Asparagus & Strawberries 400 — first 400

I don't know whether to christen this ride "I hate wind" (!), or "too many stings in the tail, Tom", or "the plan that didn't quite".  But as it was my first 400, maybe it should just be called "into the unknown".  !intro

Note: this ride report is a mild rewrite of my submission to yacf, here.  Codified names are the nicknames of people on the forum, sorry about that.  The post date has been changed to the date of the ride. 

This ride bore all the hallmarks of a Tomsk ride (at least the calendar ones I've done, which isn't many) — an informal start from the station at Manningtree, x-rated so receipts are required as PoP (no TLC), seeing Tomsk at (nearly) every control (and he still finished ahead of us), night riding on the A1055 in bitter cold, garages that keep their doors closed in spite of hypothermic customers outside, lots of climbing in the final leg (it felt like there were too many of these this time — too many stings to the tail), not all of the flora in the title evident on the ground.

We started at 9am (a pleasant change from the last time out) in sunshine!  As we rode out I was quickly dropped towards the back of the group — it isn't a race, people — where I met a DunRunner who I rode with last year (my first 150+ and still my fastest 190km by quite a way), and we chatted about avoiding carbs — it felt a bit of a tandem moment (you know you are).  Bumped into Fidgetbuzz, who is solely responsible for all of this in my life thumbs up  and he promptly upped the pace claiming that I should be riding quicker shocked  Rode with FB for quite a way, along with katetheplumber, Dave (who I've previously mentioned in my Old Squit and G&Y Fields write-ups), Tim, ketocarb guy and a handful of others.

On FB's suggestion we bounced through Ixworth (passing the Tomsk train) and pushed on to Halesworth (stopping briefly for a train in Mellis just as we were caught and passed back by the Tomsk train, who also had to stop).

The previously reported fiasco really did take place in the Bridge Cafe: cook managed to get into a one-in-one-out mood, so rather than putting on lots of toast for baked beans and doing a big batch, they waited until somebody else's salad was cooked before starting on the next: we arrived sometime after the Tomsk train and they still hadn't been served.  FB left without eating and mine arrived after a 40-minute wait.  To the proprietor's credit she apologised and did appear to take control of the kitchen with everything else coming through more-or-less at the same time.  40 minutes to be served with BBonT is a bit pants, though.

Following that we had a following wind — a following wind to get to Halesworth and following wind on departure stop!  Getting my feeding strategy right is a major issue I feel, because it just got worse the further on we went. Mrs WB has me sleeping in the spare bedroom tonight facepalm  Sorry.

At this point it was Dave, Tim and me and we put on a decent showing across the wind to Reedham, passing Big Saxon on the way, with the ferryman bringing the ferry back to shore to let us on, to the groans of our comrades already aboard tongue  We were joined by a mahoosive police patrol vehicle that nearly filled the rest of the space on the ferry, so I took their picture.  The spin up to Acle was straightforward and we got there to find the Tomsk train making the green look untidy grin

At this point Dave and I rode on with Tim saying he'd catch us up: he never did and the last report was that he got caught in the rain and bailed at Aylsham, but that's unconfirmed.  We also got caught in the rain, which was unwelcome (Tomsk, please could you cancel this part for next year), so we found a pub in Aylsham and had a nice cup of tea while the rain blew itself out.  We then made okay time to Wells for a very nice plate of fish and chips where we bumped into FB for the final time.  Big Saxon arrived and left while we were eating, too.

A dry pair of socks (inside some big SealSkinz socks for the night/cold section), some knee warmers and extra layers and we were ready to move off.  No, wait, Dave faffed, then I faffed, then I got my picture took (to show the missus that I really did do the ride), and then we moved off.  Huggy had decided to join us to start the next leg and was very patient, at least he looked it in the failing light.  At this point there were no bikes on the quayside, so I reckon we may have been lanterne rouge, although we left over an hour before the control closed.

We turned south and headed towards Fakenham taking turns on the front in the wind.  This was not a pleasant section and taking a turn on the front was decidedly hard work.  Huggy bailed on us at the Fox and Hounds, but we figured that it was already going to be a long night and beer wasn't the answer, so Dave and I pushed on. And then stopped a bit. And then pushed on. And then stopped a bit.  One thing about stopping: it absolutely hammers the averages!

Sleep-depravation affected me far more than I was expecting (I have done plenty of all-nighters) and I kept waking up halfway into a ditch or over on the other side of the road.  I needed to sleep!  At Barton Mills the bugger in the garage refused to open the doors, so we shivered on the forecourt.  Cold appears to affect some more than others, as I was hardly able to think and others were able to sit or lie on the ground and sleep, but not me.  The Tomsk train rode in while we were there and we left them chilling out.

Dave and I pushed on and after a missed turn (okay, Garmin was right, we were wrong for a change) made fairly good time to Newmarket where there was a fully open BP garage.  With coffee. And hot food. And chairs and tables!!  They told us to bring the bikes inside (lots of drunks at 3am, they said) and didn't say anything when I put my head down on the table and went straight to sleep while Dave fought off the locals who wanted to wake me up thumbs upfacepalm

After Newmarket it dawned on us that dawn was upon us as we could read the routesheet without a torch, and it looked like it was going to be a fine, sunny morning thumbs up  However, that meant we could also see the hills that Tom had saved for us looming around every corner: lots of short ones that could be cranked over, lots of long meandering ones with false summits that required a more patient approach.  Even Dave was getting sick of them and he's a much better climber than me and much more patient, too.

Saffron Walden came and went — there's not a lot to do there at 5am. We passed the Tomsk train parked up in the café in Sible Hedingham before catching up with Big Saxon again — he eventually rolled into Manningtree just 15 minutes after us.  Stopping for an off-bike moment a few miles later we were caught by the Tomsk train as they stopped for that particular hedge's charms (turns out it's a regular haunt, little did we know).  The next time we saw Tomsk and Huggy was at second breakfast in Manningtree, with Oaky playing with the [puncture] fairies a few miles before that.

Those final hills were a bit unnecessary: we had already completed 400km and then Tomsk threw in a handful more climbs!! The reverse G&Y Fields run back into Manningtree was nice, until we remembered that there had been two significant descents on that ride, which were now two significant climbs.  We cranked our way up — for both of us that was 100% success on the hills without dabbing (we aren't talking about Cumbrian or Cambrian hills here, so not a great claim, but it still drives me to the top).  On the very last climb up the short slope to the roundabout in Manningtree I raced past Dave, but he still caught and passed me easily enough before the top facepalm  But I got him on the descent to the station clocking 62kph as I whooshed past to his surprise thumbs up  (I have a bit of a dinner plate for a front ring, probably needs changing to something smaller).

We arrived back at the station at about 09:30, so my fastest 400 to date (my only 400 to date) and plenty of time in hand.  Stoppage time of nearly 5 hours and moving time of just over 19.5 hours, of which apparently over 7 hours were climbing!  I feel shattered like I didn't for Yr Elenydd, although I think that ride was harder because I was only just in time that time; this time I think was the wind and sleep-dep.  I had been aiming to be in by 8am to catch the first train back to Cambridge, which we missed, and although we were in time for the next train an hour later, Dave and I opted for a big buffet breakfast instead grin

The last few rides I have ridden out too quickly and blown up after around 100km and as this was my first 400 I needed to avoid this at all costs.  So last week I worked out a rolling speed I thought I could maintain for each stage of this ride, as well as an estimated duration spent at each control, with a view to slowing down in the early stages. It was a good plan, really it was, compensating times for hills, freshness of legs, time of day — actually, it was more an experiment than a plan just to see whether I could hit the numbers (roughly) and if I did then how did I feel particularly beyond 100km. However, that was before Fidgetbuzz took an interest and dragged me along much faster than my target speeds and bounced through controls, giving me oodles of time in hand! facepalm  This actually paid dividends later (the time), although I did fade in the wind and the rain.  But actually on reviewing the numbers and accounting for a couple (several) unscheduled stops (hiding from the rain, hiding from being awake, hiding from the pain by getting off the bike) the final result was near enough the same, but the calculations to get there were way out. I won't bore you with the details — feel free to ask me about it on a ride and I will probably have an updated plan with me for that ride running another 'experiment'.

Interestingly (for me) Big Saxon was doing the same thing, except aiming for a flat 20kph and bouncing as many controls as possible.  The difference was that we rode the first and second legs above 25kph and slowed down later (with lots of stops) and BS just kept going and we arrived within 15 minutes of each other!!  I am in awe that you could just maintain that pace the whole time without really stopping thumbs upthumbs up

Nick Wilkinson

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