Only Girl In The Club

My cycling life

Ride London has given me some exciting opportunities as a cyclist and last week I took part in a training event. Skoda Cycling organized the event and a very lucky group of riders were invited to the Wakefield Skoda Dealership to ride out with the Rapha Condor JLT professional team.

The event was announced on the official Prudential Ride London Surrey 100 website earlier in the year. Skoda offered riders 3 events, 2 were in the South in March and April and the 3rd in Yorkshire in July. I spent a lot of my winter working on a big project that took me across the pond to New York so I didn’t get the opportunity to put in as many winter miles as I would’ve liked. I wasn’t very fit in March / April. I was putting in very long hours in the office, I visited New York 3 times before the end of March for work trips so I decided I would benefit more from being on the Yorkshire ride in July. If I put this marker in my diary, a longer-term goal, it would keep me focused and help me work towards my fitness goal for Ride London in August.

I booked a hotel when I found out I’d secured a place and Mum and Savannah would come with me. At that time we didn’t know I’d be away working at the Commonwealth Games so the 2 days break with Savannah were so valuable and precious as I would be away for 12 days following this. We spent our arrival day just pottering around Wakefield, it was a beautiful, hot summers day. Savannah has done the Yorkshire car journey twice now and she’s not very fond of the last couple of hours so as soon as she can get out of the car and run around it’s best for everyone. Our hotel, a modest Premier Inn turned out to be perfect. The hotel rooms are just the same as all other Premier Inn’s but it was attached to a lovely restaurant with beautiful gardens and a great play area so Savannah could run free. We did all our dining here and it was lovely.

Freedom for Savannah

Savannah’s bench in Wakefield

Swinging our legs together

Having fun with Peppa Pig

Ice cream and sprinkles

When I sent my entry in for the Skoda ride I had to give my estimated average speed, this was used to grade riders and put them in to groups on the day. I put my speed down as 15mph, I was taking in to account the local hills and also my fitness at the time of entry. When I arrived at the event the girl checking me in said I was in group 3. She said there was an opportunity to move up a group as a lot of people were dropping back due to the heat, it was in excess of 25’ already at 09:00 and forecast to be around 30’ during the ride. I was feeling fairly confident in my ability, my speed locally was averaging 16.5mph/17.5pm on my own and I’d done a 70 mile sportive with a colleague from the club much earlier in the year and we’d averaged 18mph so I upgraded myself to the fastest group, 1. I decided the only way you’re going to improve and get any real benefit from these opportunities is to push yourself. I’d rather ride on the edge, on the wrong side of my comfort zone. The girl explained, if I was really struggling group 2 would be set off 2 minutes after us and I could always drop back in to that group if I really couldn’t cope.

2 of the other riders from Bliss had also managed to secure a place at the ride, Paul and Lorraine so we met up before the ride started. All 3 of us were wearing our lovely blue Bliss cycle jerseys so I introduced myself to the Rapha Condor JLT team manager and asked if we could have a photo with the team riders for Bliss. This is something I’ve learnt in my job as an event producer. These moments are precious for a charity like Bliss, they help them gain valuable publicity and the riders were glad to oblige and posed for pictures and asked about Bliss and the work they do.

Bliss riders with Rapha Condor JLT riders

With Lorraine, Paul and Savannah before the ride

After a detailed briefing about the ride, the route and where they were taking us that day we all posed for group photos with the team in front of the dealership and then broke off in to our groups. As I was in group 1 we were set off first with Chris Opie and Graham Briggs as our pro leaders. A team car driven by the team manager also supported us. You could sense a lot of nervousness amongst the other riders, had we picked the right group.

The pre-event briefing

Luckily as we pulled out of the dealership I was right behind Graham and Chris so I gained a good position from the start. The pace was very fast straight away and I did start to wonder if I’d made the right decision upgrading myself to group 1. We rode the first few miles averaging 19mph and you could sense everyone was feeling it. It usually takes me around 12 miles to warm up fully for a long ride, after those initial miles I start to find my form, find my hill climbing legs. Stop coughing and spluttering and settle in. There was no opportunity for that on this ride; they threw us in from the start.

We knew we were in for some good climbs because we were in Yorkshire and I was feeling fairly confident about my climbing ability. I’ve spent most of this year really practicing my climbing. In the earlier months of the year, every ride I did I made sure I tackled at least one nasty climb. One of my local hills, Bow Brickhill featured on every Saturday morning ride. I went back every week and tried and tried again. When I first rode it I was 144th on Strava, the last time I went up there I managed to get inside the top 10. I made a big switch in my head this year, I look for hills and I learnt to love them. It’s made a big difference for me. I still have moments where I want to unclip and get off but I won’t because I know that pushing my bike up a steep incline is harder than riding up it.

Quick stop mid ride

The hardest hill of the day was Thurstonland and about half way up I wanted to unclip and stop. I was overcome with the heat and the pain in my legs was excruciating. The incline was so intense in places it felt like I was climbing a wall on my bike. Its moments like this that I weirdly enjoy, the challenge is so great I have to make it to the top. No matter how much it hurts, getting off is not an option. I was near the front of the group, I think only 3 guys were ahead of me. We all have our strengths and mine has become climbing but only through lots of practice and determination to improve. I’ve also been focusing on my nutrition and dropped a good amount of weight again, this has also made a huge difference.

Pit stop to refill water bottles

Graham gathers supplies (bars, gels, water) for us at our pit stop

It was interesting to see Graham and Chris and the other team riders up close and see how small they are. They have zero body fat, they’re finely tuned machines. They are powerhouses; it’s very impressive to see them in action. We choked our way up one hill and when we reached the summit Chris flew off like a rocket to show us an ‘effort’. I try training in Threshold when I go out for my 10-mile morning rides but this was next level.

Throughout the ride Graham and Chris moved around the group and chatted freely to all of us. I spoke to both of them and they offered advice on hill climbing, bike maintenance and anything you wanted to ask them about. I had a brilliant day out in the Yorkshire hills with Rapha Condor JLT and following this event my speed up hills has improved furthermore because I pushed myself that day in to group 1.

40.3mi Distance 2:31:48 Moving Time 3,514ft Climbed

Smiling because I don’t have to climb another hill

Ride done, still standing, just…..

Big smiley face 🙂

My Strava link to the ride

I entered the ballot for Ride 100 again, for a place in the 2014 event. After months of waiting, in February they announced the results and unfortunately for me my application wasn’t successful this year. I was disappointed, it was such a great event and I wanted to experience it again. I wanted to start from fit and see how much I could improve, could I improve? Was my success last year driven by determination to get fit again? Could I find that same determination to keep going at 70 miles when my body wanted to stop if I didn’t have a strong enough reason to do it?

I gave this a lot of thought and I decided it was for the best. I’d had my moment and it had been a great one. The memories of Ride100 2013 will live with me forever. Riding down The Mall, the finish is one of the greatest moments in my life. Everything had come together for me and the hard worked had paid off. I thought I’d put this event away in my mind and agreed it was over. It was too much pressure on my family too, all the training, all the baby-sitting.

So I went off to the London Bike Show, I wasn’t even thinking about Ride London that was buried, forgotten but as I walked around the show and noticed all the charities promoting their places the memories of that day started creeping back in to my mind. I started looking around at the charities and wondering which one would capture my heart, maybe I could ride for a charity.

I spoke to a few charities that day but I didn’t take a place. None of them really meant anything to me and I knew, to raise the money my story had to be compelling. On the Monday after the bike show I received an email from Prudential Ride London Surrey 100 announcing that Bliss would be the official charity of the event this year. It detailed if you were interested in riding for Bliss you should contact them for a place. I knew a little bit about Bliss’s work. The causes they raise money for has touched my life on several occasions. My friend went in to emergency labour at 25 weeks and I watched her baby grow from a tiny acorn to a beautiful toddler. Another friend had twins, again by emergency c section at 28 weeks. They were again miracle babies, born decades earlier they wouldn’t be here now but they are big strong boys, living a very normal life.

My Mum sadly lost a baby; she would’ve been my baby sister. It was a long time ago but I know she still keeps a place in her heart for her baby. I only really know this now I’m a mother. I really understand what a Mother’s love is. Without my Mums support, encouragement and strength I would not of been able to cross that finish line in 2013 the way I did. She is the most selfless person I’ve met in my lifetime. Always putting others before her. She gave up her own free time last year to allow me to train, to go out on my bike for hours to get fit again. She actively encouraged me to do it. She drove me to London for my training sessions with Reza and she was there waiting for me on the finish line when the race ended. When my Mum lost her baby Bliss didn’t exist, no real support existed. She had to come home and just carry on her life as if it had never changed; she had 4 children at home who were too young to really understand what was going on. I have a strong memory of her crying a lot, this was an age when we didn’t really share what was happening the way we do now.

I’m riding this year for Bliss, for my Mum for my sister that never got to breath life on this earth. My Mum inspires me to be strong, to go after the things in life that I want, to achieve my dreams and be happy.

My Mum lost her own mother so tragically in a cycling accident. It happened in Ireland in 1977 where my Mum was born. My Grandmother, she went out to the shops on her bike and sadly she never came back. Someone that was over the limit with alcohol took her life but it was before any laws existed to try and prevent this from happening. Although I don’t have any real memories of my Grandmother, I was only 2 when she died I do know she was an incredibly strong lady. She brought 15 children in to this world. Only 4 of those babies were born in a hospital, 11 at home. Sarah the youngest was born when my Grandmother was 45 years old. This was Ireland in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. My Mum has 8 bothers and 6 sisters, our family isn’t your average family but I love it. We’re spread all across the world but we’re quite close and keep in contact with parties and now with social media. We can all stay in touch with new births, special occasions etc. by sharing photos and messages so easily. I always feel a little part of my Grandmother is with me when I’m on my bike, she gives me the strength to keep going and dig deep.

Riding for Bliss, being part of their team has been a wonderful experience for me. Bliss set up a Facebook page for all their riders and we’ve become a great community on there. Helping each other with tips, advice and support. Some of the riders who live near each other meet up and ride out together on training rides. It’s been a completely different experience to last year, just entering the ballot and riding for myself was sometimes a very lonely one. This year I’ve been part of a big team, a really great team of people with a common aim of raising money for this great charity and achieving a cycling goal of riding 100 miles.

Bliss invited me to a very special, training event in London at The Athlete Lab, a state of the art cycling training facility. If my ballot entry were successful in 2014 this day would never have happened. It was a unique opportunity given to me as a Bliss rider. Olympic cycling Champion Laura Trott hosted the event; it was a cycling master class with her. It was an honour to be sat on the bike next to Laura, this gave me the opportunity to speak to her and we exchanged stories of what it felt like to ride down The Mall in front of large crowds and how exciting that was. Laura was born premature, something I didn’t know about her. On the day of the training event, as you would expect Laura was lovely, full of advice and happy to talk to all of the riders.

I’m riding this year for Bliss and helping to raise money for this wonderful charity for babies born too soon, too small and too sick.

If you’d like to make a donation to help Bliss carry on their work you can visit my Virgin Giving Page

Riding next to Laura Trott at the Bliss training event

Riding next to Laura Trott at the Bliss training event

Lining up with fellow Bliss riders for press photos with Laura

Lining up with fellow Bliss riders for press photos with Laura

Baking giant rainbow cakes and selling them at my local cafe The Bike Bus to raise money for Bliss

Baking giant rainbow cakes and selling them at my local cafe The Bike Bus to raise money for Bliss

My Ride 100 2013 medal belonged to my Mum

My Ride 100 2013 medal belonged to my Mum

The week after Ride 100 I finally got to start riding with my local club, Ampthill Velo Club. They were a newly formed, social group, they ride out from our local town, every Sunday morning at 08:00. My Mum read about them in a local magazine and suggested I go out with them. I’d been looking for a new club ride since I’d moved to the area. I’d tried to ride with them on a few occasions before Ride 100 to help with my training but with a young daughter 08:00 starts can be quite difficult. It’s not the getting up, we’re usually up it’s leaving so early and getting back at lunchtime or later, feeling brain dead after exerting yourself, being left with no energy to look after a baby for the rest of the day. That’s the biggest problem. As I was working in London Monday – Friday my time with Savannah in the week was limited to 1 or 2 hours per evening when I got home so taking up one of my precious weekend days seemed quite selfish on my part.

However on this day I made it along, wrecked with nerves and still very tight legs from the week before. Ampthill Velo Club (AVC) quite proudly publish their riding speed as 16 – 17mph average, this isn’t the type of club ride where other riders pick up the slower riders at the back. If you’re slow you get dropped. This is a club of good, strong, fast riders. Given I’d ridden 100 miles the week before at 18.2mph I prayed with some optimism I’d be OK.

I arrived at the town square, I was early and the first one there. This is a terrible habit of mine; I waste a lot of hours of my life being early. After a short wait the riders soon started to appear and all very politely introduced themselves. I was wearing my Prudential Ride London 100 Jersey, not because I wanted everyone to know I’d done the ride but because it was the nearest match jersey I had to the AVC jersey. I didn’t want to stand out anymore than I would; I was the only girl in this club. My jersey did start conversation, the other riders asked me about the event and we quickly got on to the subject of times. Some other AVC riders had also ridden the event. When I told them my time I remember Richard reeling off a list of numbers that I can’t remember completely but he said, Nicole it appears you’re our fastest rider in the Ride 100 event. I wasn’t quite sure where to put my face, I didn’t know if this would get me off to a good or bad start on my first day.

Wearing my AVC jersey in Woburn deer park

Wearing my AVC jersey in Woburn deer park

Out on a club run, the boys come together to fix a broken derailleur

Out on a club run, the boys come together to fix a broken derailleur

I'm hanging out at the back on a club run

I’m hanging out at the back on a club run

I visited Yorkshire recently, we’d booked a cheap weekend away at a pub The Black Bull in High Bentham. I checked the British Cycling Events website and by chance found a sportive on the same weekend. The event was organised by The Open Wheel I looked at their website and the event route looked great, taking in at least 50 miles of Le Tour stage 1 with a French themed feed station offering moules marinières, strong coffee and even a small glass of wine halfway. The route was 94 miles and listed as mostly flat. I sent an email off to the organiser asking for a copy of the route map, I was quite nervous by this mostly flat terminology, quite flat for who, a local who’s used to riding monster hills. I received a map with 5500ft of climbing, so this equals mostly flat does it, I’d argue it equals a lot of climbing. However I’d made a commitment this year to make friends with hills. I wanted to enjoy the challenge of climbing, stop fearing hills, I wanted to embrace them as they are a big part of cycling so this event was going to be part of my commitment. I stopped worrying about it and booked myself in.

On the day we arrived in Yorkshire it was beautiful, the sun was shining and it was a barmy 24 degrees in June. We checked in to the pub which turned out to be lovely, the landlord and landlady were very welcoming. There wasn’t a lot to see in High Bentham so on the advice of one of the locals we took a drive up on the Dales. Savannah loved it up here. She’d been sat in the car for most of the day so she was finally free to run around. The views were simply breathtaking, you could see the Three Peaks of Yorkshire. a famous walk that people do in 24hrs.

Running free across the Yorkshire Dales

Running free across the Yorkshire Dales

View of Yorkshire peaks

View of Yorkshire peaks

We also took a drive to the town of Clapham, this is where our ride would start the following day. Clapham turned out to be a gorgeous little village with a really nice pub and hotel The New Inn so we stayed for dinner. They served delicious, local, home made food and it was really well presented. The children’s portions were gigantic and Savannah did her very best to finish the steak pie, she loved it. I didn’t get to visit this cafe as it was closed, it’s also in Clapham but I get the impression they like cyclists.

Croft Cafe Clapham, Yorkshire

Croft Cafe Clapham, Yorkshire

The weather forecast for Saturday, the day of the Yorkshire 101: Grand Reserve Special Edition was not looking good. Heavy rain, thunderstorms and even lightening but I wasn’t going to let this deter me. I actually had other things on my mind, those hills. Kidstones Bank was on the route, the King of the Mountain (KOM) for Le Tour Stage 1. I’d stupidly read some reviews of it and it sounded horrible, one of the corners maxes out at 20% and kicks and hurts.

The next morning the pub did a great job of preparing us breakfast, a huge bowl of steaming hot porridge filled up with jam and sliced bananas. They also served up an OK capuccino too so I was all set to go. So far there was no sign of rain but the bunting in the village was flapping in the wind, it was definitely very wild out there. On arrival at Clapham Village Hall where the ride started I was a little disappointed to see so few riders congregated. On this occasion, not knowing the area, riding a sportive gave me the chance to take in the best the area has to offer without getting lost but I love riding sportives and don’t mind paying money for them because I enjoy meeting other riders, I like riding events where there’s large numbers of cyclists. I have a competitive spirit, I am driven by a challenge and I like seeing someone ahead of me and trying to chase them down, keeping them in my line of sight, it motivates me. The weather forecast most definitely kept a few people in their beds today.

We collected our numbers and timing chips, got ourselves ready, packed our pockets full of energy gels and bars and said goodbye to my Mum, Dad and Savannah and set off on our journey. My current favourite energy food to fill up my pockets with is the PowerBar Ride energy bar. I buy them in a box from Wiggle as it works out a bit cheaper. I usually start off eating one of these after 40 minutes or if I’m going out for an early morning ride, before work, straight out of bed I’ll eat one of these instead of having a bowl of a porridge. They’re really fast acting and they taste great, both flavours. They’re not very good on warm days though, they do melt but there was no concern for that in Yorkshire.

Setting off from the Village Hall in Clapham

Setting off from the Village Hall in Clapham

Off we go

Off we go

The ride had no sooner started and we found ourselves climbing with strong force winds blowing in our faces but so far no sign of rain. The climb out of Austwick was a good leg burner but I couldn’t help notice how beautiful everywhere was and this is when it struck me how awesome it was going to be that Le Tour is coming to Yorkshire. England as a nation is currently nursing a World Cup hangover, England are going home, the players are apologising and trying to avoid further humiliation with a promise to try and beat a meaningless match against Costa Rica. The nation is desperate to feel proud of their country. Well as a rode around this route and took in stunning villages, dry stone wall lined roads I just couldn’t stop thinking about how proud I’m going to feel watching Le Tour in Yorkshire. Everywhere we rode through, you could feel the energy, the excitement, campsites were ready, the bunting was up, the flags were out and yellow painted bikes were displayed in front of every pub. Furthermore we’re good at cycling and we sometimes win.

The scenery was stunning

The scenery was stunning

Wow!

Wow!

Le Tour excitement appeared to be high

Le Tour branding everywhere we turned

Then the heavens opened but Yorkshire still looked amazing. I remember checking, imagining what I could see around me was on the TV and it still looked epic. Climbing Kidstones Bank with torrential rain smacking me in the face motivated me to keep going, not to stop. When that 20% gradient corner kicked in and hurt like crazy the rain was coming down so hard but I just kept turning my pedals. I could see another cyclist ahead of me so I used him as my guide, as long as I could keep him in my sight I’d be OK, I’d make it to the top. And to the top I went, I felt the most insane sense of relief and satisfaction when I got there. I’m just a few weeks off 40 and I’ve just ridden up Le Tour’s stage 1 KOM and I lead a group of riders up and no one overtook me. We were rewarded with a descent after this with a beautiful road surface, because Le Tour is coming I think the roads have been repaired so we flew down.

I remember thinking whoever invented the saying there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing lied

I remember thinking whoever came up with the saying there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing  possibly lied

10300668_10152106787407539_1167974822962103100_n

Starting the decent after Kidstones Bank

Soaked but smiling

Soaked but smiling

On a sportive ride I usually wouldn’t stop at the feed station, I’d usually just eat my own gels and bars and carry on through going for a good time instead but I was completely soaked and in need of a hot drink. My Mum, Dad and Savannah had been following us around the course so far. It’s so lovely when they drive past because Savannah’s face lights up when she sees me on my bike. I hope this is a positive message to her, I want to inspire her to live a fit and healthy life. Once stopped at the feed station I swapped clothes, I had a complete change of jersey, jacket and shorts in my Dad’s car so I thought I’d start fresh for the 2nd half. There wasn’t much point but it felt good for a few minutes and at least I was warm and dry while I stopped. We actually stopped for around an hour, we had a good feed, drank loads of coffee and chatted to the other riders that had made it through. I also spoke to the organiser and asked about the landscape to come. He mentioned a hill in Cowgill and said it was twice as bad as Kidstones Bank, sounds brilliant.

A respite from the rain allowed Savannah to watch for us outside the feed station

A respite from the rain allowed Savannah to watch for us outside the feed station

Mummy......

Mummy bike……

We set off from the feed station, this time saying goodbye to my Mum, Dad and Savannah. One of the other riders had suffered a terminal, technical problem and my Dad had offered to drive him back to the start, to his own car because the broom wagon was a long way off. The rain had stopped for a while as we headed out but it didn’t take long for it to come back. It was the heaviest type of rain, giant rain drops fell and we were soaked again in an instant.

Setting off in my dry change of clothes

Setting off in my dry change of clothes

There were a number of rides happening that day, all offering the thrill of riding along the route of Le Tour so we had to be sharp looking for the right directional arrows as some were very similar. We met up with some riders doing another event and one guy from East Finchley where I used to live. He fancied himself as a really strong rider but said Yorkshire was kicking his butt, he said nothing can prepare you for this. I thought I was doing OK, I was going a bit slower than normal and the hills were really hard but I was loving it and really enjoying it despite the weather.

We carried on riding up and down for the whole day and then we rode past a sign saying Cowgill. There was a constant climb after this, it was tough but nothing terrible. We fooled ourselves in to believing that we’d become accustomed to the hills and we could handle them and maybe we’d ridden the horrible beast the organiser had spoken of. Then we turned a corner and were faced with the steepest hill I think I’ve ever seen, at least on a bike anyway. There were a number of riders already at the bottom and I rode past all of them thinking this was the hill. Then it turned and kicked and went up again, and again, and it just kept kicking and hurting. We had 77 miles in our legs at this point and we were soaked through to our skin. I can only compare this climb in my mind to climbing a wall, I had to zig zag sections of it and I’ve never done this on my bike before. I was determined not to get off, walking was going to be harder and slower and I would’ve been so disappointed if I didn’t complete the whole ride on my bike. Luckily I’d read another blog just days before and they suggested zig zagging as a way to climb really steep hills. It’s obviously dangerous on roads where you’re likely to encounter cars but I’m not even sure a normal road car would get up this ridiculous thing. I did a lot of breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth to try and keep the oxygen flowing and I just gritted my teeth (whilst trying to breath) and got myself through it. The gradient maxed out at 20% and the climb was 1.6miles long, it was epic. I had to put the pain in my legs to the back of my mind and just keep telling myself over and over that if you get off and walk it’s going to hurt a lot more.

As far as climbing went I thought that was it having studied the route profile, it looked like it was all downhill from now. We did get to ride an amazing 18km downhill section after this and knowing that was coming was definitely a motivator whilst I was climbing Cowgill. However with 88 miles in my legs I turned a corner and was faced with not 1 but 3 really tough climbs. I was absolutely exhausted at this point, I’d be out for over 6 hours. I was soaked through and I’d had enough and I did swear very loudly which possibly assisted me getting over those last 3 hills.

I finally arrived back at the village hall and it was very quiet. Mum, Dad and Savannah were waiting along with the organisers. Only 11 other riders had made it back so far and 3 of them hadn’t done the full ride, they’d turned around and gone back because the weather was so bad. The organiser was very complimentary, I’d done a quick time and ridden well to make it back. It turns out I was the 8th fastest rider on the day overall and the quickest lady. My official time was 07:18:25 but if you exclude my feed stop Strava clocked my riding time at 06:21:33 with an average speed of 14.4mph. I usually ride at 16/17mph locally so given the weather and the hills I was very happy.

If any one tells you they’re broken hearted about the world cup just remind them Le Tour is coming to Yorkshire and it’s going to be awesome, the world will be watching, we should all be really proud and we might even win something.

Vive Le Tour!

Arriving back at the village hall, the finish line

Arriving back at the village hall, the finish line

Most people see rain, Savannah sees puddle jumping

Most people see rain, Savannah sees puddle jumping

Loves puddles

Loves puddles

Waiting for Mummy to finish

Waiting for Mummy to finish

A few weeks after I started my Herbalife program, in late April I also started training once a week with my former personal trainer from London, Reza. I used to live in London, I lived there for 15 years. I’ve worked with a few personal trainers, they’ve all been excellent and we all went on different missions together but there’s something quite different about Reza. The first time I met him was at a spin class in Finchley. I used to go boxing every Saturday morning but on this particular week the boxing class was cancelled. I checked the gym class schedule and noticed there was a space free for spin so I booked in and went along. I had no idea what I was turning up too. There was a queue of really fit, attractive girls waiting outside the studio. When the class before ended there was a huge rush and everyone waiting surged forward to grab a bike, I just held back and watched with surprise. I entered the studio and found myself on a bike at the front, I thought nothing of it, I was OK at spin, I was fairly fit at this point. I think this was 2009, I’d recently started road biking. Previously I’d been mountain biking since 2003.

Reza arrived, he had this presence, and he was in command of those ladies, all of them. He switched the music on and we were in full flight from the off. I was in the front row so I had to give it my all. We did moves on that bike that I’ve never seen before. He played the most awesome music that kept the energy so high. I wouldn’t survive the classes without the music. I made it all the way until the end of the class, I was bright purple in the face at the end but I’d done it. I went home and collapsed on the sofa, I stayed there for about 4 hours and didn’t speak for the rest of the day. I’d trained at my maximum level, my body was done but I wanted to go back for more.

I wasn’t aware that I’d broken in to a little spinning cult. This group of girls were so dedicated they would get up at 06:00 a week before on the Friday morning when the gym’s booking system opened to book themselves in to that class. The places would be gone by 06:05. They had their own systems in place, they would share membership numbers and login details and take it turns to get up just before 06:00 to do the booking in shift. Unfortunately I was now hooked and became part of this cult too but I didn’t have anyone to share with so I had to routinely get up each Friday morning an hour before my alarm, login to the booking system, go through this frantic 5 minute panic where you’d watch the numbers available go from 14 to 0 in a matter of minutes and pray that one of the places was mine. Sometimes it all happened so quickly and I was half asleep at the time that I didn’t know if I’d got a place until I got the confirmation email through. I feel totally weird that I did that for months and months, even when I was away on holiday but there was no other way to get in that class.

So I’m back training with Reza in 2013, I don’t live in London anymore so I’m driving 50 miles to his new gym in London. He’s moved on quite a long way. He’s bought his own gym with his brother, Park View in Finchley. It’s got a great vibe, all the right equipment for the way Reza trains, a nice sized studio with excellent spin bikes and really good staff. Week 1, I hadn’t trained with Reza for over 12 months so he said we’re going back to level 1. Wow! I forgot how much this hurt but it was a different kind of pain to cutting your finger, it’s the kind of pain you can tolerate because you know there’s going to be an amazing result. I decided to start training with Reza again because by this point I was doing some decent mileage on my bike and my confidence was growing. The fear of crossing the line before 9hrs had pretty much vanished in my mind and I was starting to think I could actually consider a decent time around 6 or 7hrs. Reza had different ideas, from day 1 he had his mind set on a goal of sub 5hr30 I just didn’t know at the time. We focused on endurance and strength training. I would do 30 minutes of spin, followed by 30 minutes of core work then have a 10 – 15 minute rest and a quick refuel, usually a carb drink. Then the real work would start, a 1hr personal training (PT) session. The PT session with Reza is not conventional. His training focuses on functional training, using your own body with some weight work. He’s so in tune with how the body works, he completely engineers exercises to a different level compared to how I’ve worked with PT’s in the past. He also does pretty ridiculous exercises, there were moments when I had a bungee around my waist and I’d be running across the gym trying to fight his force pulling me back. I’ve had to run around the studio dragging him behind me sat on a towel, he has a whole work out designed using a towel and it’s one of the most painful group of exercises I’ve ever done. Whatever he made me do, he got it so right. Alongside my Herbalife nutrition program and regular cycling within 6 weeks my body was transformed, the power was back in my legs, my endurance was improving and with all this came confidence and self-belief. There was also a lot of pain. I worked my legs so hard I would struggle to walk out of the gym sometimes and for days after I would be in agony. Sometimes I couldn’t ride my bike as planned because Reza had worked me so hard. The training was getting so intense I’d need to take my Mum or my sister with me, I required a chauffeur to drive me home. I was physically exhausted and totally incapable of the 50 mile drive. I was also worried if I got stuck in traffic my legs might seize up.

I can’t remember the exact words he used but Reza had this theory. To do with women who’ve just had a baby, he thought they were in their prime to train for sports events. We’ve been through a pain threshold, we’ve felt deep emotion and we were on the right level to make that connection with our bodies and go to the next level. I definitely went to a different place during Ride 100 and I’ll never know for sure if having a baby prepared me for it but it makes some sense to me. I switched off from all the pain that I felt in my body, I attached myself to the emotion and let that take me home to the finish line. I like to think I have good mental strength anyway, I have the ability to tell myself to keep going against the odds and I think this is required for a long, endurance event if you want to cross the line in a good time. You can ride an event like Ride 100 in 9hrs and have a really enjoyable day, stop at the feed stations, go at 12mph and see all the sights or you can push yourself and ride at 18mph or faster and get back without knowing where you’ve really been. It doesn’t matter how you do it, do it your own way neither is better or right.

25th april

Training hard at Park View

IMG_0652 copy

Savannah discovers herself in the studio mirror at Park View

IMG_0628 copy

Reza and Savannah

IMG_0759 copy

My 6 week body transformation

 

 

By March I was starting to feel quite good, my weight loss was going in the right direction. I’d lost 2 stone since Savannah was born the previous August. The first stone came off very quickly, just a few weeks. The second took a lot longer, a lot of effort. I messed about with diets. I did the Dukan diet for a while but I already had very low energy because I wasn’t getting good sleep, Savannah was just a few months old. Serving myself a plate of ham and cottage cheese as dinner was quite bad for my self-esteem. The diet made me feel quite unwell both physically and mentally. I’d done it before, successfully and it was ok because I was well, I had good energy and I was getting regular sleep but this time, straight after pregnancy when your body needs nutrients and energy, for me it was really bad.

So Jamie and I were heading up to Liverpool for a friends surprise birthday. It would be our first night away together and our first proper night out since Savannah was born. Luckily we have a lot of local family support, Mum, Dad, sisters, Aunts, Uncles so we have lots of opportunities to get out.

I knew Grace, my friend’s sister had been successful in her own weight loss with Herbalife but I hadn’t seen her since her major transformation. I also knew a bit about the Herbalife program and I thought it would suit me. I’m very all or nothing, I’m either 100% focused or I’m totally off the wagon. Finding balance is the missing link for me.

Later in the evening I got chatting to Grace and she offered me a 3 day trial of Herbalife shakes which included some vitamin tablets. I knew I could do it for 3 days so I agreed to give it a go. Typically, of me I mentally sat by my post box for the next few days waiting for the package to arrive. I was completely set and focused ready to take this on. I was almost certain the mix of protein shakes and healthy dinners and snacks would suit my lifestyle because I often found myself, at home with a young baby eating really nutritionally poor food that worked around Savannah’s feeding time, mostly toast with cheese in the day and if I was feeling time rich a slice of tomato on top.

My Herbalife pack finally arrived, I read all the instructions and went off shopping to buy all the other items I needed. For the first day I did feel a little bit light headed but I just sucked it up and got on with it. I figured you’re cutting down on the number of calories and having mostly liquid so I put this down to normal body adjustment. The next day I felt OK, a few tummy rumbles but it was so convenient, a shake for breakfast, a mid morning snack, another shake for lunch, another snack then an evening meal of protein and veg or salad. In terms of cooking that was simple, throw a load of salad on a plate and grill a piece of meat or fish. It worked perfectly around Savannah because the shake took a few seconds to prepare and it was easy to drink. I ate nuts, yogurts and fruit for my snacks. After my 3 day trial I’d lost 5lbs, amazing. This is so easy, I can do this and I actually feel great, no bloating, I’m full of energy and I can adapt it easily to fit in around my cycle training. On the days when I was planning to ride my bike I’d make myself a bowl of porridge and mix 2 scoops of chocolate protein powder in, it’s tastes really good. There’s no way I could get up the hills without carbs. Grace also recommended some of the other products from the Herbalife 24 sport specific range. I started drinking a product called prolong when I was out on my ride. It’s a carbohydrate drink designed for cyclists riding around 4hrs. I found this worked really well for me, it’s nicer than gels. So I was making this plan work for me, I kept in touch with Grace via email, text and she has a Facebook group. We’d exchange recipes that we’d make and enjoy to help each other break any potential monotony of meat and veg. I did live on chilli, I’d prepare a huge batch with 2 or 3lb of mince and fill it with protein rich beans like black beans, pinto beans and some nice vegetables. I’d serve this up with a big salad or if I was riding the next day I’d include a small portion of lentils, quinoa or other protein rich grains and sometimes brown rice.  I’d also mix my shakes in my blender and add a banana to get extra carbs if I was going for a ride. I wasn’t sticking to the Herbalife weight loss plan exclusively; I was making it work for me and my active lifestyle.

Within 6 weeks I’d seen a total body transformation, I’d lost over a stone and I’d hit my dream target weight of 9st12. I was bursting with energy, my skin was glowing and my body was looking pretty good for a new mum. The benefit to my cycling was enormous, my average speed on a ride started to increase, my stamina was improving and overall my confidence was growing. I started to feel really strong and the big event in August no longer felt like an impossible task. My own personal goal post of crossing the line before the broom wagon of 9hrs was moving, I was now starting to focus on a potential, decent time of sometime around 7hrs.

3rd june

Bingo, hitting the dream weight

IMG_0471 copy

A different kind of hill training

The following views are based on my own experiences from the 2013 event. The organisers may make changes to the 2014 event.

1. Stay the night before near the start line, as close to the Olympic Park as you can get – start times range from 06:00am – 08:00am but you check in to your loading gate approx 40 minutes before your start time. The roads on the route, even to event riders are closed, the tubes and trains won’t allow bikes and will most likely be closed at that time. You have to collect your ride number from the Excel Arena bike expo anyway so we made a family day out of it, went across on the Emirates Air, had lunch out etc. it was lovely sunny weather and we had a really nice day.

2. Plan how you’re going to get home, if you’re not staying in a hotel arrange for your friends / family to park somewhere you can cycle to after the event. Tubes don’t allow bikes at anytime (except fold up) and trains banned bikes on the day due to the large numbers. Remember the event route stays closed as the professional race happens after the amateur sportive. I live north of London so my family parked in St Johns Wood and I cycled there post event, easily through Regents Park and avoiding any hills. They do have exclusion zones north and south of the cycle route for Ride 100 parking. They will detail this in the final event pack sent near the date.

3. 2 weeks before the event ride a sportive with lots of hills and around 75 miles or plan a route and ride it at a good pace, push / challenge yourself. The London course is mostly flat and fast so your body will thank you for doing this.

4. Enjoy all of the support from the people lining the streets, they’re amazing. Mums, Dads, Grandma’s, Grandad’s, kids, everyone is out young and old. Cheering you along and giving you so much support, the kids are especially brilliant. I remember hearing shouts of “Come on lady rider” “Go Go Go lady” “Girl Power. Girl Power” all from little kids, it’s really inspirational and motivates you to keep pedaling. Dorking & Leatherhead were my favourite places to ride through, this is the moment you’ll feel like a pro. If you ever feel like giving up think about The Mall, riding down there to people screaming and cheering is such a buzz so hang in there and keep thinking about this once in lifetime moment.

5. On race day fuel up well before the start. I bought a pot of porridge you can make with hot water so I could use the hotel room kettle as my hotel only offered a continental breakfast in a bag e.g. croissant and yogurt. I filled it with banana and I had a protein shake. I filled my jersey pockets with gels, bars and ride shots. I used energy products that I’d trained with, this is a good idea as some people suffer upset stomachs from certain products.

6. In your race pack you’re given a bag to put all your belongings in, they will transport them to the finish line for you. It’s well organised and easy to pick your bag up again at the end. One mistake I made, I wore flip flops the day before, trying to keep my luggage to a minimum. We walked quite a lot around the Expo and around London the day before. During the ride the soles of my feet hurt like never before and I had to ignore that pain for the whole 100 miles, it really wasn’t pleasant.

7. It’s quite cold at 05:30, even in the summer standing around in shorts and a jersey so I took a sweatshirt that I didn’t mind throwing away. I wore it until we started and the event staff pick them up and give them to charity. Do you really need your big waterproof jacket? I spotted lots of people with them tied around their waist, it must have been really annoying cycling 100 miles like that. Invest in a light, rain jacket that fits in your jersey pocket if the weather is looking changeable. There’s an offer to get one free if you subscribe to Cycling Plus for 6 months. Arm warmers are a great option, I wore them for the first 2hrs.

8. There’s lots of toilets and food at the starting area and everything is well signed posted. You get started in waves, there was a Black gate and a Blue gate and each wave had a letter. For example you might be Blue gate G. The earlier your letter, the earlier your start time, this will all be detailed in your start pack. It will tell you what time to check in and what time your start time is. It’s a rolling start, you leave the Olympic Park and ride about 2 miles before you cross the timing gate. This is to help avoid any crashes from people eager to get away. Grouped entries aren’t guaranteed to start together so lots of people who want to ride together wait shortly after the Olympic park rolling start, before they’ve crossed the timing mat. They wait for their friends and they join up before the point of crossing the timing mat. My partner & I rode last year, his start time was 20 mins before me but we didn’t know about the option to wait so we didn’t meet again until the finish line. The waiting option is not official. Point worth noting don’t start your Garmin (or other GPS device) until you get to the timing mat if you want an accurate account of how you’re doing over the official course distance.

9. If you need to stop, there’s plenty of water, gels, energy powder etc along the route as well as the feeding stations. High 5 were a sponsor in 2013 so this could change. There’s also lots of toilets, random single portaloo’s as well as groups of toilets at the feeding stations. I stopped twice to refill my water bottles and for the toilet. I didn’t visit the feeding stations so I can’t comment on what they’re like. All of the volunteers and marshals were brilliant, friendly and helpful and gave you so much support and encouragement. They fill up your bottles as quickly as possible so you can get away again. It’s a very well organised event (I think I’ve said this before but it really is a huge operation). Some people chose to power through without stopping and will ride it in 4hrs, others enjoy the scenery, stop at the feed stations and come home in the full 9hrs.

10. Always keep left and allow the faster riders to pass on the right. You’ll hear them coming, it’s pretty awesome, big chains of strong guys on very expensive bikes with deep rim wheels. You can’t mistake that sound. Don’t be intimated by them if you’re new to cycling, they have a different agenda. They will be riding at an average 23/25mph and will make it home somewhere near 4hrs. I was lucky enough to ride without a mechanical problem but I understand there is assistance along the route. I did see lots of people with punctures and there’s also loads of debris, dropped bottles, bits of bikes and the worst part, litter. Gel wrappers all along the route, it wasn’t nice to see.

11. Training, cycle when you can and enjoy it. Work out when training is going to fit in to your life. I have a young daughter and I work full time a 50 mile commute away in London. My only option was to get out of bed at 5am and ride before work. It was horrible at first but my body soon adjusted to it and when we had that lovely heat wave in the summer I actually looked forward to my morning ride before work. Try and include some gym work, endurance / strength training but remember Boris did it so pretty much anyone can do it. Focus on mostly shorter rides (15/20miles) and at least one longer ride (40/60 miles) per week but don’t overdo it. You don’t need to ride the full distance before the event, don’t burn yourself out. Rest is really important. If you have a turbo trainer check out the sufferfest videos, they make it less boring. I’ve loaded a few on my laptop and have it on top of my tumble dryer in my kitchen so you don’t need a big tv set up http://www.thesufferfest.com Read about training techniques, interval training, hill training etc. The info is out there, online, in magazines etc Bike Radar is a great source of info e.g. http://training.bikeradar.com/plan/viewdetail/310367 If you have a smart phone get Strava. It’s a great app and shows you how you’re improving. The free version is good enough. A bike computer makes a big difference, seeing your average speed, distance etc. You don’t need to spend a fortune.

12. Join a cycling club – there’s lots of cycling clubs all over the country, you can find them online, via local newspapers, Facebook, cycle shops. Riding in a group makes you fitter, faster and stronger. There’s some less competitive ones out there, look at Sky Ride for example. You can make new friends and there’s a good social life if you want it.

13. Nutrition is really important, start fuelling your body right when you ride and post workout. There’s lots of information out there, online, in stores, in magazines so find what suits you and get yourself in good shape. I used a combination of carbohydrate drinks while riding and protein shakes post work out. I think they made a difference. I also drink chocolate Nesquik as a post ride recovery drink, it’s cheaper than sports recovery shakes. I alternate with this and a more expensive endurance shake from Herbalife.

14. Keep your bike in good order, regular servicing makes a big difference. An upgrade to your wheels could improve your performance / speed without the massive outlay of a new bike. Take off all the bits you don’t need on the day, lights, locks etc.

15. Riding on closed roads is a unique experience, especially along this now famous route. I found myself still checking at roundabouts and slowing at the first few traffic lights, it’s in built in your brain. You’ll gain some mph’s on your overall average thanks to the closed roads so if you’re looking to ride home in a fast time ignore the lights.

Smile, enjoy it and I hope you have the most amazing day. The memory of the 2013 event will stay with me forever.