You know those races that you sign up for and then forget until it’s just round the corner and you realise you haven’t done much specific training?
Well that’s how I felt going into L’Etape London, a 75km cycle sportive starting in Stratford and heading out to deepest darkest Essex before coming all the way back.
In the run up to the race I’d done a couple of longish cycles (55km and 50km) as well as the 40km in the middle of my triathlon in August but that’s about it. I’ve always loved cycling ever since I was young so although I see these long cycles as a challenge it’s certainly not something that I was nervous going into.
The day dawned beautifully clear and sunny so after my normal pre-race breakfast of protein oats I hopped on my bike and gently cycled the 5km down to the Olympic Park velodrome where the start was. There were fewer people doing the race than I thought there would be so the event village was small, uncrowded and friendly. There were no queues for the toilets (shock horror) and there was no wait to have a last minute tyre pressure check.
The only thing that I noticed at the start and the whole way through the race was the lack of women. I’d say that about 70% of the entrants were men of all ages and the rest were women. In my start wave there were a few older women but I was one of the youngest women there. Come on girls, it’s time to get cycling!
Anyway, off we went into the beautiful morning and before I knew it we had ridden through most of East London and we had hit Epping Forest. This is where the hills started, at this point they were long and gentle which was good to get my head down and pedal steadily to reach the top. Just before Epping we turned off to Theydon Bois and this is when the real pain hit. Between Theydon Bois and Ongar (the turn point) it seemed like we were on one long switchback. The ups and downs were short, sharp and never-ending.
My quads and hamstrings were really starting to protest when we hit the feed station, a total blessing. There was a table laden with pain au chocolat, biscuits, sweets, bananas and boiled salted potatoes. Potatoes?! I know, they were amazing… I didn’t want to spike my blood sugar at this point (34km in, not even halfway) because I knew that the sugar crash would hit me before the end of the race and I would really struggle. All I needed was some carbohydrates to replace all of the glucose that I had used up in my muscles.
After scoffing 4 potatoes, refilling my water bottle and stretching my legs I hopped back on my bike and set off through the cobbles of Ongar. From this point to the end of the race the pack was much more strung out as people spent different lengths of time at the feed station. I spent quite a few stretches all by myself which was amazing.
The sunshine, countryside and sense of freedom that cycling brings all added up to one happy little lady. I was actually smiling to myself at various points of the race because I was just so happy to be out in the sunshine cycling as fast as I could.
Eventually I made it to Epping where I waved at my in-laws’ house and sped back through the forest down those hills. With about 15km to go I hit the wall. Everything was sore and my legs just didn’t want to work anymore. I stopped for a couple of minutes, had a gel and a swig of water and stretched my legs. It did the trick because a couple of minutes after I got back on my bike I felt strong again and I flew down through East London back to Stratford.
The final km was on the road track at the velodrome with a sprint finish and I gave it everything I had left, crossing the line in just under 3.5 hours. I picked up my medal and pretty much kept cycling! The 5km home felt like a luxury cool down as I took it at a nice slow pace.
The biggest shock and biggest pat on my back was when I checked the results later that night and found out that I came 8th in my age category! Bloody hell! I’m normally that one plodding in at the back but not this time.
Overall I would massively recommend this race and I’ll definitely be doing it next year! Maybe even the longer route… Plus how sexy is this medal?!