In November 2017 I fell off my bicycle and broke my patella (that’s a fancy name for kneecap). I was forced to wear a full leg cast for five weeks, during which I had to stay home not doing much more than recovering (and blog about my clumsiness here). But recover I did and, ironically enough, one of the exercises recommended by Tim, my physiotherapist at Pure Sports Medicine, to regain mobility in the knee was, you guessed it, cycling.
And so I cycled. I cycled slowly on the static bike in the Bank clinic where I had my physiotherapy sessions. Then I got one of those turbo trainer contraptions and pedalled in my garage, door open to the passers-by that must have thought I was some kind of nut case under house arrest. One day I received a strange email: I had been successful in the ballot for the London Ride 100. My first thought was “when did enter that ballot?” Then I considered the bad timing of the email and mentioned it to Tim expecting us to laugh together at the notion of me jumping on a road bike and attempting to cycle 100 miles with 30,000 other cyclists. I was wrong, so wrong. He thought it was a brilliant idea to sign up and train for it; that it would help my recovery to have a target, something to train for. I was in shock so I complied and signed up, paid the fee and calculated my chances of surviving that ride as close to none.
I religiously did the strength exercises prescribed by my physio. I spent almost all my lunch hours in the clinic, doing squats, leg presses and things like that to get the thigh muscle back to its original strength. I started doing Pilates and Yoga to help increase flexibility and I did not run until I was told it was safe to do so, starting slowly with a walk-run-walk on the treadmill, power-walking and eventually running Parkrun at a very steady, gentle pace.
Yes, I was very good when it came to rehabilitating my knee but I won’t lie, I did not train enough for the Ride 100 itself. I increased my distance up to 50 miles, did a couple of 30-milers and shorter rides after work in the evenings so I could get used to the bike again. I continued to be scared of steep downhills and drinking whilst on the bike proved to be very tricky but not impossible. But after having to withdraw from several running events due to the broken knee I wasn’t about to abandon this one. And so I bought fancy cycling bib-shorts (totally worth the investment), booked Brienne (that’s my bike, by the way) in for a service and told everybody I will be cycling 100 miles because in this age of social media the threat of public shame is as good a motivator as any.
And the day came. After two months with not a single drop of rain the heavens opened, the wind picked up and I, together with all other cyclists on the starting pen, shivered as we waited for the horn to blow and send us on our way.
Off we went into the flat streets of London and out towards the Surrey hills, under incessant rain and wind. I was never in it to get a good time, so I stopped a few times to use the toilets, get bananas from the feeding stations and even on a local shop I was drawn to by the smell of the burgers cooking under a gazebo by the road. I kept bumping into a lady I was talking to in the starting pen: she left me behind in the downhill sections, I overtook her uphill. I arrived at Leith Hill and pedalled hard to make it up with my bum firmly attached to the saddle. I was chuffed to bits until I was told we had been diverted as there was some incident and had only done part of the hill. Be that as it may, it was brutal and I overtook other cyclists so it’s going in my “done that, been there, got the sore bottom to prove it” list. The descent was not as bad as I feared as we were stopped several times and were made to go very, very slowly as the conditions were bad. Back on the flat, I pressed on wards to Box Hill but unfortunately, I was told it was closed and was forced to take a detour. I must say that I was both disappointed and relieved but there was nothing to do but to keep cycling and hope that whatever accident had closed the hill, the cyclists involved were okay. The roads were slippery with rain and we were stopped in a town as the organisers sorted the route ahead. I didn’t find out exactly what happened there but can confirm there was a cyclist who fell from a static position and another shivering so much I felt like hugging her, if only I wasn’t a wet mess myself.
And then, suddenly, I was back in London and realised that the finish line was closer than I thought and I kept pedalling and smiling like an idiot because I had managed to enjoy the cycle (as much as the rain would allow), I had not fallen off my bike and I was not last. I have made it in one piece and I couldn’t be happier. Well, that’s not entirely true, I was happier once I got to the beer tent, of course!
8 August 2018