Last year I ended a 20-year hiatus and obtained a bicycle, my first since I was 12 years old. The challenge of cycling through London’s rush hour traffic terrified me, and it’s taken all year for me to feel comfortable on busy roads.
Then, four weeks ago, I signed up for the Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100 and pretty quickly I realised that my cycle to work was a mere walk in the park.
To put it in to context, cycling the London-Surrey 100 on 2nd August is the equivalent of doing my ride to work 20 times, without stopping (except for the occasional toilet break), with an ascent of Surrey’s indomitable Box Hill thrown in for good measure… all before 5pm, when they clear the roads for the professionals. What was I thinking? Why on earth did I volunteer to do this?
I chickened out of entering the ballot last year so I jumped at the chance of taking part when Refuge emailed asking for people to join their team a few weeks ago. Not only for the opportunity to embark on a personal challenge, but also to raise essential funds which are needed to ensure Refuge can continue their vital work.
Refuge is a national charity which supports thousands of women and children every day who have survived – or are currently experiencing – domestic abuse. And that’s just for starters. They also: campaign to raise public awareness to prevent further domestic abuse; lobby government to ensure that the voices of vulnerable women and children are heard; provide training for professionals; and carry out research to educate people about the long lasting impact that domestic violence can have on a woman and her family. You can find out more about their work here: http://www.refuge.org.uk/
Since signing up I have moments when I am giddy with excitement and daydream about pedalling across the finish line, triumphant and sweaty! Initially the enormity of the challenge escaped me. I imagined it to be a big fun bike ride. But then I noticed other people’s reactions when I told them what I had signed up for. Don’t get me wrong, they were supportive but I got the sense that they thought I was mad, that I hadn’t really thought this through. Then it dawned on me: 100 miles, multiple hills, time limited. Anxiety set in.
Preparing for a sporting event of this nature is a challenge in itself. I have to think about my nutrition, fitness and health in ways I never have before. I have a training programme which sets out each day what I must do from now until 2nd August. I find this part enjoyable, I like the structure, it motivates me. I feel focused (most of the time) and I have an actual goal! So despite the enormous challenge ahead I am thrilled to be taking part. There will be thousands of us out there, all will have trained, all determined to finish. We’ll be cycling through central London and the beautiful Surrey countryside and the roads will be completely bereft of cars. How wonderful! Completing this challenge will certainly put my body to the test but its also going to take grit, fortitude and a fearlessness I could only have dreamed about one year ago.
First thing first, I printed out my training programme on A3 paper and stuck it to my kitchen cupboards: an act of unequivocal dedication, I told myself. Then I took a trip to the local bike shop to get my bike checked out. I practically bounced into the shop beaming, proud to tell them all about what I’d signed up for. They didn’t seem as impressed as I hoped. So I asked if I could join their cycling club – maybe this would show them how serious I was? The guy took one look at me, one look at my bike and said ‘not on that bike’. I hit my first set back. I assumed that my second-hand hyrid would be fine. Sure, its a bit chunky and battered but it works. It’s got all the gears. Plus it’s comfy, upright, with a nice cushioned saddle and lovely fat tyers that make riding over lumps and bumps in the road a doddle. Yet the shop assistant was adamant that I would not complete the ride on that bike. He showed me some skinny-wheeled thing with curlying handlebars and clippy pedals. Not my cuppa tea really. And it was £600. So I left, glum, feeling ever so stupid and naïve. My chips had been well and truly rained upon.
My boyfriend, ever the optimist, told me to forget about the man’s disparaging comments and get on with training. After all, the shop assistant was probably just trying to sell me that fancy bike. Yeh, what did he know?
So I got on with it. Eager to start training, I dragged my boyfriend and some friends out for my first training session to Richmond Park. We entered through Roehampton Gate and went clockwise, which meant we had to climb a section known as Broomfield Hill. Christ, that hill is steep! Despite having an impressive range of gears, it turns out I didn’t really know how to use them. I made it up that hill but had to stop three times. We made it round the park and back home again. 25 miles. A solid, if exhausting, start.
The next weekend I tried to improve– 30 miles this time. Again my boyfriend and a different friend were roped in to joining me. We headed for Hampstead Heath, mostly for the hills. The headline from this trip? Hills are hard. Hills keep me awake at night.
The following weekend I increased my distance a bit more, this time doing around 40 miles. My chunky bike was holding out! I was getting faster and more confident. Hills were still tricky, but now I understood what to do with gears it was somewhat easier. I’d even done a midweek training ride out to Richmond Park for a lap before work. I was feeling unstoppable!
More and more people were telling me how much easier it would be if I had a lighter frame and skinny wheels; in short, a road bike. Buying one simply wasn’t an option. I thought about going to a Police auction or asking a bike shop to loan me a bike until after the race. Nothing materialised. The more I looked at my dear old hybrid, the more impossible this 100 mile cycle seemed.
Out with the old….
Then, a miracle. My friend offered to lend me hers. Boom. It’s actually the bike she had bought two years ago to do the London-Surrey 100, but she hadn’t felt fit enough at the time, so didn’t get to do it. Score on the bike but this friend is already much fitter than I’ll ever be so again I felt anxiety levels rise. I pushed these nagging doubts to one side to make room for the dread of having to ride this expensive-looking, much faster, drop-handlebarred beast.
In with the new…
The first ride didn’t go too well. Once again I took myself to Richmond Park. Coming down the hill heading towards Richmond Gate I approached the roundabout and lost my nerve. Fearing I was going too fast and that I didn’t have enough space to manoeuvre, I suddenly lost control. The bicycle disappeared from under me and I crunched into the hard ground, feeling the cold wetness seeping in through my clothes. Shaken up but not injured I quickly retrieved the bike from the middle of the road before any cars came. I’d somehow wedged the handlebars under the frame. I couldn’t pull them out. Fortunately there were some very kind cyclists who checked I was ok and one guy was able to free the handlebars. This was the one ride I hadn’t managed to cajole my boyfriend in to coming. I found myself, on a bleak and overcast Sunday afternoon, alone in the middle of Richmond Park, 13 miles from home with sore hands, grazed knees and a bruised ego. I had no choice but to get back on the wretched thing and cycle home. Slowly.
The next few weeks were training light. I reverted back to the sturdy hybrid, incorporating my training into my commute. Weekend commitments meant training over long distances all but grinded to a halt. All the time, whenever I thought about, or worse still, locked eyes on that horrible road bike I would fill with terror. I actually think I hated that bike for a while.
Then the bike gods struck a crucial blow. The break cable on the hybrid broke one more morning before work. I contemplated getting the tube but against my better judgement, I got back on the road bike. It felt like a small victory. Later on I took the road bike to the my local shop to check it was ok. This time the bike lady was really friendly and not at all condescending. She raised the saddle and flipped the handlebars so they tilted upwards. Turns out I had been riding on virtually flat tyres too, so no wonder that ride to Richmond Park was so uncomfortable! With the adjustments made, when I did eventually pluck up the courage (all be it by force of hand), I felt more at ease.
That brings me up to now. It’s the beginning of June and I have eight weeks until the big day. Details of my training programme are here: https://thecyclistablog.wordpress.com/training-programme/
As you can see I have a long way to go.
I’ll be blogging and tweeting along the way, partly for my own catharsis but mostly to aid my fundraising for Refuge. My target is £750 and I really want to smash it! Riding for Refuge is an honour and I am determined to reach my goal so they can continue to do their life-changing work.
All donations will be received with my heartfelt gratitude. You can visit my fundraising page here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserPage.action?userUrl=FelicityScott&faId=593145&isTeam=false
As well as, or instead of, financial donations, if you have completed the ride before or you’re doing it this year, I’d love to hear from you! Tips, training routes and techniques, kit suggestions and general messages of encouragement and wisdom are all needed.
Back in 2013’s inaugural event, Boris Johnson did it in eight hours and four minutes. Sally Gunnell did it in five hours and 40 minutes. If I cross that finishing line before 5pm, I will have succeeded in my challenge. Topping Sally’s time is a bit out of my reach but, if I can beat Boris and do it in under eight hours, I will be well chuffed! Thank you in advance for your generosity and support.