I knew that this race existed but I only realised I missed my chance to enter for 2017 when my friend Dan proudly announced to me that he and his wife had gotten places through the ballot. I immediately resigned myself to consider it for 2018. After-all, the 100 mile version (now in its fifth year) was a “maybe” for 2018 …most likely 2019.
As fate would have it, I was offered a late entry just a few weeks before I started my London to Paris ride. Having been training for 100km days I knew I was more than prepared for this. However, what started to dawn on me was that there was a four hour cut off time and I was used to a much more casual pace of 12mph average. At that pace, I’d never make the cut off and that’s not taking into account getting punctures, other technical bike stuff (that I don’t know how to deal with) or any stops I might need to make…
So when I rocked up at the cycle show in Excel to pick up my race pack on the Friday before race day (yes, we don’t get the luxury of them posting it, but I get they want that extra touch point for brands and sponsors) I also picked up some pace stickers… I got a 3.5 hour one, a BHAG of 3 hours and then maybe, yknow, a 2.5 hour one…
As I prepped my kit the night before, I opted for the three hour pace sticker on my bike. Mainly because I wanted to finish in time to get back home, shower, eat and then get back to The Mall in time to see the Men’s Classic finish!
Lucky for me, the forty six route starts a lot later than the 100 and the entire event starts just a 20 minute tube ride (and one mile cycle) from where I live. I arrived at the Velopark at approx 730am which left me with 90 minutes to eat as much food as I could, drink all the coffee, faff about in the toilets with my bib shorts, catch up with some old work colleagues I bumped into, spot Chris Hoy and Nicola Adams and then sneak into a slightly earlier wave than mine as I was so worried about not having enough time. I know.
At around 915am myself and a couple other riders got to join the starting wave. Right. At. The. Front. It was exciting but also a little nerve racking; we were quickly warmed up by the compere choosing (as a whole wave) what song we wanted to start to and before I knew it we were off… (with 50 cent playing incase you wondered!).
Sooooo, riding the 46 miles in 3 hours meant an average pace of around 25kmph (I actually spent the whole race thinking I needed an average pace of 20mph / 30kmph. Fail); compared to my average 18kmph for Paris and all my training (sorry for switching between miles and km). For the first time ever, I’d taken a look at the route before-hand and checked out the profile on Strava; I’d definitely handled worse elevation in my training so this route was kinda flat as a pancake bar one hill in Wimbledon which I had been warned about.
I cannot begin to explain how epic it was to be riding on closed roads in Central London. We had half of the A12 to ourselves (I do feel for all my Essex and east london fam though who must’ve had a shitty morning if they were unaware) and before I knew it we were past the A13, Canary Wharf and on the E1 Highway heading straight into the centre of town. The first water station was at 10 miles – Pall Mall – and honestly, I missed it (anyone actually realise that The Mall and Pall Mall were two different places?!). But as far as I could tell, I was ahead of schedule. I packed enough gels, snacks and water to get me through the entire distance without needing to stop unless I really wanted or needed to so no big deal at this stage.
Next up, we hit Sloane Square and I was excited cos I never go this far west so I knew I was making good progress. We whizzed by Harrods and then further west to Chiswick (apparently, but I don’t know the area). Again, I seemed to be ahead of time so I just assumed we passed Chiswick (a check point / water station) and I hadn’t noticed. Somewhere around this point, I realised that this ride wasn’t gonna be easy; I wasn’t struggling but I was having to work hard. Riding on my own meant that I didn’t have anyone to push me or anyone to legitimately draft. So I dropped down on my handlebars (it gives me more power from my legs) and powered on. Out of nowhere, a guy came up on my right side from behind me and just said “get behind me”… I was like, “huh” …“get behind me” he said again so I did as he instructed and literally stuck to his rear wheel as close as I comfortably could. This couldn’t have come at a better time; I instantly picked up pace and relaxed into the ride even more.
I was really looking forward to getting to Richmond Park; I’ve only ever ridden there once and it was such a palaver that by the time we got there we just had some food and headed back home. My Paris buddy Sophie will tell ya that I always threw Richmond Park into the ring for long ride Sunday but the honest truth is that riding across London from east was just not worth the hassle. So I saved my excitement for this event. When we got there though, I remembered why I wasn’t so fond of it… a vast green space of undulating hills which meant I struggled just a little (remember I was now going way faster then planned) and I lost my drafting buddy. Then I caught him. Then I lost him again. I finally caught up with him as he was about to stop to meet his friend so I went it alone.
When the Thames came back into view I knew were coming up to Kingston. One of the few times I’ve ever raced this far south / west was for a Kingston breakfast run so it was kinda cool to actually recognise this part of the course as we cycled right through the centre of town. Kingston was also the final hub available for riders to stop – I heard a guy ask his friend if they were stopping as we rounded a corner and I asked myself the same thing. I still had half a protein snickers and a gel left along with at least half a bottle of water so I opted to keep moving and get the final miles done as quickly as possible.
So, Wimbledon Hill; knowing that this was the biggest incline in the race was a good thing in my mind. Realising it was quite far into the event wasn’t so good. Being ahead of schedule and not knowing where I really was on the course (my Garmin is in km and the route is in miles) didn’t help. But all of a sudden we came to a stop on the course behind a whole heap of riders. Not having any idea what was going on was strange but we waited patiently. In the end I don’t think we were there too long which was a relief as stoppage is included in your official time but as we set off I heard a guy say to his friend “at least we got a rest before the hill” just as we turned the corner and I saw it. I think my saving grace for this hill was that yes, I did just have a rest but I was now surrounded by plenty of cyclists. I stuck to the left of the road and dropped down into my granny gears as there was no time to build up any speed, power or momentum. Once we got to the top I did wonder to myself for a moment if that was actually Wimbledon Hill… and proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes waiting for it incase I’d got it wrong. But another climb didn’t come. If you know me, you know what a big deal this is because I do not like hills one bit. We crossed the Thames for the final time over Putney Bridge and into Fulham which meant we were on the home straight; all that was left was heading along the Embankment to the finish line! It was around this point I decided to make the most of having my phone to hand on my bike and popped on my hype song of the moment (Like That, Memphis Bleek) to help pep me up and get into a rhythm; if it worked for Paris it was bound to work today. Only 6 miles to go…
The Finish Line
In the days leading up to Sunday, my friend Anneleen who was riding the 100 told me to make sure I sprint finished cos it would make me feel like a champion. So when we came off Whitehall onto the roundabout at Trafalgar Square to take the immediate left under Admiralty Arch onto The Mall, I was ready! I hit record on my GoPro (see video above) and just went for it until I was passed through the finish line arch! And Anneleen was right; the smile on my face* probably showed how proud I was especially as I knew I came in well under my three hour target time.
*I don’t actually have the photo of me from the finish line to share… normally I would have a lot more pictures but although I was given entry into the race, I was only provided with the one official photo from the event which I featured at the top of the post*
We were kept moving by the Veloteers past Buckingham Palace to collect our medals; which by the way are suitably sized for what I feel I went through! That medal stayed proudly on my neck as I rode all the way back to the start line in Stratford and then last mile to Leyton station where I could pick up the central line to take me back home…
Official Time: 2:42:11
Garmin Time: 2:37:42 (moving time)
So I know RideLondon massively stressed that this event is not a race but I think that message didn’t resonate with many participants nor did the cut off time match that message. So when you view your results on the site they don’t show you them in time order (not that I could work out anyway) but I could see that just under 2000 women took part in the 46 mile event and from what I could see I did really REALLY well! This is definitely one of my hardest earned medals but I thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of it…
Next stop: L’Etape London (…and I have a time to beat!)
p.s I was given a complimentary place in this event, but you know me, all opinions are my very own…