A Windmiler’s journey to tackling Ride London

I’d written this blog long before I completed Prudential Ride London 2018 this summer. But having slacked on posting this summer as I’ve been too busy enjoying our great summer, I forgot to post my experience of Ride London from 2017 which I wanted to share before this years ride! I did get round a very wet and horrid route, and actually had been diverted due to Box Hill and Leith Hill being closed therefore actually only riding 95 miles this year, nevertheless take a read of a nicer journey around the 100 miles from last summer!  Enjoy!

It was the summer of 2015, when I’d been living in Wimbledon for just over 6 months, and I’d decided to take it upon myself to purchase a bike, to make travelling into Hammersmith for work a slightly more enjoyable commute. It sounded like a great idea at the time, I’d get fit, avoid the dreaded district line and always get a seat. I picked up my new specialized hybrid bicycle, and adventurously signed up for some London cycle events, one being the Prudential Ride London for a place in summer of 2016. I can tell you now, I thought I’d signed up for a short leisurely cycle, and 100 miles didn’t sound too bad when you are on a bicycle.

I eagerly collected my bike, and despite being a little wobbly, I hadn’t cycled in over 15 years, I was optimistic, and had some sessions with TFL to get me bike ready for my 5 mile commute to Hammersmith.

The commute didn’t really happen initially as I became very nervous to cycle alone, and decided to give the group rides held by my local club a go. I was told to meet the medium group at their usual pick up at Starbucks Coffee, (there was no such thing as a beginners led ride at the time). My family advised me that I may get left behind or need to pack my oyster card just in case I needed to get a train back. The ride was an out and back route to Windsor from Wimbledon. At this point, I can say the club were great, they didn’t judge my heavy hybrid and encouraged me to keep up and give the ride up to Windsor ago, I always remember how one of the club members shouted advice on which gears to get into to get the best of tackling hills and to improve power and speed. I thankfully made it to Windsor but did end up taking the train back home after a much needed cake stop, to avoid holding any others back.

In preparation for Ride London, I had signed up to London to Brighton, but after the Windsor club ride and a few others, I thought to myself that I wouldn’t complete the 54 miles down to Brighton let alone 100 Miles out to Surrey and back. Many cyclists I spoke to had advised I’d manage both with a hybrid, but it would be tough on hills but not unachievable. Prior to London to Brighton, I also managed a ride to Box Hill on the hybrid, and they were right, it was doable, but hills were tough as the bike was heavy. In the spur of the moment, the Friday before London to Brighton, I walked into Evans and purchased a brand new Cannondale road bike, I got myself over to Richmond Park the Saturday I collected it for a few laps of the park to practise, and did a slow ride from London to Brighton the next day. This gave me the boost I needed, but this being a month before Ride London 2016, I hadn’t managed to tackle Ditchling Beacon, I sadly had to walk half of the hill due to lack of training and confidence in myself.

As time drew closer and closer to the Ride London date, I became increasingly less confident about participating in the ride – the excuses I drew up were that I’d started training late, due to concentrating on Marathon training, and had only found out I had a ballot place the February before the race, 5 months didn’t see enough time for a beginner to finish. The “not knowing what I had signed up for” really did kick in. I inevitably decided to defer my ballot entry to 2017, and spend the year really focusing on making sure I completed the ride in 2017.

By Summer 2017, I took on board advice from club riders, and managed to upgrade to clip in pedals, which helped improve my cycling significantly. This was half the battle of having the confidence to move away from trainers.  Also, I had really focused on what training I needed to do to make sure I finished the race. I spent most of the year commuting to work, and that summer the club began a steadier paced cycle group which would go out on 40-70 mile rides each Sunday morning. I actively attended and on many occasions led some of these longer rides. We often would ride out to Esher, Box Hill, and once attempted to tackle Leith Hill, albeit us going the wrong way up it was still pretty tough.

During 2017, I had also moved away from Wimbledon back to Hertfordshire. Due to the lack of athletics clubs in Hertfordshire, I continued to join the Wimbledon cycling groups on Sundays, I would cycle the 23 miles from Hertfordshire down to Wimbledon, and add on 40/50 miles to my ride, this became a crucial part of my training for Ride London. In addition, I regularly joined our club cycling on a Wednesday evenings in Richmond Park.

Race day approached fairly quickly, and I arrived at Stratford for around 5:30am to get into my Allocated Wave G. The wave opened at 05:52am and closed by 06:32. Once we were in our waves I had to wait for my personal start time of 07:44am. I had other club members riding, however they had been allocated a late start time and I wasn’t allowed to start later. I therefore crossed the start line at Stratford and waited just past the start line on the left whilst I waited for 30 mins for other riders to join me.

The route seemed to go quickly, in terms of havign closed roads  we sped through Stratford down into central london. The beginning part of the route seemed like a concrete jungle through canary wharf and the city, until we reached the Ritz was the first part of London where I felt overwhelmed by riding through our capital city.

After the ritz, everything felt vrey familiar, as we rode through Knightsbridge past Harrods department store. Then up past Exhibition Road, with the grand buildings of the Victoria and Albert museum & the Natural History Museum to our right.

We continued on, and from a mental point of view I knew how far we had to some of our major fuel stops. As we approached Hammersmith flyover, I passed the Disney headoffice where I worked and pointed out to riders where my floor and desk was, which I found amusing.

After the flyover, we went over Chiswick bridge and headed into Richmond Park through Sheen Gate. I felt familiar with the road and knew at this point I knew what I had to come due to many of our club rides. Richmond Park was our first fuel and toilet stop after 20 miles.

From Richmond Park I knew we had hills, hills and more hills to come. We approached the Surrey Hills through Kingston where the supports came in thick and fast, and then approached the first hill which was Newlands corner, in all honesty, I can’t remember how tough this hill was, the Ride London route stated 5% but I managed the hill easily after a well deserved food stop before the hill.

After Newlands, we would approach the 50 Mile marker, and I remember seeing the Leith Hill Bypass and joking to myself that it would good to cut the hill out, fortunately I didn’t, and I followed the correct route. As we approached Leith Hill, all riders had been stopped due to a fatal acciedent up ahead. The paths became congested with many riders who didnt want to skip this 7% hill. I waitied patiently, and at this point had a phone call from a friend who had a 5am start time, she was already at the finish line and I hadn’t even got past leith hill yet! She wished me luck, but at this point my morale and ego was bruised. After a 15/20 minute hold up, riders were being filtered up the hill. This as a beginner was my worst nightmare, too many riders and I wouldn’t make it up Leith Hill, either because I may not have been able to clip in with my cleats up hill, I was still getting used to them, or because if there were unexperience riders just stopping in front of me I may have had to stop and not been able to continue on the steep hill. Fortunately, my inner demon came out, and as expected riders would just stop but I had to shout “KEEP TO THE LEFT” to those choosing to give up. In my head I was shouting politely but road rage may have materialised.

Leith Hill felt like it went on forever, and as I climbed higher, the path widened and the riders thinned out. There were many points I felt I wouldn’t make the climb, but my ego got the better of me, mainly as I was riding with a friend and she was quickly finishing the climb.

We had a well deserved break at the top of leith hill, where we updated supporters of our route position and took one too many selfies at the top of the hill. We fueled up again and continued on the route, next stop would be Box Hill.

As we rode up to Box hill, the route takes you through Dorking,where again there was an influx of supporters, similarly to when we passed through Kingston.

Box Hill for me was the hill I’d practised many times, and knew my method would be to take it slow and steady. But 70 miles, I was mentally ready to stop, but would constantly remind myself I’d managed this climb several times in the past and race day would not be the day I wouldn’t complete it. For me the winding zig zag is much gentler than any of the other hills on the ride london route, however this seems to be the most famous hill due to its popularity with the cycling community. I enjoyed the climb, and looked forward to the stop at the ever familiar cafe stop at the top of Box Hill.

From Box hill we were on a home run, I felt overwhelmed and teary at Box Hill. I continued on, the downhill from Bix Hill is a treat for most cyclists. But for me, I find the downhill very bumpy, and I dread decents in most cases. I often find myself holding on to my handlebars for dear life, and need to always remember to relax.

The journey back to the city, went quickly, we rushed through Esher, and into Wimbledon which is where I lived and knew the hills very well. I looked out for Windmiler supporters, but unfortunately didn’t see anyone I recognised, but did get a few shout outs and morale boosts from locals cheering for a Wimbledon Windmiler ( I was wearing my club kit). This was my last food stop just after Wimbledon Hill by the Dog anf Fox, I waited here as I had lost a friend I was riding with. From here on wards, I ended up heading straight to the finish line quickly across Putney Bridge, down the Chelsea Embankment and into the Mall where friends and family were waiting for my arrival.

For me the journey to complete the race didn’t start on race day, but 18 months prior to this day. The training, progression and learnings on the lead up to the race was what built my character and confidence on the bike. I can’t thank my cycling club enough for the encouragement I had from coaches, and other club members on our weekly club rides.

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