When you talk to most people and mention a 24-hour endurance cycling event that you are thinking about competing in, the majority of people believe that you have probably lost your mind. Well, that is something that I have had the pleasure in experiencing twice in my life, and honestly, I would happily take on the challenge again. That event was London to Paris in 24 hours
(For the charity Scope
), not only that, but it is the longer route of the two known routes from London to Paris. Clocking in at 280 miles. The event starts at Blackheath, London opposite The Clarendon at Midday and finishing by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France exactly 24 hours later. My first attempt was not successful, unfortunately, on the day we had to face some of the worst weather the event has drawn in history. From Horizontal rain for a good 14 hours to 20 - 30 mph gusts of the wind to try and hide from on the open countryside of France. On top of that, I, unfortunately, didn't have the right approach to nutrition either, eating far too little caused me to end the second to last stage and almost pass out on the bike. Bent over double on the bike, not being able to speak due to being completely out of energy was an experience I will never forget. I didn't let it finish me, though, after sitting out the penultimate stage and regaining some energy, I clambered back on the bike to complete the final stage into Paris. Usually, this would be enough to put most people off an event, however, two days after I had unfinished business I had to settle and so signed up for the following years event.
That wasn't meant to happen
Unfortunately, life doesn't always plan out how you expect, that winter while on a New Years ski trip I managed to snap my ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament). It took me two months to find out the full extent of damage I had done, with a nonexistent ACL in my right knee and a torn meniscus (the cartilage that sits between your knee joint). A knee rebuild was in order, and they did so by harvesting tendons from my hamstring to form a new ligament in my knee. The operation needs one year of intensive physio, so that was my cue to defer my place for another year.
The procedure took place on the 27th May 2015; this gave me approximately two months of hard training after the physio. One great thing, however, was that the best form of physio was cycling. I was back on my bike three weeks after the operation (on the turbo trainer) and not allowed to do any strenuous outdoor riding for at least six months. Physio went well and not long into it; I found out my recovery was going a lot better than average, which I was very pleased with. I won't go into my training plan here, but something I set myself as a comeback year to sport after the operation was to also take part in my first Olympic Triathlon at the London Triathlon. Training / Physio was going very well, in fact, the variety felt like it made me a lot fitter compared to my previous attempt. The swimming had seemed to improve my lung capacity, as I wasn't blowing as much at the top of climbs like I used to. However, this could also be down to the fact I may have just been fitter than the previous attempt.
Our lives change forever
Then news no family ever wants to hear, my father, the rock of my life, got diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and Lung Cancer. Clouding found on both in January 2016, but it took two months for the diagnosis to be confirmed and his treatment to begin. Pancreatic cancer is known for being one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, but that is mainly due to late diagnosis, the symptoms can simply be so many other things, and the cost of CT scans too large. Due to this, the outlook was not very good, but my father being the determined and loving man he was, wanted to dive head first into treatment that would hopefully extend his time with his family. On June 13th, 2016 our world as a family completely changed. In the early morning hours, my father passed away; cancer had taken too much of a hold, and his body could no longer hold out. He was an amazing man, who held his family so dear, he would always go as far as he could to help his loved ones. If I can be half the man he was, I will be a very lucky man. Love and miss you, dad. The endurance event was to take place on 17th July, the passing of my dad was not going to stop me from completing London to Paris in 24 hours. If anything, it gave me a stronger belief, a deep thought to help me through the tough times in the early hours riding through the French countryside.
Friday 16th July
Final preparations of the bike were taking place, double-checking the tuning of my gears and brakes. Relubing all my drivetrain to make for a problem free 24-hour endurance event. Kit and nutrition laid out on the floor ready to pack into my day bag which will meet me at every rest stop along the route. Nerves starting to sink in, I start to make my way to Blackheath, London via taxi. Luckily, it is only a 45-minute journey from my flat near Wimbledon, London. I check in on arrival with the event and also check into the hotel I will be staying the night. A group of us riders decide to get some dinner together the night before the ride at a local Italian restaurant. Of course, all we are thinking of here is being able to carb load and talk our nervousness out of ourselves. The meal was a pleasure and a perfect way to meet people you previously haven't met who will be giving you some conversation in the dark times that lay ahead. Luckily for me I already knew two people on the ride, one was employed by the event as a group leader to try and ensure the group of riders getting over the line within the 24-hour limit, the other like me, beaten on a previous attempt in 2014. After a few hours, we decide to call it a day and hit the hay ready for our upcoming battle. I retire to my room, prepare my morning gear and try to sleep. However, an effort to make sure I woke up hydrated, also meant for an unsettled sleep continually needing the toilet.
Saturday 17th July
I wake excited and nervous for the upcoming challenge; I take a walk down to the hotels provided breakfast, eat everything I can fit in and take a few goodies to top up on the run up to the start of the event. My biggest battle plan this year was nutrition, the only reason in 2014 things went horrendously was due to inadequate consumption of calories. No way would that be happening this year.
Noon is ever closing, 200 riders line up at the start line ready for what will be a life-long memory. The excitement tinged with a bright hope for some cooler weather to arrive; it's not often in Britain you are hoping for it to be cool, Sun isn't something that happens all that often in these isles. However, this weekend the forecast was looking at topping out at 30 degrees Celsius, for me that was damn hot, something I had never purposefully ridden in. Hydration was going to be another big factor in this. On top of my two bidons, I decide to bring my camelback for an extra 1.5 litres of water. The buzzer goes off, out into the unknown fortunes we ride. The British segment of the cycle is the hardest part of the event, with the most climbing and the worst roads. I had already decided along with a fellow 2014 rider not to get sucked up into the hype, and to take a chilled ride to Dover, to where the genuine battle began once we land in Calais. It's hot, really hot, in the first 40-mile stage I easily get through 3 litres of fluid, so happy for the extra camelback I brought. Down to Dover goes without a problem, a lot hotter than we would have liked, but luckily I had sunscreen, unlike a few others who by the time we were at Dover looked like a red pint of Guinness with tan lines so sharp they could cut a block of cheese!
What a lot of people don't understand about this challenge is that the ferry journey is counted as part of the time cap for the event. That means that if you are lucky, you have to do the event in 18 hours including any stops you have. The ferry is the time to freshen up, change into some fresh gear and stock up on food and up your nutrition game. My one tip, do not sleep, a lot of people try to catch up on some sleep, but I find that this just makes you more tired and feeling the toll on your body quicker than it should.
Sunday 18th July
It's still warm, and the first stage on French land is out of the way, I managed to find myself in the lead group for it, and boy did I know about it. We were flying in a 20 man peloton, easily averaging 25mph for a good 30 miles. The only problem is for me; I easily have at least a good three stone (19kg) on top of everyone I am riding with, so uphills mean I'm outputting a lot more wattage. Due to that fact, I decide to drop back a group to start of the second stage in France, to which almost instantly the whole group breaks apart as the group leaders burn off with maybe 4-5 people holding their wheel. It was at that point that a few of us made the conscious decision not to burn ourselves out to stay with them but to conserve our energy and ride with a good tempo together in the early hours until we get to the next stop. The conversation was flowing with people who's faces I could barely see other than under the blink of a rear light. It's these moments that 24 hour events are all about, in the middle of nowhere, talking about anything that comes to your head with people you have never met before. As a group of four, we continued winding through small towns and out onto long straight open roads. It is bizarre how quickly your eyes become accustomed to seeing in the dark. We reach the next stop still high in spirits, and the group behind us come in around ten mins after us. Rather than go out into the unknown as a four, we thought best to join the third group and take advantage of around a 14 man squad. The banter was flowing, and the temperature had well and truly dropped, this is where the challenge kicks into gear. For most who have never done an event of this side, they are already riding more miles than they have already ridden. Top that with sleep deprivation and it becomes a new adventure that your body miraculously just starts to deal with. It is also around this time you start to see the cracking points in people who haven't judged their calorie intake well. I began to remind people to take something onboard. Personally, I'm trying to eat something at least every 30 minutes. A mixture of real food, high-calorie bars and energy gels. Onwards and upwards! We began to reach towns I recognise from the previous event where the bonk fully began to sit in; I'm currently leading the group to give our designated leader a break. Sitting on the front for around 2 - 3 miles I decide that's enough for me, I know the open roads and hills were coming up. Being a little selfish, I sit on the back of the group, soaking up my energy I'm saving from everyone breaking the wind for me. If you haven't experienced it before, being sat on the back of a big group is more about riding your brakes than pedalling hard. Smashing it to the next rest stop and I know I'm there, I know that this year I'm making it, the full distance, with my dad watching down on me. It's the final stage into Paris; I don't remember this long climb we are on. I start to drop back from the group a little; then I also realise I forgot to fill up my camelback. It's hot again in France, already at 30+ degrees. At that point, I decide, let them go, make it to the end rather than worry about staying with the group. It serves me well, somehow on the 5 mile decent that followed I managed to catch back up with the group. The ride into Paris was an annoying one, the amount of red light stops you do after a long ride is mind numbing. From someone who commutes in London every day, Paris just feels even worse. Never the less, we see it for the first time, the Eiffel Tower, it's a beautiful sight to such an epic journey. Next task to hand, however, was to tackle the Arch de Triomphe, as you ride around it and down the Champs Elysee, you can't help but think of the amount of Pro riders who have flown down it, you simply don't understand how they can ride that fast on such an unsteady surface. We get to the end of the Champs Elysee; I know it's only a couple of miles to the end now. I completely switch off and start to think of the achievement we have all just shared. I start to think of the year I have been through, I start to lookout for my wife that I know waiting at the finish line for me. We roll into the home straight to cheers; I spot my wife as we cruise past her. I'm grinning from ear to ear; I have finally put this one to bed. My wife runs up for a sweaty hug; I share a picture opportunity with the guys I spent most of the French countryside chatting and holding on to wheels.
This ride is all about the experiences you share, the people you meet, the love for cycling. If you haven't done a big ride like this, I could not recommend it enough. Yes, it's testing, yes it hurts...a lot! However, it is one of the most rewarding life experiences you will ever undertake.