Endurance riding is a funny thing. You (almost) always start off the ride feeling so good, because the pacing is easy. But it’s important to understand the method behind the madness. It’s not about going slow. It’s not about going fast. It’s about knowing how many matches you have in your matchbook. And how to manage them. And how not to burn through them before the end of the ride.
One of the ways I (now) think about my long rides is about matchbox management. You start off every long ride with a box full of matches, and it’s up to you how well you manage them.
Think of it this way:
- If you’ve done a lot of riding/training, do a lot of kms in a week, and have a solid base, you probably have a pretty big box of matches
- Every time you go hard, whether that’s sprinting ahead, going hard up a climb, or generally riding near or at threshold, you’re burning matches. How many depends on how long you hold that pacing for
- If you’re un-well (or recovering from a cold) your box isn’t full to start off with
- If you’ve gone out riding tonnes that week, your box isn’t full
- If you’ve had a rest/recovery week, slept well, and eaten well, you’ll re-stock up the matchbox
- For every hour or so you ride at your easy pace you’ll burn one match as a default
- Eating and drinking along the way can slow down the matches you’re burning, but it won’t really replace them
- Always save 1 or 2 matches in the back pocket just in case
The other tip is to know how many matches you have left. And this takes a lot of time to figure out. Heck, it’s something that I’m still learning. Because you can feel really spectacular at the start of the ride, but then an hour in realise you really don’t have a lot of matches to work with (for example: the Wombat “my bike is tired” ride). Or you can get most of the way through a ride just to find out that you are, indeed, completely out, and you’ve even burned the matchbox (for example: the DNF on the Warby).
And then there’s this ride. Where I got it right. Just barely. But still got it right.
Do the Boogie Woogie in the Strathbogies. Flats, hills, and fun. This Audax 300km loop was a new route: Boogie through the Dookie Hills to Violet Town, up to Strathbogie then to Ruffy, Nagambie, Murchison, Tatura and return to Shepparton. Total elevation gain: 2367m (mostly between the 75km and 180km mark).
This was a ‘Brevet Randonneur Mondiaux’ (BRM) randonnées (ie: a ride over 200km) with relaxed cut-off points at the four checkpoints. With Audax, road rides of up to 600km are generally based on a minimum average speed of 15 km/h, including stops. So there’s three main ways to ride these kinds of days (with lots of variations in between):
- Ride slow and take shorter stops so you don’t lose too much time
- Go a bit quicker and take longer breaks
- Go a bit quicker, short stops, and finish fast
I usually go for a combination of Option 2 and 3. I do love a coffee, but long stops at cafe’s can be like quicksand: once you get into one and settled, it’s hard to drag yourself back out on the road. Especially at night.
The Boogie in Strathbogie
4am is just a terrible time of morning. I’m pretty sure it’s not even a real time. But that’s where this day started, because it was a two-hour drive to Shepparton for the ride start time of 7:30am (yes, I double checked this. FOUR TIMES) so I was up, packed, and in the car just after 5am. Yawn. Thank goodness for coffee.
Arriving in Shepparton just after sunrise I followed a couple of cyclists into the car pack to get set up for the ride. Always an easy way to find the start line: look for the high vis!
A quick ride briefing about a couple of hazards to watch for later on in the day and we were off. Of the 17 total riders, two were aiming for the 150km loop, three for the 200km, and the rest of us on the 300km.
The road between Shep and Violet Town is pretty flat, so it was easy to get settled into a comfortable pace. I ended up chatting with Thomas Price for the first leg, who had been at a lot of rides that I’d been on (including Syd-Mel) but we hadn’t ever ridden together. We ended up in a solid bunch of about 8 other riders, all chatting as we rode along, swapping turns at the front.
Once we entered Violet Town the alliance ended, which is pretty typical on Audax rides as everyone choses a different pace, stopping time, and break point. Violet Town wasn’t a brevet checkpoint (see picture above of the checkpoints – we only needed to be signed off at four places) so some riders chose to ride through. Others stopped but only briefly and then headed out. Thomas and I decided it was definitely coffee time so took a 20 minute stop here (if only to let my over heated coffee cool down a little).
The two of us rolled out towards Strathbogie: our first checkpoint of the day and also the start of the hills. We caught up with another two riders and the four of us swapped turns at the front, chatting away about their upcoming Transatlantic Way (TAW) adventure in Ireland, work, education, and other assorted random topics.
Following the map into Strathbogie we ended up in a cafe that I deemed ‘too posh for lycra’ so we turned around and headed back to the other cafe in town. While I’m sure she was glad to see us, I guess being ‘bombarded’ by 7 cyclists wasn’t on her list of ideal occurrences that day as she seemed a bit stressed by having so many customers (assumption based on the near 40 minute wait for a toastie).
Thomas decided he’d ride on ahead as he was having some mechanical issues with his chain and cables, so I took a few extra minutes to pop on one headphone and get some music set up before I headed off. There was a chance that I’d be riding solo for the next 60km to Ruffy (and through the hilly section!) so having a bit of distraction was on the menu.
It didn’t take long to catch up to Thomas (who waved me on ahead) and off I went into some lovely winding roads. I still wasn’t feeling 100% (I’d been laid out flat in bed the weekend before by a rather nasty cold) but I felt like as long as I managed my efforts I’d be okay. It’s always tempting along roads with a slight downhill to push a bit harder (because wheeeee!), so I had to keep reminding myself that it was going to a long day and to just take it easy. Soon enough I hit the proper downhill, and into the drops I went to enjoy the ride.
But it didn’t feel good. Something just felt a bit off. My corners felt sloppy, I felt disconnected to the bike, and it just felt, well, weird. I thought maybe it was because I was still recovering from that cold, and was a bit concerned about how the ride would go. On the next corner my front tyre skidded about two feet sideways, and after recovering it I had a glance down. Flat tyre. On the front. On a descent. Lovely.
Easing the bike to a stop (and managing not to tip myself off the bike as it wobbled to a standstill) I proceeded to change the tube. Only to realise that my tyre levers weren’t in the bag (I’m guessing they’re with my MTB gear). As I hunted around for a stick or rock of some combination to help pop the tyre off, Thomas flew down the hill and yelled out if I was okay. I yelled back ‘No!’ and he turned around to help.
We then found out the spare tube I had was also flat. Luckily I had a second. Also lucky that Thomas had a fantastic pump so I didn’t have to use my CO2 canister. Save that for another day. And bank another 20 minutes of stop time.
So onwards and upwards on the road we went towards Ruffy. Literally. This is where most of the climbing for the day was. I had looked at the ride with gps map which stated the highest % climb of the day would hit 10%. Lies. All lies. While the first of the climbs was 4.1km at 7% and the second was 2km at 8%, both climbs hit 14% along the way. That hurt. So back to the matches. Let’s just say there were a few burnt over this section.
We reached Ruffy about 15 minutes before the cafe officially closed (officially. During the briefing they had let us know that she would stay open for riders after 4pm, awesome!) Only trouble was that my cleat decided it didn’t want to unclip from my pedal, which was possibly going to lead to an entertaining dismount, so I had leaned down, unbuckled, and pried my foot from the shoe. Even a few hard yanks wouldn’t budge it, so with a shrug of my shoulders I left one shoe still clipped in, and entered the cafe. One shoe off. One shoe on.
It was like an oasis. Definitely too posh for lycra, but at that point we were the only customers so we didn’t really care. Thomas ordered first, and then I ordered, having to explain to the lovely woman behind the counter that yes, Thomas’ order was only for him, and I’d order separately. Not sure what was so strange about a man in lycra ordering two desserts 😉
Leigh had passed us during the flat tyre episode, so we caught up to him for a brief chat in the cafe. And by brief chat I mean he looked at the two of us in amazement as we both inhaled chocolate milkshakes in less than 5 minutes flat. Checkpoint stop time: 20 minutes. Heaven.
But in good news the majority of the climbing was over. Normally this wouldn’t be good news for me (not a spectacularly good flat lander, much prefer the hills!) but with my diminishing book of matches I was quite happy to tick the legs through some flatter sections for awhile.
The next section, Duffy to Nagambie, was probably my favourite section of the ride. We’d broken the back of the ride, and it was quite literally downhill (or flat) from here. Thomas had suggested that if we rode to the next checkpoint at 25km/h we’d be in Nagambie for 7pm. Nodding, I donned the high vis vest (flankles had of course been on all ride) and off we went.
Ah, now that felt better. Fuelled by an extraordinary amount of sugar, we were both feeling pretty gleeful at this point. With the sun setting in front of us, we were also riding into my favourite part of the day: twilight. This is what I love about long rides, that beautiful transition from day to night.
Oh, and that 25 km/h pacing Thomas had suggested? Yeah that wasn’t going to happen. Favourite leg, favourite time of day, with a beautiful downhill? Nearly 29km/h. That’s what I’m talking about.
Rolling into Nagambie we decided that while a few of the cafes had been too posh for lycra, the servo was not quite what we were looking for, so headed for the nearby row of fish and chip shops. Ahhhh it was just right.
It was just after 6pm and we only had just shy of 70km left to go. The matchbox was starting to feel a little emptier, but I still had a few left (and the two spares tucked in the back pocket, metaphorically of course) so was ready to hit the road. Lights on we…
Nothing. For who knows what reason my main headlight decided it didn’t want to connect, so instead of having my lovely Ay-Ups ready to boogie woogie, I only had my one spare. Which should (??) be fine as it has about a 4 hour span on it, but I’d already been running it on flash mode for the last hour or so just to be safe. So not ideal, but still okay. A little while later we thought it would be a good idea to put Thomas’s spare light on my bike, just in case my (backup, now only) light decided to turn off. Because in country Victoria it’s not just dark, it’s country dark.
So into the darkness we went. At about the 240km mark we started to see signs for the bridge, which from the briefing (so so much earlier in the day) they had strongly suggested we walk. Not ride. So fighting my stupid cleats, I finally yanked my shoe off the pedal and rode towards the bridge, one foot unclipped. From the sounds of it I didn’t want to even try to ride this thing. And it was a nice night for a walk.
Once we were across it was only a hop, skip, and a jump home right?
But that darkness. It could be cathartic. It could be that chance to finally let go, just let go of the underlying stress we hold every day. And ride. Just let the wheels sing to you as the tyres kiss the asphalt, and let the legs tick over.
Or it could be just a pain in the butt because you can’t see where you are, can’t see where you’re going, and you just want the ride to BE OVER ALL READY.
I wouldn’t say that I was down to my last few matches, but I wasn’t too far off. That cold last week had really knocked me about, and while I wasn’t feeling horrific, I wasn’t exactly on top of the world. Surprisingly Thomas and I had run out of things to talk about (either that or we were both feeling a tad on the weary side) so the ride had gotten pretty quiet. I had put one headphone back in, which was helping keep my mind occupied, and it became a mental battle to get through that last 40km.
Spotting a flashing red light ahead, Thomas suggested that the fox might want to go on the chase for a bit, which kept us distracted for awhile as we slowly crept up on another lonely Audax 300 rider. Passing him with a ‘we’re nearly there!’ we expected him to jump on our tail and ride in to Shep. But no, those Audax riders can be a solitary bunch (or he had burnt through too many matches to up the speed that extra 1-2km/h) and onwards the two of us went to Shep.
Where we kinda got a bit lost. Garmin’s were running on fumes at this point, and that map function chews through the battery like you wouldn’t believe. So we rode right past our turnoff and had an extra few kms tour of Shep. Ideal after 300km in the legs. Especially when one of you is riding with only one foot clipped in because she doesn’t want to fall over at the traffic lights…
It had been a great day on the bike. Hard. But worth it. And now I finish my Audax season with a completed 300 in the bank.
Just need to nail that 400 now…
- Total distance: 301.97km (plus 1-2 kms that I missed at the start)
- Total vertical climbed: 2161 (Strava)
- Elapsed time: 13 hours and 56 minutes
- Moving time: 11 hours and 49 minutes
- Average speed: 25.5 km/h
- Calories burnt: 5,525
- Max temperature: 14 degrees
- Min temperature: 4 degrees