Ever since I had the confirmation that I’d gotten a place in the Ride 100 ballot I’d been viewing August 10th with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement, because it was going to be a great challenge, and trepidation due to the distance. I’d been building myself up since the beginning of the year, but given how exhausting even the lift from a 50 mile ride to a 60 mile one was, I wasn’t too sure about the idea of making 100 miles with anything less than complete exhaustion and, not to put too fine a point on it, severe bum-pain (not a technical term).
In the last months before the event, though, I’d put in a few much longer rides, including 94 miles about 10 days before the event. This put me in a much more positive frame of mind and “I think I might be able to do this” was being replaced by “I might actually enjoy doing this”. Trepidation started to recede and excitement came to the fore.
Then, with a week to go, trepidation was given a major boost: the remnants of Hurricane Bertha were going to be heading across the Atlantic and they might – only might – be hitting the UK on Sunday August 10th. Of course, this meant they were certain too, and indeed they did. Obsessive checking of every weather site in the days leading up to the event and trying to believe whichever forecast was the most forecast didn’t really help as they all trended downwards as the day approached. On the Saturday afternoon, the rain forecast from the Met Office was the picture below:
There were weather warnings in place regarding rain, flooding and wind. Perfect cycling conditions.
On the day, things didn’t look too bad. Rain had fallen overnight but, even lining up at the start, there were grey skies but not too much wind and only a hint of rain here and there.
One thing for sure: there were a lot of cyclists. The organisation involved in getting some 24,000 away was impressive, and I set off a bare 10 minutes after my allotted start time, although a couple of hours after the first fast riders had left.
As many had said it would, the ride started much faster than a casual ride in the country. I was overtaken by pretty much everyone as I stuck to somewhere between 15mph and 20mph, making as much as I could of sitting behind anyone going about the right speed and big enough to make a hole in the air for me to follow. The roads were wet so if they had mudguards it was even better.
Rain came and went, but the weather didn’t seem too bad. By the time we were in Richmond Park there’d been a few light showers but nothing to complain about. There was also a hundred yards of walking due to an accident that didn’t look very nice at all.
Once on the southwest side of London, however, the heavens really opened. The waterproof jacket held up for a while but nothing could keep that amount of water out, and soon my pedal strokes were accompanied by the feeling of water sloshing in the bottom of shoes. We kept going, of course, trying to avoid the rivers that were running across the road.
By about mile 35 the energy levels had dropped, though, and for about the next hour I didn’t hear a single rider speak a word. It was like we were all cycling our way across the river Styx and no-one was in the mood to talk. Also, I was dying for a wee by that point, and also hadn’t eaten as much over the past half an hour because I didn’t want whatever I consumed to be ninety percent rainwater. The top point at 40 miles were advertised by the marhalls (that must have been suffering at least as much as the riders) as “water and toilets; long queue for toilets” so I kept going. The next five miles of country lanes were strewn with men peeing in hedgerows.
Somehow, I managed to cycled up Newland’s Cornder, supposedly one of the three big-ish hills, without knowing that that’s what it was, and I was suddenly at the halfway point. I needed water refill, bladder emptying, and stomach filling, so I went into the “hub”, as they were called. Thankfully there were no queues, and after the water refill I ate my way through a ham sandwich whilst sheltering under a large tree that was keeping the worst of the horizontal rain off.
Fifteen minutes later I gave my gloves a good wring out and set off again. The rain had eased by now and was just rain rather than a waterfall, but the roads were often flooded to the point where the riders had to slow to a narrow filter to weave around lakes. The organisers had taken the decision to shorten the route to avoid the two steep hills – not because of the climbs, but because of the descents – which I don’t think anyone could disagree with, although it was disappointing that now the Ride 100 would only be the Ride 86 as there were 14 miles lopped off.
As a result, after some rolling hills and drying conditions, I found myself at mile 81 (which was really mile 67) rather quickly, and stopped for a last water refill. I ditched the rain jacket as well and took out the spare gloves that I’d wisely packed in the inside pocket for when conditions dried out. These were, of course, almost as soaked as the gloves I’d been wearing, but they were lighter material so they couldn’t hold so much water.
With only 19 miles to the finish, and having had the distance shortened, the last hour and a bit was a very pleasant fast ride into town. Again, I skipped from back wheel to back wheel, and by this point I was only being overtaken by 50% of the riders on the road rather than 100%, which made me feel better about a more moderate easy pace. The wind was strengthening too, but it was coming from behind so it was easy to keep close to a 20mph average, even with all the wet corners we had to slow down for. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the flooded tunnel beneath some railway tracks that many of the cyclists walked around. I cycled through, but at every pedal stroke my feet dipped into the water which was a good four or five inches deep.
The Mall appeared in next to no time and then it was time to dismount, collect a medal and then suffle through to the goody bag collection and out. At least I had the ride home to top the miles up, and I think I totalled 98 miles by the end of the day. I’ll just have to do the 100 miles some other time then.
Despite the atrocious conditions, I’d completely do the whole thing again, and now need to find another cycling target to aim for. Maybe something a bit shorter, but a bit faster… maybe.
Anyway, things that I learnt:
- As many have said, riding in a big group is a lot faster than riding on your own. Solo training is much harder than the event, and the speed you can cruise at in a group makes travelling such a long distance very satisfying.
- If you see someone doing something like this on a Brompton, it’s likely they’re extremely fit. I know I overtook some people who passed me early, but Brompton guy was off into the distance never to be seen again.
- Starting off slow definitely pays off towards the end.
- If you ever get the chance to cycle on closed roads, just do it
Now I just have to see if I can get in for 2015 somehow.