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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!


Race report: 2013 London Triathlon

10 Aug

It’s not strictly cycling related, but this 1500m swim, 40k ride and 10k run deserves a write up of its own.

Virgin-London-Triathlon-Swim-Canary-WharfWe might not be the majority at mass cycling events, but the women’s open age group wave at this year’s London Triathlon was the biggest. That’s 440 sets of hands, arms, legs and feet to fight your way through during the 1500m swim in the Thames River. So for the first 15 minutes, I was literally punched and kicked all over as the ladies jostled for position. Quite apart from the face smacking, at 8.30am the sun was glaringly bright on the water, making it near impossible to see the huge red and white buoys that marked the turning points. A large boat had recently crossed the swim path, leaving a giant wake to navigate. As a result I’m confident I zig zagged wildly through a much longer swim than necessary, aligning whenever I hit one of the kayakers along each side. Swimming in the Thames really isn’t all that bad. It’s slightly salty and too murky to see much so you simply plough on and avoid swallowing any water. Kate, my tri buddy, powered ahead and finished the swim in an impressive 26 minutes to my 30.

Out of the water and onto the bike. I’d done no open water swimming since the previous London Tri a year earlier and my carefully honed skill of rapidly taking off wetsuit was forgotten. One feels slightly sick and dizzy after front crawling 1500m as fast as possible and I wobbled all over the show as I pulled down each arm and got stuck at the waist. In my head I remembered to stand on one side as I pulled off the other leg but in reality I just staggered around for a while until I finally got there. The run into transition is fairly long and includes a steep flight of stairs to the bikes. Ouch.

Challenge one of T1 is locating your bike. One among 440 is like a needle in a haystack, but I’d remembered to drape a hot pink jacket over my seat so it was easier to spot. Kate’s transition area next to mine was glaringly empty, her and bike long gone, leaving a silent ‘hurry up’ taunt in their wake. Dump wetsuit, clip on race belt and helmet (having remembered to tie your hair in a low ponytail so it doesn’t get in the way) stand on towel to dry feet and step into socks and shoes. Hold the saddle to run with the bike and mount only when you’re fully out of the transition area.

The 40k ride takes you from east to west London and back again. You pass majestic Westminster and power along the north embankment overlooking the London Eye, the Shard and the City in the distance. It’s treat to be on the roads with no cars. A few gentle hills mean you can really pick up speed at certain parts but for the most part it’s a flat ride. One big loop and a slightly smaller one, remembering to eat before I felt hungry. We’d had a week of gorgeous still sunny weather, but this morning the wind was aggressive. A head wind all the way to Westminster, about 70% of the ride, making it tougher than it should have been. The bike is my weakest leg and despite pushing my legs as fast as they could go, I was still overtaken. The elites passed as I approached the 30k mark, the whomp whomp sound of their solid back wheels announcing their arrival. Yeah, whatever.

I felt slightly better about my slow ride (1’18) after hearing about a friend who got knocked off his bike and rode the remaining 25k not realising his brakes were partially locked on. Now that’s what you call a struggle. Kate finished the ride in 1’17, still minutes ahead after her fast swim.

Emily and KateT2 is easier than T1, except for the fact I’d removed the pink jacket from my seat so totally lost my transition area. I spent a precious 30 seconds staring madly around before spotting my trainers, quickly racking bike (Kate’s was there this time, laughing at my tardiness) and swopping shoes, twisting race belt to the front. My bike pedometer had gauged my speed on the ride and I picked up my Garmin watch for the run. A useless move as it turned out, as it never picked up the satellite.

I love to run and once I get to this part of the triathlon I relax and remember to smile. My one brick session (going from bike to run) beforehand paid off as I set off quickly, running the first two km in eight minutes. By 10.30am the sun was starting to blaze and I was massively grateful for the water and sprinkler hose on the way round. The run is three loops, so three 15 minute reps. Finally, on the third loop, I caught Kate and we shouted words of encouragement as I ran past – girls are so nice to each other, right?! The 10k run took just under 45 minutes in the end, an average 4’30km pace throughout, to Kate’s 50.

You feel like a superstar when you finish the London Triathlon, it’s true. It ends in the Excel Centre along a red carpet with cheering fans to either side and bright lights around the finish line. A customary sprint finish was in order to come in at 2 hours 41 minutes, 34th in my age group and 3 minutes faster than last year despite a slower swim and bike. Kate, a little bit fish and a little bit more Victoria Pendleton than me, finished in 2’42. Thank you to the fantastic organisers and marshalls who made the event so seamless and such good fun. Brilliant effort all round.

Race Report: FT & Human Race London Cycle Sportive

1 Jul

Team FT“It’s a shame they don’t have a 130k route” I remarked to Jonny as we set off on the medium length, 100k FT London Cycle Sportive . “The long route of 160km is a bit much, but I would happily do something in between”. Well. Be careful what you wish for…

It couldn’t have been a more perfect day for the ride. 26 degrees and the most glorious summer day we’ve had all year (I have ridiculous tan lines to prove it), minimal wind, blue skies. Perfect cycling weather. 2500 cyclists gathered at Dulwich Park in South London to start the route, choosing from 50k, 100k or the epic 160k ride. There were around 20 of us from Team FT, sporting custom made kit from Le Marq (somebody later said we had the best kit of the day and I tend to agree). The crowd was mostly men and, ladies, I’d like to point out one of the good things about doing a mass participation event which is 80% men is that there are barely any queues for the portaloos. It’s the little things.

Sportive startWe set off in 10 minute waves, all very orderly and organised, after a short race briefing: “stick to the road rules, watch out for fellow cyclists, enjoy”. After the unavoidable stop/start route out of London, 15k or so through Cyrstal Palace and Streatham, we reached the delightful narrow country lanes of Kent. I was struck at how little distance you have to travel out of London to feel miles away from the city. We’re talking rolling green meadows, lush green hedges, colourful flowers, cows, horses, sheep, red brick houses dotted throughout the fields. The slim roads are undulating and at the top the views are gorgeous. It’s great riding, and there was brilliant comradery between the cyclists as we sped along in loose pelatons with the usual shouts of “Hole!” “Car up!” “Slow!” etc.

Heading into KentWe’d programmed the route into our Garmins but needn’t have done as it was clearly marked with huge red arrows. These navigated us across the North Downs and up the steep incline of Biggin Hill until, after about 50km , we reached the first feed station. Nobody prepares a feed station for you on a training ride, so this was a real treat. The wonderful people from Access Sport, who the ride was in aid of, were giving out energy bars and drinks, jaffa cakes, jelly babies, bananas and delicious home made flapjack. There was even a mechanic truck on hand to help with ailing bikes – it was a seriously good set up.

Refuelled and rehydrated we set off again – and this was where things started to go wrong. The trusty red arrows seemed to be pointing in various different directions, confused with yellow diversion signs, and Garmin couldn’t find us anywhere. Eventually, the red arrows and the yellow diversion signs just ran out and Garmin blinked nonchalantly, totally off route. Cue lots of lost, confused, hot, sweaty cyclists trying to figure out where they went wrong. Some were trying find the route from a mix of printed paper maps (so old school) and others shaking non-responsive Google Maps frustratedly on their phones. As the group got larger there were varying reports of which direction was right, but we were all reluctant to head downhill in case we found ourselves having to retrace our steps upwards. Talk about the blind leading the blind. In the end we set off for Dorking, certain that this would lead us to Box Hill eventually where we’d find the course.

Box Hill lookoutThe bad thing about losing your way on these roads is that while it is possible to get back on track, you usually end up along some busy A roads rather than the pleasant country lanes. Which is what happened to us as we wound our way down into Reigate. We passed through the town, added an extra 15k to our ride, and eventually Garmin stuttered to life as we grew closer to the route. A well spotted left turn down Old Street Lane and we were back, happy red arrows leading the way once again. It later transpired that some BT road workers had changed the arrows as they were doing some highway maintenance and needed to put in a diversion. They didn’t think to tell the Human Race guys, who had set up the route hours earlier and had no idea their directions had been tampered with. Cheers, BT.

And so on to Box Hill and its gentle climb upwards to the best lookout of the day. It was a hive of activity at the top and we stopped for the obligatory photo shoot. A cycle sportive can be so different to a running race – stopping is more acceptable and timing isn’t as crucial as so many factors including hills, traffic lights and weather impact on your total. So after another bite to eat we set off, home straight now back into London. It’s a fast, flat and downhill road back from Box Hill, lots of fun. The ride came back into town via Croyden, uninspiring to say the least after the prettiness of the Surrey Hills. I’m sure there must be a nicer route back in.

The finish line was at the Herne Hill Velodrome, London’s oldest operational Olympic venue and where we were lucky enough to go track cycling recently with Team Sky’s Ben Swift. It truly was the sprint finish of a champion, turning sharply onto the track and racing round as fast as possible to cross the finish line in elation. A brilliant way to end and as you crossed the line you not only got coconut water and refreshments, but a shiny new medal to wear on the way home.

Bron and KateA massive thank you to the organisers and marshalls, many of them volunteers giving up their weekend to make the ride safe and enjoyable for everyone. I’m superbly proud of fellow cyclists Bronwynn and Kate today too (in photo to the left). Bron only bought her bike two months ago, so 100km today was a fantastic achievement. And Kate’s only ever ridden two other 80k+ rides and has been battling a cold all week, so was equally strong. Final stats were 115km with 1,152m of ascent, and by the time we added on 20km to and from home, my earlier wish of a 130k ride was well and truly fullfilled. Next time, I’m doing 160km…

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