Matt Hudson, Total Motion Events, July 2017
Having competed in this event in 2015 I was super keen to give it another go. Well, yesterday was my time having deferred my ballot entry form 2016 to experience again the excitement of blasting through London without the distractions of traffic lights, cars and pedestrians.
Much of my training in 2017 has been geared to specific events. The early months were focused on getting ready to right some wrongs in the Manchester Marathon, so understandably I was fully focused on my training plan to get to the start line in the best shape possible. Training that resulted in a huge PB. Subsequently I became a bit more focused on the start of the triathlon season bringing more swimming into my weekly routine. However the early warning signs were visible from then. When could I find the time to get out on the bike? For a 40km triathlon bike leg you can get away with it I think…but this misses the point. If it’s all about improvement I just wasn’t pushing myself enough! Fortunately a turbo trainer helps massively for the shorter distance training allowing for a more intensive, specific workout. That would get me through the triathlon at least.
Then to focus on RideLondon. I know that it is extremely difficult to get on a bike and cycle 100 miles. The length of the event dictates that it isn’t actually just about fitness, so much more comes in to it. It’s getting the nutrition right and it’s getting your head in the right place for those times when it gets tough as it does for everyone at some point. Also, it’s about time spent in the saddle. This isn’t necessarily threshold efforts, it’s being physically on a bike for an extended period on time, letting your body get used to being in the correct position. Sadly this is the aspect of my training for RideLondon that I really couldn’t find time to concentrate on...too many excuses to list.
A terrible night’s sleep and a 3am alarm clock really isn’t a great start before any event, but I felt surprisingly bright and ready to go for my 6:48am start time as I questioned whether the worst of the torrential rain had passed, checking numerous weather apps. After getting a lift to Rotherhide Tunnel (Thank you Marcus & Lyndsay) we made our way to the start line, largely in the dark, passing riders who were fixing punctures even before they had got to the start line. At least this ’mechanical’ wasn’t going to effect their race time…a huge positive for some of the more competitive cyclists! There’s not a lot to do pre event, it’s straight into your pen and wait. Eat a bit, drink a bit, look to the darkening clouds in the skies, contemplate your pre race toilet strategy…the usual routine! There was a sense of nervous anticipation in the pen, clearly lots of first timers on their mountain bikes (what, 100 miles on roads on mountain bikes? Nuts!), but also there were some bikes that must have come directly from the TdF prologue and would have covered the 100 miles in a few hours if only their owners had lungs the size of their wallets.
When the start did arrive if felt great to finally get on our way and after a few hundred metres the roads really began opening up. On one hand you know that this is a long race and it is prudent to conserve energy, but it is realty hard to resist the temptation of joining one of the snakes of cyclists as they tuck in and blast pass the rather more pedestrian participants. My view is that balance is key. You don’t want to amble along, that just makes for a long day, but you need to find a group that matches your ability and fitness. I latched on to a few guys who were riding side by side, chatting, but still averaging mid-30s km/h, often hitting 40km/h+! This is a lot faster than I would usually ride, but then I don’t normally ride in the slipstream of cyclists like this on closed roads. It felt comfortable, but I knew that I was unlikely to stick with them throughout, so found someone a touch slower and continued. Moral Question: I’m torn between reaping the benefit of slipstreaming (saving up to 40% of energy and effort), and the dilemma of taking a turn at the front of the group. At the end of the day cyclists tucked in behind me too, so I feel I gave as much as I received….or at least that’s my view..
I was feeling good, having fun, the lack of training clearly had little impact in the early stages, but at the 25 mile mark I adjusted my position on the bike and felt a tightness in my back. Here we go…this is the lack of time spent on the bike coming back to haunt me!! That tightness spread up to my shoulders and down to the hips over the next 30+ miles. By the time we reached the Surrey Hills my top half was pretty sore, but thankfully the legs were in decent shape. I knew Leith Hill was approaching…I braced myself. Box Hill gets the headlines, but as any experienced cyclist will tell you, Box is pretty straightforward. Find your gear and settle in for the nice constant climb to the café at the top. A 7% gradient isn’t a real climb! Leith, however, catches the amateur every time. Firstly it’s steeper, up to 14%, it’s narrower meaning that there is a lot of congestion and the gradient varies a lot more than Box. All of this means you have people slowing down, speeding up, wobbling about and walking making it so much more difficult. The bonus is once at the peak you get the benefit of some great descents. Some again quite narrow and requiring a fair amount of caution. Others on great tarmac with a clear view of what’s ahead really allowing you to get in a good position and let gravity play it’s part for a few miles. You certainly had to keep your wits about you as serious amateurs really went for it and the less experienced riders were always likely to do something unpredictable….I was doing 60km/h+ on stretches, but I was a bystander as many flew past me.
Box Hill came at 70 miles, no drama there, but the roads immediately post the climb are real ‘dead’ roads. Seemingly flat, but really difficult to find any pace. Mentally this is tough. 30 miles from The Mall…thinking at that pace it could have been 2 hours before I saw The Palace. My initial plan had been to go without stopping to try and beat my 2015 time, but clearly that was not going to happen, so I took aim for Sandown Park at the 80 mile mark. Those next 10 miles were really tough for me, and my shoulders and back hurt like hell…seeing ‘The Good Earth’ in Esher was a sign that my pit stop was approaching. I topped up with water, ate (another) gel took a few Clif Bars and trucked on. Just another 10 miles until Wimbledon where the family would be waiting, and I felt reinvigorated. I began enjoying it all over again. I sailed into Wimbledon, and made light work of the hill to the village. There I saw some cyclists walking that had appeared invincible as they had passed me previously…I allowed a smirk at this…It’s only a little incline I thought, but the mole hill had become a mountain after 90 miles. The girls were waiting at the top…time for a 2 minute chat, pictures and Jelly Babies…and I was all set. 10 miles to the line. 30 mins maximum, but hopefully less. Feeling strong now as I powered towards Putney and the anticipation of getting some real pace going down the high street…fantastic. Over the bridge, round into Parsons Green and then things started grinding to a halt, a series of crashes saw cyclists being attended to, first responders at the scene, an air ambulance…reminders of what can happen when 30,000 people are cycling through London. As I got down on to Embankment there was plenty of road space. I met the ‘3km to go’ sign with mixed emotions…I was almost there, but then again, I was loving it. I found a clear line and went for home. No need for slipstreaming. The incline of Whitehall gave no resistance as I swung into The Mall…and sprinted in to the finish line. Not quite Mark Cavendish – The Manx Missile sprints at up to 80kph…I was just over half that, but it felt fast to me!
Overall a satisfactory job, I could have gone quicker with better prep, but not too disappointed having had to deal with my low period. Pleasing to know that I have got it ‘in the locker’, but really must get away from the mind-set that I can turn up for stuff. The Yorkshire Marathon in October is the next test. No way am I going there without a solid build up – I can’t get away with it over 26.2 miles of running.