6 miles back to my hotel and grabbing a few hours kip before returning to the finish to cheer in the last riders – and being invited to scan riders through the final control.
I have written a prayer for LEL. Aiden Hedley and I said it together before the start, and I had time to say it again at the end:
I remember the friends I rode with. A big thank you to my fellow travellers: especially Dean, Mark, Andrew, Adam and Simon.
I remember the road.