Rolling with the legacy of last year’s Olympics, this month saw the first ever Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 – as the name suggests, a gruelling hundred mile cycle through the hills of Surrey and the city roads.
Thank you to Kirsty Brown, Peter Godsall and Vaughan Ward, the three intrepid riders who cycled for The National Brain Appeal. Here, Vaughan shares his story of the up-hill struggles and the sweet, sweet downs …
On the 14th of May I received a rather unexpected text message from my good friend Clare asking if I was interested in taking part in a charity bike ride for The National Brain Appeal. I happily accepted – only to then realise it was a hundred miles long.
Although daunted at first by the prospect, I soon became extremely excited to ride an adaptation of the Olympic road race and cover the same tarmac as the great Bradley Wiggins and Lizzie Armitstead.
I have to admit that this was my first exposure to The National Brain Appeal but I quickly found that everyone has something in common with the charity. They campaign for such a wide range of conditions and illnesses that seem to touch everyone I know in one way or another.
My training began well, taking thirty mile cycles down the picturesque Lea Valley into rural Hertfordshire. The rolling hills, even in bad weather, were a breath of fresh air from the stop/start congestion of the streets of London. However, I made a serious error in my training; I continued my normal routine, which consisted of football, predictably injured myself and had only six weeks left to train.
The fast-track training proved to have mixed emotions. Hours upon hours on the bike gave me time to think but the road soon felt like a lonely place without a training partner. The thunderstorms began, which made it harder, but when the clouds cleared I had some great experiences too. There was the triple rainbow, the time I had to stop on a country lane to let a family of ducks casually waddle across the road and, on the several occasions I became lost, passers-by would ask about the charity on the jersey that I was proudly wearing. A lady shared a story with me about how she had recently recovered from a brain aneurysm. It was a lovely moment to share her joy at the side of the road.
My fundraising went better than expected; the support I received from friends, family and beyond was fantastic.
The day arrived: I had trained and raised a great amount of money but had doubts about completing the task that loomed over me. What I wasn’t prepared for was how emotional the six and a half hours of cycling would be.
The anticipation on the start line was incredible. Everyone was anxious to get their legs turning. The race began by making a few cycling companions until the point when our speeds no longer kept us together. We stretched out and I met the beginnings of the beautiful Surrey countryside. It wasn’t until about fifty miles in that it started to get difficult.
I’d met the climb that everyone thought was Leith Hill but that monster – the one that keeps going up and up on every turn – was still yet to come. When it did, my legs started to burn and many were walking. I didn’t care how slowly I went; I was determined not to get off my bike. I reached the summit to discover one of the most beautiful descents of my life. With everyone travelling under their own steam it suddenly felt like a different time.
The fun didn’t last long: the roads did claim some casualties as they aren’t without their dangers and the ascents began once more.
I soon learnt that the infamous Box Hill is actually the little brother to Leith Hill: Leith Hill saps you of your energy and Box Hill sets to finish you off. It was not to succeed. I stopped only momentarily to hug my Mum, who had travelled from Leicestershire with her boyfriend to provide me with my second wind. At this point, I was struggling and close to tears. I had never felt so emotionally compromised by a physical task before.
I felt a little pathetic. The National Brain Appeal calls their fundraisers ‘heroes’, but I only have to be one for a day; those who I aim to help have to be heroes everyday. It is this that drove me on.
With thirty miles to go, the carnival atmosphere began. Bands on the sides of the roads and people lining the street made you feel like you had already finished. You hadn’t; there was still a distance to go but pelotons formed and everyone was driving one another home. I limped towards the ten-mile mark after a bout of cramp but finished fast in a sporting sprint with four others. I’d done it.
My friends lined the finish with banners and my girlfriend had made a t-shirt with my face on it. I struggled to take it all in through the shakes of completing the task. The sense of relief and achievement forced a smile to my face. I celebrated with chips, a shandy, friends and thinking of all those I hope we’ve helped.