This time last week I’d just finished the 46-mile version of RideLondon. While it was eminently do-able – when I finished, I immediately thought about entering the ballot for the full 100-mile route; by contrast, after I ran the Reading half-marathon, I told P to punch me in the face repeatedly if I ever said I wanted to do another half-marathon – when I think about it, it’s been a bit of a journey.
The past twelve months have seen me go from extremely infrequent and casual cyclist to indoor cycling enthusiast to easily completing 46 miles without stopping, via two operations serious enough to require general anaesthetic. It would not have been at all possible without our amazing NHS.
If I can do it, I reckon anyone can and I’d highly recommend giving the 46-mile route a go. Riding around London without cars trying to kill you and with people cheering you on is magical, and I’ll never forget the feeling of riding under Admiralty Arch, onto the Mall, towards the finish line with the Queen Victoria memorial gleaming in the sunshine with Buckingham Palace in the background.
I felt this before when I watched P ride around central London for the Breast Cancer Care ride, London without cars is amazing. It’s a wonderful different world and I will support any initiative towards making London a car-free city.
So, the journey…
A year ago, I barely paid any attention to RideLondon. I had a nice bike – a Whyte Dorset, which I still ride – and would go out on occasional rides but I was very clear that I was nowhere near being a MAMIL. I was a casual cyclist nowhere near justifying the quality of bike I was riding, and I didn’t have any specialist cycling clothing.
On 3 September last year, while P and A were out, I decided to go for a little ride up to Coulsdon and back again. Except I felt like pushing myself a little bit and decided to head back south via Farthing Downs rather than back down the A23. I laugh at it now, but I used to really struggle to get up the slope at the beginning of Farthing Downs so getting up without stopping was a real achievement and I felt good as I continued home. I was looking forward to the payback from the climbs, with some nice downhill bits once I got to Chaldon. Except I panicked when I got to Hilltop Lane, when there was a sharp bend to the left and I approached it too quickly, locked up the brakes and went tumbling to the tree roots to the left.
My first thought was, “Blimey, that’s embarrassing. I hope no-one saw me.” My second thought was, “Jesus Christ, my thumb is pointing in several different directions,” at which point I just wrapped the fingers of my other hand around the thumb and popped everything back into place. It’s the kind of thing you’d only do in the first few seconds of adrenalin rush and really not advisable – it’s best to let the medical professionals sort it out, however disconcerting it is to have your thumb wobbling about like it’s not attached to your hand.
Long story short, a couple of lovely cyclists picked me up, dusted me down and escorted me back home. I had a cup of tea and a sandwich before driving myself to A&E (yeah, really!) and it turned out I’d snapped an important ligament. Well, it’s important if you ever want to use your thumb to grip something. I mean, if you want to devolve to the days before the opposable digit gave humankind a survival advantage, you could live without it.
An operation, a few casts, and some physiotherapy has got my thumb reattached and 90% usable again. Physically I was there. Just mentally, clearly I was much more wary of cycling. I was doing stuff at the gym on the cycling machines but, well, they are flipping boring.
And then, at the end of last year, via a neighbour, I discovered Zwift. Zwift’s a virtual world where you can cycle (and nowadays run) with other people online. The thing about it is it hooks up to cycling trainers and when you’ve got a ‘smart trainer’, Zwift controls the resistance so you get a realistic sense of riding up and down hills and, if you’ve got a Tacx Neo like me, even the road feel of gravel, cobbles and tarmac. It’s a complete game changer as far as indoor training goes, making it infinitely more fun. There’s an element of gamification where you can earn points through distance cycled, earning points to put towards virtual kit. The sense of community is its real strength, I feel. There are organised group rides (and races), and when I was a complete beginner working my way up to fitness again, I found the low-power rides invaluable. The Zwift software makes training bearable; the Zwift community is what makes training enjoyable.
So fast forward a couple of months and I’m building good fitness up on Zwift to the point where I even managed to do 100km in a single ride, putting ideas into my head about maybe it being possible to do long rides. And then something else comes along that requires medical intervention: frozen shoulders.
Frozen shoulders are horrific and painful and, if you’re unlucky enough to get both shoulders at the same time, pretty much unbearable. I couldn’t even put a coat on or take it off without any help so there were a few days where I just went out without a coat to save the bother. I’m grumpy at the best of times when I don’t get an uninterrupted night’s sleep: these frozen shoulders made sleep of more than a couple of hours at at time impossible. Thankfully, the NHS came to the rescue yet again and I had an operation in May that freed my shoulders up (not fun although the bit with the gas and air was a blast). Several physio sessions later and I got the final sign-off two days before RideLondon 46. Not that my participation was ever in doubt but the psychological benefit of being cleared as 100% physically fit was invaluable.
The ride was smooth, without incident – I think lessons have been learned from previous years and the organisers of RideLondon have done an amazing job – and the only appropriate word to describe the feeling of crossing the finishing line on the Mall is ‘euphoric’.