Cycle 200k... in a day
I recently took part in my first Audax Ireland cycling event-the Around Down 200km. For anyone that doesn't know and I would say that's most people - Audax riding is a form of long distance endurance cycling where cyclists complete a course ranging from 100km to 1200km under a pre-defined time. This is generally very comfortable time frame but the real challenge is against yourself, the distance and your watch.
I should give you some background as to how cycling 200km came about and the training that went into it. I only started road biking during last Winter. I picked up a cheap road bike to use for cross training during my winter base phase. I was usually only doing short 25km spins once or twice a week to supplement my paddling and running. Then as the winter weather got worse I set up the turbo trainer in the house and started using the online cycling program Trainer Road . This was great for 1 hour sessions when the weather was to bad to go outside, I would usually do 2/3 sessions a week. I learned a lot about technique from the program and that there is more to pedaling than you think.
I had heard about Audax cycling from a friend in Ballina - Eamon Nealon, a committed Randonneur (you become a Randonneur after your first Audax) and cycling enthusiast. He regularly filled me in on these crazy long distances they cycled, like a 1000km in 56 hours, only stopping for short naps and to refuel. This sounded like real punishment and caught my attention!
So you are probably wondering how I got from 20-30km rides to 200km in basically a few weeks. One Friday evening in mid April I got a text out of the blue from Eamon reading- "85km in the morning, you on?"
I don't think he expected a reply but I called his bluff and said I would be ready at 7am the next morning! This was my first longish ride and I had no idea what to expect and my first time on the road with clipless pedals. It was tough! I was dying coming over the hills in the Windy Gap about 20km from home but Eamon pushed me on. I made it home and devoured everything in sight, I was tired and sore but it felt good.
I got out with Eamon a few more times and the avg. speed started improving as did the fitness and strength with every spin. A plan was hatched to do three training sessions a week around my other training- Wednesday hills, Friday TT, a long spin on the weekend and eventually a 200km Audax. Within a few weeks of the first outing I invested in a carbon bike and this made a big difference, especially to my speed.
Every session was tough and with maximum effort being given the results started to come fast. Wednesday hill sessions were soon ranging from 60km -70km with 5 or 6 climbs. Average speed was constantly improving until I was holding 30kmph and the skills of riding in a group and climbing were being tuned on every outing.
Fast forward a few weeks to mid June and I entered my first Sportive - The Ox Mt Four Passes 120km. I wasn't sure what to expect from this as I still hadn't ridden over 85km (my first outing!) The long spins on the weekend were not getting the attention I had planned as I was away paddling most weekends but the intensity of the mid week sessions was paying dividends and I was confident. Without going into all the details of the event I managed to stick with the fastest group for most of the course and finished the 120km in 3hrs 58 min. A lot faster than I had expected! The training was working...
Back to the Audax
We left Ballina at 4am on the 28th of June to be in Newry. Co. Down for registration and the start at 8am. It poured rain most of the way, but the forecast was for a hot day with temps reaching the 20's. When we arrived at the hockey club in Newry there were only a few other people around. As cyclists arrived and prepared their bikes the places was soon a hive of activity. Wheel checks, gear check, food checks, debates on what to wear or what not to wear and what the weather would do.. the usual pre event stuff. Then a quick briefing from the organiser and away we went at 8:05am.
The initial pace was fast as a big group made their way out of Newry. I forgot my Garmin but we were averaging well over 30kmph. I was warned before hand about the "racers" and to be wary of getting caught up with them as after about 150km people start to "blow up". Of course after about 20km I was stuck with the fast bunch charging along. I decided to pull back and be more conservative. Along the route you are required to stop at controls where your card is marked and refreshments are available. We reached the first control at 55km in very good time with the initial hot pace off the start. Again as a big group left this control I found myself flying along with the leaders. After about 20km I had to drop off, as the pace was unsustainable and we had 125km to go.
My first school boy error of the day was forgetting my Garmin and my second was not bringing the route map with me. I had presumed I would be with other cyclists all day and didn't need it. However when I dropped off the lead group, the gap we had gained was significant and I had to stop and wait a while for someone to come along! Luckily it wasn't too long until an experienced rider called Billy from the Wolftrap CC pulled along side. I sat in behind him and we settled into a nice steady pace around 26/27kmph. We were going well, so well we missed the control and food stop at 120km. We were a kilometer or two down the road before we realised, so a quick picture for proof of passage and we decided to push on. At this stage our water bottles were running low so we got to a filling station at the next town. School boy error number 3- I left my money in the car, kindly Billy shouted the refreshments. We pressed on to Newcastle and the promise of a control and more supplies outside the town at 160km. Arriving there we were in good shape and the finish was in sight. Someone said that the second half of the course was flat but we seemed to climb continuously, maybe it was an illusion, whatever it was it didn't stop us nor did the brutal head winds we had been cycling into for the past 60km.
At 175km I was starting to fade and the tank was getting low. We could sniff the finish but it was still nearly an hours cycling away and the headwind was relentless. As the sign posts started to confirm we were in fact getting closer to Newry we pushed the pace as hard as we could. Then 16km from home Billy announced he was stopping for a coffee - I didn't argue.
We chatted to the very nice lady in the shop and told her what we were up to. She kindly gave us some delicious chocolate cake to have with our coffee and wished us well. Feeling great we hopped on the bikes for the final stretch. At 4:50pm we pulled back in to the hockey club in Newry. 205km on the the clock and my first long distance cycle completed in 8hrs 45min.
A feed of sandwiches in the club house, my medal and lots of congratulations from the seasoned randonneurs topped off a great day.
The atmosphere and camaraderie of the other cyclists was fantastic as was the organisation of the event. If you are looking for a challenge on two wheels a 200km Audax is definitely worth considering and don't let anyone tell you 200km is easy. Its NOT!
Kayak instructor, athlete, business owner and outdoor enthusiast from the west coast of Ireland.
Paddle & Pedal Blog HERE