Weaving through some of Surrey and Sussex’s most picturesque scenery with 18,000 other cyclists — many of them hobbyists — it’s no wonder the London to Brighton Bike Ride is seen as such an iconic journey.
And with all fundraising for the event going directly to support the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) pioneering research into heart disease, it’s a way of directly aiding both the health of the nation and your own wellbeing at the same time.
For 59-year-old Andrew Wisdom (above), taking part in the 54-mile bike ride — Europe’s oldest charity organised bicycle event — could hardly be more profound.
Having suffered a heart attack in October 2015, then a second episode of chest pains 10 weeks later on an aeroplane to Australia, he feels he owes pretty much everything to the BHF.
“I would quite simply not be alive if it weren’t for their research and not a day goes by when I don’t forget that,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed life, but what’s changed now is that I never take it for granted. I appreciate every day and cannot get enough of spending time with my wife, children and grandchildren.”
It was last year when Andrew decided to begin training for the famous event, which has been the BHF’s flagship fundraiser every summer since 1976. “I had nearly died, so I didn’t take the decision lightly,” he explains.
“But my rehabilitation involved a complete change of lifestyle, mainly in terms of diet and exercise, so I felt ready to take on a challenge. And my GP — who is also a cyclist — reassured me that the London to Brighton Bike Ride is one that recreational hobbyists are more than capable of completing.”
When Andrew started training he could just about manage two miles. “I hadn’t ridden a bike in 30 years,” he laughs. “But after gradually building up the distance, I completed my first sportive — a 54-mile cycling event from Folkstone and Rye in Kent — with my training partner and friend Colin. This year, I feel ready for the main event — the one I’ve been waiting for. I’ve raised more than £200 already.”
The moment Andrew sees Brighton seafront, he knows he’ll feel emotional. “I’ll know I’ll have really done it, which will be a huge personal achievement, as well as a way of raising money and awareness for such an amazing charity,” he says.
As for the journey itself, Andrew is looking forward to the feeling of freedom he gets on his bike in the open air. “I’m dreading Ditchling Beacon, a mile-long steep hill, because it’s the one everyone talks about,” he adds.
“And I know the journey will be tiring. But whether it takes me four or five hours or all day, it’s finishing it that matters to me. I hear the local communities cheer you on and there’s a feeling of shared effort as we ride to help beat heart disease.”
And his tip for other riders? “Set yourself mini targets of 10 miles each — that’s what I’m going to do. I think those smaller accomplishments will make it seem more manageable.”
Determined to ride
When Andrew thinks back to his heart attack, he feels even more determined to do the ride. “It all started when I was out Christmas shopping and began to feel really unwell,” he says.
“My wife called an ambulance and then the heart attack happened en route to hospital. I was rushed into surgery to have two stents installed in my coronary arteries, which saved my life. During the second episode I spent five hours on the aeroplane floor receiving medical attention from cabin crew until it made an emergency landing, where again I was rushed to hospital and spent three days in intensive care.
“Something like that really makes you take stock, so helping the BHF by raising funds for more research to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart and circulatory disease is the very least I can do.”
This year’s ride is on Sunday 18 June. Take on the challenge and help beat heart disease. Sign up now at bhf.org.uk/L2B