home      my running story      races from the beginning      talk to me       product reviews      

Friday, 25 October 2019

Ultimate Triathlon Middle Distance: Choking The Bees & Dreaming of Aliens

I’d raced one of the UK Triathlon events at Stratford and it was well organised so when I heard they did a middle distance I decided to give it a go. Middle Distance is my favourite. None of this rushing around, max heart-rate nonsense … I settle in with some snacks and try not to drown, fall off or fall over. 

I had the usual amount of sleep before a race. None. And the usual quality. Poor with occasional sitting bolt-upright convinced I’d missed the alarm. So I awoke feeling unrested and looking bleary eyed. Standard Morning Sarah. 

However my race plaits were on point so even though my face would look dreadful in race photos, if I could convince the photographer to get the back of my head there might be a salvageable pic in the bunch. 

It was easy to find the car park but while fully laden with bike and tri bag, I couldn’t work out where to register.  It’s so unlike me to get lost, right?  Asked one of athletes milling about for directions and it turned out to be someone I follow on twitter. Thanks for sending me in the right direction despite all the tripe I post on twitter ...

Despite a 0930hrs start, I was ridiculously early for the race. No point sitting in the hotel room faffing when I could be at the event faffing, right? Besides plaits were already perfect...

As Pinky swings gently in the breeze ...

At least being insanely early to the event meant there was lots of space in transition. It was an open transition which meant that numbers weren't allocated on the racking – it was basically first come first served. Sometimes this can be carnage but it all seemed fairly amicable and there were no punch ups over whose sandwiches were overlapping whose bike tyres. I may be small but I’m feisty. I NEED snack space. 

There was a lovely Pinky-The-TT-Bike sized space on the front row so I set up there. Pinky rocked gently in the breeze looking tiny next to all the massive man-bikes and so far she was the only pink bike racked. 

The Ultimate Triathlon was running a mix of distances today: ironman, half-iron and olympic which was going to be interesting and would mean it’d be difficult to tell where I was in the field as wouldn’t know if the females were going long distance or short distance. The races were started at different times and the iron-distance competitors were set off first so I got to cheer them as they started their event. 

I’d left the hotel too early to have enough coffee. I was certainly feeling the lack of caffeine and was pretty sure there was blood in my coffee stream. Needed to remedy that. And fast. I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to remain upright without the proper caffeine saturation levels. 

That would be fine for the swim but a bit difficult on the run clearly.

I can’t find the start of the race without help but my caffeine radar was clearly operating efficiently as I found the cafe without any problem. It was nice sitting in the conservatory and there was a great view of Alderford Lake and the swimmers looping the island in their iron distance swim but I was wondering if I’d been ripped off. I’d paid the cafe £5 to park in a field and had just forked over £3.25 for a coffee so the cafe had made £8.25 off me for basically spooning a teaspoon of instant into a cup and pouring hot water on it. But coffee. Lovely, lovely coffee.

It was lovely to see Gazz and his tri buddy David who were also competing today in the half ironman distance. It was Gazz’s first 70.3 so he was nervous but focused. Cheered them off as they started 30 mins before me and decided that my goal today would be catching them up … if I could! 

Look at me with my race tattoo the right way up ...!

I had time for a final transition check and then it was onto the aerobics of getting into my wetsuit. It’s a hard job getting into the swim wetsuits and if you can imagine a walrus trying to star jump you’ve probably got a fairly good picture of how I look getting into it. But with more grunting. I’m not even joking.

It’s probably why I get given a LOT of space in transition. No-one wants to be near the weird grunty girl. Even if it’s a good space at the front. 

I'm TOTALLY pretending I'm at the Olympics

We were paraded down to the start as a group with a big Union flag being waved in front of us like we were at the Olympics. I felt a bit special until I realised that feeling was actually that I really needed a wee quite badly and probably shouldn’t have drunk all that coffee after all. 

Down at the side of the lake, we were stopped to let the first male competitor come in off his first lap. We all gave him a resounding cheer and wondered if we’d be able to swim quick enough to draft him. 

Inner voice: DON'T DROWN! DON'T DROWN!

The water was divine at 17*c.  It was like the temperature of bath water so practically a bath but with carp and duck poop instead of bubbles. 

There were only 63 females so the pack were pretty spread out. When the horn went I couldn’t find any feet to sit on – my usual tactic so had to splash out on my own. The horror. How was I going to manage without some cheat-feet?

However it was a lovely swim even if I had to actually do some work. It went round an island, back to the bank, out and on my feet and a quick sprint along the shore and back into the warm lake for lap 2. I was swimming along actually thinking “I don't even hate this.” Probably meant that I wasn’t swimming hard enough. 


When I got out of water I saw 33 mins on my Garmin, I was ecstatic. I swim like I’m fighting off bees so had clearly been flailing in the correct direction this time.

I peeled the wetsuit off. Not quite as awful as putting it on – but a close second and if I don’t smack myself in the face while doing it, it’s as good as a win. I stuck helmet, tri belt, socks and bike shoes on myself and was about to take Pinky off the rack when I spotted my timing chip in the grass. It must have dropped off with the wetsuit. Secured it back around my ankle and pegged it out of transition. 

Had a laugh with the marshal on the run out of transition and nearly tripped over the race photographer lying on the ground. He must have taken offence at my clumsiness as he took a BEAUTIFUL shot from floor level which captured all 5 of my chins in motion. 

It was like a Truffle-Shuffle but with chins and a bike.


The path after the mount line was very narrow and there were 2 girls stopped on either side of it blocking it with their bikes and arses so I had no option but to do a static mount. Frustrating. I could have walked out if transition instead of trampling the photographer and stood around picking my trisuit out of my arse and achieved the same time. 

However, I patiently waited behind them and then overtook them in a huff as soon as I got onto the open road. 

The bike course had 4 roundabouts in the first 3 miles but after that it was fast roads where you could put your head down and go. The route was roughly triangular with a tail which was the turnaround point. It was a nice undulating route with no real climbs but a bit of a drag from mile 12 with a 1.5 mile hill but it was nothing horrific. The scenery was nice and the route took you through rural Shropshire with thatched cottages and some really lovely views. The road surfaces were pretty decent apart from a very occasional pothole and traffic was reasonable.

And it should have been a cracking ride. BUT.

I set off and couldn’t quite work out why everybody coming the other way looked so damn miserable. The first leg of the triangle went by quite quickly and I over took a few people and kept an eye out for Ridley which I knew was a village sign that came up before the turn off point. It also gave me a pleasant few moments thinking about the Alien films and how aliens didn’t have to do all this swimming before a nice bike ride ...

However, my nice thoughts about whether aliens would wear helmets on the front or the backs of their heads were rudely interrupted by a bee flying through the vents in my helmet. 

ARRGH! Do I stop, take helmet off and run around shrieking “it’s in my hair! It’s in my hair!” and flailing at my own head or do I just carry on, hope I don’t get stung, hope I’m not allergic to bees and hope it’s not a massive brain eating hornet? I carried on. I decided that I probably smelled of lake water and duck shit so the bee hopefully would just think I was some kind of fast moving algae and not a threat and find its own way out.

Also if it was brain-eating it would probably starve to death in MY helmet ...

The buzzing stopped and I didn’t get stung so it either choked on a chunk of duck poo or escaped. 


The bike course took a left turn and I was immediately into a headwind so brutal I thought I had a flat tyre. I even checked the brakes weren’t jammed.

Ok so this is why everyone coming the other way looked so miserable.  

My plaits flew out behind me like they were on wires. I dug in trying desperately not to use my quads too much but feeling as though the road surface was sticky glue as it certainly didn’t feel like I was moving. Even ‘Pinky The Wonder Bike’ couldn't make me feel as though I was going faster than terminally-ill-snail pace.

And then I hit the caravans. Not literally. Although I may as well have. It was clearly the Sunday that every caravan owner decided that THIS was the weekend to be out on the road. Holding everybody up. Cars were beeping their horns, swerving around like Wacky Racers and driving like they were in an arcade game. The cars pulling the caravans were actually very courteous towards the cyclists but the cars attempting to overtake them were being absolutely awful.

Although only on lap 1, pushing against the tough headwind had made it feel as though I’d already completed the 56 miles. I gurned as I pedalled towards the turnaround point, aware that now it was my turn to look grumpy as the cyclists coming the other way were flying with the wind behind them. The turnaround point was great though with lots of really enthusiastic supporters and some lovely marshals cheering us on and I set on on lap 2 with new determination. And a new fear of caravans.

I was trialling my new hydration system on the bike today and it was a torpedo system with a reservoir tucked between the aero bars. It had been surprisingly easy to fill on the move – lucky really as I’d already removed the bottle cages. However, I’d chosen a black reservoir to match the bike but should have chosen the white one as it would have been easier to see how much liquid was left inside it. 

Lap 2 was delightfully uneventful. No bees, alas no alien dreams but also no psychotic driving. However, as I came towards the end of lap 2, unable to see the fluid levels on the black reservoir, I ran out of water. By my reckoning I only had about 10 miles left but with the headwind and the heat, I was using a lot of liquid.

Oh well. Not much I could do about it now. Except shrivel up like a raisin.

Dehydrated, coming towards the final roundabout and feeling like Gordon Ramsay pre-botox, I saw Gazz going the other way. He was heading back into transition and I reckoned he was about half a kilometre in front of me. Right. Chase Gazz down. I might be feeling as dry as a Methodists wine cellar, but Gazz could be my incentive for a speedy turnaround in transition. 

The bike had been tough but I didn’t think I’d had a bad ride. I’d been overtaken by 2 people only, both of whom were males on TT bikes. 

Right think speed, Booker! Bike on the rack, helmet off, trainers on. Number turned around and OUT!

I'm definitely not looking for dropped snacks. *cough*

Onto the run. The first lap is always the hardest as my legs are slow on the uptake and it takes them a while to realise I’m trying to run instead of cycle. They’re basically me before coffee. 

If some scientist could invent some sort of caffeine for legs, I would be all over that. Think how smug my legs would be. I’d have champion calves, nimble kneecaps and thoroughbred thighs. 

The run laps were 3 laps of just over 4 miles, half of which was and out and back around a wooded trail and around a twisty path across a field and the other half of which was undulating, twisty country lanes. I enjoyed the wooded section. It was all bumpy grass but there were lots of supporters and it was pretty. I saw Gazz in this section at the turnaround. He spotted me and he did a massively confused face at me. It seemed I’d managed to beat him out of transition.

The next little section was a twisty section over a field which added some extra distance and it got the runners out into the lanes. 

The lanes were hell. Utter hell. They were very slightly undulating and a bit twisty and EVERY PART LOOKED THE SAME. It was basically like running on a treadmill but in the heat and when you’re already tired.

I spent lap 1 chasing people down. My legs don’t work properly for a few miles after the bike so I need to keep my head occupied counting people before it realises my legs don’t have a clue what they’re doing. 

The half, full and quarter triathlon runners were all on the field now and it was impossible to tell which race people were doing so had no clue where I was in the field. 

I saw a few Rugby Tri clubmates out on the course which was nice and I managed to give Keith, Russell and his nephew a cheer when I saw them. OK. A thumbs up. I gave them a thumbs up. They all seemed to be making it look much easier than it felt to me. I was tired, dehydrated and was at that point in the race where I was questioning why I did triathlons rather than doing ‘sitting’. Sitting seemed like a really good sport right now. I could really get into doing lots of sitting. Yep. Sitting was definitely the sport for me. After THIS race. I’ll just finish this one off ...


I recognised Marc from twitter who was doing the full iron distance. He looked chilled out and made it look very easy in his bright Swansea Vale Tri kit. C'mon - you're doing TWICE the distance I am. At least make it look tough!

The run was hard and the weather was humid. I’d given up looking at my watch and just ran as hard as I could. I was using racing lines as much as possible - taking corners as tight as possible to avoid running over distance and just keeping going. I was telling myself that I’d done a great swim and a great bike so I just needed to hold out on the run In the words of Meatloaf, 2 out of 3 aint bad. I didn’t need to chase paces, just keep going.

I also had a word with the legs. I told them to stop bitching and that if they could run 100 miles then they could certainly manage 13 without complaining especially since I’d taken them for a nice paddle in the lake and they’ve just had a nice sit down on the bike. Stupid legs.

I followed some pink plaits through the lanes for a while and had brief chat as we passed. I had pink plait envy – my brown braids just weren’t cutting it. I found out later it was Chris - Greenys Punk off twitter.

On each run turnaround, I saw Gazz. Each time he told me he was struggling. I tried to encourage him - and myself - by shouting motivational stuff but it came out as random nonsense. “This is the last time you’ll run this bit until you’re last lap!” Errr what? and “We’re nearly there except for all this running.” I should definitely NOT get a job as a motivational sign maker. 

I would be shit at that. 

Even more shit than I was at running after a paddle and a sit down on a bike.

Finally I was on the last lap. I’d been keeping an eye on the females around me as I was age group hunting and it was keeping me occupied trying to guess everyone’s age groups. Unfortunately I am RUBBISH at this and the further we all ran on that hot day, the more haggard everyone became. 1st lap: every female I passed: “Ah she’s definitely younger than me.” 2nd lap: “She might be in my age group” 3rd lap: “She’s around 60 I reckon”. I can only imagine as they passed me they just assumed I was wearing lycra as leisurewear to collect my pension. 

There were a few girls I kept seeing on the turnarounds who were within a kilometre of me. I kept trying to work out whether I was catching them or they were catching me and whether they were in a position to catch me if they did a good sprint finish.


I couldn’t work it out. I just decided that as soon as I came into the last field and had half a kilometre to go, I just had to run as hard as I could and if anyone caught me up then they totally deserved to kick my arse.


As my legs pinwheeled and dragged me towards the finish line, I realised my number was now back to front. As a result my finishers pics are me messing about with my kit.


Under the finishers arch to hear the announcement that I was 3rd lady.


So that happened. Looks like the Power Plaits worked!


Finish Time 05:26:57
OVERALL 71/275

Fancy a go? You can find the UK Triathlon Whitchurch Middle Distance entry here.

NOTE: I was offered a space as being part of the ASICS FrontRunners but UK Triathlon did not know I was writing a blog about the even nor did they ask me to or ask me to recommend the event so this blog is exactly how I found the event. 

Monday, 14 October 2019

2 Castles 10k Run: Bring Me My BROWN Shorts

This 10k race fills up insanely quickly. It’s basically the London Marathon of rural Warwickshire. Loads of people want in and get really stroppy when they don’t and announce that they didn’t want to do it anyway and bang on about there being other 10ks ... 

And it IS a lovely race. It starts at Warwick Castle in Warwick and finishes at Kenilworth Castle … in Kenilworth. So no getting lost in this race. Basically you go to the named town, find the massive castle and run to the next massive castle.

It’s 99% lanes and it’s closed roads which is lovely but it’s in June and there is NO SHADE. It’s also a bit bumpy. It’s certainly not a PB course so if you get a personal best time here you’ve clearly been wearing your concrete trainers at the other events.

FLATLAY! (Although decided to wear my ASICS RoadHawk FF in the end instead of my ASICS Gel-DS)

For a very local race starting at 0900, I had to leave the house at 0645. Which just seems wrong. There is no way I can get to the proper coffee saturation point unless I get up at 0300. And I’m not doing that for a 10k. Unless it’s a REALLY interesting one and there’s lava and a REALLY good goody bag at the end. I just have to accept that I’m going to be grumpy and half-awake until about 3k into the run.

Someone who is also a nightmare unless caffeinated is my training buddy and lift to the start, Rich, who is a miserable bastard without coffee. How his wife has not beaten him to death in the morning I do not know. Unless she refuses to speak to him unless he's had at least two cups of coffee. Luckily he’d had coffee this morning.

It was a 20 minute walk to where the race starts. The organisers are a bit mean and don’t allow into the castle the quick way but make you walk about around the perimeter of the grounds before you can get in. Luckily I know the area so we parked up at St Nicks and then walked up to the castle. At which point, we promptly got lost. I don’t know how I got lost when I could see the castle the whole time but it got to a point when I was debating with Rich whether it was feasible to climb over walls to get to the race start and whether it counted as a warmup or not. Clearly I should have been doing an obstacle run rather than a road 10k and Rich should have been in some sort of debating club as I lost the argument and the chance to climb a wall and was made sulkily to walk back the right way and circle around the castle to get to the start. At least we were having a really good warm up with all this walking.

Also if I shout “I know the way!” I probably don’t and should be ignored.

As we walked in we were confronted by arrows to 2 different starts: WCAA league and runners. No idea what WCAA was (apart from the noise an attacking parrot makes) so went in the ‘Runners’ arrow direction. 

On the way, we spotted a fellow Rugby Tri club member, James who appeared to have coordinated kit beforehand with Rich. They were wearing a matching set but I wasn’t sure which one was Tweedledee and which was Tweedledum though and didn’t like to ask.

Last time I’d run this event, loos had been a nightmare. I’d queued for 45 minutes and missed everyone getting into the start pens and was so far back from the start line I could practically see the start of next years event. THIS year, loo queues weren’t too bad at all which was lucky as I had a horrific stomach upset and DID NOT want to be THAT runner. I have enough weird nicknames without ALSO being known as Shitty McShit Pants

After my visit to the plastic cubes of poo, we had a wander around the sections of the castle which were open. An official let us down to WCAA area (completely ‘attacking-parrot-free’) and as I spotted the local running club shirts and my own club vests – Northbrook, I realised that I was indeed a WCAA runner whatever that was. Oh well. I had had a 50% chance of getting it right. 

Had a natter with the Northbrookers and had a group photo taken with the most dramatic background ever. It looked as though we were waiting for the Quidditch to start.

Pic taken on my phone byAngela Hands

We were called to line up at the start and as usual I had been distracted by chatting and lined up miles back from the start line. Oh well … it didn’t matter and it wasn’t as if I was going for a time this year. Quite frankly, the way my stomach had been I would be lucky to avoid getting a new nickname. I lined up with the other runners and wished I’d worn my brown shorts.

My Garmin lost the GPS signal as the start pens are in a winding tiny lane with high walls fringed with rhododendrons and covered over with tree branches. There was no view of the sky and it was like trying to get a signal in a well. 

I had decided that I wasn’t going to check the watch for pace, I was simply going to run at ‘slightly uncomfortable pace’ whatever that was. I decided to enjoy the route and see how many Northbrook shirts I could find. The starburst tops are easy to spot and there were lots of us. Ok. Northbrook shirts. This could be today’s game to get me through the miles. I’d started a long way back from the start which helped as there should be lots of people to find in front of me. 

The sun was out and it was pretty warm. It was shaping up to be a lovely June day and with no shade, I was relieved that the race had started at 0900 rather than any later when it would be decidedly toasty.

The first 3km absolutely flew past. I was running at a nice pace and could keep this up for a while ... which probably meant I was running too slowly. But I was having a nice time and passing more runners than were passing me. Granted … some of them were in fancy dress and appeared to be walking but I was definitely counting them. Ah … an old man in a deckchair in his garden cheering the runners on. Yep. I was counting him too.

I didn’t realise I’d got so used to long distances as I’d barely warmed up by the time I got to 7km and then there were only 3km to go … I was still enjoying it at the point but I’d started remembering why I ran longer distances. There were snacks, chats and walking up hills … ah hills. I’d forgotten The Hill. This hill which is clearly a minor blip on any day other than race day but on today it was quite mountainous, especially when going at a pace usually reserved for catching disappearing ice cream trucks and oh-shit-the-cat’s-got-out. 

But I made it. And I was still smiling. And by the time I got to the top, I’d reached the houses. And where the houses ended, the castle began. So I was practically finished,

Wasn’t I?

Bloody hell. I forgot they made us run through the car park, over the drawbridge and through the castle grounds.

I can SEE the castle, can’t I stop now? 

No apparently not. And we’re going to make you run uphill for the last bit too,

OH GOODY. <uses ALL THE SARCASM in the world>

And over the finish line and done.

And I didn’t even need to wear my brown shorts.

TLDR; didn’t throw up, didn’t cry on the hills, didn’t shit self and didn’t need a swim and bike first! Hooray!

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Dulux London Revolution 300km Cycle: Smuggling Bodies, Losing Your Mates & Drinking In Your PJs

I knew it wasn’t going to be a normal day when I woke up at 5am, went to get a coffee and there was a leporid staring at me. 

No I’m not on drugs. Or carrots. I was staying at Becca’s house and had been introduced to the delightful ball of fluff that was Poppy The House Rabbit. And Poppy was currently staring at me, wondering where I’d hidden the rabbit treats.

I suspected this wasn’t going to be the only surreal thing happening this weekend. I was staying at Becca’s house as together we were going to be cycling 300km. Yep. That’s THREE HUNDRED kilometres. Becca had been offered a place by Dulux London Revolution Audax and like a good cycling buddy, had brought me along for the adventure. I am ALWAYS up for an adventure. Particularly when I hadn’t thought it through properly and had no real concept of how far 300km really was. 

It’s a loop around London, right? How bad can it be? All I knew was that I would be earning quite a few cakes for a 300km ride and I was totally up for that ...

4 hours later I was cycling through central London, dodging red buses, black cabs, wondering if every church chime I heard was from the Bo Bells and whether stopping at one of the many pubs I passed would be considered bad form.

But let’s backtrack …

My organisation game isn’t always the strongest and this isn’t always helped by my attention to detail. Or lack of it. My attention span is similar to a small child off its tits on blue smarties and Sunny Delight who has been told that Superman was giving prizes for the best jumping. Or a ball pit of toddlers who have just heard Baby Shark come on the sound system. As a result I’d managed to stick the wrong postcode into the sat nav and we were circling a fairly dodgy area in North London. if it wasn’t for the fact I was driving a clapped out Skoda, I’d have been expected to be challenged by the local drug dealers for touting on their area. As it was they probably took one look at the car and decided if this was the best I could do I clearly wasn't any good at dealing drugs and left me alone.

Finally after finally putting the correct postcode into the sat nav I found the start which was clearly signposted and had plenty of marshals in hi-viz … let’s hope my navigation is better on the actual ride. It wasn’t looking good. I was planning on following Becca.

There was plenty of car parking in a field, so we got the bikes out of the car, checked the tyres and juggling our bags made our way to the start. Now I made that sound fairly simple, writing it like that, didn’t I? It wasn’t simple in real life. We were allowed one cabin sized bag which sounds plenty. But for me, that’s my packing for a couple of hours out of the house. For 2 days of cycling plus a sleeping bag I would have liked a case the size of a small car. Well … ideally a medium sized car. 

Ok a van. I’d like a van.

I’d brought my triathlon bag and had shoved snacks into every crevice. Of the BAG. Hung a pair of trainers off the front and managed to shove my dryrobe inside it with virtually of all the cycling kit I owned. But there was nowhere for me to attach the sleeping bag. I tried trying it on with the shoe laces. No joy. But I heard that as rain was forecast, the organisers were suggesting we put our bags inside bin bags to keep them dry. Perfect. I didn’t have a bin bag in the boot of my car but I DID have a suit bag. Winner. I shoved everything into the suit bag and tried to look as though it was just me and my bike and a normal cabin sized bag, not a suit bag which appeared to be approximately the shape and weight of a dead body. I looked as though I was trying to smuggle a person across an imaginary cycling border. Or had killed someone (possibly someone who had suggested I take a smaller bag) and was attempting to dispose of their body. 

I finally got bike and bag and Becca and bike to the baggage lorry. Becca handed over her reasonably  sized bag with no issues while I propped my bike up against the baggage lorry and tried to hand over my ‘body-in-a-suit-bag’ baggage. Two things happened simultaneously. The chap in the baggage lorry shifted his weight causing my bike to fall over and the bottom fell out of the suit bag throwing sleeping bag, snacks, pants and dry robe all over the floor. 

Great. Bloody great. But at least they knew it wasn’t a body. Just a Tour De France Cycling Team’s worth of cycling stuff. There was nothing I could do. I tied everything onto the triathlon bag with the shoe laces. Tied the sleeping bag on with the cord. Tied the dryrobe on with the straps and handed the franken-luggage to the baggage man with a pleading expression and a silent request not to start on my snacks.

I then realised I’d left my phone in the car. 

Eventually we were ready. Becca was clearly beginning to wonder why she had invited me along and I was thinking about lunch. However as we came up to the colourful start of the London Revolution, we couldn’t stop smiling. There were colourful quill flags, the cyclists were chirpy and excited and the event was clearly well organised. The toilets had an attendant so they could get people in and out quicker without too much waiting, the water for bottles was clearly labeled and near the start and the start area was multicoloured and the marshals were enthusiastic. Becca and I looked at each other – eeek! We were ready to start our adventure!

300k … it was going to be a HECK of an adventure!

Becca and I got ourselves into our start pen and listened while the announcer gave us some basic safety rules. It was good to hear that there would be plenty of safety cars with us for the whole day keeping an eye on us and that the route was fully marked. I had the route on an app on my phone but Becca and I would be mainly relying on the route marking.

So that went well as we chatted away the first 2 miles and full of enthusiasm for the adventure ahead, we suddenly realised that we hadn’t seen a route marking for a while … and all the cyclists we had been following had also vanished. We stopped. And the cyclist behind us who had been following US also stopped. We introduced ourselves and Sarah and Becca turned into Sarah, Becca and Vicky. However, none of us could work out where we’d gone wrong. But we could see where we needed to be. So we went there. 

Within an hour, I’d had a quick education into ‘How To Cycle In London Without Dying Immediately or Being Killed by a Fellow London Cyclist’. Normal pack cycling rules were out the window. None of this ride elbow to elbow in twos and look straight ahead only. Nope. This was all about getting in the cycling and bus lanes for safety, getting to the front of the queues by undertaking the vehicles on the right (or else you’d annoy the cyclists behind) and being in single file or a big jumbly pack depending on the space available. It was definitely an education. And those big red buses? They give NO SHITS about cyclists. It was strange cycling so close to other vehicles on the road and due to all of the traffic lights it was surprisingly slow. But EXCITING.

Becca gave me a tour guides’ type verbal tour as we went along, pointing out the places of interest. The safety cars stayed close by, shouting cheery words out of the windows and checking everyone was fine and having no mechanical problems. It was like being part of a cycling team having them alongside. If it wasn’t for my shoddy cycling technique and having to stop at every junction for the red lights I could almost pretend I was part of a pro cycling team. 

Although I was clearly enjoying the guided tour too much as one of them told me the ringing bell I could hear were the Bow Bells. I was of course massively impressed to hear such a famous chime. II didn’t realise until 2 days later that he was having me on and we were NOWHERE NEAR the East End. Oh well. 

Cycling in central London was exciting, chaotic and as we went along the embankment seeing the London Eye and coming up to the Houses of Parliament, I realised how very lucky I was to cycle along such an iconic route. It really was something special.
But oh my goodness, it was SLOW. It took an hour to do 8 miles. But what views.

We were soon out of central London and heading towards Brixton. We went past Brockwell Park (where I’ve had a chilly dip in February as part of The Swimmer open water swim runs (Blog). I wasn’t getting off the wheels for a dip today though … places to go, snacks to eat, epic bike ride to do ...

Despite being more start / stop than BREXIT, the route had been fairly flat through Central London however the next 10 miles went from 93 feet to 793 feet of elevation. As we cycled towards Crystal Palace, the route gave us a few juicy climbs including Dulwich Hill which DID NOT END. I saw a London Revolution cyclist pushing his bike up this hill and really hoped that he had some long game strategy which involved walking this hill and smashing everything else or this was going to be a long day out for him as we weren’t even 20 miles into the ride yet. Dulwich College had some lovely buildings which I had plenty of time to look at it as I cycled up the hill. I’m not saying I was slow, but I had a LOT of time to look at it. Note: I was slow.

It was typical May weather which basically meant it was very changeable and had an English sense of humour. Every time it started raining, I stopped, put my rain jacket on and within 5 minutes it had stopped. If I didn’t put the jacket on, it just rained harder. And didn’t stop until I’d put the jacket on after which it stopped at the 5 minute point. Thanks then.

But I did get REALLY good at speed jacketing and de-jacketing. I’m sure that’s a skill that will come in handy one day when I’m a master magician and need to change my clothes in a hurry for a trick while cycling around London. **sigh**

It was a good mixture of people tackling the ride. Everyone from triathletes to serious cyclists to people out for their first century and cyclists on electric bikes. Every single person I spoke to was chatty and friendly and we all had a nice word to say to each other as we leapfrogged on hills or during snack stops. 

On every adventure, I’ve realised that while doing something out of the ordinary is motivating and pushing yourself to achieve is good for the soul, it’s the people who make the journey what it is. From the chap on the electric bike who told me as I went past him on the uphill that it was because ‘the friction of the motor’ was slowing him down to finding out that our cycling companion Vicky had grown up living one village away from Becca as a child. The husband and wife cycling together for a weekend away that was out of the norm to the competitive cyclists looking for their strava segments. The mix was  great and everyone had something interesting to say. 

I really enjoyed the route which had gone from cycle lanes, to roads to lanes. The scenery was stunning and each area had it’s own individual look and character. We cycled through Croydon, Warlington, Oxted and towards Titsey during which I realised I have the emotional maturity of a 10 year old boy because I will never NOT like that name. 

We got to the first aid station at Warlingham and I realised that I hadn’t been drinking enough and I had barely touched the bottle. That was definitely something to keep an eye on as I wasn’t just fuelling for today, but for tomorrow too. The first aid station was just refreshments so drink refills, loos and snacks. We’d been hoping for something more substantial as we had a lot of miles ahead of us still and we arrived later than we’d wanted having been much slower through Central London than we’d expected. However, I am NOT one to travel light and had food enough to feed probably 15 cyclists (and their support crews) and should we require something more substantial before the next aid station, I pointed out that there were plenty of village pubs to choose from. And wouldn’t that be TERRIBLE, having to stop at a pub. **cough**

As we were leaving the aid station, I noticed a girl upset so went to check on her. It turned out she’d been knocked off her bike and had fractured her elbow. She’d cycled 15 miles to the aid station with one hand to be picked up. We really felt for her and hope she’s had a speedy recovery. 

Becca, Vicky and I were thoroughly enjoying the lanes and the tree-shadowed small roads. The sun was out and every turn of the route brought another pretty view or small village nestled around a village green. The lanes were starting to have a few more climbs now as we cycled towards Redhill and Dorking and the famous Surrey hills. Famous for pain. The Surrey Hills are famous for pain. 

You wouldn’t know that we were riding a loop of London. The pretty lanes and tiny villages felt a million miles from the red buses and black cabs of Central London we had seen only a few hours earlier. If it wasn't for the route that had been mapped out so beautifully for us, I wouldn't have known that London was still within 20 miles.  Becca managed to sum it up by saying “I have 2 geography degrees and I still don’t know where I am”. That was pretty much how chilled out it was. It was lovely to enjoy the ride with no stress or pressure and just enjoy being able to cycle. It was bliss. 

We skirted Leith Hill wood and while we didn’t do the familiar Leith Hill climb, we were treated to a similar one with an alpine style climb on the other side. The loops were fun and the gradient certainly got the heart-rate into the red and it’s always a smug feeling to overtake other cyclists walking the same hill. I did however get brought back down to earth after flying down a lovely swooping downhill to have a good go at the uphill on the other side to lose half the snacks out of my snack bag … my momentum went as I came to a screeching halt and one of my fellow cyclists scooped them up and handed them to me. I’d never leave a snack behind … 

The second aid station was on us before we knew it and it was an absolute banquet. Stacks of snacks,  selections of sandwiches and dozens of deckchairs set out on the village green to rest in while scoffing our food. We secured our bikes on the specially set up poles and spent the next 45 minutes eating as much food as we could. Food always tastes SO much better when you’ve earned it with plenty of miles. We finally rolled ourselves back onto our bikes with full stomachs and got back onto the road heading towards Windsor, the day 1 finish line and a hot shower.

The next section was lovely. Sun-dappled lanes and a steady climb which meant when we got to the top of the hill the view just opened up around us. It was so so beautiful that I had to stop for a photograph before enjoying the long twisty downhill. Then Becca wanted a photo. Then a cyclist passing saw us taking pictures and asked for a photo and then another cyclist asked and another … and basically it just turned into Instagram in real life. A mass of cyclists taking photos of each other. Eventually we extricated ourselves and hopped back onto the bikes and away from the instagrammers … finish lines to find and showers to have. 

I enjoy cycling hills while Becca does not. Becca loves the flat twisty lanes but I love the thrill of a long steep climb. So when the route got bumpy I headed off for a bit of a play on the hills and then enjoyed the views before regrouping with Becca. We did this for a lot of the hilly sections as then we could both cycle at our own pace but stay together for the nice bits. I cycled a long hilly section and pulled in under some trees in a layby to wait for my cycling bud. After a while, I realised that Becca should probably have been along by now. Maybe she’d stopped for a snack? Or a toilet trip? I waited. And waited. And tried to call.

And started worrying.

A group of cyclists went past and I asked if they’d seen Becca. They hadn’t. But one said that he’d seen a cyclist along a section after a turn off but he wasn’t sure whether it was one of the London Revolution riders or not. I left a couple of messages for Becca and after a bit she called me back. PHEW! She hadn’t initially noticed she’d been lost but she’d realised that she hadn’t seen a sign for a while. The route was so well marked that that was what alerted her to the fact that she was lost. We turned on live locations and she decided to try and come to me while I stayed in the same place to mark where the route was. I didn’t move in case we both ended up lost and off route.  

Becca is super-smart but her geography degrees didn’t include random electives such as ‘Working-out-how-to-get-to-the-food-at-the-end-of-a-sportive’ and ‘How-to-find-Sarah-again-when-on-an-epic-adventure’. While Becca and I were waiting to meet up, the safety car and one of the marshal cyclists turned up to check that we were both ok. I confirmed we were fine but Becca had wanted some bonus miles. It was really reassuring that we were all so well looked after in this event. There were loads of signs, plenty of people supporting at the Cheer Stations and we regularly saw the Safety Cars. It was lovely. 

Becca turned up, bonus miles completed and correct route found and we set off for Windsor with one of the marshals riding with us towards the finish. Probably to check we didn’t unintentionally add MORE additional miles in but it was nice to have a chatter and to have a bit of an escort to towards the finish.

As we drew closer to Windsor, we were riding towards a stunning red sunset and as we turned into Royal Windsor Racecourse, there were quill flags lining the route in beautiful colours. It was one of the loveliest finishes ever. We were tired but so pleased to have cycled this amazing route over this long day and as the road wound towards the finish line, there were flames lighting the finish funnel. It felt very special.

We were tired, hungry and definitely a bit fragrant so we put our bikes into the security paddock provided by the race organiser and went along to pick up our luggage and find a shower. Everything in the race village was really close together and the pick up point was very close to the camping area which was close to the showers and loos and also the food tent. Everything was within about 200m which was brilliant particularly with tired legs. 

There were rows and rows of identical, perfectly pitched tents. These were to be our bed and shelter tonight and all we had to do was crawl in! We picked up a mattress, sleeping mat and a blanket each (plus everyone got an extra if they wanted it!) and were assigned a tent each. I was tent 166 and Becca 167. We dropped everything into our tents and had showers in a portable shower cabins. Plenty of hot water and a clean shower – perfect. However, Becca and I realised we’d forgotten our shower gels but luckily about 20 people had left shower gels in the cubicles so we had a range of gels and smells to choose from. 

I got dressed in my pyjamas with my DryRobe over the top and Becca got into her onesie and we wandered over to the food tent in the evening dusk. Food was included and dinner was epic with cooked food and pudding and plenty of both. We had a little visit afterwards to the beer bus where we both had a drink. It was the first time I’d been out in public in pyjamas (even if I DID have a DryRobe over the top) and certainly the first time I’d been served an alcoholic beverage while wearing PJs and we probably looked a little unusual but no shits were given. Deckchairs were set out around fire pits or you could sit inside a marquee with tall heaters. There was yoga and live music but Becca and I were content to chill out and drink cider with the warmth of a fire pit keeping us toasty.

We were too tired to drink more than a couple but it was so lovely to be warm and cosy in our PJs with a cold beer, tired legs and the thought of another amazing day of riding ahead the next day too. After our 2 beers, we went back to the tents and I crawled into the private cosy warmth of my tent and sleeping bag. As I drifted off to sleep, I could hear someone snoring a few tents along, but wrapped in my sleeping bag and DryRobe and with my headphones in, I fell asleep toasty and warm.  

Day 2: Windsor to Edmonton

Alarms had been set but not too early. We’d had an epic day yesterday and we wanted to enjoy today too. I have something I like to term my Triangle of Grump. If one of these 3 is not satisfied I’m grumpy: sleep, food, warmth. 

Coffee is also VERY important. 

We had an epic breakfast with plenty of choices and after dropping our luggage and mattresses off and picking our bikes up from the secure compound, we were ready to hit the road again. I was awake, fed and warm. It was looking like a good day. 

It was a gorgeous morning and the weather forecast was divine. Unlike yesterday which had lots of showers, today was set to be a scorcher! The waterproof was packed away and I decided that today was to be a Work-On-The-Cycling-Tan kind of a day. The cycling jersey stayed on for 30 minutes before it was off and packed away for the day. 

Heading out of Windsor, we initially thought we were hallucinating before realising we were near Legoland.  Crossing a roundabout and seeing statues made out of Lego in the middle in the road was quite bizarre! It was certainly unexpected and for a reasonably early start I wasn’t sure whether I was having a ‘Not-Enough-Coffee’ hallucination. But nope. There were definitely lego animals staring back at me. 

The lanes were busy with Sunday cyclists out in multicoloured kit. The car drivers hadn’t yet surfaced and the roads were the domain of the cyclist. The lanes were smooth and pretty in the sunshine and it must have been lovely to enjoy as your local ride. We passed plenty of village pubs making an early start preparing for the Sunday dinner rush and the scents of good food filled our nostrils as we cycled past in the sunshine. 

I loved having the quiet roads without worrying about car drivers making close passes or overtaking in dangerous places. Sunday morning really is the perfect time to cycle. And in the sunshine and in pretty lanes? Divine. 

There was a lovely descent at one point and the road turned back on itself in a hairpin bend. I had an early warning as the safety crew were standing in the road shouting “SLOW DOWN!!” as the cyclists came to the bend. I slowed down like a good little cyclist and gave them a thumbs up. As I passed I laughed and said “You’re spoiling the fun!” but I was glad for the warning as it was a properly tight hairpin bend and if they hadn’t been there, I probably would have shot over the end of the road and ended up in a tree below.

And that would have been fun explaining to the coach how I broke my leg falling out of a tree on a cycling weekend. 

Time went really quickly. Good weather makes everything 10x lovelier and good company helps even more and I wasn’t letting Becca too far out of my sight after her detour yesterday. She might have wanted bonus miles but she wasn’t allowed any today! 

We cycled through some idyllic-looking villages and as we came into Marlow we crossed over a beautiful white bridge which spanned the river. After we crossed, I spotted some signs showing the road closures ready for the Marlow 5 running race. We’d managed to make it over the bridge just in time before it was closed for the runners!

I’d checked the route map beforehand and noticed that today there were only 2 really juicy climbs and overall 2000ft less elevation than yesterday. It was quite reassuring as despite my legs feeling quite fresh and happy right now, I wasn’t sure how fresh and happy they’d feel after another 70 miles. And I didn’t want to have to cry while cycling up hills. I didn’t want rust on my bike, thank you very much,

The day really was gorgeous. It was one of those fresh bright early summer days when everything looks bright and pretty. Winding lanes, quaint English villages and a scenic route. It really was perfect.

One of the lovely things about this event was that there were plenty of organised cheer spots for spectators … most of which were conveniently at pubs. And the later you were through, the more pints had been consumed and the more enthusiastic the cheering was. It was the perfect combination for both cyclists and spectators! At one of the pubs a man was cheering on all the riders with a pint in his hand – and he had a London Revolution transfer on his forehead! - he was one of the cyclists. He’d clearly noticed how much fun the supporters were having and decided he wanted a piece of that before continuing with the bike ride! 

On one of the longer hills, Becca decided she wanted to take it steady and I wanted to see if I could get my tired legs working so I went up it hard. I got to the top and decided I might have time for a quick wee in a hedgerow before continuing but had to wait my turn as it was clearly a popular spot. While I was waiting with other cyclists, a van watching us (bike envy?) rather than the road, missed the corner and drove up the verge. He managed to avoid the ditch and the sign somehow and saved the van before landing it in the hedge but it really was a bit of a wakeup as to how much damage a van could have done with just a moment’s lapse of concentration. That moment’s lapse could have killed or severely injured a cyclist if they’d been at that spot when he’d done that.  Bike handling skills are really really useful for cyclists as are an awareness of surroundings but sometimes you really are at the mercy of the drivers around you. However, that was the only near-miss I saw. 

There was quite a mix of villages, towns and lanes. We ascended a steep road which I was assume was a millionaires row of some sort. Each house was very large and very individual. Some were quaint old English-style with a crooked tile roof – but clearly built recently. Others were modernistic and futuristic with strange angles and some designed to look like old village cottages. Each house was enormous but was only about 5ft from it’s neighbour. It was a very strange eclectic mixture. It felt as though each person wanted a unique house with 10 bedrooms but was scared of being too far from their neighbour in case of something horrifying like a stock market crash or some better money-laundering laws. 

We were on the final leg of our adventure now and when we reached the last aid station, we felt quite sad. It signalled that our lovely adventure was almost over. We’d cycled around 160 miles at this point and it was a sunny day, we’d had a brilliant time and after this aid station, a few more miles and it was over. 

We racked the bikes up and went to get some food and the crew let us know that they were running short on sandwiches so they’d dashed out for some extra ones. As we waited, they came back with bag after bag of sandwiches. It was typical of what we’d seen over the weekend – it really felt like the crew and events company cared about the participants. The whole weekend was full of great little touches – extra blankets, really great volunteers, the safety crews checked on us every time they went past and chatted. You really felt valued and looked after. 

We sat in the glorious sunshine as we ate our sandwiches but soon it was time to hop back onto the bikes. We were off the lanes soon and coming onto larger roads as we came closer to London and our finish. We noticed that the closer to London we got, the worse the driving became. People became more impatient with the cyclists and we weren’t given the space or courtesy that we’d had in the lanes and villages. But it was fun to be back in the mix with the traffic and the hustle and bustle of the city. 

Despite being nearly 300km into our longest bike ride, Becca and I were still smiling. We couldn’t quite believe that we’d achieved such an epic distance and had such lovely adventures. As we came towards the finish on familiar roads, we spotted the colourful quill flags in the distance and the finish line came into view. 

We looked at each other and laughed in delight at what we’d managed to do. What an epic journey!  

We crossed the finish line together smiling our biggest smiles.

300km? Smashed it, mate.

Fancy a go at this ride? You can enter it here: DULUX London Revolution. It’s 155 miles in 2020 rather than 200 and you can choose the one day or two day option. There’s a festival at the halfway point and you can choose to camp. 

Edmonton  - Windsor **cough QOM cough**

Windsor – Edmonton: