How did it come about your decision to do this?
Chris: It all started in Mytholmroyd in Oct 2012. We had just finished Seasons of the Mist Audax and I joined Ant and Ade at a table in a cafe there and the discussion turned to the forthcoming LEL the following year and who could be mad enough to do it…………..right there and then we all decided to give it a go, though Ant never signed up along with a few others.
We had already done plenty of 200K audax and I had done one 300K but the time limit and distance is still daunting.
What did you do in terms of training/to prepare for the event?
Chris: We both trained differently though still did the 200K Cheshire Audax’s together through winter. I had resolved to do an Audax SR series whilst Ade did multi 200k events, sometimes back to back over a weekend. An SR series is completing a 200/300/400/600K series of Audax within a year, I did it in 6 months. I figured that if I could do 600K within 40 hours I could ride anything. In my opinion I got my training spot on, doing the distances and with the bike loaded just like I would on LEL.
My set up was to be efficient as possible but to carry enough stuff to get out of any mechanicals and contend with the UK weather. I had a Carradice saddle bag and an Ortileb bar bag. At the start I was amazed at how little some of the people were taking, it was as if they were on a Sunday 50k ride out. These were the fast or daft ones 😊.
Ade: I also had a Carradice Barley saddlebag, and on the crossbar a Topeak Fuel Tank. This gave me about 8 litres of storage which was enough as we were travelling extremely lightly. I had 3 lights at the front which had about 500 lumens at full power, and more importantly ran on disposable batteries that I could replace at the bag drops. I took clip-on SKS race blades for mudguards.
Can you tell me about the route and organisation?
Ade: Basically audax is an entirely volunteer organisation that has been run for years by organisers who gave up their time to do it all. There’s an interesting backstory to LEL, which I heard about on an audax one time. I was riding on my own on a 300k audax and this mad scouse bloke with long hair (who I’d seen on other audaxes) caught me and insisted on talking to me for what seemed like ages. It was more talking at me as he didn’t stop for breath.
He told me about LEL in 2009 and how badly it was organised but that it was brilliant. There’s a book on Kindle about it – “Barring Mechanicals” which is a great read. Anyway, one of the guys who rode 2009 made a case to the Audax UK club about this being the premier event and, therefore, deserving of proper organisation. What he did, completely with volunteers, was nothing short of staggering. And the route was planned a year or so in advance (as I understand it) with people riding sections of it and suggesting amendments and contingency options etc. The route was published as a set of instructions to be printed for the old boys, and gpx files to download onto Garmins for the youngsters like Chris and I (and I think we were in the younger demographic!).
Chris: The LEL Audax, (not a race though you would never of guessed it), rolls around every 4 years with PBP (Paris Brest Paris) nestled in between. The entry was at midnight on something like Jan 3rd and it sells out incredibly quickly, with worldwide participation. The 2013 version was a 1,418Km ride from London to Edinburgh and back with a time limit of 116 hours.
(We set an internal goal of 100 hours or better for ourselves though). Both myself and Ade signed on and the training began.
How was the event experience and race day start for you?
Chris: Race day was 28th July 2013 and Ade kindly drove down to the start the day before. We were booked onto Debden house campsite but ended up staying in a travel lodge or premier inn not too far away. I remember us having a meal and a beer and getting to bed early only to be woken by a massive clap of thunder in the night, fortunately it had passed by morning. Debden house was the parking lot.
Our start time, was about 6.30am in the morning and we were in the B group. The really fast lot had set off before in the A group. The riders set off 30 mins apart with the last lot not starting until Midday!! You do get to choose your time. You get two bag drops which you choose prior to the event to drop small items at, anything from new kit to gets to chamois cream etc.
It is an Audax, so you have to follow the route as closely as possible and pass through specific controls, these are set out on the route card and Brevet card. At each control you have to get your Brevet stamped and you get fed – for free! Well you paid a £230 entry fee but we ate £230 worth of food at every control 😊. There is also an option for a bed. When we got to Thirsk at 401K we asked for a bed and to be woken up 3 or 4.5 hours later, it was really efficient. The control centres were utterly amazing. The food was excellent.
I remember the first time I spent money on the way north was at a petrol station between Lockerbie and Moffat, we had done about 600K, had a nights sleep and I just wanted a Lucozade for energy as it was a hot day so I got us both one. 600K and I spent £2, not bad at all! The controls are also set up with water/isotonic supplies and mechanics who will fix your bike for free!!
Ade: Beforehand we’d sketched out a rough plan of which controls we were going to travel to each day. (We had a full spreadsheet lol).
Our plan was:
- Day 1 – 249 miles Loughton (London) to Thirsk
- Day 2 – 189 miles Thirsk to Edinburgh
- Day 3 – 184 miles Edinburgh to Thirsk
- Day 4 – 187 miles Thirsk to St Ives
- Day 5 – 74 miles St Ives to Loughton (London)
The majority of the controls were schools making use of the kitchens and halls and all the check-ins etc were computerised so people following could see the last control a rider had checked into.
Another nice touch was that our rider numbers had our names and country printed on them. There were 33 countries represented and over 1000 riders.
Just to play up to Chris’ stereotype it took us:
- Total time taken 104 hours 43 mins
- Total distance 885.4 miles
- 59 hours and 59 mins actual ride time
- Average speed of 14.8mph
- 30,846ft of climbing
Chris: The route is amazing, as you know Audax routes tend to take you on the quiet lanes of the country, far from the madding crowd and this is exactly what it was.
Any incidents you had to deal with?
Chris: TBH not too many, the main one was both of us nearly getting wiped out by a van about 400 metres from the finish line LOL. Our fault too as we were being giddy kippers eulogising about how great we are and prob going too fast 😊. I think we had one or two punctures the whole route but other than that no mechanicals that I can remember. Ades bum sores could be classed as an incident lol.
Ade: Chris and I rode a lot of audaxes together the year before and we just got on well which is hugely important. Also we complemented each other as riders – both a similar standard/level of fitness. There was a descent that was about 15 miles long after Moffat and I noticed that every time I braked my bike would make a grinding shuddering noise. This turned out to be a broken axle (didn’t find out till after LEL though). In the end I just carried on and tried not to use the front brake that much!
Chris also kept me going when my knee was really bad and stayed with me whilst I was riding in the small ring on the flat and one-legged uphill!
What happened with your knee? Any other physical aches and pains?
Chris: Ade suffered with saddle sores and a sore knee going North but was stoic in his approach but I worried about him,when you’re worrying about your mate it adds a different pressure, he sorted his knee though, at about Branard Castle he realised it was the little top bar bag forcing him to widen his knees, so he wasn’t in his natural position, removing the top bag and his pain dissipated, relief 😊. I was lucky in this respect, I didn’t get any pains, I didn’t change my shorts for 1000K, only changing them when I knew the end was in sight and it would take my leg being sawn off to stop me. They were stuck on lol!!
Ade: I started to feel the first pain in my knee on day 2. By the end of the day I was wondering how I could go on with it as it had become so bad each pedal stroke was painful. As Chris says removing the top bar bag helped enormously.
Feelings and thoughts before, during and after?
Chris: Personally I loved it BUT not every minute. There were a few dark moments but it is endurance. I think the single most mentally difficult time was us pushing into a 20MPH headwind for 100k in the middle of the night through the Lincolnshire fens on the way south after about 1200K.
Both taking our turn on the front, secretly hoping the other wouldn’t flick is arm out for the other to come through. That was a very tough 5 hours with only Ade commenting how depressing it was not to have a single turning to break the monotony or a traffic light. We were desperate for a turn in the road lol. Beforehand I was confident, I think we both were, it was an adventure, that’s how I saw it.
Ade: Yes, my low point came cycling up Yad Moss. I had a support on my knee and I just couldn’t think of anything other than letting down all the people who had sponsored me (I was doing it for a Kids Cancer charity). My mind was working overtime and that was when the clarity came – I knew what the problem was and the bar bag and knee brace went in the ditch (metaphorically – I gave them to Paula, Steve’s wife). I still couldn’t sit for long on the saddle due to the saddle sores but at least I knew I’d finish. I’m not sure I would have if Chris hadn’t put in all the work on the front over the previous 2 days.
And what was it like to finish?
Ade: When we got to the end though, it was emotional. We shook hands as we rode in to cheers and cowbells.
Chris: Triumphant! 😆. In all honesty the end is a bit of a blur, I think it was emotional.
Would you do it again?
Chris: Deffo!! Though maybe slightly differently. On the way back at 1,000k we had booked a B&B for a few hours overnight at Thirsk to freshen up. This meant we slept far too long and when we got up my legs were in recovery, it took 100K to get them going again. Although the luxury of the B&B was nice it wasn’t conducive to our sub 100 hours and this made us miss it. (I think we did it in 104 hours).
I would like to say we would do it more casually but I know that would never happen, maybe when we are 80!
Ade: I hope to do it again one day 😊
What average speed and distance would someone need to be able to do to consider LEL?
Chris: Honestly, anyone could do it. If you have a good level of fitness and good mental strength with a few 200s under your belt you could do it. You don’t have to ride it fast. The lowest average speed is 12.5km/h non stop. A friend Becky was gutted as she was just outside the cut off time and didn’t get a finishers medal. She still did it though, just took her 4 hours longer.
Do you have any special memories to share?
Ade: I didn’t like riding across the Humber bridge – they move and I don’t like heights! Head down and ride!
Chris: Going north we went mental! We forgot what everyone said,(don’t go mad on the first day), and went mad. 400k at approx. 29km/h. We were only 30K from the start when some old guy who didn’t even have a map started drafting us. DROP HIM came the cry and then we tried to drop everyone and everything that came near us after that lol. We would do that again though, I just know it.
Ade: Yes agreed we went too mad on the first day. An old audaxer called Peter Bond had told me before that the adrenaline would kick in and he was right. Plus a monster tailwind and we absolutely smashed it for 200 miles. Looking back it was ridiculous.
Chris: Ade going mad 30K from Thirsk going north, pulling a long line of riders along at about 30KMH, it was pitch black and close to midnight. We were going along undulating lanes in a wood or forest and I dropped to the back. I just remember seeing a long line of blinking red lights rising and falling in front of me thinking about how great life is.
Ade: That ride in the dark was amazing. I was determined to get us to Thirsk somewhere near our schedule as we were behind (and that meant less sleep) so I just hammered it. My lights weren’t great and unbeknownst to me I’d hit some potholes so hard I’d snapped the axle in my front wheel. Also, when we came back the same way in the light on the way back I realised how lucky we’d been – a few people had been wiped out on gravelly corners and bigger potholes – but at the time it seemed fantastic. The next morning we were quickly aware of how stupid we’d been the day before when our average speed dropped considerably. It was on this day my knee starting hurting and I started popping nurofen.
Ade: The distance we were covering meant changing scenery and weather which was great. We only went up by 38ft in 62 miles across the boring Fens (only made bearable by the joke Chris made up when we found a guy lay in the road in front of his car – you had to be there really). Also, we went from sunny weather and blue skies to flash floods near Market Rasen where we had to ride on the pavement because the roads were flooding!
Chris: Leaving Edinburgh at 700K going to Traquair, we left at around 5:30 after a couple of hours kip. It was July and it was 5C, bloody freezing but what a route to Traquair through the mountains.
Ade: That ride was amazing, the valley was beautiful. Breakfast at the control was some fantastic cake (Madonna’s cake maker) and a tot of malt whisky!
Chris: The route from there to Eskdalemuir was arguably even better, lush pine forests and car free roads.
Ade: Getting a massage from a blind bloke at Brampton to try to help my knee – his guide dog was sat there as good as gold as all these riders trooped in and out.
Ade: Its stupid really but on the last day it felt like 74 miles was like nipping to the shops. I guess relatively speaking it was.
Chris: Driving home after the finish, we stopped on the services at Birmingham on the toll road, opened the car doors and had to crawl out, we couldn’t move our legs LOL. Some women were watching and laughing at us as we tried to stand up. We must’ve looked bladdered but we just rolled about laughing.
Laughing, we just laughed a lot. There were dark grouchy times, that’s endurance for you but overall a lot of laughing.
Overall it was a great few days on a bike 😊
The LEL site which has a brilliant FAQ section : https://londonedinburghlondon.com/about
Ade wrote a blog after the event which is brilliantly written, also providing all the maps, facts, stories and humour. For Ades Blog go to: https://ade2010lejog.wordpress.com/category/lel2013/
There is a fantastic documentary on the 2013 LEL which you can find on amazon prime called ‘London Edinburgh London’ (quelle surprise). See if you can find the guys in it talking about their visit to a pharmacy to ask for “face” moisturiser for their sore bits 😂.