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London–Edinburgh–London. My journey to the edge and back.

Gideon Rabinowitz presents a journal of his epic 1,500km Audax

I’m going to start my story with the scene 10 hours in. I’d arrived at the second control point, Boston at 190km, I was now looking at a large spread of vomit in front of me. I was feeling very hot, very dry and very unwell, thinking that my LEL journey was over and everything had been for nothing. It was a very low point, in the middle of nowhere, feeling exhausted, weak and empty. So how did I get here?


What is London Edinburgh London (LEL)?

LEL is a cycling Audax from 7th to 12th August that you have just over 128 hours to complete, cycling to Edinburgh and back through predefined check points on a pedal powered vehicle. Simple? You decide what speed you want to go, how and when and for how long you stop. The organisers provide food, showers and beds at the controls and apart from that the rest is up to you.


Where did my journey start?

Well, it all started back in January, I’d been a member of Audax UK for 3 years, only riding one in 2020 before the pandemic hit. I’d read lots of articles about the big events like Paris-Brest-Paris and LEL, whetting the appetite never thinking for one minute I’d be able to do it. Then in January the invite to enter LEL for all Audax members came up. So, I asked Ruth ‘’should I give it a go‘’? ‘‘Well you only live once‘’ was the reply (I thought die once might be more appropriate). So, without much thought of the consequences, I pressed the button and paid my £370. I’d done it, not quite sure what I had committed myself too.


Rabbers do LEL

I’m not quite sure how it happened but it must have been through the Ride-Across-Britain (RAB) Facebook page that a number of people popped up talking about LEL and before I knew it I was in a virtual team group called ‘Rabbers do LEL’ with Paul, Simon, Frank, Martin, Martin, Ed and Richard. Paul is a Gold shirt holder like me and did RAB on a BMX last year, so I was expecting great things of him. All of us were in the same space of ‘oh my god’ this is like RAB on steroids, this is not 100 miles per day, this is 200 miles per day, what on earth have we done? We would go on for the rest of the year and finally meet up in August.


Preparing for LEL

Having only cycled up to 200 miles (300km) in one day I knew I had some capability but nothing like I would need for LEL, so out came the Audax booking form and I started booking ahead with a 200km ride in February then moving forward to 300s, 400s and then possibly a 600. My plans for 2022 were being shredded in the process with space for the Dragon Devil and the Yorkshire Beast already in place.


I booked my fist Audax of the year: Wells, Mells and Borders near Bristol, run by Will Pomeroy, who as I was to find out is known for ‘Wills Hills’. On 9th February I found myself sat in my car in the dark outside a closed garden centre wondering if it was happening at 6am. Another car arrived, then a guy on a bike with a trailer, who I discovered was Will, unlocked the gates. So, bike assembled, card obtained and off we go...up and down to Wells then up some incredible hills, to the main control at 100km then back against headwinds. I was warned by one of Will’s mates who ran the 1st control that the last 25km is hilly and they were not kidding. If you know Bristol you know hard hills... so that was just 200km and it nearly killed me!


Then in early March came the Dean, something some NRC members know about. The full route from Oxford was pretty uneventful apart from a constant headwind, and then I nearly ran into a pedestrian, almost writing my ride off with a rather bent rear mech. The night section was my first long night ride from just outside Lambourn all the way to Oxford city centre where you have to negotiate the Saturday night revellers and then the KFC at the car park for the late receipt.. Well that was hard!


Next London 3Down running from Chalfont St Peter just by the M25 down to the New Forest and back, where I bumped into the NRC crew twice. Uneventful, more night riding and I got very, very cold, but with nice soup at the end. As with previous rides, you chat to people and discover a lot of others are experienced and booked into LEL. One bit of advice I was constantly given was “get a couple of 600s under your belt”. So that became the plan. I was also becoming aware that when it came to the Audax, I was a real novice.


April and my first 400 Barnstable Branch line – another Wills Hills. My first time to deal with real fear. Starting cold from central Bristol at 4am negotiating the Friday night party folk before heading up lots of hills through Cheddar Gorge, the Quantocks and Exmoor, and on to the North Dorset coast. Long story short, I learnt the hard way about not having enough kit and not refuelling and eventually found myself at the last control where there was food and support, freezing, hungry and terrified. Even given my distressed state after 2 hours in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday morning I was ushered out into the void on my bike... slowly I edged forward and eventually the light appeared on the horizon,… up through the Mendips and back in to Bristol to miss my cut off by 35 mins.. I wasn’t bothered I was just glad it was over having done over 22,000 feet of climbing. Anyway I’d done my first big test and ridden/been awake for over 24 hours and not died.


Next 400, LWL or London Wales London – sounds grand really but it’s just London as in Chalfont St Peter out to Chepstow and back following some similar roads to the Dean. Apart from a massive pothole and puncture, plus loss of my back-up light, this was uneventful and I finished at 4am in the morning, shattered but in one-piece and hours ahead of the cut-off. I’d benefitted from spending money on good kit and carrying the warmer stuff I needed as I moved from warm Spring days to bitterly cold nights. Also, I had my first experience of cyclist hatred having been targetted by a tin can from a white van man on my way into Lambourn. I found my back-up light the following day where I had fallen over – intact but flattened. I asked Exposure to repair it but they offered a part exchange!


Next in May, my first 600, Benjamin Allen’s Summer outing that I have shared with you previously.


Then in June one more 300, Wonders of Wessex, and my second 600, the Fenland Friends – ‘x rated’ – as in support to food, blown from Essex to Yorkshire only to turn around and face the wind on the way back. My first experience of an Audax hotel (bus shelter), all in all pretty successful.


So I’d done my two 600s and felt pretty well set up. July had a family holiday in the middle of it but also gave time for the body’s aches and pains to recover. Now we arrive at August and LEL is very, very close.


LEL Registration

With LEL there are a list of options on how you get to the start. It’s a truly international event with both volunteers and riders coming from all corners of the planet. I’d elected to camp close by, where the local site had a field dedicated to LEL riders.


Saturday, I cycled down to the start, registered, picked up my drop bags and filled them. I also met Danial Webb who leads LEL – his day job is running governance in a local council - as opposed to his hobby of running a complex Audax with 700 volunteers, 1,700 riders and 13 locations!


Before Registration

After booking my place, the LEL website came to life with things to book like the start time – you could pick 15 minute slots from 6am in the morning all the way to 4.30pm in the evening, or if you are a quick rider pick the 5am start in central London, but you only get 100 hours to make the journey (which for some riders is not an issue, but I’m not one of them!).


You also get to book car parking at the start of the event, give your next of kin details and Team name and buy kit, so really quite a commercial operation for a bunch of volunteers.


The start time is a lottery and everyone books an early slot, then there is a cut off by which time the organisers pick you to either keep your choice or bump you to a later slot... there were a lot of FB posts on the distribution. In the end I got bounced from 7.15 to 11.30, not really knowing what the impact would be but I would be starting with my other RAB friends. Then you pick your drop bag locations and match where you think you are going to be (I got this hopelessly wrong so I ended up in rather smelly kit for rather too long on the day, but I was not the only one).


There was numpty newbee questions by the 100 on Facebook, answered by veterans, and route updates (there were lots of those), route warnings where the big danger points were (like the St Ives car trap on the entry to the automated bus lanes).


I had also booked a tracker to be picked up at registration, this was great as it meant I didn’t have the worry of how to communicate with loved ones, friends or NRC club members 😊. It was just a case of leaving it in my top tube bag and forgetting about it until the end – if I got there!


The Rig

As some people know I have far too many bikes and well I’m not even sure there is such a thing 😊. I was torn between my single chain ring aluminum Bowman and my Cervelo C3 that I had fitted with a GRX front end giving me a 30:34 gear for the nasty climbs that would come my way. I also toyed with the idea of a dynamo hub and bought a £150 wheel from eBay plus dynamo lights and a charger which gave me the combination of being able to charge devices during the day and then light my way at night, and in practice it worked a dream on the ride.


Storage is also an issue unless you are one of those really quick riders as you have to think about all the spares you may need, tools but also that you will be riding in temperatures ranging between 3 deg C at night to 30 during the day, all on the same leg. Finding the right kit takes some experimentation and I settled on a Tailfin, which is a rear mounted bag that bolts to the through axle. It’s incredibly rigid and apart from the weight of the contents you don't know it’s there.


The last choice was tyres. I was going with tubed Conti 4 Seasons, until the day before the event the rear one kept going flat. So I made a rash decision and made both tubeless using Good Year Tubeless Vectors 28mm. It was an inspired choice as in the nasty section southbound towards Hessel I hit a large bump and later inspection saw the sealant did its job!


The Ride starts with severe heatstroke and dehydration

So now it was Saturday evening the bike was prepped, I’d found a pub full of Essex people, ate well and settled down for the night... now we are here. It felt better having a later time so I could pack up the tent and park the car in the middle of the field for the week. I did wonder what state I would be in when I saw it next.


At 10.00 I cycled down to the start at the Devanham school, met up with the Rabbers and enjoyed a good breakfast.


All too quick 11.15 came and with it our start slot. Now we are here, now it is real, now is the time...oh and it’s bloody hot now!


Off we set, my bike was feeling heavy and unwieldly in the busy street with cyclists negotiating the Loughton pot holes, which are non-trivial and difficult to miss, then soon we were on the open road to St Ives. I remember my mates starting to edge ahead until after a short time I was on my own. The heat was intense and there was a route diversion from where I saw a large lorry stopped, apparently the bike of one of the cyclist’s had ended up underneath it.


I got into St Ives at around 4.00pm with about 100km on the log, feeling hot and bothered, and met up with the guys and a volunteer I recognised as a former colleague from my days at Vodafone. Eating wasn’t too bad but not as good as it should have been and after about 30 mins I was on my way to the Fens.


The Fens had a mild headwind which was not that bad but I was suffering and getting faster than 20km/h or so and 90km for Boston, it took ages and I finally got there by around 10.00pm. Queuing for food, I was in a ‘state’ and started to drink anything I could get from the queue, mainly milk. Then I got some food, everyone was shovelling food in but I could only pick at my food. It was so hot in the hall and after a tiny amount of food, I went outside, sat down and promptly threw up the contents of my stomach.


A volunteer came and helped me, sat me on the grass, got some blankets, took my pulse, checked my temperature and so on. Severe heatstroke and dehydration diagnosed, I had not been to the toilet all day, they escorted me to the dormitory and laid me down where I was not alone. One other was taken to hospital.

So here I was at the start of the story wondering if that was it, had I blown it. LEL – 190km out. I was in a state, in a very dark place.


Was my ride over before it began?

I waited until midnight and I was still not right and then 2am still nothing. By 4, I started to move and pee something that was not dark brown. I went to the deserted dining area and met a few guys, one of whom was a sport coach who diagnosed the same and just said drink large gulps every 15 mins or even 10 mins tackle rehydration salts, and use lots of suncream. By that point I was able to eat a small breakfast, so I set off at around 5-6 in the morning leaving what felt like the Marie Celeste control point.


I pootled on the route towards Boston having no idea if this was in any way sensible or had a point and was overtaken by Alan and Daryl who I tagged on to, and over the course of the week was able to see a number of times, they became my talismen. I was now going through a litre an hour of fluid and feeling much the better for it. Nice straight flat roads before dropping down through some twisty lanes and the first proper climb before dropping into the next control at Louth, where I was told I was at least 50 mins outside my time, at around 8.00 in the morning not bad for around 60km.


Louth at 240km was deserted so I was feeling really behind, and little food to speak off, so off I set to Hessel which was undulating and by this time of day had started to warm up. Not much I remember apart from stopping just before the Humber bridge and stocking up on sweet drinks and ice cream – cycling had some benefits! Over the bridge and then a short drop into Hessel at 300km at around 11.20 at which point I was told I was now ahead of schedule. That's all very fine except at some time I will have to sleep.


A quick stop and again not much food at the deserted control point. Lots of suncream and back out into the midday sun. The route to Malton was undulating and got quite hilly, at least one stop to refuel at a pub was necessary and things seem to be OK but I had not built my hopes up yet, at least I was starting to get some of the controls under my belt but I was very much at the thin end of the field. At Alston I dropped into the Nook, a cafe that was touting for business from LEL riders and again it was nice at last to get company. Then another 18 or so miles to Malton at 367km which was supposed to have been my first stop and where my 1st drop bag was obtained at 15.20.


Refuel and back on the road

Now at last a proper refuel, dumped some stuff from the dop bag and off I went.


We now had 113km to get to Barnard Castle over the Yorkshire moors following some of the hills I can remember from the Yorkshire Beast and the April NRC trip. These are beasts of hills on a light bike, but on a bike laden down with heavy kit even more challenging, I was seeing more riders by that time with a chance for a chat as we walked the really steep ones...plus the odd ice cream and drink stop.


Then with about 30km to go we hit the secret control just before a nasty short hill. It was starting to cool down and the sun had started to set so time to swap over the dynamo lights. After that it felt like I flew, getting colder and then stopping to change into my warm gear. After what felt like a lot of faster riding, it seemed the end would never come, but by 23.00 I landed at a dark Barnard Castle at 480km after a hill that just went on and on. Now for a proper fuel up in a hall that would not look out of place in a Harry Potter movie, and I elected to grab a sleep for about 3 hours (I think).


Small sleep provides fresher legs

Morning and up I was having actually had some sleep, breakfasted and on my way into the early morning in my smelly gear straight into the town, up a hill then another big climb, at which point much of the winter gear came off. Surely the climbing must stop at some point, but it didn’t.


The route took us over the Yad Moss Divert to St John’s Chapel – Yad moss was the original route, but was closed due to the cattle grid being replaced and after seeing the condition of a number of the grids a good job too. Up, up, up and up again and then down the other side at speed, at last some real speed fun! Dropping into Brampton at 563km where I arrived at 11.25 - that was a long, tough stage from Barnard Castle. Here I bumped into fellow NRC member Kurien who was there as a volunteer and obliged with a photo.



Hot again and refuelled, another drop bag where this time I actually got rid of stuff like the bivvy bag, not much chance I would use that! Also time to get another top as my NRC top was pretty rank. After 30 mins I was off again into the blazing sun, making my way to Moffat.


Final push to Edinburgh and only half way

Not much memory of Brampton to Moffat, apart from the heat and another 74k taking me to 637k. It's now Tuesday not that I knew! Out of Moffat was what felt like a climb that never ended, but this time I was seeing other riders on a regular basis. The route skirted around Edinburgh, dropping to Bigga for a cafe stop where there were lots of riders and lots of undulating roads to get to the outskirts before being guided across the Forth Road Bridge and then onto Dunfermline just the other side – half way at 748k by 11pm.



It was very dark and to my great surprise I met the other RAB veterans, plus Alan and Daryl again. They were in the process of getting ready to go so I was a couple of hours behind them, I was as surprised to see them as they were to see me. Then followed my plan of shower, back onto dirty kits, eat loads, eat more and then sleep until around 2 in the morning (I think) then go!!



Wednesday wee small hours – time to head south

It was now Wednesday and I was heading South, back across the Forth Bridge where the views of the rail bridge were amazing. Up through central Edinburgh on the cobbles and the old branch lines which were great fun, but not if it had been wet! And then round Holyrood House up out of Edinburgh on a long climb taking me to Innerleithen at 830km by 10.15. Much lovely soup consumed, and I stripped off as it was now getting hot.




The next section took me over the Scottish Border with some breath taking scenery and a number of photos taken, but it was getting very hot and lots of lumpy cycling before landing in Eskdalemuir 880km by 13.30. More rapid feeding and they had sun cream so I was well and truly plastered up! I met a volunteer who looked like your typical ‘white van man cyclist-hater’ who admitted he used to think us guys in Lycra were w****rs until he saw what we had put ourselves through.



Lots of gritted road now, undulating, fast finishing in a lovely flat fast section taking me back to Brampton where I bumped into the RAB guys again who were busy showering and in the buff. Also Alan and Daryl who asked if I fancied going up the original Yad Moss route, so we agreed a rendezvous point in Alston and off I trotted, 20 mins later to be over taken by Daryl and Alan.


We congregated at the large Spar in Alston to meet up with other cyclists who were also thinking about the original route – so it felt like quite a party.



Off we went up the steep incline and followed it to the turning to Yad Moss. I dropped back but by the time I reached the summits (there were 2!), I bumped into Janine and her partner Stu for the remainder of the leg. The night was beautifully clear and the route was illuminated by an amazing clear moon.


We then had a long, fast, cold descent to find sheep and goats in the road until we rejoined the Yad Moss junction. We bumped into one of the Malaysian riders Maggie who had lost her front light. So lending mine we carried on as a group towards Barnards Castle. Across a bridge Maggie went wide, hit the pavement and came off. Nothing broken, spare lights I could help with, body parts are a harder proposition.


Barnard Castle by midnight and tensions rise

We meandered up and down and arrived at Barnard Castle by midnight. We agreed a short stop, shower, nap, eat and be ready to go at around 2am. So I showered and then tried to negotiate a bed for a couple of hours only to find the volunteer who was to help me having a melt down because she had an argument with another volunteer. I thought ‘I don’t need this, I need a bed and I need it now, I don’t have time for this...’


So after a bit of a hike to the gym for a bed I slept for what must have been an hour, then got dressed and was eating a combination of dinner and breakfast back at the Hogwarts Hall. The others had a change of plan, so I hopped on my bike and disappeared into the darkness. I was not alone for long as I got passed by a peloton of Italians who I could not keep up with. It was a nice, undulating, good road but very dark.


Thursday and heating up again

As the light came up – it was now Thursday and, hill climbing as we went, it felt like it was starting to get very warm again. The road took us back into Malton at around 10.20 at 1130km. I was still very conscious of the time I had lost so was pushing all the way. Here I bumped into one of the RAB guys (Simon), who said the others were behind, potentially bailing. Drop bag again, refuel, clean kit on dirty body, and off I went.


It felt incredibly hot coming out of Malton to what looked like a shallow incline, I could only muster 12km/h... the heat was incredible...every bit of shade I slowed down and I was not alone in this experience. We ran up against a volunteer equipped with a hosepipe so, bottle filled, we were doused before a really gravely section. Coming down a steep hill I could hear the wheels digging into the melted ashphalt and a bang .. but not a puncture – well actually later I found out it was, and the tubeless system had done its job. Ice cream and drink stop with a German and some Indians before pushing onto Hessel, where I arrived by 15.30 at 1,200km.


The place was buzzing with all nationalities, good food and a spicy Thai curry which was indeed very spicy, not the sort of thing you want to use on the downstairs departments if you follow my meaning.


Off across the Humber bridge again and what felt like a long undulating section to Louth where it finally started to cool. A volunteer van stopped and was feeding riders with cokes and lots of cooling ice. Now was the time to make a decision – stop at Louth or push onto Boston. By the time I got to Louth I was beat at 8.00 in the evening at 1,260km, with 280 left – this was now looking very possible. So I indulged, had a shower, a good feed and was in bed ready to get up at 2.30am.


Friday brings misty morning start

3am I was ready to go but I paid the price of my indulgences: my Wahoo decided to have a hissy fit as I’d left it out overnight, where the air was cold and very misty. All of a sudden disaster loomed, it took about 10 minutes for it to reboot (which felt like an eternity), and load the route. Off I went into the dark, foggy lanes not being able to see a thing. Then a second disaster, the strap from my bag was loose and wrapped itself around the cassette.


A group of four of us slowly navigated using the sides of the narrow tracks as our guides forward, and it was not quick. LEL was not finished with us yet. Come around 5ish the mist started to lift and I was alone and speeding to Boston... and it felt quick too, landing at 6.20 - so just over 2 hours from when I really started over 60km taking me to 1312km.


A real rapid pit-stop at Boston which was empty, except that I bumped into Alan again. I went back onto the fens with what would hopefully be a tailwind to St Ives. Teamed up with one guy, whose name I forget, we motored, at least this is what it felt like across the fens taking the hot wind on our backs. We hit Friday traffic in St Ives and got to the control at 11.00. Much fluid was then consumed and it felt like it never came out!


My mate had to do a call so we parted ways and off I went through the dreaded St Ives car trap that leads the fast and straight cycle lane that runs to Cambridge along the automated bus lane. An amazing feat of engineering, but so boring to ride along. Cambridge was blisteringly hot and the route took us through the pedestrian areas, full of tourists, which as one might say was entertaining.


Lots of undulating terrain, coming down one hill the wind was so hot I could feel myself cooking more than normal. A premature shop-stop and numerous bottles of drink consumed. This section with the heat and the hills was very hard, when we got to Thaxted I started seeing LEL signs (there are always signs CLOSE to a control) and started thinking I’m getting close! Nothing like it, up and down, up and down, thin, small gravely paths before joining the main road to Dunmow and Great Easted for the last control 15.40 at 1,470km. To hit the cut off I had to finish by 19.50, all looking very real. More food and drink and a much-needed dunking in water. Also a pump for the rear tyre which I later found had been holed the previous day, tubeless sealant had done its job!


Now for the last 50km, which I felt would take forever, a few hills, some nasty melted tarmac, lovely fast lanes until eventually I found myself rolling close to the M25, then over the M25 … getting close now and then a sign for Theydon Bois that I recognised from my attempts to get to the camp site last Saturday, (more road closures than I care to think of), then onto the main road. It was rush hour and I found myself behind a very wide Ferrari whose driver liked to rev his engine and hold back, so I couldn’t resist leaning over and knocking on his fender to speed up!


Home to an emotional finish

Left turn up the hill towards the finish, I punched the air, getting very close now I knew where the camp site was from here, so I could almost smell the finish. As I got to the brow of the hill there were two LEL marshals guiding us into a gate – most unexpected. They said there were too many roadworks so we went through the back entrance into the school, that was it, the finish.


Tears welled up as I cycled at the very end. I got off my bike and took my tracker to the desk to get my card stamped and my medal, by which time I was in floods of tears, the pressure of keeping it together, making up for the lost time at Boston on the way up all came out, it was finished it was done.



I then bumped into Janine who gave me a big hug, it’s great to have made new friends. A little later I bumped into Paul, Simon and Frank who were not far behind.

Then off to the photographer as the emotions were raw and that’s the picture I wanted for my kids of their dad at the point of triumph.






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3 Comments


Alastair Masson
Alastair Masson
Sep 22, 2022

What an incredible effort. To come back from dehydration etc that early on is miraculous. BIG respect. Cheers -

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Great effort..

It was tough. The heat was a killer up those " hills "... But we both came out the other side after a bit of too much heat. It was hard to get liquids and food down..

But those B & W photos sum it up..


They can't take the experience away from us. Would I do it again....?

Hell yeah.

See you on the start line 🚴‍♂️🚵‍♀️☀️🤣..

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Gideon Rabinowitz
Gideon Rabinowitz
Sep 01, 2022
Replying to

Yup ... I'm up for 2025.. and PBP next year.. but right now I want to back off, I've had enough!

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