I raised a little over £300 for the charity and I had ‘fun’.
At a little before 6AM I arrived at the train station, not long after that, they allowed everyone in and we all crammed ourselves onto the ‘specially laid on’ train. I am not good at estimating numbers, there were perhaps a couple of hundred people with a bicycle each.
The train was due to leave at 06:20. At 06:19, they announced that the train was not going to leave as there was a signalling fault and perhaps we should take the City-2-City train from the other station. Much swearing happened.
I tagged along with a group of riders that seemed to have a clue, we blasted from Southend Victoria to Southend Central station, straight through the pedestrianised area. Luckily there were no policemen around to arrest us. I’m sure that the Echo would have a ball with such a news story given the editorial hatred of cyclists.
We got to the station very quickly I boarded a train with my bike. As my bum hit the seat, the doors closed and we were off. I think we took the 6:30 train to West Ham. But I am not convinced…
West Ham is about 6km from the start at Victoria park, so once again, on arrival, I followed the people that looked like they knew where we were going – this was becoming a theme for the day and would pretty much carry on to the end.
The ride to the start was pretty miserable, the roads were wet and greasy and the tail end of a shower was still trying to get everyone wet. It occurred to me that this was the first time I had ridden the bike in the rain. It was remarkably good.
First issue – my cycling shoes are ‘extreme summer’ ones, which means that they are full of air vents. Within about 100m my feet were wet and cold.
We all got to Victoria park fairly quickly, the group that I found myself with on the ride there were pretty fast, so I considered that I was ‘nicely warmed up’. I think we wasted another couple of km trying to find the start, but in the end I got there.
The event was very well organised, plenty of port-a-loos, plenty of stalls to get coffee, inner-tubes, protein bars and even one selling helmets were clustered around the start area.
There were a large number of riders with ‘team kit’. Sadly (?) they would be wearing, say, Astana jerseys and riding perhaps a ‘Giant’ rather than the team-issue Specialized S-Works. Oddly the prevalence to wearing team kit seemed to be directly proportional to the riders weight. A 20-stone (280b) man in Team Sky kit is not a pretty sight at all.
Also present were a many groups of cycling club ‘teams’. Along my way I would encounter several of these groups. Perhaps the most recognisable and most courteous were the GITS (http://www.theoldgits.com). These guys were fast but safe, unlike several others…..
Once I had got my bearings and I was sure that I understood what I was supposed to do, I headed towards the start line. Surprisingly, despite the ‘8AM start’ in the event guide, they had opened the start very early, so I hit ‘start’ on MapMyRide, handed in my card and hit the road.
At this point I knew that I needed to ride at a comfortable pace if I was going to make it back, but also, at the back of my mind, I am thinking ‘I want to beat 4hrs’.
Initially I was pretty cautious, I found myself getting stuck behind people that were riding slower than I wanted to go, but also I was concerned that overtaking them would dig into my energy reserves. The roads were also a little wet in places and my feet were very cold. My bike was awesome though, the gear changes were fast and crisp and the brakes worked beautifully in the rain.
The ride out of London was very nice, I enjoyed it immensely. I’ve never liked London, it is too busy, too crowded, so as we left the park it was quite a surprise to find that we hit the countryside fairly quickly. This section was fun, but I was very, very glad to be out of the city.
What became obviously, quickly, was that some riders were very selfish. I’m sure that this was not deliberate, or even that they were aware of it, but riding along fairly slowly side-by-side makes it incredibly difficult for a faster rider to get by. At several times I wanted to yell at some of them. Riders number 620 and 621 annoyed me greatly in the first few miles, but once I was past them the ride settled down for me.
I stopped at the first of the rest areas, this was at about the 20km mark, I did not buy coffee or snacks, or even take on water, all I did was pack my water-proof jacket away in my camelback and connect my phone and video camera to my battery pack.
During the ride thus far, I figured that I had overtaken more people than had overtaken me. I also noticed that several of the groups of ‘team riders’ that had overtake me in the last few km’s were stopped at the rest stop.
Watching the distance counter was both good and bad, I became obsessed with breaking 4hrs. My average speed for the 85.5km needed to be around the 22kmh mark and in the first 20KM it was just about 21kmh. I told myself that all the traffic lights in London and the huge hill early on had slowed me and that I was fine…
At 30km I realised that I was over the 1/3rd distance. I felt great, really good. I was aware that I had a long way to go, but things were good.
I skipped worrying about the time at 40km, because it was not yet half way.
In the last few km several groups of team riders had overtaken me again plus a few individuals, but in general I was faster than nearly everyone on a mountain bike or hybrid and generally I was holding my own against the road bike riders. Except those that were sprinting from stop-to-stop. But even these, I realised, were no faster over the distance.
At 42.5km I celebrated the half way point with a gel thing. Utterly hateful, apple-flavoured goo. I probably drank half a litre of sports drink to wash it down. My average speed was creeping up, 22.2kmh – this was good, I was on target.
Again I was overtaken by several packs of team riders. I had noticed that they were at the last rest stop. I started to realise that my ‘non-stop’ approach might not generate the fastest time riding, but I did start to wonder if I would get to the finish before them.
At 55km everything was great, my feet had dried out, finally, I pulled my arm and leg warmers off and stuff them in my camelback, average speed was almost 23kmh. I did the next kilometre at 40.3kmh !
Four Kilometres later I was in agony after climbing a hill. I reached the top of the hill, but I have no idea how. I literally ran out of gears on the way up and ended up grannying it for the last 500m. This was pretty much the lowest I had been on the ride. Just 26km from home and everything was hurting. I managed just 15.3kmh for the last km which was hurting my average speed too.
The terrain then switched back to flowing countryside, the speeds got back to normal, my splits were 26/28/28/27/20/21/29/32/27 22 for the next 10K.
At 70km, I felt like I was going to make it, the average speed was over 23kmh, I had been on the road for three hours, 15km in under and hour should be possible, surely ?
The terrain got a little hilly again and I slowed down. I got stuck behind a few slower riders here and there, but in general I was riding my own pace. I felt confident that I would break four hours, but by this time I was beginning to not care.
With 8km to go I was pretty much done, battling with the wind and sore legs I gave up worrying about beating four hours, all I cared about was getting to the end.
With just 3km to go I started to worry that I might have to ride up a hill to get to the finish. At that point I was not sure that I could make it if there were any more hills. I reminded myself that there was a cold beer and a bacon sandwich waiting for me and gave my legs a stern talking to.
Suddenly I was aware of where I was, just a roundabout, a short, fast, straight and perhaps a ride though the park and I was done. I found a little extra reserve in my legs and I overtook several riders on the straight bit.
Luckily the organiser had us go through the nearest entrance, a nice short downhill section into the park.
– Lots of people clapping and cheering
– Organisers handing out bottles of water, medals and certificates.
Confusion – no idea what to do with the bottle of water, still half clipped-in, ugh.
It is hard to explain just how emotional I was to cross the line, I wanted to laugh, cry, faint and jump up and down all at the same time.
The bacon sandwich, the pear cider and the lack of needing to keep pedalling…..
In the end, my time was 3hrs, 43mins, 39 seconds.
I averaged 23.1kph.
I am more than happy with that.
Here is 32 minutes of the ride out of London…