London Classics Challenge, Stage 1 – Ride London-Surrey 100

Ride London-Surrey 100 – 29th July 2018

Race Reporters: Sonia


I first read about the London Classics Challenge a year ago and it peaked my interest as it’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to a IM. The challenge consists of completing the following three events:

  • London Marathon
  • Ride London 100 Miles (160km)
  • Swim Serpentine 2 Miles (3.2km)

When my friends signed up Ride London this year, I decided I’d join them and go for the classics challenge and subsequently signed up for all 3 events. Ride London in July ‘18, Swim Serpentine in September ‘18 and London Marathon in April ‘19.

The first thing I learnt was that if you sign up for a century ride, make sure you have enough free time and weekends to train for it. I didn’t. My weekends we’re fully booked running up to the race so I ended up going cycling at 4am to get my long rides in before work. The roads were quiet and the temperature perfect at that time of day which was a bonus. Although I did discover I needed better bike lights with longer battery life and that I needed an afternoon nap to recover!

The Friday before the race my Dad called me to tell me its 36° in London and to make sure I brought sun block so I didn’t cook, and that I’d need to reapply it during the race (he worries about me). Not long after Prudential Ride London also sent an email out saying that Sunday was forecast to be a pleasant 23° (perfect cycling temperature) but the forecast was still changing and it could still be hot and humid so make sure to wear appropriate clothing, drink plenty of water and don’t over exert yourself etc. So with this advice in mind I packed my sleeveless jersey, my summer cycling shoes and of course sun block. What I did not pack was a waterproof/windproof jacket, waterproof cycling shoes and overshoes.

I’m British I should have known better.

I took the eurostar with my Bike the Saturday before the event, getting into London just after lunch. I booked a bike friendly hotel right next to the station so once arriving in London I checked in and dropped of my bike and luggage at the hotel before heading over to the cycling expo to get my bib. Bib collection was super smooth, so I had a look around the expo and headed back to the hotel. On the way back from the expo I received an update from Prudential Ride London saying the forecast now for Sunday was for 18° with rain and a strong headwind. Ooops! Checking the weather forecast on my phone it was now set to rain all day with a 50kph headwind and 65kph gusts. I decided to do an emergency stop at Evans Cycles to pick up a lightweight waterproof/windproof jacket, this turned out to be a really good decision.

Sunday as I arrived at my starting sas it was just starting to rain, it did not stop during the entire race.

The first half of the race went pretty smoothly, it rained yes, we had a horrible headwind but I knew for the second half of the race it would be behind me which was great. I flew past all the “hubs” as I’d been told these were time vortexes. A guy at the start line told me last year he’d spent 45 minutes at a hub just picking up a cliff bar. I had all the nutrition I needed on me so I avoided these however tempting they were. I stopped only for the toilet and to refill my water at the smaller stations. Each time when I got back on the bike my fingers were cold and I was shivering, but luckily I warmed back up as soon as I started cycling.

The second half of the race didn’t go so well. London and Surrey had gone 8 weeks without rain, that meant the roads were super slippy and very dirty. I’d already lost count of the number of people I’d seen changing flat tires in the first half of the race. Now coming into the hilly section of the course, came the accidents.

There’s two famous climbs on the course, Leith Hill and Box Hill. As I started up the climb towards Leigh Hill it was pretty congested, we were riding 3-4 riders abreast up a narrow road, with the inside lane being people pushing their bikes up the hill. A few riders ahead a guy fell off his bike in the middle of the road (I suspect he was trying to unclip) which meant all the riders just behind had to stop half way up the hill, this lead to two or three more people falling off as they tried to unclip mid hill, and of course for a good distance behind everyone having to stop. It was pretty comical as then unable to restart cycling mid climb and with lack of space everyone had to push their bikes up the rest of the hill. There was a lot of frustrated people trying to cycle past of a horde of bike pushers with nowhere to go.

Having got to the top of that section and started cycling again, we were then diverted back down the hill, down a small lane due to an medical incident up ahead. They were closing the hill to cyclists to allow the emergency vehicles to get up. So I only conquered half of the hill and mostly on foot, not a huge success. What made it worse was the bottle neck going down the small lane, half way down we were at a standstill due to congestion, too many bikes on too small lane. It was ok, I still had Box Hill to go, Queen of the mountain was still achievable, so I thought….

On arriving at Box Hill I found that also closed due to an accident and the emergency vehicles on scene, so we were diverted on the “bypass” route. There are three bypass routes on the course which are optional to avoid the hills, however we were being forced to take it. So I knew I wasn’t go to get an official 100 miles in, but I was still going to finish and I hoped I could still make up the time I’d lost on Leigh Hill.

Unfortunately that was not the case either, every village I got to on the way back into London was a bottleneck. You’d ride into the village and almost immediately come to a stop and start what I came to call the cyclist shuffle, half on / half off the bike trying to edge forward until you could cycle again. I think I lost around 45 minutes of time to the cyclist shuffle.

Coming back into London was a bit of a relief, after all the stop /starting I had begun to wonder if I’d every arrive back in central London! Slowly the beautiful but rainy countryside was replaced by more and more buildings and I started to look out for the signs for Wimbledon where I knew I had friends waiting to cheer me on to the finish line.

I’d been told about Wimbledon Hill in advance, its not marked or indicated on the map but when you’re 25k from the finish line and you think it’s plain sailing from here you suddenly find yourself on a nasty hill, and its less than welcome. The only thing that kept me going at this point was I’d not past my friends yet, I knew they had to be around here somewhere and suddenly there they were, waving from half way up the hill. They ran beside me up the rest of the hill which was fantastic motivation to get myself to the top before they did.

The rest was plain sailing into the center of London, as I turned onto the Mall and saw the finish line it had just about finally stopped raining. The british flags were flying high and looked exceptionally vibrant and welcoming.

The finish line is in almost the exact same place as where the London Marathon finishes, so I’ll be back there in April 2019 to hopefully claim my London Classics Medal.

Regardless of the weather, the wind, the bottlenecks I loved every minute of it and I’m already thinking about entering the ballot for next year so I can get in the full 100 miles. Ballot opens on Monday 6th August. Next up though is Swim Serpentine in September!


A few lessons learnt

1/ My friend started 1 hour before me and had no bottlenecks, if I was to do this again I would certainly pick a faster sas to avoid some of the overcrowding on route.

2/ London transport system is not bike friendly even if it says it is, the only way to get to the start line and back from the finish line is to cycle unless you want pay for a taxi (which will fit 1 bike fully assembled).

3/ The insoles I put in my breathable bike shoes stopped the water getting out and I had puddles of water around my toes a lot of the race. The rain also destroyed my fingerless cycling gloves. Always pack for all weather possibilities.