The year has been going pretty well for me so far. Anyone who's been following the blog (well done for enduring my drivel!) will have seen I have ridden a 300 in February and a 400 in March. My first 600 I had on the books was due to be the BCM in mid-May. But for various reasons, I had an idea to ride a 600 in April - my girlfriend being happy for me to be out of the house so she can get on with writing papers for her Masters, the Strava spring classics challenge (ride 13 hundred and something km in April). After a bit of thinking, I decided to ride the Green and Yellow Fields 300km event from Manningtree near Colchester and ECE it to 600km.
ECE means Extended Calendar Event - it's a form of DIY that allows you to extend an event by riding to or from (or both) an event. This encourages people out of their cars for local events and offers a chance to get more points for something you might do anyway. It's quite a good way of doing bigger distances, but with an element of social riding that you don't get on a pure DIY.
The Green and Yellow Fields is a little unusual in that it starts at midnight (so the finishing cut-off is 8pm). This makes for surprisingly tough conditions in that you tend to go there straight from the working week and head into a guaranteed sleepless night. The organiser (Tom) usually organises dinner in a curry house beforehand for this ride - so people get to sit and be sociable before heading out. The ride heads north from Manningtree towards the north Norfolk coast at Burnham Deepdale, before turning around and heading for home.
I looked at the options for ECEing the event - the basic distance from West London to Manningtree is around 120km - so I needed to make it a big of a longer journey somehow to get to 300km. My original plan had been to ride over after finishing work - I knew that crossing London at 5pm on a Friday would take a lot of time - so planned to catch the train to Stratford in east London and then ride around 100km to Manningtree. The downside of this was that I would then have to ride a 200km home - starting at maybe 6pm on the Saturday - meaning another night in the cold and another night without sleep. Whilst I own my own company, it doesn't mean I can take whatever time I want off if I have commitments to meet. Business is good and busy currently, and I had a lot of deadlines to meet last week. In the end, I realised that the 2 nights on the road would probably be too hard for me - so put the hours in during the week to ensure that I could leave home after lunch on Friday to ride to Manningtree via a roughly 180km ride.
So I submitted my ride plans to the ECE organiser and headed off into a nice sunny afternoon. To make up the distance, and to avoid riding through London, I headed west first towards Chalfont St Giles and then turned North to St Albans - the wind was quite stern at this point coming from the north. This worried me slightly as, although my ride to Manningtree was mainly heading east, the actual ride headed straight north for 150km.
After battling the wind, I basically carried on a roughly easterly heading towards Manningtree across the top of London. I had only one break of 23 minutes in Hertford for a quick drink and a snack before pushing on to Manningtree. I had planned to stop somewhere on route to eat, but by the time I was hungry, I was close enough to Manningtree to consider seeing if they could fit me in at the curry house.
Arriving at Manningtree, I found the curry house quite easily due to the 15 or so bikes parked outside! They could fit me in - so I enjoyed a nice lamb balti and pilau rice whilst catching up with old friends and new faces. It was nice to sit in the warm for an hour and a half as it was already getting very cold when I came in. I used my time in the restaurant to put on extra layers etc.
The owner of the restaurant was amazed we all planned to ride 200-odd miles that night (even more amazed when I told him I had ridden from London!). We had to have our photos taken for his wall ("The night the mad cyclists came in" or something!).
All too soon, we needed to head down the road to train section to meet with all the other riders (many coming in on the late trains from London). It was getting really cold now. Brevet cards were dispensed. The organiser was riding the event as well. Before too long, we were off.
^ one of the more unusual steeds - the rider had already conquered the very hilly Yr Elenydd the week before on his Brompton. He plans to ride LEL on it. Good luck to him! I have ridden about 200km on mine - and it really hurt!
The night section was on reasonably large roads with very simple navigation and fast surfaces lending itself to fast group riding. I found myself leading a small group at a pretty terrific pace. I should have been sensible and taken it steady with 200km in my legs already (and 400 to do!), but I was comfortable with the pace - and it was a good way to stay warm. What I wasn't comfortable with is someone behind suddenly turned on a really bright fast strobing front light (one of those ones that does half a dozen really fast flashes in a burst). Whilst I am not in any way epileptic - I find strobing lights very uncomfortable indeed (and for that matter, rear lights - does my head in the amount of riders who leave their rear lights on flashing mode when group riding) - I had to pull to the side and let them all pass as I wouldn't be able to ride with the road ahead flashing white. Of course, as I sat in on the back of the group, I was behind someone with a rear light with a very bright flash!
Anyway - rant over. I soft-pedalled and let them go ahead before another group picked me up (without flashing lights). As we approached the first control in Mildenhall, the tandem of Chris and Lindsay passed at full speed - no way was I letting that tow go! Hooked on for a sprint to the service station.
The service station was one of those that only does service through a hatch at night (I found out when I had my coffee that there was one down the road we could go in (and was the one on the route sheet). The service was slow, painfully so, the coffee was awful, painfully so and it was really cold now. The fun factor was pretty low!
I set off alone as I was getting really cold and not feeling sociable at that point! I knew dawn was coming and it was forecast to be a nice warm day. Just before the sun came up, I was picked up by Tom (the org) and a merry little bunch of riders, 3 fixers and a couple of geared riders. Riding with them as the sun came up was a joy - well disciplined riders with a decent pace. I was struggling a little with the dozies - not actually falling asleep yet, but yawning a lot!
The next control (at 150km) was the Burnham Deepdale cafe - it didn't open until 7:30 (there were alternative controls for the really fast riders), so we didn't want/need to rush. We stopped off in Swaffham for a short leg stretch and snack before carrying on - this section was fabulous and the sun was lovely and warming. I arrived at the cafe in good spirits despite the tiredness.
The cafe was a little overwhelmed by us - there was just the cook and one lady taking orders, waiting etc. - so it took a while to get served. Worth the wait though - I was just under 350km in - and hungry! So I demolished cheese on toast and huge waffles with syrup and cream. I was at the control for 70 minutes, but it worked. Whatever was in those waffles, I left and rode like a rocket for the next section over to Wymondham - everything felt great.
The next control was a supermarket cafe - sadly service was slow here as well. Primarily as the most difficult customer in the world had to have his coffee made three times for him to get it correct ("there's more than the half a shot of coffee I asked for in it") - luckily he was satisfied before my urge to shove the coffee cup where the sun doesn't shine took over.
I only had a slice of cake at this control - I was still feeling good and not hungry.
We all know what's coming up soon then!
Off into the next section - 60km before a quick stop and 30km to home. I caught up with a chap I had met at the curry, Philip, and we rode together for a while and chatted. Very nice chap who was explaining how his job made life difficult for riding longer events as he was a church minister and there are people expecting him up the front in church of a Sunday morning, not out riding his bike! He let me go ahead as it got a bit choppy again.
Pretty soon, I knew the wheels were about to come off. I was about 15km from the control. I got it into my head that I'd make it. Of course, someone of my experience should know that I won't make it and I needed to stop and eat. I fought and fought - but was rapidly starting to knock. I gave in and stopped at a small shop, ate some bonk rations suplemented by full fat coke and some chocolate milk from the shop.
I got going again - and knew what I needed next was a palette cleansing ice-cream. I often crave ice cream on rides. Not only does it have sugar etc. - but I find it makes my mouth less sore and so on. At the next control town, having eaten, I just had an ice cream and it was superb.
Final leg was nice and easy and I was soon back in Manningtree - the 300 had taken me 16 hours. Not too bad really. I certainly hadn't been pushing myself very hard and had taken my time at controls.
I stopped at a cafe for a toasted sandwich (corned beef and pickle - I had a craving again!). Chatted with another rider, Caroline, before heading off for home. I almost made a real mistake. I had arrived into Manningtree, been to the cafe, found they didn't take cards, nipped to a cash machine and was about to leave when I remembered I needed a receipt. I withdrew some more cash - it was timestamped an hour after I had finished, but really doesn't matter much.
The ride back was quite hard. The 'thrill' of the event had gone. I just wanted to be home, with my girlfriend. It was 120km to home. I struggled a bit really with my motivation. All those negative thoughts about giving up floated around my head once the sun went in and it got cold again. Of course, I wasn't going to give up, I was over 500km into a 600 - I had roughly 8 hours in hand. I was in fine shape really - just having a downer moment.
I stopped somewhere in Essex on the outskirts of London - McDonalds. I am not a regular fast food eater. But I never believe anyone who says they don't like the stuff. I probably go to McDonalds/KFC/Burger King once every 3 months. It's delicious!
After that, I had 30km to do. I was looking at getting home around midnight. That would make for a 35 hour 600 - which would be my fastest ever 600 - partly as I hadn't slept on it. But still pretty quick.
The burger did the trick and I was feeling pretty good and alert - which is good as crossing London, even at 11pm, needs full concentration. Leaving the lanes and mixing it up with the traffic again wasn't much fun. But I slogged across town. There was lots going on for the London Marathon (including the Mall being closed - which was a pain) - interesting to see it being setup.
And then I was home. Crept in trying not to wake up either my girlfriend or the cats (I was more successful at letting Cass stay asleep - the cats woke up to come found out what that horrible new smell that had entered the house was!). A drink, some toast and a quick shower to wipe away the grime - before a very, very good night's sleep.
Pretty pleased with how it all went. I won't say it was easy, as riding 620km is never easy - but compared to some of the traumatic rides I have had earlier in the season (especially the 400km), it was pretty straight-forward. I had finished with plenty of time in hand and without feeling overly battered. I feel pretty good today - I've not been out on the bike, but don't feel like I couldn't (which after the Hard-boiled/Dorset Coast weekend, I had to have a couple of days off the bike). It was my first 600 without sleep - and all felt good prep for LEL.
So, that's my SR done. I am a Super Randonneur again. Pretty pleased with that.
I will become a Hyper Randonneur this season - this is a bit of fun competition where people will do 4 rides of 600km+ in a season.
Next ride is the Porkers 400 in the Wessex Series in a couple of weeks. I have a big fear for this ride. People say it's the hardest in the series (making it probably the hardest 400 out there). I am going to have to look at the route carefully and think about a schedule a little - this is not a ride where you want to end up having to try and race in the latter parts.
Strava route here - http://app.strava.com/activities/49841604