Challenge 7 – London to Brighton (and back)

I’ve never really been a big planner – I tend to think of something and then just do it and hope it works out. My life has always been very month to month – I’ve got a very clear vision of what I want for the future, I just don’t normally get in to the nitty gritty of how I’m actually going to get there.

The Miles for Wishes challenges mean that, particularly for this near 150 mile cycle, I couldn’t just expect to turn up and do it. The physical demands on my body has required proper thought to the ‘how’, otherwise it will end up at best with a serious bonk or at worst a trip to A&E.

I only began cycling March of this year and my longest ride to date has been 40 miles – that said, I am not naive, I always knew this was going to be a physically and mentally tough challenge. Which was why I broke the habit of a lifetime and prepared properly…although clearly I didn’t take quite enough spares. .

The day and the route

My day started at 4.15, with a breakfast of porridge and fresh fruit and a final kit check and out the door. The train ride from Little Kimble to London Marylebone was largely uneventful – I did however chug down two shots of concentrated beetroot juice. Essentially the science says that the nitrates in beetroot have a positive effect on performance, improving cardiovascular capacity. It is an acquired taste, I’ll be honest, but not wholy unpleasant if you already like beetroot – lets leave it that it’s a grower.

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I started at Clapham Common, which is the traditional starting point for any London to Brighton ride. I was aiming to start slow, with an average of around 12mph – there would be no benefit in racing off while my legs felt fresh only to struggle later in the day.

I won’t got through the whole journey but in overview – the first 10 miles are pretty easy, the route takes you down through Tooting and Mitcham and around the very picturesque Hackridge. The first hills start at Carshalton and Woodmansterne and then the first big hill at How Lane.

Crossing the A25 you begin to notice that your out of the City, as the route and the landscape opens up around you as you head in to Crawley Down, Turners Hill and then in to the really very lovely village of Lindfield in West Sussex. The Stand Up Inn is one off many great pubs in Lindfield but sweeping past the duck pond on a sunny day was a particularly enjoyable part of the ride.

After the climb in to Haywards Heath you can start the see the remaining task ahead – with the Sussex Downs and Ditchling Beacon ahead. What struck me was the fact that its not the case of simply arriving at a hill – the climb starts well before as it’s a false flat and you soon realise your going up a long , slow up hill. The Beacon itself is a fairly steep, slightly winding hill – its hard enough without seeing other cyclists appear to be breeze past you, as a few did. It didn’t make it any easier that at the weather had well and truly turned by this point – with a thick mist of drizzley rain.

Getting to the top is an amazing feeling, well it would have been more amazing had I not got a puncture. I stopped on the side of the road and used my spare inner tube and got back on my way. From there its just an 8 mile down hill run in to Brighton – that route is an amazing achievement and one I am definitely going to do again – although I enjoyed the time and space to do it at my own pace, I fear the formal events would be too clogged to allow any kind of decent run at it.

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I stopped on the seafront, checked the bike over, re-fueled and topped up my water and started back up the Steine for the way home. The self plotted route back took me back over the Downs, via Devils Dyke this time and then on to Henfield, Nutfileld and Mannings Heath. The weather had largely improved but my luck had not – I suffered my second puncture just before Mannings Heath. I had planned and brought a puncture repair kit and patched the tube and got going again. Unfortunately I wasn’t going for long – a sharp stone shredded the wall of my rear tyre and burst the repaired inner tube. I tried a make shift repair and tried to pump the tyre intermittently but it was fairly ineffective and in the end I gave up. So came a 8 mile walk to Horsham – where there was a Halfords. A new tyre and two more inner tubes were purchased and fitted, but I’d lost around an hour and a half from this incident.

It was at least a decent rest and as such I was somewhat more prepared for Leith Hill and with a peak of 828ft a good 100ft more than Ditchling Beacon – it felt like an absolute monster. Followed not long later by another big hill just outside of Westcott. The next section passed through many lovely villages and back roads around Addlestone, Chertsey and then in to Old Windsor. Blasting along the river, Home Park (which is where the Long Walk can be found) and then on past the famous Windsor Castle.

The last part of the journey skirted around the edge Burham, Cookham and Hugh Wycombe and in to Beaconsfield. From here it was a long slow climb on the Chiltern Hills with Beacon Hill at Penn and Whiteleaf Hill being the last big climbs, from there it was an easy 3 mile decent back in to Kimble and on to home. All in all 144 miles (my Garmin battery died so the last 10 miles hasn’t been mapped unfortunately) and 10 hours of cycling

Fueling Strategy

According to research eating between 30g and 60g of carbohydrate per hour of riding is optimum to keep the muscles fueled. So I opted to follow that as closely as I could – munching on flapjacks, energy bars, bananas and pieces of peanut butter and jam bagels. It seems obvious, but eating during the flatter, less intense sections of the route is the way to go – I got surprised  couple of times trying to open a banana or a bar going around a corner to find myself suddenly climbing a hill.

For the final 3rd I switched between the last energy bar and High 5 isotonic gels – I saved the gels to the last 30 miles as too many can cause cramps and potentially an upset stomach – I didn’t need that on top of the hefty mileage.

For liquids I had two bottles, both with water one mixed with a High 5 Zero tablet and the other with EnergySource 4:1 – the first replaces key nutrients lost through sweat and the second is a blend of carbohydrates and protein giving an additional fuel boost to my flagging muscles.

Why?

Why cycle 144 miles from London to Brighton and then back home? This, and all of the other challenges I’m doing this year are in aid of Make-A-Wish UK – raising money to ensure they can continue to grant magical wishes to children facing life threatening conditions.

It was a huge challenge, one I am very proud of – I’m not sure how I managed it but I did – there were times when I wanted to stop and get picked up but I knew I would hate myself if I did. Events such as these really are a case of mind over matter and every pedal stroke was one closer to home – that and remembering why I am doing this kept me going.

Finally – did the beetroot shots help? Not sure to be honest, I definitely felt that I was breathing better and deeper and for that reason I will continue to use them.

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