How to sign up for something you are in no way prepared for.

By Claire Donnelly.

This is the unplanned sequel to the last blog I did for Vivi. Unplanned because I signed up for the Prudential Surrey 100 with the confidence that I wouldn’t actually have to do it.

It’s the end of summer 2017, my Mizen to Malin cycle in Ireland is complete and I’m on a post-adventure high. My friend Maria emails: ‘Surrey 100 Claire. I’ve never actually got a place so we probably won’t get it but let’s sign up for the craic‘.

Being the rubber-armed sheep that I am, I signed up for the 100-mile route (because 46 miles is peanuts right) assuming I’d never get a place and quickly just forgot about it. 

Fast forward to January 2018.

CONGRATULATIONS! You have secured a place in the Prudential Surrey 100. What?!?!? No no, I didn’t actually want to cycle 100 miles, what a ridiculous thing to do. Maria said I wouldn’t get a place. Take it back.

Added trauma – Maria didn’t get a place: so I’m now doing this solo! 

Going with the old saying, ‘what’s for you won’t pass you’, I decide I’ll give it a go. I’ll train, and come July I’ll assess if I’m ready for this.

April 2018. I’m skipping ahead as I have no training info for this time, because I didn’t train! Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not even a spin class. 

Training kicks off with a 44 mile round cycle to Box Hill with Maria and another friend, ‘King of the Hill’ Wilko. After 6 months out of the saddle I’m excited. And, after 6 months out of the saddle it will come as no surprise that I died. I crawled up Box Hill so slowly my GPS auto paused because it thought I’d stopped moving. But my aching limbs and sassy GPS gave me the kick I needed to start taking training seriously.

I began small with a  few weekend 20 mile Richmond Park cycles (avoiding the hill, obviously) and spin classes during the week, so I was starting to feel back to a decent level, when a friend invited me on the Beer and Bike Cycle Club Lee Valley cycle at the end of May. 52 miles, and I survived! Horrific sunburn aside it was a brilliant cycle and I was starting to feel slightly more confident for doing 100 miles.

It is worth noting that Prudential send regular emails of training tips and nutritional advice which are brilliant. I’m just really bad at reading emails. So I solider on with my hap hazard training, aided by Maria who is harder to ignore than an email when she catches me eating biscuits or generally slacking.

2 months to go and June is off to an excellent start thanks to Team Vivi. A 25 mile warm up ride on Saturday to Giro Café with Vivi’s Chris and Nicola sets me and Chris up nicely for a 63 mile Windsor Loop on the Sunday – a total of almost 90 miles in a weekend. Now I just need to be able to do slightly more than this in under 8 hours. Easy!

Next weekend is a 65 mile loop around the Surrey Hills. This was tougher. Not because of the hills, but because I was so incredibly hungover! Trooper that I am, I dragged my carcass out of bed at 7am where I was greeted by Maria who had adjusted the route to include a mini loop should I need to turn back, crawl home, throw up and die. Turns out a 65 mile cycle round Surrey on a sunny day does wonders for a hangover and my training stayed on track.

With just over a month to go I needed to get a last long cycle in, so a group of us planned a cycle to Brighton at the end of June. I also needed to face Leith Hill to at least see what I was letting myself in for so I decided to do this back to back in one weekend, because why not!

I headed out with my old manager Jim, the only person willing to go to Leith Hill with me and we set off to Coldharbour via Box Hill – the more hills the better.

Positives of this cycle: I got to experience Leith Hill.

Negatives: I got to experience Leith Hill from top to bottom which doesn’t really count for training purposes, plus, I came off my bike and sliced my ankle open with my gear wheel on the way back through Leatherhead.

Positives: I have a scar that looks like I was mauled by a bear. Jim and his wife are wonderful (and I’m sorry I got blood all over your bathroom).

Some glue and stitches later and a look of amusement from the nurse when I asked can I cycle and I was out for the Brighton cycle with 4 weeks of training left.

After 2 weeks rest (it probably could have been 1 but I walked on my foot too much and reopened on the cuts. And if you listen very carefully you can still hear my mum saying I told you so) and very little time left I managed to get some Richmond loops in before the big day.

There was no question of not doing the cycle at this point. I was as ready as I could be. That’s a lie, I could have been a lot more prepared.

  • Bike serviced? Check.
  • Prudential Pack collected? Check.
  • Snacks? Check.
  • Last minute charity t-shirt because I couldn’t decide who to cycle for and then got sent a running top by accident? Check.

Shout out to MIND. They do fantastic work and looking after mental health is very important.

  • Bike transported across London the day before because you didn’t realise you were allowed to take the bike on the tube so instead you and your friend Laura cycled it to another friend’s house in Stratford and then woke her up at 6am on a Sunday to collect it? Check.
  • Saddle bag packed and an early night? No, because it was your friends birthday so you and Laura went out (only 1 drink) then came home and packed your bag at midnight while eating pad thai.

How to do something you are averagely prepared for.

This is it. 100 miles including Leith Hill, Box Hill, the Surrey Hills, Wimbledon Hill and Richmond Park. Thankfully after weeks of a heatwave, it’s cold and raining. This is not sarcasm, I was dreading the heat. Did you see those poor people during the London Marathon?!

Standing by Olympic Park, already soaked (why didn’t I buy a better rain jacket?!) everyone is itching to start. I have the milestones taped to my bike, and a rough plan to stop every 25 miles for a toilet/snack break. Our group is up, we’re getting the motivational warm-up act and shouting out what our start song should be. The klaxon goes.

The first 25 miles were great. Cycling though London with full ownership of the roads is amazing. I made a friend around Embankment and we cycled together until mile 30 when she stopped to say hi to her family who were waiting.

I’ll a quick moment now for all the people who were up early and standing along the roads in the pouring rain to cheer, clap, hi-5, sing and everything else they did. You’re amazing! Please keep doing this. It makes such a difference having you along the route.

I continued on to my next target tea & pee break at 50 miles. At my mile 25 snack break, I stopped for about 5 minutes, new best friend and I were making good progress and didn’t feel the need to stop for long. By mile 45 I was desperate to see the mile 50 sign. Desperation turned to annoyance because I was convinced I must be halfway. Annoyance turned to suspicion, as the time between the mile markers seemed to be getting longer and longer (nothing to do with it taking me longer because I was tired). When I saw the mile 47 sign I, an (almost) fully grown adult,  threw my toys out of the pram and decided to pull in at the next toilets to have a break, a huff and check my phone.

Around this time most of my family and friends had clearly all woken up to start their Sunday and were sending messages of encouragement and telling me they were tracking my progress. I instantly wound my neck in and couldn’t help smiling.

Huff over I cracked on towards Leith Hill. I’d reached the halfway point in good time, so wasn’t worried about being diverted and could now slow slightly to save my energy for the hills. Just as well, as they were brutal. Not just because they were hills, but the rain had been continuously heavy all day so the roads were slick. Downhills weren’t a chance to pick up speed, they were a careful negotiation not to go skidding across the road and take out other cyclists.

I had no grip on the steep hills, my legs were burning so trying to push myself through was taking more and more effort. The roads themselves, as most of you who’ve cycled round the Surrey Hills are very narrow. Imagine what they’re like when you’re doing them with 80,000 other cyclists. Staying to the left to let the faster ones pass but not too left that you clash with those who’ve dismounted.

Around Pasture Wood I dismounted on a particularly shitty hill (that’s an official term) and asked someone how far we were from Leith Hill. It was closed off! We weren’t doing it!! It was too dangerous!!! I could have hugged this random woman. Back on the bike at rapid speed. I ploughed on, the end was…not really in sight but it was looking closer without Leith Hill in way.

Would it have been nice to do Leith Hill and see that nice round 100 on my Strava? Definitely. Will I get over this moment of disappointment? Oh yes.

En route to Box Hill, and I feel happy with my progress so I stop for a proper break. The every quarter stopping rule was out the window. I’d cycled past many a pop up food tent run by lovely locals and I wanted a cup of tea. I sat on the grass, in the rain, eating a slice of sponge cake and drinking rain filled tea getting messages from Sarah (the Stratford friend I woke at 6am) asking if I was ok because I hadn’t moved in a while. I probably should get going again.

Tea break time

Back on the bike, I’m ready for Box Hill! Sadly my tea break had cost me, I was nudged past Boxhill on the bypass route. Was I a bit more gutted about this? Yes. Was the tea and cake worth it? Yes. Tea and cake is always worth it. Would Maria have been happy with my half hour break? Absolutely not. But she’s in South America learning to surf and I’m cycling in the rain without a rain coat (lost it. Didn’t go back for it.) because she talked me into signing up for this soooo *shrugs*.

Back through Esher and Kingston upon Thames I know I’m getting close. Wimbledon Hill is about the 90 mark and I’m racing for this. More crowds are out now cheering and buoying us along, everyone is more chatty as the rain starts to lay off. It’s brilliant. Up Wimbledon Hill I achieved an aim for the day I’d made as I was cycling; hi-5 a child! Never underestimate the joy this brings.

Less than 10 miles to go!! I have so much energy. Sarah is waiting at the finish and The Mall is so close.

The cycle up The Mall is one of the best moments I’ve ever experienced.

Me finishing

This cycle is one of the best things I’ve experienced. The atmosphere is amazing. The other cyclists are so friendly and chatting along the way. The supporting crowds are incredible. Words can’t do the experience justice, which makes the second half of this post fairly pointless but I’ve used a lot of adjectives to try and explain it.

Finishing on The Mall

Ballot results are out soon, so best of luck to you all. It’s amazing. If you get a spot, do it.

I also checked, and tandem entries only require one person to have a place so if I get in again, you’re doing it with me, Maria!

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