Getting fitter involves pusher your body just a little harder than it wants to go for a little while, then relaxing and allowing optimal conditions for it to recover. It's a very natural thing, and I've had very few problems. On the PBP I had a deep ache in my quadriceps muscle at the front of the thigh from about 600km to the finish, but it disappeared when I got off the bike to rest. Some say that if your legs don't hurt when you're actually riding a bike you're not doing it right, but the pain should diminish considerably within minutes of getting off your bike. On the 400 qualifier I started too fast and developed some knee pain which was due to inflammation of the structures that help the tendons slide smoothly over the knee when it is bent (pre-patellar bursitis). It didn't affect the ride too much: I was still able to finish in good time, and make a dash for the last train home. I took it easy for a week: it settled down.
Apart from this, I have suffered very little. On the 600 it rained and I developed some chafing in my groins which was due to wearing damp lycra. I treated this with sunblock lotion at the time, which was all there was to hand, and it worked OK, but the best thing for it is Vaseline. On the 1200 I put some Vaseline on my groins, perineum and scrotum after every shower and had absolutely no problems whatsoever. Perhaps the most serious problem I developed in the 600 and 1200k events was numb 3rd and 4th toes on each foot, due to prolonged local pressure on the digital nerves as they pass under the arch of the foot. This has happened with two different sets of shoes, and I haven't managed to solve it yet. Presumably there is some combination of shoe, insole, cleat and pedal will prevent it, but I haven't worked out what that is yet. The numbness wears off over the next few weeks, and doesn't really interfere with my quality of life in any way, so it doesn't worry me too much. On the 1200k ride I also started to develop a blister on my right fifth toe which I managed to avert with vaseline, sticking plaster, and changing to thinner socks.
Because of theft of one of the recumbents I did attempt a 600 on a regular touring machine. This was actually going fairly well from the physical point of view. I was feeling very strong at 200k, and my strategy of always making ten revolutions out of the saddle before dropping into a lower gear on any ascent was keeping my bum in fine fettle. Unfortunately my rear derrailleur mechanism fell apart at 220k on a steep descent and I lost a jockey wheel. I managed to bodge 4 gears by swopping the remaining jockey wheel into the position of the one that was lost, but the loss of precise choice of cadence was putting a lot of strain on my knees, and I had lost all of my time cushion trying to fix it. By the time I was got to the 300k control I was getting a bit of neck and shoulder pain, but I think it would have remained manageable if I'd been able to carry on for other reasons. Unfortunately, though not unreasonably, no one in the control had a spare rear mech, so I decided to pack.
"The game has many subtleties," said the guru, when he heard my story, and this result was proof that although cycling a long distance seems to a straight forward matter, there are many ways in which things can go wrong. Almost all mechanical problems on a bike can be anticipated and prevented by careful inspection, and because I'd taken the bike in a rush this hadn't happened. I'd noticed a bit of clicking and clunking in the changes on the few kilometres before the jockey wheel fell off, and I'd taken a few minutes at the previous control to check things over, but I failed to make the diagnosis. It was an instructive episode.
Talking of failure, the only other time I failed to make the time was due to getting lost. Cycling in the wrong direction is a surefire way to reduce your velocity in an Audax event. Stopping and starting to read the map is tiring and reduces your average speed. Most regular Audaxers have some sort of clipboard on their bars, and often laminating their routesheets to make them weatherproof. On a recumbent slinging a map case round your neck seems to be the best bet.
©Douglas Carnall 1999