August 8, 2013 at 4:30
Posted by Rachael Woolston
Soooo relieved to be off that seat!
Four weeks of last minute training (but thanks for the place Virginactive.co.uk) combined with an event information sheet that made getting to the start line seem as tricky as getting into Fort Knox, saw me awake early but not bright eyed (a 5am wake up call, thank god I was in wave R, not A) for last weekend’s inaugural Ride London.
A 100 mile cycle sportive, from the Olympic Park out to the North Downs via the deadly, thigh-sapping hills of Leith and Box Hill, and back to Pall Mall, all on closed roads, it had received 50,000 entries for only 20,000 places.
It was a hot ticket but at that time of the morning, realisaton dawning that four training rides was little preparation, I was half considering giving my ‘hot seat’ away.
But with my cycle jersey weighed down with sweets, malt loaf and two bagels with peanut butter and banana , I set off from the Mercure Greenwich hotel (perfect location if you need to overnight in London beforehand – ask for the top floor…stunning views) to be dropped off at the pre-booked ‘drop off’ point by the Blackwall Tunnel.
It was nice to see I was not the only one doing the ride alone, as various partners bid their other half’s goodbye.
A three mile ride to the Olympic stadium reminded me how to use my cleats again and my anxiety slowly vanished as the excitement at being part of such an incredible event took hold.
With 16,000 riders actually taking part, start times were split into waves, and so as I was cycling there, others were whizzing past in the other direction in perfectly formed pelotons.
It meant that by the time I arrived at the Olympic Stadium, Anish Kapoor’s iconic Orbit etched against the sky, I was both excited and terrified again. Would I fall at the start line? Or commit some terrible cyclist’s faux pas?
My fears were not helped by the fact that the announcer set off every wave with the words, ‘No one has fallen yet. If you’re the first, it will be on Youtube in seconds with millions of hits.’
Thankfully, as the starting gun went off, I managed to cycle myself away from the start line amongst a packed group of cyclists without embarrassing myself.
From the off, peletons formed and sped off, cycling at scary speeds. I was tempted to try and tag on to one but didn’t know how.
If you’ve never been in a cycling pack, it is an intimidating thing. For the next five miles, I observed the signalling of the cyclists flashing past and then decided to throw myself in at the deep end.
Catching on to a peloton, I began pistoning my legs furiously. It was worth it.
According to statistics, the reduction in drag can be up to 40%. It certainly felt like it as I whoosed through the car-free streets, out through east London, only dimly aware of the iconic sights of my home city.
Road biking is not like running, where you have time to take in your environment. Do that in a peloton and you could find yourself in a mass pile up.
The first 40 miles, out through west London to Richmond Park and beyond passed in a flash. Determined to power on, my first stop was at Newlands Corner almost half way through the ride.
Here there were water stations and the chance to wolf down one of my bagels. Along the way, I’d been taking handfuls of salted trail mix, combined with fruit pastilles and chocolate drops. I don’t like manufactured sports supplements but in a bike race they may be useful simply for ease of eating while on the bike.
Feeling revived I headed out to face the first of the ascents, Leith Hill which make up the 4,325 feet of vertical climb of this event.
It was carnage, with people walking their bikes up the side of the road, but I clung on, out of my seat, pumping my legs to be rewarded by a snail’s pace.
But my spirits were lifted to see two teeny thirty something girls flying up the hill, a few men trying, and largely failing, to draft behind them.
It was nevertheless disappointing to see how few women were riding, a shocking 3,578 to 13,688. Still those two girls (thanks ladies!) kept me going to to the top where I slumped into my seat, my shoulders and neck aching more than anything else.
At that point, all that kept me going was the thought of seeing my friend at 60miles, and my boyfriend who’d promised he would be at the top of Box Hill.
Cycling 100 miles is a strange thing. At times absolutely inspiring and heart pumping, leg burningly hard in a good way. At other times, incredibily monotonous, nothing but the sound of wheels on tarmac and your own breath.
I stopped again just before Dorking, wolfing down my remaining bagel, feeling smug that I hadn’t sucummbed to energy gels as one man stumbled out of the Portaloo, looking green and complaining to his cycle buddies.
Then I was off, alas flying blind as my Garmin watch had decided to give up the ghost. But I felt comfortable with signalling and had learnt that the best thing I could do was draft behind any big, fast moving blokes passing.
I was so in the zone, my brain slightly switched off from anything but cycling that I ended up passing my friend in a flash, both of us looking startled at suddenly seeing and missing each other.
In one way, it was a good thing as my neck was painful from being scrunched up and I knew Box Hill was just around the corner.
Thankfully, in the only long training ride I’d done, I had cycled Box Hill and hadn’t found it too bad. Still, I was relieved to stop when my boyfriend came into sight at the top of the hill, the wind blowing furiously. Then again…
Meeting your partner’s mum for the first time is never going to be easy. But meeting them having cycled 65 miles and being incoherent from lack of food, barely able to stand is a whole new ball game.
Trying to be polite, charming and chatty while simultaneously sucking down orange segments, the pith sticking in my teeth and juice runing down my chin was not a good look.
I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to motivate myself to get back on the bike. Until they told me Boris Johnson had only just passed.
With just 35 miles left to go, I was off but beginning to worry how my body would react in the final stages.
I’m used to running marathons. I know how to avoid bonking. But I didn’t know what was going to happen on the bike.
I hit a low point just past Leatherhead when the ride just seemed such a slog and I was bored. I pulled over to the side, drank some more water and necked some more sweets.
I forced myself back on the bike, feeling I had nothing left in my legs but to trundle along. That was until two men, both wearing Stroke Association charity tops, who were drafting for each other sped past. I tucked in behind them and it was the best thing I could have done.
Whoever you guys were, thank you. They were fast, and it spurred me on to find reserves of energy and a sprint which I’d thought was beyond me.
I don’t think they ever realised I was behind them. Nor did I realise that I’d picked up 20 cyclists behind me until I wondered why people were cheering furiously as we swept through Kingston in a big, speeding snake of a steel and carbon fibre.
Inevitably the peloton dispersed and I was left, feeling like I’d been spat out the end of a vortex.
But at last, the 95 mile mark came into view. Like marathon running though, those last five miles seemed to go on forever.
Even though we were cycling past the Houses of Parliament, I was beyond caring. My butt hurt, my neck was screaming for relief from being hunched over and I just wanted to be off the bike.
But as I turned the corner into Pall Mall to the roar of the crowds, it was an absolute thrill to start pumping my legs one last time as I dashed towards Buckingham Palace, overwhelmed anew at being part of such an incredible event.
I was thrilled. I’d managed to overtake Boris and I’d finished in 6 hours 18mins, a good two hours faster than predicted.
I’m a big believer in the fact that you should push yourself outside your comfort zones and do something new to make yourself feel alive. RideLondon was certainly that and it really IS achievable for anyone who puts their mind to it.
So come on girls, registration for Ride London 2014 opens soon. I’d love to see an all female peloton flying through the streets.
Things you only learn when doing a 100mile cycle spotive but would be really good to know before…
1. You need cycle gloves. I purchased some the day before. They were untested but the gel pads saved my wrists and hands. The negative? I should have worn them on a ride beforehand. I’ve got chunky fingters which swell when I exercise, so they effectively worked as a torquinet around my little sausages.
2. A bike seat hurts at 80miles. Do women’s seats make a difference? I wished I’d tried one.
3. You may feel like you’re wearing a weight vest with all that food in your jersey but you really need it. Practise getting your food out while cycling. Alternatively, channel our inner Charlie’s Angels and practise ‘drawing’ your banana.
4. By 60 miles, the only thing you want to eat is a white bread sandwich with Marmite.
5. That cycle race photos really can be AS BAD as running ones. Don’t blow out a hard breath when passing a photographer. You look like a horse curling back its lips.
Incredible organisation that made everything, from picking up the race pack to the goodie bag at the end seamless
Brilliant visual outline of the route with the gradient displayed which you could sign your name to at the Expo
Good, chunky medal
Boris Johnson. Love or loathe him and his politics, he got out there on the bike seat and did it too.