As I prefer off-road cycling I chose to carry out the majority of my early training on my mountain bike along the South Downs. I built up to 50 miles off-road using the hills of the South Downs to build good leg strength as I knew the roads in my area would offer little in the way of hill training for Box Hill and Leith Hill.
I got to June and then realised I would have to buy a road bike for these final months of training. I was lucky enough to get a suitable bike from a friend for a couple of hundred pounds, which meant I could sell it immediately afterwards without being out of pocket. One thing you start to realise when fundraising privately is that it can cost you quite a lot of money personally for entry and kit, so I always go second hand where possible and recoup by selling on afterwards.
The day before the race there was another issue, I suddenly started panicking about tyres after finding a lot of little slits in the road tyres – you never see these on mountain bike tyres! I convinced myself it would end in disaster if I didn’t buy new tyres so this sees me the day before the ride changing the tyres and re-fitting the wheels. I then found that the brake blocks now rubbed massively on the front wheel, so much so it wouldn’t run free! After three hours of mild panic, and visions of slogging out 100 miles on a mountain bike, I managed to strip down the brake and put it back together in better working order… PHEW!
I also had my gears serviced one month before the event, only to find out that they were worse than when I took it into the bike shop! The lesson here is make sure you leave enough time to check out your bike following any work that you or a bike shop has carried out. There is a bike mechanic at the start point though for any dramas on the day.
When you book your car parking for the event make sure you consider how well you know London as you need to find your car from a different point at the end – more on this little adventure later!
The start area is large with plenty of toilets, the bag drop, and water facilities. There are a few places to buy food for the ride such as energy bars and, as mentioned above, there was also a mechanic’s tent for last minute concerns.
The start is managed as well as a mass event can be, but as you can imagine there is a lot of waiting around as all the waves get called up. The buzz as you move closer to the start gets more and more intense and you feel your adrenaline pumping waaay before you need it to.
Once started, the miles flew by. I found that my average speed was much higher than in training and before long I had readjusted my time from 9hrs down to 7hrs. And very quietly I was thinking I would do even better than that! If this is your first long road ride, like it was for me, don’t be fooled by those first 40 miles as I was – it’s adrenaline that’s making you faster not a sudden, overnight, leap in ability!
One target I had set myself was to do everything possible to ride all the hills, no pushing, just ride! I had in my mind that Box Hill was the one that might challenge this target the most, but actually Leith Hill was harder. But I managed it with burning legs.
The feeling of riding on closed roads was amazing. Sometimes I found myself in a group which pulled you along and allowed you to chat and forget the discomfort. Other times I was alone with only a couple of other riders in sight, which gave me time to think about how things were going, how much my backside hurt and how far I could go with the amount of fluid I had left in the bottles.
Box Hill arrived and was lined with spectators. It was really hard going, but a great feeling as you rode over the names of riders like Wiggins and Cav painted on the road. The support from the spectators was amazing throughout. I found myself going from quiet country lanes with only my thoughts for company and a few cyclists dotted around, to rounding a bend into a town or village to be met with shouts and claps of encouragement. It was an amazing feeling and really spurred me on.
The ride was not without its challenges both mentally and physically as you can imagine over 100 miles. Once I got to 75 miles things got a little tough. The bike pump that had been rattling for 75 miles now became a major source of irritation and was eventually removed and squeezed into a pocket. The queues at the water stations became a waste of valuable time rather than a social occasion. The crowds cheering brought on a weird emotional feeling rather than the adrenaline buzz of earlier, and my legs were shot! Thinking back now this is where the faster than average pace in the first 40 miles came back to bite with a vengeance. Every little hill – despite the crowd telling me “It’s OK there are no more hills” (LIARS!) – every little incline was a Box Hill and this last 25 miles was rather tough to say the least.
Then I was back in central London, riding past the various landmarks, realising it was close to being over, realising I had completely smashed my anticipated time of 9hrs and also the revised time of 7hrs (I do have a leaning towards pessimism when predicting race times).
And here was The Mall, the cacophony of noise from the spectators banging the plastic sponsor signs which lined the finishing straight was just awesome! The pain was forgotten for those few hundred meters and elation filled me, and a little bit of pride I think. Next thing I know I am having my photo taken with my medal and wandering around in a bit of a daze, wondering what to do next. I plonked myself down under a tree in Green Park (I think) and proceeded to drink and eat the contents of the goody bag. Once all was consumed and feeling slightly sick I got up to figure out a way to get back to the car.
After the ride:
Now I won’t go into the detail of what occurred next other than to say that it involved lots of pedestrians, China Town, Leicester Square, quite a few bridges, a lot of internal swearing, and two hours of car park hunting. And to top it all off I was stopped by a lady with a bike who asked if I wouldn’t mind fixing her puncture for her as I looked like I might know a bit about bikes! I fixed it with a tired smile.
So, going back to my point right at the beginning, make sure you plan a route back to the car or park close. Even better than that, have someone collect you and take you home.
It was an amazing event, I’m so very glad I did it and would recommend it to anyone.
- Make sure your bike is serviced and had everything done that you need at least two weeks before the event.
- Remember tyre levers, puncture kit and pump
- Bring two water bottles
- Bring something to carry food in such as a bum bag or frame bag
- Don’t start off too fast
- Make sure you are comfortable with your saddle and shorts
- Remove any annoying rattles – it will drive you insane at some point no matter how small
- Make sure you are absolutely sure how to get back to your car
- Take it all in, enjoy the crowds, and enjoy the traffic free roads
- Do some hill training!