Having completed London to Cambridge (60 miles), the Wiggle Dragon Ride (Wales, 100 miles) and The Only Way (unsurprisingly in Essex, 100 miles) together, my cycling buddy Claire and I were discussing what we should do next. We both like a good challenge, and we clearly really like cycling. So, a long-distance bike ride over four days wasn’t such a far-out idea. Our plan to do the London to Paris ride was born.
Organised by Global Adventure Challenges, this charity ride takes place in September. It’s 300 miles, starting in London and going through Kent to Dover, where we take the ferry to Calais. Then, we head along quiet country lanes to Arras, Compeigne, the Sommes and finally into Paris, ending at the iconic Arc de Triomphe.
The ride is fully supported. Hotels, meals, the route and medical and mechanical support are all organised by Global Adventure Challenges, and the company also arranges for our luggage to be transported between hotels. So, all we have to do is cycle, carrying a spare inner tube, water and maybe a couple of flapjacks for snacking along the way.
Me having completed the London to Cambridge ride.
It’s not just about the cycling, though. This particular event has very personal resonance for me. I’m raising funds for the Institute of Cancer Research. This organisation is working hard to increase our understanding of cancer so that we can better treat it. It is a world leader in identifying cancer genes, discovering new drugs and developing precision radiotherapy. It has, among other things, developed the revolutionary prostate cancer drug abiraterone, something close to my heart as both my dad and uncle are currently in treatment.
In fact, it seems that everyone I know has been affected by cancer in some way. I don’t know if this is because I’m getting older, because the population in general is living longer, because of our lifestyles or simply because we’re getting better at detecting the disease. I suspect it’s a combination of all these things. In my lifetime cancer has gone from being something that happened to other people to something that happens to everyone, in some form, and it’s heartbreaking.
There’s still so much work to be done, and there will be until no one else dies of cancer. The ICR’s vision is of a world where people can live their lives free of cancer as a life-threatening disease. By taking part in the London to Paris ride I feel that I am in some small way helping the institute to achieve this goal. The fundraising target I’ve been given is £1,470, which, to be honest, is as daunting as riding 300 miles. Any donations are gratefully received; you can donate here.
Me taking part in the Wiggle Dragon Ride.
Am I worried about whether I can complete this challenge? Yes, in fact I’m not even sure how best to train for it, other than to do lots and lots of cycling. I spend a lot of time on my bike. In addition to weekend rides, I commute four days out of five. My shortest route is just 5 miles, but I’ve discovered longer, often nicer, routes of up to 10 and even 12 miles. These routes take me across Walthamstow Marshes, through Finsbury Park and around Alexandra Palace. It sometimes feels like I’m giving myself a tour of many of north-east London’s highlights.
Turning my commute into part of my training has been an excellent way of getting more miles on the bike. There are some days when I’ll have cycled 24 miles. It also means I’m cycling almost every day. I’m constantly building my strength and endurance. But it still isn’t enough.
I know I can do long distances because I’ve completed two 100-milers, but to complete London to Paris I’ll need to be able to do long distances over four days — I need to improve my stamina. But how to do that while holding down a full-time job, running a household and trying to have some sort of social life?
I was somewhat skeptical when I heard that the UK was to host the 2012 Olympics.But not only did we put on a spectacular event, we now have a true legacy in the shape of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Living in Walthamstow in east London, I have a world-class velodrome on my doorstep.
The Lee Valley VeloPark, to give it its full name, really is a great facility. As well as the track (which continues to play host to a variety of events), it has mountain bike trails, a BMX circuit and a one-mile road circuit. This last is excellent — a twisting, undulating series of loops that are a joy to cycle round. For just £5 at the weekend (£4 during the week), I can pitch up on my road bike and spend as long as I want doing laps. This might sound rather boring to many people, but I love it. Lovely smooth tarmac and no traffic mean I can go as far and fast as I like.
There’s also a cafe, which overlooks the indoor track, so I can reward myself with coffee and cake after a particularly long session. I’m assuming that coffee and pastries will be de rigueur once we cross into France …
But none of this addresses the problem of training for multiple miles over multiple days. I’ve read several online training plans and it seems that I’m doing everything right. In fact I’m actually doing a lot more cycling than some of them deem necessary. But they all agree on one thing: you need to practise at least a couple of long rides on consecutive days.
Luckily I’ve got until September to do this, and August has a nice long Bank Holiday weekend on which I have no plans. Over the next few weeks and months I will be upping the number and length of my sessions at the velodrome and adding miles to my Sunday rides, constantly improving my fitness and strength. And then on that August Bank Holiday weekend I will complete at least two 50-mile rides.
I’m determined to complete this challenge. I’m scared, but the fact is that I’m also very much looking forward to it. Paris here we come!
PS: I’d love to hear from anyone who has already completed this challenge or plans to do so — what are your training plans?
You can donate to my Just Giving page.
Find out more about the Institute of Cancer Research.
See what other events are organised by Global Adventure Challenges (and maybe sign up for one!).
For details on visiting the Lee Valley VeloPark.
Rebecca Armstrong is a cyclist and writer living in London.