RideLondon 2013 review: pain and determination

RideLondon-2013Two weeks ago, I rode the RideLondon 2013 100 miles from London to Surrey and back. Only now do my arms feel they have fully recovered. One of the more surprising side effects of riding the longest single distance I have ever done.

I finished RideLondon 2013 in six hours three minutes. For this reason alone, I’m entering next year: before the event, I naively said to fellow motoring journalists Richard Yarrow and Nick Gibbs that sub-six hours was my target but it was only in the last five miles that it became an obsession.

So, I was a bit disappointed at the finish line. I was also delighted because, 45 miles in, I doubted I’d even see it. Despite a good start and a confident first third, another surprise reared its head: indescribable pain.

It was, literally, a pain in the arse.

Saddle soreness is the bane of all cyclists who (like me) don’t get enough time on the bike but this was something else. It shot up my spine, attacked my legs and, combined with huge shoulder and arm ache too, left me a very unhappy cyclist indeed.

Leith Hill: near-lethal

Then there were the hills. Box Hill was a relative breeze compared to Leith Hill, which left me feeling more than slightly sick as I rode up. Grim determination meant I wasn’t demounting, but the effort it took wiped me out. This was where any hope of sub-six hours evaporated.

Weirdly though, because of the saddle pain, riding up hills was actually less agonising in one respect. A different riding position and reliance on leg muscle took the weight off my backside. Indeed, my legs were fine even at the end. It was everything else…

Getting enough fluids and food was also tough. It was obviously hard on my body, harder than I though. People warned others at the start to keep eating but it was, again, only half way round that I realised the importance of this. Mainly because I entered the food hub after Leith Hill feeling horrendous and left, after drinking and eating loads, pleasingly less dreadful.

RideLondon 2014 shopping list…

There are other areas I thought would bring future benefits as I went round. Clip pedals for one – Ollie Marriage said this would be the single biggest thing that’ll transform my riding, so they are on the buy list.

As, indeed, is a new bike. My Bianchi is simply too small. This played a big part in the back and arm pain, I’m sure. I had it for triathlons and, for sprint events, it’s fine. For 100 miles, it’s horrible. Bigger and newer it is, then.

This will also encourage me to put the miles on (nothing like new stuff to make you do stuff). A lack of time to do so was another crucial reason why I didn’t crack six hours. Finding time to do the necessary mileage is hard but I’ll have to be smarter about it. Cycle to see mates in town. Cycle on errands and stretch the distance. Anything to mean I get more than 16 miles a go once or twice a week.

Lots to improve, then. What’s encouraging is that I want to. Despite being slightly broken by the end, I want to get better, want to get back on the bike, want to do it again next year. There may be a slight bit of competitiveness coming into that but all well and good there, too. That’s what drives folk on.

Bring on RideLondon 2014. Sub-six hours on a bike that fits me, here I come. The fact Ollie Marriage did it this year in five hours, and I was sort of level-pegging with him up to half way round, will not come into my thinking when setting an actual target time for 2014. Absolutely not…

Right now, it’s just nice to be able to move my arms properly.