“The people that I have met are not foolish; they are aware of how tired and cold and hungry and frightened and hurting and discouraged and disoriented and how possibly injured they will become. They know they will face great physical, mental, emotional, and possibly spiritual challenges as they make their way to the finish. This is what they are racing against. This is their challenge. This is what I admire.”
– Carolyn Erdman
Back in 2014, before Stacy & I had ridden Paris-Brest-Paris, we learned of a film project about the UK’s premier Grand Randonnée, the 1400km London-Edinburgh-London. The film producers were looking for backers to fund the film, and those who did were guaranteed a place in the 2017 edition of LEL – who could pass that up?
Although filming a randonneuring event (or audax as they call it in the UK) must be quite difficult, the film turned out great. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can check it out on Vimeo. It does a great job of capturing the epic nature of the event and the challenges the riders face.
In July of 2017 we headed to the UK for LEL, and since we were there anyway we decided to ride from Land’s end to John o’Groats as a warmup. This not only got us in shape for LEL, but also got us used to riding on the left side of the road, and riding in the rain.
The riding in the rain practice came in handy when we got to LEL itself. The weather conditions during LEL 2017 were, according to the Brits, “rubbish”. So rubbishy that the official finishing rate for the 1500 participants on the ride was only 55% with an additional 10% who finished after the time limit.
Although it had rained hard the night before the start, the morning of was clear and sunny, and the first day was quite pleasant with only a few rain showers that mostly missed us. We even had a gentle tailwind through the Fens, the flat section of the ride.
As we rode north, the rain showers became more frequent, and the hills got bigger and steeper.
In Scotland the rain showers became still more frequent, and by the time we left Edinburgh and started to head south again, the rain became torrential at times.
We were making the control cutoff times, but without much of a buffer. The fatigue increased and our sleep times got shorter and shorter. Eventually, after 1200km of riding, Stacy found herself physically unable to continue and she decided to abandon the ride. It was not a decision that she made lightly, but it was the right one.
I carried on alone to the finish as the conditions became even more difficult. The wind in the Fens had increased in strength, and now it was a brutal headwind. I was fortunate enough to join a group of AudaxUK riders and we worked together to make good progress into the headwind. I pity the riders who had to ride this section alone.
Eventually all good things must come to and end, and so did LEL. We learned some things that will come in handy the next time we do this ride. For one thing, AudaxUK calculates time cutoffs for the controls differently than Randonneurs USA or Audax Club Pariesien. In the US and France riders are given a time bonus after 600km, but in the UK the time is split up evenly over the whole ride.
Another thing that will come in handy is knowing that it is not strictly necessary to follow the exact route on AudaxUK rides, you just need to stop at each control. This means that at 3AM you can take advantage of some of the roads that would unpleasantly busy during rush hour. Teaming up with local riders would come in handy here.
London-Edinburgh-London was beautiful and challenging – a truly epic ride, one that we hope to do again.