After coming back from Spain to the hottest week this year in London, I was slightly apprehensive about the Prudential Ride 100 the following weekend. It was all over the news, "Don't exercise in the heat", but then I had cycled for hours on end in 33deg heat, hills and wind in South America last year, so that must have set me up? Well I certainly wasn't prepared then for the weather that was forecast by the day before the event....the wind was there, but accompanied by bucketing rain! The temperature was forecast at about 16deg maximum.
The day got off to a bit of a bad start when my 'cycle cab' to take me to Stratford (from a company who will remain nameless as they have made good) arrived at 6am instead of 5.30am. There was a moment of panic then, when bike all packed in the back, the driver then couldn't get the car to start. Was this an omen, should I just go back to bed? This was, it turned out, not the first time that day I was to have this thought.
I needed to get to the start time of my 'wave' or risk not being able to ride. I won't take you through the stressful journey that ensued, as it makes me anxious just thinking about it. Suffice to say, I got to the start with 3mins to spare.
My cycling comrade Giovanna was there, smiling as ever, and excited about the challenge ahead. It's unlike me not to be positive about most things, but even the PA blasting out 'Sweet Caroline' (a guilty pleasure of mine, Neil Diamond), couldn't lift my spirits as the wind and rain whipped around us. I was glad I had put my overshoes on, and of course my rain jacket. The compere at the start was doing his best to create a buzz by asking for song suggestions to be played, and so we set off rather ominously to the sound of "Live and Let Die"....
I tried to get into the spirit of things cycling alongside Giovanna as we said how great it was to have closed roads to ourselves. I had been looking forward to cycling through central London and the various sights along the Embankment, but in truth I enjoyed the tunnels and underpasses more as it was a reprieve from the weather. As was inevitable, we got split up in the ups and downs of the course, and so I remember approaching the Hammersmith flyover thinking to myself how this was going to be a long old day. As we approached Richmond Park I admit to having a more than fleeting thought about how I knew a good way to cycle home from here. The rain was relentless and I was already soaked through. Giovanna pulled up alongside me just at that very point, and I shouted to her "I am bloody hating this!" Still ever cheery though, she shouted back "Oh come on Scotland!" Well that did it, now it was a matter of national pride! Uphill ahead, it was head down and get on with it, just think about those freezing loch swims Denise...
And think of them I did, although at least there you knew you were going to get cold and wet. I promised myself a stop at about halfway/50miles. There, that was something to look forward to. This landed me at Newlands Corner, possibly one of the more exposed locations on the course, at the top of one of the first climbs. I had to admit I was feeling sorry for the volunteers and marshals in this area, where they were buffeted by wind and rain, and trying to hold down bags of crisps and snack bars. I couldn't even bring myself to queue for any of this, so was grateful for the soggy cheese sandwich in my back pocket. I wolfed it down and then ran the gauntlet of the portaloos. These were feeling very precarious as I balanced trying to unpeel my bib shorts. Uh, nothing quite like putting soaking wet clothes back on. With no incentive to hang about much beyond this, I set off again down the hill (wet downhill, eeek).
I knew that Leith Hill was the first big challenge to face us (although I had already seen people walking on some of the 'pre hills' we had encountered). This is a funny one, everyone talks about Box Hill, but it's actually ok. No, it's Leith Hill you have to worry about. This little infographic gives you an idea of what it is like. But never fear, there was a little band at the bottom of the hill bravely playing under a small marquee to lift our spirits. And what was their song choice? 'Forever Young' by Bob Dylan. Don't get me wrong, a great musician, but not known for being uplifting! It was however a moment that really made me and the riders around me laugh at the irony.
The thing that makes Leith Hill extra tricky is when the narrow road is filled with about 8 cyclists across, most of whom are cycling slower than they can walk. As I tried to make my way up the right side of them, squeezing through a very narrow gap, whilst giving the instruction 'on your right' I could see people wavering all over the place as they started to lose their momentum and fall over or come off. I did chuckle slightly smugly to myself though as I heard lots of guys saying "You go girl" as I passed them. Tee hee. This was a challenge and a half, but I still had the equivalent downhill to come. There was a bit of carnage here as I saw an ambulance attending to someone who had crashed, only to witness another guy crash as he went past looking at them. This was doing nothing for my fear of the downhills! I later learned that both Leith Hill and Box Hill got closed off for safety reasons about an hour after I went past them. Shortly after this we were onto Box Hill. Again more worried about the downhill than the up, I coasted to the top and tentatively made my way down. By now I had the slightly cheesy 'Things Can Only Get Better' in my head as I was past half way and had survived some slippery descents. To add to the cheese, the music positioned at the bottom of Box Hill was that exercise classic 'Eye of the Tiger'.
You know you are in a state of delirium when you are looking forward to getting to Leatherhead. I mean what is in Leatherhead? But somehow in my mind it marked a place that was close to London/the end. I have to say the locals turned out in force to support the event, with people huddled under umbrellas and even one woman in her pyjamas and wellies holding a sign saying "I got out of bed to watch this". It raised a smile or two. My malt loaf (sustenance of choice) was by this point soggy beyond belief, but I knew the end was in sight now, just please don't let me get any punctures or I will cry.
Just when I thought I could 'relax' into the ride a bit more as we ventured into the familiar territory of Kingston upon Thames, it seemed that a lot of cyclists had 'relaxed' a bit too much. As we rode past some small gathered groups of supporters, people seemed to be cycling like nutters. I'm not sure if this was in an effort to impress friends and family, but the result was seeing two people skid across the soaking pedestrianised surface into each other, narrowly missing me. Time for a blast of the chorus of 'Chandelier' in my head "I'm holding on for dear life...."
I was pleased to see the short sharp hill into Wimbledon village as a way of getting away from people. One woman shouted "Yeeees, doing it for the girls!" as I overtook groups of people on the short climb, with the song "Sisters are Doing it for Themselves" fittingly blaring out of a PA (even more poignant given the sad news about legend Aretha Franklin). This was more like it, I was starting to get that sense of achievement as we saw more and more supporters in the run along Chelsea Embankment and towards Westminster. There was a tiny bit of deja vu from doing the London Marathon as we passed Big Ben and I thought we would take the turn up Birdcage Walk to the Mall. But we continued along Whitehall where crowds of slightly bemused tourists in disposable rainmacs looked on. Through Admiralty Arch and yes, there it was, the finish line! Now, I thought, now I would have that slightly emotional feeling like at the end of the Marathon. But no, the only emotion I felt was "Thank god that's over!" Dismounting, we all wheeled up towards Buckingham Palace for a dodgy selfie and then beyond and up to Constitution Hill for our well earned medals.
And can you believe it, the rain had now stopped, hooray! So, looking on the bright side, it made the 5mile ride home not seem too bad, more of a little cool down. But as you can see, I was definitely glad to get home for a lie down...
I had been really delighted when I had been awarded my place in this event from my cycling club, Giant Camden Team Liv back in March. I had known how difficult it was to get a ballot place in this event, often described as 'The London Marathon of Cycling'. The thought of cycling on closed roads through London and Surrey was something I was really looking forward to. I had even completed this 100 miler in 6 hours and 30 minutes, which was a time I was to come to realise, that was actually very good, and especially in those conditions.
Now I'm not one to be negative, and have taken part in all sorts of challenges - being pulled out of a 10mile open water swim in Loch Rannoch with hypothermia in a freak hailstone shower being up there with the best/worst of them. Being from Scotland, I've never been overly deterred by weather, and did famously venture out on a club bike run back in December in a snow storm, with no thought that it might be cancelled. So it is not entirely due to the weather that I am saying that I generally didn't enjoy this event from start to finish, but perhaps that combined with the sheer numbers involved. I think I have realised that these 'mass events' just aren't for me anymore. I loved my two London marathon experiences, but weirdly did my best time on the undulating (that's how we sold it anyway) Loch Ness Marathon route where there were clear roads and smaller numbers. Cycling events with over 20,000 people acting erratically just puts me on edge and takes away from the experience. So, as much as we can tend to have that "I'm never doing that again" feeling immediately after an ultra challenge like a marathon, only to sign up to another one the day after. Well in this case, I have mulled it over for three weeks and still think, no thanks. Done it, ticked it off my list, don't need to do it again.
Of course when I say no to mass events, I can see the benefit of a crowd around me if I was doing something like a full ironman....but then I said I would never do one of them, didn't I.....?
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.