I was starting to get those nervous thoughts about this ride a few days before the event. Having completed the ride in 2005/(6) I know I could do the distance, I had a better bike (Trek 7.6), I had more miles in a better saddle (Brooks, of course), and I felt generally fit for it. But, I also remembered the aches, tingles and the exhaustion that came after the first ride and this time I had a partner, Catherine, who was doing it for the first time. I casually threw out a challenge some months ago, and now I felt a certain responsibility for her pre-ride anxiety. But, hey, it’s the DunRun!
After spending the Saturday checking the bikes; and packing/stuffing two large panniers for every eventuality (both on my bike!); we set off to Richmond for the Overground to Hackney Central with bellies full of pasta. There we faced the first obstacle, the line was not running as a previous train had stalled and would not be cleared for at least 30-60mins. Plan ‘B’ had to be train to Waterloo and then ride up through the city to London Fields. OK… here we go!
Five minutes out of Waterloo station one of the panniers jumped off the rack and stuffed itself between the rack and the back wheel bringing me to a skidding stop. Yikes, it looked a mess. The rack had snapped a joint at the top and was bent. The back wheel still spun true and the bag refitted (just) and we pushed on through London.
We arrived at London Fields. Hundreds, maybe over a thousand, cyclists already there relaxing, drinking and meeting friends. We pulled up near the pub and I managed to obtain a zip-tie from a stranger to pull the rack together again. I see Dave from the office and have a quick chat. And then we were ready! Final trips to the toilet (the gents queue far exceeded the ladies for once). A quick chat with James Bowthorpe; who we both saw arrive from his record beating round-the-world trip last year; before we left set the scene for long distance riding!
The first part is a long crawl out of London into Essex. At this time (8.30-9pm) the local atmosphere is one of locals & pubs preparing for a serious session. At the end of the first series of climbs we pulled into a petrol station that was already mobbed by cyclists for an extra energy bar and soft drink. Only 10 or so miles in and already ready for a break. But we soon recovered and pushed on. The day was fading by now and lights were called for as the road lighting became intermittent.
Soon we were passing through smaller and smaller towns, then hamlets , then villages, then out into countryside darkness. The stream of red tail lights ahead thinned out as the ride stretched out. Every now and then you met groups of cyclists stopped by neon-lit roundabouts refueling and waiting for friends. Sometimes we stopped too. It soon became a tortoise and the hare affair as one group sped past only to be overtaken later as they waited on the roadside to regroup.
Trying not to think about the distance we passed 30, then 40 miles and started to think about the only official refueling stop at Sible Hedingham. After what seemed like an age we reached it at 1am and 50 miles in. The village hall was already crammed with a pelaton’s worth of bikes and riders. We got there in time to buy a torpedo roll to share and teas; then an empty of our bladders and a quick massage of shoulders, and we were off again at 2am. All along the ride there was a spectral appearance of a few people gathered around an unturned bike with a puncture (or worse) being attended to (typically comprising a light holder, a ‘doer’ and an advisor :-); a sobering reminder that we were only a flint away from that ourselves… but thankfully we never had such an adventure.
Soon after we noticed a solitary rider slipstreaming in our, by now, lonely group of two, so we chatted amiably and, as it was Paulo’s first time, we teamed up for the rest of the ride.
Daybreak crept in at the the 70-80 mile mark, as did more hills… did I mention the hills? For every descent we seemed to climb a longer ascent. By now (4am) we were devouring energy bars (Lucozade Sports) and drinks at regular intervals.
Eventually the lights were turned off and we stopped at a lakeside carpark & toilet for a quick breather. The only litter bin in the toilet was over stuffed with bananas, food wrappers and energy drink cans – it only happens on one night of the year I suspect!
Back on the bikes for the last push – it was mostly uphill of course! It might be only 30 miles or so, but it seemed to take an age.
Eventually we see the first Dunwich signpost (7 miles to go) and our spirits rise – definitely worth a photo stop. The last few miles are cruel but with strangely different landscapes to see. And then the beach looms up and we are there just after 8.30am!
We chain up the bikes onto each others and gather our belonging. The exhilarating sense of completion and dull aches compete with each other as we stumble about wondering what to do next. It has been about 12 hours since leaving with about ten of them in the saddle.
I see Dave from the office is already cosy in his group – they offer breakfast, but the call of the cool North Sea wins out. We quickly strip to the base layers and work our way in over the shingle beach… it is cool but refreshing once up to our knees we feel the aches receding… waist high and the swell is pulling us around, a few quick plunges and we feel satisfied and head for the toilets for a wet-wipe and clean clothes (carried all the way in my bags, did I mention that?). Then for food… Dave’s offer was tempting but we were now three, and Paulo insisted on buying us full Vegetarian breakfasts from the beach cafe. Amazing efficiency from the staff saw them arrive after about 7 minutes, this must be their busiest day of the year and they are ready for it!
Honestly, the rest is a blur of truck loading (hello Duncan!) and coach sleepiness until we got back to Spitalfields Market and remounted to get home via Waterloo station again.
This time I felt a lot better after the ride than the first time, maybe it was the sea dip, maybe the leg massage when we got back, or just fitter? Now then, what about next year… !?