On Sunday the 16th of July 2017 I took part in the annual London To Southend Bike Ride organised by Bike Events. This is a 55-mile bike ride which starts in Victoria Park, east London, and finishes in Priory Park, Southend, Essex. It is organised by Bike Events who also organise outdoor sportives such as London To Cambridge and also organise cycling holidays abroad. This is a race report of how I got on!
The half Iron distance cycle starts near Stratford in east London. Most of the participants are from Essex and there are special charter trains from Southend Victoria train station to Stratford which is a direct route. It's an early start with the first wave leaving London from 6:30am and the last wave leaving at 9am which means being on the train well before 7am. The atmosphere is already buzzing as you get on the train as everyone is in the same boat and you check out what everyone else is wearing and what kind of bikes they're using.
It's a 3-mile warm-up ride from Stratford station to Victoria Park for the start of the event. There are various stands selling energy gels and mechanics offering last-minute bike support. There are toilets for your last-minute convenience stop and then it's off to the start line! The man at the start line is full of energy and is enjoying revving up the cyclists. Waves of cyclists leave roughly every 10 minutes so you can just get going whenever you're ready. We started in the last wave at 9am so it was less busy, however I'm sure it was buzzing and very busy in the earlier waves.
There's about half an hour's worth of riding through busy London streets before you're out into the Essex countryside, but this is definitely all part of the fun. Riding in a big pack means it feels a lot safer, and the motorists were very polite and understanding of having to give way to hundreds of cyclists! Apart from having to stop at quite a few sets of traffic lights, the route is fantastic. The marshals are great and make sure you don't get lost!
Once out into the Essex countryside it's just miles and miles of beautiful scenery and fresh air. There is a steady stream of cyclists meaning it's not too crowded, and the roads are dead quiet with only a handful of cars passing me throughout the entirety of the ride. There are marshals at all the major junctions, but the route is seamless and there are barely any times when you need to stop.
There are official rest stops at various mile markers, with the main one halfway. At the rest stop, there are toilets, water stations, hot food and drinks, and also various things for sale and mechanics on hand to help with any bike issues!
The route is largely downhill which is to be expected when cycling from inland to sea level, but there are some killer climbs too! According to my Garmin watch, my max elevation was around 400m. People on older bikes were getting off and walking them up the hills but I managed to cycle all the way to the top every time. There are some fantastic downhill sprints too, and my max speed hit 26mph. Below is a summary of the ride as recorded by my Garmin watch.
Once you get to Rochford you realise that you are very close to being home. There are plenty of marshals as the roads get a lot busier in central Southend and the route goes round one of the busiest roundabouts in town (Sutton Road). You are guided into the park and there is a roaring crowd cheering you in! I'm not sure what I expected, but I wasn't expecting it to be that buzzing! There are lots of friends and family waiting at the end with dogs, food, drinks, and entertainment all available. Although by the end of this ride I just wanted to lie down as my back was killing me! My biggest piece of advice here would be to work out how you're getting home from Priory Park because there's a good chance once you're off your bike you won't want to get back on!
Oh, and if you're wondering why the quality of the below photo is a little blurred, it's because the flapjacks I had brought along for energy leaked buttery grease all over my phone!
Support and Organisation
I was so impressed by the support and organisation of this event! The marshals were not only helpful but they were friendly and supportive too. There was no chance of going the wrong way as there was ample signage and help along the route. If you suffered a problem, the mechanic or medic was only a call away in a car which could come and pick you up. Everyone is given a route map at the start too for extra security. The facilities were great and the atmosphere was really fun. The route has clearly been very well thought out and this annual event is now a big part of the local calendar. I am now really looking forward to my next sportive!
It can be hard to stay motivated when running solo. Cold winters, shin splints, boring playlists... sometimes getting up and out can be the hardest part. So what about joining a running club? Have you ever thought about it? What are the benefits, and are there any drawbacks?
Running alone can be dreadfully lonely, especially on the long winter nights when you find yourself plodding along for 10 miserable miles. But who said running has to be boring? If you join a running club, you'll be among like-minded people who may be training for a specific event or just out for a fun jog with their friends. You'll meet people from your town who you may never have met otherwise, so it's a great opportunity to make friends.
There's been countless times that I've set out for a run but ended up turning back after only a mile or two because it's too cold or I'm too tired or my legs hurt too much. But if you're running with a club, there is much more motivation to keep going. You can chat to your running buddies to keep your mind occupied and you can explore new routes, which will be covered in the next point.
When I run, I'm very guilty of always going the same way, which can get very boring after a while. I'm not very adventurous with my runs because I'm never too sure of where will be safe to run, or if the route will even have pavement the whole way along. I certainly never bother to drive out to a run location; I always start and finish at home. But by joining a running club you will be encouraged to try new routes that you would never have even dreamt of before. The best part is that the distance will already be tried and tested so all you will have to do is turn up and run! You may experience runs through woodlands or off-road for the first time which is a great added bonus.
Safety In Numbers
Running alone, especially in the evening, can feel a little unsafe. Running with a club means you will be a lot safer in all aspects as there will be so many people running alongside you. Traffic is also more likely to stop to let you cross the road if there is a large number of you, so your run will be less interrupted if you are running on busy streets or in a city.
Doors to other events
Before I joined a running club, I never even thought about running a race or joining the local Parkrun. By being a member of a club, you will end up being motivated to train for events such as 10ks and half marathons, which are always more enjoyable when you have comrades to cheer you on. Feeling part of a team is a fantastic feeling.
Choosing the right club
There may well be more than one running club in your town or city, so choosing the right one is fairly important as they are not all the same. In my town for example, we have one club which is free of charge to be a member of and it is very much a relaxed group of people who love to run for fun and eat cake afterwards! There is another club which is on the other end of the spectrum, who take running very seriously, so they motivate each other in a very different way. This club has an annual fee, however being an affiliated club means you get cheaper entry to races so after a while your fee should pay for itself. Run Together has a list of nationwide running clubs, or doing a simple Google search will provide you with local clubs around you.
If you don't feel ready to join a run club just yet, why not try Parkrun? This weekly event is a 5k run held in your local park (you can find your closest Parkrun here) It is a growing community, with hundreds of participants showing up each week at each location! It is completely free of charge and you can be of any ability, many people just walk the course. It's great for those trying to improve their running as it is chip timed so you get an official finish time every time you turn up and run. The atmosphere is incredibly supportive and it will allow you to meet like-minded people from your local area who are all there for the same reason - to get fit and enjoy the process!
So what are you waiting for! Let's get running!
Having booked the Southend Triathlon in for 2017 I was keen to get a couple of events in beforehand. For me, it's important to have these smaller races in the diary before a big event to give myself a good assessment on where my fitness levels are. It’s equally important to be race prepared; racing is very different to training and psychologically it’s important I get in ‘race mode’ as often as possible! I have also set myself personal goals this year focused on improving my running times one of which is to get a sub 35 minute 10k.
The first event that I took part in was the Rayleigh 10k. This was a new event for 2017 and attracted me as it was entirely off road on bridleways, through woods, and around fields. The route itself was very technical with lots of tree roots, corners, gates, and uneven ground to manoeuvre around - not to mention the horses! The organisers did a good job spraying arrows on the floor to avoid confusion but navigation was still tricky in places. There were a number of hills but none that were too steep, and what goes up must come down meaning faster running on the downhill parts! I seem to thrive in these conditions and thoroughly enjoyed it.
My training has been going pretty well with some very tough structured sessions focused on helping me reach my running goals, but as we lined up at the start I spotted that there were at least three other runners that I knew could beat me (and had done so a few times!) The training plans paid off and after being part of a two-man lead for the first 6k, I noticed myself edging ahead. I wasn’t sure if this was due to me speeding up or the other runner slowing down, but I fought hard not to look behind me to check the gap.
I was running in a Sundried Ortler T-shirt. These do great on race day as they are light-weight and super comfortable, as well as having sweat-wicking technology which kept me dry under the pressure of racing!
I finished the race in first place with a time of 36:06. I had set a 35-minute target but given the tricky terrain, I was happy with the time. I was 20 seconds ahead of second place who I hung onto for the first 6k.
The race was organised very well for a first event and it was a great course making the most of the surrounding woods around Hockley and Cherry Orchard Way. There were 300 runners and a good number of local running clubs represented.
Now on to the Rochford 10k on the 14 May and most importantly the Southend Triathlon on the 28 May!About the author: Chris has been running seriously since 2009 and has completed many 5ks, 10ks and half marathons since then. He has also competed in a number of Triathlons from sprint distance to half iron distance. He has a busy 2017 planned and has already won both the Hadleigh 10k with a five-year course record and the Rayleigh 10k.