A year ago I first heard about this thing called 'The NightRider' - a 100km cycle through London at night. It sounded daunting then, and no less daunting when I signed up 4 weeks ago. Last Saturday I set off from Crystal Palace proudly wearing my Cancer Research UK jersey with hundreds of other riders, and to my complete surprise finished second, in a time of 4 hours 15 minutes.
It was one of the toughest things I have ever done, both exhilarating but very emotional at the same time. I have raised almost £700 for Cancer Research UK through the generosity of a lot of donors - some I know well, others through social networks, but everyone combined to put my head in the right place to do this challenge. THANK YOU.
The experience is hard to describe, and to be honest I didn't stop to take photos. I raced the first section to Tower Bridge and it was only because the bridge was up that I pinched myself to remember to look up and enjoy the sights. The distant hills of Crystal Palace to Ally Pally, Greenwich and the docks, the City, Wapping, Canary Wharf, bustling Soho, Abbey Road and The Oval all passed by as I dug deeper and deeper to keep going. Then, in the final stretch it was almost to much: it's an odd experience to be cycling the last 15 miles at 3am with tears in your eyes, singing to keep going to a silent London.
Even though it was a blur, there are some things I'll never forget -
- Seeing the friendly face of the Cancer Research volunteers at the start line - it's a small thing but riding alone it meant a lot to know there was a team behind me
- Tower Bridge at night as the bridge was raised and lowered - cars stopped, people taking selfies and we cyclists forced to pause and take it all in for a moment
- Losing my bearings and convincing myself I'd taken the wrong route, then seeing St Paul's appear out of nowhere, ghostly and pale but oh so welcoming to this 'lost' rider.
- The Paris-Roubaix like cobbles on the way to Wapping, and sharing the pain with two other riders, bonded by the experience
- The agony and ecstasy of reaching the highest point on Hampstead and knowing it was downhill for a while
- The look of surprise at the marshal when I arrived at the finish-line to say I was too early for breakfast
- The medal around my neck that convinced the canteen to serve me breakfast early
Two days later, as I look back weary but exhilarated my main feeling is one of pride, and of feeling privileged to have helped the work of such a good cause. Thank you Cancer Research UK for giving me a reason to ride, I hope that one day soon I won't have to ride for you but until then I know my donations will help.
Don't forget you can still sponsor me here http://www.justgiving.com/markofrespect
Here is my Strava record for any bike geeks out there
PS I wish I had slowed down a bit, check out what London looks like at sunrise!