For a long time I’ve been threatening to get into Audaxing. Audaxing, in case you didn’t know, is long distance cycling events, run by Audax UK (in the UK).
With very short notice, I went and signed up for a 101km Audax event about an hour’s drive from where I live. The event took place on the Sunday, and was organised by a very large cycling club.
Audaxing has rules, but some of those may surprise you: as you could expect from ay organised cycling event, there’s a cut-off time, and if you take longer than that time to complete the route, your ride is invalidated. That basically translates into minimum average speed riders must maintain.
What makes people’s eyebrows go up is when they first hear that there is also a maximum average speed riders aren’t permitted to exceed. That’s because audaxing values distance over speed. I suppose the best way I can describe audaxing is as competitive cycle touring.
Any Audax route will have controls that you must pass through. Usually (but not always) controls are staffed by volunteers, who will stamp the card you have to carry with you, called a brevet card, when you pass through. Failure to get your brevet card stamped will result in your ride being invalidated.
Some Audax routes are mandatory, as in you must follow the planned route, but others – usually the longer routes – allow you to plot your own course, provided you pass through all the controls. The ride I signed up for was a short one (in Audax terms) with a mandatory route.
On the day
My fitness is nowhere near where it should be (though slowly improving). There was a time I considered nothing under 75 miles to be a long ride by any means, but with this ride I knew I’d suffer at least a bit. Still, no pain, no gain, right?
My strategy was simple: ride at my own pace, and let anyone at a faster pace go, without waiting for anyone who might be setting a slower pace. While that may seem selfish, actually it’s about simple self-preservation.
Early on, the obviously fast riders disappeared off into the distance. I ended up, for a while at least, in a very loose group who seemed to be going more or less at the same pace, but gradually they all started leaving me behind. I stuck with my strategy, and simply paced myself.
Though this was my very first Audax, it wasn’t my first cycling event, and I knew the importance of pacing myself, especially on such an extremely hilly route. When I started getting dropped by riders I didn’t judge to be fitter than me, I questioned their tactics.
Sure enough, nearing the first proper control, roughly a quarter of the way in, I started catching up and overtaking several riders who earlier left me for dust. Apparently, they still needed to learn the importance of pacing. By the time I left the first control, I estimate that there was roughly a third of riders behind me.
I hate tea!
At the first control (at a pub) you could get a bacon butty and coffee, for a fiver. After paying, I grabbed the wrong container, and ended up with a cup of tea! I didn’t want to waste it, so drank it anyway, but wasn’t happy with myself.
My dislike of tea stems from my days as a conscript in the SA army: during basic training, straight after breakfast, we’d be marched up to the parade ground. Then, often in 40C heat, we’d be marched up and down. Our only break came at 11h00, when the 300-odd men in the squadron had 15 minutes to line up for a mug of boiling hot, extremely sweet and strong tea. That was the only liquid you’d get to drink till lunch, so you drank it even though it scalded your mouth.
In a modern world…
I was looking forward to the second control. Not only would it be (roughly) the halfway mark, but I’d grab food and hopefully a decent coffee. Imagine my disappointment when I got there, only to find the café’s card reader was out of action, and I didn’t carry cash!
That was such a n00b error! Lesson learnt: always carry cash! I had no reason to linger, so set off again, knowing the next place to get food that’s on the route was in the village of Harbetonford, at the petrol station.
A bad coffee day
As it was hot, I grabbed an ice-cream, and also a 200g chocolate bar, then scoffed the lot. There’s a Douwe-Egberts coffee machine, so I was hopeful of a half-decent cup of coffee. Sadly, that was not the case: it was scalding hot, and tasted icky, so I binned it.
Well over halfway into a very hilly ride (2 000 metres of climbing in just over 100km) my right knee was hurting, so I also swallowed some Ibuprofen I bought from the petrol station. I’ve been nursing a torn meniscus for a long time, and from time to time it decides to act up. This was one of those times.
A sting in the tail
After Harbetonford, the route was quite flat (by Devon standards) for several miles, but with over half the climbing in the last third of the route, the road soon turned steeply upwards. By then I was on roads I’ve cycled before, as I was cycling distance from my home, so I knew what awaited me.
On one extremely steep hill I had to stop, when a car started coming down the narrow lane. As I put my left leg out far enough to lean the bike right out of the way, I suddenly had a cramp on my inner thigh. I had to get off the bike and do stretches before it calmed down. Afraid of a repeat, I proceeded to walk my bike up the hill.
I started riding again when the hill levelled off a bit, but walked again when it got very steep again, soon after. One other rider came spinning past, but he was riding at such a slow speed that I was almost able to keep up, while walking my bike.
You and me and the big blue sea
I was happy when I finally reached the coast, and were heading for Dartmouth. There was a lovely, fast and long descent, immediately followed by a long slog of a climb, all the way to the final control. I was glad when I eventually reached that last control, and stayed perhaps a bit longer than I should have.
From the control, there was a final climb, then the start of a bumpy, windy descent all the way to Dartmouth. While waiting for the ferry, I was soon joined by four friends, who were very experienced Audaxers. They are all extremely nice people, and two of them I was talking to while cycling to the first control.
They assured my the climb up to Brixham, though long, was an easy one, and they were right. It’s actually a very nice climb, and I enjoyed it. The man who designed the route has sadistic tendencies though, as he routed us up past the rugby club, along a climb far steeper than I wanted that late into the ride.
After being diverted past Berryhead, we soon descended to Brixham harbour. Immediately after was another steeper-than-I-wanted-then climb. One of the four friends, Steve, slowed right down, and stayed with me as I suffered up that hill. Once at the top, the roads levelled off and it was a but a hop, a skip and a jump to the end of the route.
I had two, and only two aims for this ride, and I’m very pleased to say I achieved them both. The first was simply to complete the ride. That doesn’t sound like much, till you realise that there was nobody that finished after us. All the riders who were behind me had pulled out, and couldn’t complete the ride, including quite a number who initially were riding far faster than me.
My second aim was to complete the ride within the cut-off time-frame. Given my current level of fitness, I’m well chuffed that I achieved that.
Despite card machine problems, and seriously bad coffee, it was a great ride, along a stunning route. The weather was gorgeous, and I made new friends that I hope to go cycling with many more times.
If you’ve never done an Audax before, do yourself a favour and sign up for one. Especially if you’ve done sportives before, you’ll be amazed by the welcoming atmosphere.