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Mark's Ride - In a day...

When John asked us all to write a little piece on our experience of L2P24, I tried to think about all the ideas running through my head and how to turn them into a coherent narrative. However, in the end it was clear to me that the abiding impression from the whole experience was the number of outstanding emotions and memories that will stay with me for a very long time, probably as many as any other event in my life. It is these that best sum up what it’s like to take part in such an extraordinary event, with such an amazing group of people. If I have one tip for anyone thinking of doing this, the first and most important item on your list should be finding the right bunch of people to do it with – I was very lucky.

The preparation:
  • The incredulous look on people’s faces and in their messages, but also their support and encouragement, when you tell them you’re planning to cycle to Paris ……. the long way ….. in a day 
  • Doubting whether I could really do this, but this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and too good to pass up. And with this bunch of people ….. maybe, just maybe. I had to try. 
  • “Mamil”– I’ll show you 
  • The largest sponsorship from just an acquaintance and finding out his brother had died at GOSH – you don’t need any more motivation than that 
  • Not being able to keep up on the first training ride – will I ever get fit enough? 
  • Taking the bike with me on every weekend away with the family to get the training in 
  • 10pm, February, Forest of Bowland. Stopping, out of breath, 50ft from the top of a climb to a 900 ft summit (damn!), motorist reversing downhill to check I’m OK, frozen water bottles, getting lost, pain in bed later as the feeling returns to my feet 
  • I don’t deserve to be in this group – don’t let them down 
  • 15 minutes of fame in the local paper (well, the girls enjoyed their names being there!) 
  • Doing my local 33 mile, 1600 ft ascent circuit at 17mph (the same pace managed by some people who’d previously done London to Paris in 24 hours) – maybe I can do this after all? 
  • Shirt design at Cormac’s place (pink and toothpaste don’t go together) 
  • 36.8 mph average during descent into Dover on the practice night ride, with the full moon over the port – fantastic! 
  • The urgent visit to Asda on the way back – not the kind of tailwind you want 
  • Never thought I’d be the kind of person who has a preferred energy drink (SIS Go) or could relate from experience the benefits of proper hydration, carb loading etc 
  • The sudden pause and change of expression on the hairdressers face when she says “In a day!?” 
  • 167 miles in one day on my own – I can do the miles – can I do the speed? 
  • From a cycling family friend to my sister - “London to Paris …. in a day …. your brother … are you sure?” 
  • Great 5 counties Audax but ending with me wet, cold, fed-up and loitering in a Sainsbury’s petrol station for my wife to pick me up 
  • Getting a circular from GOSH about their 165 mile “London to Paris over 3 days” event in September and thinking “Pah, done that distance in half a day already” 
  • My last 100 miler, 2 weeks before the ride, going at a great average speed, then my knee starts to hurt. No, not now 
  • Finding out I had something called an ITB and I should have been stretching it 
  • Kidding myself I was prepared for the worst case if I had to drop off the main group in France to allow them to get there on time 
  • Preparation in the last month before the ride was far from ideal – still, it’s now or never 
The ride:
  • Stripping off at Marble Arch to take the unnecessary T-shirt off (No Lisa, please don’t take a picture now) 
  • All looking great at the start – “Pretty in Pink” 
  • Everyone coming to see us off, with another great good luck banner from the kids (sniff) 
  • Looking down in all the start photos trying to fix my locked-up GPS 
  • Woops from drunken girls we pass who’re out on the lash on a Saturday night 
  • Insults from yobs in Vauxhall Corsas who obviously own the road 
  • Ben having the breath to chat to a friendly car full on the steepest climb to Dover 
  • Getting lost in Gravesend (not recommended) 
  • Richard pulling me up the long, long drag on the A2 towards Dover. “Get to Dover feeling like you’ve not done a ride” – not me matey! 
  • Coasting the long downhill into Dover – don’t be silly – save your energy 
  • Not sleeping at all on the ferry. ITB hurting a lot, hmmmm 
  • First French car we meet on a roundabout gives way to let us all through. “Welcome to France”, where the cyclist isn’t a pariah 
  • Early morning mist, flat roads, tail winds, nice scenery, no traffic – lovely 
  • What “accelerated schedule”? 
  • Cormac unintentionally making me feel better by having one tough stint so I wasn’t at the back for once 
  • “Is that Mark taking the front?” – oops, sorry, forgot myself for a minute there 
  • Dave and Stan – fantastically well organised support all day – unbelievable 
  • You really do need ½ hour stops to eat, drink, prepare bottles, text your family, stretch, go to the loo, fix your body 
  • Blooming hills, why didn’t I lose another stone? 
  • Drink, drink, drink, eat, drink, drink, drink 
  • My foot hurts – hey, that means my knee’s not hurting any more! 
  • Absolutely done-in after 120 miles in France, but then finding everyone else was as well and thinking “just 65 miles left to do in 5 1/2 hrs – I can do really do this” 
  • Andy chasing after the van when it drove past with the back doors wide open 
  • Surprised I never felt sleepy 
  • The run into Paris starting with the last downhill – Woo hoo – let’s go for 23 hours! 
  • “Isn’t the Arc that way?” 
  • Cycling up the whole Champs Elysees, sun setting behind L’Arc - magical 
  • The look on Dave’s face when we all arrived successfully 
  • Looking down in many of the finish photos as I text and call everyone I know to say we’ve made it! 
  • So focussed on getting through the ride successfully that it all seemed to be over so quickly 
  • My body telling me it had had enough during Dinner. I really do know what it feels like to be utterly knackered now 
  • There’s actually a KFC in Paris I could have gone to – Noooooo! 
The aftermath:
  • What fantastic weather – we were so lucky 
  • Feeling slightly down now that it’s all over – what next? 
  • The buzz you get when people who’s opinion you really respect are truly impressed 
  • Making my kids, wife, parents proud of me 
  • NO! my backside is not sore, I did not use a pedalo, I did not use Eurostar! 
  • Knowing you’ve done something that’s not just an achievement for “someone like me”, but for anybody 
  • A wee sniffle when writing “Thank you” emails after the ride as it started to sink in what we’d done 
  • A little peck for the bike on returning it to the garage in Stortford. £500 – what a bargain 
  • People getting fed up with my false modesty “I’m not really fit, you could do it as well if you trained for it” 
  • London to Cambridge cycle ride 2 weeks afterwards with my friend Dave. Relaxed, fun, nice day out – nothing to prove to myself or anyone else. 
The people:

I do have just one thing in common with Mark Cavendish – I could never have done it without the team I was with.
  • Cormac: Would never have happened without him introducing me into the group – cheers mate, forever grateful 
  • Ben: So glad the ITB problem went away – wouldn’t have been the same without him – great encouragement all the way through training 
  • Dan: Exams, Hills Road and training for London to Paris. I don’t know, the youth of today ……. 
  • Andy H: What a point man! Great bragging rights - “Yeh, one of the guys I ride with was a junior world champion rower for Great Britain” 
  • Andy HJ: Great company and another welcome wind-break; 
  • Dan: Aches and pains, but keeps on going. Chose the wrong person to sit opposite for dinner! 
  • Richard: 50% gratitude “Thanks so much for helping me get up those hills”, 50% grimace “I’m going as hard as I can you know for an unfit, fat, middle-aged man!” 
  • Simon: 49, no beanpole, but has previously completed LeJoG and L’Etape du Tour - an inspiration. Great encouragement all the way along and free travel! 
  • John: Made it all possible. Wouldn’t have happened without his fantastic organisation, encouragement and plain hard work. We all had our individual achievements, but it’s John that got the whole team there 
  • David: Any son would be proud to have a father like him 
  • Stan: How many people would go the best part of 800 miles on a few hours sleep to support many guys he hardly new - fantastic 
  • My family: I can come to swimming, kayaking, horse riding etc now and do my fair share at home again (well, as much as I ever did before anyway!)