A few weeks back I saw a request from Cancer Research UK for volunteer cyclist to help out on the Shine London Marathon. An overnight affair with participants walking either a half marathon course or the full monty of a 26.2 mile marathon. Starting at the famous Battersea Power Station, well.... famous if you are a Pink Floyd fan, or trying not to have the thing knocked down.
“Humm, ride a bike around London? I'll do that!” I thought. I know, I'll rope Sarah in as well, she'll love a night out standing about in the cold and dark waiting for the sun to come up!
I had recently started riding again following an altercation with a van some ten years ago. He lost, by the way, I smashed his windscreen with my head! That'll learn him!
I had taken my bike up to the newly opened Cyclopark at Gravesend a couple of weeks earlier and enjoyed the lack of cars and the fact that everyone was going the same direction! I have also been on a couple of the relaxed Sky-Rides. Now there's a way to spend a Sunday morning; a nice slow wander through the Kent Countryside.
My application was accepted by CRUK and I was given a section to “look after” and a start time of 10.15pm. Sarah was due to be dragged kicking and screaming to help at a pit stop a little earlier, with three coats, two woolly hats, gloves and an old empty dustbin with a ton of old pallets to burn!
Late on Saturday evening Sarah headed off under armed guard for the high speed Train to St Pancras, only a short way from her final destination, and I took my bike, with new panniers for the occasion, on the old rickety train to Victoria. On arrival, I left Victoria station headed south down Buckingham Palace Road, along Pimlico Road for Chelsea Bridge. Surprisingly I wasn't too worried by the traffic. There are bus lanes most of the way and ever increasing amounts of cycle lanes in London and I made reasonable progress on the one and a half mile jaunt, arriving at Battersea Power Station at about 9.30pm.
The Shine Walk had started and the sight of thousands of people walking along the roads with glow sticks, reflective tee shirts, flashing deely boppers and bunny ears was both astounding, surreal and somewhat slightly mad!
I reported in at the Volunteer’s point and duly had a look at the other bikes There was all sorts from fun mountain bikes to at least one ultra slippery carbon race bike, oozing yumminess. This was the first real trip out for my new bike. A birthday prezzie from the ever lovely Sarah. I chipped in for the handle bars and one wheel, (Otherwise I would be on a unicycle!) I was to look after Orange Zone with two other riders, one was Tom from the Dulwich Paragon Cycle Club. He was grabbed by me as a third member because he admitted to knowing his way around London! “Yup, You'll do!” I must really apologize here, because I have clean forgotten the name of the other chap who was with us. So, Should you happen to read this and recognize yourself, please let me know. You were riding a Blue Ribble road bike, I was on a shiny new black Giant Hybrid with one and a half miles on the clock! Tom's steed was a tasty white Cube road bike with just about everything on it!
Somehow I ended up with the team radio, making me team leader of Orange Two. Orange was split in to three teams to cover smaller areas. Orange Two had a little bit of Euston Road by Warren St Tube Station, down Gower St, including Pit Stop Five at Mile 19, then Great Russell St along to Southampton Row.
|Pit Stop 5. The lull before the storm!|
At 10.15 we made our way to Gower St and Pit Stop 5 to have a look-see. Tom weaved his way through the London streets like a trooper. He was brilliant, not only a good rider, he had great vision, aware that two people were in tow and (Now wait for this......) He stopped at every red light! Our journey of about 5 miles was a good start for me. It was at a nice pace and I had another chance to get acquainted with riding in traffic. I was greeted at the pit stop by Sarah who sorted me out with a cup of hot chocolate...... It's not what you know........
Walkers were just starting to build up at The Mall a few miles back, so I radioed in and offered our service further down the route as it would be a fair wait up at mile 19 for our first customers. We decided to ride the wrong way along the route to cheer on the early birds and six miles later we arrived at the Mall. There were calls about congestion a little further down the route so Tom & Co went off to see what they could do, I headed back up The Mall, Constitution Hill to Hyde Park Corner to check on the Security Guards and Marshals. There was one missing at the west end of the Mall at the traffic lights and pedestrian crossing, a G4 employee was meant to be there but hadn't showed up. I am not going to G4 bash, but they were let down on a number of occasions. I must also add that these words are mine and mine alone, so where I feel a good point or not so good point should be raised, hold on to your hats!
Two riders from Purple 2 were cycling along the Mall so I asked if they could hold the fort at the traffic lights while I try and sort out something. I called Event Control and following their agreement , I cycled back to Pit Stop 4 to gather up a couple of volunteers from the Pit Stop director to relieved the bikes. Bikes needed to be bikes and soon they were on their way and replaced by two very cheery volunteers from PS4. I made a couple more journeys up and down Constitution Hill and The Mall before Tom & Co had returned from their adventures at a pre arranged time. We then started to make our way back along the route heading for Mile 16, half way along Constitution Hill, though, I spotted a walker with shoes off a rubbing a wound. I left Tom & Co with her and cycled back to PS4 spoke to a first aider, grabbed a handful of plasters and headed back to the patient. We made sure she was ok and carried on our way. (This is what all of the bikers were doing, playing Yo-Yos. Talking to people, helping people, checking stuff and being the eyes and ears of the Shine Controllers.) By now Tom had warmed up! We picked up some speed towards the end of Constitution Hill and to my horror the traffic lights to Hyde Park Corner had changed green in our favour. I was hoping to walk round it!. For those of you not familiar with Hyde Park Corner, it is one of, if not, THE busiest road junction in London, and I was heading for it in top gear, on a blooming push bike, following a man possessed! “Oh SHIT”! I mumbled..... “He's only going for it!!” &Co had peeled of and was going for the route across the middle and under Wellington Arch. We however, shot out like a couple of pinballs and went left. I was trying to hang on to Toms back wheel like Mark Cavendish on a lead out train! I looked left down Grosvenor Place to see a wall of Black Cabs with horns on top, glowing eyes and breathing fire, just waiting to be let loose to come and get me! We carried on round the square then took the left off towards Knightsbridge, leaning the bike hard to keep tight left as the evil traffic came past us looking for their next meal! “Phew, that was fun.... sort of!”
Thankfully Tom, aware as ever, knew that we were one short and pulled up to let & Co catch us up. I am sure we weren't going THAT fast, but it felt like it and I thank Tom for again taking the best route and keeping me safe. My breath was just about back to where it was when I finished the London Marathon in 2011 before we were off again. We went past the famous Royal Albert Hall (Not for the only time) right into Kensington Church Street then right towards Queensway Tube and Bayswater Road. Tom led us round the tricky junctions of Lancaster Gate to Sussex Gardens and we were soon in six lanes of London night time traffic along Marylebone Road. The few Walkers in the lead were on the other side of the road to us so Tom picked up the pace, past Baker Street (Yes, THAT Baker Street) Finally taking a tricky combination of bus lane, cycle lane a pathway into our target of Gower Street. We carried on down the end of our patch to check on marshals then went back to Pit Stop Five.
Sarah and the rest of the volunteers were having fun welcoming people in for a loo break and refreshments. We were called away again to help out elsewhere, (Sorry I have forgotten where) Later, on the way back to Gower Street, I felt a massive drop in the night time air. I had to stop and re arrange my new buff, a union flag one of course, I still have the Olympic spirit! My face was freezing as we made our way back. My right knee started to give me some trouble but I carried on. I called a break at the pit stop. Tom &Co carried on patrolling our patch. During my run for Breakthrough Breast Cancer in 2011's London Marathon, I twanged my knee and back, it has never really got 100% better, so much so that I deferred this year's place to next year and I have since written off any chance for running a full marathon again. Cycling has been good exercise, but keeping up the pace in cold weather while effectively new to cycling and out of condition with Tom as the engine was a strain. If I had told him that I was struggling, I am sure he would have eased up on the transit runs. In the pit stop a queue had started to build up for the loos. I was having a quick natter with Sarah then she said that she had to go, someone had fainted. Then another. Foil blankets started to be given out like cheap shoes at a Harrod's Sale. I said I would leave her to do her thing and left the site. I went to the top of Gower Street, junction with Warren St. There was a G4 Security Guard there, a young lady having a ball. Clapping people round the corner saying that is only a short way to the pit stop, keep going, your are doing great so on and so on. She was brilliant. Every time I rode past her she offered up a high five. If only all of the guards were like that. The next one along towards Warren St Tube was too busy texting and fiddling with his blasted phone to notice anything. However, the guy outside the tube station called me over to separate a drunk from the walkers. I re-directed walkers around phone boxes and a few trees to keep space for them as he sorted himself out and finally got into a cab. Then TWANG my knee called it a night. I rode very tentatively back round to Pit Stop Five and it was carnage in there! Blue lights every where, people in foil blankets, some laying on the floor, some on benches, some sat leaning up against walls. At least three were in tears and some had been physically sick. I found Sarah “What's going on?” I asked.
“People are just passing out, they are in pain waiting for the loos, and freezing cold“
She was a mess. Almost in tears. I have seen her go through chemo but never saw her affected this emotionally. Then I stated to shiver. My knee became a fire pit Sarah helped me as I hobbled off to wrap myself in a foil blanket to try and warm up. Sarah popped back to check on me then went off again. The volunteers were working their heads off. They were even taking used foil blankets out of the rubbish sacks because they had run out, wrapping people up, talking to people and reassuring them while the medics tried to visit everyone.
At this point, I either blacked out or fell asleep because I woke up an hour later wrapper in the silver blanket with a sheet of tarpaulin over me, a Mud2 Tour Jacket and a giant foam hand as a pillow! I sat up in a start as another ambulance, complete with blue flashing lights drove in. I was helpless. I wanted to do something, it's only natural but I was stuck. All I could do was watch as the volunteers carried on their amazing work, over and well above the call of duty. Things calmed down for a while as Sarah had cleared a hold up at the toilets. Some were not being used, as people thought they were occupied. Sarah had banged on all the doors making sure they were all being used, she had then taken up toilet duties!
My knee felt a little better so I said my good buys to the Day After Tomorrow, gave the radio to Tom and aimed to get back to Battersea to collect some items I had left there. Well I made one pedal stroke and almost fell off the bike. My knee was having none of it.
I made it the three yards or so to a waiting mini bus and they kindly agreed to take me and my bike back to Battersea with other “downed” walkers. I saw Sarah and offered her a lift back. She declined it saying that although her shift was over (Just past five O’clock now) she wanted to stay and carry on helping out. You know, I have read posts on a certain forum calling volunteers “Cleaner uppers” and “pointless.” Let them say it to Sarah's face, or mine for that matter or any of the people staffing PS5 or all of the volunteer that night. It is people with spirits like Sarah's that make charities such Cancer Research UK and Breakthrough Breast Cancer tick. How bloody dare they?
I arrived back at Battersea and plonked myself on the floor in the volunteer unit where I nodded off. My phone rang at 8.00am, Sarah had finished and was on her way to Victoria Railway Station. I gathered my head and prayed that my knee was better. It was just about good enough to get me and the bike back to Victoria and it did. Sarah arrived and was shattered, too tired to even speak. We were soon back home and tucked up in bed.
Sorry Sarah, this is going in the blog.
She woke up crying. Saying that she did all that she could do. She felt responsible, and that she was helpless. “Those poor people” she kept saying over and over again. She was in too much pain physically and mentally to move, she was wrecked. She would calm down and then just start crying again. This lady gave 100% and if any half witted moaner call volunteers “Cleaner uppers” again I'll have them sanctioned.
Shine is the most amazing event, it raises over two million pounds for life saving and ground breaking work. I, as a proud Ambassador for the charity, will carry on supporting them. I am sure lessons will be learned and I hope people's experience of Pit Stop Five will not put them off doing it again.
My theory is this, a combination of
1) The time 3.00-4-00am. if not re-timed your body starts to do funny things.
- The temperature dropped like a stone. Some people were dressed for a jog in the park on a Sunday afternoon.
- Not enough loos at the latter end of an event as long as Shine.
During a talk on marathon running, David Bedford said that if you are on a marathon and not too concerned about time; see a loo not being used? USE IT!
- This is a MARATHON guys! TRAIN for it. I spoke to many people who had not trained. Did you know that most people, unless they walk to work, have never walked at even a regular pace for more than twenty minutes for years! Even walking around shops you stop and start.
- NEVER wear new shoes, any pain or discomfort is multiplied a million times when you are tired and cold blisters will be a nightmare. I spoke to one "hobbler" who had bought new shoes ON SATURDAY for the event! Yikes!
|On the way home at Victorian Station! I felt as crap as I look!|
I would like to congratulate all of the walkers. The ones that finished at mile 10 gave 100%, the ones that dropped out at mile 20 gave 100%. 100% is all you can give. Thank you, it is an amazing achievement. Thank you and well done to all the cyclists, even Tom for leading me around Hyde Park corner at speed. I am going to dine out on that experience for years. Sarah is already bored with it. Thank you too to the radio team. Best calls of the night “Please ask the participants to leave the pub immediately!” and “ Err yes control, there's a drunk face down on the path, it's OK it's not one of our walkers!!!!!!”
My favourite moment goes to Sarah. Refusing to leave her post, showing true grit, a true inspiration and value to Cancer Research UK, the walkers she was supporting and for, somehow managing to tuck a large blue foam hand under my head while I was asleep!
Oh and thank you to Harpal (Walker Number One by the way!) for saying good morning to me as I saw him next to the British Museum, he was powering on, looking as fresh as a daisy. Very impressive!
Shine? Amazing. I had a blast!!
Well then, back to MPs and the plain packaging debate!