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I plan to attempt my first super randonneur series in the first half of next year. Picking a 200k and 300k are easy: I'll just ride my local ones (End of Hibernation 200 and Hauxton 300). And 600k is easy too: the Seething ride is easy to get to, and has a great reputation.

But which 400k should I attempt? The closest to me is the ride from Manningtree, but that's an unsupported event and it's not really all that close. If I'm going to travel, maybe it would better to enter one of the "classics" like the Irish Mail or the Llanfairpwllgwyn? I'm a pretty good climber, but not particularly fast.

So I'd appreciate some advice from experienced randonneurs.

If you're not familiar with the Audax UK calendar, then I'd still be interested in your advice in general terms: what characteristics of a 400 give the greatest chance of success (and enjoyment!) for a new rider? If I'm going to be too slow to sleep for more than an hour or two on route, does it matter that there are no sleep stops? How much of a difference do manned controls make, as opposed to self-service controls at ATMs and 24-hour garages? What about scenery and amount of climbing?

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I think that to be reopened it needs to be a little less overtly specific, but as a general request for users' advice about a particular type of event, this sort of question has distinct merit. –  Unsliced Nov 12 '10 at 12:27
    
I can only give you the problem I have! But I was expecting that randonneurs would give general advice and then I could try to apply it to my problem. –  Gareth Rees Nov 12 '10 at 12:42
    
@Gareth - This may help explain why the question was closed: Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. –  Neil Fein Nov 12 '10 at 14:25
    
@Gareth - Thanks, that's a nice revision. It clarifies the question immensely and it's now easier to see what you're asking. I added a randonneuring tag, not sure if we specifically need an audax one. (Let's discuss in meta if that's an important distinction.) Also, if my title revision isn't working, please feel free to roll back. –  Neil Fein Nov 12 '10 at 14:33
    
Well, "audax" is what we call it in the UK. If this site is mainly for Americans, then I suppose, it's fair enough to translate the term. (But you ought to create a tag synonym.) –  Gareth Rees Nov 12 '10 at 14:52
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I've completed a handful of 400km brevets and organized one myself, but I can only speak to my experience in British Columbia (Canada) which is quite different riding than in the UK. I find the 400km to be the hardest in the basic series and have heard other randonneurs (but not all) echo this feeling, so you're wise to choose this one carefully.

The biggest difference vs. the 300km is that most riders will spend a significant time of riding in the dark. This depends on rider speed and time of year but it's not unusual to spend at least 100km in darkness. Riding at night adds many additional challenges, including colder temperatures, sleep deprivation, difficulty navigating (signs are very easy to miss, landmarks disappear) and trouble finding fueling stops open at such a late hour. That last point is important because calorie intake is critical on a 400km -- you can skimp on a 200km and even a 300km and still finish, but when you're cold and tired and sleep deprived after 20 hours on the bike, bonking comes very easily.

So as a new rider, I'd suggest looking for a few things:

  • A straightforward route that doesn't involve lots of turns or route-finding in the last 100km.
  • Don't pick an "epic" route for your first 400km or 600km brevet. You will be surprised how tired your legs get after 300km when otherwise easy hills transform into steep ones.
  • Don't pick a boring route either. Long-distance riding is very tough on the mind and it helps to have scenery to look at and the occasional hill to break up the rhythm. But keep in mind that scenery doesn't really matter after dark -- all you'll see is the patch of road in front of you.
  • The ideal route uses low-traffic roads in good condition, and avoids crossing major cities/towns.
  • Plan out where you could stop in the second half of the ride for food: staffed controls (preferably with hot food like soup), pubs serving food late, all-night restaurants, and 24h gas stations & convenience stores. You should also plan on bringing food with you in case these options don't work out.
  • I've never seen a sleep stop on a 400km (like the "Irish Mail"). On a 600km you normally don't build up enough of a time buffer to stop for a nap until around the 350km mark. At same point on a 400km, you're less than 3 hours from the finish anyway. Unless you know you don't handle sleep deprivation well, a sleep stop is not a must. You can always bring an emergency blanket and curl up under a tree or in a field if you're desperate for a nap.
  • Don't underestimate the importance of getting to the start. You'll be more likely to ride something that's easy to get to, and will appreciate it even more when you have to make your way back home afterwards.

A few comments on the ride descriptions you posted:

  • Asparagus & Strawberries: not much information posted, although the climbing (2600m) looks reasonable; being close to home is a plus.
  • Irish Mail: sounds like fun, hot food & sleep stop at 345km, easy navigation on return route, but lots of climbing (5600m).
  • LGL / Poynton 400km: mentions easy night navigation, 24h services; bonus points for the name.
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Thanks for your excellent advice. Summer nights are not so big a problem at these northern latitudes—in late May in England or Wales there's less than 6 hours of complete darkness. I'm currently learning towards the Llanfairpwllgwyn as a compromise between scenery and total ascent. Navigation should be straightforward on the return leg (keep the sea to the left and the mountains to the right). –  Gareth Rees Nov 15 '10 at 10:28
    
Don't want to be picky, I assume that 'less than 3 hours from the finish' should be more less than 250km from the end of a 600km, but am interested in how much less? –  Duncan McGregor Apr 3 '11 at 20:08
    
@Duncan: I was looking at the time buffer built up on a 600km and comparing that to a 400km. On a 600km, you wouldn't normally sleep until the 350km mark because that's when you have a decent time buffer built up. If you apply that to the 400km (since the time limits are based on the same 15km/h minimum speed), taking a nap around the 350km mark doesn't make much sense unless you can't go on. With only 50km to go, you should be able to finish in less than 3 hours. –  darkcanuck Apr 3 '11 at 22:43
    
Wow, it's a whole new world up there! I thought that I was doing well with 7x200km last year - I can see that there are even bigger challenges. –  Duncan McGregor Apr 4 '11 at 7:19
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