I’ve never been a fast rider but in 2019 I discovered the world of audax and realised whilst I couldn’t ride fast, I could ride far. The first long, long ride I did was London Wales London, I hadn’t actually considered that I might not be able to ride 414km with 3900m of climbing, but I did, and that got me thinking… London Edinburgh London, has a nice ring to it doesn’t it!
I balloted for a place and was successful. The event was delayed because of covid and by this time I had moved to Bristol and the person I had planned to ride with had pulled out. I somehow persuaded my partner Paddy to entertain the idea and I quickly swapped him into my friends balloted place. An unfortunate accident in December 2021 then left me with a badly broken wrist and suddenly LEL was looking like an unlikely endeavour.
Having said that, as Spring approached, I was back on my bike, and we decided to give it a go. Training including several 300km rides, an attempted 400km where a mechanical meant we had to cut the ride short, and one 600km ride with 5 hours sleep.
LEL was back on, and so the planning began! LEL is a 1500km ride (with 1500.00m of climbing!) with a time limit of 125 hours. We decided to aim for maximum hours riding each day (approx. 16), but still ensuring 5-6 hours sleep each night. And I would say we largely succeeded, certainly in the riding part, less so in the sleeping part! We planned meticulously ensuring we knew of places to stop for food and drink every 50km, this turned out to be vital given the temperatures were 30 degrees plus for a large portion of some of the days.
LEL was an exceptionally well organised event, with control points roughly ever 100km from the start to finish. At a control point you need to get your brevet card stamped, refuel and decide whether to get your head down and attempt some sleep. The sleeping situation was a large room full of air mattresses and perfectly reasonably if you can sleep to a symphony of snoring (which it turns out I cannot!). We quickly became well versed in an efficient pit stop and despite some cold showers and not much sleep halfway through remained in good spirits.
At this point ‘the lows’ start to creep in. I can only describe these are moments, minutes, even hours where you feel truly awful, and this would probably be ok if you could time them so the person you are with feels rubbish at the same time too. But it doesn’t work like that and often when I had a low moment Paddy would be feeling strong and vice versa. We realised this from our training rides and thankfully spent a lot of the time checking in with how each of us was feeling. I think I can only recall 2 arguments over the entire ride!
To counter the lows the highs are amazing. When you submit a climb to witness an incredible view, when you snuggle into your sleeping bag liner on that air mattress with your legs aching, or when you find yourself alongside other riders exchanging stories as the sun sets. Those moments really are memorable, and I definitely made some friends for life. I will always remember the most incredible moment when we cycled through a little village in Scotland. An elderly woman had come out of her house and was stood by her gate clapping riders as they slowly filtered through. Our final stop was in St Ives and we had just 100km to go and 17 hours to complete the ride. We decided to stop for the night and took a short detour to stay with my brother and his family. We ate fish and chips and had a couple of beers, and most importantly slept in a proper bed! The next morning, we rolled back into London, finishing well within the time limit.
London Edinburgh London is certainly an experience I will never forget. Everyone we met on LEL said ‘see you on Paris Brest Paris (PBP)’. I said ‘nah, we’re not doing PBP, turns out I was wrong, we are and it’s time to start training again!)