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

Wednesday 1 March 2023

London Revolution: Sacrificing Your Phone to the Portaloo & Fizz in the Sunshine

I had a weekend adventure planned. 160 miles cycling, camping in a field and a beer bus.

Sounded pretty damn good.

The event was the Sidley London Revolution, something I’d done a few years ago with Becca where we spent the weekend getting lost, wearing our pyjamas to the beer bus and having a grand old time (report here). I’d liked it so much I’d entered again in 2020 … and we all know how well 2020 went for events. So this was my deferral from 2020. 

I'd also been lucky enough to wangle a free entry in return for a blog post!

My alarm was set for a time normally reserved for catching a flight somewhere hot but driving at 0400hrs meant that the traffic was light but that a minimum of three cups of coffee were required before even stepping into my car.

The trusty and ancient Skoda was parked in a field in the dark somewhere in Waltham Abbey and with the help of the phone light, I managed to lug my bags and bike out of the boot. Wishing I'd spent more time on strength work, I managed to drag both bike and bags across the wet grass to where the start field was lit with floodlights. I’d succeeded in packing lighter than last year but didn’t manage to pack lighter than anyone else. I had probably overdone it with the snacks again but at least I’d be well fed when I got to basecamp this evening.
The luggage lorry was easy to locate so after fixing lights onto the bike and filing bottles, I dropped the sleeping bag, clothes for day 2 and snacks off, to be seen in 90 miles time.

This was all done at speed, to attend to the more urgent matter, the bathroom. When I say bathroom, I mean a blue portaloo in a field. I seem to spend far more of my life in a plastic toilet than the average person and while I should be well-practised in using such things, this practise doesn’t make the practical application go any smoother.
Firstly, I hadn’t thought about the practicalities of bib shorts with straps that go over my shoulders. Trying to take off enough layers to have a wee while trying not to drop anything down the toilet and lighting my way with a phone light was NOT easy. I had a jacket, then a top, then the bib shorts. And of course, there is NEVER a handy hook inside these plastic toilets to hang clothes on. Nor any surfaces I wish any body parts or items of clothing to touch.
I was very conscious that my phone was not only my torch, but my navigation aid, my lifeline for assistance AND had my bank cards in a pouch in the back. I therefore very carefully placed it on top of the plastic protuberance over the toilet roll holder.
I hung my jacket on a hinge on the door and turned around to make my ablutions. And as I did, I heard a distinctive noise. The ‘thunk, thunk’ of something falling into the toilet.


There was only one thing in here capable of making that noise falling into the toilet. I turned around and spotted my phone wedged over the black hole of the shit pit caught between the poo shelf and the side of the loo.

I made a snake-speed grab for it, and caught it, just before it tilted and was lost forever, buried in the poop of strangers. I could have cried with relief, if only I wasn’t so horrified at the fact that my phone had been in a toilet and my hand had brushed the inside of the bowl.

Touching the bowl of a portaloo was NOT in my race morning plans.

I washed what I could and anti-bacterial sprayed what I couldn’t and tried not to think about the entire Outbreak films worth of germs I now had upon my phone, my hand and my clothes. Typhoid Mary here decided to face forward, focus on the bike ride and the miles and miles between this morning and this evening.
And the hours between touching a portaloo bowl and having to eat this evening.
Amnesia through cycling as it were.

Kitted up and antibacterial sprayed, I grabbed my bike, lit the lights and set off towards the start line. I was in a group with about 30 other cyclists, all with various bikes and kits and different levels of trepidation, snack-packing and cycling experience. Most seemed to be in social groups, but there were a fair amount of people who appeared to be striking out on their own.

The first part of the ride was through the Lea Valley Country Park on narrow tarmac trails. Everything was blue in the first light as the sun hadn’t yet risen and the river gleamed dimly in the gaps between the trees. The atmosphere was of nervousness and excitement at the thought of an entire days cycling ahead. Nothing to do but rotate your legs and watch the miles slip under your tyres.

A benefit of doing these kinds of events on your own is that you can go at your own pace and chat to who you want and stop and start when you like. Looks like rain? Stop and pop your waterproof on. Fancy a snack? Pull over and eat it! My own speed, my own agenda and my own adventure.

I chatted to a few people on the way and it was really inspiring to hear the different stories and different goals. Some people were doing their first multi-day bike ride, others were doing the ultra-version - 157 miles in one day! Another person was doing the ride to qualify for a 1200km cycling event in Europe. Lots of interesting people and every story was unique. The best part was that you really couldn’t tell from looking who was new to this and who was experienced. We were all in it together. Miles and miles ahead of us and we all had to make our way to the end under our own power.
The roads of London were an incredible experience. Even knowing that the cycle lanes were DIFFERENT to what I was used to, I was still wary of going along the insides of the taxis and big red buses and filtering between the traffic. I think the London vehicles were just more used to cyclists as if I tried this in Birmingham, I’d have been flattened in short order by someone changing lanes without looking or swerving into the cycle lane. I don’t think London drivers were better, just more aware of the volume of traffic. It was exciting but not something I’d enjoy doing every day as a commuter. It was high stress cycling and being used to cycling with a group, shoulder to shoulder on road bikes, it was strange having a melee of cyclists on all sorts of bikes from fold up to hybrid to Dutch style bikes in a big chaotic group around me.
I was constantly having to second guess what each cyclist would do and how it would impact me plus anticipate the heavy traffic movements too.

It’s always exciting having a tour of the central London amid the red buses and black cabs and even more so on two-wheels. It’s almost surreal being a part of the rush and noise while also seeing the sights. I was very conscious though that I was only at the very start of a long bike ride, almost a century so I couldn’t spend too long admiring the views! Although I did take a couple of pics going over Tower Bridge! It is VERY slow cycling through central London, even with the cycle lanes and I didn’t want to have to end the ride in darkness! I was planning on a glass of cider in the sunshine!

Soon enough, I left Whitechapel and Tower Bridge behind and the route moved out into the leafy suburbs. I noticed an increase in runners on the paths and after 9am I was passing crowds of people in lycra coming back from their Saturday morning parkrun, their faces showing their thoughts on their morning effort.
On a long slow uphill, I passed a redbrick college called Ivyholme which looked very beautiful in the morning sunshine. It all seemed very calm and peaceful in the Saturday morning sunshine without the weekday traffic and attending children.
It was very much a rolling route and there were a few testing hills. I could certainly feel the early start and lack of cycling miles on the ascents. I’d been thoroughly enjoying lots of sitting since Ironman Copenhagen … not a lot of which was on a bike saddle. And I could tell. My legs were having a particularly unpleasant wake up.
Never mind. There were lots of good things to see, lots of tasty snacks and lots of scenic cycling miles to do. Shut up, legs.
I could certainly feel the Autumn bite in the air and I saw lots of conkers on the ground. It’s like a hang over from childhood. I desperately wanted to stop and scoop them up. There’s something nostalgic and soothing about the chestnut whorls on conkers. And they feel nice in my pocket. I didn’t stop though.
Not long after I hit the aid station in Upper Shirley. It was halfway up a hill and in the grounds of a school. The aid station felt like it arrived suddenly but it’s always nice to have a surprise cup of coffee! I was chatting to the lady running the coffee stand and she said that there were lots of baby deer around and to keep an eye out; if I was lucky, I might see one. She was full of praise for the area, not long having moved there. She lived within the M25 and could see the sea on a clear day.

Caterham-On-The-Hill certainly lived up to its name and was perched on top of a testing incline. To get to it, I had to cycle along a very fast road and cross a busy roundabout so not much chance of any momentum to carry me up! The cars were coming onto the roundabout at speed, so I had quite a wait and there was quite a huddle of cyclists waiting by the time there was a gap big enough for us to all go.
All of a sudden I got a chance so sped across, and then it felt like I ground to a halt as the hill stretched upwards. C’mon legs. There were people walking their bikes up but it always feels much more awkward to do that with cleats. Not only are you pushing a bike, but you’re sliding around. Not fun. I decided it was much easier to sit tight and keep pedalling.

Hill conquered, I passed through Tadworth with its old red brick buildings. This village is the base of the charity, The Children’s Trust and I remembered hearing all the stories from work about the site they used to have at Tadworth and how loved it was.

I had my bike bottles held in a rear cage and thanks to some unfortunate experiences involving a bottle with a hole rubbed in it and all the fun stuff falling out, they were held on with rubber bands. This had seen me through the Ironman and several 100-mile rides, but apparently today was the day the bottles made their break for freedom. Another cyclist gave me a heads up that I had an escapee bottle and I managed to grab it before it fell out! It would have been a tough old day out with only one bottle!
All was going well, but it wouldn‘t be a long bike ride without a close pass from some pillock. Today my wally of choice was an ancient man in an old silver fiesta. It was very, very close. He was driving so slowly, I wasn’t sure whether it was old age or something else incapacitating but there was no reason for a close pass on an empty road. Maybe he just hadn’t seen me. It was quite frankly a miracle he could see over the steering wheel. Maybe he had forgotten his booster cushion today. 
Aid station 20 was at mile 59 in Leatherhead in a school playground. I racked my bike and popped my belongings on a wall and grabbed some sandwiches and snacks. There were jelly tots and chocolate Freddos too! Got me right in the childhoods! What a nice treat!

I scoffed my snacks and got a move on; the clouds were gathering and it looked like it might rain. The temperature was dropping, and it was feeling quite chilly. I recognised a few places from cycling parts of the route the last year I had done the London Revolution. I definitely remembered where Becca and I got separated when Becca got distracted and decided to make up her own route!

I hadn’t been able to download the 2022 route as it was in a weird format and it wouldn’t go to my watch. I managed to find the 2021 route on Strava and compared it to the 2022 version … didn’t seem very different apart from the start so downloaded that. What could go wrong? Not a lot. I followed the other cyclists for the first section which was different to my watch, and the route was well marked so it wasn’t a problem. I had a slight detour in a housing estate but popped out on a random road in the middle of a group of cyclists so that worked out ok.
Cycling along happily, lost in my thoughts which were mostly of snacks when suddenly there was a noise like a gunshot and my saddle tipped backwards. I most definitely hadn’t been shot, but there was clearly something wrong with the saddle. I couldn’t work out how to sort it out so just climbed back onto the bike and pedalled along like that. It was surprisingly comfortable. And thinking back … I’m not sure I ever have sorted it. Maybe I’ve just got used to it. *Makes mental note to check bike*

I was finding it quite a slog now. I was on my own and had been for quite a long time. I’d stopped enjoying the cycling and stopped looking at the sights, just pedalling along with my head down. And when I checked, I couldn’t believe how slow I was going. The headwind didn’t help and certainly the ‘Sitting Down For 2 Months After Ironman’ thing was definitely not useful, but it was still feeling worse than it should have. I stopped in a little village, next to a field where an enthusiastic football game was going on and called home. I wasn’t asking for a lift home … it would have been a 3-4 hour drive … I just needed to hear a familiar voice. It’s a long old way to cycle on your own. I twigged after the phone call … I hadn’t eaten or drank enough. It’s amazing how much that can bring you down when you start bonking and often the low points are when I’m not fuelling properly. Everything seems better after a mouthful of pick n mix.
Cycling along, a bit more perky with the resolution to fuel a bit better. The roads I was cycling over were damp as though they’d been rained on but not a single drop fell on me or the bike! Perfect. Hopefully it’ll stay that way.
I came down a steep hill and at the bottom was a T-junction. Perfect place for a quick snack! Pulled the bike onto the pavement and started rooting around for a snack. The next person coming down the hill saw me and obviously had snack envy so stopped to chat. Nice to chat, but I have snacks to concentrate on. As he was stopped there talking to me, someone else came down the hill at speed and by some miracle missed this chap and ran straight into the road at the bottom! Luckily no cars coming. Apparently, his brakes weren’t all that. Yep. Just seen the evidence of that. Might want to get that sorted before you do the same again and there’s a car coming.

As I carried on, the route went into some pretty woodlands, and I ended up behind a tandem for a bit. They absolutely shifted on the flats and downhills but were having to work a bit harder on the uphills and the chap on the front was shouting back lots of encouragement to the man at back. I’m not sure I’ve got the trust level for a tandem. If I was at the front, I’d be suspicious about whether the person on the back was pedalling and if I was on the back, I’d be suspicious about the person on the front farting at me. Don’t think a tandem’s for me.
Clearly I have trust issues.
I cycled for a bit with a lady in a white spotty cycling jersey and we exchanged smiles and were cycling the same pace in companionable silence. Although, we both cheered out loud in unison when we saw ‘Windsor’ appear on the road sign for the first time. And there was another spontaneous cheer when we both saw the ‘Welcome to Windsor’ sign. Finally, the confirmation that we had nearly completed day 1 of the cycle trip! The Legoland roundabout also cheered me up with the Lego deer in the middle! The last few miles had felt very long and the undulations at the end of the ride had drained my legs. I was most certainly looking forward to a nice sit down that wasn’t on a saddle.
The route had been well signposted, and I’d only taken a couple of wrong turns following my watch but in the streets of Windsor, I realised I’d lost all of the other cyclists. I didn’t want bonus miles this close to the end! Certainly not when the beer bus was waiting for me so close!
At least I knew both routes ended up at Windsor Racecourse as that was where the finish was! I came up to the racecourse turning and saw cyclists coming in the opposite direction. Phew! Reunited! I followed the winding road into the racecourse and saw the colourful London Revolution quill flags and the Day 1 finish gantry! Hooray!

I racked my bike in the secure area and was handed a glass of fizz. Lovely. I sat in a deckchair in the warm sunshine and relaxed. Perfect. 

There was a band walking around playing requests. There was a clown entertaining people and blowing amazing bubbles. And I was sitting down WITH fizz and NOT cycling. Life was good.

I did however, smell. Fairly awful. So I decided once I’d had the fizz – and a bonus pint of cider! - that it was time for a shower with a  LOT of soap and some dinner. I went to the tent allocation gazebo to find out where I would be staying tonight. It was all very easy. Even for someone who had cycled for miles and miles and then drunk a couple of alcoholic beverages.

The tents were all in rows and in colour bands to make it even more simple. I was allocated tent 35. Dropped my snack bags and lights off and went to get my baggage which was ready and waiting for me.

Hot shower, clean clothes, lights and watch on charge and I was ready for dinner! 

Dinner 1 ...

Dinner 2 ... and dessert!

There was a great big marquee close to the tents which even I with my proclivity for getting lost couldn’t miss. Simple. I queued up, got a great big plate of whatever I liked and then seconds and then pudding. Divine. And no guilt about extra cream on the chocolate cake after a long old bike ride!

Day 2 - Windsor to Waltham Abbey
I’d planned an early start … but after getting into my sleeping bag all clean and warm last night I’d decided to have a lie in until 0700 hrs particularly as breakfast was served until 0830. This meant no rush to hit the road for the final miles. I slept very well considering I was surrounded by hundreds of little tents and their occupants … I dozed off looking forward to my lie in. 

And was rudely awakened by alarms going in unison off all around me at 0530. Bugger. With just a sheet of cloth separating everyone, there was no soundproofing in tents. Anyone with an alarm woke everyone else up for a 200m radius.
Wide awake now, I heard a lot of huffing and puffing coming through the walls of my tent from the tent next door. Oh God. It sounded like the couple next door were getting a bit frisky and hadn’t considered that the entire campsite could hear. After a horrified moment, I realised it was just one lady trying to get dressed into her cycling kit within the confines of a small tent.

Removing my mind from the gutter, I decided it was about time I got showered and dressed as well.
Breakfast was in the marquee with the option of a plate of full English options or an enormous bowl of porridge … choose what you like. Or have both. And there was plenty of hot water for coffee and tea out of the urns. It was the ideal breakfast. Hot and plenty of everything. Unexpectedly I wasn’t very hungry, but I had my pockets full of snacks for some top-quality snacking later when I had a few miles under my tyres.

I retrieved my bike from the secure area, fixed the lights on and headed under the Day 2 start arch. I was on the road. My watch didn’t want to find the signal and my legs were feeling sore after a day of cycling then a night of sleeping on the ground. However, I HAD to reach the finish. That was where the car was.

The light was still pretty dim, and it felt earlier than it was. Everything was still that morning shade of blue and the river gleamed silver on my left between the trees and lamp posts as I cycled through Windsor. I cycled parallel to the river for some time and passed the spot where we had fed the ducks and swans a few years ago on a family trip. Past the gardens we’d walked through in happier times. Windsor Castle stood at the end of the road, towering on the hill above the town.

Passed the train station and out onto straighter roads. And horrible surprise – there was an event photographer waiting. It was an ungodly hour; I’d slept in a tent AND I’d only had ONE cup of coffee. I was NOT looking my best. In fact I looked pretty much exactly how you’re picturing. But on a bike.
However, I was soon out into the lanes and they were peaceful and almost traffic free in the early Sunday morning. Bliss! The villages were so pretty, that I tried videoing the houses while cycling and managed to bounce my phone off the road. I retrieved it and it was unscathed … the phone was having a bit of an adventurous weekend after this and its trip down a portaloo. Remember this if you buy a secondhand phone!

We passed through Eton Wick and Dorney and touched the very edge of Slough … but I closed my eyes for that part and pretended it didn’t happen. We went past some gorgeous parks, Hitcham Park and Hedsor Park which has a beautiful mansion and passed the unusually named village of Forty Green which apparently has the oldest freehouse pub in England, dating from 1100, The Royal Standard of England.

There was a bit of a detour around Great Missenden (where the author Roald Dahl once lived) due to a road closure and an out and back section. But this was a massive relief. Usually, the only time I see cyclists coming towards me in an event is when I’ve got horribly lost and I’m going the wrong direction (like the Starley Sportive last year!) It was a relief to find they were early starters who had come out of the first aid station! It was about 10 miles before I expected it which was a nice surprise. Even better there was free coffee! People who liked cyclists and dispensed free coffee! If I hadn’t been married, I might have proposed to the lot of them. The coffee from the van on the first day had been about £4 so this was a lovely treat. But best of all there was a choir! They’d been dragged from their beds to entertain a horde of cyclists and it was so lovely! Thank you so much!

I also particularly liked the sign on the way out “THE PAIN YOU FEEL TODAY WILL BE THE STRENGTH YOU FEEL TOMORROW”

Leaving the aid station, we were out onto the lanes properly and some tiny, twisty lanes dappled by the tree tunnels. The branches of the trees curved overhead, and the lanes were narrow and tiny and felt like they’d been written into the world by Tolkien and it wouldn’t be absurd to see a Hobbit coming the other way.
As today’s route was a bit shorter and I’m assuming because we’d all been woken up by the same alarms at the crack of dawn, the cyclists were more bunched up. It made it a more sociable ride. There was a chap doing the ride on a BMX which was impressive. He in turn was impressed by my bike being lit up like a Christmas tree from behind. I take my bike lights seriously! No excuse for cars to say they haven’t seen me!
I found the cycling on the second day much, much easier than first. I wasn’t sure if my cycling legs had returned after having 5 weeks off the bike or whether my legs had just accepted their fate!
Started chatting to the chap next to me and we cycled a few miles together. We picked up another chap and it weas a nice sociable ride for a few miles but coming into Bulstrode, I stuck my hand into my snack bag for some pick and mix and knocked one of my earpods out of it onto the road.  I stopped and turned around to go and pick it up. I told the others I’d catch them up. After some scouting up and down the patch of road, I finally found it. It was a foam banana from my pick n mix snack bag. Not an earpod at all.
I zipped up my snack bag and put some power down to catch the others up. I was making good progress coming into Chipperfield and as I went down a nice speedy hill and took a left turn into a junction, my tyre went sideways, and I skidded around the corner. Stayed upright but it was squeaky bum time.  My tyre was flat. Luckily it was front so a bit easier to sort. I replaced the tube but couldn’t find a puncture or anything sharp but dug a couple of bits of gravel out of the tyre. I’d been cycling on newly gravelled roads, so the stones were fairly sharp. I was using a new canister release so took a couple of minutes to work that out as the old one had been lost on a century ride a couple of months ago. I did remember to keep my gloves on though so saved my fingerprints! Tyre was on and up, but I couldn’t get the tyre up to pressure – it stayed a bit soft. However, it was only about 5 miles to the next and final aid station so thought I’d try and ride it and get it sorted there.

Soldiered on with a soft tyre but the wheel was making a weird noise as it was too soft to run properly. Bother. A cyclist came past me with a hand pump so asked to borrow it, but he did one better and had a half gas cannister so used that. Thank you! I did have one other cannister but as I was cycling alone and didn’t want to get stuck on my own if there was another puncture.  Tyre inflated and bike and I were much happier. And it was MUCH easier to cycle!

A few miles later and I was at the final aid station of the weekend. London Revolution aid stations were lovely and this was no exception. Deck chairs, space, and plenty of snacks. The London Revolution crew had the aid stations planned down to an art. The first stations of each day had fruit, flapjack, chocolate & sweets, crisps, water and sports drinks and the 2nd and final aid stations had all of that plus sandwiches, cereal bars and hot drinks. There is a special place for in my heart for pick n mix but it really does make a difference having some good savoury options and as such I wolfed down sandwiches, treating myself to a pack of Coronation Chicken and a pack of Egg Mayo. Plus, a pack of prawn cocktail crisps. My tastes run to the very best of all the 1980s buffet foods. Could only have been topped if there were also prawn-vol-a-vents there and a badly-made foil hedgehog with cheese and pineapple on sticks.

Only about 25 miles left to cycle, and my lovely weekend adventure would be over. I sadly left the lovely welcoming aid station at Chiswell Green and hopped back onto the bike and on towards Enfield.

As we came closer to the end, the lanes turned to roads which turned to the narrow concrete paths of the Lea Valley Country Park. The paths were busier than 2 days ago when it was cyclists heading out in the dim sunrise for an adventure. Now the park was full of families out for walks, people with dogs on long leads and Sunday workers riding their commuter bikes and we were all sharing the paths.
I pedalled over a bridge on the river Lea and freewheeled under the finish gantry and that was it! My weekend adventure was over.

I was handed a glass of non-alcoholic fizz and I sat down in a deckchair to savour the moment … just as an elderly couple out for an afternoon bike ride in the park accidentally came through the finish funnel. They were surprised by the cheers they got for their gentle roll around the park, but not upset and even managed a small, embarrassed wave to their fans.

I celebrated my 158 miles with an overpriced but MASSIVE cheeseburger from the burger van and reflected on my need to cycle silly distances and decided to start planning my next adventure. 

No comments:

Post a Comment