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London-Edinburgh-London: Cycling 1,400km in 101 hours!

Hotchillee super woman Juliette recently completed the London-Edinburgh-London Audax event in aid of Cancer Research UK. We caught up with her to find out how it went:

 

Hotchillee: First of all, chapeau! Absolutely incredible effort. What was the route and how did you navigate?

Juliette Clark: The route covered almost 900 miles from the North-East perimeter of London, up through the Fens and Lincolnshire, across the Humber Bridge, routing North Westerly thereafter through Yorkshire and the Howardian Hills towards Barnard Castle. From there I crossed the North Pennines to Cumbria, into Scotland at Gretna Green and then turned north for the final 80 miles to Edinburgh. The route south from Edinburgh followed the old logging trail through the hills and forests, mile upon mile of deserted roads and no phone signal! But after returning to the border country I followed pretty much the same route on the southbound leg back to London.

The route sheet is provided with turn-by-turns and I was amazed how many ‘old-style’ riders had these clipped to their handlebars, their only nod to the 21st Century being that they were printed on waterproof paper. Being a dedicated user of technology, I created gpx files from this info, and plotted the route between each control, 9 going north and another 9 going south. These worked perfectly and I had absolutely no navigational errors …. quite a feat in itself!

HC: What support was there along the way?

JC: There was a compulsory control around every 80K (some were 60K apart, others as far as 100K). These were usually in schools and offered full catering options, showers and dormitory beds. Every control was staffed entirely by volunteers and the care and dedication of these individuals was second to none. As most controls were visited on both north and south bound legs they were staffed 24 hours a day for between 3 to 4 days, amazing.

I didn’t sleep at any of the controls as I decided pre-event that booking B&B’s along the route was a preferable option, but I did eat (a lot!) at the controls and it was really very good considering the circumstances. I tried to keep my visits brief, to less than 20 minutes but a lot of riders stayed 1 to 2 hours at the controls.

Medical and mechanical support was available at the controls but outside of these I was on my own, so I carried tools and puncture repair kit and a basic first aid kit.

HC: What was a typical day like?

The first day I started at 1 pm, so that was unusual and it meant that I rode in the dark to reach the control at Louth (Bed capacity 250). Many other riders had decided to do this too, and with around 300 people already there and more to come, the Control Team imposed a 3 hour sleep limit so everyone had a chance of some shut-eye. Boy, was I glad that I had a B&B booked.

On day 2, 3 and 4 I slipped into a routine; rise at 4 am, quick wash to wake up, eat breakfast that I had brought with me, pack my bags onto the bike and aim to be on the road at 5 am. With the sun coming up this was a beautiful time to ride.  Roughly 4 stops at controls along the way, and then some 310 – 320K later I would arrive at my destination, elapsed time around 14 to 15 hours. This usually gave me time to eat, wash, and I tried to be asleep by 10 pm, although it was probably nearer 10.30 pm.

 

HC: What could have been better?

JC: Definitely the quality of sleep. On the first night I was horizontal for around 5 hours but slept for only 3 and this left me with a dangerous deficit given the amount of energy I was expending each day. Although thereafter I got 5.5 to 6 hours a night, more than enough normally, the quality was poor and I needed coffee to keep awake. I caught myself drifting a couple of times on the morning of my journey up to Edinburgh, not the best scenario with cars on the road.

I also started to struggle with nutrition after the 3rd day. My eating regime is usually highly structured and with a slender body composition on a slight frame I find that a ‘little and often’ approach works well. Rawvelo bars, Oatopia energy bombs and Stealth banana gels were my ‘go to’ food. But after 3 days my stomach became increasingly fragile and it was a struggle to force food down.  I knew that I had to keep trying but eventually I resorted to eating more at the controls (funnily enough starting to crave milk, butter, eggs and cheese) and go for longer in-between feeds, only Clif shot bloks were palatable on the bike. Whatever I ate, I had constant indigestion for the last two days!

HC: What do you think about on a bike for 14 hours a day?

JC: This is a question I am often asked, and I can’t really answer. I always break the day down, be it by distance or time into manageable chunks, only focusing on the immediate task ahead to the next control. Then I start recalculating the intermediate points and generally computing speeds, distances, times. Sometimes I look around and marvel at where I am riding, then I go back to mental arithmetic. Friends tell me I am a bit weird!

 

HC: What bike did you ride?

JC: Cervelo C5 Di2 with disc brakes, Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon wheels and Conti Grand Prix GT 28 mm tyres. I rode with SRM power meter 52/36 chain rings and an 11-28 rear cassette. Due to the weather I had full mudguards fitted. This was definitely a winning combination. Comfortable, but high performance. Fast wheels, but robust rubber and ZERO punctures. The conditions were pretty terrible and some of the road surfaces were poor yet the bike soaked it all up. I had no back pain and the Di2 shifting saved the carpal tunnel problems that many endurance riders suffer from.  I love that bike!

 

HC: How did you prepare for the event? In hindsight, was this sufficient?

JC: My training was comprehensive and I don’t feel I could have done more within the constraints of a full time job. I did 2 x 600K weekends and 1 x 500K weekend as a test run with the bike fully kitted out which included an overnight stay. I rode 409K on a single day and 3 x 330K days. I rode all of these at an average speed greater than 28 kph, in what were sometimes pretty hard winds and on mixed terrain. But I guess I didn’t factor in how tired I would be in the last 500K of the event itself nor how the winds would decimate my target speeds. The first 250K of LEL I averaged 29.5 kph, but into the cross winds and hiller terrain of the next 620K this dropped to 24.5 kph and the brutal head winds of the last day and a half reduced my progress to a paltry 22.3 to 23 kph. This hurt my body as I pushed hard to achieve my time target.

 

HC: On that note what was your time target?

JC: The cut-off time is 116h 40 mins. There is an elite wave of riders who start at 5 am though and they are given a 100 hour limit. My personal target was therefore to complete in 100 hours.

I finished in 100h 57 minutes. Did I fail by 57 minutes? Well I was still well within my official time frame (in fact over 14 hours inside), but it was not quite what I had wanted.  In all honesty with 264K to do on the final day and 25 mph head winds and gusts of up to 40 mph forecast, I had waved goodbye to the target before I even set off on the final morning. Anyone that has done a multi-stage event of this nature knows the feeling when they just want to get the finish regardless, but I did blast the last 10K when I realised I could dip under 101 hours, so I still had the thirst for competition even when I felt totally broken.

 

HC: How many riders started? And how many finished?

JC: By all accounts, this was one of the hardest editions of LEL. 1500 entries were accepted, and only 811 riders are listed on the finish sheet! Quite an attrition rate.

 

HC:  What would you have done differently?

JC: I think my preparation was spot on, and planning ahead to book B&B’s was a total godsend. I suffered with poor quality sleep and this would have been so much worse in a dorm. The sanctuary of my nightly lodgings was a massive motivational factor as I grew increasingly wearier each day.

Perhaps starting earlier (I started at 1pm) would have given me a chance to ride further on the first day, but this was only a slight tweak, I was pretty happy with the factors that I could control.

Although I am by nature a solitary rider, on an event like this, and with the conditions I experienced perhaps I should have made more of an effort to ride in a group. When I did find people of a comparable ability in the latter stages of the southbound journey it certainly made a big difference.

HC: What was your lowest moment? And the highlight?

JC: When I signed up to LEL I envisaged summer weather, warm, dry and light winds. HOW WRONG WAS I? I don’t remember one day when I didn’t put on my rain jacket, and on the journey south from Cumbria it rained for hours. The constant battering for roughly 1200K out of 1444K of cross / head winds was very, very tough. On the final day I was riding with one other person, a young man called Will who was out of time and whose head had gone.  We faced 60K from Spalding to St Ives into a block head wind with no shelter.  We rode 1K each, through and off. We both wanted to stop. We passed a man standing astride his bike, still upright but with his head on the handlebars, asleep, totally exhausted. We pressed on. We made it to St Ives. I don’t know how.

Pushing myself to the limit for Nicky and Danny and all our lost loved ones was surreal and this was by far the hardest thing I have ever done. I know I could not fail them. Despite the pain, there were nevertheless still many highlights,

  • Being able to eat two breakfasts each day and especially enjoying the porridge in Scotland.
  • Seeing my brother and sister-in-law at Barnard Castle, Emma at Thirsk, and then on the last night seeing my sister at Louth.
  • All the amazing messages of support from my friends and the constant stream of donations that flashed across my Garmin screen.
  • Being joined by Hotchillee RC team mate, Nibs, for the last 120K. He brought magic beans.

Mostly though it was the kindness of everyone who supported my efforts and gave so generously to Cancer Research UK.

Juliette’s ride was dedicated to all those we have loved and lost to Cancer. She set a fundraising target of £10,000. With donations still coming in after the event, she has just today surpassed this target.  Her page is still open and you can add to the total at www.JustGiving.com/fundraising/Juliette-Clark-2MAnY. Alternatively text LELJ92 £5 to 70070.

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