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Women's 100: Jools' Journal

One week before our worldwide women’s group ride, author Jools Walker reflects on her first Women’s 100 and what keeps her coming back for more.

01 September 2020
Rapha Women's 100 - Jools Walker Cycling Journal

Journal Entry Three:

The Day of the #Womens100

I had to look at my GPS tracker.

Although I’d promised myself, I’d not be held captive by numbers throughout my ride, my curiosity had got the better of me. I deliberately hadn’t checked my progress since pressing ‘Start’ earlier that morning. Surely enough time must have passed by now for me to have a little peek. So, I did. And the biggest smile crept across my face when I glanced at the display. I was over forty kilometres in, and it wasn’t even 10am yet.

For me, this was huge.

At this point, I’d completed numerous and alternating laps of Queen Elizabeth Park – one of the spots on my ‘Park Life’ route which links together some of London’s famous parks. I was still feeling as fresh as a daisy, thinking I’d not cycled that far at all.

“Just another sixty to go!” I chuckled to myself… as if that wasn’t still a considerable distance for a woman who rarely does long-distance rides. But I was happy about the fact I could actually imagine the next 60k and visualise myself completing them. If they were anything like kilometres I’d already tucked under my cap, I would achieve exactly what I wanted on the Women’s 100 this year: absolute fun.

I exited Stratford to head to the next park on the map (Victoria) for more laps. By this stage, my hot Weetabix breakfast and occasional refuelling on the ride had definitely worn off. I pulled up at a café in Hackney Wick, which I’d plotted into the route for a coffee and cake stop. I used this hearty pit stop as a chance to scroll through the #Womens100 hashtag. Seeing the other women around the world taking part was also the emotional fuel I needed to feast on, to power myself through the day.

“Excuse me”, said a woman who came over to me from her table, and then sat next to me on the floor. “I’m sorry to bother you with today being your big ride, but I wanted to say thank you for helping me get back on a bike”.

I was lost for words. She introduced herself as Mimi, and then pointed over to an orange Brompton next to her table and smiled. “That’s because of you and your book”. It turns out my cycling story had given her the courage to get back on the saddle and try again. On all the days this encounter could have happened, it was all the more special to be on my Women’s 100. At that moment, Mimi became part of my Invisible Peloton, providing an extra burst of strength to power me on.

As I rolled into what felt like my 50th lap of Victoria park, those 6o kilometres that I’d chuckled about earlier didn’t seem that funny anymore. I was still having fun, but I knew at some stage, I’d feel the enormity of the distance. No matter how many Fruit Pastilles I was stuffing into my mouth in a bid to get a sugar-rush, I had started to flag. There is no glory in self-destruction, and as I’ve said before – beasting myself to exhaustion isn’t what the Women’s 100 is about for me.

The original plan was to head to Regent’s Park for the next set of laps, but I recognised that it would be a stretch too far. My legs were tired, and my mind was becoming fuzzy. But this was the brilliant thing about the ‘Park Life’ route – it was flexible and had necessary ejection points in it if needed.

I looked at my GPS tracker again. There was something wildly liberating about not being glued to it for the day. The loops of Victoria Park had taken me to 70km out of 100km. “I’m almost there!” I thought to myself. I pulled the eject cord on Regent’s laps and cycled over to London Fields. It had the three P’s I needed: a park, paths to cycle on… and a pizza restaurant nearby.

The speed with which I demolished that piping hot pizza must have been a new record for me. That, plus a restorative lay-down on the grass was exactly what I needed. My energy levels were back up again, and my mind was clear enough to make a decision on how the last stretch would go.

I cycled back to Queen Elizabeth Park. It wasn’t a sign of failure or defeat that I didn’t make it to Regent’s – this was my ride, and it was working for me. There was something quite fitting about the final laps being back in Newham, my home ground, too. Maybe it sounds odd, but there was a real sense of homecoming to this. At 95km and with the sunlight beginning to fade, it was time to leave Elizabeth behind and cycle the final five kilometres back to base.

Unclipping from the pedals at my garden gate, it was of course time to take one last look at the tracker. 101.60km. My Women’s 100 was complete. In my mind, I hugged every single woman who I cycled with in this Invisible Peloton. We’d all powered each other on, supported one another along the way and somehow, even though it was wildly different from last year, I’d never felt more connected to a group ride in my life.

In a year like no other, this ride will stay in my mind forever…and probably propel me for many more adventures on wheels to come.

Journal Entry Two:

Training for the Women's 100

Training for this year's Women's 100 is quite different to how I'd imagined it would be.

From the moment I crossed my finish line last year, I started planning how I'd build up to doing this all again in 2020. It was going to be so good! There would be bike rides with my partner Ian, and most certainly plenty of group rides with friends. I could see myself loading my bike onto trains, travelling around the country to hook-up with as many members of my extended cycling family as possible, and doing rides in different parts of the UK.

But coronavirus arrived, and it had other ideas.

All those group rides may have gone straight out the window, but the one thing that wasn’t going to get ruined was having fun while training for the event. For me, preparing for and doing the Women’s 100 isn’t about beasting myself to the point of exhaustion – although there is no denying you feel knackered after doing 100km in a day – it’s about enjoying the whole experience. This means having a laugh from the day you start prepping to the moment you’ve clocked up that metric century in September.

Mixing it up is something which works for me. I find super-regimented training programmes too restrictive, so I lose interest, fast. No matter the length or what style of cycling it is, every ride I’m doing is a training session. The recce rides to work out the route – along with plenty of pizza stops and coffee shops – are all part of it too.

I might not be with my cycling family in person but riding with them virtually on Zwift and my indoor trainer has been a joy. I’m even making new buddies online, which is a bonus and keeps me going – especially when you’re missing the human connection of cycling with friends.

Training and what it’s perceived to involve can be such a loaded term: all the talk of power, watts, thresholds, endurance... Sometimes it can seem like a bit too much. I’ve discovered I’m a big fan of being kind to myself, figuring out what works for me and, most importantly of all, having fun along the way.

Journal Entry One:

Last year was a year of big cycling-related milestones for me, and after the joy of having my first book on that very subject published that spring, I wanted to do something that would mean a lot for me personally to celebrate it.

I decided that a big, juicy bike ride – unlike any that I’d done before – would be a perfect way to mark the occasion. So, as soon as the date for the 2019 Women’s 100 was announced, I circled Saturday 14th September in my diary. This was going to be The One.

Did the thought of doing the Women’s 100 give me nervous butterflies in my stomach? Of course – I’d be lying if I said otherwise. In my nine years of cycling, I had never ridden that distance in a single day. Perhaps it sounds wild, but this was one of the things that appealed to me - it was a new challenge for me to take on.

“I had never ridden that distance in a single day, but this was one of the things that appealed to me.”

There was also another element at play in this too. Sometimes, my relationship with road cycling can be a tricky thing to navigate. There is no set requirement to do the Women’s 100 on a road bike, but I had my reasons for wanting to dust mine off for that day in September.
A mixture of self-doubt and doubts cast over me by others can often leave me questioning my ability and my sense of ‘belonging’ in that sphere of cycling.

“The thing about Jools is that she will never look natural on the drops.” I will never forget hearing someone say that about me when I got my first road bike, and how that made me feel. To this day, I still have zero clue as to what that persons’ definition of ‘natural’ even means.

Although I try to be as ‘sticks and stones’ as possible about stuff like that and just dust it off, words can hurt. Those old memories can sit like a demon on my back, jabbing at me every time I even think about getting on a road bike. But then I get on that saddle. And from the moment I start moving, I suddenly remember how much I love it and that I don’t have anything to prove to any outsiders who doubt me or try to rain on my parade.

“I don’t have anything to prove to any outsiders who doubt me or try to rain on my parade.”

My Women’s 100 was going to be the kind of ride that I knew I’d enjoy. That had to be the biggest take away from it: enjoyment and fun. It may not sound like the most thrilling of routes to some, but the day would be riding loops around Richmond Park. It had everything that I wanted – open space, beautiful scenery and a strategically placed café stop for coffee and cakes when needed.

On the morning of the ride, I remember staring out of my bedroom window. My own little doubts began creeping in but reminding myself of the reasons why I was doing this put my soul at ease and turned my excitement levels up.

“Just thinking about all the other women around the world riding together was overwhelming.”

I changed into my kit – something that once upon a time I’d have told you would never be me – and paused for a brief moment. Just thinking about riding with Sonia and Maj from the Womxn of Colour Cycling Group, and the other women around the world who would be dressed in the same colours was overwhelming. We’d all be doing this together, we were all riding as one.

With every loop of the park, there was something different to experience every time, be it a group of deer, a cluster of trees and even other women dressed in their W100 kit doing the same route. Every completed loop felt like an accomplishment – a personal achievement of sorts.

Even in moments where there was a dull ache in my body, or towards the end of the ride when it came to cycling back to East London and my legs were screaming at me to stop – something kept me going on, and whatever that was, I wasn’t about to let it go.

“Even when my body was aching, something kept me going. And whatever it was, I wasn’t about to let it go.”

It was a magnificent feeling when I crossed the Canning Town flyover – that last blue slither of the cycle path which tells me that I’m almost home. After 5 hours, 48 minutes and 58 seconds of cycling, I was back, with 101.01km under my cap.

Perhaps it was the delirium of doing such a ride in one day, but that extra 1.o1km on my GPS tracker made me smile. I’d gone just a tiny bit further than planned, but the whole thing was a lot further than I’d ever been both physically and mentally on my road bike before.

When the delirium and adrenalin wore off, my legs started to hurt me so much that I had to use my mum's stair lift to get myself upstairs to make it to the shower. Yes, there was pain, but my body had covered distances that I had never imagined it could.

As I celebrated the achievement with a glass (or three) of fizz and my favourite dishes from the local takeaway, I asked myself if I would do this all again. Was there a need for this again? Well, no two rides are ever the same and a hell of a lot has happened in a year. So I, for one, can’t wait to join the start line again on 6th September and do it all over again.