Heroic Ride

At the end of July our supporter Keith Jones took part in the PrudentialRideLondon event, doing a sponsored cycle ride of 46 miles to raise money for the lunches of members of the Healthy Living Club. He raised almost £1000 through sponsors’ donations via LocalGiving and Gift Aid. Here he records his battle with his disabilities to complete the challenge. It is a moving, tense story. Thank you from all of us, Keith.
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One of the sporting legacies of London 2012 is the annual Prudential RideLondon Surrey 100 which replicates the Olympic bicycle road race and attracts 30,000 participants. This year the organisers added a complementary event – the RideLondon 46 – which uses the same course as the 100 but does not include the Surrey hills section. Due to my various disabilities, I was never able to participate in the 100 and I thought this was a more realistic challenge, but at the time of signing up I didn’t know what I’d let myself in for.

Without warning, the organisers imposed a 2 hour 10 minute time limit on the first 27 miles of the challenge, if I wasn’t over Hampton Court Bridge by 11.25 then the challenge would be over and I would be put in the ‘bus of shame’ and taken to a train station. I gave serious consideration to dropping out but what I needed was an incentive to give it a go. I’ve known Simona for a long time and decided that I would try and raise funds to buy the members a lunch by simply asking my friends to donate £2.50 with the tagline ‘buy me a pint in exchange for lunch’. I made it clear that their sponsorship was dependent on me completing the 27 miles in the given time and not the total 46 miles.

So, it was with trepidation that I set off Sunday morning to the Olympic Park, which is quite close to my home. On arrival, I was surprised to find thousands of participants of the 100-mile challenge who had not already departed and I was funnelled into a waiting area according to my start time. I seem to be the oldest person in my group; the rest are pretty young things all resplendent in their cycling kit as opposed to me in my C&A tailored shorts (yes, C&A) and greying white shirt with the remnants of my breakfast on it.

Waiting around for the next hour was all that was needed to play havoc with my stomach. What if I have a mechanical breakdown? I’m a bicycle repairman – I can deal with it, besides the bike’s in better condition than me. What if I have an accident? That’s not going to happen, I have 50 years’ of experience. What if I have a physical breakdown? Then I lose sponsorship and I’ll condemn the members to a lunch of bread and scrape (beef dripping). But would that be so bad? Considering that most of the members grew up during a time of austerity and rationing, they might welcome a nostalgic lunch; somehow I don’t think the trustees would see it that way. I join in the conversations with the pretty young things around me, like me some of them are worried about the time limit to the bridge. I try to allay their fears by telling them that, when I was their age, I used to ride to the south of France every year. What I don’t tell them is that the bike had an engine.

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The wait over, we’re brought up to the start line at 9.15, I remove my shirt to reveal a Team GB cycling shirt and my support for our Olympic team. We exit the park and onto the southbound Blackwall Tunnel motorway. The weather is perfect for cycling, overcast with a slight breeze. It’s strange cycling on this road without motor vehicles that I have driven on thousands of times. It becomes immediately apparent that the pretty young things are so much faster than me, I try to slow some of them down but they don’t listen to me so I decide not to chase them and stick to my planned pace.

Exiting the Limehouse Link tunnel and onto The Highway, the roads are no longer undulating so I concentrate on keeping up my planned average speed and soon find myself exiting the Piccadilly underpass and onto the Cromwell Road. It’s absolutely surreal to be on one of London’s main arterial roads, which is usually clogged with traffic, pollution and noise with just bicycles whispering by. Without the pressure of motor vehicles, the city takes on a new perspective. Riding over the Hammersmith flyover was a hoot but a little steeper than I imagined. When driving a motor vehicle, you don’t take into account undulations in the road, but on a bike, it’s very noticeable. I pass the Fullers’ Brewery, onto the Hogarth roundabout, left to Chiswick Bridge and into Richmond town centre. I’ve been cycling now for 20 miles when I start ascending to Richmond Park and I’m suffering because of my higher than normal average speed. It’s now 10.55 and I have 30 minutes to get the seven miles to Hampton Court Bridge. I don’t ascend hills very well because of past knee injuries; I don’t wear a helmet but had to for this event and it’s irritating me; both shoulders are tired, both my hands have gone numb and my undercarriage is sore, but these are the least of my problems.

For years I’ve suffered from a condition called Metatarsalgia; nerve damage to the soles of the feet, which manifests itself with heat, numbness and searing pain when they’re under constant compression. It usually strikes about 10 miles into a ride and then I need to stop and cool them down, but I can’t stop because I don’t have the time. With the pain in my feet, Sawyers Hill in Richmond Park feels like a cruel ascent, also the weight of the bike is not helping. All I need now is to be chased by one of the park’s angry buck deer and receive a butt full of antlers. I use gravity to assist me to descend to Kingston town centre to alleviate some of the pain: gravity can be your friend at times like this.

There are many members of the public in the town centre cheering on the participants, but they have no idea that they’re cheering a dead man cycling. Somehow, I manage to get over Kingston Bridge with less than 10 minutes to get to the bridge. Every turn of the pedal is excruciating and, effectively, I’m going backwards. As I turn towards Hampton Court I look behind me to see if there are any other cyclists but I’m horrified to see the bus of shame looming large behind me, hunting me down like a predator. I’m willing myself on but I’ve hit a wall. I have nothing left and I’m about to be devoured.

Oh no, it’s bread and scrape for lunch.

What happened next was a something I’ve never experienced before, I’m feeling euphoric and some of the pain dissipates from my feet. I’ve subsequently read that when the body is under extreme physical and psychological stress, it can release its pain killer – endorphin – many endurance athletes experience this and welcome it. The ‘pain killer’ doesn’t last long and with only a mile to the bridge, I managed to put some distance between myself and the bus. There’s a service stop before the bridge with first aiders and they help me off the bike because I can’t stand on my feet. They sit me down and remove my shoes and socks, whilst I scream like a girl. My feet look like they’re in a cartoon film and an anvil has been dropped on them. The first aiders advise me stop and withdraw from the event, but the bridge is closing in less than two minutes, so I discard my socks, pour cold water over my feet and in my shoes, swallow a handful of Ibuprofen, get back on the bike and cycle onto the bridge. Reaching the centre of the bridge, I lift my arms from the handlebars and throw them outwards like I’ve just won a stage of the Tour de France and, in effect, I have.

Yippee, it’s meat and potatoes for lunch.

I have 20 miles to go and one and a half hours to the finish in The Mall. I don’t think I can get there in time and the station on the other side of the bridge, with its trains to London, looks inviting but I decide to crack on until the bus sweeps me up. I continue south for a few miles and then swing left towards Kingston town centre. It’s at this point that the 100-mile participants join the route to the finish. Considering that they’ve just completed 85 miles with some severe hills, they’re all looking remarkably fresh (don’t you just hate that?) and are still going at considerable speed. With so many of them proceeding along this narrow road at speed, I sit in the middle of them and get pulled along at about 17 mph without any extra effort. This is known as drafting and it really works.

I arrive in the town centre and stop at the service hub. There are several of these hubs scattered around the course offering assistance to the participants. I sit down and examine my feet and I’m pleased to see that the swelling has gone down. I soak them with water again and take some energy bars. The finish in The Mall is open until 17.30 for the 100-mile participants to complete, so I’m a little confused as to why I should complete by 13.00 and I seek clarification from one of the officials at the service hub. He tells me that I too have until 17.30 to complete and this information brings some welcome relief. Suitably refreshed and with renewed vigour, I get back on the bike and ride out of Kingston. Only 14 miles to the finish.

The roads are now full of spectators willing us on for the last 10 miles. They probably all think that I’m competing in the 100, but I’m not going to tell them – are you? The noise going through Wimbledon Village is absolutely deafening from the spectators as I turn the corner and proceed up the hill to the common. It’s been years since I cycled up this hill and I had forgotten how steep it is, but with the crowd’s help, I just make it to the top. The common brings welcome relief for my feet and knees and once again I get pulled along by the faster riders as we drop down into Putney. I’ve not drunk anything since Kingston, and with plenty of time to get to The Mall, I decide to pull off the course and visit the Duke’s Head – one of my favourite riverside pubs –and down a swift half. After all, it is Sunday!

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Suitably refreshed, I re-join the course on the bridge and then down the Kings Road and onto the Embankment at Chelsea Harbour. I’m a little disappointed to find that there are virtually no spectators on the road, not because my ego needs stroking, but that they’re not taking this opportunity on such a nice day to be out on car-free streets. I countdown the bridges on a quiet Embankment and, approaching Parliament Square, there are many of the charity spectators on the road cheering on their participants. My feet are inflamed again and to compound my pain, I have a saddle sore the size of Wales, but with less than a mile to go, there’s no stopping me. I turn into The Mall and there are thousands of spectators there, not only watching us finish, but also there for the end of the professional road race later. I stop by Admiralty Arch, remove my helmet and put my shirt and hat on out of respect for Her Mag who lives down the end of the road. I cycle the last 500 yards in a funnel of noise and with my arms outstretched. I cross the finish line at 13.30.

Whoa, I did it!

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About Ed

staff in the Bartlett School of Planning and cooperating with others in UCL and with the Just Space Network to support London citizens' inpu
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