400k

Distance: 252 miles. Elevation: 6209 ft

Last year, I completed my longest ride ever, 370 km, which I achieved by riding to the start of a 300 km audax and back home again afterwards. I was aware after that ride that I only needed to have done another 19 miles to have achieved 400 km. So this year I set that as a reasonable target. And what better time to attempt it than at this year’s edition of that same 300 km San Fairy Ann audax. When I converted 400 km to 248.6 miles, I thought that I may as well round up to 250 miles.

But where could I bolt on the extra miles? I decided that it would be better doing the extra miles before the event rather than afterwards when I might be too tired to contemplate them. So I planned to go the long-way-round to the start at Bethersden. I decided to use main roads as they would be easier to ride on and pretty quiet at that time of night. My route went out to the A20 at Leeds, then all the way through the other side of Ashford, then around the southern extremes of Ashford to Bethersden. This would add 34-miles to the start. I also planned a route home that would bring the whole lot to 250 miles.

Typically I left it until the last minute to start getting ready for the ride. I had planned to leave at 23:40, based on 2 hours at 15 mph to cover the 30-odd miles to get there at 01:40 in time for the 2am start. Using my computer, I joined all three routes together and went to load them into my Garmin when, shock horror! The Garmin showed an error “Out of Memory”. This was the longest route I had ever attempted to upload. I quickly googled it and saw that others had had the same problem, and in some cases it had totally screwed their device. This was not good. I was due to leave in an hour. I reasoned that I could cut some of the track points out of the route and it would still steer me roughly on the right course, so I loaded all the track data into Excel and stripped out every other track point. This cut the file size in half. I loaded the course back into the Garmin and this time it didn’t complain – I just hoped that it would work OK.

After rushing around getting everything prepared (including back-up battery pack for the Garmin), I left at 23:35 in a state of high anxiety! Shortly into the ride I became a bit confused and thought that I had 40 miles to do to get there, and quickly realised that I wouldn’t be able to do that in 2 hours, so I put in a huge effort to get there, something I was trying to avoid. The weather was quite mild at 14°C when I left, and dry. There was hardly any traffic about and it was a pleasure blasting down the A20 at night, although it got significantly colder than when I had left, with patches of mist around. A few miles before I got there I checked the time for the first time and was amazed that it was only 01:25. I was actually early! All the rushing had been for nothing. I had covered the 34 miles at 17.7 mph.

When I got there, Alan had just arrived and was getting his bike ready. There were not as many riders as last year I think. I had a coffee. We all set off at 02:00. It was 30 miles down to Folkestone and along to the first control at St. Mary’s Bay. Food was not in short supply on this ride. I had a Pain au chocolat and a sausage roll and grabbed a banana. Dawn was just breaking. Winds were very light. We set off and covered the remaining 30 miles back to HQ at Bethersden, where we had a bacon sandwich and some biscuits!

Forty five minutes later we set off again, this time towards Hadlow. Just under thirty miles later it was another foodstop at Golden Green. I had a cheese and pickle roll and a Penguin bar. Just before we got there Al said “how many miles have you done now”. I said “I don’t want to look in case it’s still less than halfway!”. As it happened it was almost exactly halfway for me – I had covered 125 miles. By now it had warmed up quite a bit and the sun was out.

Thirty four miles later we were at another checkpoint at Iden Green. Two kind ladies were manning the control and had set out tables and chairs down a country lane under the shade of trees. I had a delicious slice of fruitcake, another coffee, some jaffa cakes and a sausage roll. We soon set off again on what I remembered from last year as being a hillier section. We kept expecting the hills but they never really materialised. We soon reached Appledore and from there it was 13 flat miles to Dungeness, on the last three of which we averaged 18 mph over the frustratingly bumpy final section. Time for another food stop! This time we both agreed we were getting a bit sick of all this food. I still had a coffee, a packet of crisps and a fruit cake bar!

The wind had picked up considerably by now and the next twenty miles were gusty. Another cafe and this time I didn’t have anything! On the home straight now, we had just 17 miles to go back to Bethersden. The miles were really dragging now, especially with the wind. We seemed to take an eternity getting off the marsh. We eventually saw Bilsington in the distance but took ages to reach it. Nine miles later we were back at HQ for the last time. For most riders this was the finish of their 300k ride, whereas I still had a way to go. More food – A ham roll and a slice of swiss roll.

By now I had 225 miles on the clock. I said goodbye to Al as I set off on my final leg home. Shortly into the ride I realised that I needed to do a further 25 miles to reach the target 250, and yet my home was not that far, so as I approached Yalding I decided to go straight past my turning and on towards Laddingford, and turned around there, giving me a couple of extra miles just to make sure. I reached home with 252 miles showing. I had done it! 400k!

In the end, my Garmin had worked well, although I had to switch on the aux battery as expected. I felt reasonably OK after the ride. Not much saddle discomfort and no real aches, just a slight soreness of the knees. The next day, my knees ached when I first got up, but that soon wore off and was OK thereafter.

After this ride I promised that 400k would be my limit, but I’ve already designed a 500k route around East Anglia. Will I do it or not?

  • 2 bananas
  • 4 rich tea
  • bacon sandwich
  • energy gel
  • pain au chocolate
  • 3 sausage rolls
  • penguin bar
  • chocolate digestive bar
  • packet of crisps
  • 5 or 6 jaffa cakes
  • fruitcake slice
  • ham roll
  • slice chocolate swiss roll
  • 3 mini flapjacks
  • slice of fruit cake
  • cheese & pickle roll
  • about 5 coffees

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