Sunday, 12 February 2012

An Audax

What's an Audax ?

OK, an Audax run is a cycle ride, mostly, starting and finishing at the same place and following a prescribed route with check points along the way to confirm completion of the route and to act as a speed regulator.
An Audax ride is essentially non-competitive in that there is no prize for finishing first. By it's very nature there is an upper speed limit, exceed it if you can but you will still get the same time awarded as someone who finishes after you but at the exact minimum time allowed.  But it's the maximum time allowed that is usually of greatest concern. For a normal 100km Audax the maximum time allowed is 6 hours 36 minutes giving you a minimum average speed of 15 kph or about 9 mph.
Right, once you've stopped laughing, let's just go through this. You get your card stamped at 10am and off you go, you don't know this area and you have to follow a route sheet, some of which are just so vague that you've spent time making up your own, so you find your check point without too many wrong turns, get your card stamped and off you go again."This is a doddle !" you think until you turn the next corner and the road rises in front of you and you realise that you're going over those bloody hills that have been on your horizon for the last hour ! Well, eventually you settle down into a sustainable cadence realising that the pretty respectable average speed you've built up is disappearing rapidly. Then that saddle starts to niggle, your thighs begin to ache, your feet start burning and you're tasting blood at the back of your throat.You think you can see the top but it's bloody miles away ! You don't have any lower gears left and you're going so slow you probably couldn't maintain your balance if you went any slower. The air you're sucking in is freezing but your eyes are being burned out of their sockets by the sweat that's pouring into them. Your chest is aching and you can't even feel your heart beating any more. Then the red mist starts in front of your eyes and your hearing starts to go. " Oh **** this ! I'm walking !! " But you find you've lost so much sensation in your feet you can't unclip your feet from the pedals, you're going to fall over !! It's freezing, it's a really lonely quiet road, you'll almost certainly break a collar bone, fall into shock, develop hypothermia and  die !!
 There's nothing else for it, dig deeper than humanly possible, ignore all pain, close your eyes, you can't see anyway, and force your legs to make another ten pedal pushes !! It's not even a relief when you crest the hill, there's no downhill to let you freewheel and recover, you still have to pedal and now you're trembling uncontrollably. " If there were gods, they wouldn't let me suffer like this ! " What seems like hours later, you've recovered enough to take a hand from the handlebars to wipe the sweat from your eyes and even drag out your bidon . Water never tasted so good ! You're freewheeling ! "I'm going to live !" So you can see now, and it does look like the road is actually going down. OK, you've lost a lot of time but you're going downhill, you'll soon pick up plenty of speed. Until you come round the shoulder of the hill that was protecting you from a vicious north easterly headwind that you're going to have to plough into all the way back to the final check point. Soon the blinding sweat has dried off, but you're shaking again this time with cold. And the wind is so blustery up here you're down to walking speed just so that you don't get blown off the road. The road seems to be levelling out now and there's only 30 km  to go. Now the road turns into a switchback. Short 1:5 drops followed immediately by equally short 1:5 climbs. Just the sort of road Belgian Pro's excel on ! But you're not a Belgian Pro, and it's a case of rolling down but never building up enough speed to carry you up the other side, so it's a first gear grovel for the last few meters, which get longer and longer as the road continues to flail up and down. Right, here's the last checkpoint before the finish. What !!

You've only got an hour left !! Well, surely you can do 15 km in an hour ?  Let's Go !  Fair enough, the road is more or less level now, so why are you grovelling so badly ? Why do you feel as if you're about to pass out ? Eejit !! you forgot to eat ! Do you risk slowing down to cram a sandwich down your throat or do you press on ? No, it's got to be a sandwich, you're now beginning to become a hazard on the road. Have you ever had to force food down, it's not nice is it ? Jings, its looking like touch and go here, you might not make the time. Whether this acts as a spur or whether the food kicks in you don't care, you're now riding pretty quickly. There's the hall, dump the bike, and with your heart in your mouth present your card.
"Did I make it ?"
" Och aye, there's still another half hour to go, this is a Grimpeur Ride so there's always extra time for the hills !"
So you look around the hall taking in the riders who've finished, some are heading home and look as if they've just had a ride round the block, others look like walking wounded from World War One. And  you're not last !! Why does that feel like a victory ? Some older cyclists roll in with minutes to go and eventually you ask them if they were worried about the time.
" Not at all, son, that's a grand run, we didnae want to spile it by rushing it !"

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