Last Sunday I was one of 28,000 people who took part in the British Heart Foundation's London to Brighton Bike ride. I've mentioned a few times on here my training for the event. Before March I hadn't been on a bike since I was a child, but since then I'd been cycling for up to five hours every weekend to train for the 54 miles from Clapham Common to the seafront at Brighton. Even then I was definitely not prepared for quite how far that is!
I signed up with seven of my colleagues, all of whom were much better cyclists, and had much flashier bikes than me. I really don't know why I did it. I have never been much into sport or tests of physical endurance - the idea of running a marathon does not appeal at all. But my friend Vanessa was at that point the only girl signed up for it, and she wanted someone else to go with who wasn't seeing it as a race, but a ride, so I signed up with her. My bike got a lot of laughs when everyone saw it, but I didn't want to spend money on a new one for just one event, so I used my mum's 20 year old bike, complete with basket on the front for my handbag, of course! She is big, old and heavy, but she did see me through to the finish with no punctures or injuries, so I can't put her down too much. That's my bike, not my mum. Obviously.
I stayed over at my friend Stuart's house the night before so we would be close to the start line for our painfully early 7am start time. You apply for the start time slot in advance, 7am was good to get you out of London before it gets too busy, I think the earliest is 6am and the latest is around 9am. Most of my colleagues sped ahead pretty quickly and I didn't actually see them again once we start! Luckily Vanessa and I stuck together pretty much the whole way. In London you are pretty slow and most of the roads aren't shut off for traffic, so we cycled and chatted for probably the first hour or so.
When we left the city we split up slightly more, mostly riding solo between rest stops and meeting up every couple of stops or so for some water, food and a chat! I am so glad we stuck together as I think the experience would not have been nearly so fun without company. Especially as we were sooo much slower than everyone else!
There are quite a few hilly bits along the way, and I definitely think I should have practised cycling up hills more than I did. I have driven around a lot of the areas we cycled through before, but somehow you don't notice the hills nearly so much! The rest stops were pretty well placed though, so you always knew there was somewhere to catch your breath coming up, and I loved the community feel of them. They had such a summer fete atmosphere, with tons of people, brass bands, home made cakes, and a particularly epic burger stand run by the 1st Lindfield Scout troop in one case - major shout out to them for much needed eats! I did take snacks with me, but it was good to stop and buy some proper food as well for lunch.
The thing I really hadn't expected was how many accidents there were. I am a pretty slow and leisurely cyclist, and most of the roads are clear of traffic, so I somehow didn't think there would be as many as there were. The ambulances were on stand by and quick to respond, but it was pretty scary to see people who had come off their bikes, mainly on the downhill parts where you really get up some speed. I had my brakes firmly on of course!
Overall it took us about eight hours to make it the whole way, although that included about 45 minutes waiting for a particularly nasty accident to be sorted (the woman in question is thankfully in a stable condition in hospital). The first 40 miles I would say were pretty ok provided you had trained enough beforehand. The next seven included the infamous Ditchling Beacon (a seriously steep hill) and was pretty painful. I genuinely wasn't sure if I'd make it at some points, but I was so close I knew I had to keep going. After that there is a great bit of road along the top of the beacon with amazing views and it was downhill into Brighton to the finish.
I had booked the coach back from Brighton, which is organised by the British Heart Foundation - a lorry behind the coach takes your bike, and they provide bubble wrap for you to ensure it is kept safe! By that point I have to say I did not care much about my poor old bike, I just wanted to get my poor old body home, but it was funny seeing people with snazzy bikes carefully using yards of bubblewrap to ensure theirs were safely transported! Possibly the worst part was then getting back across London. I know it doesn't compare, but I got a bit of an inkling what disabled people must feel like when you get to the station to find all the lifts out of order and no choice but to find someone to help you get your wheels up the escalator or worse, stairs.
The one thing I'd do differently if I did the ride again (which currently I am not planning to do, but ask me again when the pain has worn off and the bruises are gone!) other than buy a lighter bike, would be to have booked the next day off work. My legs were so tired and in so much pain all Sunday evening and Monday morning. I had to take two ibuprofen just to make it into work! I am so proud I did it, but my it was painful!