So I did it! From zero miles on a road bike to one hundred miles on a road bike in five weeks of training. I have lots of people to thank but I couldn't have done it without Ricci and everyone at BCR. Walking into Bike Chain Ricci for the first time to purchase my first road bike and get a bike fit seems a million years ago. I have learnt a lot in a short space of time but mostly that there is a lot still left to learn (as I discovered this morning when I had my first puncture!) Cue a quick trip to BCR for a lesson on how to change a tyre! Understanding safety out on the roads and learning the skills necessary to ride in a group, out on the roads and to take part in sportives is perhaps the most important. Cycling in Ride London showed me the incredible amount of fun you can have on 2 wheels, the comraderie of cycling in groups but also the importance of staying safe. So here's how it started...
Sunday 2nd August, a beautiful hot sunny day, I lined up with over 25,000 cyclists to race around the traffic free roads of London in a once in a lifetime sportive. Starting at the iconic Olympic Stadium and culminating in a final stretch down the mall with Buckingham Palace at the finish line, this is the stuff dreams are made of.
I stayed at a hotel 7 miles from the start line with some of the ladies I have been training with,set the alarm early (5.45am) and attempted some kind of sleep. I tried not to get too worked up with nerves and excitement as I knew sleep was important. But it was difficult to relax into sleep when all I could think was "What. Am. I . Doing. Tomorrow?!"
I remember a few strange dreams so I must have drifted off into some kind of slumber, but the moment my alarm went off, I was up and ready. Despite the early rise, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through me already. I forced down some porridge and banana, downed a coffee, put on my kit and double-triple-quadruple checked I had everything I needed.
Next was the small task of getting to the start line on 2 wheels. My first time cycling through central London, I was amazed at the amount of traffic - cars and cyclists. I have to say it was a little frantic! Crossing four lanes of traffic to get into the right lane to turn right at an enormous crossroads, alongside tons of other cyclists fighting past cars and lorries, was a first for me! Suddenly I felt grateful for the quieter (but hillier) roads of Cornwall.
Soon enough, coloured signs began appearing and cyclists veered off to their various start bays. My start bay was pink and I followed the signs to join Wave F, starting at 8.15am. As we queued for our start time, the atmosphere was incredible. Tension mounted as we edged closer to the start line, with nervous conversation and music playing over loudspeakers.
Before you knew it, the horn blew (our wave took off to the sounds of 'Grease Lightning) and away I went.
(Tami and I at the start line....in my lovely BCR Le Col jersey)
It was exhilarating from the first moment. Having the roads to ourselves was a true marvel and zooming through some of the tunnels at speed felt amazing. I managed to lose friends, meet friends, lose them again and ended up riding solo most of the way.
As my first sportive, I was determined to enjoy it and also to push myself and feel that I had finished the race to the best of my ability. I made some mistakes along the way. I stopped at the 50 mile hub and it was SO BUSY. I got stuck in a 20 minute shuffling queue just to use the toilet and grab some more water. They had run out of gels at every stop and I had only brought one with me. It was a pity as I really felt I needed more gels in the last 20 miles but, as a later starter at 8.15, all the good stuff had gone!
Nevertheless, I munched on SIS energy bars (thanks again BCR) and bananas, stayed hydrated and felt great. I was high on life for the first 56 miles. Then came my first major obstacle. Leith Hill. It was the steepest of the ascents but I wouldn't get to experience it in all it's glory. Unfortunately I was slowed to a stop right at the foot of the hill. Amongst thousands of other cyclists, we would have to wait. Soon we heard rumours of an accident at the top of the hill and could do nothing but wait patiently and make new friends. One lady next to me started a very successful mexican wave to pass the time. The minutes ticked by, and i learnt later that my family and friends tracking my progress online were worried about me as I wasn't moving.
We ended up stationery for an hour 15 minutes then another 15 minutes making slow progress pushing our bikes up the hill as there were just too many cyclists to get back on our bikes. It was a bit frustrating and any chance of getting a good time were out the window. Plus pushing my bike on foot wasn't helping my average speed. This was the only real downside to the whole day. Rumour (that later proved true) was that the hold up was due to a heart attack so I pushed any negative thoughts aside and sent a prayer for the man and his family.
As I finally got zooming again, there were several more delays, accidents, ambulances and too many bikes causing bottlenecks in small villages like Dorking. Once again we had to get off our bikes and walk. I passed at least 10 quite major accidents, a sobering reminder of the dangers of the sport. I was having the time of my life but also concentrating on staying safe. I really didn't want to finish the day in the back of an ambulance.
I was very lucky I had no mechanical problems as hundreds of cyclists fixed punctures and chains at the side of the road. The crowds cheered and spurred me on and created a really incredible atmosphere. I even heard a "Go Miss King" in the crowd from an ex pupil of mine! He must have been tracking me on the Ride London app as well. It was a wonderful surprise.
As I approached the 100 mile finale, alongside the River Thames, I tried to soak up the moment, and imprint it in my memory. It really was a special special day. The final sprint down the mall with crowds cheering gave me the most incredible goosebumps.
I was lucky to have friends and family before and after the finish line shouting my name as I crossed the 100 mile line.
I collected my lovely medal and was reunited with my cheerleaders, including my brother who had also raced that day (and in an incredible time of 4 hours 30 minutes).We celebrated in front of Buckingham Palace and then my bike and I made our way home, exhausted, exhilarated and feeling pretty invincible.
Thousands of individuals achieved incredible things that day. I felt proud of my brother, proud of other friends who had raced, new friends I had met and all of the others, many of whom raised money for great causes in the process.
It was a magical day and made every moment of training truly worth it. I would recommend it to anyone. And as luck would have it, the ballot for 2016 opens today.
Take a chance and achieve something incredible.
To enter the 2016 ballot click here