Riding the MITIE London Revolution: Day Two

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.

Bikes-in-queueQueuing up for the start line at Windsor — at least it was sunny

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.

Windsor-start-lineIt took about an hour to get to the front

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.

View-from-box-hillThe stunning view from the top of Box Hill was worth the hard slog

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.

Day2hills

On day two the altitude gain was a very testing 1,058m

 

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.

Hill-on-second-afternoonMany of the lanes were traffic-free and picturesque

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.

CowsEver feel like you’re being watched?

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.

Finish-lineCrossing the finish line a little after 7pm

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

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Riding the MITIE London Revolution: Day One

Climbing-box-hill

This is me, mid-way through climb of Box Hill © Sportivephoto Ltd

The saying mind over matter was never more appropriate when I attempted to tackle the MITIE London Revolution on the weekend of 18-19 May, my first major cycling “sportive”. Not only did I have what turned out to be the wrong bike, the wrong kit and the wrong kind of water, I certainly didn’t have the right hill-climbing experience to cycle 180 miles in two days.

But perseverance, coupled with a positive mindset and lots of encouragement from fellow cyclists and the wonderful chaperones who escorted the field, helped me cycle the furthest I have ever cycled before.

On the first day I trundled 75 miles (out of a possible 100) and on the second day I did 88 miles (out of a possible 88). I was chuffed, but exhausted. And the first thing I did when I got home was go to the pub in my full smelly cycling kit, I was so desperate for a beer!

What had I let myself in for?

I had initially decided to enter the event because it sounded like an excellent challenge, one that would push me physically and give me a goal to work towards. But as the weekend crept closer I began to quietly dread it. My training regime had been poor and during the week before the event my shoulder and neck were giving me gyp — I wasn’t convinced I could sit in the saddle for a couple of hours, let alone a couple of days. Admittedly, I considered pulling out.

To give me an extra incentive to do the challenge, two days before the event I decided to raise money for Arthritis Research UK — I chose this charity because I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2008 — and let everyone know, via mass emails, Twitter and my book blog, that I was taking part and would appreciate a little financial encouragement.

I figured going “public” like this would leave me little wriggle room to get out of cycling all those miles, because how on earth could I face people wanting to know how it had all panned out? I was delighted that so many friends, colleagues and social media followers dipped their hands in their pockets. Within a day people had pledged more than £150 — and a week later it now stands at £400 (with Gift Aid included).

One anonymous donor wrote: “Suspected you were bonkers; glad to have confirmation” — and I have to admit that getting up at 5am on the Saturday did make me question my own sanity. What the hell made me think this was a good idea?

It didn’t help that I had to get my bike, my 10kg overnight bag and my sleeping bag to Peruvian Wharf — on the other side of London — by public transport, which proved a challenge in itself, not helped by some parts of the District Line being out of service for engineering work that weekend. So by the time I got to the start line I’d already cycled three miles, was stressed out, thirsty — and knackered.

Then I took one look at all the other competitors — 90 per cent men, mostly with high-end road bikes — and began to feel totally out of place.

Bike-on-day-one

My trusty, reliable and what turned out to be inappropriately heavy hybrid Trek

No going back now

 But there was no backing out now. I queued up to register and was given an envelope containing a number for my bike, luggage tags, a timing chip sticker to put on my helmet and a purple wrist band.  (The colour indicated where I should put my luggage and bike during storage times, and which section of Windsor Racecourse I would find my tent.)

Once I’d dumped my luggage, it was time for a very quick breakfast of porridge, fruit and coffee from the one and only concession stand. I then filled my waterbottle and got into the queue for the staggered start.

The event start time was between 7.30am and 9.30am. I had wanted to get away early to give myself the maximum time to complete the first 100 mile stage. But I had underestimated how long it would take to get to Docklands and get myself sorted at the Peruvian Wharf end, so by the time I set off with my Other Half (OH) it was closer to 9am.

Once out on the quiet city roads around Docklands it was a relief to finally expend some of that nervous energy by pedalling in the sunshine.

Pretty-hills

Undulating hills aplenty

The first 15 or so miles was relatively straightforward, flat and urban — the types of road conditions to which I’m attuned and to which my hybrid commuter bike is well suited. But when we got out into the countryside the terrain suddenly became rather undulating and the road surface was often very broken up in places.

The first major hill I had to climb nearly killed me. But I was determined to get up it without getting off my bike, because I knew that if I did that with the first hill I would do it with the rest of the hills. The sense of achievement when I got to the top was amazing — little did I know this would be the first of DOZENS of energy-sapping hills that would follow over the next two days.

It was at this point I began to wonder about OH. I had lost sight of him when we were still in town, but I had expected he might have caught up — and every time I looked over my shoulder I kept expecting to see his bright yellow cycling jacket.

By the time I reached the first pit stop at mile 38 I was incredibly tired and very, very hungry. Unfortunately, the ravenous hoards had arrived before me, and there were no flapjacks left and the bananas were running out. There was plenty of high-energy junk food though, so I inhaled a packet of crisps, two tea cakes and a couple of chocolate bars, gulped down with about a litre of water. But what I really wanted was something substantial — like a hefty sandwich (or two) — but I was told I’d have to cycle to the next pit stop at mile 72 to get that kind of fare.

Perhaps I’d sit here a while and wait for OH. But when I checked my text messages, he told me to keep on going — he had “technical issues”.

Forest

I had this seemingly endless stretch of road in Epping Forest all to myself

So, out on the road I headed — and I swear, for the next 15 miles, I did not see one single cyclist. It was possibly the loneliest stretch of cycling I’d ever done. And yet it was possibly the most glorious landscape I’d ever cycled through, especially the parts around Epping Forest, which were absolutely magical and oh-so green and lush and leafy.

Bike-lane

The only segregated bike path on the entire route

Cycling with company

 When I got to this cycling path (above) at mile 50 I stopped for a drink and a snack. I checked my phone for messages to find out that OH had called it quits — he had hit a rut in the road, flown over the handlebars, hurt his elbow and shoulder, and broken his front wheel. He was now taking himself home on the District Line.

Admittedly, I was feeling a bit upset by this news — and didn’t relish the prospect of cycling the rest of the way by myself. But when one of the cycling chaperones caught up with me he kind of spurred me on. It turns out he had tried to fix OH’s front wheel and assured me he was okay. “Come on, let’s go,” he said. “There’s loads of people behind you and you don’t want them to catch you up!”

Of course, people did start catching up — and I was grateful for the company. It was wonderful to cycle alongside two others — another chaperone and a female cyclist on a road bike — for about 10 miles, whom I chatted to and had a few laughs with. The chaperone told me I had a “proper” bike, which was his polite way of saying it was too heavy for road cycling, something that was becoming more apparent with every hill I heaved it up.

Eventually, I dropped back as weariness and hunger took its toll. It was now close to 4pm and I hadn’t eaten anything substantial since my rushed porridge at 8.30am.

The last three miles to the second pit stop were possibly the longest three miles I’d ever ridden. I simply had no energy and I was no longer enjoying the ride. Every turn of the pedal was a humungous effort and the little voice inside my head was getting louder and more negative with every revolution. But I’m very grateful that I was now riding alongside a cyclist who felt exactly the same way and together we kept egging each other on — I’m not sure I would have made it without her help otherwise.

Second-pit-stop-day-one

Pit stop two — plenty of cakes and coffee inside!

A late, late lunch

 Once at the pit stop it was time to finally hoe into some much needed lunch — albeit a not very tasty pre-packaged tuna sandwich on white bread. To be honest, I was so hungry I wouldn’t have cared what was on offer. I wolfed it down, alongside a packet of crisps, a banana and a chocolate bar. Then I visited the cafeteria and bought a huge chocolate brownie and a stinking hot cup of coffee AND I WAS STILL HUNGRY.

At this stage, I got talking to an older chap who had decided to throw the towel in for the day — he was planning on catching the “sweeper bus” the rest of the way. I then caught up with the girl I’d cycled the last few miles with and she was doing likewise — she was having problems with her legs. Me? My legs were fine but my neck and shoulders were stiffening up and I was absolutely exhausted. The thought of having to cycle another 25 miles or so wasn’t one I relished. The bus was the easy option but it felt like the right thing to do — there was a chance I wouldn’t reach the finish line before the 7.30pm close anyway.

Bike-park

No need to bring a lock — the bikes were guarded by security around the clock

So I got in the minibus with about 10 others while my trusty bike was packaged in bubblewrap and put into a separate vehicle. We were reunited at Windsor racecourse, where I wheeled her into the “purple” bike park watched over by security guards all night.

Tents

Someone with OCD put up the tents!

Overnight campsite

 I was then assigned a tent — already put up, ready and waiting for me — in the purple zone and given a sleeping mat. My luggage was also there for me to collect from the nearby purple truck. It couldn’t have been easier to get myself settled for the night.

There was the option to have a free massage, but I wanted a shower first and, unfortunately, the queue was a little too long. Time for dinner then. No need to dress up — just wear your sweaty cycling kit — and tuck into the world’s biggest plate of pasta, stir-fried vegetables, tomato salad and bread. I finished with apple crumble and about two litres of runny custard, and then I felt so stuffed all I wanted to do was lie down and sleep.

But I still needed that shower. And the queues were still long. So I bought myself a beer and drank it while I waited for my iPhone to recharge at the plug sockets set up in the grandstand specifically for this purpose.

No sooner was my phone charged than the organisers called me to check I was okay. Because I’d caught the sweeper bus, I hadn’t cycled across the finish line where the timing chip on my helmet would have registered my progress. If I’d known that in advance I would have cycled across the finish line after I picked up my bike from the transportation vehicle and before I parked it in the secure bike park. Oh well — it was nice someone cared enough to check I hadn’t got lost or been run over!

At 9pm I headed to the now deserted showers and washed the day’s dirt and grime from my skin, before hitting the sack at about 10pm. I was feeling nervous about the next day and was contemplating pulling out — or only cycling a short distance — but would see how I was feeling in the morning before making a decision…

Total distance: 74.72miles (120.22km) | Ride time: 7hr 03min 48sec | Average speed: 10.5mph

The final countdown to London Revolution — and a call for donations to help Arthritis Research UK

London-route

There are just a few days to go and then I'll be attempting to pedal 180 miles around London over two days as part of London Revolution.

Admittedly my so-called training has pretty much fallen by the way side and I've barely taken the bike out of my "shed" over the past month. In fact, since my last post in mid-April I've cycled the grand total of 88 miles, which is rather pathetic. It didn't help that I went to Rhodes for a week's R&R in the sun and came back about two stone heavier thanks to quite a lot of delicious buffet breakfasts and three-course evening meals. Oops.

I have, however, had my bike serviced in preparation by the lovely mechanic at the London Bicycle Repair Shop in SE1. I got new brake and gear cables, a new chain and a new 7-speed screw-on freewheel. And boy, when I rode home after having all that work done, it was like riding a brand new bike. I practically flew home — so fast and quick and easy.

I'm not sure it's going to feel so fast and quick and easy when I tackle the first 100 miles on Saturday, though.

Arthritis-Research-UK

In the meantime, I'd be delighted if any of my readers wished to sponsor my attempt. I've decided to raise money for for Arthritis Research UK primarily because I was was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2008. It's been pretty much in "remission" for the past two-and-a-bit years but has recently returned.

To make a donation, please visit my Virgin Money fund-raising page. I really appreciate all your support and thank you for any donations no matter how small.

Wish me luck — and strong legs! I'll keep you posted on how it all goes and hope to tweet a few pictures as I go along. You can follow me on Twitter @kimbofo and if I can get Map My Tracks live tracking to work, you might be able to see my progress (or lack thereof) as it happens…