RideLondon 100 race report

9 August 2019, 13:26

I am a firm believer that you should do more things that scare you. Not to scare yourself in ways that are potentially life-threatening, mind, but in ways that will definitely jolt you out of any comfort zone you might have. I no longer feel The Fear when a marathon is approaching anymore – that isn’t to say that getting a PB or a specific time isn’t a challenge, but more that I know what the distance will offer up, I prepare myself for it, and I know what can happen.

Even though I have cycle commuted most days for the past few years, I still don’t consider myself a cyclist – I’m a runner who happens to be on a bike. I’ve done a handful of 30 mile sportives over the years, but the the 120 mile, overnight Dunwich Dynamo in 2016 was my only ride anywhere near the 100 mile mark, and I really didn’t enjoy it.

So when I found out I was successful in the RideLondon 100 ballot for 2018, I was a bit scared. Scared of not having a good time, being shouted at and close passed by TdF-wannabe bros the whole way, and of having awful saddle sores for hours on end. I nearly didn’t take up my place, but asked for advice online from others who’ve done it, and I was assured that the later waves were really friendly and supportive and not at all full of MAMILS chasing a time at all costs. So I paid my £60, took up my place, but then got horrifically sick for five months and hadn’t really recovered from the illness or the chemo in time to ride it, so I deferred my place to 2019.

Kit flatlay

I’d love to say that I did a lot of training for this ride, but I really only did one long (50 mile) ride in addition to my usual commutes (10km/30min each way). But I do have an excellent cardio base from years of marathon running, plus running London marathon earlier this year, and I thought I’d probably be okay to complete it. In any case, I didn’t have any weekend days free in the two months proceeding the ride anyway, so it was a bit of a moot point.

What I wasn’t counting on, however, was coming down with a STONKING head cold the day before the race. I was pretty much flat on my back on Saturday going through the majority of a box of tissues, bemoaning my awful, stunted immune system. But I know from experience that resting can still mean I’m sick for months, so I might as well try and do the things I want, and I’ve been looking forward to this ride ever since the glow of London marathon wore off in May. So I went through my pre-race preparations with the assumption that I’d still be doing it, but with the get-out that if I didn’t feel good on my way to the start, I’d allow myself to DNS.

When claiming my place, I specifically went for a slower time (7hrs) to avoid the bros-on-wheels, which put me in a wave starting at 8:12. My pen opened at 6:20 and closed at 7:00, meaning that I had my alarm set for 4:30 in order to get dressed and packed, eat breakfast and drink my tea before hopping on the bike for an hour just to get to the start. I took my old commuting route through South London, then over Tower Bridge to join CS2 at Aldgate and took that all the way to the Olympic Park. The nice thing about riding that early was that I had the roads to myself, I saw a beautiful sunrise, and there were plenty of other riders on CS2 headed to the start, too.

at the start pen

It was really well sign posted and I found my way to my start pen and then stood around for over an hour waiting for our wave to advance to the start line (thankfully my cleats are fairly comfortable to stand and walk in!). Everyone was friendly but clearly also half asleep, and after a lot of standing and waiting around, we eventually started moving and up to the extremely well organised start line, which was split into two parallel pens, so as one was setting off, another wave was loading next to it so riders could set off every few minutes. Very slick.

In all the major running races I’ve done, the first few kilometers are always quite crowded and you’ve got to either go a little slower than you’d like, or duck & dive to try and get around people. So I was expecting this to be no different, but to my surprise it was really very roomy the whole way into and through central London. Being able to cycle down the motorway on the A12 and A13 was both surreal and wonderful, but being able to ride as fast as you can down it because they’re plenty of room was even better!

riding in Richmond Park

I don’t remember much about central London, but I did stop at the first water station to use the loo and remove my arm sleeves that I’d worn to keep warm on my pre-dawn ride and waiting around at the start. I only had one water bottle rack so I had to keep filling it up throughout the day in order to keep hydrated and keep the Skratch electrolytes coming, which was key. But I distinctly remember riding through Richmond Park and what a joy it was to have no traffic and lots of beautiful scenery to look at. There were also a fair amount of spectators lounging in the grass, cheering us on, too.

I stopped again at the first proper feed station at Hampton Court, which turned out to be the most spacious and comfortable of the day. A coworker who’d ridden this in previous year said there’d been feed tables worthy of an ultra, but the only things available were water (and electrolyte tablets), crisps (salt & vinegar, ready salted, or cheese and onion), bananas, and some pretzel balls that were so horrifically dry and overly black peppered that I binned them after the first mouthful. So I’m very glad I brought my own gels (Torq & Gu), bars (Skratch & Clif) and Soreen as I’d have been very hungry without them! I was very happy to have the crisps, however, because as a very salty sweater, it’s what I crave the most when I’m exercising for hours on end.

crisps selfie

Back on the road and I was settling in and perking up (I’m such an endurance athlete I need a good hour to warm up first!), just about ready to tackle the first of the three big climbs when we were flagged down and came to a complete stop. Word was there was a collision, and it was such a narrow country lane that we were soon just walking next to our bikes, then stopping, then walking a little bit more along with literally thousands of other riders ahead of and behind us. Eventually we crossed a little bridge and could ride again, but due to the amount of people, I couldn’t even get into any sort of rhythm or speed and then we were stopped again for another collision. Thousands more riders backed up, we had another set of walking alongside the bike, and shuffling over to the left for emergency vehicles to go on ahead to the crash. Between these two collisions I easily lost 45min-1hr, and we hadn’t even gotten to Newlin’s Corner yet!

stopped for collisions

But eventually we were able to mount our bikes again, and tackle that first climb. I’m really pleased with the way I handled my gears and shifting throughout the ride – normally on my commutes I only use the middle chain ring, but on Sunday I definitely gave ALL the gears a good outing! Newlin’s Corner was tough, but I huffed and puffed my way up in the lowest gear (thanks, head cold!), and stopped at the feed station at the top of the hill. This was a terrible idea, as it was utter, utter mayhem. No space to even get bikes through and get water, and no space for anyone to stop and actually eat anything, plus frazzled marshals shouting at everyone to keep moving – it made for a very stressful “break”! Clearly they got slammed all at once from the riders backed up from the collision!

So I got out of there sharpish, made as good of a descent as I could considering the congestion, and prepared myself for the next (and biggest!) climb, Leith Hill. But we never got the chance to climb it, as disappointingly, the route up the hill was blocked off and we were forced to do the detour route instead! Speaking to others afterwards, it sounds like the area around Leith Hill is quite narrow in places, so I’m guessing that they needed to close it to prevent further congestion. But it’s still annoying that I didn’t get to prove myself on the biggest climb, especially as others ahead of me and behind me were able to. Plus, it means my official results say in big letters that I took Diversion 2, like some sort of coward! :(

Box Hill scenery

But there wasn’t much I could do about it, and Box Hill was fast approaching. I’ve run up Box Hill a few times, but the running route is steep, direct, and full of a thousand steps, and the road is far less steep with three switchbacks, but much longer than the other two climbs. The real MVP of Box Hill was the lady at the base of it singing Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and I’m proud to say that myself and others sang along at her as we rode past, and it really put a spring in my step for the rest of the climb. I was tempted by the cakes sold by the village WI at the top of Box Hill, but I wanted to press on, and I made a strong descent through the forest, happy to know the bulk of the climbs were behind me.

Box Hill

The rest of the ride back to London was a bit of a blur apart from a few notable exceptions:

  • The lady handing out ice lollies (popsicles) from her driveway. GOD BLESS YOU. Even if it did mean I had to hold my lolly in one hand while I had to break down a crazy hill, with ice lolly melting all over my hand, break, and handlebars until I could stop breaking momentarily and take a lick!

  • The next water stop round the back of a Sainsbury’s car park, where the sun came out for the first time all day, and I used a wet wipe I’d packed in case of mechanical problems to wipe the sticky lolly off my handlebars

  • Coming through Kingston and getting lots of cheers from the crowds, and seeing Heidi and Andy who I simply cannot believe spotted me in the sea of riders!!

last feed stop

I’d been warned about the cheeky hill at Wimbledon at 90 miles, so I wasn’t surprised by that, thankfully, and then we were suddenly going over Putney Bridge and through Fulham (a usual running route of mine), and then along the Chelsea Embankment and my usual commute. I cannot stress how joyful and carefree it felt to cycle along my usual route but with EVERY SINGLE PARKED CAR AND HGV GONE. Just, gone! Unless you put up with the stress and threat of casual violence from drivers on a daily basis, you really don’t know how good it feels for it to suddenly not be there. I honestly think one of the best things about the whole day was just being able to ride on closed roads.

riding with tongue out

And much to my pleasure, the other riders around me were utterly fantastic. Some small talk, and compliments, but I didn’t really ride with anyone for any length of time to make friends or anything. But people were great about shouting and indicating hazards, giving people room when passing, and by and large only passing on the right, too. I honestly can say that I didn’t see a single instance of dickish behaviour all day, and that’s probably what I was most concerned about.

finishing straight

I was able to ride up the Mall to the finish with a massive grin on my face, kissing my hand to the crowd, and genuinely celebrating a day I really enjoyed. Though I would’ve enjoyed it more had I not needed to go through three packs of tissues, but at least I was able to ride it at all. I tend to sing songs to myself as I ride around London, and for a good portion of the day, my earworm was a piece of Hamilton: “Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

with medal

RideLondon 100 – 4 August 2019 – 7:23:17

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  1. Great article! So proud of you, and glad you enjoyed yourself! Of course, I wouldn’t personally think of a 100 mile bike ride as a fun way to spend a day! Lol

    — Sandy Fehr    10 August 2019, 02:36    #

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