The day of the London to Southend bike ride had long been a mark in my diary for a while but it wasn’t necessarily a day I’d been counting down to. A combination of holidays and reoccurring injuries had led to a thin layer of dust accumulating on my road bike. Now the holiday was over and injury had subsided, it was great to have an excuse to take out the bike for a long ride – what better way than cruising cross-country on a sunny Sunday morning? Here’s my race review of the London to Southend bike ride.
Sunday 17th July, the morning of. The first alarm was set for 5:30am, the second alarm was set for 5:40am and the third alarm titled ‘GET MOVING’ was set for 6am. Surprisingly, I woke up like a lightning bolt (as is always the way when you’ve got nervous energy) and set off by CYCLING to the train station (keeno). From Southend Victoria train station, the race organisers had arranged two trains dedicated for cyclists, the first being at 6:21am and the second at 6:37am with regular trains thereafter for those who didn’t get up after the third alarm. We were on the 6:37am with the guys getting on the train nice and early at…6:37am.
There’s a short but sign-posted journey from Stratford train station over to Victoria Park in Hackney so any riders interested in signing up for this event next year (AND travelling from Southend), be prepared to do a bit of pedalling before the start line. The short 2.5 mile ride from Stratford to Victoria Park helps warm up the legs and find any underlying problems that your bike has been hiding until now, even saw one cyclist diagnosing a problem with their bike 200m into the first ride. Ouch.
The London to Southend bike ride is organised by the British Heart foundation who are conducting pioneering research into cardiovascular health.
When signing up to the event, you are asked to specify a start time but the event officials say the start time is flexible so if you get there earlier on the day then starting off earlier is fine. We started at around 8:30am with riders being staggered out to avoid any mad rushes at the start, the perfect beginning to a race for any nervous cyclists who envision themselves falling over while stationary with their cleats (that nervous cyclist might have been me). Victoria Park is a nice place to start but 30m after starting we found ourselves waiting for traffic lights. Welcome to London. Unfortunately, the next 10-15 miles was affected by traffic lights and overly ambitious cars who clearly had somewhere to be on a Sunday morning (thank you to all the drivers who DID wait patiently though, we kind of ambushed the roads).
The 50 mile bike route takes you through Leyton, Chigwell over the M25 through to the Essex countryside. The route weaves past Doddinghurst, Mountnessing, Stock before heading over to the very picturesque South Hanningfield, Battlesbridge, Slimbridge, Canewdon and then Southend. The further away from London the more leafier the suburb and wider the roads, with this there is opportunity to go pretty quick which is nice especially because it is SO FLAT. When you’re used to cycling through the Cotswolds, this route is extremely refreshing – yes there are a few hills (approx. 1900ft’s worth across the 50 miles) but nothing too bad if you’re a regular cyclist.
The ride was extremely well organised, with sign posts at every conspicuous corner and marshals dotted about, not to mention all five food, drink and toilet stops which were conveniently placed at 10-15 mile intervals. There were First Aid tents and First Aid cyclists, mechanics and other volunteers for the event (it goes without saying, volunteers, but I did at every opportunity – THANK YOU!). There was little to no room for navigational error and prompter signs reminding us to hydrate worked a treat for me who ritually had a sip of water every time I saw the sign. I sometimes struggled with cyclists who were going at a leisurely pace in the middle of the road, it meant that by overtaking we had to cycle in the opposite side of the road which is a bit daft. Perhaps I should’ve said, overtaking on the right? Either way, that’s not a comment on the race organisers moreover the way cyclists were on the day.
To 65 miles? Or not to 65 miles
The question on my mind throughout the last 20 miles was… do I carry on and do the extra 15 miles to call it a 65 mile ride or do I call it a day at 50 miles? For the majority of this time I thought yes, persevere, you’ve got this, until my foot started to cramp, my last gel had gone and I envisioned myself lying down on the grass by the finisher’s ground like a starfish with a medal round my neck. I decided to finish up with the 50 miles, but as soon as I stopped I realised I definitely had more miles in the tank. Next time…
Ode to cycling
So there we have it, the London to Southend bike ride done for another year. I write this post in between soothing my sunburnt arms and legs, yep there’s a cycling short line and jersey t-shirt line marked red as a rooster. It’s glorious. We lucked out with the weather, overcast and sunshine but very little wind until the final home straight back to Southend. The atmosphere was great on the day with riders looking out for one another throughout. I love the sense of community that you get with other cyclists and this ride was a reminder of that. The route, once out of London, was really picturesque with Hanningfield Reservoir being one of the highlights. For the cost of £21 and a little co-ordination involved with travel I highly recommend this ride.
The London to Southend bike ride is organised by the British Heart Foundation who embark upon research which pioneer medical breakthroughs.