Monday, 11 August 2014

Prudential Ride London 100 : Battling with Hurricane Bertha

The face that says NOTHING will stop me! 
"How was it?" everyone asks. Even the guard removing my cycle from the train, enquired when he saw the Prudential Ride London 100 ride number still fixed to the handlebars. 

"Wet", I reply. 

"Oh yes, we saw the pictures!"

Shots of brave (or foolish, depending on your viewpoint) cyclists riding through floods yesterday, probably brought this new event to public consciousness in a way that might otherwise have taken years. 

And it was wet. In fact 'wet' doesn't begin to describe the soaking awfulness of parts of the course. At one point I was riding through rain so torrential that when I gasped for air, I inhaled rain. I could only open part of one eye against the pressure of the water and facing a sharp turn at the bottom of a downwards incline I screamed, "I've got no brakes!" Nobody heard me above the sound of the rain. All I could do was hang on and hope.

Hanging on and hoping got me through quite a few of the event's challenges. Floods through which I waded, carrying my bike on my shoulders and worse, a knee-high pool through which the marshals advised us to "keep peddling!". All well and if not good, certainly doable until I got rocked by the bow wave from the riders in front. Hang on. Hang on and hope. 

Standing by the side of our bikes in a storm-rocked street somewhere between London and Surrey, we waited for our turn to walk through another flooded storm drain. Thunder rumbled ever closer and lightning flashed overhead. Suddenly there was the sound of bicycle bells and shouts. On the other side of the road raced the front-runners in the event, already on their way home. "Don't go there, it's horrible. Come back with us", they called. I was sorely tempted.

Fortunately, the treacherous conditions meant that the organisers had removed the two killer hills from the route. I tried to look disappointed when I was told that Box Hill and Leith Hill were out of bounds. Perhaps the dance I did around my breakfast may have given me away. 

If I imagined that the removal of the big name hills meant an easy ride, the Welcome to The Surrey Hills sign soon enlightened me. I did stay on the bike for all of them except one - beaten by Newlands quite early on I pushed my bike to the summit of that one. 

If Surrey brought the hills, it also heralded the most amazing support. In every rain-lashed village they stood, cheering us on. By the time I went past, they had probably been there for hours in their waterproof ponchos. 

"Smile, you're in Surrey!" a plummy voice called as we passed the county border. They never stopped calling, cheering, encouraging, until we left their undulating County. One family invited me in to share a bottle of wine. Another man, seeing I was clearly flagging, left behind his friends in the pub beer garden and jogged alongside me the whole way up a daunting hill: "Come on, we can do this!", he kept saying. The lovely, unexpected thing was that it really did feel as if the soggy bystanders were doing it with me, willing me to finish. 

The finish on The Mall is a blur. I did find the energy for a sprint, taking a deep breath under Admiralty Arch, putting my head down and going for it. When they put the medal around my neck I cried. Tears of relief, exhaustion and delight that we'd booked a hotel within walking distance. 

Things that I did right:
* Book the right hotels. I had a bed a few paces away from the Start line in Olympic Park for the Friday and Saturday night. Then while I rode, my husband transported our luggage to a second hotel, right by the Finish where I collapsed on Sunday. Book your hotels before the ballot results are published. That way, you can secure a room at a good price - you can always cancel if you don't get a place. 

* Book the bike onto a train the day that the journeys become available (about three months beforehand). There is a limit of four per train. Cycles go free but they need a ticket.

* Use the Cyclemeter app so that people know where you are. My friends at home were able to follow my progress and my husband and oldest friend who were waiting to meet me on The Mall, knew roughly when I would arrive. This would have been an altogether perfect system except that I failed to charge my phone properly the previous night, meaning that it ran out of power a little after 60 miles, sparking fears that I might have been hurt or got lost.

Things that I did wrong:
* I was too nervous to eat properly. I took lots of food and there are, apparently, plenty of things provided at the Hubs along the route but I was worried about my pace and by the time I tried to take a gel pack, it just made me sick. 

* I didn't drink enough, either. Again that came down to worries about my pace. I saw the big queues for the toilets and didn't fancy standing around for that long. To be frank, the thought of peeling-off soaking wet clothes wasn't too appealing, either. So I didn't drink enough, which was stupid and probably explained why I was dizzy with exhaustion from around 70 miles onwards.

* I had my head turned. My faithful Lidl raincoat was in my suitcase. But at Expo, where you register before the event, I saw a lovely new rain jacket making all sorts of claims about technical fabric. I bought it. I may as well have been wearing a coat made of mashed potato for all the good that it did. I had tissues in my sleeves. When the sniffing got too annoying, I reached for a tissue. I had to wring it out before attempting to use it. 

Ride London 100 was definitely the hardest thing I've ever done. It is also my proudest accomplishment. The conditions turned it from a challenge into an adventure I'll never forget. Most importantly, I exceeded the fundraising target I'd set myself to support the Rhino Protection Unit in Pilanesberg.

If you would like to have a go in next year's event, it is taking place in the first weekend of August. The ballot opens on 18 August but be quick - it will close when 100,000 people have entered. After that, well, it's just a matter of training with a single-minded commitment that borders on obsession. And hill work. Lots and lots of hill work.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Ride London 100: skylarks and butterflies

So I got my new bike.

She's called Ruby and my husband suspects that if it came down to a choice between him or the bike, Ruby would win. He's right, of course. There are three of us in this marriage and Ruby is the one getting all the admiring looks. 

Ruby's official title is a Specialized Ruby Comp. She's black, with flashes of blue like a kingfisher. Built for a woman, it's the first bike on which I have been able to reach the brakes. I've previously had pull-up ones fitted and there are still times when I reach for those and panic to find nothing beneath the bars.

The best thing about Ruby is that she's a lot lighter. As a result, I ride faster. Stuck at an average of 11.3 mph, I was struggling to reach the 11.7 mph speed required for Ride London. Now, I'm nudging 14. Last week I did a 25 mile trip and averaged 14.5 mph fairly comfortably.

And the second best thing? I'm no longer at war with my saddle. Having been properly fitted for the bike I'm riding a lot higher and further forward than on my other bike. Scary at first, when I realised I couldn't put my foot to the ground. But my seat loves this one. 

I collected Ruby in good time for the Ride London 100. During the first rides I concentrated on listening to the skylarks and wondering if I could remember how to dismount. Now though, the butterflies are there. Big time. Ride London is just days away and I'm feeling sick with nerves. 

What if I fall off? What if they won't let me finish the course because I'm too slow? What if the residents of Surrey, irritated by all those bicycles, throw things at me? I've never wanted to do anything so badly. But what if I do it....badly? 

The forecast is not encouraging. According to the Express (never one to downplay a meteorological event), a hurricane will 'smash' into us on Sunday.

On the bright side, 50mph winds are promised. If those are behind me, I could be finished by 10am. 

At 8.17am on Sunday, Ruby and I will be putting all that training behind us and heading for the hills. Gulp.