Cycling London to Brighton

Sticking to individual training plans has never been something I am good at. I could spend some time thinking about why this is, I could even spend some time making elaborate excuses that are as convincing as they are imaginative. Another thing I could do is focus on what I have managed to do, how I’ve managed to do it and take the decision to do more of that because that works, whatever “that” may be.

On the 4th August it is The Prudential Ride 100. I was lucky enough to get a ballot place and eager enough to say yes straight away. Getting excited and carried away with thinking it’ll all be amazing and committing financially to paying the fee is the easy bit. It’s the next step that I haven’t mastered, i.e. training.

To start with in my training as with any big looming challenge in my life, I became too anxious to get on my bike. I didn’t want to train on stationary bikes in the gym (so boring!), and I had finally got my bike serviced after months of meaning to and never quite getting around to it. I still didn’t go on training rides until a particularly bad mood struck and I said “Fuck it!”, the grail more holy than Nike’s “Just Do It” mantra. I enjoyed myself. I felt better. I peddled out my frustrations and upset. I sped down hills as fast as I could, cackling with adrenaline on my way. I pushed myself to push up hills I would’ve thought I couldn’t and it was great. What a result? I couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect at that moment in time.

Having done a longish lap I decided the next step would be to cycle to Brighton. It’s a challenge I’ve wanted to do for a few years now as an event, and instead of paying cray prices to enter an event I decided to solo it. I found a route online (Here) at Cycle.Travel and tapped it into DwMap so my Garmin could act as a sat nav (Best IQ Store app for Garmin by far!). I chilled in the morning and proceeded to tell everyone of my plans. I went for coffee with my mate, I told her of my plans, saw someone from climbing I’ve met once, and told them too. Behind them in the coffee shop queue I saw someone from where I live and I told them as well. The woman sat on the table next to where I was standing couldn’t help but hear of my amazing plans, so I projected my voice a little louder for her to hear my them as well. I may have even told the pharmacist, and the day before I had told my therapist. Midday arrived on the day of my plans and I had not yet set off. #Procrastination #FuckIt #LetsGo and eventually, in the heat of the day, I set off on a 60 mile bike ride with absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. Ignorance is bliss!

With many pit stops to accompany a major underestimation of difficulty, length and energy requirements I had to stop for supplies along the way. It is in instances like this that the sugar tax pisses me off; the lack of sugar filled drinks that have been replaced with 0 sugar versions – super unhelpful in this instance. I needed energy, I needed sugar for that energy and there I was reading labels already half exhausted and some what overheated. Some might have assumed I was reading labels to choose a “healthy option” *sigh, eye-roll, sigh*, instead I was seeing which drinks had enough energy in it to fuel my adventure. Happy with my choices I scoffed and cycled, scoffed and cycled, scoffed and cycled my way to Brighton.

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Highlights include seeing more nature than I usually do beyond the usual squirrels and rats of London: wild rabbits, a pony, a horse and her foal, some goats and baby goats, I’m going to say I even saw a fish. I’m not sure if I did but I feel like I did. I saw ducklings and miniature fluff balls bobbing along a lake. I sang to myself, had in depth conversations with myself, laughed with myself and gave myself many pep talks along the way. (Heads up, if youre cycling Ride 100 and end up near a woman talking and singing to herself on a blue hybrid bike, it’s probably me).

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The free feeling of hurtling down a long windy road is something that will never get old. The adrenaline and excitement that rises through my belly as I hurtle beyond the constraints of being in control is super fun. Those hills and breaking my speed record is definitely the best part of the day.

The worst part? There is a fuck off huge hill at the end of the route which I have heard as if it were an urban legend. I can confirm, it was fuck off huge and there was no way I was going to cycle it. Some people cycled past me, clad in lycra, slim, with some negative percent body fat mass and bulging calves to intimidate anyone thinks a slight shape of in and then out equals a defined calf – i.e. me. These muscles were next level, the bikes were probably the kind that float just above the ground they are so light, and the fiends riding them are probably cycling mad. I’m not one of those people so I pushed, pulling over for the build up of traffic behind me to pass from time to time. I was like a miniature tractor on a country lane, holding everyone up and pulling over to allow everyone to pass. The biggest shocker of all though? Drivers waved a ‘thank you” signal at me from the outskirts of London to Brighton when I gave way. Car drivers were unexpectedly not mad at me for even existing and daring to be on the road with my bike. It was here that I learned that lane cycling is much better than city cycling despite the different speed limits. The air is fresh, the drivers are friendly, the roads are clearer and it’s more freeing an experience.

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The view from the top of Fuck Off Hill

Previously I had thought I preferred city cycling – oh how i was so SO wrong! The difference in hatred directed towards me for even being a cyclist using a road was not experienced once I got further out of London. From this experience I have one message from one road rage prone person to the others in London, calm the fuck down; we can use the road together without hating each other. Politeness and patience don’t cost the earth, and in fact it may make it a more pleasant place for all of us to be together – unless you are a gang of seagulls eating my chips whilst I get ketchup. Then we are definitely not friends and we never will be, and no, I don’t forgive you Mr. Seagull & Co.

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I day dreamed about this moment for hours!! It was magical.

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Brighton Marathon: The Unlikely Road To The Satisfaction of Socks & Sandals

Marathon running is more of an exercise for the mind than the body. Making your body run 26.2 miles in one go without stopping is tiring work, don’t get me wrong. The real task though is how much can you endure on the day? How much can you dig deep and keep going when the sweeper bus stops to ask if you want to climb aboard the not-so-fun bus. Through the window you can see tired broken people, tears, distant stares and silver blankets prematurely adorned.

You may have seen in the media recently the upset caused by London Marathon for the 7:30 pacer and her fellow backpackers, recruits on the day to finish the route in a requested time frame – and even so, they received hurtful words, and constant goading for 26.2 miles. Like I said, a marathon is a mental game of keeping going enough as it is, so for the people who held their chins up and refused to give in – fucking well done! I was offered aboard the sweeper bus three times, on the last coming dangerously close to caving.

It has now been a while since I ran Brighton, fully recovered and got back into the swing of normality without marathon madness, and had time to reflect on what went better than last year, not so much and lessons learned. I got a 20 minute PB on London last year. Brighton is not an overall PB kind of course; it’s hilly, windy, bleak, lonely, miserable and undulating in the most undulating sense of the word undulating. Did I mention it was uncomfortably undulating? I got a PB for half marathon distance, which now stands at a 2:51:44 according to my Garmin.

When Dad and I crossed the start line we were amongst the final handful at the back of the pack, even further back than Dave the Running Samaritans Phone. The course doubles back on itself a lot, which can be motivating and soul destroying in equal capacities. Some times it gave me the illusion that people were not all that far ahead so keep running and that’ll be you on the other side of the road soon. In the same breath, seeing people running the final kilometres of the race as I was just crossing halfway was a very bitter moment for me.

For the first few miles dad and I took it in turns to over take one another, back and to back and to. I took off. (This sounds much faster than it really was.) We thought we had said our goodbyes for the rest of the course, until I stopped for a toilet break. This is all well and good except there was a few of us, and as I waited my dad caught up to me. At the time this was a relief because his phone had pocket dialled me a number of times. I had phoned him back to no answer and consequentially in true anxiety girl style, I jumped to worrisome conclusions of heart attacks, rolled ankles and muscle cramps. He catches up to me and he’s just fine. His version of events is that I keep calling him. He had no idea he’d been phoning me so all was well. Not far behind my Dad though was the sweeper vehicle.

The sweeper vehicle is not for road sweeping; it is for people sweeping. Slow people sweeping, injured people sweeping, poorly people sweeping, the sweeper bus of broken hopes and dreams chased me from that moment in the race right until the end, threatening to gobble me up in a sorry mess. This shit me up. I won’t lie. So I bloody well got a wiggle and a wriggle on to try and make some ground on the sweeper bus of broken people.

With my London Marathon experience having been such a dreamboat, I do wonder if perhaps Brighton was a bit miserable because I had a normal marathon experience. When you hear about people with Bipolar, a classic “mania story” is of someone running a marathon without training. I am by no means special, others have done it including Jedward (way to put myself down there), and I”m sure many other idiots like myself. I’m not sure everyone who commits to such an act of stupidity however has such an epic day out with it. The power station miles in particular were just horrible.

Each time I was running towards the town centre I realised that the view and sightings of Brighton pier were very much deceiving in how close I really was, or was not to the half way point, and on the way back in from the other side, from the finish line. The second half of the race has since been very much talked about as being a wind tunnel of misery amongst fellow Brighton runners on social media. The power station miles provided very little to look at and very much to overthink about, like the pain emanating from my lower half of my body. It was grey. It was cold. It felt more like the march of the hobbling zombies than a marathon at this point. Eventually, the 23 mile marker came and i could finally, finally say to myself “it’s just a park run to go”. It was around this point when i was kidding myself that I saw my Dad on course for the last time before the end. Up until this point, every time we had seen each other we high fived, did a thumbs up and beamed a smile at one another, evidently pleased with the results of our high hopes and poor training. Not this time; I needed a hug.

Just passed 23 miles I could see the pier in the distance, which signified the finish line on the horizon, much like a mirage in a desert, but it wasn’t sunny or sandy, it was grey and concrete. The joy soon wore off as the sighting became a torturous tantaliser of the end that never seemed to come. I kept going and kept going, catching up to the team pushing a dying man in a wheelchair, and eventually saw a friendly face. Jarnail from Chasing Lights was cheering and despite having not seen him for months I dramatically threw myself at him for a hug, and to snatch a brief moment of less gravity on my feet. He ran the remainder with me until he was ushered off the course. It really helped me to have that someone running with me. No amount of sugar, or electrolytes, or sports drinks could have rivalled the support of finding a friendly face in the crowd who is willing to jog along side you. Then another friendly face shouted me, my friend Maryke then joined us too, and then another, Elle. Then the finish line set up came into view, and I could not have been happier tho see the finish I’d been so patiently awaiting to arrive on the horizon since mile 23.

As soon as I sat down on the other side, having survived my second marathon, I put on my socks and sandals. I felt like a very stiff and rigid champion wearing the footwear of dreams: socks and sandals after a long race are indescribably wonderful. When I saw my Dad coming out of the finishing area we had another longer hug. I think he was a bit broken because we don’t do long hugs very often, but after gruelling distances and challenges when he admits he’d like to cry and doesn’t, we instead have a long hug.

In the end, I feel blessed to have the privilege to run a marathon for the sheer challenge of it. I felt blessed that my friends had come to support me, eat food with me, and that my dad was there too. After all the life difficulties I have had with my dad, I think running sickly distances together has really brought us closer together – and that is as good a reason as any to keep doing them. It was hard, and I probably won’t be doing Brighton again next year but never say never.