Writing this whilst it is very fresh in my mind, some thanks first, highlights, tough bits, what went well and some things to change for next time (or pointers for others!). Whilst the full ride is not on Strava my mind and body felt every pedal stroke of that journey!
King Alfred’s Way | Cycling UK is a 350km circular long distance bike packing route from Winchester connecting Stonehenge, Salisbury plains, The Ridgeway, Thames Path, North Downs Way and South Downs Way.
Stats: Due to multiple GPS failures 272km recorded and parts of the last 80km estimated
Distance: 354km Avg speed: 16.09 kmh. Elevation Gain 4650m
Time: 22:01 hours Start: Winchester 8:15am Finish: Winchester 06:16am
Average temperature day time: 8’C night time: 1’C Lowest recorded -4’C
Carbs Consumed: 720g 35g/hr Liquid: 6.5lt or 300ml/hr
Bike: Pyga Stage Carbon Fibre Full Suspension, beast of a bike!
These adventures don’t happen in isolation and need the support of family and friends. So most importantly to Louise for endless encouragement, support and looking out for me. Love you. x
To Jamie Collins who met me at 04:45am at Beacon Hill and rode with me to Winchester. I was at my lowest ebb at that point, so really it was appreciated. To Angus, Ed, Rob, Charles, Chris for providing encouragement and inspiration. To Russ at Service4cycles for preparing the bike, sorry I will be bringing it back as I managed to break some parts again!
It really is a cracking route and showcases what a beautiful and varied country we live in. The range of flora and fauna is breathtaking. Clever planning connects iconic routes together into one single ride, job well done by Cycling UK.
Glimpsing Stonehenge from afar and then up close was a real joy, the chalk White Horse lifted my spirits coming into Avebury. Getting in and around Reading was a test of micro navigation. Finally reaching the South Downs way and familiar territory, whilst not job done (still 3 hrs to go) the end was in sight.
The weather was both kind and cruel, whilst not raining much on me, there was a persistent headwind and large amounts of surface water from Salisbury to Goring all along the Ridgeway. At night the temperature dropped sharply, so whilst I was prepared, I really struggle with cold weather riding.
I managed to bend my rear hanger, reluctant to give it too much of a bend I was playing with gears for the next 20 hours. I missed those last few gears on the climbs!
Navigation, my usual battery recharge process worked fine at Avebury but in Reading my Garmin Edge just would not take charge. It then became a game of watching the remaining 15% battery life flow away. The section from Reading to Farnham, Hindhead and to the SDW is really tricky, it is nearly impossible to do it from memory. My back up option was my Fenix but having to glance at your wrist every 60 seconds in the dark proved challenging. Once mounted to the handlebar any movement turned on the backlight and consequently the watch (and main recording) died at the Devils punchbowl.
What went well:
Legs, look after your legs and they will look after you. I paced this really easily at the start knowing it was going to be a long day. As a cycling coach I should be well prepared, but you never know what it will be like till the actual day. My plan was simple, stop and find hot drinks every 4-5 hours, all the other time just keep on moving.
Nutrition, 35g/hr is half the normal 1g carbs/kg/hour recommendations but felt right given the intensity. I ate a range of sweet and savoury snacks, Naked bars, flapjacks, Torq gels for the end when quick energy fix needed. I have been using Skratch labs hydration mix for a number of years to top up electrolytes and small energy content, very easy on the stomach. The sustained drop in temperature probably took its toll by the end and in hindsight a higher carb intake would be required if I wanted to go faster (next time!).
Kit, I decided against backpacks, bum bags and had a gilet and Gabba with pockets that meant I carried food, spares, thermals, medical kit, emergency bivy, extra gloves, hand warmers, spare torches etc. On reflection I would keep the same system just choose milder weather.
The bike, I purchased a Pyga Stage frame PYGA Mountain Bikes – Handcrafted Bikes and then customised the build with things I really wanted. This included Shmano XT, SID Ultimate Forks, ISM Saddle, Dropper post. That bike was a dream, hats off to riders who do that route on a hardtail or gravel bike. Full Suspension is the way to go IMHO.
Mental resilience, riders often focus all their attention on the physical side of training. On a ride like this, drawing on previous experiences, saying little mantras, breaking the ride into small parts, remaining present are equally important to practice for success. Breaking the ride into small chunks and trying to remain present in the here and now, don’t worry about 10 hours later, just focus on the track ahead.Prepare for the worst and prepare well.
Even better if?:
Have another charging/triple backup navigation aid, it is a long way and you cant remember every turn especially at night.
The Ridgeway is a cracking section, choose a day with a tail wind (not a northerly) and you will love this exposed long section.
Next time I think I will do it over 2 days and include a stop with fluffy pillows and a 12 hour break. But actually doing it in under 24 hours is very rewarding despite being rather a long way outside my comfort zone. Remember Journey before destination.
Feel free to email me if I can help you on your own adventure. Coach@theendurancehabit.com
Toby Leyland. Proud to ride for About VC Venta – VC Venta
Photo at 6am at the end, finished. In more ways than one.
An incentive for this ride was in memory of Allan Sword a close friend who died in November 2020 having been knocked off his bike doing what he loved doing. RIP “AMH”, I was thinking of you and grateful to have shared some fun memories together.