Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Penge goes to Flanders - a view from the back

Help! De Ronde...

Flanders is flat. Everyone knows it. Everyone said it was flat when I told them what I was planning to do. And they were almost right. Even the grizzled old chap in one of many Gent chippies told me. "Flanders is flat. Apart from the hills." So what brought me to Gent on the first weekend of April, with a slightly sprained wrist - not ideal for the challenge ahead!

Last year I signed up to join a trip to De Ronde Van Vlaanderen with Penge Cycle Club, Pride of SE London, with 59 others. The fantastic organiser David said it was open to anyone, so I decided to go. I'm no athlete, I ride for fun & cake, usually pretty slowly, and take the more sedate rides out occasionally. I knew I probably wouldn't be able to train that much or lose that much weight, but I'd give it a go. Because I knew very well that Flanders was *not* flat & that riding the Tour of Flanders sportive, then watching the pros do it the next day, was an absolute bucket list cycling experience.

What is this Tour of Flanders, some of you may be wondering. It's one of the 5 monuments of cycling. Just like tennis isn't all about Wimbledon, neither is cycling all about the Tour de France. There are many kinds of races - the big 3 week grand tours - Italy, France, Spain. Shorter stage races like Paris - Nice. One day classics. And the Monuments - also contested over one day but steeped in tradition & history. Paris-Roubaix - the Hell of the North, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Milan - San Remo, Lombardia and Flanders. These are the big five. Just as some cyclists specialise in the grand tours, others as climbers or sprinters, a whole breed also exist to put themselves through the unremitting pain & suffering of the classics. They're all incredibly tough, but Flanders is the one. Flanders is the toughest. Because not only does it have cobbles - lots of them,  it also has bergs - hills. And not only does it have bergs, it has cobbled bergs! These aren't nice smooth hills zig-zagging up the side of a mountain at manageable gradients. These are tiny lanes, barely wide enough for a tractor, which go straight up whatever is in front of them!

Cobbles makes it sound quaint, doesn't it? But these cobbles are not nice & smooth & uniform. They are jagged & bumpy & uneven. God help you if they are wet! Did I mention how steep some of these bergs are? Even the pros sometimes end up walking, to hoots of derision from the hundreds of thousands of Flandriens lining the route, especially if they slip or someone falls...once you have unclipped, it's very hard to clip back in & continue. Anyway. Enough build-up.

On Friday we all gathered in Sydenham with our gear & boarded the coach to Gent. The journey passed without particular incident & we got to Oudenaarde in the late afternoon to sign on. Due a combination of factors & a soupçon of fatalism, I'd decided a few weeks previously to do the 74km ride. Other distances were available, but I had decided the 74km was better suited to my shite level of fitness & preparation, and also gave me the best shout of getting to the hills without too many crowds & a fighting chance to get up then unimpeded by anything other than my own lack of ability! Oddly, we had to pay for our medal in advance - usually they dish them out as you finish - but I obviously had to get one.

Then it was back to the bus for the short journey to Gent to our hostel. We were all bunking up with others - sorry about the snoring lads - and after a pasta meal together & a potter around the town in search of frites, we retired to bed.

At 5am the alarms all started going off and we dragged ourselves downstairs - to find the door to the reception area where our bikes were being kept was locked! Mild panic swept the hostel until "le patron" David found we could access the room from the other side - panic over!

Strangely & unusually for me I wasn't in a state of anxiety or having the sweats. I'm not sure why. Before the epic fail of the Etape 8 years ago I was crippled with nerves the night before. Maybe it's because I had decided that this was going to be a ride for me. I wasn't going to fundraise off the back of it - that'll be later in the year - I just wanted, for once, to do it for myself, without the extra pressure, just because it was there. I'm so glad I did.

We gathered outside the hotel ready for a Grand Depart of 0545 for Oudenaarde - 20 miles away along the canal. We were supposed to try & ride together, a 60 strong peloton of Penge's finest, and me. This was the plan, and as usual with plans, it disintegrated almost immediately! Several people slipped on the tram tracks and came off. Traffic lights caused a split - as did the ferocious pace at the front! Never mind, it all settled down as we made our way out past the broken glass & drunkards coming home, then we hit the beautifully tranquil canal paths, with the dawn still a while away, and the birds getting into the swing of things. We shot along at a fair old lick, the only other signs of life being an occasional jogger and a couple of barges - one of which had such bright headlights that it was like Close Encounters. (one for the teenagers there!). After about 12 miles we turned off the canal path & took the more direct route along the main road to the outskirts of Oudenaarde & to the unpreposessing industrial estate start.

There were 5 of us who had decided to do the 74km distance - Fran, Loren, Jonathan, James & me - and we'd also decided to try & ride it together if we could. Out on the road a 6th rider was to join Team 74, Jonathan C. We set off together but soon found that many of our fellow riders suffered from a strange malady known as Dickitis. Symptoms included going through spaces which weren't there, on either side of you, shouting at you to move out of their way - as they obviously had more right to that bit of road than you, and not taking turns on the front when riding in groups. The first rule of life ignored - don't be a dick. To be honest though, annoying & dickish as some were, there were plenty of cyclists behaving normally,  plenty of that masochistic black humour you get when you're all suffering the same, and the dicks did not rule the day.

Off we went, initially along the canal then over a bridge & back down the other side. It was good cycling weather - overcast & cool - which maybe didn't show Flanders in all its glory, or maybe it did exactly that! We sped along nice smooth quiet roads, knowing what was to come but enjoying the phoney war while it lasted. We stopped briefly at a feed stop to get some breakfast & had a quick chat with a lunatic doing it on a single speed bike...seriously mad! He had calf muscles the size of actual baby cows though, so who can say...all I know is that I rode past him on the Koppenberg, and he was pushing!

As we rolled along after the food stop it became apparent that the hill which had appeared from nowhere was the Koppenberg, and was approaching rapidly. I took a quick FB live video of the run in, only to be scolded by a watching Winnie, so got back to the task at hand. The Koppenberg is one of the fabled climbs in the Tour of Flanders. It used to be in such terrible condition that the pros complained & it was removed until they fixed it. As it was, we could see it rising sharply away to our left as we approached the right angled turn & got our first teeth rattling taste of the cobbles. You could see the whole thing snaking away through the trees & even from the bottom the steep ramps & walkers were already evident.

As we were early in the day (later riders had to queue at the bottom before being let on), it was relatively sparse, so up we went. I'm not much of a climber - being a fat knacker isn't conducive to flying up hills - but I can be quite stubborn when I want to be & I was determined to get over this first climb. Even if all others were flops, I wanted the bragging rights of getting over at least one of the big boys! I ground up it in my lowest gear, jumping around on the bumpy cobbles, trying not to think about my slightly sprained bandaged wrist, or the folk cutting past at speed on both sides, or the riders who were walking. I just wanted to grind it out, especially with shouts of encouragement ringing in my ears. Up we went, and it got steeper & steeper. Eventually I had to stop for a breather, at which point the bike started to roll backwards. It was that steep. After a few seconds respite I had another go & somehow managed to get moving & clip back in. More of the same until I needed a second breather & then I pushed on to the top! Jeez I felt sick from the exertion. Like I said, I'm not very fit. However, I wasn't as sick as an English lad leaning up against the portaloos & throwing up his breakfast, but still pretty rough. Took a good few mins & a lovely sweeping downhill to recover!

One down, one of the hardest bergs, with a mere 9 to go. We had a sticker on the crossbar & we were mentally ticking them off as we went. The organisers had also kindly put up signs telling us how far we had to the next one was as we finished each of them!

The next challenge was another go at the cobbles along Mariaborrestraat, then up Steenbeekdries. This just seemed absolutely relentless - flattish through a small hamlet then up the hill & down the other side, cobbled all the way. The relief when we got back to a smooth surface was palpable! How they do it I have no idea - going fast seemed to help but I have no idea how they did that when we were just struggling to control the bike as it bounced around the cobbles, rattling everything! Downhill was worse. Still, all good things must come to an end, and so do cobbles.

After a brief pause to laugh our heads off at the insanity of it all, Team 74 forged onwards. The organisers were sneaking in some definite hilly bits without advertising them, the swine, but the next one on our list was Taaienberg - not too long or too steep but plenty of cobbles to keep us interested, and a bunch of folk at the top cheering us on. This is always very helpful! 3 down, 7 to go. I don't remember the next one, but the one after was Kanarieberg, steep but cobble free - and also the halfway point - happy days! Even happier was that there were food trucks at the top, so we stopped for a bit of lunch. Yes, it was fried. I almost had to quit at this point, such was my devastation that the  bratwurst truck had electrical problems & was unable to provide sausage, so it was a bitte-ballen sandwich instead. I rallied & we pushed on, spirits high & ready for the second half.

This started with a quick water stop in the main square of Ronse, which had been turned into a feed station & massive outdoor disco pumping out what can only be described as oompah techno! We tore ourselves away before Plastic Bertrand came on, and up the next 2 hills towards Karnemelkbeekstraat, which was a long but manageable drag up through the woods. At the top we got talking to a local lad who gave us some insight about what was coming up with our last 2 climbs - short version, nothing good! We also met one of the original club founders, Pete, riding with VCL.

Next was Kwaremont - the longest stretch of cobbles, going on for what felt like an extremely long 2km, uphill all the way. We came back here the next day to watch the pro riders bouncing & bumping over the very same cobbles at significantly greater speeds! There were lots of people cheering us on in the middle, some even mendaciously telling us the worst was over - spoiler alert, it wasn't! Our old friend Jamie from the Koppenberg went past us at the top, still battling on. We had one left. The Paterberg...

As we came along the top of the ridge, around the corner & down the hill, we could see a line of caravans & flags across the valley, at a curious angle...marking the final berg of the day, and I think the steepest one. At least the ramp in the middle felt steeper than anything else, and judging by the amount of people walking, they felt the same way! I decided my best chance here was not to look at it, and fix my gaze resolutely on the front wheel & the cobbles immediately in front of them. And this was a good plan, but like all plans, as we have established, it fell apart once we hit the steepest part of the climb. I got slower & slower & eventually ground to a halt. There were too many bikes to get going again, so it was the walk of shame for me, exchanging witty bantz with the locals about the flatness of Flanders. Still, as Meat Loaf once said, 9.5 out of 10 ain't bad.

After a brief pause for the all important FB live for our adoring fan(s?), it was downhill all the way to the finish. Apart from the final 6km along the flat into the wind, which got a bit dull. I was feeling chivalrous so decided to take the wind for a few km to give some of my Team 74 pals a rest. When I stopped at the 1km to go mark to regroup, a French chap nipped past with a cheerful merci!

With all 6 of us still together, James wanted to ride over the finish in formation...but some mug ruined it by accepting the lead out then sprinting past for the win! I slowed down to try & reform the group but it was too little too late! Sorry team. I won't do it next year! But finish together we did and what a great feeling that was. To survive one of the toughest sportives out there, and to do so in the company of your friends & club mates. Everyone had dark moments, particularly on the cobbles, but we stuck together & got each other through. Penge Cycle Club, truly the Pride of SE London.

We found a space in front of a cafe & got  food & beer & waited for others to come in. This club has some fantastic athletes & there were some stunning performances from them - Kate was the second fastest woman, Tash was 12th. Phenomenal. After a while we decided to head back to Gent, and the final great plan of the day - to ride back - duly went awry as the wind picked up & we got tired. But it turned the day into an 87 miler, so every cloud! The rest of the weekend was fantastic too - watching the pro men & women go past us on the Kwaremont was thrilling, enjoyed with beer, currywurst & great company, then the ride into Bruges on Monday morning, when the amazing Tash saw that I was struggling with the pace & eased up a bit & sat in front taking the wind & chatting away. Her price? A beer. Absolute class.

I loved it all. Getting to know people you nod hello to outside the shop. Riding with stronger riders & learning from them. People being generous with their time & patient with Wahoo questions. The support for everyone from everyone else. This club has built a really great ethos, and I feel privileged to be a part of it.

Thanks to everyone - but especially David for organising a wonderful trip, Emily & James M for the encouragement, all the riders in Team 74 on Saturday & Team Tash into Bruges. And Gareth for the soundtrack & the title of this write up!

Roll on next year!

Monday, 1 May 2017

A & B to Brighton

Earlier this year I received an email from Adam from the Bigfoot Cycling Club. Every year they have an annual club trip to the seaside, and every year they open their doors to members of other clubs and members of none. Adam organises a series of training rides of increasing distances to help people who want to give it a go get ready. Knowing that he also ran these for families, I asked my 11 year old daughter if she would like to do it, and she foolishly said yes!

Typically, we had managed to organise other things for the weekends of the first 2 rides, so our first official ride was the 25 miler - at that time about 8 miles further than Bia had ridden previously. We had done a bit of training, cycling to Greenwich & back, along a very flat route & detouring to find any hills we could. Here's us on our first ride to the Cutty Sark.

Cycling is not really Bia's thing, she only had a mountain bike which she had won in a competition from JDRF & the type 1 diabetic cycling team, Novo Norodisk. She was going to Go Ride with Penge CC on a Saturday morning, and the coaches there suggested I put some smooth tyres on it to make her life a bit easier! So when she informed me after the 25 miles we did to Eynsford with Adam and the family group that she didn't really like hills, I wasn't sure how to tell her that the subsequent rides weren't going to be any easier! Especially as the next one included locally renowned beast, Hogstrough Hill, the Hog - or as it became known as she was grinding up it shouting at me "This is Hogrid"! Still, it was a beautiful day, she had made friends with another girl, and they battled on together.

It took a long time though, we had several long breaks in the warm sunshine - no one really wanted the ride to finish! Nevertheless, I was starting to wonder how long it would take to do almost twice the distance if the 30 miler was the best part of 7 hours! I needn't have worried, as Adam had it all in hand...

We didn't get much riding in over Easter in Northumberland, as we had a failed cannula on our one day out which left her with very high blood sugar levels, feeling crap, and unable to continue - so we were rescued from Blyth after 10km.

The week of the 35 mile training ride, Bia was running a high temperature, so we decided that discretion being the better part of valour, we would save ourselves for the big one the following week. All week I was worried that she'd be unwell again, or that her diabetes wouldn't behave. She's been running high quite a lot recently, so I was keen to avoid this. I was also aware that 10 hours of exercise could well be problematic, so I sought the advice of some experts on Twitter & in real life - the consensus was to cut the background insulin by half for the duration, eat jelly babies regularly, and give a smaller proportion of insulin for any food. So I was delighted when she woke up on a solid 10.5 in the morning - this boded well!

After forcing down some porridge, Gaby & H drove us to Hayes for the start of the ride. Not being proud, I had fitted a basket to the front of my hybrid for the "spotty bag", which holds all of Bia's diabetes stuff, and also the jelly baby supply. On the back I had more food as well as the rain jackets - we were going to be out all day.

We got off to an easy start, out through Keston then up to Layhams and along past the White Bear towards Warlingham. The bluebells were out, and it was a lovely morning. There were 14 of us in our group initially, including a seven year old who was going to cycle to the first stop, 20 miles in.

My friends Henry & Chris & their boys dropped by at the first stop to cheer us on, which was lovely. The interest and support we have had throughout the training process, and then on the ride itself has been phenomenal. I'm not as knackered as I look in this picture, though I may be as fat ;-)

After a half hour stop for coffee we carried on, the main challenge of the next third of the ride being Turner's Hill, up to Worth. It's a long drag, though not hugely steep, and by this time (it was midday), Bia was starting to feel the affects of rapidly dropping blood sugar. This made her feel pretty rough, so we stopped on a grass verge, did a test, reduced the background insulin even more, had some more jelly babies (though by now she was getting a bit fed up with them), and a bit of a sit down. After a few minutes, she felt well enough to carry on.

The rest of the group were waiting at the top and gave us a lovely welcome. This was a feature throughout the day, everyone supporting everyone else, encouraging each other and it makes a difference when those little legs are tired. After 15 minutes or so resting and enjoying the views back the way we had come, we set off with more beautiful views all around and nothing nasty in the hill department towards the second stop at Staplefield, where there were chips waiting for us, as well as Gaby, H & Giulia; and a momentary change in atmospheric conditions!

Before the ride, I had shared my story & plan with Alicia at the Queen of the Mountains cycling clothing brand for women. She found it very inspirational and very generously sent Bia a jersey & some arm warmers. B swapped both jerseys throughout the training & on the ride itself - here she is at Staplefield, 2/3 of the way to Brighton & still smiling. Rather appropriately she also had it on as she got over Devil's Dyke, as you can see below.

It was now starting to rain, which we had been expecting, but were hoping wouldn't happen, so out came the raincoats and on we went. Bia was now well past the furthest she had ever gone before, and her legs were starting to go. All the hills were troubling her, but no matter how steep it was, she was determined to finish each hill on her bike - even if she had to walk up part of it. As the rain got heavier, the final challenge grew closer - Devil's Dyke. As a surprise, my brother David came down to support us with his family, to the great delight of Bia, and he also brought his mountain bike along so that we could ride some of the way together. Without him there to help encourage Bia, and to give her a guiding hand up the worst parts of Devil's Dyke, I think she would have walked a lot more, but as it was she rode nearly all of it! Gaby & the support team arrived just as we reached the top, so were there to see her conquer the biggest hill of the course.

The top of Devil's Dyke is the symbolic end really, it's all downhill after this, there are no more hills, so the sense of achievement for all the kids, and the adults, was immense. And Bia had done all of this while her blood sugar was fluctuating, and her legs had gone. Whenever I offered her the chance to bail, she was most indignant - she was going to finish, no matter what, so I couldn't have been more thrilled for her to get the top of the final hill. I don't think she could quite believe what she was doing for much of the day, but she was an absolute trooper, not a whisper of complaint - she just got on with it, walked when she felt she had to - after asking if it would be ok to do so first and apologising!!

At this point my phone battery, and the spare battery, finally died, so I couldn't update people on where we were until after we had finished! However, we knew where we were, and that was a 6 mile, 40 minute ride downhill to the seafront. We enjoyed this part, but by this stage Bia was looking more tired than I have ever seen her, and was absolutely exhausted. She could get herself down the hill, but with nothing in her legs just couldn't catch up with the others in front! It didn't matter because we all regrouped at the lights and on the seafront and finished together!

Hugs, high fives, handshakes & photos all round, and then we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. It was cold, windy & wet down on the beach, typical bracing bank holiday weekend weather, not very conducive to hanging around, and certainly not for the ice-cream I had been looking forward to! One of my local friends had come down with her family to cheer us in, and also had a JDRF banner, which was then employed in a couple of photos, before we loaded up the cars and went for fish & chips. Never was a meal more deserved!

What a day! Bia had made it. She had battled her fluctuating blood sugar, and the hills, and the lack of power in her legs, but she had prevailed. She had ridden 54 miles from Hayes to Brighton. When I asked her the worst thing about the ride, she said it was going up Devil's Dyke. The best thing about the ride? Getting to the top! I don't have the words to say how proud we are of her. There were other kids riding too, some younger, but all had more experience. She had ridden 2 official training rides, 2 rides to Greenwich and .... er....that was it!

When she agreed to do it, we thought it would be a good way to mark the end of primary school, and so we thought we would set up a sponsorship page, starting with a target of £250, and see what happened. Well, to our absolute delight & amazement, over £14000 raised for JDRF is what happened - an absolutely surreal amount of money for an 11 year old to raise, but I think many people took inspiration from this, including some newly diagnosed families, showing that that this juggernaut which has crashed unwelcome into their lives can be used as a force for good, and does not mean that everything has to change. Six years into this journey, being able to give people whose lives have been turned upside down by this diagnosis some hope makes any achy legs more than worthwhile!

So, to the stats! Her diabetes had even generally behaved itself, apart from a wobble about 4 hours in. I was happy for her to be slightly higher than we'd usually like for the day, to cover every eventuality, and it worked out ok. I had the libre scanner to keep an eye on the trends, and that wobbled about a bit, rather like the profile of the ride, but also meant we didn't have to do too many finger prick tests! The medical numbers?

  • Reduction of background insulin to 60%, then 30% for the duration of the ride and a few hours afterwards to - this to prevent any nighttime lows once the exercise was finished.
  • Starting BG of 10.5
  • 12.9 at 0930
  • 9.0 at 1140 and then 7.4 at 1300, when she started to feel quite rough – I suspect because, although she was eating, her blood sugar was dropping quickly. Some jelly babies and a sandwich perked her up (as well as a rest) and she went back up to 12 at 1415
  • 14.5 at the finish at 1800

The other numbers

  • 54 miles ridden
  • 9 hours in the saddle - as many breaks as were needed, but nothing longer than 40 minutes. Adam really wanted his fish & chips this year!
  • 1 adult group overtaken on the road (to huge cheers!)
  • 1.5 packets of jelly babies (H had the other half!)
  • An inestimable amount of parental pride and love for this incredible girl.
  • A final and completely mind-blowing total of £14,030 raised for JDRF

Massive thanks to:

  • Gaby for trusting me to take our daughter on this challenge, on public but largely quiet roads despite her concerns about traffic
  • All at Bigfoot who organise this ride every year and invite others to join them, in particular Adam, the stalwart organiser and leader of the younger family ride, a man with the patience of a saint.
  • Penge Go Ride for giving Bia the confidence that she could do this, and giving her the skills to do it safely
  • The family & friends who came out to support us
  • Every one who donated money, sent messages, liked Facebook statuses, tweeted, & otherwise got involved
  • The hero of the hour, my amazing daughter, for agreeing to embark on this madcap plan and never ever giving up. I am so so proud of her.
Thanks for reading!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Nightrider 2016

I had been looking forward to Nightrider this year for some time. I have done it twice before, fundraising for JDRF both times but riding on my own the first time and with my friend Mike last year. This time would be different.

Kev, one of the Dads in a facebook support group for parents of children with Type 1 Diabetes, and a keen cyclist, had suggested to the Dads group that we should get a team together to ride as the Diabetes Dads. There was a lot of interest, from people like me who do plenty of cycling, albeit at a leisurely pace, to those like Vincent & Jason who didn't even have bikes when they agreed to do it. In the end, our team was 25 - mainly dads but also some friends who also wanted to show their support for the daily & relentless struggle by helping us raise awareness and funds for JDRF.

We met up around 7pm on Saturday and most of the group headed off to the Lahore Kebab House in Whitechapel for a pre-ride curry in one of London's oldest and largest Punjabi restaurants. Many of us were meeting people we had known on facebook for a long time for the first time in real life, and it was a really nice occasion.

Here's a pic of me enjoying the lamb chops. Protein. Rice & naan also have carbs, so we were nutritionally on solid ground...

Following this, and starting to run a bit late but very relaxed about it, we headed back to Stratford International Car Park to change and get the bikes ready. Typically, after weeks of procrastination, my bloody wheel light didn't fit properly so I was rather gutted not to have the same fantastic images Kev had prepared whizzing round my back wheel. Next year.

Once we eventually left the car park to ride up to the start at the Velodrome, it was properly dark, and we cycled through the one bit of the route with no street lights, which I remembered from last year.

For reasons best known to themselves, Nightrider had decided to start everyone from the Velodrome, instead of the split starts of previous years on opposite sides of London - Crystal Palace was great for me...not to mention a mere 10 minute ride from home. What this led to was big queues to sign in at the start, then big queues at most of the rest stops, so I am not sure they would consider it an unqualified success, but it wasn't as big a balls ache as I had thought it would be (apart from the hour it took me to get 2 miles on the Blackwall Tunnel approach).

Luckily for us, Daniel's wife Julie was on hand at the start and worked some magic for us all to skip the queues to get signed in, so it was only about 25 minutes after the scheduled start that we took a team photo and rolled off to the start. There was a bit of faffing while the organisers held us back to try and let the AC/DC fans leaving the concert at the Olympic Stadium clear, then we were off - around the outdoor cycling track, back onto the road and away into the mysteries of North East London...

The route was very different this year, and not in a bad way. Ally Pally was gone but we still had a stiff climb up to Highgate via Dartmouth Park Road, once we had eventually found it...hilarious drunken folk moved a couple of the signs so we got a bit lost once or twice!

As usual, all sorts of people were out on all sorts of bikes - bromptons, tandems, fixies, baskets on the front, mountain bikes - as always a very different atmosphere to a sportive, with a very different crowd.

While the Diabetes Dads group had wanted to stay together as much as we could, traffic lights & junctions rather swiftly put paid to that, but we were never far from a bike with flashing wheels, and the groups formed and reformed into fluid groups, with plenty of chat, encouragement and high spirits.

The first break point was at the top of Highgate and we all reformed here before heading on up Hampstead Heath. This was the worst I felt all night - curry repeating on me, feeling a bit sick, but it passed and on we went. Spoiler alert - there is a sorry lack of misery & suffering in this blog this year - I have lost a lot of weight, had done some decent training rides, and felt reasonably fit all night!

From Hampstead it was down towards St John's Wood and then we turned along the road past Little Venice - "you won't want to miss this" said the organisers...but it was dark! Doh! At the lights we met some other JDRF riders who turned out to be the 7 strong Zara's Zoomers, riding the 60km route. It was great to chat about our tweenie ten year olds for a while until the traffic lights did their thing again.

This was a change to the previous routes and we cycled up past Holland Park to Notting Hill, then down to Kensington, along past the Royal Albert Hall, past the museums, Sloane Square, Chelsea Barracks, and along Millbank to do a big loop south of the river which was mainly to bring us back over Westminster Bridge and off down Birdcage Walk, up the Mall and round to the ridiculously busy Piccadilly Circus! As usual, traffic jams, people everywhere, mad atmosphere! But the group managed to get split again...

It was now sometime after 3, and we were about halfway. The next section into the slowly lightening sky, was through Rotherhithe, Bermondsey and along to Greenwich. Some pissheads in a taxi gave us some abuse, the only time in 3 years I can remember anything. "Bike virgins" apparently. I laughed so hard my glasses fell off and had to be retrieved from under a car!

Feeling quite cold and stiffening up with every prolonged break, the group, which was now a manageable 6 of Darran, Luc, Daniel, Rory, Jason and myself, decided not to hang around and ride the remaining 30 or so kilometres to the end together. Dawn was breaking as we cycled along to Greenwich, though it was misty and quite chilly. The route took us all the way along to the O2 and then the penultimate bit of misery - Vanbrugh Hill up to Blackheath - which had the decency at least to be short and sharp!

From here it was across the heath then along to Lewisham, past the end of Rory's road in Ladywell and up the long long drag to Crystal Palace via Honor Oak Park and Sydenham Hill. Not easy at 5am after 5.5 hours on the road though.

Being 10 minutes from home had a certain irony, with 15 miles still to go, but we belted down College Road to a welcome pitstop in Dulwich College. A quick coffee and selfie later, we were back on the road, 12 miles left, sense of purpose renewed. 

The ride back into town was punctuated with an attempted intervention for a lad who was passed out hammered on the pavement outside his house. He woke up and staggered off, tired & confused - we chuckled at the thought of him having flashbacks later to these blue and white angels offering him water! But with him behind us, it was back to Tower Bridge, through the cobbled streets of Wapping -  an enjoyably sadistic touch, then near to our curry house and back to Olympic Park, passing the almost suitably named Pancras Close on the way. Then, not long after 6am, we were finished!

Through the finish line and we posed for a picture - at which point the photographer clocked the JDRF tops, told us he was type 1 himself, and thanked us for doing it. Like Dan & Julie's daughter, who had emotionally waved us off earlier, he really appreciated our efforts - even though one night without kip to raise money for a cure for what our kids put up with 24/7/365 isn't so bad! I think I take it for granted sometimes that because I have a good support network, others do too - but it isn't always the case, and a lot of folk - both adults and kids - don't know anyone else with Type 1, so occasions like this mean a lot to them. I am just glad to be able to my bit and try to make a small difference to their lives.

Photos done for now, we met some of the others who had finished and got in the queue for the deliciously welcome bacon sarnie and brew. Marvellous! Over the next 45 minutes the rest of the Diabetes Dads came over the line, to cheers & more photos. We all exchanged tall tales of our antics and eventually made our farewells and dragged ourselves away to go home. One last climb up to the 5th floor of the garage and we packed the cars, said goodbye again, and went our separate ways, already planning our next adventure...Paris!

I had a lovely welcome back at home and after a shower, parked the kids in front of the telly and attempted to sleep. Truth is though that I was still buzzing, as was my phone from all the updates in the CWD group on facebook! I managed a bit of sleep before H brought me back to earth, requiring my bum wiping services! Eventually gave up at about 1pm and took the kids to buy some supplies. Even caught the end of the Tour de Penge in the park, not having got back in time to ride it.

What a great night, with a great bunch of people. Huge shout outs to all the Diabetes Dads, and Zara's Zoomers, everyone doing it for JDRF, but special mention in particular to:

Kev, for organising us all to do this, running the fundraising page, the wheel lights, Lahore - and for rising from his sick bed of 4 days to make the journey to London from the South Coast to ride with us all. Legend.

Paul, for whom 100km overnight wasn't enough, so he also cycled to London from the Midlands over 2 days, just to up the ante. Legend.

Vincent, for his endless supply of bacon memes, good humour, doing it on a £70 bike from Tesco - and Baconnaise. Legend.

Luc & Jason who pretty much doubled their previous longest rides on the night itself. Legends.

The chap who fell off 3 times at lights,  then once more for luck as he crossed the finish - damn those cleats! You shall remain nameless but schadenfreude prevents me from not mentioning it...the cycling equivalent of the banana skin, and hopefully you weren't too bruised! You have to see the funny side ;-) Legend.

Huge thanks to all the team, everyone I rode with on the night, all the sponsorship & support. It is really appreciated - and currently at a fabulous £14,500! Adding in Zara's Zoomers, nearly £20,000! Just wow.

Sponsorship page is here if you missed it!

Until next year, hope is in a cure - and here's that man again:

Upon Westminster Bridge, Wordsworth

EARTH has not anything to show more fair;
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty.
This city now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,—
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

One year on the pump

The pump has been a life changer; instead of eight injections a day i have one every three days and I just type in the carbs every time I eat instead of putting them in AND having an injection.

I really like the pump and I don't mind having to have it on me but the cannula gets in the way when I badly need the toilet.

So far I have had three different pumps - the first time was when my pump ran out of battery without warning and I was without insulin for hours and this made me super high. The second time I was at diving when my pump started beeping and it wouldn't stop and I had to go onto injections until Saturday, which felt really weird. Both of these happened in December.

Once in July my brother had a party and I was having a carb free meal (when I eat a meal of no carbs and 7 grams of protein and I can't eat anything 4 hours before or 4 hours after) but before the meal I had a bath and I was low. (When you are above 14 or below 4 the testing stops and you can eat carbs normally) I went downstairs and I had a ginormous bowl of pasta and a HUGE cupcake. When my mum and dad tested me in the night the result was HI (this is bad as it's off the scale!), and we realised that I had forgotten to put my pump on after the bath, so I didn't get any of the insulin for all that food!!!!!
Also on Christmas Day between 2:00am and 3:40am I was first high and my ketones were 1.9 and an hour later my ketones where 2.4. Super luckily when my dad called the out of hours it was my doctor so I didn't have to go to the hospital on Christmas Day

I absolutely love the pump and I can't believe it's already been a year that I've had it!!!!!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Nightrider 2015

Last week, probably on Monday or Tuesday night, I fell asleep on the sofa. Happens most days to be honest, but this time by Wednesday I could hardly move - my back was very painful and I was hobbling around the place. As if the recurrence of an familiar old injury wasn't bad enough, I was planning to ride the London Nightrider on Saturday night - 100km through the night with my old friend Mike. This was my favourite ride last year, and I really wanted to do it again, as I was raising money for JDRF, and didn't want to let Mike down.

3 days of alternating painkillers and anti-inflammatories brought us to Saturday evening. Typically, it had been a busy day so I hadn't had much chance to relax. Such is life with a young family. But by 10pm I was as ready as I was ever going to be, so I got dressed and set off. Although the start is only 15 mins from home, I decided to go by train to save my back. 2 stops, I'd meet Mike at the station, and we'd go to the park. What could possibly go wrong?

Foolish boy, I heard Captain Manwaring say in my head, this was Southern Rail on a Saturday night...the train got to the first stop and stayed there. After several minutes and a series of announcements, the driver advised us to seek an alternative means of transport...! I had the bike of course, but I was also on the wrong side of Crystal Palace and needed to cycle up the steeper side of the hill to get there. Score One for laziness...

I got to the station where I met Mike and a chap called Adam who Mike had met on the train & was riding alone. So we merry three went off to the start, signed in and set off at 11pm. This year the organisers had remembered to talk to the park, so the exit we were using was unchained and we could ride through. It was all very jolly, but there was a person in the group with crappy pop pumping out of some hidden speakers (some dreadful Jessie J number which my daughter had been playing all day). Not only that, but they weren't even dressed as a cheerleader with the music coming out of comedy breasts, like the chap on the Ride London last year. We rode past them and escaped down the hill.

The route to Greenwich was the same as last year. Mike put in a few bursts on the hills but I was conscious of leaving *his* new mate behind so I rode with him. As it turned out, Adam was more than capable of keeping up, and proved to be a good ride companion. 

After Greenwich it was the backstreets of Bermondsey & Rotherhithe before we hit Borough (in the shadow of the gargantuan Shard), through the market past Southwark Cathedral and along to Tower Bridge, stopping at the break stop on the way.

Though it was after midnight, there was still plenty of traffic, but I was already noting that it wasn't as busy as the previous year, because we were about 45 mins later. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't really feeling it yet but as time went by I started to get more and more into it. I think the new energy drink I had prepared (breaking the cardinal rule of never trying a new product on your main ride) was making me feel a bit sick too, so I binned it and stuck to the water. I have to admit I was eyeing railway stations, thinking about my back and considering whether to stop and go home, but never that seriously...!

The route was slightly different in parts than last year, but it was a bit more direct. Through the city, then over Southwark Bridge, wiggle, back over Blackfriars Bridge, up to St Paul's, and back toward the Tower before striking out east. The cobbles of Wapping were tantalisingly close to the delicious grub of Whitechapel, but we were starting to outlast opening hours of the better establishments, so on we went through the utterly deserted and faintly dystopian Canary Wharf, towards Poplar, Bow and then Stratford.

There was a section of about 150m on the road up to the velodrome without any street lighting, so we briefly had some proper darkness. It didn't last long and we had our second break in the shadow of the Velodrome, where the articulated lorries of international broadcasters were already lined up ahead of Wiggo's successful attempt on the hour record, later that day. I was getting quite cold now, only having one long sleeved layer on and two short-sleeved ones, so was keen to get going again, having stocked up on crisps & cereal bars.

The next bit was also unfamiliar to Mike - through Hackney, Stoke Newington & other achingly trendy North London postcodes towards Alexandra Palace. There were still plenty of "revellers" out and about, though being later than last year, traffic was lighter. People were interested in what we were doing...next year I should take a donations bucket along or something, maybe hand out printed cards with the sponsorship url...

Progress was good, but I hadn't quite remembered how far Ally Pally was! Once we turned onto the access road, Mike told us that we were now heading south again - albeit briefly as we turned again to go west up the hill. I had been happily telling anyone who would listen to prepare for half an hour of misery, for the bottom of Ally Pally to the top of Hampstead involves quite a lot of up and not much down

Last year I had bonked badly going up to Hampstead, but this year there was another break stop 3/4 of the way there in Highgate. I was also surprised to find myself "flying" up Ally Pally, and rolling pretty smoothly up Wood Vale. That's when I remembered that my gears were recently upgraded to 32 from 28 on the back, which, it turns out, makes some difference!

I was also amused to see that though I had remembered the climb up Wood Vale, I hadn't remembered that once it finishes, there's even more climbing up to Highgate! Oh how we all laughed! Fortunately, the break stop was in exactly the right place, and we refuelled while the first glimmering of dawn broke. It was about 0315.

With the onset of dawn and the lightening of the skies, it started to get quieter. There were still people out and about, but we were getting towards the time where people were also going out on their way to early jobs, the airport etc. The ride up to the top of Hampstead Heath was fine, no bonking this year (thanks to the cereal bars), and then we began the glorious descent down from North London to the West End, through quiet neighbourhoods with lovely houses, past Lord's and Regents Park Mosque, then down Baker Street, around Grosvenor Square and up to Piccadilly Circus.

Last year this stretch had been solid with traffic and people staggering out of the pubs & clubs, but it was now well past 4am and it was much quieter. There was still a bit of a jam on Shaftesbury Avenue, caused by a delivery lorry, but we swept past and then on through Covent Garden, past the pissed lads doing skids on Boris Bikes, and over Waterloo Bridge, with this marvellous view:

A quick stop at the Imperial War Museum, then it was back over Westminster Bridge, past Big Ben, then along to Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall towards Victoria.

Look at our guns!

Westminster Bridge & the Palace of Westminster, 0440

Nelson on his column

The boys were starting to struggle a bit now. My knee had been giving me gip for a while (ironically the back was ok, but it may have been referred pain), but I could still ride. Mike & Adam were getting very tired, but I still felt fresh - I reckon this was because as the dad of a kid with Type 1, I probably haven't had a proper night's kip for about 4 years, so an all night bike ride presented no problems!

The sunrise from Lambeth Bridge cheered us up, and we struck out for home, past the Oval, up towards Brixton then through the deserted streets of Herne Hill, leafy Dulwich and up College Road to Crystal Palace. I have done this climb many times - it is the easiest route up to Crystal Palace, though still has its moments, and I chatted to people on the way up and tried to offer encouragement. The end was nigh!

Then, after coming round a final bend and up a final ramp, we reached the top and there were just a few 100 metres to go to the finish. It was better organised this year, we had something to ride under before being presented with our finishing medals. 

Here's me at the finish, shortly before the rubbish bacon sarnie and weak tea, both of which tasted like ambrosia!

We stood in the sun and chatted for half an hour, before going our separate ways. It was lovely to see so many people relaxing on the grass, some popping bottles of fizz, others stretching, all feeling quietly satisfied that they had done it. I said goodbye to Mike & Adam and went off down the hill for home. It was now after 0630, and I had promised to take the kids on the Tour de Penge at 9am, so I was planning to tough it out and stay awake. Initially I was so cold that I just undressed and got into bed to warm up - but after a few minutes, decided a better plan would be to have as hot a shower as I could, then go to bed. I duly did, and got a whopping 90 mins before the kids woke me up, and I got dressed again, ready for another bike ride. Madness, pure unadulterated madness - but they had a great time, and it was worth it!

I finally had a bit of a power nap at 1630, from which I was woken to be fed a couple of hours later, but by then I was feeling so rough that I went back to bed as soon as I'd put away a huge pizza and was probably asleep by 9pm...I'd like to say I slept the sleep of the virtuous until morning, but T1 parents don't get much sleep and I was up from 2am-3am dealing with a hyper!

 The best thing about Nightrider is that it's very democratic - as it is mainly a charity ride there are all sorts of people in all sorts of kit on all sorts of bikes at all sorts of speeds, and a very different atmosphere to a testosterone fuelled sportive. I ended up really enjoying this year's ride. It was good to do it with friends, and it was good to know the route - even if I might have gone on a bit about the differences between the 2 years! I have so far raised £500 for JDRF - please think about donating if you haven't already! It's at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fatladonabike - THANK YOU!

The key difference between the two years though was what I felt I had missed last year, and that was the peace of the early morning. I used this poem on that blog then, and it still resonates.

Roll on 2016.

Upon Westminster Bridge, Wordsworth

EARTH has not anything to show more fair;
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty.
This city now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,—
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Ride London 2014

"Four hours riding around in the rain - fun in a sick kind of way" - this is how Chris Boardman described the Ride London today, and I'd have to agree, albeit with a slightly more than 6 hours proviso!

It started well enough - it was pretty clear this morning when I got dropped off at the O2, so I did wonder whether it was all a bit of a storm in a teacup...Off we went through the Blackwall Tunnel then up some side streets to the start - unlike last year, as they were using both sides of the A12. In a taste of what we were to see repeated throughout the day, there were already people fixing punctures by the side of the road- the first one I saw was on the way to the start, the last one was at Waterloo!

I had timed it a bit better this year, and once I had dropped the bag with some dry clothes off (I forgot the dry shoes though!), I made my way to the load zone, with about half an hour to wait around. We were right by the Orbit & Olympic Park, and I soon got chatting to some of the other folk around me. There were a lot more women this year, and I got talking to Christine who had never done an event without her husband, and was quite nervous about it, so I offered to ride with her for a while.

The rumour that Leith Hill & Box Hill were cancelled went around, and was quickly confirmed - to be honest, I wasn't that bothered - the descents are bad enough when it's dry, let alone in the remnants of a hurricane - but it would have been disappointing for those folk who had trained hard to ride 100 miles and now would "only" be going 86, so I did feel for them. Before too long it had started to drizzle - not enough for me to put my windproof jacket back on, but as we got going, appropriately to the sound of Dizzee Rascal telling us we were bonkers, it started to get heavier.

Christine and I rode along at a good pace, chatting away about nothing and everything, past the chap in the cheerleader's costume riding with musical breasts, and before we knew it we were in Richmond Park, where we saw our first casualty - someone had come off and smashed his face into the road. Despite the weather, there were still plenty of idiots belting along and not paying enough attention to the conditions or the people around them.

Into Kingston, and we met our first JDRF rider of the day, while we saw the front of the race going back in the other direction, with one of the elite JDRF riders in the pack - he went on to win on the Mall, which was great, and should raise awareness of the charity. More on that victory here.

As we went along past Hampton Court, the sky got a lot darker very quickly, and the rain started to get heavier as well. By the time I decided to stop and put my jacket on, sheltering under someone's golf umbrella, I was already soaked to the skin - and the real rain hadn't even started yet! This is what it was like a bit later in Walton:

Around Weybridge the rain got laughably heavy - it was like hail at some points it was throwing it down so hard - thank goodness it was warm rain - so apart from the inconvenience & potential danger of it all, it wasn't particularly unpleasant to ride in - dare I say it was actually quite fun? Drains were overflowing, streams were running down hills, huge puddles were forming - I didn't have overshoes on (they remind me of old ladies' galoshes) so the water was bubbling out of my shoes whenever I flexed my feet. Will I get some now? No, as they still remind me of old ladies' galoshes...

As we came into one village, I heard what sounded to be an inspired choice from the live band playing - Credence Clearwater Revival, Have you ever seen the rain. Impressed with this stroke of genius, this song then stuck in my head for the rest of the ride - not I can't stand the rain (Eruption), It's Raining (Darts), Rain (The Cult), Weather with you (Crowded House), or even It's Raining Men. Nope, just Credence. The fact that the band was actually playing Pretty Woman is neither here nor there.

The next thing which suddenly occurred to me was that the people waiting in the bus stops were actually spectators! I'd been wondering where they'd wanted to go on such a day, and then remembered that there wouldn't be any buses any time soon, as the roads were closed. The proper fans were getting wet, cheering us on, and leaving the bus shelters for those people fixing punctures - and there were loads of them!

By now, after 2 months of very little bike riding, due to injury & a bit of torpor, my back was starting to act up, and I knew it was only a matter of time before the knee went. I suggested to Christine that she go on, but we were still going at a reasonable pace, so she stayed with me. As we got into the lanes, the flooding got worse, and the pace slowed, and the inevitable happened - about 30 miles sooner than it had last year, and in the other knee, just for variety! However, it was just as painful and just as hard going, and I insisted that my new friend left me to it.

Newlands Corner, now the longest hill on the route, was just not possible, so I had to walk up it. At the top I headed for the first aid tent, where they gave me paracetamol and ibuprofen, and the family phoned me to find out how it was going. There was a moment of dust when the kids came on, but I recovered my composure, took my pills and ventured outside again. There was a woman from Durham in the tent under a load of blankets but still looking absolutely frozen and possibly hypothermic - it surprised me a bit, as the rain wasn't cold, and it hadn't been that windy, but she was really suffering.

I grabbed a quick snack and some bags of sweets then set off down the descent towards Dorking - people were taking it quite easy luckily, and there were no accidents that I saw. The route to Dorking rolled a bit but was otherwise ok, and once we were through the town centre it was off to Leatherhead. I was a bit disappointed that the JDRF cheer squad weren't there, but I later found out that they'd been on Box Hill and were trying to get back to the course somewhere else! I briefly considered hopping on a train, but the thought of my daughter and all other type 1 diabetics having to plough on with finger prick tests & insulin injections all the time, regardless of how they feel about it, made me push on - even though I had now been overtaken by a bloke on a Brompton! I later found out that the track was flooded anyway, so I really had no choice but to push on!

By the time we got to Leatherhead, there were only about 25 miles left, lots of support on the streets shouting encouragement, and another lump in my throat. I thought it was better to keep going while the painkillers were weaving their magic, rather than risk a stop. There was nearly a high-fiving incident when I went along a line of people then nearly flattened the woman handing out Garmin water bottles just past them, but she jumped out of the way in time, leaving us to dodge the discarded bottles further up the road - I tell you, some of these cyclists are a bloody menace - THROW IT TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD!

The route to Kingston was easier than last year, and the sun had come out as well, so things were definitely looking up! A tunnel under the road in Thames Ditton was flooded, so some went on the dry pavement, but I just went through the middle. I caught the guy on the Brompton and we rode through Kingston together (past one lonely JDRF supporter) before he slipped away from me going up past Norbiton. It was warm enough now to take off the jacket, though I typically injured myself trying to shove it into my back pocket!

Onwards & Upwards to the final climb of the day, the Cote de Wimbledon, up to the village. There were some JDRF supporters halfway up, shouting encouragement and telling us how far it was to the top, and then I saw a JDRF rider I'd been chatting to earlier on, Danny, and we fell into an easy distracting conversation and the last 10 miles flew by at a decent lick, in much less of a blur than last year. The kids hadn't come out this year, so there was no Parliament Square action (they were at home baking cakes for my triumphant return, which was clearly far more important).

Once we got down to the Mall, I couldn't resist giving it a bit of the old sprint finish, more successfully this year as everything was wedged in my pocket by the jacket, so nothing flew out, and last vestiges of painkiller were just about still there, and then, suddenly, that was it!

We went past the couple who had got married at Pembroke Lodge on their way around being showered in glitter, collected our medals, Danny took a picture of me, I collected the bag of crap (coconut water instead of chocolate milk, no salad cream (imagine my despair), gels, sweets, and, random item of the day, a pot of multivitamins for the over 50s!!), my dry gear (I had already dried off, so it was redundant now), and went up the the JDRF zone to meet JDRF Elizabeth and some other riders. Elizabeth had been there since 9am and must have got as wet standing under those trees than the rest of us had out on the road, so it was a sterling effort from her. We chatted for a while and I met Mossy, the oldest friend of one of my best friends, having last seen him at Ian's wedding 9 years ago! The rain came again and broke everything up - this shower was colder than the ones on the road - and I headed off with him to Waterloo and the train home.

What a day - I was faster than last year, albeit with the worst 14 miles missing. The painkillers definitely helped me get through the knee pain of the second half, as did the sense that we were all in this together with the weather, and the excellent & encouraging support from the side of the road in atrocious conditions. Christine, Danny & Brompton Man all played a part as well in getting me to the end, just by giving me the chance to chat, rather than listen to Credence in my head and think about my knee. Danny reckoned it sounded like sciatica, so I shall explore this avenue with the osteopath! The sun came out for the last 20 miles, so we had the chance to dry off just in time to get soaked again by the shower, and I must say I did enjoy the bloke who had liderally just changed in Green Park getting soaked by the shower 30 seconds later - the price you pay for flashing your meat and two veg in a public park, if you ask me.

Despite the lack of the 2 biggest hills (which I wouldn't have got over anyway with my knee problem), it was still 86 miles! I was more relaxed going into it than I was last year, and had a less traumatic time, but I was annoyed that my core fitness, which had been fine in the early part of the season, had got to me again. Maybe I really will work on this for next year!

But first, CAKE!

Monday, 9 June 2014

London Nightrider 2014

I'd been really looking forward to the Nightrider. It was my main charity fundraising ride of the year (cheeky plug - you can still sponsor me here!), which I was doing for JDRF again, and there had been a lot of banter on the JDRF cycling page in the build up. I didn't really know what to expect. The last time I'd ridden (sober) at night I was 16 and I went with a few mates into the Kentish countryside to look for the house where his sister was having a sleepover!

What I wasn't expecting was to get bitten by a mosquito, and for the mechanic checking my bike to snap my front mech gear cable, and take 20 mins in ever worsening light to fix it (only cost £3 though) before I'd even started. But once I had got through this trauma, I met up with JDRF Elizabeth, and we went to meet the other JDRF riders - several of whom recognised me from my sweaty selfies on the facebook page. It was a really lovely atmosphere as we prepared ourselves to go, took some pictures, cracked jokes, and all very relaxed considering what lay ahead.

Thanks to John for the photo of the team below:

We were due to start at 2235 in the second wave, but it was slightly chaotic at the start, so we all set off with the first wave. As we waited to go, the lights of all the riders ahead of us disappearing up the road was all very romantic, but the romance passed soon enough as we rolled forwards to find that we were delayed because someone hadn't spoken to the park wardens and got them to leave the gates out of the car park unlocked! We wiggled out one at a time through a gap and were away.

The first bit was a nice downhill around the park, with the lights twinkling ahead, and then across to Sydenham after which we headed for Greenwich. I was chatting to some people as we went, but it was all a bit stop start with the lights and the traffic, and as you quickly lost people, I just decided to get on with it. Each time I caught the next group, I asked them if we were the front - but we never seemed to be!

I was pretty surprised at how busy the route was - I'm not sure I would have chosen to go along the South Circular - I thought initially that as we were starting early there was still plenty of traffic about, but I was later disabused of that notion. Over Blackheath, belted down Maze Hill into Greenwich, losing & retrieving a backlight in the process, and then a bit of a wiggly route along through Rotherhithe towards Tower Bridge. Somewhere along here we got ourselves a bit lost, and missed a rest stop (DISASTER!), but ended up in the right place, Tower Bridge!

Even though it was now Sunday, it was busy! Lots of traffic, lots of people out and about - less drunk and more touristy at the tower than they were Up West later. While waiting at some lights, we struck up a conversation with a chap in a taxi who was interested in what we were up to - this happened several times. There was some wiggling around through the city, and after a while we were heading back out again towards Wapping and the Isle of Dogs. By this time I had made friends with a couple of chaps who were riding together and were going at a similar pace, so we tried to stick together. (Larry & David. yes, really.)

Although we were going at a reasonably fast pace, the lights and weight of traffic were slowing us down. Plus the signage was a bit erratic - often only seeing the sign as you were right on top of it, and if a bus was in the way then you were in trouble. We largely got around most of the course without too many alarms though - the basic rule of thumb seemed to be stick to the busiest available road!

Wapping High Street with its cobbles came and went mercifully quickly, and after a couple of laps of Canary Wharf it was off towards Olympic Park for our first stop outside the Velodrome. It was about 25 miles in, and after a quick sugar intake, we cracked on.

As we left the Velodrome, we went past a lady who was doing 60km on a handbike accompanied by her dog - very inspiring. In fact, there was room on the ride for all sorts of bikes,and it made a welcome change from the usual chiselled whippets on carbon bling - as did being able to keep up and even do a bit of overtaking...!

From there it was on into the mysterious lands of North London - Hackney, Stoke Newington (both packed & achingly hip, natch), past a bloke who'd just got out of his cab to throw up, Wood Green (where my Dad grew up) and on towards Ally Pally. By this time it had become clear that Larry's mate Dave was struggling on each and every incline, and Larry had already tried to send me on. By the top of Ally Pally, which was stiff but not unmanageable, he was walking, and he kindly sent us on without him. So, without stopping for cake in case he changed his mind, on we went!

I liked the road up to Ally Pally - there were loads of kids parking up and gathering to chat, or smoke or drink,or just be teenagers. It reminded me of going up to the hills behind Folkestone to look at the view, have a cheeky beer & smoke, listen to Transformer & plan how to persuade to get a girl to go along...

Back in the real world, it was just 2am, and we had done the first 35 miles in 3.5 hours. There was a nice fast run down the hill, then we went up a residential street which turned out to be a long old climb up through Highgate to Hampstead Heath. It wasn't enormously steep, and it wasn't KGB hour either, but they do say the darkest hour is before Dawn, and even though it was only just post 2am, first light was only about an hour away. Larry was chatting away oblivious as I had a bit of a wobble, which quickly passed, but I felt rough for a bit. Once we started going down the other side, and I'd had a banana, and I knew there were no other hills of note until the end, I was a lot happier.

Unfortunately, my back trouble from last week proved to be an omen, and the same knee pain I'd had last year came back somewhere between Olympic park & Ally Pally. Time for a visit to the osteopath, and to do some bloody core work :-( On the night,it seemed the best plan was to keep going, and once we were over the penultimate hill, we seemed to get faster - I think we both secretly wanted to get back before it got light!

The pace was now really rapid, and a little group formed as we swept down towards Swiss Cottage, Abbey Road - probably the only time of day to "do" the zebra crossing without incurring the wrath of the taxi drivers, then Lord's and back round to Baker Street via Regent's Park - the first red light we jumped - if you can't jump a light at 0230 with nothing about and no street lights, then when can you?! There were still people about, but it was nothing compared to the hordes around Piccadilly! Big queues of people waiting to get in to places I've read about in the gossip columns, traffic jams, lots of revelry, very busy - and it was now past 0230, and there was no sign of it dying down. Somewhere in Covent Garden we went past a tired and emotional chap who just wanted to know what all the bikes were doing as he'd seen them all night. We went back across the river for more wiggling before coming back over Westminster Bridge, past Parliament, off up Whitehall, through the "as busy as daytime" Trafalgar Square, then down the Mall.

Suddenly it was dark & deserted again, as we rode down the big wide road, around the corner and back up Birdcage Walk into Parliament Square again - meaning we had missed a turning somewhere as we were supposed to be in Victoria, rather than about to set off for a second lap of Whitehall. We found our way eventually and got to Lambeth Bridge in time to see the dawn start to appear - by now it was a bit after 3am but it was still very early / late...

Then it was an increasingly fast ride back to Crystal Palace under the ever lightening sky, through Brixton, past Herne Hill Velodrome, lapping a few late starters from Ally Pally along the way. Larry described it as the beasts heading for the water hole, such was the sense of urgency. We crossed the by now very quiet South Circular and the fast group we were in split up a bit on the long drag up College Road, but we got to the top with no great drama. My knee was really protesting now, so it was slow going, but then it was an easy roll down to the finish. Here's my road buddy Larry with me at the finish:

The finish was a bit disappointing really - there was no obvious end - just a banner in the car park but people weren't riding under it and they were handing out the medals before you got there anyway - all a bit low key. We then had what I'd have to rank as the worst bacon sandwich of all time (which didn't stop me from eating it), and we rode around the park looking for an exit near to where Larry had parked. We had done the bit from Ally Pally to Crystal Palace, about 30 miles, with all the traffic jams & carnage of the West End, in bang on 2 hours, which was very pleasing! After bidding him farewell, and thanking him for sticking with me as I got slower on the hills, I took a picture of the sunrise and went home, waving at the poor buggers setting off from Crystal Palace with halfway to go as I did.

It was a great ride, not too hard so that it turned miserable, a really wide range of ability & bikes, people riding to raise money for a host of worthy charities, all chosen for their own reasons - in my case my 8 year old daughter who has type 1. Another JDRF team rider was doing it to raise money as her nephew has it, for example. The atmosphere was great all the way around.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone - the faster folk can have fun whizzing around the quieter streets in the dead of night, the steadier riders can build themselves up to the challenge of 100km - none of the hills are TOO bad, and if they are then you can just walk anyway!

Things that surprised me? That really wide range of people & bikes, the all pervading smell of ganja in many of the built up areas, the lovely curry smells coming from some one's house in the East End, the number of people who were still out and about at 3am. I must be getting old.

I imagine it would have been quieter and calmer later on, and I've seen some great photos of London as it got light, but I was pleased to be done and dusted and home in bed by 0530 - the joys of living 3 miles from the start!

I'll leave the last word to William Wordsworth - I didn't know this poem before today, I saw the first line in another post about views of London, and looked it up. It perfectly describes what I thought the ride would be like, but in fact,the mixture of chaos & calm made it a lot of fun. Take it away Billy:

Upon Westminster Bridge, Wordsworth

EARTH has not anything to show more fair;
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty.
This city now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,—
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!