Stepping up to 300k

By Paul O’Donoghue

Many people will shortly be tackling a 300 for the first time, so I have put a few thoughts down on paper which hopefully will help people rise to the challenge and help them achieve their goal. Ideally events should be attempted sequentially so hopefully at this stage of the year you may have a 200k or two already under your belt.

There’s a saying in audax circles which goes: “ if you can complete a 200 you can complete a 300, if you can complete a 300 you can complete a 400 etc etc ad infinitum. The essence of this saying is true and probably the biggest obstacle in attempting a larger distance is the mind. It is always beneficial to take some time out beforehand and asses the challenge as best you can and work out potential solutions.

Some things you might consider are:
Duration of event – the time limit for a 300k is 20hr and realistically speaking most people should be budgeting to be out for in excess of 13/14hrs.Knowing this beforehand and accepting it, is the first step in achieving your goal. Preparing to be out this long is the next step.

Confidence – confidence at anything is always bolstered by previous experience. If this is your first shot at something you will not have the benefit of this to fall back upon and thus you are approaching the event in the dark, to a degree. Any queries or worries you may have should be addressed to the organiser, an experienced rider or aired on the forum where you will get good advice. Good preparation and a sensible approach on the day will strengthen confidence. If you commit to the event it is vital that you do so wholeheartedly. If you begin the day with the thought that “ah sure there’s a train station at 80k so if I’m feeling rough I’ll jump a train home” the chances are that you will more than likely take this option when it arises. Negative thinking invariably leads to negative actions.

Taper – wind down your training a few days beforehand to ensure that you are rested at the start. Any hard training beforehand will be of no benefit.

Pacing – In endurance events pacing is everything, starting at an even pace allows the body to settle into burning fat for fuel (the primary source of fuel for long events) and stops lactate building up. Ideally your pace should be even throughout the whole day but only the greatest and most experienced athletes are capable of doing this. Fatigue will invariably affect most of us towards the end of the day and starting too fast will greatly exasperate this.

With this in mind it is very important to resist the temptation to follow people who are faster than you as this will only end in tears. Vital energy supplies will be wasted only to find yourself in no man’s land after the first hill. Have confidence in your own abilities, invariably you will settle into a group riding at your pace sooner or later. Hanging back is a sign of confidence and should never be seen as a weakness. Audax events are too long to spend them riding at an unsuitable pace.

Comfort – comfort comes with hours on the bike but can be aided by preparing for any potential adversities the day might throw at you. Consider carrying the following with you: chamois crème, sunscreen, baby wipes and lip gloss.

Lighting – lights are mandatory on all Audax Ireland events above 200k. Even if you start in brightness no one is guaranteed of finishing in brightness. Obviously some form of reflective jacket always accompanies lighting up time.

Nutrition – unless you have done it before and are certain it works for you, a diet of powders, gels and energy bars are a surefire remedy for an upset stomach on longer events. Real food is always more palatable and if you have the capacity to bring your own supplies, do so. The extra weight of carrying your own sandwiches e.t.c will always offset the time spent waiting to be served and/or hunting for food. You will also have the added bonus of eating what you know already works for you. Stopping in a cafe for a break is always good for a rest and breaking up the day, but it’s best not to eat a 3 course meal as this will leave you feeling sluggish for a long time afterwards.

As mentioned in 200k preparation section, a breakfast is very important. When booking a b&b always enquire about breakfast. You may hit the jackpot and get an early rising landlord but this will be the exception rather than the rule. Ensure that they leave food out so you can look after yourself at breakfast when starting early.

Approach – 300K is a long time to be cycling for anyone and it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the challenge. The best approach to this is to break the distance into manageable chunks. Don’t be thinking “ oh no I feel rough and there’s still 100k to go” think “it’s only 3k to the next turn “ and don’t think beyond that point until you’re at it. Allow your brain to settle into autopilot for that short period, obviously keeping an eye on the road. If you can learn to do this you will find events easier and save valuable mental energy.

If you are flogging yourself into a headwind and getting into a negative frame of mind, take a few minutes to gather your thoughts and ask yourself what can you change to make things easier for yourself. For example, staying low on the bike may help, spinning a low gear may help or staying tight to the hedges might even help. The biggest change that you can make is your own attitude, you can’t change the wind but you can accept it, change your approach to it and refocus on chipping away at the distance.

Going through a rough patch is an inevitable part of longer events but it is important to remember that everyone feels this way at some point and it is not just you. With experience you will know that these patches are transient and if you turf them out you will come good again. This is the primary strength of a good randonneur.

While we’re on the subject of good randonneurs it’s no harm for us to reflect on what that definition may be. Regularly referred to as the greatest athlete of all time, Muhammed Ali said, “you could be the world’s best garbage man, the world’s best model, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you give it your best”. These words of wisdom are particularly relevant to audax as it is a very personal experience and is totally non competitive. There’ll be no special medals for the first rider to finish and at the end of the day the organiser will probably be the only person to know what time people finish in. Priorities should always be to finish, to enjoy the experience and to learn something from the day.

The Golden Rule – Always finish, always finish smiling.

Long-distance cycling in Ireland