TOP 10 TIPS TO CYCLE FROM LONDON TO PARIS

Cycling from London to Paris was a massive learning curve for me because I’d never done any long-distance cycling before, let alone any kind of long-distance endurance event. So for those of you looking to take the challenge on here are my top 10 tips that I learned along the way.

1) Practice packing and carry your bags on training rides

I ended up strapping my backpack onto a luggage rack over my back wheel using bungee cords and the full bag added on considerable weight. It changed the handling of my bike and made going uphill considerably more hard-going, especially on the first day while my legs got used to it. I trained with a half-full bag which in hindsight was a bit pointless

2) Train with your buddies

Cycling as part of a group can be tricky and the more you can practice the easier it will be on the day. Learn and get used to all of the hand signals that you can use to indicate potholes, broken glass, parked cars and traffic lights to the riders behind you. By pointing these things out you’ll make it a safer ride for everyone

3) Decide on lunch stops and dinner locations in advance

We ended up having lengthy discussions most nights about where we were going to eat while we all got increasingly hangry. We managed to all stay friends but if you want to protect your friendships I’d highly recommend doing the research before you leave and agree on places in advance

4) Take it in turns to go at the front

For all of us there were moments where our bodies and/or minds wanted to give up and at these points drafting really came into its own. Drafting is when you tuck into the slipstream of the cyclist in front and it allows you to put in less effort because there’s less air resistance. However, if one person is always in front they will quickly get exhausted so take it in turns

5) Pack as little as possibly

Remember, halfway up a hill your 6kg bag will suddenly feel about 20kg so pack the bare minimum. Everyone will smell by day 3 so just embrace it and stop apologising. You can check out my packing list here and I can say that I packed light and used every single thing that I took

6) Stretch, stretch, stretch

Everything will hurt so take every opportunity you can to stretch out whatever feels tight. My back, bum and quads ended up feeling particularly tight so I tried to give them a good stretch each morning, evening and at rest stops

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7) Pack plenty of snacks

Not all french villages have a shop and the ones that do sometimes close at odd times so make sure that you’ve always got enough fuel with you to keep you going to the next village. My favourite bits of fuel were haribo fizzy cola bottles and the peanut butter and jam sandwich that I carried with me on the first day

8) Remember that after the Eiffel Tower you have to get back on your bike

We went straight to the Gare du Nord after the Eiffel Tower to drop our bikes at EuroDespatch to be taken back to London and this was another 5.5 miles across Paris which none of us had really thought about. Plan in your route and stay mentally ready for more cycling

9) Keep hydrating

While we’re all pretty good at hydrating on the bike, it’s worth remembering that you need to keep up with the electrolytes throughout the evenings and the day after your ride too. As tempting as it is to have some alcohol also bear in mind that it can be dehydrating so drink plenty of water on the side to avoid having to cycle on a hangover the next morning

10) The recovery will be tough

I’ve never known exhaustion like when I returned home from Paris. Everyday that week I had to nap in the afternoon and the idea of getting back on my bike or even doing any exercise was nearly enough to make me cry. But you will get back there and you will get back on your bike because it wasn’t actually that bad. Was it?

 

What tips would you add to the list?

CYCLING LONDON TO PARIS

Here it is, the post you’ve all been waiting for, my round-up of how I got from London to Paris on two wheels. To get up to date you can have a read of how training went here, a list of all the kit I took here and my nutrition plan for the ride here.

 

Day 1

Stratford, London -> Dieppe

73.5 miles

4,042ft elevation

Pain-factor: 4/10

We met bright and early at the Velodrome at the Olympic Park in Stratford because that’s where all our training rides had started and ended and it felt right that the real thing started from there too. By 06:45 we were on the road with very little fanfare and by 08:30 we were heading out of London towards the south coast (with a 45 minute stop for a pesky puncture/coffee/wees in Clapham).

All smiles before we set off from Stratford

All smiles before we set off from Stratford

The weather was perfect for cycling with gorgeous sunshine, a lovely breeze and the most beautiful views as we pedalled through the Surrey and Sussex countryside. We’d cycled from London to Brighton a few weeks before to recce the route and see what was ahead of us. That practice ride was one of the hardest we did in training as I felt nauseous the whole way and ended up walking up nearly every hill trying not to vom into the hedges. In complete contrast our ride on the actual day felt much easier and nearly pleasant.

Taking in the Sussex countryside

Taking in the Sussex countryside

I managed to cycle up every single hill (with a couple of stops to catch my breath and let the lactic acid out of my legs) which gave me such a confidence boost. The peanut butter and jam sandwich that I’d packed to eat at the top of Turners Hill (if you know, you know) really helped to keep me moving too. Before we knew it we were approaching Newhaven in plenty of time. The ferry was booked for 17:30 and we made it to the port by 14:30, leaving us time to gorge on burgers and chips before locking our bikes up on the ferry and claiming a table next to the bar.

A couple of beers down and my stomach started to rebel. By the time we got off the ferry I was so bloated that all I wanted to do was curl up in bed but we still had a couple of miles to ride to the hotel, all uphill. We put our heads down and trudged up the hill before showering and collapsing in bed. Day one, done.

Feeling very bloody happy that day one was done

Feeling very bloody happy that day one was done

 

Day 2

Dieppe -> Beauvais

66 miles

1,525ft elevation

Pain factor: 6.5/10

Day 2 started with a massive breakfast buffet consisting of all the pastries, plenty of nutella and fresh French baguettes. We made some nutella sandwiches to take on the road and set off by 09:30. Overshare warning: I ended up being on my period by this point and all I’m going to say about that is THE CHAFING, THINK OF THE CHAFING. Ugh.

The first 3 hours of day 2 were along the Avenue Verte, a paved ex-railway that carved its way through the French countryside in a very straight line. We’d been looking forward to this as a car-free cycle path and it did end up being that but it felt tough from the first metre. We only realised when we stopped for lunch that those first 30 miles had been steadily uphill, sapping our legs of all energy without us being aware that we were actually climbing. There’s nothing like a sneaky hill to destroy all confidence in your cycling ability.

Travelling at warp speed (not)

Travelling at warp speed (not)

After a lunch of croque madames and chips we were back on the road to some rolling hills along the French roads. In general the French drivers were much more courteous than the English ones, passing us with plenty of room. One even stopped to check we were ok when I was lying on the ground by the side of the road trying to stretch out my back. He thought I was dead… Luckily I wasn’t. At this point we had a few more mechanical problems with a couple of the bikes so the mood was a little low. I put on some music on my phone which was easy to do as it was right in front of me thanks to my Quadlock.

Grooving away on the bike

Grooving away on the bike

Eventually we turned off the roads onto the Trans’Oise, another car-free cycle path, and everyone put their own music on. To this point we’d be cruising at around 12mph but as soon as the music hit us our speed went up to 15mph as we all thought we were in a spin class. In fact, there was so much dancing going on on the bikes that my triceps were sore the next day. We flew along the final 20 miles and made it to Beauvais and bed, after stuffing our faces with sushi. Day two, done.

Multitasking - checking Instagram whilst stretching

Multitasking – checking Instagram whilst stretching

 

Day 3

Beauvais -> Paris

51 miles

2,444ft elevation

Pain factor: 9/10

Getting back on the bikes in the morning of the third day was painful. My quads were really tight, my wrists were sore from the pressure on the handlebars, my fingers were numb and my lady bits were chafed and sore. You can see where this day 3 round-up is going.

From the start I struggled. We hit a hill pretty early on, at around mile 10, and I pushed my way up it, refusing to walk even an inch. Once we’d conquered that hill my quads seemed to ease a bit and for the next 20 miles we cruised along. If I’m totally honest, a lot of day 3 has become a blur of stopping to stretch, shaking out my hands and ramming food down my throat to keep my body fuelled. All I wanted to do was arrive in Paris and not have to get back on my bike again.

The final 20 miles or so, we cycled through increasingly bigger towns as we approached Paris so even the cycling itself wasn’t fun. As we hit the outskirts of Paris we had to deal with the French taxi drivers who were the most dangerous road-users that we encountered. All of us at one point or another got cut up and had to gesticulate angrily, which they completely ignored. The final 5 miles were hell as road after road was closed and we were all exhausted and grouchy. Even the arrival at the Eiffel Tower was an anti-climax because I was so done with the whole experience.

Giant grumpy face at the Eiffel Tower

Giant grumpy face at the Eiffel Tower

After the obligatory photos at the Eiffel Tower with plastered on fake smiles, we had to cycle another 6 miles back across Paris to drop our bikes off at the Eurostar luggage office at Gare du Nord. About 2 hours after reaching the Eiffel Tower we eventually reached the hotel where it started to sink in, with the help of some beer.

Job done

Job done

The next day we’d planned to take it easy and mainly sit in coffee shops eating cake but we ended up walking miles across Paris in the blazing sunshine because it would have been a shame to miss out on the weather and not make the most of being in Paris. The Eurostar home was a very quiet affair with baguettes, snoozing and quiet contemplation of what we’d achieved.

Feeling every bit the warrior

Feeling every bit the warrior

Watch out next week for a post containing all of the details of trip, including which hotels we stayed in, where we ate and the actual routes that we took as well as some tips and lessons for anyone else thinking of doing the same ride.

 

#3PTsToParis – Training Update

Remember when I said that I was going to cycle from London to Paris? Well it’s now only 4.5 weeks ago and it’s all getting a bit real.

This is what happens when you let Google Maps take you down ‘cycle paths’

We’ve written up our kit lists, we’ve received some amazing kit to train in and for the trip (more on that in another post before we leave) and we’ve been getting out on the bikes as much as possible. So how’s that all been going?

Here are some stats and things I’ve learnt from training so far:

  • Well over 245 miles clocked up so far
  • 5 long rides
  • Countless mini rides (less than 5 miles each)
  • 3 MyProtein blackcurrant gels swallowed
  • 1 portion of fish and chips on Southend Pier
  • 2.5 cans of diet coke
  • 0 punctures (I know, I’ve just jinxed it)
  • 54 billion hills (accurate stat, honest)
  • 1 stolen bike
  • 1 new bike
  • My uphill technique needs work. My downhill technique needs to be given a sense of mortality and I need to use my brakes more often
  • All food tastes better after 4 hours in the saddle
  • I need to fuel better and more often so I don’t bonk (hit the wall)
  • The foam roller is my quads’ best friend
  • Long-distance cycling creates exhaustion like nothing else I’ve ever experienced
  • Cycling tan lines are ridiculous and suncream must be worn even if it’s not sunny
Post fish and chips feast in Southend

Post fish and chips feast in Southend

The plan for the next 4 weeks is 3 more long rides including one to Brighton and another one to Southend. The midweek rides will also be upped that I’m riding on consecutive days to get my legs used to working a few days in a row. I’ll also be experimenting a bit more with my fuelling and trying to get food in more often to keep my energy up.

Do you have any tips on fuelling for endurance challenges where you’re working out for 6+ hours at a time?

 

 

3 PT’S TO PARIS

You know when you make a decision because you get over-excited and then sit back and think ‘oops’? Well yeah, I’ve done that. Except that oops isn’t a misjudged outfit or one drink too many, it’s a cycle trip to Paris. From London. On a bike. Without a support vehicle.

Together with Elle, Mollie (both also personal trainers – hence 3 PTs to Paris) and a few others I’m taking on a challenge that I’ll be using to celebrate my 30th birthday as we’ll arrive back in London about 3 hours before I hit the big 3-0. After succumbing to a back injury a couple of months ago I’ve found that cycling is one of the few forms of exercise that doesn’t stress out my back muscles. The triathlon I had in mind for the end of July is out of the picture because with the injury I just haven’t been able to train for it. So Paris it is!

(L-R) Mollie, Elle & Me

We’ll be doing the 164 (or so) miles over 3 days, leaving London on Friday morning and arriving at the Eiffel Tower on Sunday afternoon. The first day will see us cycling to Newhaven which is just to the east of Brighton to cover about 56 miles. A ferry will then deliver us in Dieppe late Friday night where we’ll stay in a little hotel. On Saturday we’ll tackle our longest day of 62 miles from Dieppe to Beauvais and then cover an easy 45 miles from Beauvais to Paris on the Sunday.

London2Paris map

In panniers we’ll be carrying all of our kit and tools but hopefully in mid-July the weather should be good enough that we can get away with minimal clothes! The biggest dilemma at the moment is how to fit in additional shoes so we don’t have to walk around Paris on the Monday in our cycling shoes. Important stuff.

The plan for training is to complete 2 x 1 hour cycle sessions during the week followed by a 2-4 hour cycle at the weekend. I’ll also be doing plenty of foam-rolling and some yoga to help my tight hips and quads and I’ll hopefully be continuing my weekly PT sessions to maintain some strength. Training started well last weekend with a 20 mile cycle swiftly followed by my beloved bike being stolen from inside my apartment block. Yep, they sawed through the bannisters to get it out. As gutting as that was the challenge is getting closer so I had to dig deep and shell out for a new bike which is a beauty.

Keep an eye out for more blogs in the 3 PTs to Paris series to cover how training is going and what kit we’ll be taking with us.

GETTING SOME ALONE TIME

Can you believe that I’ve reached the age of 29 and I’ve never been on holiday by myself? I’ve travelled by myself to meet people or had people meet me within a few hours but I’ve never done a trip by myself.

I love being by myself, or so I thought. I love being at home watching tv, chatting away to my puppy, mucking about on my laptop or chatting to people on the phone and then I realised that actually, I love being alone as long as there’s things to keep me occupied and/or people within easy reach.

So what happens when that isn’t the case? Last weekend I went back to Nice, France for 36 hours with the main purpose of completing my PADI Open Water diving qualification because inflammation in both my ears prevented me completing the course when I was there in September.

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After a slightly stressful journey that I spent cramming in all the diving theory which I’d put off to the last minute, I crashed into bed, woke up while it was still dark and toddled off to complete my final dive and do my test. Once that was all done a big weight was lifted off my shoulders and I realised that I had the rest of the day and night to myself before my flight home early the next morning.

I’m not going to lie, it was an exciting and terrifying prospect to entertain myself. Our (my in-laws’) flat has no wifi or television and we don’t want to change that so after a leisurely lunch where I rather self-consciously tried to look like I dined alone all the time I headed back, watched a film on my iPad and had a nap. The 3G signal is patchy to say the least so it limits the amount of time I can spend on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter etc. which in this case is definitely a good thing.

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That night I went down to the beach to watch the sunset and then went out for dinner where I indulged in an enormous plate of pasta and some delicious red wine and then a scoop of ice cream from my favourite ice cream shop in Nice.

Oh yes, all this pasta was mine

Oh yes, all this pasta was mine

I had to be very deliberate about putting down my phone because I live a lot of my life online including working in social media and it’s always my fall back when I find myself alone. But I did it. I put my phone down. And I just spent some time thinking about whatever popped into my head.

As scary as it was at the beginning it started to feel very liberating. I didn’t have to think about anyone else, I could eat and drink when I wanted and I could be selfish. I came home feeling refreshed and full of excitement to tell my husband about everything I’d done and seen while I was away.

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Now while holidays alone aren’t really something that I want to make a habit, I do want to take some of these things into my everyday life.

I want to:

– make time each week to spend a few hours alone doing something to look after myself mentally

– put my phone down and look up

– be still without a purpose

– let my brain wander to whatever thoughts it wants to explore

 

A MOUNTAINOUS ADVENTURE

You know those moments in life where you look around and realize that everything is excellent? Well last weekend I had quite a few of them thanks to the amazing landscape that is the Lake District.

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I ventured way up north from London to climb Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England to help one of my oldest friends, Cat, train for her 3 Peaks challenge. She’s raising money for Great Ormond Street Hospital so give her a hand and donate here if you fancy.

After a 10 hour drive on the hottest afternoon ever (true fact) we arrived at our little pub/hotel which was in a village with one other house. That was it. No phone reception, nothing. Bliss.

After a good night’s sleep and a massive breakfast we left for the short drive to the base of Scafell Pike. Being keen beans we were walking by 10am which gave us a smug sense of satisfaction being able to saunter downhill past all the poor sods trudging upwards at 2pm.

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Scafell Pike is the lowest of the 3 Peaks in the challenge (the others being Ben Nevis in Scotland and Snowdon in Wales) but is known to be the hardest due to the terrain. For 3 hours we walked up without any real flat sections for respite. Most of the uphill sections are made of rough stone steps which after even just 30 minutes was burning into the legs. We kept going, fuelled by sweets and laughter until we finally reached the top.

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Despite it being a whiteout at the top and not being able to see further than 2 metres we celebrated, felt like superwomen, ate a lot of food and set off on the downhill section. I just want to mention at this point how proud I was of my little pup Pip who soldiered all the way to the top without having to be carried (apart from over the river at the beginning). She was full of beans the whole way with a wagging tail. Sometimes I wish I had 4 legs instead of 2.

The downhill section was definitely more pleasant despite being murder on the quads, especially as we knew that we were walking towards a right good cream tea.

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Once we were down and devouring said cream tea we reflected on the achievement and felt even more proud that we’d scaled the highest mountain in England whilst laughing the whole way.

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Let’s just not talk about the DOMs that lasted for 3 days…