My first foray into London cycling

There are just seven weekends until the London to Brighton Night Ride and I’m hideously underprepared and out of shape. Ok – so maybe saying that I’m hideously out of shape is an exaggeration, but (and there’s always a but) when you have to use a safety-pin to hold your  work trousers together because you can’t zip it up,  it’s safe to say I need to get back on that bike!

That’s exactly what I did today. All 8.57miles around London to be precise. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy cycling. Then I got onto the busy and perilous roads of the city and realised how lucky I was when I was cycling around the Oxfordshire countryside last year. It wasn’t so much enjoyable as it was trying to stay alive on the mean roadways of London.

The reason why I haven’t hopped back on my bike is because, quite frankly, I was scared. The thought of negotiating several lanes that split off in various directions while cycling alongside red double-decker buses and non-friendly drivers left me in a cold sweat. It was easier to go swimming or put it off for the next day and the day after that.

My end destination was High Street Kensington. I work here and thought I might cycle to work a few times a week. I get to save a few quid and get fit!  The aim of today was trying to find a (safe) route. There were several ways to get to work which seemed to be straightforward and it was. Then I hit Hammersmith and had to negotiate a large roundabout. The problem was, I didn’t know which road I was supposed to cycle on to let alone which lane I had to get into. At this point, staying alive was my main priority, so hopped off my bike, found a map and walked to the right road.

Other than the Hammersmith fiasco and cycling very close to cars, vans and larger vehicles all vying to get into various lanes, it wasn’t too bad. But then, it wasn’t rush hour. I think I’ll need a few more dry runs before I decide to take the plunge and cycle to work.

Photo by Tom Anderson

Photo by Tom Anderson

If you would like to donate to the British Heart Foundation, you can do so here.


Moon, stars and a bit of cycling

I’m writing this post in a rather delirious state. I’ve had two hours sleep in the last 30 hours, so please excuse me if I don’t make sense.

This morning, I completed The British Heart Foundation’s first ever London to Brighton Night Bike ride in 6 hours and 30 mins, which includes three rest stops, and photos along the way. Excluding the stops, I managed to ride 60.2 miles in five hours. Epic and amazing are words that I do use quiet frequently. However, in the truest meaning of the words, this bike ride was both epic and amazing.

Starting from Clapham Common, over 4,700 of us made our way through the back streets, passing Croydon, Crawley, Burgess Hill to finally ride into Madeira Drive, Brighton. Here’s a map of our route. So far, we’ve managed to raise half a million pounds for their Broken Hearts Appeal. They need to raise £50 million pounds to fund research to mend broken hearts after a heart attack.

I have never done anything like this before. In fact, I only started cycling last year as a way to get fit for my Base Camp Everest challenge. At the time I was riding my little Brompton, but for this cycle, I decided against it and upgraded to a secondhand hybrid bike. However, there was a couple who did ride their Bromptons. I commend them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. After an hour’s wait in the queue, I, along with three others started at 1am.

The start at Clapham Common

We started off quite comfortably, cycling through the streets of London, passing through places like Tooting Broadway,and getting shouts of encouragement from the drunks. We nearly got lost at one stage, where we all passed by a sign. There we all were, around 30 or so cyclists, scratching our heads, looking for a sign and wondering where we went wrong. Thankfully we had only missed a turning, and it didn’t add too much time onto our ride. Soon we were off again.

Once we were out of London, it was black, except for the lights of the bikes (and the odd car passing by), shining the way. My lights however, were were rubbish and did nothing except glow weakly on the front of my bike. Memo to self – test the lights before embarking on a very long and dark journey! Thanks to the copious amount of glucose in my system and devil-may-care attitude I developed, I tore down the hills, slightly scared that I might hit a pothole and fly off my bike. It was exhilarating.

It was so quiet that all I could hear was the whirr of bikes as they passed me. At around 3am, the birds started to wake up and an hour later, were singing the dawn chorus.  The weather was perfect, not too warm, no rain and a slight breeze. There’s something about doing things in the dark and under the moon and stars that make it that much more special – dare I say – magical? Ok – maybe not magical, but you get what I’m trying to say.

Sunrise over Sussex taken at around 3am

The hills were bearable, until we hit Devil’s Dyke. I’ve heard it was hard, and was planning on walking up it, but as soon as I saw it, I attempted the slow and arduous climb. The thing about Devils Dyke is that it’s deceptive. Just as you thought you’d completed it, there’s another hill to tackle. I got half way when I decided to walk and coast down the other side, only to be greeted by yet another steep hill. At this point swore very loudly, hopped off my bike and I decided to walk. It was up this dastardly hill that I felt the burn at the back of my legs.

Realising that I spent too much time taking photos, I decided to jog up the last bit of the hill to make up some time. One woman shouted: “Are you mad? Why are you running up Devil’s Dyke?” To be fair, we had just cycled some 50 odd miles in the dark…

The last uphill of Devils Dyke

I am and always will be a Sussex girl and I was coming home. I remember seeing a seagull just before we got to our third and final rest stop at Burgess Hill, and knew I was back! Cycling along the glorious Downs with the morning sun is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The South Downs is one of my favourite places in the world, and this just proved what a beautiful place it is. I couldn’t get back to the sea quick enough!

The South Downs

After coasting down the hills at high speed, the flat along Brighton and Hove’s sea front was a little difficult, especially as I knew how far away the finish line was. It felt so far yet so far! I cycled as fast as I could, but after nearly six and a half hours, my thighs were beginning to feel the burn. My cycling buddy, Phil, gave me some very good advice, which was based on Lance Armstong’s technique where you spin your gears. The idea is that you prevent a build up of lactic acid, thereby not knackering your legs. I have to say, it worked for me. Thanks Phil! You saved my legs.

The End!

Tomorrow will be interesting. I’ve yet to seize up, but that’s because I’ve made a conscious effort to keep moving. I’m off to bed to catch up on my 40 and more winks. So far I’ve nearly raised £200 and there is still time to sponsor me!

If you would like to join 2013’s Night Ride, you can register your interest with The British Heart Foundation. Phil has also written a post on the same ride. 

Give generously

Back in 2006, I received a phone call saying that my Dad was in hospital. I was in Australia at the time. He had suffered a heart attack in Oxford and was rushed to the John Radcliffe Hospital for a life saving operation. Little did I know at the time, my Dad could have died.

He’s fine now. Regular check-ups and three pills a day keep him alive. If my Dad was going to have a heart attack, he had it in the best place possible – Oxford. The John Radcliffe is known for being one of the best places in the world for its cardiothoracic services. We, as a family, are very grateful.

Our family friend wasn’t so lucky. While waiting for a heart transplant, he had contracted rheumatic fever after the values in his heart got infected. Even though it has been a number of years since he died, there is a hole in his family of where he should be. His talented footballer son has just learnt to drive, while his daughter achieved a First in her degree and now is doing her Masters.

I can’t imagine not having my Dad there to see those milestones. That’s why I’ve decided to cycle from London to Brighton at night in aid for the British Heart Foundation. It’s my small was of saying ‘thank you’ for the research into heart disease that is keeping my Dad here. I also want to spare many other families the pain of what our family friends have gone through.

You can sponsor me at my Virgin Money Giving page. Please dig deep, and give generously. Thank you in advance.

If you fancy cycling 60 odd miles in the dark, registrations close on the 11 May.