Ride100 race report: reflections of an amateur 100 mile cyclist

18 Aug

The brilliant Nicola Milburn was among several thousand women who took part in the recent Ride100 event, a 100 mile cycle from London to Surrey and back, ending on The Mall. Nic was good enough to share her experience of the day below and it’s enough to inspire anyone to take part next year. In case you’re tempted, the ballot is now open…

Reflections of an amateur 100 mile cyclist
by Nicola Milburn

Nicola Milburn Ride 100It was quite by chance I completed the inaugural Prudential Ride 100 cycle sportive. In all honesty I’d done no specific training for it – apart from a quick recce of Box Hill and my usual commute to work which is max 2 hours cycling total a day. Instead I was enjoying the Summer playing tennis on the once-lush green grass courts at my club, not really giving the ride much thought when suddenly the Big Day arrived.

Sensibly, my work colleague had been meticulously planning her training whilst I just kept saying it’ll be ok, it can’t be that tough – but in the back of my mind I knew I’d never cycled for 100 miles in one day before… so I did wonder how hard I’d actually find it to complete.

Getting to the start I treated as the gentle warm up ride.  I couldn’t help giggling to myself as at 5.15am we passed a fair few people heading home from their night out…I had been tucked up in bed by 9.30pm!

I remember arriving at the Olympic stadium and feeling the excitement – even at 6am. It definitely had a London Marathon-type atmosphere although I have to say there is a lot more “all the gear (and no idea..)” in the cycling world…so much lycra and carbon fibre… really, I wondered, is all this stuff really necessary?

Waiting to be penned in to start I was wearing my black bin liner just like I do at the start of a running race to keep warm…but this time I was the only one sporting the look ….I’m still not sure why, as it works and others around me were definitely shivering.  I hope I’ll have set a trend by next year’s RideLondon!

7.22am and I was off with my first goal in mind of Hampton Court at 25 miles – ¼ of the way there. Unfortunately, I soon felt like I was dragging along and it felt tougher than expected – until I worked out I had an early slow puncture. So I stopped, pumped it up and tried to ignore it but had to concede defeat at the 37mile drink station and get it repaired properly.

Looking around me whilst I waited, I observed lots of mainly male cycle groups with the odd girl or two thrown in and those were definitely the serious cyclist girls.  This might have been the time to lose confidence that I’d complete the challenge as others looked so task-orientated and prepared – but I challenged myself to keep the faith and keep giving it a whirl and just see what happened.

Puncture repaired and fate led me to bump into my tennis partner and her group of friends cycling as a team so I promptly joined them. I felt so much happier – it’s a long old way to ride solo and with only your own thoughts to keep you going.  This gang is a highly competitive group of semi-retired women hockey players (oops – that makes them sound so old – like me they’re only in their 30s!) who were joined for the ride by one equally as competitive man. Without doubt these girls (and guy) were my life-savers as they made the journey so much more fun and took away the next 25miles as we chatted away.

Suddenly without realising it, we each fell silent in anticipation of the 3 monster Surrey hills – Newlands Corner, Leith Hill and Box Hill.  Dare I say it – but the hills were good!  Yes, it’s true, I actually like hills strangely enough and I feel beasting them on the upward slope is one of my strengths.  It’s the downhills that do for me – I felt much more daunted and cautious on the descent as lots of amateur cyclists going flat out down the Surrey lanes reeks of danger to me!  Fortunately we only saw one nasty accident – and the guy was being well attended to.  These things do make you conscious of the need to be extra vigilant of others on the road around you.

Once the hills were completed still with my newly-adopted team we had just 30 miles left to Buckingham Palace.  Split that into 2 x 15 and mentally I felt it was doable – so off we went. Legs were feeling not too bad, but bottom seriously sore and my taste buds were crying out for something savoury rather than energy drinks and flap jack I’d brought along for the ride (literally).

This is where being part of a team really helped as we each just took it in turns to pull the group along and the crowds of cyclists had really dispersed by now (so I felt safer!).  At this point you felt the amazing support from the villagers in Surrey who were really vocal – lots of cheering and clanging of cowbells. It was great to get such encouragement and massively helps keep you going – thank you Surrey!

Unfortunately, the small hills started to feel like big hills and even a hill-lover can have had her fill!  I was really looking forward to hitting Wimbledon, the 90 mile mark, as I knew I’d be on very familiar ground and not far from home.

We hit the final hill of the route up to Wimbledon Village but it felt as bad as Box Hill though thankfully not half as long. All safely reached the top and now mentally we knew there were only a few miles to the end. We squeezed our last burst of energy as we headed along Embankment, up Whitehall and down the Mall.

Cycling The Mall was a truly great feeling: big smiles and little clench of the fist and I’d done it! Got my medal and had time for photos and mutual congratulations to the team around me. Relief and pride in the achievement washed over us all.

I’m not sure what the official women to men ratio was on the inaugural Prudential RideLondon but we (that is me and my newly adopted team) were definitely one of the only mainly women groups.  We finished (after several stops including punctures) in a respectable sub-7hr time.

On reflection, I can’t recommend cycling in a group highly enough – and particularly on a long ride like that.  Numbers just help keep morale high and adds to the enjoyment. Cycling certainly doesn’t have the impact on your body that running does (so you recover much more quickly from riding 100miles than running 26.2).  In fact I only have one slight regret – and perhaps it’s perverse – but I almost feel as though I’d have appreciated the achievement more if I’d got myself together to train for it properly in advance.

Nic ride 100 1

All in all I’d say if you are thinking about it, do it, and quick before next year’s ballot closes. I’ve already entered – and I’ve promised myself to train for it next time!

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