LEL 2013–Nearly full ride report.

by Stuart 6. August 2013 02:18



A life changing event.  As someone said –

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way ….”

The thanks

Firstly I’d like to thank all those who organised and rode the rides I’ve done to train for this event – particularly all those at Audax Ireland

Thanks for the advice, banter, drafting, repairs, cake, geography lessons, music tips, navigation, slagging, organising brevets, riding through the grumpiness of the tough times, riding with me through general grumpiness, and,  most of all, the views. I couldn’t have done it without you .

Thanks to my family and friends, without whom I could not have undertaken the training or the event.

Finally, massive “shout out” to the organisers and volunteers at LEL.  What a fantastic job they did.

Getting there and registration

Bag strung to back of bike

Forget carradice – Calvin Klein saddle bag!

My plan was to ride to Belfast airport on Saturday for a 2pm flight to Stansted, put the bike on the plane, get back on it at Stansted around 3:15pm and ride to registration at Loughton for 5pm – I had contacted the organisers and they had told me being a bit late would not be any bother – so the only thing I was worried about was any damage to the bike.

I had routes loaded on “Viewranger” on my phone and list of directions from Google.



Snug in a bag.

Packed the bike into its large bag and taped it shut.  Dropped it off onto the oversize luggage.  Forgot to take the pliers from my bag so these were duly confiscated.

Arrived at Stansted a bit late and bike was brought to me fine.  Re assembled and set off about 3:30.

At this point I discovered I could not get a GPS signal on my phone.  The phone was new (to me – eBay) as I broke the old one the week before.  It was the first time I had used the GPS so I thought it was just locating the satellites for the first time.  But alas, the GPS never worked and so I was left to try and navigate using Google maps.


Village green in Essex – definitely in England!

Nice ride through Essex – but it was gone 6 by the time I reached registration.  Managed to register fine though but as most of the bag drop vans had already departed I had to send mine to Edinburgh and Moffatt as the only options left.  No big deal.

I then went to my sisters for dinner and a couple of beers.  My brother in law lent me some pliers – Mike – no idea where they are – sorry – will replace.

The start

I was due to start at 7:30 but rode out early with Mike  – got lost on the way (of course) but was there in plenty of time for a bacon butty and to watch some of the other rides go out.



Eventually I was ushered into the pen and rolled off at 7:30 am on the dot.

LEL startjpgLEL Rolling offLEL Start2

Still hoping the GPS will work out.  (Photos courtesy of Aiden)

Loughton to St Ives

28/07/2013 07:30:00

St Ives
28/07/2013 11:28:33

Distance: 99.6 kilometres

I set off at my own pace and was soon joined by Ronnie.  We rode with a large group of Greek riders until Ronnie decided to put the pace on a bit – I let him go to his taunts – it would be a long ride.  Soon Dave B. caught me and we rode with a guy called (old) Mike and his (younger) friend.  Old Mike showed no sign of ageing and dropped his younger friend.  He also knew a lot about the fens as he was from there.


St Ives.  Noel was in the seat next the Dave but moving too fast for the camera to catch him.

It was rolling at first and then flat with tailwind towards St. Ives.  I ran out of water some distance from the control and was tiring when we got there.  We controlled and ate.  Noel passed through the control so fast, the guys we were sat with were not sure he had really been there.

St. Ives to Kirkton

28/07/2013 15:05:26

Distance: 99.6 kilometres

Total - 180.6


As we left St. Ives, I was still feeling tired so I let Dave go on ahead with Mike.  I had become de-hydrated – which has never happened before.  The fens were beautiful and I soon recovered.  I moved fast with a good tailwind, riding on an off with a group from Bristol and Wales.  I swapped stories of Bristol with their strong lead rider who was dragging their pack along with her, their plan for sticking together which seemed a bit crazy as she was doing all the work and the others were constantly chasing.  At the control I realised she was riding with her dad.  

I stopped for more water and ice cream, not wanting to become de-hydrated again – lesson learnt.

The control at Kirkton was busy and I met up with Dave and Ronnie. 

Kirkton to Market Rasen

Market Rasen
28/07/2013 18:37:41

Distance: 68.3 kilometres

Total: 248.9

We left together but lost Ronnie near the start.  The scenery was great but the flatness of the road was becoming tedious and we welcomed bridges as a chance to rise from the saddle.  As we approached Market Rasen things became a bit bumpier again, which was good.

A group formed behind us, but only Dave and I were doing any work.  A couple of km from the control I heard a hiss and stopped, but it was just sand in my mud-guards.

Market Rasen to Pocklington

29/07/2013 00:15:10

Distance: 84.7 kilometres

Total: 333.8

Left with Ronnie and Dave.  Dave punctured shortly out of the control and we stopped and mended it.  Just before the Humber bridge I hit a big pot hole and my rear Crud mudguard wrapped itself around the wheel.  We stopped on the bridge and I pulled it out.

Humber bridge

A big bridge.

I was looking forward to crossing this bridge and it was magnificent – with the dusk in front of us we were now “up north”. 

But after this, things started to go a bit pear shaped.  Dave had another puncture – he fitted a spare tyre as a precaution, I couldn’t get my head torch to shine on my route sheet and when it did the writing was too small to read, Dave’s head torch didn’t work, I dropped my head torch, Dave dropped something, GPS wasn’t working, we went the wrong way – but this all sorted itself out and we settled down again. 

However, despite the original plan to push on to Thirsk, we decided to bed down for a couple of hours in Pocklington.  I think we were a bit despondent thinking we had lost time etc. but in reality we hadn’t lost that much at all.

Bed Booking


I booked us beds for 2 hours and, after eating, we headed on over to the sports hall where I slept soundly.


When we awoke the control was a bit “over run” and we found John.

Pocklington to Thirsk

29/07/2013 06:36:34

Distance: 65.7 kilometres

Total: 399.3

We left in the dark around 3:30 am.  We passed a group of French riders just outside the control who initially did not seem keen on riding with us, but they joined us shortly after as we navigated in the dark through some pretty twisty roads and bad surface.  Soon, though, we began to climb and entered into the “Castle Howard” estate.


File:Road to Castle Howard - geograph.org.uk - 13074.jpgRoad to Castle Howard (image from Wikipedia)

The scenery was magnificent with dawn rising.  We caught up with John but lost Ronnie.

I was nearly caught out by a sand pit at the bottom of a sharp descent.   We then passed through a series of beautiful villages.  I have to say, my perception of Yorkshire has changed.  I have visited a few towns and cities in Yorkshire in the past, mainly with work and I have always wondered what all the fuss was about.  However, this journey was completely different to the sprawling conurbations of Halifax, Bradford etc. of my previous visits.

Best “Englishman” reward has to go to the guy with the stately home and the Bentley and Defender parked out front – one for the shopping and one for the farm I guess!

This section was certainly one of the most memorable – so glad we didn’t pass through it at night.

Thirsk to Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle
29/07/2013 10:56:09

Distance: 66.8 kilometres

Total: 466.3


At Thirsk we met a lot of the other Audax Ireland riders who had made earlier starts or pushed on the first day.  They were mainly just rising.  We set of in various groups.


I ended up riding most of this with Dave B. and Marc.  It rained on and off.  We stopped for a sandwich at a bus shelter come book store.  The route was pretty uneventful.  Towards the end we became a larger group including one shameful wheel sucker who was non to careful a rider either.

Bernard Castle to Brampton

29/07/2013 16:49:29

Distance: 81.8 kilometres

Total: 547.9

I was looking forward to this section as it was basically a long climb over Yad Moss.


34.9 ALSTON, descend !cobbles! SO past Market Cross

Things started well, and I enjoyed the first hour or so with John and Dave B.  But then it started to rain on and off and it seemed every time I put my cape on it would stop and every time I took it off it started.  I became annoyed and was also become sleepy.  Eventually I went over in the pouring rain, maybe even hail, grumpy.

Even though it was early afternoon, the ride to Brompton became a slog and I was sleepy. 


Your room sir!

I found a nice bus shelter, set the alarm on my phone for 10 minutes and slept soundly.

When I got to Brampton I got a bed for an hour, letting the others go in  (apologies if you had waited for me – but there was no moving).

Bramton to Moffat

29/07/2013 22:08:46

Distance: 74.6 kilometres

Total: 622.5

Rested, I met Marc on the way out of Brampton and we teamed up with another guy into the fresh breeze.  They had much more pace than me so, just short of Gretna, I convinced Marc to go on.

Although riding in a group is obviously easier, it has to be at my pace.  If the other riders are a bit faster I’ve found I tire quickly chasing and, more importantly, I don’t enjoy it.  My primary aim it to enjoy the ride.


Once in Scotland, either the wind dropped or turned or I turned.  I don’t really remember much about the rest of this leg, other than stopping to tighten my handlebars that had rotated down, and that there were not many turns.


Moffat to Ediburgh

30/07/2013 04:45:04

Distance: 80.8 kilometres

Total: 703.3

I met Mark at Moffat who was bedding down for the night, but I wanted to push on to Edinburgh.  I had a change of clothes in a drop bag so I showered and changed and hit the road.  There was a climb at the start, which I enjoyed in the dark – although I’m sure it would have been nice to see the scenery.

I descended into mist and put on “all I had”.  I tried to put on overshoes but failed and became a bit despondent.  So I strode around the road for a while and ranted at myself. 

Around 3 in the morning I spotted a bus shelter and decided another nap was in order.  Unfortunately it was already occupied so I had to settle for a lesser stop further on – no bench.

At Edinburgh I checked in for four hours – but woke after 3 or so. 

I was pleased to have reached 700Km (half way) in two days.  I knew I would not be able to keep up the pace on the return and would require more sleep, but three 230k’s seemed achievable enough.

Edinburgh to Traquir

30/07/2013 11:30:42

30/07/2013 14:32:24

30/07/2013 17:48:13

Distance: 146.5 kilometres

Total: 849.8



I had my second bag drop at Edinburgh – but I just put spare bibs and jersey into my Carradice and emptied everything I hoped I wouldn’t need anymore into the drop – including two deodorants and sun cream.

Climbing out of Edinburgh I thought recognized the orange Ronnie ahead.  I shouted as I passed but he seemed to be distracted by his GPS.  Also, it was not his bike so I thought I had made a mistake but I looked back and it still looked like him.  I asked a fast moving rider if he had just passed an Irish fellow.  “Yes”, he said, adding “I couldn’t understand a word he was saying”.  I stopped at the next turn and waited. 

We began to ride together and Ronnie explained the borrowed bike.  He kept asking where the Edinburgh control was – after a few minutes it became apparent he had somehow missed the control and was 15Km into the next leg.  I felt for him as he said himself he was tired and struggling on the new bike.  I later found out he had, as I suspected, got mixed up with traffic leaving Edinburgh whilst going in – following two guys who he thought he’d been riding with.

He turned and went back.  Personally, I probably would have rode on the the station!  What a guy.


The Scottish Boarders – Stunning

The climb and descent Traquar was stunning – with strong winds and rain.  Traquar was a small control with porridge cake and whisky.  I have to say, I declined the whisky. 

The ride to ESKDALEMUIR was tougher, with constant strong headwind.  Again, a small friendly control with hot food.

Shortly after ESKDALEMUIR my rear mudguard wrapped itself round the wheel again.  I removed it.  I also lost my big ring – but it was just a matter of tightening the friction.  I then rode with a couple of guys, Arthur and Chris.  We made good progress though the wind.

Brampton to Bernard Castle

Barnard Castle
31/07/2013 00:19:04

Distance: 83.7 kilometres

Total: 933.5

I rode with Mark to Alston, together making light work of the wind and hills.  We stopped at the garage before the cobbles, took sustenance and dressed for the night.

I climbed across the cobbles, passing a rider pulling his velo-mobile, and on into the dusk.

The climb was magnificent, with a stream of red lights into the horizon, which Marc later described as being like the Ho Chi Minh trail.  The descent was exhilarating – and, unlike Marc, who got angry with it, I enjoyed the onward ride.  At Barnard Castle we actually saw the castle.

Got some food and sleep.

Barnard Castle to Thirsk

31/07/2013 09:52:46

Distance: 66.5 kilometres

Total: 1000.2


I think I left about 6:30 in the morning but I have very little recollection of this section. 

Thirsk to Pocklington

31/07/2013 14:37:37

Distance: 66.2 kilometres

Total: 1066.2


Castle Howard

I met with Arthur at Thirsk and we rode almost all this together, on and off with other riders – back through the Howardian estate in the other direction.

I marvelled at how we had got through some of the later roads at night without accident. 

We disagreed about the route just before Pocklington, and in my stubbornness I went what I really knew to be the wrong way – Arthur did have a map!  We met up back at Pocklington and had a good laugh at me.  Sometimes, like in the middle of the night when your exhausted, stubbornness can help you through.  Sometimes it can make you do stupid things.

Pocklington to Market Rasen

Market Rasen
31/07/2013 21:05:58

Distance: 84.7 kilometres

Total: 1150.9


Drying socks and overshoes on the line while Marc fixed the gloves on his ankles.

As I was set to leave Pocklington I met Marc, so I got my chain oiled and did some faffing and we set off together.  Shortly after leaving the rain set in.  We stopped and suited up and then stopped and suited up some more.  Marc said he needed to rest so I pushed on.

IMAG0115(2)Stopped for a pee and two pigs ran at me looking revenge for breakfast?

The ride was hillier than I remembered – which was good because by now I had realised that I much prefer hills to flat and may even go faster uphill than on the flat – I think it gives me something to aim at.



Under the Humber bridge.

I got sleepy again so I took 15 minutes sleep under the Humber bridge.  The rain got very heavy on the final climb and descent and I was joined by another rider.  He didn’t do any work – but we chatted and he was struggling with a sore seat – having had to change his saddle the day before LEL due to a break.  I was glad of the company.

My plan had been to make Kirkton that night, but the rain was still heavy, though it was warm enough, and I was pretty wet.  The forecast was for a dry hot day on the Friday. 

I ate, headed for the showers and a change.  Marc arrived. 

I assisted a French rider with his injuries, while Marc pretended to be invisible.  Enough said.

I ate again and sat around and chatted (probably for too long) finally bedding down around 11:30 with a 5:00 call.

Market Rasen to Kirkton

01/08/2013 08:09:46

Distance: 68.3 kilometres

Total: 1219.2

I made fast progress from Market Rasen but was stopped with a puncture.  I took my time and found the cause and dug it out.  Glad of my “manly” full size frame pump – quick to inflate and great pressure.  I pressed on across the Fens, teaming up with a couple of separate riders into the wind.

For the last 10km or so, my patient from the night arrived with a crack (no pun) squad out to drag me at high speed to Kirkton.  The six French riders strategy seemed to consist of putting “Long Champs” on the front and taunting him to go faster and further.   I took my turn now and then but couldn’t hold the front for too long.

Kirkton to St. Ives

St Ives
01/08/2013 12:59:19

Distance: 80.8 kilometres

Total: 1300.0

I left Kirkton after a quick stop.  The ride was hard with heat and strong head wind.  The French squad arrived shortly after, presumably having stopped for a 6 course meal, a bottle of wine and a couple of women.  We were swelled by a mix of other riders, including a couple of bents,  but eventually, as I knew it would, the speed became too much for me and I bid them farewell.

The rest of the leg was probably physically the toughest – the headwind was relentless and my feet were over heating painfully.  I stopped for ice cream and chocolate milk shake.

St. Ives to Gt. Easton

Great Easton
01/08/2013 18:27:32

Distance: 74.2 kilometres

Total: 1373.7

At St. Ives I converted my shoes to sandals with a knife, removed my socks and oiled my chain.  Marc was there but fixing his GPS and then shopping so I pushed on.  The flats turned to rolling hills which gave relief from the wind.  I stopped a slept on a grass verge for 10 minutes.

I was in that longing for the finish but difficult to motivate mood.

Gt. Easton to London Loughton

London Loughton
01/08/2013 21:15:50

Distance: 45.6 kilometres

Total: 1419.2


Bottles filled and body replenished I set off, fully expecting 3 hours or more for the last 40Km.  There was a choice of route, I opted for the night route along the more “busy” A road – but there was little traffic.  I met a couple of Danish guys who were confused by the dual route.   They strung along with me for directions – which I told them was a risky move – having lost their GPS colleagues.

I chatted with the one of them who spoke great English.  He had been talked into “one last” grand randonée by a friend who had only lasted a couple of days.

We sorted the Euro, the European currency, traffic jams and Northern Ireland and before I knew it we were descending off Toot Hill, crossing the M25 and into Loughton control to applause from organisers.  Brevet card stamped and that was me.  There were normal people around – which was strange.  It was like entering back into the real world.

I rang home for the first time and could hear my kids celebrating in the background as Fiona broke the news that I had finished.  I was somewhat emotional and went and sat by my bike for a while.

The guy from the rain the night before was nearby with his girlfriend – I was glad to see he made it too.


I decided to wait for Marc – who arrived shortly after.

Paul, Aiden and John arrived in their Audax Ireland casuals and we chewed the fat for a while.  Eventually I rode the last 10k to my Sisters where I downed a couple of beers.

I opted for a taxi to Stansted the next day.

What worked well

IMAG0054(2)Some weight is better to train with than others.

  • The SR series.  There is talk of the 400’s and 600 being too tough making qualification difficult. Although I have no frame of comparison, I have to say that they stood me in excellent shape for LEL.
  • Climbing hills – like everyone, I have limited time for training, so I focused on climbing.
  • Losing weight
    • from the body – by cutting down on cheese and eating pasta and fish/vegetables for lunch instead of bought sandwiches I managed to drop about 6kg in the 4 months before the event. 
    • from the bag.  For all my audaxes and training prior to LEL I carried a load of stuff I didn’t need in a Nelson Longflap.  Even on the fully supported “Tour of the Glenns” I carried a full load – one group wondering if I was carrying a defibrillator.  For LEL I downsized to a Barley and packed much less – making use of drop bags and food at controls.
  • Gears – a month before I changed to  compact on the front (34/50)  from 38/48 and lengthened my cranks to 175 from 165 which, with  12/30 on the rear (which is still OK with short reach) allowed me to plough on up the steep stuff even after 4 days.
  • Flying/CTC bike bag – I hate hanging around before an event.  Although I was worried  the bike was fine on the plane.
  • Telling people how to group ride – I just said – ride at the front while you can and then just drop off when you’ve had enough – as advised by Eoghan on Red Lane/Red Line.  Did the same myself.  Puts no pressure on anyone and no rapid accelerations.
  • Staying ahead of the pack – by riding long the first couple of days there was always beds and food variety.  Often when I rose the control had become stretched for beds and the food variety was limited.

What I learnt

  • Listen to your body – if you need to drink, drink.  If you need to rest, rest.  If you can ride, ride.
  • Ride your own ride
  • Controls are traps – so warm, so much food
  • Pack extra tubes in drop bag.  I didn’t and didn’t need to but Dave used two in twenty minutes.  OK – I had repair kit but having extra tubes in drop costs nothing.
  • Bring cheese – by day 3, I was craving a good bit of Stilton or Cheddar.
  • Get full zip jerseys.  I had one with a 1/2 zip and the third or fourth time pulling it over your head when tired is going to spill the pockets all over the toilet floor.
  • Make sure you print your route sheet big enough to read in the dark!

What I’d like to do better

It would have been nice to go a bit faster – not to finish sooner but to get more sleep.  My problems seem to be on the flat where I ride slowly and don’t particularly enjoy group riding – I find the changes in pace a bit of a killer.  Will maybe work on this for PBP!

I might consider folding tyres.  I do carry a tyre boot but no idea how to use it.

If stuff is worn out (like my mudguards) change them.

Bring a pocket camera.

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Not the top gear website but one nothing like it. 

Been through a few "what this is" and now settled on my (Stuart McLean's) general blog - mainly about cycling but occasionally anything else chucked in.

I also occasionally write some technical stuff which you can find here.

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I record most of my bike rides on runkeeper so you can see them here if you're really bored!

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