Last weekend my friend Rob and I cycled the Dunwich Dynamo, an annual exercise in mass masochism where more than a thousand people cycle a 120 mile route overnight from London Fields to Dunwich in Suffolk.
Neither of us had done anything like this before. The furthest I’d ever gone in one day was 45 miles, but I’d heard it wasn’t all that hard so we went for it. As the day got nearer I read all the comments by seasoned Dun-runners on the Facebook group and started to get doubts. Energy gels? Tongue-in-cheek rules about getting through the pain?
This post is for anyone in my position, intrigued but unsure, and perhaps halfway through and (like Rob and me) really regretting their folly. Because it felt terrible at times, but by the end, and days later, I am so very happy I did it.
I read every sort of advice, from getting in four or five 50+ mile bike rides in the weekends leading up to the ride, to the easy-going “you’ll be fine!”
I commute on my bike, in fact I go just about everywhere on bike. So I typically cycle six or seven miles a day. Not a lot, but enough to keep my legs working a little.I have done a few rides of 30-45 miles in the past, which were really very easy, but nothing since April. I still felt sufficiently prepared for the length.
My cycling in south London does occasionally involve some hills, which are the bit you’re best off preparing for. If you live in flat town, flatsborough, try to find some way of cycling up and down some moderate hills. Climbing them can be really hard work if you’re not used to it, and easy peasy given it’s only Essex and Suffolk) if you are. Probably half of the route feels like you’re constantly climbing and descending little hills, so it’s worth some preparation.
The hardest bit was believing we could do it.
Through Essex we were surrounded by small groups of racing friends and various larger cycling clubs, who all seemed to speed to the next pub, rest and take on some water, then speed on to the next. This meant we were constantly being overtaken, which I found a bit demoralising but which didn’t bother Rob.
He was more afflicted by pain in his legs, the constant up and down climbing through Essex, and the terribly slow progress you seem to be making when you count every mile.
So in no particular order, my three top tips are:
- Don’t take a GPS or any means of seeing how far you are, and try to follow others rather than referring to the route description, just focus on moving. Looking at my phone at our location at 1am was the most demoralising part of the ride.
- Stick with a friend, because it’s a lot more fun than being on your own and hoping to chat to strangers (who often then speed off) and you can look after each other
- Take it easy, don’t worry about stopping for sugary tea and rest stops (see timing below)
We left at 8.30pm, so we had a nice stretch out of London in reasonable light and with a lot of people ahead of and behind us.
As we slowed down into Essex and were constantly overtaken I got a bit nervous about being too slow, which made me reluctant to stop too often. I even started to worry that we might miss the coaches, which was a characteristically stupid and pointless worry.
In the end we cruised down to the beach at 8am, hours before the coaches and after the sun had risen meaning we got to relax and soak up the sun rather than being in a rush or having to sit on a cold dark beach for hours.
These are some of our milestones, they’re pretty rough guesses but give you an idea of how well you’re getting on if, like me, you’re prone to worrying:
- 9pm – into Essex
- midnight – Braintree
- 2am – midway hall for soup
- 4am – cruising through the “Suffolk prairies” as the sun rises
- 6am – stopping for tea into the “silly Suffolk” section
- 8am – arrive at Dunwich beach
I knew people who arrived hours before us, and others were drifting in at nine as we polished off our breakfast. Do it at your own pace and enjoy it.
Any old bike will do, just make sure it’s in good working order. My commuter hybrid needed lube on the chain so I squeaked the whole 120 miles, but was otherwise absolutely fine. I saw sleek racers, folding bikes, tandems, recumbents, everything really.
When I got to London Fields all I could see was lycra. Lycra and local trendy haircuts. Lycra is probably comfortable, but it’s not for me. I got on just fine wearing a normal shirt and shorts, with some thermal longjohns and a jumper as night drew in (it did get quite chilly) and some spare undies just in case.
Between myself and Rob we had a good supply of water, energy drink, bananas, dried fruit, chocolate raisins and rich tea biscuits. We also got the soup, bacon sarnies and sugary tea available en route. Rob’s theory was not to line our stomachs with a lump of dried fruit and sloshing water, so we ate a bit of everything as we went. Variety is definitely nice.
Try to enjoy it
It seemed impossible in Essex, intimidating as we crossed into Suffolk, and a gruelling breeze as we hit the “silly Suffolk” hills in the last thirty miles. I was ready to quit in Braintree, Rob asked me to kill him when we hit those hills. Throughout most of the ride we were adamant we’d never do it again. But we made it. You can too.
I really, really enjoyed cycling through the flatter part of Suffolk as the sun rose. It’s beautiful countryside peppered with lovely homes and picture perfect medieval Suffolk villages. I also had some fun conversations with strangers, and really enjoyed some of the tea stops.
You’ll find your own source of solace as those legs burn, and when you get to the beach you’ll definitely start to feel more than a little bit proud
After you’ve had a moment to relax on the beach and wolf down a large cooked breakfast, you might even reconsider whether you’d do it again.