Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Male vs Whale Sunrise Express Audax

I love fish and chips. I also love riding my bike. But which one would win in a fight? There's only one way to find out... a vast quantity of fish and chips (I'll describe exactly how much in a moment), and less than 12 hours later attempt to ride a 123km audax. As it happens, the timing of the events was coincidental, rather than planned; we decided to avoid going out to eat in Valentine's Day, and went on Friday night instead. Mrs Monmarduman had been to a posh fish and chip restaurant (it's not necessarily an oxymoron) in Didsbury a few weeks ago, and decided to treat me at the nearer Alderley Edge branch as my Valentine's treat. She also happened to mention that this particular establishment had what it called the Male vs Whale Challenge.

Now, I don't know if you've ever seen Man vs Food on some obscure TV channel, the kind you happen across accidentally when there's nothing much on, but it's basically a programme about one guy working his way through eating challenges at American (where else?) restaurants. I've been itching to have a go at something similar for some time, so given my love of fish and chips, and an event the day after to work off the excesses, Friday night seemed like the ideal time.

Things didn't augur well when we took our seats in the restaurant - there were three late teenage boys having a go at the challenge, and failing miserably. And looking quite ill. The challenge is this: eat the following in 45 minutes: 1 large portion of chips, 1 medium portion of chips, 1 large pot of mushy peas, 3 slices of bread and butter, and a 25 ounce battered cod with tartare sauce. To give you an idea of its size, a regular cod is round about 8-10 ounces. It actually doesn't look too bad when I write it down, but on a platter the size of a dustbin lid, it was quite daunting. The fish I managed quite easily, ditto most of the mushy peas and bread, and frankly, all the warm chips. However, by 30 minutes the remaining chips were getting tepid at best, cold at worst; not the most palatable of things when you're hungry, and frankly quite disgusting when you've basically got three portions of regular fish and chips inside you. So, I'm afraid I failed, though I did keep going till the clock ran down, unlike the teenage lightweights, who were pushing their plates away with seven or eight minutes to go. The £20 voucher and t-shirt will have to wait for my next attempt.

Reader, I'll spare you the ordeal I endured for three hours after I finished the challenge, though its better bits did involve kneeling down, rocking gently and emitting low moaning noises.

And so when the alarm went off at 5.22am yesterday (I can't set an alarm for 'round' times like 5.30 or 7.00; not sure why; never have done), it was with no great vim and vigour that I rose to drive to Hartlebury in Worcestershire for the Sunrise Express audax. Breakfast was out of the question - a pint of squash and a small mug of coffee (for intestinal management purposes) was the best I could manage.

So, a quick word on the Sunrise Express. It's actually one of two events (the other being the Snowdrop Express)  run on the same day by the same people, that both start and finish in the same place, on the same route. In fact the only differences are that the Snowdrop starts half an hour later than the Sunrise, and goes round the course anti-clockwise to the Sunrise's clockwise. Which makes for some good banter at the controls (as the scheduled stops are known on audaxes) and lots of waving at people going in the other direction. It takes in the towns of Evesham, Pershore and Upton-on-Severn, and lots of pretty Worcestershire villages.

The first hour yesterday was, it has to be said, not very enjoyable. It was very foggy (which constantly condensed on my riding glasses), it was -2c, it was wet, and despite trying I couldn't hold the pace of the fastest few, particularly up the hills, where my legs howled at me. It was one of those days, however, where the longer you were out the better things got - it warmed up, the fog burned off, and best of all my legs started working. Having got in a group of seven club cyclists (from a variety of Birmingham clubs) I spent miles 22 (where I picked them up) to 48 just hanging on for dear life frankly. But then in the last 25 miles I'm not sure what happened - maybe the benefits of Male vs Whale were coming through, or maybe the effects had just worn off - but when we hit rises in the road I seemed to work my way up the group another position until I was at the front. For the last 20 miles or so we held a chaingang-type paceline with me on the front all the way. We never caught the fastest three riders, but it was still really nice to have a couple of the others ride up alongside me in the last half-mile, shake my hand and say thanks. And 4th out of 260 is ok. (Repeat after me, it's not a competition, it's not a competition...)

The downside of riding like that is you don't get your head up and take in the countryside and surroundings as much as perhaps you should do, but equally for a non-club rider like me it's great to get in a group of mature, experienced bike handlers and experience the joys of riding as one unit, and much faster than you would on your own. Nearly as great in fact as when we got back to base and getting a choice of bacon sandwich, beans on toast, or cake, all with tea or coffee (proper coffee). Given that base was a really nice garden centre cafe, the £6.50 entrance fee represented stunning value for money.

Audaxes are definitely changing. There are still a few beardy weirdy types, but the majority of participants yesterday were not of that ilk; they were regular club or strong leisure riders. Quite a good proportion were women too, which hasn't always been the case on audaxes. Anyway, yesterday, with my knackered old Ribble bike and route sheet pinned to the my bars rather than a Garmin beeping at me, I felt quite the Luddite myself. I'm pleased I've finally ordered my Charlie/Laurens/whatever name I bestow on said unit when it arrives; I'm less pleased it's taking Wiggle forever to despatch it - guess that's the price you pay for ordering a new model just after it's launched.

There's only one question remaining I think: would I juxtapose an eating challenge with a cycling challenge again? Hell, yeah.

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