Tips – First Time Audax

Long-distance cycling is very different from riding a century ride or road bike racing. Long distance cycling is all about mental toughness, a survival strategy and mindset. If you think it is all about a physical challenge, think again.

An Audax is a self-sufficient ride. Audax is the Latin word for ‘bold’, and was first used in the context of endurance sports towards the end of the 19th century. Audax Randonneur Malaysia (sometimes referred to as Audax Malaysia) is a cycling club that wishes to promote cycling randonnées à allure libre (at unrestricted speed) throughout Malaysia, according to the model which it created in 1921, and currently governed by the regulations of Audax Club Parisien‘s “Brevets de Randonneurs Mondiaux” (BRM).

They are NOT races. People ride them more in the spirit of an event like a Marathon, everyone riding to their own limitations with the primary objective to just complete the event. These events were designed to suit everyone, clubmen, time-trialists, recreational riders, cycletourists, ‘born again’ cyclists, young and old, male and female.

Self-sufficiency is a highly-regarded quality in Audax Randonneur Malaysia. On the same theme, ‘support’ for example a following car, motorbike or any vehicle is not allowed along the route. Personal support is only allowed at checkpoints.

Consider your first Audax as a mental game and half the battle would have already been won.

As such, most successful riders do a lot of planning before the ride even bigins. Here are some tried and tested tips from successful riders, or Randonneurs, as we call them.

Tip #1 : Ride At Your Comfortable Pace
One of the most important things to figuring out how to finish your first 200km, 300km, 400km, 600km or 1,000km ride is to cycle at your aerobic pace and be as comfortable as you can be thruout the entire ride.

Tip #2 : Get Your Brevet Card Stamped As Soon As Possible
Audax events do not have timing chips. Your Brevet Card is your “timing chip”. As soon as you arrive, get your Brevet Card handled right away. Some people who delay getting it done, forget to get their Brevet Card stamped and lose out. Some push themselves to exhaustion to get to the Check Point on time just to discover that they delayed getting it stamped until after the cut-off time. Don’t let it happen to you.

TIP #3 : Plan Your Nutrition Before, During and After The Event
BEFORE. Some cyclist carbo load before a race. Most Randonneurs do not find this necessary at all. Some of us double up on our intake of vitamin C to increase our immune system in preparation for an Ultra Long Distance Ride. So, in the weeks or months before your first Audax, how about you find out what is the best strategy for you. You know your body better than anyone else. Also, before the Audax event, experiment with consumables like salt pills and when is the best time to take them to keep cramps away eg before, during, after a ride or all the time. Some routes have less shops. Recce the route with Strava, RideWithGPS, Google Maps, Google Streetview or even drive the route before the event. Some routes might require you to bring comfort food for 100km at a time due to lack of food outlets or shops being closed (between 10pm and 7am, for example). Some Randonneurs bring bags that contain items and tool to fix punctures and other mechanical issues. Other favourite items include electrolytes, more then 2 bidons/water bottles, extra lights, a powerbank,, supplements, chocolate/energy bars, power gels, bread and even a spare tyre.

Tip #4 : Power Gels/Energy Bars Or An Organic Nutritional Strategy
DURING. Some riders bring Power Gels and Energy Bars for a BRM200. For distances more than 250km, more experienced riders start switching to less processed food. Some riders eat dates (kurma) or sweets instead of Power Gels/Bars. Some even make their own home made energy bars. The further you ride, the tougher it gets to bring so much nutrition with you.

Tip #5: EAT! EAT! and EAT!
DURING. Even if you don’t feel hungry, keep on eating during the ride and at the control points. During you pre-Audax trainings, experiment with eating every 25km or 50km or even 100km. For example, during a BRM200, eat a little every 25km or every 50km (eat moderately twice and have one full meal)  or only have a full meal at the half-way point or Checkpoint. Most experienced Randonneurs eat a little while cycling eg bread or chocolates. Then at a Checkpoint, they figure out if they need a full meal or do a quick 10 minute stop to refuel with a top-up of water and any packed food they can find nearby (right after getting their Brevet Card stamped, of course).
AFTER : Some athletes consume protein shakes right after the Audax ride is done. Others consume salt to make sure they don’t get post-ride cramps. Some even “attack” nearby fast food chains because they are just so hungry.

Tip #6 : Break Down The Distance Into “Smaller” Rides
Some call this Compartmentalizing The Distance. It can be a bit overwhelming to do a 300km ride. Some riders break it by half and “trick” their minds into treating 300km like doing 2 Century Rides or doing a 100km ride times three. Some like to utilise the negative split strategy ie do a slower Century Ride first, then do a faster Century Ride to keep all their energy for the last 50km home stretch. Others do the reverse. Ride as fast as possible at the beginning to stick with any pelotons that can be found, then once the pelotons breaks up into smaller groups, the rider starts pacing him/herself to ride the distance. Visualising rhe entire distance can be quite daunting. Have one of the friends you are riding with to keep track of distance to the next Checkpoint or Refuel stop. It really helps once you start doing longer distances like 600km.

TIP #7: Don’t Attack Hills
If you feel you can push a little bit more than your aerobic pace to be able to roll the next hill, I’d say Do It. Proper planning and a “recce” of the route will reveal to you if it is just a few hills or many many many many hills that get tougher and tougher. Experienced Randonneurs have a better feel of which segments that can go full throttle or when its time to go easy on the “accelerator”. It is ok to go slow if one is unsure. One thing worse that finishing just before the cut-off is to suffer major cramps and DNF (Did Not Finish) within the cut-off time.

Tip #8 : LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
An often challenging skill to learn. During training rides, slow down a little and start noticing things about your riding and how your body reacts to different situations. Some riders heart rate increase when climbing uphill while some while speeding downhill. Some riders aerobic pace is at a heart rate of 120 beats per minute while others are at 150 bpm. Some riders consume electrolytes thruout the ride and some at 50km intervals. Some riders can “listen” to their legs and when their muscles start “pulling” and they can guess that a cramp is about to attack. Imagine only needing salt pills just before getting a cramp. This is a useful skill to develop. Same “listening” applies to needing food, needing water, backaches, headaches and bonking/running out of glycogen. Some riders time the drinking of fizzy drinks as a quick solution to bonking and then eat different types of food to ensure they have glycogen 30 minutes later and then 3 hours later. Very useful skill indeed. With practice and a keen “ear” anything is possible, even avoiding butt pain and blisters especially when cycling in rain for an extended time. If you feel sick or feel like fainting, do stop riding immediately. Safety first please. Always take a DNF or obstacle as a challenge. Take it as a learning experience that you can carry with you for future BRMs.

Tip #9 : Rest And Listen To Your Body (again)
Before the ride begins we all make sure we are well rested. Some call this tapering before a big ride. A skill that can be acquired is to know what is the minimum time one needs to recover during a ride. Some people take an hour to rest at Checkpoints while others need only 10 minutes to get their Brevet Card stamped, refuel water and food, and then push off. Only by knowing how to listen to your body can you know how much time you need to full rest or rest well enough until the next Checkpoint. We train speed or high intensity or cadence. Training to minimize stopping time while maximizing rest also requires listening to your body. If you are extremely exhausted or hot from riding in the sun or cold from riding at night or in rain/winter, make sure you take time to rest and recover. Do not compromise on resting. This is vital to your energy conservation, pacing and nutrition strategy and to avoid unwanted mishaps. If you feel like falling asleep while cycling, make sure you rest.

Tip #10  : Train
This tip ties in to all the tips above. Almost any skill that we don’t have can be learnt of self-taugh during cycling training. Some riders train to cycle while not holding their handlebars. This is useful when one wants to eat. Train listen to your body, goes without saying. Train doing a Century Ride with only 2 water bottles/bidons and not stopping at any water stations (always consult your doctor first). Funnily, I know some cyclist even train to learn how to pee while cycling! Some riders train for their first 600km BRM by doing a 280km ride on Saturday and then a 160km ride on Sunday. That’s 440km within 32 hours. Then aiming to complete 600km within 40 hours is a very natural next step. If your next BRM has a lot of elevation, then train doing hill climb repeats. If the next BRM is in the rainy season, then start cycling with wet clothes. If it is the hot season, then start traing in the sun ie cycling from 10am to 4pm. Train your mental strength. There will be times that you will wonder to yourself “Why am torturing myself with this crazy Audax ride? Why don’t I just look for a taxi or call a family member to pick me up?” After having these thoughts and actually finishing that BRM by getting your time stamped at the Finishing Point will taste oh so sweet. Knowing that you were at your limits and going that one step further… riding that extra mile… to go where you have never gone before will be the sweetest victory. A lot of happy finishers feel overwhelmed having completed, what a few hours ago, they felt were impossible, might even say to themselves “I’ll NEVER do this again”. Guess what? Half of us come back for more. And More. And MORE.

“A lot of happy finishers would always say that they never really thought of finishing an Audax ride but they just wanted to know if they can really do it” ~ a quote shared by a wise person.