We woke at 5 am on Sunday, May 28th in the comfort of one of our children’s homes in London, knowing the comfort would not last. The day ahead loomed large, primarily because we knew we had failed to complete the crucial “big ride,” which typically accounts for at least 70% of our intended distance (equivalent to seventy miles). Despite this, we headed off to Victoria Embankment feeling rather nervous (don’t let the confident smiles fool you)!
I met my partner in crime (and cycling coach and buddy), Mike Barron at the starting line, both of us pumped up with adrenaline, bananas, and water bottles bursting with electrolytes ready to race.
When we surveyed the other 20,000 riders, we quickly realised who was going reach the thirty-mile and the 60-mile marks, and who amongst were the hardcore ready to tackle the full 104 miles head on.
The race start was at Victoria Embankment (when it eventually did start) and the finish line was Tower Bridge, not too far, right? But then we took a left through Hackney and continued on to Buckhurst Hill, then to Chelmsford and up to Ongar and then Dunmow and all the way around the Essex countryside, only to return to the Millennium Stadium and finally, Tower Bridge.
The start of the event, it has to be said, was pretty dismal. No information was forthcoming about what caused the delay, and despite being told which lane to be in… no one moved… for what seemed an eternity.
At 9:45 am, and with around 5,000 people behind us, we switched on our electronics, our Strava was ready, we set our GPS tracking and we were off! Of course, our biggest challenge was trying to avoid all the other cyclists who were also trying to navigate their way through the city, without any traffic!
That was quite extraordinary, to cycle through the City of London, surrounded by familiar sights, but without taxis, buses, and any of the general noise and hubbub that you associate with city life.
Very shortly we made our way onto the A12, and we headed north towards Walthamstow and Epping Forest. Family and friends had managed to get close to the route watching as thousands of happy cyclists journeyed along ’empty roads’ as all the cycle routes were closed.
We swept past our supporters, proudly wearing our Angelman UK shirts as we hurtled along… well, perhaps sauntered along was more like it, along three lanes of empty A12. Whilst training and racing are tough, raising money for Angelman UK, and my granddaughter, is a worthy mission. By now, it was about 10:30 am, and suddenly, a peloton of cyclists flew past us like a bullet train in the opposite direction. These were the extraordinary cyclists that set off at 6 am and were about to finish 104 miles in four hours. The speed they were travelling up the hills was probably faster than I ever managed going down the hills!
After 25 miles, there was a “welfare stop” and we both agreed we were doing pretty well and would crack on and cover some more miles through the Essex countryside. At one point Mike, thinking he had lost me, pulled over and fell, and grazed his knee as he could not unclip in time, but other than that, we arrived at the halfway point relatively unscathed.
What was disappointing to us was the complete lack of food (and alcohol!) at the welfare stops. It genuinely was water, medical assistance and that was it. I was hoping for some deep-fried chips, or at least a Cornish pasty to go alongside a large mug of tea!
From there we headed out onto the road again and passed through really pretty parts of Essex which I had never seen before. These were areas that Mike used to visit when he was a child as his grandparents lived up that way. There were literally hundreds of families sitting in their front gardens cheering us on, shouting, waving flags, blowing whistles, and we even saw a dinosaur at one stage! My personal favourite was the family who stood in the garden spraying their hose halfway across the road, which was fantastic and a very cool relief for us. If you wanted a shower, you cycled through it, and if you didn’t, you simply kept left… I wanted to go back through it again but thought it might be bad form.
The weather was fabulous and sunny without being overwhelmingly hot, although I could have done without the headwind which seemed to move direction and follow us around for the entire 104 miles… Considering we travelled north, south, east and west, I found this somewhat disheartening, but being able to follow Mike, who was always ahead and tantalisingly out of reach of me, kept my mind off such trivia!
Pulling onto the A12 again was our final push back towards London. I thought the feeling of approaching the finish line would be exhilarating and would energise me, but I hadn’t factored in the ninety-five miles of cycling I had done by then! Despite seeing people fly past at 45 miles an hour when we were going in the other direction… I was probably travelling 4.5 miles an hour climbing up the underpass. It was one of the few times I’d gone past the speed cameras on the A12, knowing that wouldn’t get flashed!
We then headed past the Millennium Dome, which was only visible after we literally cycled out from behind a massive hotel and turned left over the bridge. And there we were, on the home stretch as we passed along the Thames towards Tower Bridge.
Finally, in just over seven hours, Mike and I triumphantly crossed the line, neck and neck, absolutely pleased as punch to have finally made it!
We celebrated with friends and family who were at the finish line waiting for us. I have to admit, the pint of lager and cheeseburger I had before we travelled home were truly the finest, I have ever had!
I’m not a cyclist. I bought a £100 bike on eBay about 10 years ago and I’ve done one or two events since, but nothing like this. Thanks to Lesley Spencer, I bought a turbo indoor training set-up back in January… and despite her coaxing probably didn’t get on it until late February!
All the training was tough… and it takes ages (and commitment). With busy lives, and family commitments (not least those related to Lola, my granddaughter who has Angelman Syndrome) simply finding five or six hours to “go off for a long cycle ride” over the weekend was too difficult and therefore I didn’t do it. Invariably my training ended up being incredibly early in the morning and was ‘fitted’ around other commitments.
I have lost weight and I am fitter than I was. But the mental strain of doing an event that is more challenging than I have ever experienced before has certainly had an impact. In my early sixties, I had feelings reminiscent of doing my professional exams or even A-levels. My fear ranged from not knowing if I would finish, to wondering if I had done enough revision (training!). During that process, and over the final few weeks leading up to the race, I realised I was not myself. I was grumpy, distracted, worried, and focused on something I knew would be tough, rather than being focused on people around me and everything else that’s been going on.
But now it’s done, I’m just beginning to put this into perspective. I did manage to finish; it wasn’t impossibly difficult. I could probably have gone faster in retrospect, but I have that sense of accomplishment.
I now feel as if I’ve got a clean slate and can tackle everything in my inbox much more effectively, so perhaps there is a really positive upside… However, I really can’t see myself wanting to do anything like that ever again. All that training, all the grumpy Paul… all the distractions.
And then Mike mentioned cycling from London to Paris for Lola …
So…watch this space!