Prudential Ride London 2016: cycling the inaugural Surrey 46

Map of route
Map of the route, as recorded by my Garmin phone app

I needn’t have worried so much about RideLondon Surrey46. I didn’t sleep in. I didn’t miss the VIP breakfast. I got in my wave load area in good time and I cycled 46 miles without incident – no crashes, no flats, no energy lows to conquer. In fact, I did it so fast, I shaved more than an hour off my guesstimated finish time. All round, it was a superb event — well organised and fun — and I finished it feeling absolutely elated. Sign me up for the next one, please.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a few “wobbles” along the way.

Cycling too fast

The first? The pace over the first eight to 10 miles was super-fast, catching me entirely by surprise. I initially put the speed down to nervous energy — we’d all been waiting so long in our wave zones that the tension had built up and it needed to go somewhere. (For instance, my wave loading zone opened at 7.31, closed at 8.06, and then it took an hour to move oh-so slowly and in intermittent fits and starts to the line for our starting time of 9.02, by which time we were all desperate to jump in our saddles and begin turning the pedals!)

Ride-card

But I think the fact we were cycling on closed roads had something to do with it too. For the first time ever I didn’t have to worry about the cut-and-thrust of motorised traffic – I was free to cycle across two lanes (and often more), so if I found myself getting held up by a slower cyclist I simply moved across and overtook them without fear of being run over by a van or a bus travelling at speed. While I did have to watch out for fellow cyclists coming up from behind, I never felt that I was putting myself at risk by being on the road — quite a novel experience, I must say.

That combination of excitement and freedom meant I rode at a pace far above my usual cycle commute, which tends to average around 11mph (17.7kph). In fact, I did the whole 46 miles at almost 15mph (24kph), so the fast pace wasn’t restricted to those first 10 miles.

 

Profile of Surrey 46
Profile of the Surrey 46 route, courtesy of the Ride London website

 

Climbing hills

The second “wobble” was confronting my fear of hills. If I was a professional cyclist (you can stop laughing now), I would not be a mountain climber (nor a mountain descender). I honestly don’t know how they do it without both their lungs and legs exploding. Having looked at a profile of the Surrey 46 route (see above) in the days leading up to the event, there were two hills that concerned me: Sawyer’s Hill in Richmond Park (about mid-way through the cycle), and Wimbledon Hill, in Wimbledon (just eight miles from the finish).

I’ve cycled up Sawyer’s Hill, a long sweeping incline, many a time, but I tend to avoid it wherever possible because it’s such an energy-sapper. In recent weeks I’ve made myself go up it a handful of times while on training runs — but it wasn’t something I enjoyed. As for Wimbledon Hill, I’ve walked up it a lot on my lunch-time strolls, but I’ve never cycled it. It’s short but very steep, and there’s a little kicker at the end, which I’d been warned about. I’m happy to report that on Sunday I climbed both hills without having to get up out of the saddle. I think this is largely due to Mr London Cycling Diary giving me a mini lesson on gearing the night before, so that I knew exactly which gears I should be in as I approached the hills (rather than clunking my way through them mid-ascent and losing momentum). That preparation seemed to work a treat — or maybe the sheer “high” of taking part in this event meant I didn’t even notice the pain!

Accident on the road

The third “wobble” was coming upon the aftermath of a crash in Kingston-upon-Thames, at about the 25 mile mark. There was a man lying prone on the road and he was being attended to by volunteers. It was hard to see what had happened and how serious the accident was. I remember thinking, “I hope he’s OK”. Then, having done a loop of the town, I had to go past the man again. There was no longer any question about the seriousness of his injuries: an ambulance was in attendance and a paramedic was giving him CPR right there in the middle of the road, while cyclists cautiously whizzed past and spectators lined the street. (I can still see the up-and-down nature of the paramedic’s body over the cyclist’s as they tried to pump life into him.) I told myself not to look. And even though I caught but a brief glimpse of what was going on, I got so upset I had to force myself not to burst into tears and to just concentrate on my own race.

For the rest of the event I kept thinking of the poor man. You attend a sportive to have fun in the great outdoors, you never once consider that you may die while doing it. It was a sobering thought. (I’ve since discovered the man, 48-year-old Robin Chard, had a heart attack and died later in hospital. He was raising money for cancer research and his fundraising page currently tops £63,000, a wonderful tribute that I hope his family can take some comfort from.)

Some high points

Putting that sad note to one side, how about the high points? Well, without sounding like a terrible show off, finishing Surrey 46 wasn’t as physically demanding as I had imagined it would be. My cycle training paid off, as did a positive mindset. The distance was pretty much perfect (I only stopped once, for a pee and a water top up at Richmond Park). My legs remained strong throughout, I didn’t get the usual sore bum and I never once wished the event would hurry up and end, thoughts which have entered my mind at other similar, but longer, events! I felt some soreness in my back at around mile 40, which worsened the closer I got to the finish line, but pretty much disappeared as soon as I entered the Mall for those last few hundred yards!

The best bit — aside from cycling on closed roads — was seeing so many spectators lining the route offering their support. Whether it was residents sitting in deck chairs on the footpath outside their homes ringing cow bells, or great throngs of charity workers in brightly coloured t-shirts, clapping and cheering us on, or the random people who spotted my cycling top and shouted “GO SKODA!”, or the volunteers waving their yellow flags like rhythmic gymnasts and blowing their whistles to warn us of danger ahead, it all added up to a rather wonderful and upbeat atmosphere. The people of Kingston should be given special mention, too, because they came out in droves to lend their support. It almost felt like the London Olympics all over again.

I must also thank Skoda for giving me the ticket to ride (and the top). And a very BIG thank you to all the volunteers (there must have been hundreds of them) and the organisers. Everything was so superbly managed — from the start line to the finish — that there was no need to worry about anything other than turning the pedals and keeping your eyes on the road. And the goodie bag — and medal — at the end was a lovely surprise! It made cycling the five miles home all the more easier…

And finally, thanks to Mr London Cycling Diary, who got up at stupid o’clock on Sunday morning to drive me to the Olympic Park so I could fulfil this crazy cycling challenge — and for that valuable lesson about using my gears properly!

At the finish line on The Mall © Marathon Photos
At the finish line on The Mall © Marathon Photos

Total distance: 46 miles | Ride time: 3hr 16min (including stops) | Average speed: 14.7mph

One day to go…

Skoda-top-and-registration-book

Six weeks ago I got back on the bike, after a very long absence, with a view to getting myself cycle-ready for  RideLondon Surrey46. I had planned to document my efforts here, but, as they say, life got in the way, and now here I am, just a day away from tackling a 46 mile sportive wondering what I’ve let myself in for…

I spent the first few weeks riding my commuter bike just to get back into the swing of regular cycling. Then, about three weeks ago, I dug out my road bike (below) and had to get used to cycling all over again. That’s because the whole feel of the bike is different — the position is different, the gears are different, the brakes are different — and it’s quicker and lighter and “twitchier” to handle.

My road bike

Mr London Cycling Diary even put new puncture-proof tyres on it for me (an early birthday present), which has taken away my fear of what-the-hell-do-I-do-if-I-get-a-flat? I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, but I’m not the most mechanically minded and I could just see me being stuck on the side of the road somewhere not even knowing how to take the (quick-release) wheel off!

Of course, I could still get a flat, and on tomorrow’s event I’m taking spare tubes and a repair kit — just to be on the safe side. (Not that I will know how to use them…)

So, anyway, I’ve been trying to cycle to work at least twice a week, often three times, and in the past fortnight I’ve been returning home via Richmond Park, doing a couple of mini laps, just to clock up the miles. It’s been a great way to wind down after a long day sitting at my desk editing copy. I’ve also been doing a longish cycle every weekend.

Deer-in-richmond-park

My legs have really been feeling the extra exercise…especially my quads. I also have a (minor) problem with my left calf that seizes up overnight, but I’ve been massaging it with oil from Neal’s Yard, so it should be OK tomorrow (I absolutely swear by the Ginger & Juniper Warming Oil, which loosens everything up almost immediately, and it smells gorgeous too).

There’s not much more I can do now to get ready… I’ve got my rider number, helmet and frame stickers all in place (I had to collect them from London Excel, out in Greenwich, yesterday). I’ve packed my little under-seat saddle with the aforementioned tubes and repair kit, as well as eye drops, spare contact lenses, medicated wipes, lip balm, anti-chafing gel, electrolyte tablets (to put in my water bottle) and nutrigrain bars. I’ve got my outfit ready to pop on in the morning, including a VIP pass, courtesy of Skoda, that entitles me to a free breakfast at the starting line at Queen Elizabeth Park.

All that’s left to do is to try to get a decent night’s kip and not sleep through my 5am alarm clock! Wish me luck.

Getting my cycling mojo on once again

Cycle-route

On Sunday I got back on my bike for the first time since last September. According to my Garmin, my last cycle was 15 September 2015 when I cycled home from work. Little did I know that when I put my bike back in the “shed” that evening it wouldn’t be used again for nine months!

I stopped cycling because I was unwell: I went to Australia for a few weeks in October and when I returned what I thought was a really bad case of jet lag turned out to be something else. I was constantly light-headed and felt on the verge of fainting 24/7. I also had heart palpitations and felt discombobulated and “foggy” most of the time. It was so bad in the morning that I changed my hours at work so that I could get a seat on the tube. It was horrible.

My GP ran a series of blood tests and the results showed I had a severe vitamin D deficiency (I was “bone deficient” — vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium). I was prescribed a three-month course of mega-high dose of Vitamin D3, but it took at least six weeks before I felt “normal” again.

By that time it was early January — and the middle of winter. My job was also up in the air and I lacked motivation to get the bike out again.

Fast forward five months and I finally found a reason to start cycling again: RideLondon Surrey46. This is a new event — a 46 mile round trip from London to Surrey — being run as part of the Prudential RideLondon cycling festival at the end of July. When I was offered a free place by Skoda in exchange for blogging about my experience I figured it was a brilliant opportunity to kick-start my cycling after such a long hiatus.

With just six weeks to go until the big event, I got my hybrid out of storage on Sunday and plotted a route to my new job (I left my old one in Southwark at Easter and now work in Wimbledon). It wasn’t easy. The cycling itself was fine — I’m relatively fit given I walk a minimum of five miles a day — but my sense of direction is crap, and I kept taking wrong turns or missing turns so that it felt like I spent as much time at the side of the road checking Google maps as I did on the saddle turning the pedals!

And doing it on a sunny Sunday afternoon probably wasn’t the best timing. The traffic was bumper to bumper on the busy A roads and because parking restrictions are relaxed on Sundays, there were cars parked on the (few) cycle lanes along my route. What should have taken me about 40 minutes took me an hour.

The route back was slightly quicker because I now knew where I was going, but I have to say it wasn’t exactly pleasant. Cycling in the suburbs of south-west London isn’t quite as cycle friendly (and enjoyable) as heading from west London into central London. At least a third of my old commute was through parkland; my new commute (which is roughly the same distance) is through narrow suburban streets. It’s going to take a little while to get used to…

But still, I’m pleased I’ve taken the plunge. Now to get back into the habit of doing it regularly. I’ve got to get myself in shape quite quickly if I’m going to successfully tackle 46 miles on 31 July.

Total distance: 16.7miles | Ride time: 1hr 54min | Average speed: 8.7mph

What every British politician, traffic engineer & town planner needs to watch

Chris Boardman did a brilliant piece about the Dutch attitude to cycling on this week’s ITV Cycling Show.

It’s only four minutes long, but definitely worth watching:

http://www.itv.com/tourdefrance/video-chris-boardman-on-the-dutch-love-affair-with-cycling

If only the streets of London could be like the streets of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, instead of the aggressive and often dangerous bunfight that currently exists.

It really is time to put people — cyclists and pedestrians — first, especially when it comes to road junction and street design. Yet our politicians and our traffic engineers and our town planners seem to fail to grasp that concept. Make them all cycle around London for a month and I’m sure things would change… for the better.

UPDATE: And just to highlight what I’m talking about, here’s just one example of the shocking lack of long-term thinking by the City of London Corporation. So much for putting safety first.

Five tips for cycling in the summer rain

Rainy_window

I don’t want to speak to soon, but I think I may have my cycling mojo back. This morning, despite a dismal forecast of rain, I got up early and trundled into work.

Typically, it began to drizzle about a mile into my cycle — and it kept on raining throughout the length of my 6.5 mile journey. To be honest, I didn’t care. It was actually quite fun. It wasn’t cold and the rain wasn’t heavy enough to turn me into a drowned rat.

Plus, the road was relatively quiet — I think the weather had put off a lot of fellow cyclists — so my journey time was super-quick (36 minutes) despite having to take it easy in places because of the slippery conditions.

All this got me to thinking about cycling in the rain. Goodness knows I’ve been doing it for years — almost a decade, in fact. So here’s some tips that may help if you’re a relative newbie at urban cycling:

1. Make sure your bike has mudguards! I know it’s summer and maybe you don’t think you need them because it will ruin the “look” of your bike, but honestly, if you don’t have them you’ll get super wet (a lovely line of road dirt splattered up your back, for instance) and anyone unfortunate enough to cycle behind you will get a face full of road dirt and water. This will not win you friends. I was livid this morning when this happened to me, not once, but twice! Personally, I think it’s a simple courtesy to make sure you’re not splattering everyone within a 5 metre radius — and I wish more London cyclists would keep this in mind!

2. Check your brake pads are okay before you head out. You should do this pretty regularly anyway and change them long before they wear out completely. Note that it can take longer in the wet to stop — a good reason to keep your speed in check when it’s raining (see point 4 below) —  and also be aware that pads can become coated in grit and debris thrown up from the water on the road so may not work as smoothly as they do in dry conditions.

3. Wear appropriate clothing. It’s difficult in summer, because the humidity is often high when it rains, so make sure the jacket you don is waterproof and breathable — something with ventilation zips you can undo to let the air circulate is ideal. Alternatively, at this time of year you can brave the rain without a jacket — skin is waterproof after all — because you’re unlikely to get too cold. But make sure you have something warm and dry to change into at the other end.

4. Take it slowly. The rain’s likely to wash extra grit on to the road and you may find the surface is extra slippery, especially if there hasn’t been a downpour in a while: the water will bring all kinds of oils and pollution to the surface (there was a lovely long patch of oil on Upper Ground in Southwark this morning, for instance). Cobblestones can be particularly precarious when it’s wet, and try to stay off the double yellow or double red lines painted on the roads: the paint is slippy at the best of times, but when it’s wet it’s super dangerous. Manhole covers and the like also become slightly harder to see when the road is wet, so watch for them too. And finally, don’t take the corners too hard!

5. Finally, just enjoy it. Why let a little bit of summer rain put you off?

First cycle since May, first cycle of July

IMG_9438There’s nothing like a tube strike to force one to get back on your bike.

Today I extracted mine from storage and cycled the 6.5 miles into work, leaving at 7.30am to avoid the worst of the traffic, and it felt as if I’d never been absent from the road. But the truth of the matter is that since my March wrap-up I have only cycled once. That was on Wednesday 27 May when I trundled into work only to realise my left leg* hadn’t fully healed: it throbbed and ached and I found myself limping again.

The upshot? I cycled home (slowly) and put my bike in our storage room, where it’s stayed ever since.

Despite this I’ve still been able to do lots of walking — I do a minimum of five miles a day and yesterday I wracked up 10 miles — so clearly it’s a cycling-related problem, which is why I was a bit nervous about getting on the bike this morning. But I’m pleased to say I needn’t have worried. While the knee itself felt a bit “tight” (almost as if there’s something not quite right inside it), my shin was fine — it didn’t ache or throb afterwards and there was no need for me to limp.

Who knows, perhaps I’ll get back on the bike again tomorrow and get back into the swing of regular commuter cycling once again. I could do with the exercise.

 

* Dr Google tells me it’s a haematoma on my shin, just below the knee.

March wrap-up: two leg injuries in a month (or why I haven’t cycled much)

March-wrap-upOkay, okay. I know it’s almost the middle of April, but everything’s been so crazy lately (including starting a new full-time job) that I haven’t had time to write my March wrap-up… so here goes.

After a really positive start to the month — a fantastic leisurely two-day trip cycling the Viking Coastal Trail in Kent — things went a little down hill…

On Sunday 22 March, I decided to go for a run — not my usual activity but having clocked up some 2,500 miles of walking in just a year (thanks to my fitbit), I thought it might be time to up my activity level and try a new challenge. I did a 1.5 mile run earlier in the month and loved it.

So, on this particular sunny but cold Sunday afternoon I took to the streets. Despite doing lots of warm-up exercises beforehand, something didn’t feel right  about one-third of the way through my 1.4 mile jog — the calf muscle in my right leg felt very tight, almost as if it had cramped and had got stuck in that position. I figured if I kept moving it would relax and I would run it off, so to speak. But it didn’t feel any better. It got worse. I stopped once to try to stretch it, but that didn’t help at all. By the time I got home my leg was in agony.

I took painkillers, applied a warm cloth to it (which I later found out was the wrong thing to do — ice is better) and kept it elevated.

It did not swell up but the next day I could barely walk on it. There was a tight twinge deep inside the my calf. I hobbled into work feeling rather foolish — I was clearly too old for this running malarkey.Bandaged-leg

On Tuesday, I booked an appointment to see a sports massage therapist for a deep tissue massage. After lots of painful prodding of my lower leg — “Feel free to yell if it hurts too much,” she told me — I was diagnosed  with a pulled muscle very deep within my calf. She massaged my leg, gave me a “prescription” for massage oil — a pleasant smelling combination of ginger, geranium and black pepper — told me to take ibuprofen regularly, strap my leg up with a compression bandage, keep it elevated as much as possible and seek further medical attention if it did not improve within a week.

I spent the next day lying on my bed  reading books.

It was still very sore on Thursday but by Friday it was feeling much better, but it took at least another week for me to comfortably bear weight on it and walk normally.

Then I injured my other leg.

PedalsI’m almost too embarrassed to confess how I did it here, seeing as it involved a bike — and some clip-in pedals. But basically, I was trying to teach myself how to use them — I was confident cycling with just one foot clipped in and was building up to clipping the other one in when it all went horribly wrong.

I did one revolution of the pedals and then wanted to stop, but instead of putting my unclipped foot on to the ground, I tried to use my clipped-in foot and forgot it was clipped in. So by the time I figured out that I needed to lift and twist it out, it was too late. I fell sideways with my foot still in position. Talk about uncoordinated!

Fortunately, I was practising on a private road, so there was no danger of traffic running over me, and I was wearing gloves, otherwise I would have shredded the palm of my right hand which took the brunt of my fall. My left knee hit a curb stone, and when I rolled up my trouser leg my shin bone was grazed and bleeding.

I hobbled home, put the bike away, and lay on the bed for the second time in less than a month, this time with a bag of frozen peas on my leg! It was very painful, although two ibuprofen washed down with a cup of tea helped.  A horrible bruise the colour of an overripe blackberry soon bloomed on my knee and I daren’t look at the hard shin bone immediately beneath the patella because it was throbbing like a heartbeat.

The next morning I hobbled into work once again, my leg all strapped up using the compression bandage I’d used for my other sore leg the week before. Of course, everyone in the office assumed my original calf injury had flared up. It was mortifying to explain it was the other leg and that I’d fallen off my bike!

A week has now passed and the leg is healing slowly. My shin is a bloom of yellow, as if I have jaundice, and the knee cap is black with a bloodied wound just beneath it (it never seems to form a scab, probably because that part of the anatomy doesn’t stay still long enough), which I swab and disinfect every day. I’m hoping that by next weekend it will be completely healed,  because I’m itching to get back on the bike again — but not with those pedals!

In total, I cycled a measly 89 miles in March, but I think I have a good excuse. If I was a horse, they would have shot me long ago…