After day one of riding the MITIE London Revolution, comes day two.
I wasn’t sure my body would be up for another long slog in the saddle, but when I awoke bright and early, with dew on my sleeping bag, and saw the blue sky and sunshine outside my little tent I felt ready to take on the world. Even though I hadn’t slept well — the mattress was too thin, the pillow I brought with me too small and the noise of the campsite generators and air traffic too loud — I felt surprisingly limber with no stiffness or soreness in my limbs.
After a quick wash, I donned my cycling attire (a T-shirt over a long-sleeved base layer, plus a pair of baggy shorts) and then headed to the grandstand for breakfast. There was plenty on offer to eat, but I don’t really “do” cooked breakfasts. I had learned my lesson from day one, so knew it was important to stock up on “fuel” and quickly devoured two (yes two) bowls of porridge with honey. (I would have liked some fruit but there didn’t seem to be any on offer.) I had a big cup of coffee and some orange juice, too.
It was then time to pack my stuff up, collect my bike from the bike park and queue up with the hundreds of other cyclists for the staggered start. The queue was quite long and slow-moving, but I passed the time talking to another woman cyclist standing next to me.
At about 8.40am we were ushered over the starting line for another long day of cycling.
Admittedly, I struggled with the first 8 or 9 miles. I felt like I didn’t have any energy in my legs and every time I saw a hill my heart sank. Was I really going to have to keep doing this for the next 80 miles?
A positive mindset
That’s when I had to give myself a strict talking to — if I was going to get through the day I was going to have to adopt a positive mindset and take things one step (or one pedal) at a time and not be too fazed by other cyclists on quicker, lighter bikes, whizzing past me. I also had to get over the fact that every time someone told me I was doing well and that “slow and steady” was the right approach to take, they weren’t trying to be patronising but offering much-needed support!
I knew I could get to the first pit stop (at mile 24) in about two hours if I kept a steady pace — and then I would reassess whether it was worth continuing. According to my race timing results, I got there in 2:29:55, and once I’d scoffed a flapjack, a tea cake, a chocolate bar, a banana and an energy gel, I felt ready to keep going.
The next pit stop was at mile 48 but before I got there I had to survive the climb to the top of Box Hill, which was billed as one of the highlights of the two-day event. I was slightly dreading the ascent, because I’d heard so much about it, thanks mainly to last year’s Olympic road race, but it wasn’t so much the steepness of the climb but the length of it. I reckon I pedalled uphill for a solid 10 to 15 minutes, all in the lowest gear my bike could afford, until I reached the summit, hot, sweaty, knackered — and absolutely elated!
Of course, I was looking forward to the descent, which was fast and furious and lasted for miles — in fact, I nearly flew over the handlebars when my wheel hit a manhole cover in the road. But that gave me enough of a shock to remind me that I needed to take things steady if I wanted to play the long game — and survive!
That’s not a hill!
As things turned out, getting to the top of Box Hill was a minor achievement, because all the hills that were to follow were much, much steeper. Indeed, calling them hills is a bit of an understatement. These things were like mountains!
But before I got to tackle them it was time for pit stop 2, which I reached 5:46:09 after having set off from the start line. More food, more liquid — including a pint of ice-cold coke I bought from the pub where the stop was based — and then it was back onto the road for the final slog into town.
Now this is where the hills turned into mini Mt Everests. They were heart-breaking. There were two especially steep ones that I had to walk up — my bike simply didn’t have enough gears to keep the wheels spinning.
For much of this hill climbing I was alone. But I cheered myself up by admiring the scenery — all of which was spectacular and life-affirming. I cycled along lanes with 15ft high hedges.
I cycled through rich green farmland, where the cows lined the road to check out the passing traffic. I cycled through little wooded glades with bluebells carpeting the forest floor. I cycled through picturesque chocolate-box type villages. And I lost count of the number of weddings I saw as I trundled by.
I was also motivated by watching the el-cheapo bike computer on my handlebars showing me how many miles I was eating up. The higher the total went, the closer I was to the finish line in London and the closer I was to having an
ice-cold beer back at my local pub. (Yes, I know I shouldn’t admit this.)
Almost there — just keep pedalling
With just 14 miles to go, I stopped and texted my Other Half to tell him I’d be at the finish line in an hour to 90 minutes. The end goal was beginning to feel like it was in sight — and I began to feel quite emotional about it. I hadn’t reckoned on the event being so damned tough — physically and mentally.
However, little did I know my calculations were slightly out — I actually had 19 miles to go, because the event total was 89 miles and not 80 as it had been billed. (This was due to a diversion around roadworks earlier in the day.)
For the next few miles I cycled in the company of two chaps. I began to feel comfortable because we were now back in London, cycling along busy urban roads, and I didn’t have to contend with little lanes and bumpy tarmac and obnoxious four-wheel drive vehicles trying to assert their authority. At last, I had a bike for the conditions!
But when we got to Crystal Palace my heart sank. There was a giant hill in front of us and I had to cycle up it after having already cycled 70 or so miles. I confessed I walked most of it — while the two chaps on light road bikes sped away from me.
When I finally got to the top I fell in with four or five other cyclists, including one of the chaperones who had been so supportive on day one, and together we all cycled into Herne Hill velodrome for one final pit stop — a banana, a drink of water and a pee — before making the final push into London Docklands.
Four of us cycled the rest of the way together — although I fell back over the last mile, so that I trundled over the finish line alone.
It was a brilliant feeling to actually complete the day’s route without having to be picked up by the sweeper bus. It was less of a brilliant feeling when I realised I still had to cycle another mile to the tube station, but at least this time my Other Half was there to carry my bags!
My official time was 10:27:09, which includes all my stops (for food, drink and photographs). My bike computer only recorded the time that my wheels were going around, hence the discrepancy in the figures below.
Total distance: 89.87miles (144.63km) | Ride time: 9hr 00min 08sec | Average speed: 9.9mph