London Edinburgh London 2022
On August 7 around 1500 riders, including myself, set off on a 1550 km round trip by bike from London to Edinburgh and back to London again.
London Edinburgh London (LEL) is an audax. It’s one of the UK’s most prestigious audax events and attracts riders from all over the world. An audax is a long distance bike ride that is not a race, not a tour, not a sportive, and not a club run, but it is known internationally as a “randonnée”; it’s a unique cycling experience.
LEL takes place every four years and was supposed to happen last year, but for obvious reasons, it was postponed to 2022. As with any audax, LEL has a series of checkpoints along the route that need to be passed through to verify your passage along the course. Each of these checkpoints has a time limit within which you must pass in order to be an official finisher. The time limits are based on a maximum and minimum speed that force riders to continue onto the next checkpoint at a steady pace. The official time limit for LEL this year was 128 hours (5.3 days) during which 1550 km needed to be covered. Broadly speaking, that’s 290 km to be ridden each day to finish within the cut-off time.
Having said that an audax is not a race, the mere fact that the clock is always ticking means that you can’t help but want to push on a bit to get ahead of the time limits and cover as much ground as you can as quickly as you can. You end up racing the clock, not other riders, to stay within time or gain as much time as you can. For me, I had it in mind to try and finish in less than 100 hours which would need me to cover 372 km each day. Here’s how it went…
Saturday, 6 August — Registration
With the amount of riders attending the event, registration takes place the day before the start. It was an opportunity to meet riders and start getting to know some of the army of volunteers that had come from around the world to help make the event a great success. It quickly became apparent that this was a big event! Volunteers at every turn were making sure all the riders were welcome and where they were supposed to be.
One of the nice things about LEL is having the opportunity to send some kit/supplies ahead ready for you to pick up at your designated checkpoints. I had chosen to have my two bags sent to Hessle and Brampton. In the bags were some treats, food and clean kit. You could also use the bags to offload any surplus kit that you might not be using. All very handy.
With registration complete, there was just one more sleep before the adventure began.
Sunday, 7 August — Day 1
In the build up to the event, riders could choose the start time they preferred. The early riders were off at 06:00 on Sunday morning but, as I did not get my requested time slot, I was due to start later at 13:30 on Sunday afternoon. For me, that meant that most of the field would be ahead on the road so I would always have company and wheels to aim for. It also meant that I had a short first day to cover as many miles as I could.
The route took us north from Debden in North London to the first checkpoint at St. Ives some 100 km from the start. I arrived at 17:17. At the checkpoint, a familiar routine would unfold: arrive at the checkpoint, grab brevet card, find the control point, have brevet card stamped, find the food hall and eat, fill up water bottles, jump back on the bike and head off to the next checkpoint. It was a routine to be played out across each of the 19 checkpoints up and down the country. Each stop takes time out of the overall 128 hours available so you need to be efficient to avoid putting any time pressure on yourself later in the ride.
It was at checkpoint one that I got the first taste of the mountain of food prepared and available for the riders. At every checkpoint, day or night, riders were fed like kings. It was fantastic and much appreciated. Thank you LEL.
In some previous events I’ve suffered from exercise-induced nausea, leaving me not able to take on any food or drink and, in some cases, having to scratch from races. After some trial and error, and frantic googling on the topic, it seems that, for me, the nausea is pace related. There is some interesting research on the topic but my layman's interpretation is that when pushing hard for any length of time my guts shut down and don’t want any food to process. The more sophisticated interpretation is “Exercise stress of ≥2 hours at 60% VO2max appears to be the threshold whereby significant gastrointestinal perturbations manifest, irrespective of fitness status.”
With this in mind, I was keeping a steady pace on day one not wishing to trigger any nausea. I kept telling myself to be soft on the pedals and, for most of day one, my heart rate was in zone 2 with some brief spells in zone 3. That theme continued throughout the whole event with great success. No signs of nausea, and in fact, at every checkpoint I had a healthy appetite and ate well, which no doubt helped offset the calories being burnt throughout 16 hours each day.
My intention for day one was to cover 300 km and get to the checkpoint at Hessle, just over the Humber Bridge, but as the day turned to night, it soon became apparent that I was either going to have to ride through the night to get there or take the decision to stop short at Louth. I arrived at Louth checkpoint at 00:17. Hessle was still 60 km away but I decided to stop at Louth to get a few hours sleep, recharge and eat. My thinking was that I would need to get a few hours sleep somewhere, be it at Louth or Hessle, so I may as well use the time at Louth, then I’d have a full day of riding for day two.
Louth was a busy place to be, with many of the riders that had started earlier already at the checkpoint taking up the available beds, so I found a small gap between other riders sleeping in the corridor, got my sleeping bag out, put some ear plugs in and got 2.5 hours sleep.
By the end of day one, I had covered 242 km, somewhat short of my target, which left me with plenty of work still to do.
Monday, 8 August — Day 2
By now the full extent of the task ahead had dawned on me. Day two was always going to be a test. With the previous day’s miles in the legs and the increasing elevation to come, things were about to get tougher.
With checkpoints at roughly every 70 km, all that was required was to make it to the next one, then repeat again and again, one checkpoint at a time. I left the comfort of Louth’s checkpoint at 03:20 on Sunday morning with Hessle in my sights.
One of the highlights along the route was riding across the Humber Bridge between Hull and Hessle. It seemed I timed my bridge crossing perfectly in time for a beautiful sunrise, and with the crossing done, Hessle was just a few miles away. I rolled into the Hessle checkpoint at 05:56 on Sunday morning having covered just 60 km so far on day two. Brevet card stamped, it was time for second breakfast. There was still plenty of distance to cover, so no time or need for sleep here.
Having left Hessle, the next checkpoints in sight were Malton, some 67 km away, then Barnard Castle, another 113 km beyond that. I passed through the checkpoint at Malton at 09:46, making good time, but fatigue was kicking in mainly due to the lack of sleep.
It was the stretch between Malton and Barnard Castle that things started to get interesting. The route took us over the North York Moors, and with over 400 km already in the legs by this point, the inclines were taking their toll.
I’m convinced that there is some sort of time vortex around every checkpoint as it seemed that the last few kilometers into every checkpoint took an age to complete. What would normally take 20 minutes to cover now seemed to take 30 minutes or more! The approach to Barnard Castle was like cycling through treacle. It couldn’t come soon enough.
Barnard Castle’s checkpoint was reached at 17:17. It had taken me 7.5hr to cover 113 km from Malton. Quite a long time — quite slow! This was a reflection of both my state of mind and body. During this phase, I started to get a shooting pain in my left foot on every pedal stroke. That, coupled with the sheer fatigue from having just 2.5 hours sleep so far, put me in a bit of a low patch mentally. It was here at Barnard Castle that I had thoughts of scratching from the event. With the pain, fatigue and knowing that the next checkpoint hop was over the Pennines, I was ready to call it a day and get the train back home. I was clearly knackered, and after a chat with loved ones, I took a short sleep break before making any sort of decision. I got three hours sleep at Barnard Castle, ate well and considered my options.
The advice given by experienced long distance riders is that it won’t always get worse. Things will get better. Thanks to many comforting words from my wife, I decided to push on past Barnard Castle to at least get to the next checkpoint at Brampton and consider my options there. With the plan set, it was time to tackle the Pennines in the dark!
The checkpoint hop between Barnard Castle and Brampton was only 62 km. I took me around five hours to complete that section alone but boy was it worth it. While the views were blurred out by darkness, we had a clear sky, stars and a near full moon for company. That, coupled with the steady stream of rear lights from other riders ahead on the road, made this a magical section. An experience I nearly missed out on!
Given the scale of the event, there was never any moment that you were too far away from fellow riders. Riders from around the world had descended on the event. Australia, India, Malaysia, USA, Germany, Spain and just about any other country was represented. Seeing the various flags attached to bikes was always interesting and great fun to spot. However, crossing the Pennines over night made for little chat amongst my surrounding riders. Can’t imagine why.
I rolled into Brampton at 02:50 having covered 326 km since my start at Louth earlier that day. It had taken me 26 hours during which I had around 10 hours off the bike either sleeping, eating or faffing. The checkpoint routine was now well practiced. Find the control, have the brevet card stamped, eat like a king and, at Brampton, get some sleep.
Tuesday, 9 August — Day 3
Having reached Brampton, and after a few hours sleep, I was in a much better state of mind and had decided to continue on. It seemed that with the Pennines behind me, I could start to think about getting to the halfway mark; my next goal.
I left the comfort of Brampton’s checkpoint at 05:53, three hours after arriving, and headed off for the Scottish Borders. I think it was across this day that I settled into the ride knowing that all I had to do was cycle. To keep on track with my overall goal I needed to put in another big day.
To help with the foot pain that had developed I moved my cleat position a little. That, and a few painkillers, seemed to help take my mind off the problem, and it made this stretch of the route far more enjoyable than what I was going through 24 hours earlier.
The main aim for the day was to get to the Dunfermline checkpoint — the halfway point at 750 km.
I rolled into the Dunfermline checkpoint at 15:10 on Tuesday afternoon. So far that day I had covered 185 km so there was still plenty of distance to cover to keep on track and within time. My time at Dunfermline was brief — I only stayed for about 1–2 hours, eating again!
Crossing the Firth of Forth was another highlight of the ride. Crazy to think that 48 hours before I was in London and I’d made it here under my own steam by bike. Thoughts of scratching from the event were well behind me now and, having made the turn south, it seemed a much more manageable task to consider completing the ride.
My sights were set on the next checkpoints — Innerleithen and beyond to Eskdalemuir. While the day time temperatures were topping around 25° C, the overnight temperatures were more like 10° C, and in some valleys, with a clear night sky, it was less. Coming south out of Edinburgh we were treated to a steady descent of around 20 km into Innerleithen, which proved to be very cold. I had all my clothes on and was still chilly.
I reached the Innerleithen checkpoint at 21:20 on Tuesday evening. Had I stopped here for sleep, it would have left me with too much to do on the next day. Eating like a king again was the only task at hand, and with another quick pit stop done at Innerleithen, it was on to Eskdalemuir, a hop of only 50 km.
I arrived at Eskdalemuir at 00:30 Wednesday morning with 312 km completed for the day and I decided to take a sleep break here. The only problem was that Eskdalemuir didn’t have official sleep facilities like all the other checkpoints. I arrived to find riders strewn around the place getting what sleep they could on the floor in corridors and under tables. For me, I joined another gentleman under a cafeteria table while others on the next table were enjoying their meal. While it was not the most glamorous of settings, I managed to get a few hours sleep to reset and recharge.
Wednesday, 10 August — Day 4
Having got some rest under the table, I was ready to start the next section and left Eskdalemuir at 04:00. Today was going to have to be another big day to keep on track with my schedule. Leaving the checkpoint I was greeted with a misty start and an immediate climb out of the valley. It was only once we topped out over Saugh Hill that the mist gave way to a clear morning sunrise.
Back on today’s agenda was the southbound passage of the Pennines. This time, I was to cross them in daylight. By this phase of the event, the rider density had thinned out a little with many riders ahead of me and many still behind me. However, there were still riders in sight dotted along the route making their own way south. With clear skies and the temperature rising, the southbound crossing of the Pennines was beautifully tough.
I made it to the southbound checkpoint at Barnard Castle by 13:10. Back to the point where I nearly packed it all in 48 hours earlier. On my northbound stop at Barnard Castle I had spotted a room where some kind volunteers were giving massages, so on the southbound visit I sought them out and booked myself in. They had a queue of other riders to deal with so I took the opportunity of also getting an hour’s sleep while I waited my turn.
It’s fair to say that the 100 km after the massage was fantastic. They had worked wonders on my legs, and with renewed vigour, I left Barnard Castle in search of the next two checkpoints to round off the day. Malton was passed through at 20:50 and I finally arrived back at Hessle at 02:40 Thursday morning having covered 329 km in 26 hours.
Thursday, 11 August — Day 5
The finish was in sight but it was still 320 km away. I had managed to sleep well at Hessle and had started a little later than planned at 06:12 in the morning. If I was to finish within my 100 hour target I would need to arrive back in London by 17:30. A tall order by my standards but the terrain for this last stretch was much flatter than any of the previous days.
Early in the morning the Humber Bridge was hiding itself in the mist as I crossed it southbound, but that soon cleared, and the temperature began to rise. From Hessle the route crosses the Fens in Lincolnshire and onto Cambridgeshire. Both counties are thankfully pretty flat. With what seemed to be neverending roads and heat coming at us from all directions, it made this section quite tricky to stay hydrated. Thankfully, many supporters had come out along the route offering riders water and refreshments. By now, many villages had spotted a steady stream of riders passing through and realised that the event was taking place on their doorstep. Some shops and cafes had opened out of hours to support the riders.
With the finish line ever closer and the clock still ticking, I got my head down across the flatlands to cover as much ground as possible. I arrived at the St. Ives checkpoint 15:35 and, still with 120 km to go, it became clear that I was not going to make my target of 100 hours but that didn’t stop me trying! A short food stop at St. Ives all done, I was back on the road heading to the penultimate checkpoint at Great Easton some 70 km away.
Having spent most of the day riding on the tri-bars, my neck was starting to feel the strain. I had heard that some riders ahead had been affected by Shermer’s Neck and was aware that I was close to having a problem, so I changed my ride position to a far more upright position which helped a little.
I arrived at Great Easton at 19:59. The routine still the same: find the control, get the brevet card stamped, eat more food, fill up bottles, then chase down the next checkpoint. The only difference this time was the next checkpoint was also the finish. Having arrived at Great Easton feeling exhausted, I left there with a full belly and feeling great. The last hop to the finish was only 48 km on rolling roads and no major climbs. This last leg had the feel of the last day of school — you can’t wait for it to end but you know you’ll miss it too.
At 22:35 on Thursday evening, I finished London Edinburgh London — 1550 km in 105 hours (4.3 days) with an elevation gain of ~15000 m. An army of volunteers were on hand to cheer and help every rider at the finish line. Their support and encouragement at each checkpoint were magnificent and I thank you all.
What an event. It was certainly a test. I had not covered that sort of distance before — four days of 320 km back-to-back riding. I am so grateful for the support from loved ones, all the volunteers and the messages on social media. Without their encouragement, I’m sure the end result would be quite different. Thank you all.
I would definitely encourage everyone to give the event a go, and with the next one due in 2025, there is plenty of time to get used to the distances.
For me, next up is Trans Pyrenees. A completely different proposition.
Day 1: London to Louth
Distance: 246 km / 153 mi
Elevation: 1414 m / 4642 ft
Moving time: 09:37
Sleep/eat/faff time: 4:13
Elapsed time: 13:50
View on Map My Tracks
Day 2: Louth to Brampton
Distance: 328 km / 204 mi
Elevation: 4184 m / 13730 ft
Moving time: 16:20
Sleep/eat/faff time: 10:10
Elapsed time: 26:33
View on Map My Tracks
Day 3: Brampton to Eskdalemuir
Distance: 312 km / 194 mi
Elevation: 3314 m / 10873 ft
Moving time: 14:28
Sleep/eat/faff time: 7:40
Elapsed time: 22:08
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Day 4: Eskdalemuir to Hessle
Distance: 329 km / 205 mi
Elevation: 4111 m / 13488 ft
Moving time: 16:15
Sleep/eat/faff time: 10:00
Elapsed time: 26:15
View on Map My Tracks
Day 5: Hessle to London
Distance: 320 km / 199 mi
Elevation: 2082 m / 6831 ft
Moving time: 13:35
Eat/faff time: 2:50
Elapsed time: 16:25
View on Map My Tracks
Total: London Edinburgh London
Distance: 1536 km / 955 mi
Elevation: 15106 m / 49564 ft
Moving time: 70:15
Sleep/eat/faff time: 34:53
Elapsed time: 105hrs / 4.3 days
View full collection on Map My Tracks
Saddle sore caused by chafing
Numb toes on right foot
Numb fingers on right hand