Sunday, April 3, 2011

3Down audax: 1 down, 3 to go!

We survived the 3Down 300km brevet. The weather was as close to perfect as you could ever hope for in an early April date, warming up by midday, but then a little overcast as we got onto the New Forest moors. The wind was south to south-east all day, meaning a fairly tough headwind as we got onto the more exposed parts of the forest, but it did deliver a healthy hand pushing us back through the second half.


This event is typically only run in PBP years (when the calendar generally holds more events), so this is the first time we'd participated. The route is ideal, leaving the conurbations in the early hours and following some quiet roads. By midday we were getting into the New Forest, which is a much nicer place to be than around busy town centres on a Saturday afternoon. Overall we barely touched major towns, skirting around (e.g. Winchester and Basingstoke) or controlling on the periphery (e.g. Fordingbridge) which saved time and hassle navigating one way systems.

This was quite an important ride for us, as since we cycled to York in November we've not done a single day's riding over 120km. Further, we'd not yet started our PBP qualification campaign, so this was our first step towards that. PBP qualification requires one ride each of at least: 200km, 300km, 400km, 600km. We're unable to make any of the remaining 200s, so the 3Down will fill that gap.

Having spent two months cycle touring we were reassured to find we were not entirely out of shape. We started out at a high pace, as we always like to, as it's a fully attended event this allowed us to get clear of the biggest bulk of the strain on the early controls. Once we hit a couple of small climbs before Pangbourne we settled into a more reasonable pace, dropping back from the lead groups but still riding with several different groups that we saw throughout the day.
As we left Pangbourne we spotted Mel K grabbing some food outside the corner shop, along with Steve Abraham and a couple others. We shouted a quick "hello" as we left, and Mel jumped on the bike and joined us. Really good to catch up with Mel, we always find him great company on rides. After a few km he glanced at his GPS and suddenly exclaimed where we were leading him? Of course, we were taking the scenic detour in the route, whereas Mel had intended to take the mainroad (A4) route out of Pangbourne as he'd just been explaining to us he'd come out without descent lighting on the bike due to a last minute change, and so wanted to minimize time spend cycling in the dark. Opps. Anyway, not the first time Mel has ended up on a scenic detour!

We made it to the 150km turn around point without too much problem, but by that point had only eaten cold food (sandwiches etc) so when we arrived in Alresford for the 219km control, rather than seek out the recommended Tesco Express, Emma spotted a great little tea room just as we arrived in town. As we were there well within 11 hours (9 hours remaining for 85km) we decided to have a good feed, and so banqueted on tea, soup, beans on toast, and cakes.

Predictably enough, the next stage was fairly slow and hard going, as we digested that lot. Around the 225km mark I was really starting to feel like I was about ready to stop for the day. This is equivalent to a bit over-distance 200, and seems to be a fairly natural point for the body and backside and legs to feel like they'd had enough. It's amazing how you can recover from these lows though, another 30km down the road we were going as well as any point. I guess our base fitness and endurance is in pretty good shape, we're just quite out of practice at being out on the bike for such long periods all in one go.

The final 20 or so kilometers we were able to lift our pace a little. We often like to do this even more than going out fast at the start. Partly the anticipation of finishing draws us on, but more over it's a nice way to explore what sort of untapped reserves the body still has hidden away even after a long day out. Reserves you know you'll need to call on on your next, longer, ride so why not test them a little!
Weaving through Maidenhead at 9pm was probably the low point of the route; not an awful experience but busy enough to remind you how tranquil the day had been up to that point. Some point after that we came across a couple of the other riders who we'd been playing tandem leap-frog with all day. They were struggling to navigate in the dark and feeling the effects of a long day out too, so were grateful for a tandem-assisted tow back to the Arrivée. Complete with dual stoker and GPS powered navigation, we made good progress. The final bonus was as we approached Gerrards Cross, still with a presumed 12km to go, Emma pointed out the route was only 307km not 315km. It may not sound like much, but finding out there's 8km less than expected and we were so very close to the end was such happy sound to my ears at that point!

In the end this was a very good start to our PBP qualification campaign - just 3 more to go!