It’s hard to describe the emotions of an endurance event.Not just the actual thing, but the build up and the training and the support. - The journey. Add to that a personal story that’s a mix of heartbreak, fear, and triumph and you have a Molotov cocktail.
I’ve had a go at describing these emotions before. Was the London 100 the toughest thing I’ve put my myself through? Not really. I think the Kentish Killer in February was tougher, and while I didn’t put myself through it, the serious bout of Psoriatic Arthritis in 2014 was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever taken on.
Yet it is because of this disease that this was one of the most emotional.I think if you asked Joe, a friend who I did some preparation with, both training and bike maintenance, cycled with to the Olympic park at 4am, and also for the first 85 miles of the ride, he would be surprised that I found it so emotional. We were all smiles, fist bumps and laughs throughout.
I think if you asked Jo she would knowingly tell you I was struggling emotionally, but not necessarily because I had told her I was. I let her know I was struggling physically. I let her know I needed her support, but I didn’t really let her in to the doubt I was experiencing. The emotional rollercoaster. Or the sadness, fear and uncertainty that having to carry this disease causes me. But she knows me, and she understands my behaviour.
I think if you asked the kids they may have said I was fine. But they would know I was edgy, at least the day before, despite taking them mountain biking and trying my best to have a great day with them. I just couldn’t cope with any extra pressure, which meant I wasn’t coping well with them at all.
As I trained with various friends, some of whom did the London 100, I smiled and joked. But inside and outside I’m not the rider I was 12 months ago. My knees are worse, and in June, and to a lesser extent 2 weeks ago, the Arthritis flared leaving me off my target condition. I was worried by the decline. Desperate for some form. For some improvement in speed and endurance.
One of my biggest concerns, as I look back, is I’m not sure I spoke to Jesus about it enough. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to conquer. So much of who I am is wrapped up in being solution focused. I hate discussing things when there is no answer, no solution. I hide from those topics. Choosing to appear strong. To bury my feelings. Scared that if light touches them then they will be there for everyone to see. Ignore and maybe they’ll go away. Focus on what I can do, not what I can’t. There is a strength here, but it is also a weakness. It’s counter the values I hold in high esteem. To be humble. To be open. To be honest.
As we cycled through the last hours of the night, and took the beautiful greenway route just as the sun rose over London’s iconic sky line, I started to leg go of my hang ups. This was a truly beautiful moment. Spinning along in the fresh morning air, heading towards an event we had been preparing so thoroughly for. Beautiful beams of light bouncing off giant pillars of hazy glass. And the quiet. Just the whirring of our glistening chains, spurring us on gently, yet swiftly towards the imposing Olympic stadium. In some ways I’m glad there are no photos from this time, leaving it personal and tucked away.
So what if I wasn’t strong enough to beat 5 hours? I knew I was ready and able to complete the ride regardless of time. This is about so much more than that. This is about being with literally 1000’s of people celebrating achievement, celebrating the remarkable work of so many organisations who fight for the broken, the sick, the voiceless, the marginalised. Personally, for me it was about celebrating all those that live with Arthritis and all those who want change.
Amongst all this “serious stuff” it was also about enjoying my ability to ride, to compete, to suffer (those deep moments of suffering bring to me a stark contrast to the worst days of the disease, where I had pain all over my body and thought I may be passing on to the next life - seriously) - to ride alongside, and work together with a great cyclist like Joe, a guy who just 2 years ago I thought I would never be able to cycle alongside for any length of time.
|Waiting in my “wave”|
West London approaching. A Haze across the beautiful leafy Richmond park as we took it on at speed. Deer feeding, cyclists taking the foot off for a sec just to take it in. The sun shining.
|Still going well|
|Pulling away up Box Hill|
After Box Hill Joe was really struggling, I kept trying to pull him along, but he couldn’t hold my wheel. The 5 hour target was slipping away, and Joe encouraged me to go on ahead.
|The struggle and the pain|
|Some riders using me for a tow, pain really setting in|
Ahead I saw another Versus Arthritis rider, I caught him and we cycled past our team support area in Wimbledon together and he pulled me up the Wimbledon hill. (Being pulled up means cycling right behind another cyclist while they set the pace. Going up hill I’ve decided it must be a psychological thing, but on the flats or down hill it means you use less energy than the person in front as they take the wind).
He pushed on and tried to help me, but just like Joe couldn’t hold (stick behind!) my wheel, I couldn’t hold his and he pressed on.
And then, suddenly, I got emotional. I was drained. I was wondering whether I should have left Joe. I was desperate to see my Jo. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was scared in June with the flare up and hadn’t told anyone. I was so angry at this dirty disease. How it silently takes from people, wiping out their hopes. I felt solidarity with the other riders, especially the Versus Arthritis ones. I knew this was going to be over, I knew the finish was around the corner. But it couldn’t come quick enough. My butt was burning. My back aching. I’ve felt worse physically, but not many times. I’ve felt emotionally similar, but not in public. A few tears rolled.
|The final bend|
|The Mall, the Palace and the finish line|
And then I went to look for Jo again. If nothing else, these journeys are ones of self discovery. You learn your limits. You find out who really matters to you. You draw close to those you rely on...
You find out what and who you’ve really put your trust in.
|No words can do justice to this beautiful woman and partner|