If you’ve been anywhere near any social media of mine recently, you just might have noticed that Sunday, 30th of July, was the big day. RideLondon had arrived.
This came exactly 160 days after purchasing a bike, and with exactly (approximately) 1157 miles in the (saddle) bag according to Strava. Everyone had been asking me in the couple of weeks leading up to the big day, do you feel ready? And the honest answer was, no. Absolutely not. But that wasn’t going to stop me trying.
Aims for the days were as follows:
- Do not get caught by the sweep vehicle (make the 8.5 hour cut off)
- Do not crash
- Do not walk up any of the hills
- Do not get a puncture
I was feeling more confident about some of these aims than others, but you’ll see how I got on (such a tease I know).
So, the big day. Whilst my starting wave was a lot later than most (8:28am), this still meant a fairly early morning! The alarm went at 5, and after getting changed, bibs on, world championship socks on (motivation), other clothes for decency on, I was out the door at 5:45 with porridge in my belly and heading for Highbury and Islington for my train down to Stratford.
What ensued was an awful lot of waiting, waiting at the station – nervy small talk with other riders, waiting for our wave to start loading – nervy small talk with other riders, drinking a double espresso (yes really), waiting in the loading pen, waiting moving closer to the start line…you get it, there was a lot of waiting around.
Finally this was it, somehow I was right at the front of my wave so was right on the starting line, and with a sound of a horn we were off at exactly 8:28 (kudos to the excellent organisation by RideLondon themselves). This was what I’d been training for and we were finally on the road!
The first 30 odd miles flew by (minus a quick stop for a wee in Richmond – too much early morning waiting), I’d been far more organised than I normally am with my food (performance wise definitely made a difference!), with energy bars chopped up ready for me to grab every half an hour or so, new top tube bag doing a stellar job (game changer – if you’re having long days in the saddle and find extracting food from jersey pockets a little challenging on the move, thoroughly recommend).
As we headed out of London and into Surrey I knew West Byfleet was coming up, and I was looking forward to hopefully spotting the brass ensemble I was part of growing up playing on the course. Luckily I timed my passing with a time they were in action, (I heard them before I saw them!) so managed to get a wave in to Surrey Advanced Brass half way through a rendition of Eye of the Tiger. Great job guys, I’m sure a lot of the other riders enjoyed the boost your music gave!
Not long after I reached my first planned stop, mile 38 and Pyrford, water topped up, little sit on the floor and texts to confirm I was still doing ok sent, I was back on the road. As I headed off I was feeling a little nervy, as we were about to enter the hilliest section of the course. First stop of note – mile 48 and Newlands Corner, then Leith Hill at 55 and Box Hill at 60, with a few others thrown about in between. I’d been out to Newlands before so knew what to expect with that one, however, the day I was meant to test out all the others I was in bed with food poisoning, so was just going to have to wing the others!
Newlands Corner was a different experience to the day I did it fighting cars, this time the bikes were the issue! A lot of traffic over all over the road gave the added challenge of weaving around people to keep moving forward, the whole ‘faster on the right, slower on the left’ concept seemingly abandoned on this one. A lot of shouts of ‘on your right!’ and ‘on your left!’ later, and one new friend gained, a man in his 60s who I bumped into about 3 more times through the Surrey section, hill no. 1 was over, and I wasn’t feeling too knackered.
As we approached Leith Hill, my mind was full of the various bits of chat people had given me about this one:
“It’s much worse than Box Hill”…“It’s not that long, well actually it does go on a bit”…”It’s fairly straight, apart from the corner”…”It’s quite hard work”…”You think it’s over and it kicks up again”
I knew this was going to be the biggest test of original aim no. 3, no walking up hills. I was pleasantly surprised to have seen many people already abandoning their bikes for a walk up Newlands Corner, giving me the impression I wasn’t the worst hill climber in all the kingdom, something fairly reassuring.
Now, maybe I’m just a cycling fresher with a heavier bike than some and legs that are not made of steel, but Leith was HARD. I did indeed keep thinking it was over when it was not, and I was glad to be blissfully unaware how long that was going on for, because if I had known, I’m fairly confident I would have abandoned ship in the early stages, not believing I could make it to the top. A nice reminder that once again, mind gives up well before the bod does (that quote from @JessFaw that keeps coming back).
Getting to the signs at the top of Leith confirming that indeed, this was actually the top, was a wonderful moment, leaving me feeling on top of the
world county. It is the highest point in Surrey don’t you know. I was SUPER pleased and felt like that was it, hard work over, I’ve basically done ride London now cool (45 miles to go…).
Next challenge – Box Hill, this, as a result of being in the London 2012 Olympic Road race, has gained far more infamy than it probably deserves. I’d been reassured by the famous Glaswegian words of my friend Anna, that Box is in fact, “a piece of piss”.
Turns out she’s right. Maybe it was as a result of coming after Leith, but weirdly, I really enjoyed Box Hill. The road surface is incredible (thank you Olympics #olympiclegacy #inspireageneration), it zig zags about so for a moment you think you’re nailing an alpine climb, and there are lovely views of the Surrey Hills, all while being a very manageable gradient.
Towards the top of Box I realised I had punctured. Cool. So at the summit (metres from the top of the Strava segment gah Louise why) I set about sorting that out, somehow managing to avoid replacing my back wheel myself, by stopping near the mechanics van, so was not completely covered in oil for the rest of the day. In a weird way, I was actually quite glad I punctured…hear me out. This was something I was irrationally worried about happening (in the early stages of training I was SURE if I punctured I wouldn’t make the time limit), however the fact it happened, and wasn’t really an issue, was good news indeed.
Water refilled and I was on my way again, coming out of the hills and onto flatter terrain things were going along nicely, with the prospect of maybe see ing my parents in Kingston at mile 85 on my mind. Even with some technological failings, Mum and Dad spotted me, and I spotted them, which spurred me along as I entered unchartered territory in terms of mileage, and began to think reaching the finish line was a reality.
Final blip to overcome was Wimbledon Hill, not a difficult climb (or climb at all) by anyone’s standards, but falling at mile 92 it was a short test of the legs, driven on by the cheering crowds, a big help!
From then on it was downhill to the finish, you could see it on everyone’s faces at this point that it was nearly over, paces were beginning to quicken and smiles were exchanged as the adventure was nearly over. A bonus spot of a couple of friends from work in Vauxhall made the last few miles even more pleasureable. Coming back into central London the crowds grew, the sights came into sight and the Mall beckoned. Down past Westminster, round the corner and that was it, the red tarmac of the finishing straight. Being the emotional human I am I was trying to hold back the tears to avoid ruining the official photos. Listening to the crowds and heading down towards Buckingham Palace is not something I will forget anytime soon, embarrassing fist pump across the line (#sorrynotsorry – maybe I did win a stage of the Tour de France who are you to say I didn’t) done and it was all over. Finished in 7 hours and 10 minutes. And the medal was large. And then I had a picnic.
Summary of aims:
- Do not get caught by the sweep vehicle (make the 8.5 hour cut off) ✅
- Do not crash ✅
- Do not walk up any of the hills ✅
- Do not get a puncture ❌ – MADE THIS A POSITIVE IT’S OK
It was a journey and a half but I loved it. In the 5 months since my foray into cycling began I’ve been introduced to new joys, new pains, new kit, new friends, new failures and new successes, but it’s all been amazing. At the same time, fundraising for Refuge has been an absolute JOY, I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to do something like this, to raise a little money to help their incredible work. Current total is £690, particular shout out to the mystery donor who gave 100 big ones and is calling themselves Sir Bradley Wiggins. Whoever you are, and I have no idea, thank you! If you’ve been meaning to and have forgotten, or feel a sudden wave of generosity, let this be my last plug for doing a little to make a big difference to those who have suffered domestic violence pretty please and thank you – click here to donate 🙂 THANK YOU
As a side note, if you’re somewhat intrigued to do something similar, be it get on a bike for the first time ever/a long time, put yourself into the ballot for RideLondon or a completely unrelated physical challenge, if you’re anything like me maybe you have doubts whether you’re strong enough, fit enough, brave enough, basically anything-enough, let me reassure you, you are. I don’t write any of these things to make it look like I did an impressive thing – nearly 25,000 other people did the same that day, I ain’t special, but I hope it is maybe a little encouragement, that with a little bit of determination, some supportive mates who tell you you are not mad and that you can do it, a lot is possible. GO FOR IT BECAUSE YOU CAN! (Happy to chat if you want me to tell you you can in person)
Another side note is that if you are London (or Bristol, they’ve expanded and to the greatest of cities!)-based and want to get involved in cycling with a fun and supportive group of people, I can’t recommend going for a ride with Dirty Wknd enough. Genuinely not sure what I would have done in terms of getting enough miles in without their great rides and great bants.
So all that is left for me to say, is a big thank you. Thanks to everyone who has donated, you’re all gems. Thanks to everyone who’s ridden with me, wished me good luck, told me they’re proud of me, or just offered some kind words on the days I thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew, I couldn’t have done it without you guys and I’m so grateful!