The shock of neon pink tutus and feathers, with elaborate mohicans festooned upon cycling helmets and other embellishments made a startling contrast to the verdant green of the park we were in. When I met up with my friend Jess at the start, I could hardly recognize her she had lost so much weight. We couldn't chat for long as the ride was about to start and I could see she was nervous having never partaken in such an event before. She had only just collected her new bike a week prior to the ride and had nearly lost it on the drive up from Devon. She told me that thanks to the Cycle to Work Scheme, she had been able to upgrade from a battered old ‘shopper’ called ‘The Duchess’ to a super new hybrid bike that was yet to be named.
Getting down to training
Jess is a busy mother of three children and works part time as an estate agent in Exeter. She had cranked up her training by using her bike to do both the school runs and her house viewings. She and seven other ladies in her team had planned this event one night at a dinner party. She phoned me the day afterwards to ask what kind of an eating regime she should employ to get her through the training. I took her off all snacking and told her to stick to her three meals per day. She was to replace her cereals for breakfast with a couple of boiled eggs and some asparagus. At lunch she replaced her sandwich with plenty of chicken and vegetables and ate a good dinner when she got home. At the weekend when she went for her long training ride she would do this on an empty stomach and eat well afterwards. And so fast forward a few months and there I found her jittery with nerves and super svelte with plenty of energy – ready to go.
Jess is fourth from the left
I managed to meet up with Jess after she had completed the 100km ride, once she had had some rest. She was no longer exhibiting nervous tension but was exuding an aura of incredible calm. Her team of ladies had set off in one of the first groups at nine pm and had hardly stopped until they reached their final destination six hours later. Central London had been a real buzz as they wound their way through the Saturday night revellers and heavy traffic past Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square. People stared at them or quizzed them from their cars. Pedestrians clapped and cheered and policemen wished them luck.
When the going got tough
By the time she was heading back out of London it was nearly midnight and Jess was beginning to tire. Staying with the rest of the group had become less of an option and the individual challenge was only just beginning - ‘head down, peddle and get this done’. The outward show of camaraderie grew less as the mental pressure increased to still be able to identify traffic light changes and road signs ahead. The route became more rural and with that, dark and eerily silent. The only sounds Jess could hear were the whirring of her peddles and her steady breathing. ‘I just stared ahead at the passing tarmac in the beam of my bike light. I thought how wonderful to have this solitude – a lone rider of the night on a mission!
At 3 am Jess finally passed the finish line with her good friend Nicky and the rest of the team having arrived a few minutes earlier. She describes how elated they were as they tasted their first sips of ice cold cider to celebrate! Even a week later, she told me that the night ride had been one of the most exciting experiences of her life. She had re-evaluated her image of herself from the one who typically would have been the reveller on the street to someone capable of achieving a sporting endeavour.
An exhausted and relieved Jess on the left