Monday, April 16, 2012

The Last Horner Water 11?

Take some of the less demanding bits of Stagger, some of the best running tracks from the Seaview, some of the magical river sections of the Drogo and a bit of scenic moorland road and you have the Horner Water 11. Add a clear blue sky to a chilly spring day, attach marker tape to a few trees, provide a water station and lots of marshals,and you have all the ingredients for possibly the best race of its kind in the country.

Runners seem to drift almost by chance to an isolated Somerset beauty spot. Part of me didn't want to write about this race, to keep its secret safe among the lucky few who know. Summoned by Fred Hagan to an imaginary start line, we posed for a group photo. Fred then warned us of the highland cattle with huge horns that stood their ground menacingly as the course was laid. Lesley seriously considered a DNS as she remembered the terrors of the comparatively tame cows at Haselbury.

We set off along an enchanting track beside the burbling Horner Water with its ancient woodland. Birdsong filled the air and all was well with the world. This race sneaks up on you and it becomes more demanding - the first half climbs from 198ft to 1545ft, with a tiring section across the moor. We were then rewarded with a steep downhill 3/4 mile road section with good views, before returning to tracks, moorland and woods. I loved the seriously narrow, steep, slippery gully strewn with tree roots as described in the course notes and wondered how Lesley would fare on this section.

All too soon we were back on part of the outbound track and heading for the finish. By all accounts the distance is about 10 miles and I was very happy with my time of about 84 minutes. In true Seaview style Minehead RC had provided a stupendous array of sandwiches, rolls, cakes, pies, biscuits etc for the runners. As I settled down on the grassy bank to a huge slab of date and walnut cake it was obvious by all the blood and dirt that several runners had taken a tumble.

Lesley came home looking strong followed some minutes later by Graham Newton of AVR. He is an excellent runner in his own right but today ran with his daughter who was over from Ecuador.

Given the countryside, the distance, the challenge, the weather and the special dedication of Minehead RC, this was probably the most enjoyable event I have ever done.

Thursday, April 12, 2012



Just a few short weeks ago I got an E mail from Charlie Bladon (MNR long distance cyclist) asking if I was busy over Easter? As a most of you know I struggle with the written word at times, but I really should be able to type “Yes sorry I am busy”

Instead I managed to sign my self and two good friends up to joining Charlie and a fellow AUDAX member Andrew (more about Audax later) to a 24hour 400KM ride, just to get a Weatherspoons breakfast in York.

Any concerns/fears we had, were pushed a side by Charlie’s confidences is our ability! As the date drew closer, Charlie’s organisational skills swung in to action with E mails of maps and instructions, including attempts at explaining AUDAX rules (being French there were plenty of them, but they could be changed when or if required!!)
Below is a list of the stages we would follow, from leaving MN at 8.00am on Good Friday. You will note the 400km has already stretched to over 450KM (that is 270 miles in old money)

Leg km Climb m Climbing (meters per km)
Maiden Newton 0 0 0
Bradford on Avon 76 920 12.1
Cirencester 53.8 396 7.4
Moreton in Marsh 44.07 481 10.9
Leicester 96.53 556 5.8
Newark on Trent 64.4 288 4.5
Thorne 72.35 264 3.6
York 46.74 117 2.5

453.89 3022
Actual quotes from Charlie’s Emails

“The route gets progressively flatter as we go on, which will allow us to make up time if required. As you know I am not built for hills so don't want to go off too quick, but am more than happy to sit on the front on the flat. The last 200km are appeciably easier”

“Controls: For the audax virgins amongst you, you need to understand that one of the joys of long distance cycling is sitting on a bag of coal / logs outside a 24hr service station at 3am eating a Ginsters pie washed down with crap coffee. I very much hope to be able to provide this experience for you”.

Below are the had hand picked refuelling points along the planed route

Bradford on Avon there is a Sainsburys
Cirencester has a choice of Tesco or MacDonalds
Moreton in Marsh: Esso garage
Leicester: 24hr garage / cafes
Newark on Trent: 24 hour garage
Thorne: 24 hour garage Texaco
York: Weatherspoons.

Something else to note for later, we had one member of the team who will not shop at Tesco and anther member who regularly preaches how bad Mc Donald’s are.

As you will all know the weather was great leading up to the Easter holiday, but then Snow fell as far south as the midlands just two days before we were due to set off. This looked to be the perfect excuse for backing out, not a chance. Charlie assured us the snow would be gone and as we were avoiding high ground it would be fine!

True to his word, we may have had a frost but in MN at 8.00am on Friday the sun was shining. It appears the paper shop is used to Charlie coming in at strange times to get his Audax card stamped before setting off on, what to most are mad journeys. But the sight of 5 of us all getting our cards stamped before heading off to York seemed to cause quite a stir among the locals still half a sleep collecting their papers,

Not being able to say NO has seen me take on a number of strange events, so I should have just taken this one in my stride. But to be honest it wasn’t until we were about ten hours in, that I stopped looking for reasons to turn back and accepted the challenge.

The first stage went well to plan and we enjoyed refreshment at Sainsbury’s Bradford on Avon, I think this was the first time Charlie tried to assure us some of the worst climbs were now behind us, if any of you have driven out of Bradford on Avon towards Cirencester you would question that comment.
On we went to our next stop at Cirencester where the group split for our refreshment between Tesco’s and McDonalds.
Two stages down we made the decision as traffic was light, to take the direct route straight up the Fosse Way. This was the first sign we got that Charlie really did not like hills, if you have never been up the Fosse way. It is best described as a roller coaster; there is some stunning country side perfect for view from a nice soft top sports car or motor bike. But for a push bike it meant a lot of hard work and the average KPH (mph) dropping quite quickly. We eventually arrived at the Esso station in Morton in the Marsh, only to find their coffee machine was broken. Undeterred after refuelling we set off slightly behind schedule, for the longest stage of the route. This meant continuing along the Fosse Way all the way to Leicester, the route continuing to undulate all the way. leading to statements from our leader along the lines off “I am never going to use this route again” followed by “don’t worry the route is flat/down hill from Leicester to York”. This led me to question why people always say they are going up North.

By the time we reached the outskirts of Leicester it had started to rain and we were well in to the night. Passing several takeaways in the hope of finding somewhere we could get inside and have some hot food, we continued further and further in to the city centre with no sign of a McD or similar. Eventually a Tesco express was spotted, with a call “stuff my principles; I need something to eat and Drink.

We must have been a sight, 11.00pm 5 wet and weary cyclists clutching hot cups of coffee and stuffing down food like we had not eaten for days. But we seemed to be invisible to all the locals heading for a night out, I can not imagine we were a sight you regularly see at this time of night.

I think it is fair to say heads had started to drop a little at this point, but we were still optimistic of making up time and making it to York for breakfast. After all it was going to be flat all the way now!!!
Next stop Newark on Trent, unfortunately we had not got far before an unseen pot hole cased a double puncture. Working in the dark, cold and wet conditions, the repairs could not be compared to those of a formula one teams. But with a team effort we were on our way again, still no sign of the promised flat roads. After what seemed like hours of constant climbing, we were reward by a down hill run in to Newark. Unfortunately signs that say 24hours don’t seem to mean 24hours. The bright lights of a newly built 24 hour Asda lead us only to a locked door. We did manage to find a fuel station which was open, with a very help full assistant who willingly served us coffees though the night hatches. Not once questioning what the hell we were doing at 2.30am.

Only two stages to go, one long stage to Throne followed by a short stage to York, but there was some sort of 22 hour rule which had to be included.

22 hour rule: We are required to get a stamp at 22 hours. I am hoping this will tie in with Thorne, but if not it may be a case of an ATM receipt wherever we may be. 25km must be completed between hours 22 and 24.

The leg to Throne started badly when we got off route (that means lost) followed by yet another puncture. We did have the luxury of street light this time, so time was shaved off our last effort. We eventually got back on route (knowing where we were), but had lost quite a lot of time and what a surprise, done a lot more climbing. At 5.00am we reach a junction with the main A1 which just happened to have a service area. Very cold and very wet, an unscheduled stop was agreed, more principles slipped as we tucked in to a McDonalds breakfast and reviewed our options.

If a support vehicle had been available at this time, there is a strong chance we would have been on our way home. This not being an option we would have to go on. A review of a damp map, showed we still had about 20 miles to Thorne, followed by a further 28 miles to York. This would put us in York at best around 10.00am; this was not helping to incurring the team back on their bikes again. As I mentioned earlier AUDAX has many rules, but it seems they can be changed to suite your situation.

Lesser distances: The rules allow for us to complete 20% less than the previously submitted amount subject to a minimum of 360km so as long as we do 360km we get validated, as as long as we still have a 22 hour stamp.

This gave us the option to take a direct route to Doncaster instead, only a mere 22 miles away. 22 hour stamp gained, it was 6.00am and we were off. All we had to do was make Doncaster by 8.00am and we would have completed an Audax 400km event. The light of a new day was breaking and the rain was clearing, added to that we seemed to have actual found a flat route at last.
With the worst behind us and the end (well Doncaster) getting ever closer, I must have start to switch off, as I found myself almost falling a sleep while still riding. Stopping for a quick power nap was not an option, so the next best thing was to take to the front and pick up the pace in an effort to wake up. Not sure this was much appreciated by all the team but it worked for me and it got us in to Doncaster Station bang on the 24 hour allotted time. Where son James who had left Dorset at 4.00am to ensure he would be there to pick us up and claim his breakfast, unfortunately Doncaster Station had no breakfast facility so this had to wait until the first service we came to on the M1 (thanks James)

To sum up
We completed 24 hours on a bike
We covered 400km (242miles)
But we did not make it to York

Am I bothered we did not make it to York “no”
Will I be joining Audox any time soon “no”

That said I enjoyed the adventure and the team spirit. I am still left wondering what you have to do before the body finally says no enough is enough.

Thanks again to Charlie for all his efforts in arrange everything.
But before you ask I am busy next Easter.