At 2am on Sunday morning I was staring out of the window watching the rain come down in sheets. It was so loud it woke me up. It was the worst rain I had seen in a very long time and it was far from ideal.
Just two hours later my alarm went off, but my heavy heart subsided with a quick glance outside. The rain had stopped and it looked fairly promising. It was going to be a good day.
Just before 5am, after forcing some porridge down, I hopped on my bike and set off into the sunrise towards the Olympic Park. I didn’t really know where I was going but I soon saw plenty of other cyclists heading the same way. Following everyone else, I made the 12 mile journey to the start line taking in an eerily quiet Rotherhithe tunnel which was closed to cars.
Getting into the start area was easy, there were loads of signs, loads of toilets and plenty of space. Luckily I bumped into my friend Laura so I had a pal to share my last minute worries with. She had sandwiches and chicken nuggets…I did not. Our start time was 7:24am and, although we still had an hour to go, it flew by.
With credit to the organisers, the start was a military operation with each wave going off bang on time, I don’t know how many waves there were, but c.30,000 riders left the park at roughly 6 minute intervals over 4 hours. It was an impressive set up.
Stage 1: Miles 1-25: The Jolly Bit
For the first 25 miles I felt great. The air was cool and dry, everyone was in great spirits and I was pleasantly surprised that, not only was there more space around me than I was expecting, people were (mostly) riding considerately. There were even some Rider Safety Captains.
After riding through London, I got a big cheer from Darren in Richmond Park, and we headed to the first ‘hub’ near Hampton Court. As I’m really bad at drinking and riding at the same time, let alone eating, I took the opportunity to stop.
The hubs exceeded my expectations, there were tables and tables piled with bananas, Cliff Bars, gels, Shot Bloks and Graze snack boxes, as well as loads of water and electrolyte tablets. There were toilets aplenty, and medical and mechanical help if needed. The volunteers were all super friendly and happy, especially given the fact they had an earlier start than me!
Stage 2: Miles 26-48: The Learning Curve Bit
The next section posed some challenges. I hadn’t been eating anywhere near enough and I was feeling it. Ruth had told me repeatedly that I needed to constantly scoff my face but I didn’t realise that meant literally. A Cliff bar at the start line and a gel at the hub just wasn’t enough. Somewhere around 40 miles I was feeling ropey and decided that if I had to stop every few miles to make sure I ate something, that was what needed to happen.
The Surrey countryside, with its beautiful views, was upon us now, and just before the second hub at mile 48 there was a fairly short, but fairly steep climb. I was glad I had taken on some extra fuel (GU Stroopwafles for the win by the way).
At the hub at Newlands Corner, I took a longer time out, ate some proper food and had a little sit down with views over Surrey. I was feeling much better. Onwards.
Stage 3: Miles 48-75. The Hilly Bit
The next section brought the dreaded Surrey Hills. Leith Hill came first, it was new to me, it was the the steepest on the course, and it was bloody hard. People were getting a little narky with each other as the course narrowed and I eventually caved somewhere near(ish) the top and got off the bike. I was far from the only one.
Finally at the top, with 58 miles on the clock, I got back on my bike and enjoyed some downhill rolling towards Dorking. Soon after, we were at the bottom of Box Hill, I had already conquered this one recently and I have to say I quite enjoyed it! There were some signs every 250m or so telling you how far you had come and some motivational words of wisdom such as ‘don’t fear the granny gear‘ and, of course, ‘shut up legs‘.
I had stuck to my new fueling plan but, as we neared the third hub at Leatherhead, I was looking forward to another break.
Stage 4: Miles 75-86. The Blurry Bit
The next few miles rolled by in a bit of a blur. I was tired, my quads were complaining, and my hands were sore. I didn’t really know where I was and I couldn’t tell you what I saw, but we were heading back to London and that was all I could focus on.
Just as I was planning to pull over for more food, I saw a sign for hub 4. There was a HUB 4??
Pulling into the stop at Kingston I have never been so happy to see a bag of salt & vinegar crisps. I was less happy to see yet another banana, but I ate it anyway. After a short mental battle with myself I got back on the bike again and set off on the last 14 miles. Shut up legs.
Stage 5: Miles 86-100. The Bloody Awesome Bit
The last section was the best. The crowds were thicker, the roads were flatter, we were back in London and the finish was near. I found a new lease of life and powered through the last few miles, not even Wimbledon Hill could get me down now.
The miles were ticking down quickly, I got a cheer from Jen at Parsons Green, and we were soon riding along the Embankment. It wasn’t long before we were heading up Whitehall and swinging round for a pretty spectacular finish on The Mall. The 100 mile finish line was in sight!!
I couldn’t help but grin like a lunatic as I flew down the final few metres and over the finish line, I even made it on the telly!
I’m in the background, I’m not the man being interviewed:
And that was that, I had completed 100 miles on two wheels and I loved it! It actually turned out to be 119 miles in total what with cycling there and back, no wonder I was a little sleepy…
The Reflection Bit
In my opinion, Ride London was organised pretty flawlessly. Sure, there will always be some hiccups with the complexities of an event so big, but I was really impressed with everything, it couldn’t have been easy.
I’m aware, although disappointed, that cycling generally, and this event in particular, attracts a lot of haters, especially from those who live along the route. Sure, it’s an inconvenience, but it’s just one weekend a year. One weekend that not only brings a lot of positivity towards sport and fitness and inspires people to get active, but keeps the legacy of the London Olympics alive and raises millions for charity.
The Best Bits:
- Riding on closed roads. A privilege
- The atmosphere. Electric
- The cheery volunteers. Incredible
- Box Hill. It’s Fun
- Hitting a new max speed of 38.3 mph. Weeeeee
- The Mile 86 salt and vinegar crisps. Godsend
- The last 5 miles. Unreal
- The finish along the Mall towards Buckingham Palace. Epic
- In fact, almost everything. Fan-flippin-tastic
The Worst Bits:
- The 4 o’clock alarm. Zzzzzz
- Having to stop to eat and drink. Such a newb
- Leith Hill. Ouch
- The dude who overtook me on a Boris Bike. Really
- My sore hands. Hurty
- Cycling through London traffic to get home. Wobbly
The Thank Yous:
- Thank you to all the volunteers that made it possible, there were a lot of you, your constant enthusiasm and kind words gave me strength
- Thank you to the emergency services who responded quickly to incidents
- Thank you to the roadside angels who were offering mechanical help to those in need, you made me worry less
- And thank you to everyone who wholeheartedly embraced the event and lined the streets in thousands to cheer and shout at us, you made the dark times brighter
Like the London Marathon, Ride London is a true testament to the spirit of this City and I can’t wait to be part of it again. It was tough, it was challenging, it was rewarding, and it was a whole lot of fun!