1013.4 / 1000: The RideLondon-Surrey 100

So there we are. Just look at the post title up there – we’ve done it. Following the completion of the RideLondon-Surrey 100 at the end of last month we’ve now covered 1000 miles for motor neurone disease, and with events still to spare. A target we thought ridiculously over optimistic last November when we first began dreaming up this mad year of challenges is in the bag and we can all sit here and be extremely proud of the fact that we’ve achieved the aim of carrying ourselves, through nothing more than human horsepower (and malt loaf), the equivalent of from Leamington Spa to Lake Garda. And best of all, we’ve raised nearly double our original target of £3000 for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. It’s been quite a year.

RideLondon marked the end of the cycling leg of our 2016 biathlon and as you’d probably expect the bikey bits – being so much faster and less strenuous than the poxy running bits – have made up the majority of that total with a shade under 940 miles coming from this, the Coast to Coast and the Neil Scott Memorial ride, as well as the pedally bits of the Stockton Duathlon. I’m a little bit sad to be bidding farewell to the lycra, cleats and shit sunglasses though. It’s been a lot of fun. Warm evening spins, long flat weekend slogs to Liverpool and back. Up hill and down dale, epic summits and terrifying descents. Baking sunshine, terrible rainstorms, with floodwater halfway up my 700c wheels and losing all the feeling in my hands and feet. As I said, (mostly) a lot of fun.

The week leading up to this one wasn’t ideal though, with a couple of hairy / stressy rides to and from work on the single speed culminating in probably the worst crash I’ve ever had just three days before raceday, hitting the deck after losing my front wheel braking in the wet and going for a little slide along the soggy tarmac. It could have turned out a whole lot worse than it did but thankfully, apart from a badly bruised ankle and a few choice pieces of skin missing I was fine to take my place on the RideLondon startline early on the Sunday morning.

And I mean “early”. I was awake over three hours before my 7:17am start and yet still managed to miss my assembly time, the pre-race nerves going into overdrive as I accidentally left my start map behind and ended up pedalling aimlessly around the vast Olympic Park in totally the wrong direction, fearing I’d be denied the chance to ride at all.

Thankfully the times weren’t rigorously enforced and they let me and a few other stragglers into the start pen, and so armed with a jersey full of various sugary energy bars and gels and whatnot I rolled over the startline to the The Muppets theme tune on the PA system (don’t ask) and was on my merry way, the hundred miles of RideLondon laid out in front of me.

With this being the second furthest I’d ever ridden in my life I’d promised myself I’d take the early stages relatively easy and see where I ended up, estimating a six hour finish time when filling in the entry form back in December. To be honest though as the event grew closer I planned on going even slower than that, ideally sticking to around a 15mph average to ensure I wasn’t in bits 80 miles up the road, especially as (once again) I’d not taken the preparation for this one especially seriously. Even the beginner’s training plan in the RideLondon magazine recommended heading out for a couple of 4-5 hour rides almost every weekend and I was nowhere near that level. OK, so I managed to ride the 112-mile Dunwich Dynamo last year on the back of fairly limited training (50 miles being the longest ride of my life up to that point) but that had been a bit of a casual affair, stretched out over ten hours on an 18 year old mountain bike with multiple stops for beer and bacon along the way. Here, I needed to make sure I rode a nice steady pace from the start to make sure I didn’t melt in the latter stages and get swept up by the broom wagon.

Those plans went straight out the window within five minutes of the start as soon as we hit the A12 heading into Central London. I got a bit caught up in the occasion, rushing along in mini-pelotons and generally making the most of having the roads to ourselves for once. Running all the red lights, riding in the right hand lane or the wrong way down a dual carriageway, spread out in bunches across the whole of the width of the road. Every time I glanced down at my speed I was comfortably over 20mph but it felt effortless, the sights of London town flashing past in the blink of an eye, the miles dropping off by what felt like by the minute.

Out of the capital, a gentle incline up across Richmond Park, a 30mph+ descent on the other side. The weather was perfect, the scenery pleasant. This is literally as good as cycling gets I thought, why can’t it always be like this. The spectators and volunteers along the route were brilliant, politely clapping or ringing bells, their kids unsuccessfully trying to give us all low fives as we flashed past, a blur of brightly coloured lycra and expensive metal. The opening 38 miles of the RideLondon-Surrey 100 will live long in the memory as one of my favourite ever rides, a fantastic experience unlike anything I had ever done before.

Unfortunately, what happened next will also stick in the mind and sadly for all the wrong reasons. After rolling out the water stop at Pyford we were brought to a halt with word of an incident on the road up ahead and not long after that the sound of helicopters overhead lent a sombre tone and we all began to realise something pretty serious must have happened. We were held for over an hour while they attended to a rider who had apparently gone off the road into a tree and when we eventually filed slowly past with him safely in the air ambulance and on his way to hospital I think we were all a little shocked by the scene in front of us. You could tell it must have been a horrible crash, a steepish descent into a sharp bend, with fences and trees on the outside and the police stood around investigating what had gone wrong. It took a while to get the motivation back to carry on with any real gusto and it was hard to focus on anything else other than thinking about whether the poor chap was going to be OK or not.

The first “classified” climb of the day (i.e. the first one mentioned on the route map) took place just before half distance and nothing focuses the mind again quite like a sweaty slog up a hill in the middle of a warm summer’s day. Newlands Corner may pale into insignificance compared to the two bigger climbs further on up the road but with nearly 50 miles down it was still a bit of a test and I saw a couple of people jumping off and pushing their way up. A brilliantly placed food and drink hub greeted us at the top though, with stunning views over the Surrey Hills and I took a brief moment to appreciate the lush, green vista laid out in front of me before jumping back on the steed, racing back downhill at nearly 45mph and onto the second half of the RideLondon 100.

The two main climbs reared their heads over the next 20 miles, with Leith Hill after 56 miles significantly harder than the iconic Box Hill shortly afterwards, although to be honest neither were as bad as I’d feared and certainly easier than some of the ramps we’d grappled with on the Coast to Coast. I might not have been terrifically well prepared in terms of riding the required distance for this but I had a fair amount of climbing in the old legs and neither hill caused me too much trouble. In fact I’d even go as far as to say Box Hill was actually pretty easy; a nice low, steady gradient and a beautifully smooth road surface laid down ahead of the 2012 Olympics. I found myself spinning up the right hand side for most of it, overtaking a satisfying number of people and rolling over the summit feeling like a bit of a champion. All that was left now was the dash back to the capital and my second century would be in the bag.

Most of that final third of the ride wasn’t too bad, with the wind behind us and some decent crowds spurring us on. It was amusing going back over some of the same roads again a few hours later, the pyjama bottoms and sleepy kids replaced by families sat out with picnic tables, barbecues smoking away and icy cold pints of beer and bottles of wine on the go. Opportunities to stop and grab food and water were plentiful, whether at official feed stations or the occasional makeshift stall in a front garden, which was good as any sort of gradient was now starting to cause a few issues. The kind of tiny incline that I’d have smashed aside without even coming off the big chainring four hours earlier was now feeling like a bit of a slog, even dropping into the granny ring on the odd occasion, especially for the sadistic little kick up Wimbledon Hill after 90 miles which was a rather unpleasant surprise.

I was nearly home but with four miles to go both legs suddenly starting cramping up out of absolutely nowhere and I had to start coasting every so often, even considering stopping a couple of times to try and stretch them out. This should have been the victory lap, the end of our epic summer of cycling, the 1000 mile barrier now crossed. I’d also waited years to be part of RideLondon, racing past the big landmarks on closed roads without having to worry about being flattened by a Routemaster bus or a black cab, but I found it hard to enjoy it much as the pain kicked in. It had happened at the right time though and before I knew it I was swinging past Nelson’s Column, under Admiralty Arch and onto The Mall. An epic way to finish, with hordes of spectators along the final straight banging on the barriers and shouting and encouraging us all on as we (sort of) sprinted over the finish line with the Queen’s gaff sat just behind it.

RideLondon medalI’d had a grand day out. It’d gone a lot better (and faster) than I had thought it would with the only really hard bits coming towards the end, all self inflicted as well after I’d taken a bit of a laissez-faire approach to my training and preparation and then gone off far, far too quickly at the start. I know it sounds a bit mad to say that cycling 100 miles was relatively easy but in all fairness, a good chunk of it kinda was. Certainly in terms of difficulty of events this year RideLondon ranked well below That Bloody Marathon, with large periods actually being extremely pleasant. The novelty of riding on closed roads did not wear off once over the 5 hours, 13 minutes and 22 seconds I was pedalling for and then the finish was as good as any event I’ve done in the past, as was the chunky, two tone RideLondon medal that was placed around my sweaty neck after crossing the line. And in any case, any event where someone has taken time out of their busy schedule to go and scrawl BIKE WANKERS in massive letters on one of the main roads on the route is always going to score extremely highly in my book whatever else happened.

So now it’s back in the wardrobe for the skinny jerseys and padded shorts and back out come the dilapidated running shoes. We’re back on our feet again, pounding the pavement building up to the final event in three weeks time where I’ll join Jonny and his sister in bringing the curtain down on the 1000 mile challenge at the Great North Run, a poignant way to end things as they both run their first (and probably last) half marathons in an event their old man ran all the way back in 1991. Before that Jonny will be dragging a hulking great 35lbs rucksack on a 10 mile run stagger around Catterick, which I’m sure will be very pleasant for him, and then after the Great North Run a week after that it’ll all be over. Done and dusted. Finito.

We’re so close now to £6,000 on our fundraising total so if you haven’t donated yet (or even if you have) it’d be really cool if you wanted to chuck a few quid in and help us hit that nice big round number, a frankly ridiculous one at that. I can’t quite believe that total so thank you so, so much all who have donated. Now all that’s left is to bring it all home.

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