Back in February, I signed up for the RideLondon-Surrey 100, due to take place mid-August. I wanted an excuse to get back into cycling but mainly, I wanted to complete the London Classics. You do this by running the London Marathon, swimming 2 miles at Swim Serpentine and cycling 100 miles at the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100. I had completed the first 2 events in 2019, 2020 seemed like a good year to complete the last one.
That was up until Covid-19 showed up obviously…
At first, finding myself without a job because of Covid-19, all the free time I had was a blessing. I could make plans to go cycling several times a week, plan long rides every other week to build up to 160 km (or 100 miles). I could properly train for it.
In the end, I got on the bike only a couple of times before the RideLondon-Surrey 100 ended up being another casualty of the lockdowns & safety restrictions around the country. I thought I’d still do a long ride in August, for ‘fun’, so it wasn’t all lost but without an actual event to train for, my motivation floundered very quickly. I got out on a couple of long rides in June and July but they were more excuses to spend time in the sun than actual training outings. I had given up.
A month before the event should have taken place, I saw emails coming through about the virtual event they replacing it with. I dismissed them. It was all about raising money for charities and I wasn’t in the right mindset to do all the fundraising work.
About a week before the event, in one of these emails I spotted that those completing the 100-mile version of the virtual event would be eligible for the London Classics medal. Now that was a game changer! As the medal was the main reason I had signed up for the physical event in the first place, that was all the motivation I needed to sign up to the virtual edition! With one week to go, I registered and started planning my route. Did it matter that my longest ride this year had been just short of 80 km (50 miles) and ended with the other-half rescuing me when my chain got completely jammed in the front derailleur 5km from home? And that this ride was 2 months ago, with nothing substantial since?
I was about to find out!
07.30 AM – Early Start – Ashford [0km]
I packed layers (warm and waterproof), gloves, food, water, phone, money, emergency blanket, first aid kit, mini-pump and puncture repair kit in my backpack and on my bike. I start the watch, I was ready to go.
Within a couple of kilometres, it started raining. I got my waterproof jacket out and kept going. This wasn’t good news though. It was forecast to be a rainy, windy weekend but it had looked like I could avoid the rain on the route I was taking. I just had to keep to the planned timings and it would be ok.
Thankfully it stopped within a few minutes. It remained damp for most of the morning but no actual water falling from the sky making my ride more hazardous in the early hours.
10.00 AM – The Watch Incident – The Romney Marsh [44km]
First hiccup came in about 2 hours in. After covering 40km relatively easily from Ashford to St Mary in the Marsh, I needed a toilet break. I knew this would be a faff. With no open businesses with toilets for miles, I had to find a quiet spot in the countryside. Ideally very quiet. A hidden spot isn’t easily found in this part of Kent though. The Romney Marsh is flat, barren and exposed. I cycled for a while until I found somewhere that looked secluded enough. Queue 10 minutes of me trying to wriggle out of my trisuit, while trying to keep a jacket on top so I’m not flashing a passerby. Yes, you read that right. I was wearing a one piece trisuit, which requires me to go topless to answer nature’s call. I was hoping the inconvenience of it would be balanced by the fact that it’s the most comfortable item of clothing I have to go cycling long distances (and it was!). If you remember though, it had been very damp all morning so everything I was wearing was just clinging to my skin, making the whole operation even harder than it needed to be
After 15 minutes, I was about the head back on the bike, glad this was over, when I realised my watch had stopped. In all the wriggling, I guess it got caught. It was incredibly frustrating as it meant I had to start tracking my ride again and I would never have the satisfaction of seeing 100 mile tick over on it at the end of the day. This is only a technicality, and I know it didn’t make the ride any different but it took away some of the excitement of the event. From now on, I had to do some math along the way to make sure I was indeed covering 100 miles.
10:15 – The First Wrong Turn – The Newchurch detour [45km]
Incidentally this is where I started unintentionally adding some miles by taking wrong turns. After this pit stop, I managed to add a 7km loop, right back where I stopped by going left instead of right at a junction. I want to blame poor signage but it was simply poor prep. My only help in getting round this 100 mile loop around Kent was a small piece of paper with about 10 bullet points, each of them to highlight a junction where I need to pay attention or go onto a new cycle route. I thought it’d be sufficient as I was mainly following national cycle routes. Why use the fancy sports watch on my wrist to help navigation? (because 8 months after buying, I still hadn’t taken the time to workout the navigation element of it…).
That single piece of paper could have worked. The national cycle network in Kent is mostly well sign-posted. At the exception of a couple of confusing or missing signs, I was able to just follow the routes. It got tricky when I was switching from one route to another or when the signs weren’t clear enough. This usually doesn’t happen in a well-organised event and is one of the things that made that virtual edition that much harder. This and the lack of aid-stations.
13:00 – The first hills – Folkestone [74km]
When I reached Folkestone, I thought I’d make the most of arriving in a big town and enjoy some lunch. After a long break for a hearty fish&chips (a whole hour!), I set off again. With a full belly, the last thing I wanted were hills. It’s what I got though, from the start. Long, steep hills. And it got warm, and I took another wrong turn. I went at full speed down the hill I had just climbed, only to walk it back up. It got stuffy, I got grumpy. Cycling shoes aren’t made for walking and bikes aren’t made to be pushed up hills.
I made it to Dover somehow and found some new hills to climb (or walk, let’s be honest, I didn’t cycle up any of these big hills). I got stuffier and grumpier. I was pretty much swearing at anything at this point and hating these hilly coastal towns.
15:00 – Sunny Flats – Dover [95km]
From Dover to Sandwich, it got easier. I enjoyed flat roads, mostly along the sea front so easy to follow. The sun also made a welcome appearance, which made everything that much more enjoyable. I even found a little pop-up shop selling cold drinks once in Sandwich so took the opportunity to take another long(ish) break and savour that nice ice cold drink.
I was a bit worried about the rain that had been forecast to hit Canterbury at the time I had planned to go through the area so I didn’t stay too long. I had hoped to get there before it started pouring down but I was now a couple of hours behind schedule. I was expecting to get soaked on the last sections of my Kentish loop, which I really wasn’t looking forward to. A soggy cyclist isn’t a happy cyclist – you get cold and miserable.
The main reason I was so late tough? My schedule didn’t account for breaks… Can you tell my last-minute planning lacked some thought?
16:30 – The Orchards and the smell of rain [115km]
Once I left Sandwich, I went further inland and followed nice country lanes towards Canterbury. A few miles in, I could smell rain. I wasn’t sure if it was to come or if it was the aftermath. I was really hoping it was aftermath as it looked pretty cloudy and dark in the distance. In the next hour, I came across so many puddles and debris on the road that there was only one explanation: I missed the deluge! The glee that came with that realisation got dampened somewhat by the atrocious off road path the national cycle network took me through on arrival in the city. It would have been easier to walk. Pretty road bikes are useless on trails, and unfortunately national cycle network randomly take you on those horrible off-road sections. I probably could have examined the map to identify those sections and plan detours but again, that was in the prep I didn’t do.
18:30 – The rescue – Canterbury [146km]
When I got to Canterbury, I’d been cycling on and off for about 11 hours. Soon after leaving the town, as I stop to check once again if I was on the right road, I did the math in my head a couple of time and I knew that I didn’t need to cycle all the way back home to reach the magical 100 miles. I could get to Wye instead and be done. There was a nice pub there too. So I gave up and messaged the other half, enticed him with drink and food. Could he kindly pick me up in Wye, get some warm and filling food with me and take me home for a much needed bath?
I was ever so lucky that he agreed. I only had 45 minutes or so left at this point, according to my dubious math. I booked the pub accordingly… They were the longest 45 minutes ever. The last few hills killed me. My back was aching (and had been for a few dozens of miles now). My bike was super squeaky from our off-road adventure a few miles back. And my hands were hurting, vibrating and small fingers had gone numb. It had been a challenge to text and it was going to be a challenge to hold my knife and fork or even my drink in the first few minutes at the pub.
The pain in my hands wouldn’t actually subside for a few days.
19:45 – Finally! [166km]
75 minutes later, I made it. My back and legs were filthy, I could barely align two words. But I was finally done. I had done it. As my watch showed 75 miles covered (+ the 27 from the morning), I knew I had done it. I cycled 100 miles, without support, aid station or help navigating. It took me 12 long hours but it was done.
The things I do for a medal!
P.S. : It’s almost 2 months later and I still haven’t got the damn medal… Please let not it be in vain…