I signed up for a 600km Audax ride having not ridden anything single ride much over 200km for seven months. It was windy. I got 3 hours of sleep. I finished it. My everything hurts now. The end.
Oh, you want more details than that?
Here we go:
Part 1: The leadup
For the sake of anyone who’s reading this blog after just having crawled out from under a rock, let’s just suffice it to say that it hasn’t been an ideal two years for anyone. Google it. ‘Nuff said.
My goal over the last couple of years has been a YRR – Year Round Randonneur.
Year Round Randonneur: One ride each calendar month for a total of 12 consecutive months, ride distance to be at least 200 km.For those regions significantly impacted by COVID restrictions:
For YRR and Petit YRR, flexibility in the dates of rides (June – Oct) is permitted. These ‘flexible’ rides shall be ridden between May and 31 Oct. i.e. you must still do 12 rides in a year, just some of them may be a little out regarding the date.
In 2020 I made it up to eight months of YRR, but then too much lockdown/loss of all motivation meant the rest of that season was a write-off. Starting December 2020, I went at it again. I roped in a good Audax mate of mine who was happy to ride a 200 every month (thanks PC) and better yet, was willing to drive north with me in hopes of making those winter rides a few degrees warmer (ask me about short sleeves in July!). We had a few close calls on getting one in every month as we were dragged in and out of various lockdowns (Regional Victoria often had different restrictions to Metropolitan Melbourne), including our July 200 which we snuck in on the 31st of the month. The trick was to be ready at any point in time to ride 200km, whether they were 8 weeks apart or back to back. Adding to the fun was a bout of (emotional) exhaustion that hit me in August and September, meaning I had to dial it way back on the riding and just rest as much as possible… and then ride another 200. It made for an interesting few months and equally interesting levels of fitness, and I could definitely tell when I was fitter/not as fit during each of these rides.
After 12 months of 200s, I had a solid base to go into the 2022 Audax season with (which started November 1st, 2021). I’d also been trying to back up each longer ride the previous months with another ride (even if it was just a short one) to start reminding my brain and my body how to ride with fatigue. Or at least reminding them both that YES WE CAN ride the next day, even if it doesn’t feel spectacular. Because I knew the first big Audax ride in November was going to be a 600, so we were going to have to do backups. That being said, I didn’t really have time/energy to train up to riding a 600, so just did what I was able do: ride a 200 day 1, ride something else day 2, call it done. A “big week” was getting over 300km, and I hadn’t done that since early September.
The week before any big event I like to get as much body and brain work as I can, so it was off to have some remedial work done on the shoulder, and extra osteo work done on my hip/leg/knee – turns out sitting at a desk all day is pretty darn awful for my legs, and they were letting me know by making my knee go all wonky every time I rode my bike. I love getting older. Stupid hips don’t lie. The interesting part of all that was chatting with Dom (my osteo – check him out if you’re in Victoria) who has been part of my body team for years now. I was expressing some level of concern about my upcoming ride, and he just shrugged it off. I have complete faith in you to do this one Tiffo, he said. You usually come in here near buckled before a big event. It’s nice to see you not overcooked.
Yeah, I’m so not overcooked I’m raw heading into this one.
Still. If you can’t be fit, at least be fresh. And after nearly two weeks of chilling out and about seven months of just having fun rides and not doing really anything that would really look like consistent training, I was fresh AF.
For those thinking that 'Jump the Gun' looks familiar, it's because I've done this one before - this was my PBP qualifier back in 2018. So to remind everyone of how fun that one was, see the blog writeup here, and the video here.
Part 2: The Ride (Day 1)
I will admit to getting a bit sentimental rocking up to this ride. It felt like forever since I’d been on an organised Audax of this size, and it felt a little emotional seeing so many faces all in one place again. Breakfast, a few pics, rider briefing, and we were off.
If you’ve never done an Audax ride before when I say we started off the first 30 or so km doing rolling turns in a bunch you might not think twice. But let me say that this has NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE in all my years in Audax. Yes, an actual bunch. Of more than 3 people. And yes actual rolling turns. It was crazy. Mostly we were giggling and trying to hold it together. Needless to say, this broke apart after a bit, and with a much smaller group, I found it was not a manageable pace. At the first left-hand turn, I yelled out that I was dropping back. It’s all fine and dandy to ride at a faster pace, but this wasn’t a pace I would be happy holding later on in the day, therefore it shouldn’t be a pace that I wanted to hold now (pro tip: consistent pacing is much better in the long run than a fast start, burning all your matches, then limping the last few hundred kilometers home. Yes I have learned something).
The first checkpoint was supported, so Alan and I had a cuppa tea and some snacks while we hung out in the sunshine.
*For those unfamiliar with the Audax way of riding, checkpoints are predetermined “controls” and are generally bakeries, cafes, and service stations – places to get food and top up on hydration. The rider has to reach the checkpoint within a certain time and get the brevet card (like an Audax passport to prove you’ve ridden to that destination) signed by someone.
The second leg was much shorter – just 37km to Stawell – but it was during this leg we started to feel the wind. It was going to be a tougher leg back… and probably a pretty tough day all around. This course is renowned for having tougher conditions – wind and heat being the main contenders – so even with all the supported checkpoints*, it’s not an easy 600.
*supported checkpoints are ones where Audax provides the food and drink (as opposed to a bakery, cafe, or service station where you are responsible for your own re-supply).
Surprisingly the section back to Elmhurst (53km) wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. Good company and good conversations helped a lot to pass the time, and we were also fairly protected through this stretch.
However, our luck was about to change, and as soon as we hit the open flats it was game on for the wind.
Pulling into Elmhurst, another supported checkpoint, I was a little on the tired side, but overall not too bad. I’ll probably say it a lot during this writeup, but having the volunteers at every checkpoint looking after us all, whether it was a smile, a word of encouragement, or a cheer, made a huge difference.
The next section was from Elmhurst back to the main camp in Maryborough, and I swear Alan Walker’s legs were ON FIRE. He set out a cracking pace, and I was quite happy to tap along at the tempo he was setting. Even though I try to be consistent with the pacing I set, it’s always nice when you’re feeling a bit stronger to give the legs a bit of a stretch, and I was feeling good enough to do this at this point. It was odd though, every time I’d fly past him and try and take a turn on the front, he’d give me about 20-30 seconds, and then quitely pull back around and take the lead again. Shrugging my shoulders I let him have at it and was pretty happy sitting on his back wheel for a bit. We had a few other groups of riders try and latch on the back a couple of times, but Alan was on a mission and soon it was just the two of us heading into Maryborough.
Why I love Audax reason number 264: when the guys we dropped caught up to us at the checkpoint, did they grumble and make excuses about being dropped by a man in his 60s and a ‘chick’? Nope. Because that’s not how we roll. Besides, I get dropped by “old men” ALL THE TIME on these rides. It’s awesome. I hope I’m half as strong as they are when I’m that age. Better hair though 😉
The next two loops it was going to be just me and Thomas as Alan decided his heart and mind weren’t in this ride today and needed to take a break. There is more to the story but it’s not my story to tell. So after our break at Maryborough, and a pep talk about how excited we were about the next 100km loop *cue sarcasm*, Thomas and I set out towards Newbridge, where it turned out Thomas’s body and mind weren’t in the ride today but he was willing to push on in hopes that might change.
It was on this loop we had a big talk about how you decide when to pull out of a ride or not. If you’ve read some of my previous blogs, you’ll know this is not something I’ve often been good at calling, and often I’ll push through rides that perhaps it would have been smarter to stop.
I won’t go into the details of our discussion, but it boiled down to this: if your body is telling you to stop you stop. If there’s a physical reason to stop and you know you’re going to do yourself damage then stop (yes you can keep going, but there will be repercussions that you might not want to pay for later).
Often when I’m struggling on the longer rides I know it’s ‘just mental’ rather than any particular physical issue (other than general fatigue, or the pain that is ‘normal’ on longer rides). And I’ll also admit that I’ve pulled out of rides because I got a serious case of the CBFs, rather than any physical reason. But if my heart isn’t in a ride then it’s just not going to happen. It takes quite a bit of things to line up to do the big Audax rides, and sometimes you can make it work. Sometimes not.
I will say this. I’ve ridden thousands of kilometers with Thomas over the years, and I know he’s ‘saved me’ (saved me from myself mostly) many times over on the longer rides just by being there. Well, that and 4am karaoke. But that’s part, for me, of what riding with my Audax mates is about. We are just there. And sometimes it’s me who needs pulling up out of the darkness, and sometimes it’s my riding buddy. What comes around goes around. And sometimes you just know it’s not your day and it’s not your ride. There is nothing to prove by sticking out a ride that isn’t going to serve you well.
This was not that ride, and we stuck it out. But for some it might seem weird that we talk about this kind of stuff when riding – doesn’t it seem like a bad idea to talk about ‘quitting rides’ when you’re struggling? Maybe. But I’m okay facing my demons head-on during a ride, and so is Thomas. We know them well.
I’ve gone back and read this section a few times now and can’t seem to get my pen to paper on what I’m trying to get at here. If you want to know more, maybe just come out and ride with us someday. It made more sense 300km into a ride.
The last leg of the day was an out and back to Avoca. There were a few other riders still out on the road, so it gave me and Thomas a chance to see who was still out there riding. It had been a pretty solidly windy day, and we wondered if it had taken its toll on others. With 13 total riders doing the 600, and another 2 riding the 400 we figured we’d see a few out there.
All in all, we counted four other riders on the road… two 400km riders and two 600km riders. Where was everyone?
Part 3: The Ride (Day 2)
Ah those Day 2 feels. After three hours of sleep, I was feeling just FANTASTIC and couldn’t wait to get back on the bike. It was going to be a cracking day though, so for a Day 2 kinda day it was shaping up nicely. Alan was feeling much better so was happy to keep riding the rest of the 600, and it was great to have him back with us again. He does tell some cracking Dad Jokes. Ask him about llamas.
There wasn’t anything open in Clunes at that time of the morning (CP9 – 406km mark for those playing along at home) so we didn’t stop long at this checkpoint and headed up to Newstead where we knew, by the time we got there, something would be available. There wasn’t another soul on the road at that time of day, we had the road all to ourselves. Magic! We got caught by three other riders (Greg, Buzza, and Scott) so shared the road for a bit before they pulled ahead of us on their way to Newstead.
Rolling into the tenth checkpoint we headed straight to the General Store. The three amigos yelled at us from across the street to join them, but I wasn’t biting. I knew what was available at the store and it was exactly what the doctor ordered.
I was dreading the next leg back from Newstead to Maryborough, as the last time I did ‘Jump the Gun’ this was THE WORST slog of a road straight into a headwind. Not so much today thank goodness. Hardly any wind at all, and if anything it was a cross tailwind. So while this section can be a bit of a drag (why is every leg back into Maryborough an uphill drag?) it wasn’t too bad, aside from the fact that my legs were letting me know that they were indeed rather tired.
And back out we go again. I had originally thought we’d stop in Maldon (at the 512km mark) for lunch at Le Sel (it’s fabulous, seriously go there if you love French baguettes stuffed with amazing produce) but Maldon was crazy busy with people so after a quick pitstop we were on the road again to Newstead for round two of food.
I didn’t know it until I sat down and ordered, but Thomas had been concerned about my food intake during the day. I had been having tummy issues for most of Day 1 and the start of Day 2 (nothing serious, just a grumbly belly), so was taking it pretty easy on my food intake and eating things I knew would sit well while I was riding. But hitting Newstead my tummy finally yelled out FEED ME and I got a bit more in. Happy days.
Back we went on the same draggy stretch back into Maryborough, where again I felt pretty solid. It had taken my legs over 500km to warm up, but we got there in the end. Which was good as it meant I could stand up a bit more (my body was quite loudly telling me that I wasn’t quite long-ride-fit in the saddle area yet…).
ONE MORE LEG. Come on guys, we’ve got this. Just the out and back to Dunolly to finish off the 600. Tailwind there. Headwind back. Perfect. And I’ve brought music for the leg back for some added help 🙂
And done. Time to eat dinner, and talk about how great we are, and tell the volunteers a million times how great they are and how much we appreciate what they do. Having the central camp set up in Maryborough on this ride is the best, makes it feel like you keep coming home again and there’s someone there to care for you.
Part 4: Reflection
If you had asked me four years ago if I would just ‘rock up’ to a 600 km Audax event without specifically training for it I would have laughed in your face. These are HUGE rides I would have said, which require planning, training, and focus. Spreadsheets. Food plans. The heart rate needs to be monitored at all times to make sure I don’t blow up. Show me all of my stats all of the time time. Our average speed must be xyz. Here’s what time we arrive at checkpoint 6, and we need to be out of there in precisely 25 minutes to stay on schedule.
Now, that stuff might still be far in the back of my head, but it doesn’t really matter anymore. I had a few riders ask about ‘the speeds’ we were going and I said we were going with the ‘value for money’ approach. It really doesn’t matter. You’ve never kept up with me on a ride before and you’re passing me now? That’s awesome for you. You’re lapping me and hours ahead? Fantastic. You go for your life mate. Done is done. A good 600 is a finished 600, even better if you’re not totally blitzed at the end of it and can remember your own name.
This ride was about mateship. About being there for each other as we rode. About telling stories that don’t need to be retold to anyone else but us. We talk about other rides we’ve done because it reminds us of what we’ve gone through, both the good and the bad, and we know that this story too will be re-told in future rides.
But all in all, Alan’s socks definitely deserve a special mention 😉
PS: Out of the 13 riders that started the 600 only 7 completed it. Like I said, this isn’t an easy 600. No matter if we make it look that way sometimes.
PPS: So if you can’t be fit, at least be fresh, worked out on this one. But I’m thinking just for my peace of mind I mind need to get some more kms, and specific types of kms, under my belt before my next 600 in March…
Okay the stats:
For those really interested, here’s what my Garmin said.
- Distance: 372km
- Elapsed time: 19 hours 9 minutes
- Average speed: 23.6 km/h
- Average heart rate: 136
- Average temperature: 16 degrees
- Lowest temp: 5 degrees
- Highest temp: 27 degrees
- Calories burnt: 6300
- Distance: 229km
- Elapsed time: 12 hours 47 minutes
- Average speed: 22.6 km/h
- Average heart rate: 123
- Average temperature: 21 degrees
- Lowest temp: 4 degrees
- Highest temp: 33 degrees
- Calories burnt: 3400