If you’re looking for an inspiring read about what a fantastic time I had cycling the Prudential Ride London – you’re in the wrong place. I really don’t want to put anyone off participating in this impeccably organised and wonderfully charitable event but I have to be true to myself and say… it was quite horrid (there were moments which I found acceptable but mostly it was just painful and cold).
My 2 main issues were:
(a) I had hoped that in the months leading up to this event I might obtain a “get out of jail free card” in the form of a pregnancy and be excused from participating – no such luck. Instead, the whole thing became an emotional milestone that I never wanted to reach. That’s a very wordy way of saying – my attitude stank before we even started.
(b) The silver lining to point (a) is that I adore London. Spending a day on traffic-free roads meandering through London’s iconic landmarks whilst being cheered on by crowds of happy supporters sounded almost dreamy. But the infamous British weather quite literally washed away that dream and the day of the event arrived at the same time as a mid-summer monsoon. Perfect.
After a 4.30am start, a “warm up” cycle through Shoreditch (which FYI still has a strong party scene at 7am on a Sunday morning) and a terrifying experience in a portable toilet, I arrived at the Olympic Park absolutely drenched and on the brink of an almighty tantrum. There were about 20,000 jolly cyclists at the start line and none of them were able to cheer up my sorry ass. Especially not the DJ who was – hilariously – blasting out weather-related tunes and shouting “PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR”. No matter how deep I dug, I couldn’t muster the energy to unfold my arms and extend them away from my shivering body for anything other than physical violence. So I remained motionless. Like cattle, we were shuffled in our hundreds along a road, one soggy step at a time until we reached the start line and were sent pedaling off into the
miserable abyss rainy headwind.
The first 10 miles included the mother of all punctures, tears and a difficult conversation with a group of Chinese tourists who insisted I pose with them in a very uncomfortable photo shoot. Once the tourists had finished exploiting me, I got back on the bike and spent the next 10 miles thinking about how different the entire experience would be if it just wasn’t raining so hard. By the time I was on the Hammersmith flyover, I’d given myself an attitude makeover. I decided that I was going to try and enjoy the rest of the ride because letting my pitiful state of mind get the better of my physically capable body would be an insult to the very core of what this event means to so many people. I also ate a doughnut around this time which probably (definitely) helped matters.
I ignored the shouty middle-aged men who yelled and cussed at the top of their lungs for everyone ahead of them to get out their way so they could barge passed furiously on bikes worth more than cars – there’s only so much a carbon frame can do for those gouty little legs, guys. Presumably they all finished well ahead of me but I like to imagine that they angrily cycled themselves head first into the Thames. I also braved another portable toilet – the other option was to urinate on the bike in front of the crowds which, although might have been less traumatic, is perhaps socially unacceptable. I would’ve had to make my way back to the side streets of Shoreditch for that sort of behaviour.
In Kingston we passed cheerleaders, at Hampton Court Palace we stopped for a hot chocolate and in Wimbledon I even overtook someone – he was riding a penny-farthing but still… Crowds of supporters gathered along the roadside waving flags, blowing whistles and spilling out of pubs to either give us a cheer or flip us the birdie – ahhh good old England. The rain eased off a bit and I sensed the mood of the cyclists around me lift. In fact, the cycle back towards Central London was somewhere approaching enjoyable. In some kind of exercise induced delirium, I actually smiled and waved my way through London and the miles just seemed to disappear. Before I had even registered where we were, Buckingham Palace and the finish line came into view.
I sobbed crossing the finish line as the enormity of what this really meant to me hit home. I never truly wanted to do this event – but I did. And at the start of the day I thought I might sack the whole thing off and go home – but I didn’t. I did feel a sense of accomplishment but my overwhelming feeling was mild hypothermia.
I got a medal… and a beer… so that’s something I suppose.