Living in SW London, with Surrey in easy cycling distance, I am already familiar with the southern - hilly - section of the route I'll be riding for RideLondon-Surrey 100 on August 4, 2013. By car, that is. I haven't actually ridden it, hills and all. So when the the dad of one of my daughter's friends, who is training for the same event, invites me to ride this killer section of the route with him, I jump at the chance.
Someone to chat to, someone to follow. What's not to like?
We set off at 6am (argghh!) on a Sunday, and five minutes into the ride I am already wondering whether this was a mistake. Andy is well ahead of me on mileage - my last long ride was 50 miles and he's already notched up 71 - and cycles a lot faster than me. And he's got a better bike. And he seems to really like hills. Uh-oh.
My usual route from home to Kingston involves going up one hill. We've somehow managed to incorporate an extra two before even crossing the A3. Oh well, it's all good training. No, it's actually GREAT training. Following someone who is faster than me is also brilliant for improving my pace and gives me a much better cardiovascular workout than I'd get on my own.
We're on a 65-mile route that picks up the lower half of the RideLondon 100 from Kingston, round Bushey Park, out to Ripley in Surrey then to West Horsley, up Newlands Corner (one of the three big hills), up Leith Hill (long and steep: the highest point in Surrey and the most challenging hill on this course), on to Dorking and up Box Hill (I've already ticked this one off: read about it here) before returning to Wimbledon via Epsom. You can see the route map in my previous blog post.
And it's all fine. It feels like a long way and the hills are tough, but I don't get off and walk up any of them; Andy and I manage to grab some chat time on the quieter roads, and it's good practice for working out my nutrition needs.
Mysteriously, Andy seems not to require energy snacks (maybe my slow pace is failing to stretch him) but I certainly do - on an ongoing basis. Next time I will manage my nutrition better - make sure I fuel up before the energy slumps hit - but I am pleasantly surprised by how palatable and effective my sports gels are. Knocking back one of these as we are bowling along gives an almost instant boost to my weary legs. And now I know where the hills are, I know at what point to re-fuel.
I'm planning to write a separate blog all about my nutrition choices, so more on that later. In the meantime, a bottle of water with a sports hydration tab dissolved in it, a pocket full of gels and energy bars, and I did it. All 65 miles, including those monster hills.
Best bits about my longest ride so far:
:: Being in company. Cycling for four and a half hours is a long time to be on your own with no one to chat to. Andy was a delightful cycling companion, had a Garmin GPS so we didn't get lost, and waited for me at the top of hills. This I liked, a lot, because it meant I knew when the worst was over.
:: Finding out that gels and energy bars really work. Henceforth, I am going to eat more and drink more throughout every ride rather than wait until the tank is empty before fuelling up.
:: Familiarising myself with the route. Knowing the ups and downs of the RideLondon-Surrey 100 sportive makes me feel a lot more confident about cycling it on the day. It's not just the big hills I need to pace myself for - there's a lot of rolling road in between the big ones that is also pretty energy-sapping.
:: Everyone says Leith Hill is worse than Box Hill - and they're right. Parts of it feel almost vertical, and it is a long drag. However, there is a small plateau part way up that gives a little respite to the legs, and I've done it once without stopping so I can do it again, no problem. Thanks to the cyclist whizzing down while I was slogging my way up at a paltry 3mph, who gave me a cheery 'Good work!' which did raise my spirits.
:: Newlands Corner was another hill of pain; at least Box and Leith are pretty, whereas Newlands Corner is a horrid, steep, busy stretch of road with little to redeem it.
:: Box Hill was picturesque as ever, but certainly didn't feel easy as I ground my way up it having already cycled 45 miles starting at crack of dawn.
I'm training for the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey100 cycle event