What an amazing day! After all the months of training, the day of the ride had finally arrived – and what an incredible day we had! The Prudential RideLondon weekend was an incredible event and the LondonSurrey100 surpassed all my expectations.
The day started far too early! I woke up at 3.00am to get ready – munching on a bowl of muesli at this time of the morning didn’t go down well with the family! – and my friends and I drove up to London with our bikes at 4.00am. We were all bleary-eyed having only had a few hours sleep. We parked up and rode the few miles to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
The Park was a real carnival atmosphere – and, it seemed, the capital of Lycra. We split up as, slightly annoyingly, we all had different start times. Having seen Mayor of London Boris Johnson head off and then caught up with my friend who works on events at the Park, I joined my starting group. It was great to talk to so many people from all over the country, of all different cycling abilities and to see so many different charities for which people were raising money.
After a short while, our group were called and we made our way to the start line. This was so exciting! And then we were off, the months of training finally coming down to this. And it seemed everyone was up for this – the pace was fast, very fast! And it didn’t really slow down at all across London. As we rode through London’s landmarks – Canary Wharf, the Tower of London, Pall Mall, Piccadilly – the pace was fast and furious. We were all like children in a sweet shop, revelling in the opportunity to ride through London on closed roads. Today it was our turn to own the roads rather than the cars – and it felt great!
The first hour went past in a flash and I was averaging 20mph. I had planned a steady start to save my energy for the climbs, but we were all seemingly swept up in the excitement. As try as I might, I couldn’t seem to slow up at all. Two hours in, and riding across the beautiful Richmond Park, my pace was still at 20mph. I’m normally pleased with anything over 16mph – and I was beginning to worry how I’d cope later on.
Riding through Hampton Court, where it was great to get the first large crowds of supporters, we shortly entered Surrey and the roads became a bit less flat and smooth. At 30 miles, my friend phoned me to tell me he’d had a puncture but was back riding and was about 10 miles ahead and about to hit the tough middle section with the three big hills. I wondered how my pace compared to his?
At about 40 miles, I was starting to feel the early pace. But, I think the bigger problem was my wariness at having to tackle the three big hills of the race soon. And, before I knew it, we hit the first of these three: Newlands Corner. I was pleasantly surprised that I coped fine; it is quite steep but it’s over quickly. Once at the top, I knew there were two treats in store. The first treat is the view – this is the entry to the Surrey Hills and the views are staggeringly beautiful. The second treat is that the ride down is incredibly quick. And today there were no oncoming cars to worry about! I hit 47mph down the hill, which was exhilarating. One hill down, two to go.
I’ve written about Leith Hill before, so you may recall just what a tough hill it is. The route to Leith Hill itself was new to me and involved a long, steady climb. My legs were aching big time but then we hit a downhill. I genuinely wondered whether I’d got confused and had actually already down the hill. Had my training been that good? Had I already conquered the big one? Er, no! We turned a corner and there it was – a huge incline – and my heart sank. I steeled myself for what I knew would be the pain, and started the climb repeating my “ride strong” internal mantra (I am we’ll away how stupid this sounds, but it really did help! A great tip from the Children’s Trust event team).
It hurt, it really hurt! Several times, I was close to giving up especially as four different riders gave up right in front of me and got off. And to the helpful spectator that shouted “keep going – you’re halfway there”, thanks for nothing! I was actually only one last climb from the top! But I did it. Every fibre and sinew was screaming in pain, but hey!
After a quick water re-fuel, I continued to Dorking using the downhills to catch my breath and stuffing as many energy bars as I could manage! This was home territory, I knew here roads and I just had Box Hill left over the big three. The crowds in Dorking High Street were great, giving everyone a real boost. And then it was Box Hill’s turn…
Just as I was about to start on the ‘Zig Zags’ climb, I had the strangest pain behind both knees. It felt like very localised cramp but in the strangest place! I stopped for a couple of minutes to stretch my legs out and, deciding there wasn’t much else for it, attacked the climb. ‘Attacked’ is a little generous, in truth! I decided all I could do was grind out the hill, just keep on moving however slow. And it worked. As I got to the magnificent viewpoint at the top of the Hill, I knew I’d broken the back of the ride. Box Hill had been fun, in fact, as there were lots of messages painted on to the road, reminding me of the Olympics (indeed, there are still messages from the Olympics on the road). Mentally, it was now all about how many miles were left to go, not how many had I done already.
Perhaps because of my tiredness, the next section of the ride all got slightly emotional! The ride suddenly seemed to have become a tour of my childhood and early adulthood. My brother had once broken my leg pretending he was a martial arts expert at he top of Box Hill! I was married in Headley just around the corner. Next we rode through Leatherhead, where most of my childhood had been and rode just past the back of my old school. Soon we were in Cobham, riding past the American Community School, where my school basketball team had been thrashed playing on their carpet of a court! All of these reminiscences were very helpful distractions!
Soon, there were 25 miles left. I was developing some bizarre aches, the main problem being my toes were killing me! Another rider and I got chatting and it was clear we were both feeling tired so we helped each other through this stage, taking it in turns to slipstream each other. The impact of slipstreaming is incredible, if a little scary tucked 6 inches behind the wheel of the rider in front. For one glorious stretch, there was a line of about 8 of us flying down the road alongside the Thames to Kingston; five miles flew past!
From 20 miles out to 10 miles out was agony. At the 90 miles mark, the last climb of the day up Wimbledon Hill came and we knew we were finally on the homeward stretch. Riding into the centre of the capital, roads to ourselves and cheering crowds was an experience I will never forget. Soon, we were riding past Parliament, down Whitehall and in to Trafalgar Square. The crowds were incredible. Any aches and pains were all forgotten and in my own head, I was Bradley Wiggins in the Olympic Time Trial race! I put everything into that final, majestic ride down the Mall! There were thousands of spectators banging on the hoarding and cheering – what a rush!
And then it was all over. I crossed the line, was presented with the very heavy finishers’ medal and collected my goody bag. I met up with my two friends who had set out earlier than me, who also had huge grins on their faces from the ride. We ended up having completed the ride within 10 minutes time of each other. Indeed, only 8 seconds separated two is us.
We’d all done the ride in less than 6 hours (my time was 5 hours 56 minutes, at an average of 17.2mph) and lived to tell the tale. This was a truly amazing day, fantastic crowds, a wonderful route and brilliant organisation.
So, this is my last blog. I am really proud to have ridden in the inaugural LondonSurrey100, which I am sure will become as big as the London Marathon. I’m very proud of having completed the ride in less than six hours. I have loved the camaraderie between the three of us over the months of training. But, mainly, I am really pleased to have been able to raise £5000 for two fantastic charities. Thank you so much to everyone for the wonderfully generous donations.
You can continue to support my ride until the end of August by visiting my BT MyDonate page.