Dom Irvine takes tandem riding to a new level

Thursday 12 December 2013, Filed in: General

Dom is an Ironman and sponsored ultra distance cyclist. One of his latest challenges is to attempt to beat the men's team record for LEJOG on a tandem. He is sponsored by JD tandems, read more about his story.

Lands End to John O’Groats, written by Dom Irvine

BLOG 1: An itch that needs to be scratched

As I retched for the umpteenth time and we were only 250 miles into our record attempt I was beginning to seriously question my sanity. It had seemed like such a good idea – break the tandem record from Lands End to John O’Groats, a record that has stood for an incredible 57 years and resisted numerous attempts. On paper, the 52 hours, 14 minutes and 25 seconds seems very possible. The reality is very different. My riding partner, Ian Rodd and I joined the ranks of the very few that had made it all the way to the end in one go, and the many that had failed to break the record. It remains an aching obsession, an itch that needs to be scratched, an obsession that focuses the mind every time I ride my bike. Ian on the other hand stopped riding his bike for almost a year after our attempt, such was the intensity of the experience. Sadly, he also decided that another attempt was not for him.

After newspaper appeals, articles on websites and radio appearances, Glenn Longland, who, amongst other things was the first person to do 300 miles in a 12 hour time trial signed up. Glenn’s a legend, and living proof that age is just a number. At 57 years of age his prowess on a bike is simply phenomenal. We had our first century ride together a few weekends ago. If you were riding a sportive in and around Pewsey and Upavon, my apologies, you weren't slow, it’s just we were in the groove and flying. It bodes well, really well for the next attempt. It’s off the University of Winchester next to talk to the Sports Science department to get some help working out how to go even faster.

BLOG 2: If only it were that simple

It’s funny how when you have to give a presentation on something it forces you to think really clearly about what you are trying to say. I was standing in front of the MSc students in Applied Sports Science at the University of Winchester persuading them that our Lands End to John O’Groats tandem record attempt was a great focus for their time and efforts whilst studying for their degree. One thing I was asked to describe was the route. In their minds they were already calculating the power output necessary to achieve the distance in the required time. If only it were that simple.

1348km and 10,000m of climbing doesn’t really convey the challenge. The route is very hilly for the first 200 miles, then undulates before becoming 75 miles of interval work racing from one set of traffic lights to the next through the vast conurbation that stretches from south of Warrington almost to Kendal. The hills resume for a while before easing back. The final 70 miles however, takes you to one side and gives you a damn good kicking with a series of long grinding climbs – just what you need after 40+ hours of non-stop riding. To add to the challenge of working out the right power output for the ride is that at 3am in the morning your focus is much more on staying awake until the arrival of the first light of dawn - desperately trying to convince yourself that sleep is simply not necessary. Power and speed are no longer at the forefront of your mind. Speed picks up with the onset of a new day.

Whilst the speed / power calculation is going to be difficult, we are really glad to have the support of the students led by Dr Simon Jobson. His book on performance cycling is sat beside me at the moment. A reminder to stop writing and start reading.

Blog 3: Performance pain and punishment

They asked kindly, was it comfortable? How comfortable should a mask be that is strapped to your face so tightly no air could escape? It was the second part of the lab tests being undertaken by the MSc students in Applied Sports Science at the University of Winchester. The first was to establish my lactate threshold, and once this information was known they could then work out the power level at which I needed to start before riding myself into the ground in order to measure my V02 max (ability to utilise oxygen).

After an hour of prodding, poking, measuring and subjecting to me to testing at insane levels of effort I ended up with three useful numbers. Firstly how fat I am – 7% they reckon. Secondly the level of effort if I can keep below I should be able to keep going all day – 325watts seemingly (this has dropped from my peak before the summer due to spending most of the year on a single speed including riding London Edinburgh London). And finally my V02 max. This is the baseline data against which we will be measuring an improvement in performance.

I’ve also been asked by the students to keep a sleep log – apparently there is some interesting research associated with sleep and performance. Over the last month I’m averaging a shade over 6 hours sleep a night. Next they wish me to take my temperature every two hours and keep a record. I’m trying to work out how I can do this surreptitiously throughout the day to avoid accusations of hyperchondria.

Why go to all this effort? I now know we can do the distance. So this time it’s about making sure we can do it fast enough. I want to know that whatever happens we have left no stone unturned in the quest for an improvement in our performance.

Blog 4: Gosh!

Gosh! - was all Jonathan said as we slowed down riding into East Meon. He repeated the word several times before resuming a stunned silence. A keen runner who has taken up cycling, I’d offered to take him out on the tandem. It would give me more riding time on our new Orbit Lightning and Jonathan and I could ride along together catching up – that’s the joy of a tandem – you can never drop your riding partner.

However, I’d forgotten how far my regular tandem partner and I had come as a team. Descending upwards of 50mph is a regular occurrence. There’s a hill nearby where we do our hill reps. We grind our way up, turn round tuck up and fly down. If we get the line right we hit a maximum speed of 55mph - easily achievable on our Orbit Lightning. Unsurprisingly, after doing it a dozen or more times each week for several months we have become quite good at descending in all weathers.

However, to a newbie stoker it can be a bit of a shock as you have no control over the speed, braking, choice of gears or line on the road – you simply have to trust the captain (the person at the front) to get it right. Add into the mix pre-dawn darkness and damp roads and it can be a terrifying experience for the uninitiated.

It was a reminder that tandem riding is all about teamwork – learning how to ride really well together – taking risks that both people are comfortable with and knowing how to optimise your performance to match that of your partner. Its what makes tandem riding such an intensely rewarding experience. I was lucky; Jonathan chose to see the experience as a real buzz and is coming out again with me soon, but next time I’ll invest a bit more time in building up his confidence.

Blog 5:The Crash

I looked at the training session scheduled by Dr Simon Jobson of the University of Winchester – it roughly translated into four hours of varying levels of efforts (mostly intense) up hills. I looked at the weather forecast: Heavy rain, winds SSW 30mph gusting 45mph. It was 5:30am. What I should have done was roll over and go back to sleep. What I did was head out into the storm.

The conditions were not great. My favourite climb had become a river. Underneath the water was a layer of flint rich gravel. There would be no reps on this hill today – onto the next one. Then things came to an abrupt stop. I could see in slow motion the bars ripped from my grasp and had enough time to think ‘this is going to hurt’. Hidden beneath the surface water was a deep pot hole that swallowed my front wheel catapulting me over the bars and crashing me down into the shallow water over grit strewn road. It hurt, it really hurt. As I managed to get up to assess the damage it was clear that despite the panic, nothing was broken. My clothing was soaked and shredded. My arm was sore and had started to balloon with swelling. My hip hurt more and had been sandpapered by the gravel. My helmet was cracked. I stood in pain, in the cold, wet, windy, dark gloom facing my moment of truth.

Ultra distance cycling has many lows – times when you want to give up, walk away and never see a bike again. These are the moments of truth. As you become more experienced you get better at stopping them becoming such deep lows, and pulling out of them faster. But they are difficult to train for. Until you’ve been to that dark place it’s difficult to know how to get out of it. Bizarre as it may seem – a crash is a training opportunity. It’s a moment of truth - you either get yourself back on the bike and carry on and rebuild your mind and regain your focus or you quit. A crash is a good excuse to stop. But you can’t excuse your way to success.

I straightened my bars, span the front wheel to assess how buckled it was, gave the frame and forks a once over, gently re-mounted and road the flooded roads to the next hill. I am always amazed about how the body is able to recover and perform if given just a little slack. Whilst things still hurt (and still do) I was able to finish my session. The prize was not the hill reps, but a little bit more self discovery about my mental reserves, reserves I can draw upon during the 50 hours of non-stop cycling in the record attempt.

Blog 6:Better than any fun fair ride?

Tandem riding is exhilarating. If you want to feel what it is like to ride at the speed Bradley Wiggins zips round a time trial course – ride a tandem. When two of you are riding together really well, the feeling is awesome. I like to get the bike closer to the edge of the road to feel the sensation of speed as you rush past the hedges. And then there are the descents. There is a beautiful hill near me that descends into Kingsclere. It’s not particularly long or difficult. It starts with a cracking view across the valley before some gentle sweeping curves drop you to the valley floor. Click up to top gear, hunker own onto the tri-bars - both riders giving it beans and soon 50mph is left behind. The bike shimmies and the forks flex in an exhilarating ‘better than any funfair’ ride. There are places we go faster, hills that are steeper, but there is something about the beautiful view and flowing nature of the descent that makes this hill so enjoyable.

Then there is the joy of the miles covered. Since riding with Glenn Longland we’ve not done a ride of any duration at an average speed of less than 20mph – and often quite a bit more. I simply can't do that average speed consistently on my own, and neither can Glenn. But together, it’s the norm. Of course it makes planning training rides a bit more of a challenge because the distances covered are always so much greater than on a ‘half-bike’ (as we tandem riders like to call ‘normal bikes’). The pleasure comes in planning routes through parts of the countryside we rarely get to visit. I’ve started to create themed rides – our ‘white horses’ route takes in as many white horses as I can find in Hampshire and Wiltshire. Whilst the ‘Stunning Bridges’ route meanders over to Bristol and into Wales passing over iconic river crossings. It’s amazing where you can go on the long weekend rides.

Even though we are training for a very specific sporting challenge, there is always time to be an aesthete as well as an athlete.

The 1st attempt on the LEJOG record, written by Dom Irvine

On the 30th June 2012 at 5:45am we set off from Lands End on a tandem to ride non-stop to John O’Groats (known as LEJOG) as fast as we could. If this was fast enough, we may break the record that has stood since 1966 of 50 hours 14 minutes and 25 seconds.

We didn’t break the record, but we did finish. Rumour has it of all the teams attempting to break the record since it was last set we are the only team to have persisted until the end. Sometimes cycling is more than just the numbers (as someone posted on Facebook).

We were outside the record by quite a margin due to strong headwinds, a bout of illness and the decision to enjoy the ride once we knew the record was not going to be possible. The experience has been an amazing blend of euphoria, joy, deep dark mental and physical fatigue and pain but above all surprise.

832 miles is a long ride. We stopped three time to sleep for about 10 minutes each time. We made other stops to change kit and eat some warm food after heavy rain and temperatures as low as 1 degree in the mountains, but other than this, we basically kept rolling along.

The Ride

If you ever decided to ride Lands End to John O’Groats don’t do it the fastest way. The UK is a stunningly beautiful country. My first ride of this route was about 80 miles longer but took in the smaller roads, the tea shops and the viewpoints. It remains one of my favourite riding experiences. The short route takes in some ugly, fast, dangerous roads of no attraction than the ability to cover ground quickly. Through hours of careful analysis our route reduced the distance down to 832 miles. Parts of it were stunning, but mostly it was busy A roads where the only reassurance came from the observer and support vehicle about 50 yards behind us warning the traffic of our presence.

The Team

The recipe for attracting people to the support team is not promising.

Give up two days of your holiday entitlement

For two nights the only sleep you will get will be in a car and then sporadically

Every 20 – 30 minutes there will be something to do to help the riders

There’s no glory, prize money or celebrity status from involvement

The riders you are supporting will rarely speak to you and then only to demand something

And yet 9 people did just that. I have worked with many teams but have never seen a team develop such a strong bond and team spirit and maintain it under pressure. Every time we stopped on the bike for supplies or to sort something we arrived to find a group of people who were enthusiastic, laughing, happy, fun and caring. What makes this all the more incredible, is whilst they each knew me, until the evening before we started they had never met each other except via conference calls.

Whilst the foundations for success were laid by Nigel Harrison who has led the planning on a number of previous trips, it seems to me the absolute clarity over the goal provided such a clear focus that enabled everyone to align really well. Everyone had a clear role but once the trip started they all did what was necessary whether it was their nominal role or not.

Stoker and Captain

Riding a tandem is a unique experience. The Captain (the person at the front) controls the gears, whether to pedal or not, when to brake, the choice of line on the road and the speed at which the bike descends. The Stoker (the person at the back) is the victim of all these decisions. A superb Stoker is one who anticipates the Captain’s actions or responds exceptionally quickly to what is happening. This coordination is what takes tandem riding from simply being two people riding a bike to being a team. It’s an incredibly social way of riding with someone. The one downside is you can never see the face of the person you are talking to.

Climbers talk about the kinship of the rope. For Ian and I it is the kinship of the bike. You learn to know how the person is feeling through the pedals and the way they move on the bike. Sometimes it means stepping up to the mark and for a few miles shouldering the burden of the work whilst they go through their low patch. Other times it means shielding them from the pressures of the circumstance you are in to enable them to succeed.

It’s an incredible emotional bond. In the last 70 miles both Ian and I found ourselves crying at times. We just seemed to be overwhelmed by the enormity of making it to the end. As we got off the bike at the finish it was not to the support team and spectators we turned but to each other for a deep emotional embrace. It’s hard to describe the feeling. It’s not the love found in marriage nor that of parent child. It’s a bond forged through hours and hours of dreaming about the same goal and working towards its achievement. It’s the accumulation of trust and caring over thousands of miles of riding. It’s the raw emotion from having pushed so hard for so long with no reserves left in the tank either physically or emotionally. It is profoundly deep and moving. I never anticipated this emotion when I started riding a tandem.

Highs and Lows

Psychologists call it ‘peak experience’ or being in ‘flow’. It’s the sensation of riding a tandem so well it feels like a normal bike flying down the road, apex to apex with beautiful scenery on either side bathed in late afternoon sunshine. It’s seeing a moonscape of aching beauty at 3am in the Cairngorms. These fleeting moments are of such intensity time stops and you feel completely at one with the world around you. They occur when you least expect it. You can’t plan for them or even create them. They just happen.

But perhaps the biggest high was the point at which, fed up with the machinations of the observers I decided to ditch the formal timing and focus instead on our primary objective of simply getting there. Ian was completely shattered and needed to step off the bike for a few minutes to get himself sorted. I called the team together to explain my thinking fearful of disappointment and frustration. The overwhelming sense of warmth, support and complete agreement with the decision was unbelievably liberating. From this point on the ride changed from being an ordeal to being an adventure. For Ian and myself we chilled out and relaxed into the remainder of the ride (or as much as you can do with 450 miles done and roughly 380 miles to go).

Why

In my day job I work with teams helping them achieve their strategic ambitions. I don’t know the answers, I am not a consultant, but I do know how to help challenge their thinking in order to create new possibilities. This is a wonderful life that takes me all around the world. The downside is that you are simply a catalyst and never part of the longer term journey towards success. My work has taught me that so often people are constrained by the assumptions they or others have made. These assumptions constrain performance.

By definition, if this is what happens in most situations, then the chances are I too am a victim of such constrained thinking. I decided to challenge my own assumptions about what I am capable of doing. My sporting journey over the last ten years has been a succession of challenges each of which would be unreasonable to expect someone of my sporting background to be able to do. My first triathlon was an Ironman distance race from a starting position of next to no ability as a swimmer, not having biked since I rode to and from college as a student and never having run further than about 15 miles. My first bike race after a few triathlons was the Race Across the Alps, a 525km ride with 13,500m of climbing. My first long distance ride was JoGLE, solo, on a single speed bike. My first mountain bike event was the Transpyr, along the length of the Pyrenees covering almost 24,000m of climbing that I decided to do on a single speed bike. My first tandem event was this non-stop ride from Lands End to John O’Groats.

The skeptics are many. The critics are numerous. Many don’t want you to succeed. Success seems to me to be based on changing that initial response to an idea from “I could never do that” closely followed by the usual litany of excuses such as ‘I haven’t the time’, ‘I don’t have the experience’ to “why not?” Once you have decided to have a go, everything else are simply issues to be resolved. Time and time again I am reminded that our potential is much greater than we ever dare allow ourselves to believe.

If this all sounds impressive and slightly unbelievable, then it is knocked into a cocked hat by Ian Rodd, my Stoker. In the space of 10 months he went from a longest ride of 130 miles (requiring much planning and preparation) to regularly doing rides well in excess of 200 miles and ended up riding the 832 miles of LEJOG. He did this on just short of 14 hours of training a week.

Surprises

My ability to spend time on such sporting capers is nothing without the love and support of my wife and daughter and my stepsons. So many times a deep low is abruptly ended by a short conversation with loved ones at home. You can imagine the uplift when you think they are safe at home only to find them on the side of the road cheering you on in the wilds of Wales. To find others like the parents in-law of my stepson who had driven through the night to cheer us on in the twilight hours, or people from previous lives who, caught up by the challenge didn’t bother going to bed and instead sat in a layby in the dark in order to cheer for a few seconds. To these and all the other people who came out and supported us – I cannot thank you enough. Each wave, each smile, each shout was as good as a warm hug of encouragement.

I never set out on this adventure expecting a spiritual life changing experience. But this is what it has been. Simply amazing……..now how do I go one better?

Along the way we wanted to make a difference and fundraised for the Magic Wand Appeal.

For expert advice on all things tandem related: JD Tandems

The team: Myself, Ian Rodd, Nigel Harrison, John Hargreaves, Charlie Mitchell, Alex Fitzgerald-Baron, Bob and Ally Campbell, Ian Mayhew, Jim Rawling, Joolze Dymond

Thanks also to: Ruth Hargreaves, The Irvine Family, The Rodd Family

In July 2013, Dom Irvine took on the slightly unnerving challenge of riding the 1400km from London to Edinburgh and back on a single speed bike. Here’s his story.

Fruit salad

I sat staring into the bowl of fruit salad, each piece of fruit taking an age to eat, and every two or three pieces needing to stop for a few minutes to allow waves of nausea to pass. I knew this was my moment of truth. I was dangerously close to chucking in the towel, and I hadn’t even made it as far as Yorkshire.

The ride

I was about 330km into the 1440km London – Edinburgh – London Audax. Held once every four years and limited to a 1000 riders, the route starts just North of London travelling up the east side of the country before crossing over to the West at Brampton and following a loop via Moffat, Edinburgh, Eskdalemuir and back to Brampton before following pretty much the outbound route south. In following the route you could be forgiven for thinking the UK is made up of only tiny lanes, pretty villages and delightful small towns. It was a clever route. Easily the most stunning part for me were the Northern sections, from Moffat over the hills to Edinburgh and from Edinburgh over the hills via North Niddleton, Innerleithen and Langholm and back over the border riding through Teesdale. Riders have up to 116 hours to complete the trip.

Fruit salad

But back to my fruit salad. I knew exactly what I had done wrong, I knew it when I was doing it, but somehow the exhilaration of flying along in a group eating up the miles in the warm sunshine was a drug too addictive for me to say no. And so I found myself a few hours later paying the price. Experience has taught me that if I push too hard for too long, eventually I can’t keep food down, and once that happens, it’s a steady decline to a very low and dark place, from which it can take hours to recover. Things then got worse; half an hour later I crashed. Descending a steep hill with an even steeper climb the other side, I planned to make the most of the descent to give myself a chance on my single speed bike to get up the other side. I didn’t however see the slight mud covered gravel strewn bend in the dip. I hit the corner at about 40mph, held the line as long as I could before my wheel slid out from under me and I knew it was going to hurt. It did. Time to take stock. I sat on the side of the road on my own in the darkening gloom and trying to decide – Do I carry on, or do I give up.

Give it time

As in all long distance activities, things get better – if you allow them to. I slowed down, cut myself some slack, stopped at the control in Thirsk and was very kindly patched up. I drank some tea, ate some food and set off into the night. This time with the radio on, just cruising away. I was on my own and would be for the next 550 miles. A brief stop for shower, change of kit and a 40 minute catnap in Barnard Castle saw me settled into the long distance groove I knew so well. Heart rate around 95-105, the right clothes, good music, and a few choice snacks to keep the spirits high. A phone call with my wife every few hours to catch up, feel the love and share the moment always, always helps me feel sorted.

One crisis is never enough

One crisis is never enough on a long ride. My second came at Edinburgh. The ride was starting to go well, but as I climbed up the last hill to the control my right knee started to feel really sore. As the climbs came thick and fast after the control the pain grew and grew. If you’re riding a geared bike, you can spin along and take it easy again, but my decision to ride a single speed and the hills out of Edinburgh and into North Yorkshire did not permit such luxury. As the pain got worse I had to modify my cycling style, avoiding pushing at all costs on my sore leg and punishing my other leg with immense efforts to get up the steeper hills. I zig-zagged my way up climbs grimacing with pain, wondering how long I could keep going. Lance Armstrong is quoted as saying ‘pain is temporary, quitting’s forever’. That always kept me going when I believed him to be an awesome athlete. Somehow now we know he’s a cheat it didn’t have quite the same motivational effect. My knee pain continued all the way south to the Fens, where at least it was flat and the pain lessened. I was all set to limp my way in when somewhat amazingly, it started to fade and for the last 80 or so miles I was able to really crank up the effort and start to make up for lost time.

It’s no joke

And then of course there’s the weather. With temperatures in the preceding weeks in the very high twenties and even low thirties, I was hoping for a sunny adventure in the countryside. And for the most part it was like this. I had bought a Paramo jacket. These are heavy, a bit shapeless and don’t feel in the slightest bit waterproof. They are, in the true sense of the word – awesome. Cloud burst after cloud burst left many riders cold and shivering as they battled on into the torrential rain. I on the other hand remained completely dry within the jacket – no sweatiness, no dampness, just dry. I have had many jackets over the years but never have I experienced such comfort. Of course it meant I looked like a tourist with this slightly baggy coat and I required a larger than desirable bag in which to transport it when it was dry, but I will never be intimidated by heavy rain again. The difference being warm and dry in heavy rain makes to your morale is just incredible. This was the first time it got a proper shakedown although I had suspected the jacket was this good after testing it on a few previous rides.

It’s about preparation

Just as the coat got tested in advance, so did all the kit. I also use a coach to help me devise a proper training schedule. In my case it’s Ian Mayhew of Gearsandtears.com. I’m always amazed how many people don’t bother getting some expert input. How many top athletes in sport still have a coach even though the athlete is world class? Answer – almost all of them. It’s even more critical for us lesser time, famished mortals, who squeeze in training around full time jobs, to get some advice. Making every session count to deliver your sporting goals is just as important for the enthusiastic amateur as it is for the elite athlete. As always, whilst I hated some of the lonely overnight, on my own long distance rides, I really did appreciate the benefit during the ride. It’s as much about training the mind as training the body.

All alone

When you are riding on your own, you have no sense of where you are in the field. Invariably, you think you are the back marker and must be last. As each control point came and went the volunteers with increasingly frequency made a comment or two about ‘you faster riders’. I thought they were just being polite. Many controls were like the Marie Celeste, just me and 20 or so volunteers, racks and racks empty of bikes, mounds of food uneaten. “You’re the 35th person we’ve seen today, became the “20th” became the “15th” and finally at the finish became the “11th” after just under 77.5 hours. It seems that whilst many riders were far superior and faster, the tortoise really is faster than the hare. Whilst they slept and recovered, I slipped by in the night stopping only three times to sleep for less than an hour throughout the 3 and a bit days I was riding. It seems my appetite for sleep deprivation was greater than most.

Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a funny thing. I know when I’ve overcooked it. It starts with the eyes starting to shut. Easily resolved by some loud singing. Then the hallucinations start. When it first happened, they freaked me out. I was riding back from Paris and it was about 3am, and the chevrons in the middle of the road that direct traffic ‘to get the hell back on your side of the road’ became white foxes that suddenly got up and ran across the road. I was worried about my sanity. But as it has re-occurred I’ve become more comfortable with the experience and actually quite enjoy it. The dancing pigs on this ride were a real treat that disappointingly turned out to be large plants moving in the breeze. On one side of the road was this amazing mechanical toy with cogs and gears all whirring away that seemed to stretch for miles, again, just hedges and plants. The next stage of sleep deprivation is more worrying, falling asleep whilst riding. It’s amazing how you stay balanced whilst the bike rolls along. However, as the verge side flowers stuck between my spokes testify, it is possible to ride completely off the road and onto the verge – at which point you suddenly wake up and frantically control the bike back onto the tarmac, rather bizarrely worrying about whether you might rip your coat if you crash! At this stage I’ve generally got the message that a sleep is in order. The recipe is simple: flat surface, dry, just out of sight of the road. Lie down for 10 minutes – sleep. Get up and go again. 10 minutes seems to be all that is needed. But on this ride I hung out for a stop at one of the control – a mattress and tea and toast.

Olaf the German, Yves the Frenchman

Another solution to sleep deprivation is to find someone to ride with. After my final sleep at Kirton, I was bored with the flatness of the Fens. Behind me I could see the light of another rider. I hoped to jump on his wheel and drift for a few miles but Olaf the German was having none of this. Instead we rode side by side and enjoyed a good long chat as we drifted along, picking up another cyclist, Yves the Frenchman. Both Olaf and Yves have a racing pedigree and they were fast! Olaf eventually opened up the taps and disappeared into the morning light at a speed I would be proud to achieve on a 25 mile time trial. Yves and I carried on working together. Yves is French, but speaks a little English and I am English and speak a little French – but we both speak pure bike. Yves carried me for quite a few miles as I sat on his coat tails sheltering from the tedious head wind. Slowly the tables turned and Yves began to suffer. This might seem like bad news for me but in fact it turned out to be saving grace. Taking my turn on the front to pay back my dues gave me something to focus on. I had someone to look after, I had a purpose. Earlier, Yves had generously suggested we rode the whole of the final 60 miles together – who was I to argue? So when he began to struggle and told me to push on and leave him, it was my turn to step up to the mark and do the decent thing. And so I did, after every climb I waited and led Yves in. This was purely selfish on my part as I was riding harder than I ever would have had I been on my own – so whilst Yves, damp eyed and grateful for what I had done, the debt was much deeper the other way. Somehow it epitomised for me what true cycling camaraderie is all about.

It’s not the ride but the people

London – Edinburgh – London is an amazing ride – not because of the duration, it took me a little under 77.5 hours, nor because of the route – parts of which are truly delightful, what makes it special are the volunteers. I’ve done lots of races with volunteers and they are great people. They hand you what you want, take stuff, give you stuff and so on. But in London – Edinburgh – London they take it to a whole new level. Many of them are very experienced cyclists in their own right. They know the pain, they understand what’s needed. There is none of the naive ‘nearly there’ when there is still 100 miles to go. I would love to take representatives from so many companies to a late night control point and let them watch as weary cyclists arrive and mugs of tea are pushed into their hands, or pasta or toast served to them at 5am – each to their own. I had a craving for beans on toast at one point. No sooner than I asked whether there was ‘any chance of……’ than I was sat down and a freshly made plate of beans and toast placed in front of me as they took my water bottle to refill. Then there was the doctor who cleaned up my arm from the crash. She knew and I knew that the sensible choice was a trip to A&E to get all the deeply embedded gravel removed. She knew and I knew that I was not going to do this but instead I was going to carry on cycling. She patched me up, we both agreed she had advised me to do the right thing, we both agreed I had declined and I rode off into the night. We both understood the passion of long distance endurance events.

More than a stop gap

London – Edinburgh – London was always going to be a training ride for me – a stop gap between my failed attempt on the Tandem Lands End to John O’Groats record, and next years second attempt. My coach agreed the training aims of the ride, but I was never really looking forward to the event because, well, quite frankly, it didn’t seem to have the appeal of an iconic ride like LEJOG or a trip in the Alps. I was wrong, it was a fabulous event. The route made the most of the eastern side of the UK and took in some stunning roads in the north. The spectacular control stations with amazing food, beds, showers, mechanical support, friendship were beyond belief. But the biggest surprise was the culture of an Audax event. This was my first and I had anticipated the same closed minded cliques that can occur in most disciplines of cycling – road racing perhaps being the worst. Instead I met an incredible bunch of experienced, capable, knowledgeable people and best of all, open minded. Not for them “you must wear a helmet” or “you must have mudguards”. Instead, you can do what you want, as long as you realise the consequences. These seem to be my kind of people.

Back to the hard work for this.

But the ride is done. A couple of weeks holiday and then it’s back to training hard for LEJOG record attempt number two. London – Edinburgh – London has been a great reminder of how much I love ultra endurance riding.

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