On the 4th September, I am riding 220 miles (355km) in one go on a Rapha organised ride from Manchester to London to raise money for Ambitious About Autism. As I write that distance down, I get palm sweats and a wave of nausea at the very thought of being in the saddle for that long. I signed up in January, the time of year where you feel about as athletic as a Victoria Sponge and you set yourself a ridiculous goal to justify spending the entire month of December inhaling food and wine. But now the challenge is round the corner and the task ahead is not a flimsy goal but a tangible and very imminent reality.
Background on the Rapha Manchester to London ride
Many of us know Rapha as the creator of beautifully designed and cut cycling clothing. It is a brand that I greatly respect in terms of where they have taken road cycling in the last few years and I think I would cry if anything happened to my Classic shorts. I recently went to an event at the London Rapha Cycle Club where CEO and founder, Simon Mottram explained to those of us who had signed up to M2L 2016 about the challenges of everyday life for his son Oscar who has Autism. Through his incredible brand, he set up this challenge, now in it’s third year, as a significant way to fundraise for a charity that provides support to those with Autism, their family and carers. This course is deliberately tough and has a profile and a distance to make it a considerable battle for the riders taking part, one that reflects the struggles associated with Autism.
Can I do this?
My anxiety about the ride stems from the fear of the unknown. So far the most I’ve ridden in a day is 140 miles and I wonder what happens after that point? Will I throw up? Will my legs fall off? Will the wind change and leave my body in a permanent cycling position for the rest of my life? I look at my legs and try and compute how they will carry me from city to city. My mind starts presenting a showreel of every worse case scenario and in those moments I have to reign myself back in because deep down I know I will get there. I’ve ridden enough to expect the ups and downs that come on all rides whether it’s a 20 miler to breakfast or a double century over a weekend. I won’t be as strong or fast as many but that doesn’t matter as long as I make it. And anyway, whatever I go through on the day is incomparable with the daily challenges of people living with Autism and those caring for them.
How I am preparing
I am really lucky to be riding with two friends on the day, Kitty Pemberton-Platt and Kati Jagger. They will cringe when I say this but they are talented, strong and generous riders. When I say generous, I mean that they are the type of people to give you their last Rolo when they see you entering that familiar dark hole of despair when you’ve run out of steam.
Recognising that training for a long ride like this is better in numbers, last month we rode from London to Liverpool over two days on a little self-supported tour, inspired and planned by scouser, Kitty (read her account here). The first day was 140 miles from London to an overnight stop at Dudley and the second day was 100 miles all the way to Kitty’s front door where her parents greeted us with a bottle of Champers. We set off from London Waterloo at 8am on a Saturday morning, with charged GPS trackers and each carrying a saddlebag (this is mine) with the bare essentials for an overnight stay. Although we were carrying a tiny bit of extra weight, it really felt liberating knowing that we had absolutely everything we needed on us and definitely whetted our appetites to do some cycle touring in the future.
As we were riding out through North London ready to hit the glorious countryside, a couple of blokes pulled up along side us at the traffic lights and said “morning ladies, going far?” When we told them we were riding to Liverpool they had no words, just an expression of deep unease. In fact, we were so incredibly proud of our voyage that we kept trying to insert it into the conversations we had with people we met along the way. We told the lady in the corner shop, the couple at the pub we stopped in for lunch, some people we met in the loo. None of them actually asked but we felt compelled to tell them we had casually travelled from London and then allow for a dramatic pause as that information sunk in. Most of them were impressed apart from the lady at the hotel in Dudley, who, after hearing our story told us we could use the gym until 8pm. Who, knows, maybe she expected more from us.
Anyway, back to Rapha M2L. The point of this exercise was to get some miles in our legs and to start simulating what it feels like when your body is at the point of exhaustion. Throughout the two days we had very few stops, knowing that this was a test of will and endurance with the aim to start mentally preparing for the challenge that awaits us in September. It was also good practice in teamwork, sharing the workload by taking turns at the front to keep our collective energy stores as high as possible. We all had our moments of highs and lows at different times but I was surprised to discover that the weekend was heavily peppered with times of ludicrous hilarity and ‘you had to be there’ moments. This was definitely more of an adventure than it was training. Here are a few golden snaps from our trip…
Training for an event like this has meant many hours spent in the saddle on the road and although it feels like I’ve been riding my bike all summer, I do feel I should be doing more. But, this is real life and we all have other things we need to do so I’ve tried to learn not to beat myself up if I can’t squeeze in more training at the sacrifice of my work or friends or family. When I can’t go out for a long ride I will supplement it with a yoga session to restore the balance or a shorter session on the Turbo with a Zwift programme (more on that soon).