Hannah recently had the experience of cycling 100+ miles around London and Surrey. Here she reflects on the ups and downs of her first major sportive.
I hate London, I have to be honest. It is busy and stressful and loud and I am always happier as soon as I am on the train back north. I know London is a brilliant place but I’m not a city girl by any stretch. Travelling down to London was surprisingly smooth, having figured out in advance the complexities of booking my bike onto the train. However, once I arrived the familiar anxiety began.
My competence in London ends outside Euston station. Sadly this time I didn't even get out of the station before making a complete fool out of myself and being tutted at by hordes of people (Is there anything worse than a whole group of passive-aggressive tutters when you are just a useless country-type out of your depth??).
The hardest part of the entire sportive was getting my bike around London without having a meltdown
What had happened was I had got my bike jammed in the tube station barrier. There was a big red cross on the screen and the barriers had closed themselves around my bike. I looked around helplessly but, apart from the tutters, I couldn’t see anyone I could ask for help. And, without labouring the point, Londoners are often too fast and busy to be helpful. I stayed this way for too long until finally a man took pity on me and said he would find help. Help arrived in the form of a disgruntled chap who simply explained that I couldn’t take my bike into this tube station. Right then. He released my bike and pointed me towards a secluded corner, as far as those exist in tube stations, where a Cyclists Underground Map was displayed. I left the tube station feeling silly, and having paid for a wasted journey.
The rest of the day was a catalogue of rookie errors but I managed to drop my bike off at the hotel and get to the Excel Centre to register for the ride. On the way I chatted to a man who missed the ride entirely last year because he didn’t get to Excel in time to register. As we were talking I was anxiously clock-watching as we were leaving it far too close for comfort.
Then, on the way back the DLR broke down and I had to walk about 5 miles in the sunshine without anything to drink. I got back to the hotel exhausted, having missed lunch and feeling very dehydrated. It was about as bad as a pre-race day can be! I had dinner, packed my bags and ordered a room service breakfast for 3.30am. I wasn’t feeling psyched about the following day, to say the least!
Eggs at 3am, Eye of the Tiger and rain
Getting up at 3am is completely unnatural for me - folk in the office talk about ‘alpine starts’ and I always think that right there is one reason why I’ll never be an alpinist. Anyway, this particular morning saw me wake up silly-early for some poached eggs on toast, coffee and juice. I can’t say I enjoyed it but I think it set me up well. By 4am I was in the lobby chatting to another RideLondon participant. We set off together towards Stratford, quickly being joined by more cyclists than I have ever seen together. It was surreal cycling on the still open roads alongside hundreds of other cyclists and confused revellers making their way home.
My wave set off at 6:08 to the sound of Eye of the Tiger and a sprinkling of rain. We lost Eye of the Tiger almost immediately but the rain did not give up all day. After 50 days of solid sunshine across most of the UK this felt like bad luck but I’m a northerner so I’m used to a little or even a lot of rain. I put on my lovely lightweight Paramo windproof and carried on regardless. However, I did hear a couple at a feed station discussing whether or not they would continue with the ride because the weather was so bad. They were having this conversation at the ‘turnaround point’ where you could choose to shorten the route by about half but I assume they continued as we were too early for the alternative route to be open. I hope they did continue in any case!
I’m pretty good at just gritting my teeth and getting through things so the rain didn’t really bother me. I plodded along at my own pace and took the descents and corners with due care and attention. At several potentially hazardous points the marshals were shouting at riders to slow down and be careful but sadly most of the riders seemed to zoom past me without paying any attention. I don’t know if any accidents were caused by people not taking care on the slippery roads but I’m glad I took my time.
Another regular sight was people fixing punctures at the side of the road. In fact it was on my mind the whole way round - I wasn’t worried about finishing as I knew I had put in the training and would, eventually, get round - but I was very worried about getting a puncture. In theory I knew how to fix one but in practice I had never managed to do it right, choosing instead to pay a bike shop to fix it. Because of this embarrassing lack of skill I had invested in some very strong tyres and special gunk-filled inner tubes which were supposed to prevent and mitigate punctures. But, even with these, I was nervous about being forced to admit, at a big cycling event, that I couldn’t fix a simple issue like a puncture. Luckily I did not get a single puncture in the entire 100+ miles. That felt like a major success of the day!
I had also worried about the legendary hills - Leith Hill and Box Hill - that appeared during the latter half of the ride. They mentally loomed over me for the entire ride but, actually, were not that bad. Leith Hill was tough and I did stop a couple of times for a breather but Box Hill was an enjoyable ascent, something I had not thought possible!
After the hills were ‘ticked off’ I had a succession of people to look out for including family and friends and a couple of Cicerone authors. I was impressed and touched that people had waited out in the rain to see me and, in the case of Nike and Jacint, authors of the Cicerone guidebook to walking in Cyprus, had baked biscuits! It was a grim day to be cycling but much worse to be standing around without the activity to keep you warm. A huge part of any sport relies on mental strength and knowing that I had people to look out for at miles 70, 80 and 90 really helped to keep my spirits up in the final couple of hours. I cannot thank them enough.
Where was the Queen when I needed her?
Finishing in front of Buckingham Palace was an experience, and the enormous crowds made up for the lack of a wave from the Queen. I got my huge chunky medal and waddled off through Green Park with a massive grin on my face. This had been the toughest thing I had trained for but it had gone without a hitch and I was delighted. It had gone so well in fact that it no longer felt like the toughest thing I had trained for and I had to remind myself that my first training ride was about 20 miles and felt really hard! I had put a lot of time and energy into getting to this point and I just absorbed the feelings of pride and success for a little while. Being proud of myself is something I struggle with but I’m having this one!
Then today I got an email inviting me to enter the ballot for next year...
Sadly, after the ride, I learned that a fellow cyclist had died on the route. He had been fit, healthy and loved cycling but had collapsed and died on Leith Hill. You can donate to Macmillan on his behalf here: https://www.justgiving.com/fun...
If you’d like to support Mind and WWF then my fundraising link is here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.c...