I literally can’t get my legs to turn over faster than this.
My Garmin is reading 11 mph and the road looks flat. I hate cycling I think to myself. My friend Anna is waiting for me on the side of the road ahead.
I’m struggling, I tell her. We stop, I eat, I complain, I panic about how much we have left to ride (55 miles to go…we’re not even halfway). I wonder how I’ll get home from here that doesn’t require me to get back on the bike.
Luckily, there’s a pitstop up ahead where we can get off, sit down for a minute, and I can call Tom for a pep-talk.
Let’s rewind to the start of the day and the 4am alarm. Nick, (my friend Anna’s boyfriend) was up at 3.50am making us porridge with poached pears, toast and coffee before we set off on the 5 mile ride to the Olympic Park and RideLondon start line.
Anna and I were in different waves, but the security let me join the corral with her so that we could stay together. I’ve heard that some people later on struggled to fit into their corrals because of so much movement, I know big groups moved backwards so that they could ride together and I think this was the issue.
Just after 6.10am we crossed the start line. Because I’d moved forward, everyone around me was pacey, like super fast cycling by me on all sides. But I just tried to stick with Anna and keep a good speed up. Unlike a marathon where you start slow and finish fast, we were trying to go out strong and get out of London in good time, knowing that behind us were thousands of riders ready to tackle the hills.
Riding through the closed streets of London as the sun was rising over the Thames was beautiful. I wish I could have captured the quiet over the city, surrounded by cyclists, it was amazing.
On entering Richmond Park I heard a weird sound (almost like air escaping from a tire) and I panicked that I’d got a puncture 20 mile in. There were plenty of people already on the roadside fixing punctures.
At mile 25 we stopped at the first pitstop for a mechanic to check my bike (turns out it was just a wire rubbing in the tyre!) filled up our water bottles, ate a banana and headed back out. I managed to fall over immediately upon stopping – still not used to cleats – but luckily no blood and nothing but a slightly bruised ego.
Which takes us to the low point at mile 45, standing on the side of the road, eating a Cliff bar and questioning all my life choices.
Thankfully after a short but much needed stop at mile 47, I was ready to tackle the hills.
At the bottom of Leith Hill we came to a standstill. We started walking up the hill, with people complaining all around…until an ambulance went past and we were all hushed. Minutes later we were allowed to get back on our bikes and start to make our way up undeniably, the toughest climb of the day. Leith Hill is steep and has a couple of false peaks that had me gasping for water, and air. I was going so slowly that the bike Garmin autopaused, which was a little demoralizing!
Then came a long downhill which was almost as bad as the uphill! I was terrified, gripping the breaks like my life depended on it (at the time it really felt like it did). And there was debris all over the road, water bottles, Garmin’s, gels and banana skins that added to the fear of cycling downhill at speed.
Next up was Box Hill, and this was the one I’d built up in my mind more than Leith Hill…and it really wasn’t too bad. Yes, it’s long but it’s a slow grind in a low gear, and you can just keep pushing. I was overtaken a LOT on the hills, but I didn’t get off on any of them (mostly because I thought I’d fall over if I tried to unclip my foot).
At the top of Box Hill, we stopped again for water, to use the loo and to eat again. The worst of the hills were over and it was time to head back to London. Thankfully, I had a second wind here and felt great for the final 30 miles.
Anna and I rode side by side, chatting…at one point she told me that if I could still make jokes 80 miles in, then I was totally fine. And I did feel fine, yes my back was sore and my knee hurt a little but I was still pushing. I loved cycling through Kingston (so pretty), saw my friend Anna (who has just had twin babies) outside Kingston Hospital, Wimbledon (even Wimbledon Hill wasn’t so bad as I was mentally prepared for it) and back along the Embankment.
A phrase that Anna and I say to each other during big events is ‘balls to the wall’, which is what she said to me at Vauxhall Bridge. So we gave it all we had for that final stretch, and I crossed the finish line with a half smile, half grimace and tears running down my face. There is something about that finish line that just brings ALL THE EMOTION.
Finished and bumped into Ellie at the finish and posed for some pics before collecting our medals. I’ve been told that they lost a pallet of medals and therefore people finishing later didn’t get medals (but will be sent them in due course, which is really sad for those riders finishing without the bling. But I’m glad they’ll be sent them later!
I loved that the race had a low single plastic usage policy, with no plastic bottles or cups being given out. We were all given bottles to use at the expo and encouraged to refill them (and other bottles) at aid stations and the finish line. The aid stations were incredibly well stocked, the volunteers were among the friendliest I’ve come across in any race environment. It was so well organised, with plenty of mechanics, medical staff and road assistance throughout the route.
Post race -> we were so lucky to have Nick, and friends Simon and Alex meet us in the park after we finished with Champagne and picnic food to celebrate!
(This part of the blog is in partnership with Sudocrem)
Plus I took advantage of the free massages from Skoda, which was so welcome for my aching back and shoulders – they hurt more than my legs…I think due to a slightly poorly fitted bike and lack of time in the saddle. Heading home I took a much needed shower, drank a regenerative cup of tea (plus a Diet Coke on the way home!) and had a nap. I was pretty chafed, despite putting on plenty of Chamois cream so when I got home I literally slathered on the Sudocrem (antiseptic healing cream, also known for nappy rash) post shower (TMI?!) but the reality of sitting on a saddle for close to 7 hours (plus the ride to and from the race). I had the new my little Sudocrem with me in my kit bag (they kindly sent me a personalised one!) and would have put it on sooner if the lines for the porta-loos weren’t so long at the end.
Riding back to Anna’s house was painful, and terrifying, it was my first time using clip ins on London’s busy roads and after the traffic-free 100 miles, even 5 miles stop/start on the way back was scary. But we did it. In one piece! I know I mentioned how nervous I was ahead of the ride about getting hurt, and for good reason. A good friend of mine had a big accident during the Ride100 a couple of years ago and it has made me so worried ever since. Especially when wearing cleats! I am so sad that anyone did get hurt during the ride and hope everyone makes a speedy recovery.
Things I learned during Ride 100 ->
- Try to get in the earliest wave you can, there were unfortunately some big accidents on the route which closed sections including Leith Hill, and meant that some riders were held up for an hour or more. They also had to reroute a number of riders to miss the hills to enable them to meet the cut-offs. I feel
- If in doubt, chamois up. I should have put more on. (oh and Sudocrem for post-race recovery!)
- You need to eat a lot of calories to ride 100 miles, more than I had thought. I ate two bananas, 2 gels, 2 bars and carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks during the ride.
- I wish I’d practiced eating on the bike more to help keep fuelled, I was pretty good at drinking on the flats (not so good on the uphill/downhill where I was hanging on for dear life).
- You probably want to do more hill training, and time in the saddle than I managed. But it’s not like running where jumping up mileage is as difficult or as risky.
- It’s not all about the fancy, expensive bikes – my bike was £250 from Decathlon a few years ago, I borrowed the shoes from Anna (bought pedals for my bike). I did buy new socks – apparently cyclists don’t wear short socks, and was gifted the black jersey from Lululemon.
- There is a hill before Leith Hill that is pretty brutal – be prepared for Newlands Corner and for Wimbledon Hill – they might take you by surprise!
- Cleats are amazing, they definitely had me going faster than I usually do, but give yourself time to get used to them. I honestly was nervous I wouldn’t get my foot out in time every single time we stopped!
- I may never do this again but I’m so glad I completed it (but maybe it’ll be like marathon amnesia where I want to do it all over again when my body has recovered!)
You can enter the ballot for RideLondon 2020 here. If you aren’t quite up for 100 miles, there’s a 46 mile and 19 mile route too.
Did you take part in Ride London? Ever done a centurion ride? Or is it on your bucket list?