Ride London is an annual 100-mile cycling sportive, which sees more than 20,000 riders follow closed roads from the Olympic Park in East London, out to Surrey, and then back to the finish line on The Mall. Last year I rode it for the second time. Like many others who had ridden it before, my goal for 2016 was to set a new personal best.
It's a fantastically well-run event. Everyone starts on time, there are 100's of marshalls, plenty of hubs for food and support, and this year, they had even arranged for the sun to shine! But with so many riders on the road, there's always bound to be accidents and resulting delays – at one point this year we were held for an hour and a quarter due to a crash further down the road.
I felt my motivation to continue riding rapidly seeping away.
Compared to an injured rider’s welfare, the fact that I was not going to get my PB was completely inconsequential, but as the minutes ticked by – and with around 65 miles still to go - I felt my motivation to continue riding rapidly seeping away. To make matters even more testing, I knew that I would soon be passing my own house, which is close to half way round the course.
Soon I was struggling to resist the temptation to wheel my bike up the garden path and lie on the lawn with a bottle of Prosecco and a picnic instead.
You can do it! You’ve trained for this! Just get on with it and enjoy it
Once we got going again I mulled over what to do: the comfort of the lawn with the risk of hating myself for giving up, or slogging it out to The Mall. Cutting myself some slack, I decided to put off any decision until I’d summited Leith Hill (the hardest part of the course, and over half way round) where my family had arranged to meet me with supplies of coffee and cheese (don’t ask).
At this point I found out that my husband, who had started half an hour before me, was already at The Mall. "Shall I go on?" I bleated, pathetically. “You can do it! You’ve trained for this! Just get on with it and enjoy it” came the reply - all the things I’d told my children over the years, right back at me!
And so, a couple of hours and many miles later, I cycled up The Mall - even indulging myself with a quick sprint from Admiralty Arch, on the drops, in true Marianne Vos style.
I hadn’t given up and I’d learned a few things in the process...
1. No (wo)man is an island
I seriously doubt I would have finished had it not been for the support of, not just of my family, but also the people who stood at the side of the road cheering us on. At 7am, it's mainly parents with young children, all possibly glad of something to do after another early wake up call from their toddlers.
Later on I remember the man singing Sweet Caroline at the base of Box Hill, my friends handing out cupcakes in the Surrey Hills, and the young girl in a wheelchair on Newlands Corner who called out "Keep going!" as I cycled past - if that doesn’t give you the motivation to carry on, nothing will.
2. Riding for a PB isn’t the best or only form of motivation
You ride with your mind as much as your body which is why I struggled when my PB opportunity faded. Riding for a charity - rather than just for my own ego - would have given me a rock solid incentive to just shut up and get on with it when circumstances beyond my control shaped the day. And I’d have raised some cash for a needy cause, too. Big lesson, that one.
3. Savour the incredible moments
Riding through a traffic-free London borders on the surreal – you just can’t believe your eyes as you pedal down Knightsbridge, or along The Embankment, or through Richmond Park surrounded by bicycles. This is what really makes the event so unique, not the finishing time.
4. Channel your inner Victoria Pendleton
Olympic gold medallist VP once told me (during an interview) that a can of Coke will get you through a difficult last hour of an event. I don’t normally touch the stuff btw, but thought Ride London would be a good time to put VP’s advice to the test. She was right.
5. Dinner tasted better
My family came through yet again and, for the record, I got home to roast lamb, crushed potatoes, two salads and a homemade lemon drizzle cake - a meal I wolfed down and will never forget! Oh, and I finally got to drink that Prosecco, too.
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