I’m sitting here the morning after the event. It’s another of those occasions where I sit in quiet disbelief of the experience I have been thorough and how lucky I am.
Yesterday was the Prudential Ride London Surrey 100 even. A mere 16,500 participants going over a 100 mile course (much of it the Olympic course from 2012). On the face of it, and with true British cynicism, it had all the markings of a recipe for disaster. But in the true British way, “we” nailed it!
Like Manchester, this ride required an early start. Not as early as some mind you as my start time was 07.57, but I had to get across London to the start and be there for 06.56 in preparation to be “loaded”. Being risk averse as I am, and fearing a puncture on route I set off at 05:50 giving me good time to get there. Also I wasn’t going to push it so I was up, had breakfast, took on about 300ml of liquid and set off.
The ride to the start was very pleasant with very few cars on the road. I wasn’t 100% sure of the route after Westminster but luckily I picked up some other cyclists going to the event on embankment and duly sheep-like followed them to the start.
In itself the ride was flat, and a good warm up, but probably not as sedate as it should have been given the pending challenge.
The start was pretty much to be expected but what was clear very early on was the sheer professionalism and organisation that was apparent.
Each rider had a wave and a loading bay and it was clear where you needed to be and when. This was all supplemented by the compere (for want of a better expression) guiding people and starting them off.
So I duly queued in my Wave T with my fellow Wave T riders. You could sense the apprehension, nerves and the sense of wanting to just get going.
And then we were “loaded” right on time at 06:26.
Again, well thought out management meant there was the opportunity for a last minute relief to clear the bladder, and the it was a waiting game for our wave to be called forward. It was like a clockwork operation and by now, unsurprisingly enough, we were called forward and we set off, bang on our start time of 07:57. We were off.
The first 2 miles were a rolling start. A great idea again by the organisers to ensure you didn’t get people hurtling out of the start gates and having all sorts of mishaps getting out of the Olympic Park.
Unfortunately I saw my first crash of the day before we even reached the start line 2 miles away. A simple fall, and thankfully the rider seemed to bounce up straight away, but not what you would want before your day has even started.
We reached the start at 2 miles and rode over the transponder readers that would mark our time start and we were off. Very very quickly I realised that this was a good solid field of riders. There was no ambling as the pace hit 20mph pretty quickly. The wonderful sound of about 50 riders going through an underpass, the fuzz from the road, it’s an incredible experience and really motivating.We headed West through London and down over Chiswick bridge and then up into Richmond Park.
I had a text from my daughter before the start (my kids were staying with my parents for the day) that they were no going to come into the park to see if they could spot me because my son wasn’t awake yet so I wasn’t expecting to see them, and sure enough as we passed Sheen gate there was no sign of them.
However, about 300 meters later, at the roundabout where we turned right toward Richmond, they were there. My heart lifted. I shouted out to Molly. The first time she didn’t hear me and then just as I shouted the second time my son Harry saw me and shouted “There is is. Hi daddy”. I shouted something inane like “Hi Harry. Are you ok?” and waved at them all (my mother was with them).
Unfortunately I didn’t hear a response if indeed there was one because we had moved round the bend and we were off towards Richmond. But my heart was lifted and I had a smile on my face. Now they experienced first hand what I was doing and they could understand.
The ride took us out through Kingston, over the bridge and then south through Weybridge towards Woking. The pace had now “settled” to an average of 18+ mph. I was concerned that at this pace I wouldn’t be saving enough for Leith Hill or Box Hill but assumed that the pace would settle down. Ha! How wrong was I….
I got chatting to a rider from Derby who was also riding for Children With Cancer UK and that was nice. We probably ate up 5 or so miles without realising it. It was also at this point that I took on some food and made a mental note to myself to keep hydrated. But I also noticed that I had flown past the drink and food hubs that were placed through the course. They seemed just a little congested, and I didn’t feel the need to stop so I just cracked on.
I remember now getting to the 1/2 way point and thinking, crikey, we’ve just done the first half of the course at a pace of 18+ mph (my usual blast pace for a training ride) and I was feeling great. Albeit I had a nagging feeling in my pit of my stomach that Leith Hill was only 5 miles away and Box Hill about 15 miles away. I hoped I wasn’t going to blow.
Leith Hill (or “lethal” as it is known) is about 1 mile long, and can reach gradients of about 15% at times. No doubt it is a tough climb, and quite a few riders were unable to make the climb on the bike, but somehow I still felt good and the strength in my legs just kept pushing me up. Don’t get me wrong, it was tough, but it wasn’t a killer. The average mph took a hammering on this section and came down to 17.5mph but I knew that was going to happen.
Reaching the summit I felt great. Leith Hill (I had only ever climbed it the other way) was done and Box Hill, which I had more knowledge about on account of having ridden it a few times before, was very achievable.
The descent from Leith Hill, and then the incredible public support through Dorking (and BIG shout out to Cobham, Leatherhead and Sutton too!) saw the average speed climb back up to 18mph again. This was incredible. I had simply not been on a ride like this before. It was relentless.
I had always though I was going to stop but somehow I had about 3/4 of a bottle left, and 40 odd miles to go. Could I do this without stopping? My target was 6 hours for the ride and at this pace I would easily meet that target, but I had never managed a distance like this without a stop. The idea was seeded and I think at that moment I knew that unless my body was screaming out for something I would just keep pushing and after box hill it was all downhill from there right?. Another energy bar went in.
Box Hill was great although I was surprised by the lack of supporters on the hill. I thought that would be one of the key areas for people spectating to go but apart from a few of the charity groups, there were very few spectators.
The markings for Cav and Wiggo were still carved into the road which was great to see and really made me think how fortunate I was to be riding this route. That seemed to spur me up Box Hill, my legs just turning and turning the pedals relentlessly. But I was within myself and I wasn’t blowing.
We reached the summit and I just flowed past the rest stop at the top and looked forward to the descent in a couple of miles. It came faster than previous experiences of Box Hill and then we flew down the descent and made our way back towards London. Only about 30 miles to go. That’s just a training ride, I thought to myself. I was going to do this and I was going to do it with my best performance to date.
But by now I was down to half a bottle. Was I being reckless. Should I stop at a drink stop and get liquid. Common sense would say yes, but common sense had gone out of the window. I was on a mission. You see that this point I had realised that I might just about be able to crack 5 Hours 30. That’s not just beating my 6 hour target. That’s smashing it.
It’s funny how your mind can play tricks on you. I had persuaded myself that 30 miles was just a normal training ride, but not after you’ve already done 70 miles at 18mph. What was I thinking. It started to become quite brutal at times, despite the fact that the course because quite favourable now, with a tailwind into London to help. And this is where it started to get quite strange, because not only was I holding the speed average, I was actually managing to increase it. Up to 18.1. By 20 miles to go it was up to 18.2. 10 miles to go 18.3 (which is where it stuck) but on depleted resources and an increasingly aching body (shoulders, backside, hands, feet, etc) I was increasing my speed.
As we approached Wimbledon I knew it was there for the taking. 1 last climb up Wimbledon Hill and then it was downhill all the way through Putney and then along the Embankment up to Westminster and then home to the Mall.
I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was momentous. After 99.7 miles of some of the most relentless riding I have ever done, my spirits were lifted. It was like a huge roar turning the corner towards Admiralty Arch. People banging the hoarding in unison. Any thoughts of exhaustion, aches, pain and need for water (My liquid reserves eventually ran out with 6 miles to go) disappeared as I put in my last surge towards the finishing line.
And so it was over. I felt like I pro who had just competed in a competitive Criterium. It was quite overwhelming and I was in a state of quiet disbelief. As we moved forward after the finishing line we were presented with our medals and then funneled through to our goodie bags. Water! Cranberry Juice! Protein rich chocolate drink! Just what the doctor ordered.
I collapsed down (well not literally) next to another chap who had just finished. We said a few exhausted words but just concentrated on getting re-fuelled. I took a photo to savour the moment.
I think I look a lot better than I should have. Probably still full of adrenalin from the Mall experience.
My time. I wasn’t sure of my exact time because I started the Garmin at the start of the 2 miles rolling start and didn’t stop it till about 100 yards after the finish line so I wasn’t sure what I had achieved. I thought actually I might have done just over 5 hours 30. I didn’t mind. I had put my all into it and blown my 6 hour target out of the water.
It now suddenly occurred to me that I had to get back to my parents house. The more I sat around the harder it would be to get back so I made my move, despite the kind invitation of the Children with Cancer volunteers to join them for refreshments.
About 1 mile along I got a call from Lee (a friend). “We looked out for you” he said. I remembered going past his old house at Abinger Hammer but didn’t know where his new house was. The top of Leith Hill apparently. Shame. I didn’t know. It was at this point he told me how impressed he was with my time. “How do you know my time” I asked. Evidently it was online (again – what great organisation.) I hadn’t know this but people could follow you on route by seeing you go through certain checkpoint on route. My final time was posted the second I went through the finish. Incredible.
“So what was my time?” I asked. 5 hours 26 minutes dead. Boom! I was elated!
With this new high I trundled back to my parents house at a more sedate speed and started my recovery process.
I’ll be living off this ride for a while to come.