Over the last weekend of May I cycled 100km from Windsor to London and back again, overnight, through one of the biggest storms I’ve ever known, all without training.
Can you cycle 100km without training? If you’re just here for the clickbait title, then yes, it’s possible. If you’re here to hear more about Women V Cancer Ride The Night 2018, then read on to hear about every stage of the journey, and the caveat to that initial sweeping statement!
I’ve trained hard in the gym for the past 5 years and I’ve done CrossFit for nearly 3 years, too, however I did no actual cycle training for this ride. Sure, I totally intended to, but when it came down to it there were only so many hours in the day, and I ended up just deciding I’d be alright. And I was alright, in the end – but I had no preparation for the aches and pains I’d feel just from sitting still on the bike.
There were moments I was full of the joys of life, tearing along empty roads with dawn breaking; there were darker moments when I wondered whether a bike would fit in the back of an Uber; and there were moments that were completely ridiculous… I think riding into a lightning storm with massive hail bouncing off my helmet has to fit the latter! I’m going to break down how the ride went in each part, finishing up with what I’d have done differently – and even talk about whether I’d do this mega challenge again.
0-25km: Reality Hits
I had a big grin on my face setting off. Despite the massive challenge in front of me, the prospect of 8 hours alone with just my bike, and doing something I had never done before, I was feeling pretty good. We wove through the streets of Windsor until we were on some country roads, and all I could hear was everyone’s tyres whirring on the asphalt, which was a meditative, soothing sound.
The back pain began very quickly though, along with pain in my wrists and of course a sore bum, which didn’t subside until I was off the bike at kilometre 100. I was told prior to the cycle to expect to feel discomfort but I wasn’t prepared for it to start so quickly – no movement or adjustment of my posture seemed to alleviate this pain, and it sank in that I would be feeling this way for a very long time. The first food (and pee!) stop couldn’t come quick enough.
25-50km: Riding Into The Storm
A few Oreos and swigs of Lucozade at the first food stop gave me a burst of energy going into the second leg, and I felt better than I had done all night, even at the start. What did worry me was that I could see and hear a massive storm going on above London, and we appeared to be cycling straight into it. None of the other riders seemed fazed by it, so I kept my head down and got on with it.
The storm hit as I was riding through Twickenham, and the constant onsalught of rain with thunder booming and lightning striking overhead was initially exhilarating! Crowds of people stood outside pubs with their pints to cheer us on, clearly bemused at 1,500 women riding not only through the night but through one of the worst storms I’ve ever experienced.
As the hours went on and the storm continued to rage, it became less exhilarating and much more depressing. The hail bouncing off my helmet and stinging my legs and forearms was a particular low point (I’d chosen to leave my rainjacket off, as it was so mild) and by the time I hit the halfway point I was feeling very glum.
50-75km: Questioning My Sanity
The Oreos did not work their magic after the halfway break, and I really struggled to get back into the ride. My bum was in so much agony I could barely put weight into my seat, and just a few hundred metres from the food stop I slipped off the pedal and nearly fell into the road.
It was at this point, riding very slowly along through central London with hundreds of women on bikes passing me, that different scenarios ran through my head: could I just get a hotel for the night, and leave the bike in the room? Would this bike fit in the back of an Uber, and I’d just get driven back to Windsor? Honestly, I was in the pits, and couldn’t see a way of me finishing this ride.
Somewhere around Fulham, I got off my bike, and sat for a bit at the side of the road, wondering why I put myself through these things. I stayed there for 15 minutes or so with every group cycling past shouting to check I was okay – which was lovely, but I did get fed up of saying “yep, just having a rest”! I didn’t give myself a particularly inspiring pep talk at that point, but when I got back on my bike, I was suddenly more revved up to finish. The traffic light stops got fewer and farther between, and I realised that if I pushed the pace and used my legs a bit more, then the back pain wasn’t quite so intense. I ended up overtaking lots of groups who’d moved past me many kilometres behind, and I raced up some fairly challenging hills on the way to the three-quarter mark.
75-104km: Darkest Before The Dawn
Hopefully the above photo shows just how I was feeling at the 75km rest point. It’s 4am in this picture, it was still dark and I was wet through, and although there was only 25 (ish!) kilometres to go I was feeling very weary. I took the longest break I’d had yet at this stop, maybe for 20 minutes, when I drank a sugary coffee (I NEVER have sugar in my coffee!) and ate the rest of my food.
It was with a heavy heart that I got back on my bike and when I set off I was the only one on the road. I soon realised that it wasn’t quite as dark anymore and the birds had started singing, then my spirits lifted a little. I recalled the phrase ‘it’s always darkest before the dawn’ and put a little more effort into my pedalling.
My back still ached, my bum was still sore, but I began to realise that I really was going to finish the cycle, and that it was coming soon – but not before cycling up a huge, steep hill, which I managed to cycle up in three goes, and of course what goes up must come down. I want to say that I was moving at around 50mph down a veritable mountain, but given that I was delirious after no sleep and cycling 80+km, it could’ve easily been a little hill!
It wasn’t exactly plain sailing from there until the end – especially after getting lost somewhere in Windsor town – and by the last few kilometres I was slumped over my bike, with no real thoughts going through my head, just that I wanted the ride to be over. Turning into the racecourse lane and spotting the finish line I started to blub, partially because I was so happy it was finally over – but, yes, also emotional that I’d finished such a massive challenge.
100km+: The Aftermath
I do now feel proud that I completed this challenge, although I also feel like I was very silly, attempting it with no prior cycle training. I felt wobbly on the bike, my highway code was poor, and of course there was the excruciating back pain I experienced throughout the entire cycle. I feel like a few weeks of rides would have solved that issue entirely and readied my body for the distance.
It was also agony mentally being alone for the entire ride. I thought I’d just made some friends and stick with them, but everyone was in larger groups with no real way in for a loner. I really just needed someone to say “oh, come on” to me when I was being dramatic; someone to suffer with me; someone just to ride alongside me in silence in the quieter moments. I’d say if you were planning on doing this ride then get as big a team as possible as an emotional support.
So, to answer the initial question of the blog post – can you cycle 100km with no training? Yes, absolutely. Would I recommend it? Absolutely not. Would I do the ride again? Had you asked me straight after, it would have been a hard no… But with the above changes in preparation in place, upon reflection I think I’d like to give it another shot!
Fancy giving the mega challenge that is Women V Cancer Ride The Night 2019 a go? You can sign up here – then make sure you TRAIN!