After last year’s efforts with Cashman to cycle the 55 miles from London to Brighton and a still unresolved achilles tendonitis issue preventing me from playing hockey or running properly, I decided in a fit of euphoria to enter the ballot for 100 miles of cycling around London.
After entering the ballot, all expectation of actually getting a place evaporated as I read how over subscribed the event was and subsequently my enthusiasm for cycling in the winter cold and wet also dissipated. It was a surprise then when in darkest February I received a letter to confirm that I had won a place…. panic!
I had completed one moderate cycle in February around my normal route of 32 miles and all my cycling fitness had gone! I even had to be rescued by Sarah in Amersham in the freezing cold rain with a calf strain as I couldn’t go on any further, 100 miles seemed a daunting prospect even if it wasn’t until 4th August. My training started by accident in Australia over Easter with my best buddy Charlie, who coaxed me out on some stunning cycle rides around Sydney. However, I was still struggling to get up to just 20 miles even with his encouragement!
Further setbacks to my training schedule involved many trips down to Eastbourne over the spring to help my parents out, then some wet weather. All in all, I fell way behind with training, unlike the previous year, and was having serious doubts about whether to actually go ahead with the race. My philosophy with most things in life is to do them to the best of my ability, and just ‘getting round’ isn’t good enough. In the end, Sarah and occasional cycling buddy, Finchy convinced me to press ahead, not least because it is so difficult to obtain an entry.
The difference between cycling and running is that you have to set aside much more time to burn the same amount of calories, and training for 100 miles was a lot of time to set aside each weekend and weekday evenings. However, I knuckled down and decided after a couple of trips to the stunning Ivinghoe Beacon route to have a go at more of the Chiltern Cycleway. One trip was over to Harpendon and the other past High Wycombe and to Henley.
The one around Wycombe (below) was particularly challenging, not least as my left brake / gear change came loose and was almost unusable. What I did find from both of these long rides was just how hilly the Chiltern Hills are – constant up and down, but the stunning beauty of the scenery…
So by the time of the event, I’d completed a few long rides, though nowhere near the full 100 miles, but my training had been more than enough to cope with the Surrey Hills. My plan on the day was to do a quick pace to the Surrey Hills, get over them and then fall over the other side and hang on as best I could for the last 20 or so miles to the end. When I had started training, my objective was to hit 6 hours, an average of over 16 mph, something I hadn’t achieved in any training rides.
To help put my mind at rest during the ride, I had my bike serviced and prepared by the superb Rob at Chiltern Velo / Old Amersham Cycle Workshop. A great service by him in a beautiful part of the world made my bike feel as good as when I first bought it. I did find it mildly amusing that i’d slightly buckled both wheels (which he straightened) thanks to the non maintenance of Bucks roads and all the potholes!
Registration at Excel
Before we could do anything, I had to get up to the Excel to the pre ride exhibition and pick up my registration pack containing all my chipped numbers and bits and bobs to attach to the bike. In addition to a wealth of information on the ride itself of course, there was also a lot of stands with nutrition / food products, biking holidays, huge Evans shop and also a try out for Zwift (which I have subsequently signed up to). It was the first time I’d been to the Excel for a while and it seemed to have been upgraded a bit – I’d forgotten how picturesque the settings are with the Thames right by it. We went up on the Friday morning which was probably a lot quieter than the Saturday and it was a breeze to pick everything up.
Event Day 4th August 2019
Fortunately, the day itself was a perfect day for cycling, not too warm, slightly overcast and minimal chance of rain (though it did shower at about 80 miles in). I got up at 4.15am, forced down some porridge then some pre- prepared pancakes. I was already coursing with adrenaline and stuffing down so many calories was quite tricky. Sarah then drove me round to the start line at Stratford as the sun was rising at 5 ready to find my starting pen at 6am.
It was a long slow walk up to the start line, my nerves were compounded by the early morning chill particularly in the shaded areas, but eventually I was off at 7.25am. The incredible rush and feeling of speed I had as we set out on flat London roads, straight onto a 3 lane highway, through tunnels and not a single car to worry about was fabulous. I tried to stick to my race strategy and moved along nicely until I reached the first hill. I also tried to follow my friend’s advice of slip streaming other cyclists, though I just couldn’t get the hang of finding someone who was going exactly the same speed as me.
The speed of some of the sections was exhilerating and amazing, but the large mix of ability of cyclists was also slightly unnerving with generally speaking the inexperienced riders hugging the left, moderate cyclists (where I found myself generally) in the middle and the quick cyclists often in convoy on the right of the roads. This was all fine until we left London and the roads suddenly squeezed in width with some sharp turns. There were three of four accidents where ambulances were in attendance and looked painful where I’m guessing the different speeds and inexperience going round corners meant a collision or two with inexperienced riders drifting further into the middle.
The first hill, Newland Corner I managed with ease after all the training in the Chiltern Hills. Things became much tougher as my legs tired and I climbed Leith Hill and then Box Hill. Leith Hill was so busy, we were held up by marshals for around 15 minutes whilst they tried to ease the congestion. I heard from friends who cycled later that this was closed and a route around the base was in operation instead.
Box Hill was stunning in its beauty and I’d quite like to visit again (in a car), however, I was busy concentrating on getting my increasingly tired legs up to the top, a top that just kept going and going!
By the time I whizzed down Box Hill, my legs were spent and it was becoming quite uncomfortable sitting, I was thirsty and hanging on, exactly my plan from the start! The last few miles through Kingston, Wimbledon then central London I was just concentrating on keeping going. Everyone said beware of Wimbledon Hill, but it wasn’t too tricky to get up, though we were held there for a while too. I knew I was tired at this point though as I chatted to someone on a Brompton who then just cruised away from me on my road bike!
Elated, I finally crossed the line and I wandered through to Green Park to meet Sarah, Becca and Jamie where the magnitude of what I’d achieved got through to me. The organisation there was a bit odd as a lot of the areas seemed to be just for sponsored riders eg the Amstel tent which after seeing all their advertising around the course I was really looking forward to a cold pint of lager, but we weren’t allowed in!! The Brighton cycle ride seemed to be much better than this post ride operation oddly. However, exhausted I got back into the car and we got home and wandered up the pub with Molly for a pint of Birra Moretti instead!
I had a fabulous experience and would recommend it to anyone, though I won’t be doing it again! One of the oddest memories I have for the last 20 miles or so was being so thirsty but not wanting to drink the water prepared with electrolytes and just wanting a cold plain water. I think my body was sick of all the sugary gels, bars and other crap I’d pumped into it to make it through the journey with enough calories. My Fitbit recorded me doing over 6,000 calories that day!
So what next? Well I had pencilled in doing the London to Paris as the final part of my trilogy of Brighton / London then Paris, but I’ll not be doing that for the foreseeable future. Sarah has quite rightly suggested we can catch a train there instead! I’d like to cycle up the Union Canal to Birmingham still, though when R & J have finished school and make it a mini holiday. So my current targets are to stay fit, break my 5k running PB (about 21.45 I think) at Parkrun and that is it! I have off the back of all this bought an indoor cycling set up and as mentioned above subscribed to Zwift.