What started in Hopkinton Continued in London
I never could have imagined that my path would cross with that of George, a chef from Brooklyn, New York, and that our friendship would lead us to discover a shared love for travel and endurance events. Looking back, it all started in 2018 when we both ran the Boston Marathon for Michael’s Miracle, an organization dedicated to supporting disabled individuals. Little did we know that this would be the beginning of an extraordinary adventure that would change our lives forever.
Fast forward to the fall of 2022, and we found ourselves at the after-party of the London Marathon, introduced to the London Classics by our friend and elite runner, Kevin. The London Classics is a staged Iron Man event that pushes athletes to their limits by challenging them to complete the London Marathon, participate in the grueling 100-mile bike ride known as the Ride London, and conquer the Serpentine Swim, a demanding 2.2-mile swim. Only those who complete all three events earn the prestigious London Classics medal.
Inspired by Kevin and eager for a new adventure, George and I decided to take on the Ride London in May of this year. While George had previous experience in a 100-mile bike ride, in all honesty, I was a bit apprehensive. As a physician, I’ve witnessed far too many bike accidents, including a serious one involving my father. The lack of control and inherent risks associated with cycling have always made me wary. But George’s reassuring words and my yearning for new experiences pushed me outside of my comfort zone.
Arriving in London with minimal bike training and rented bikes, we faced an additional challenge when we realized the brake and gear handles were reversed since they drove on the opposite side of the road. It was clear that we were up against some serious hurdles.
On the day of the ride, I had a 6 am start while George had a 9 am start. Initially, my fear of starting with faster cyclists kept me veering to the left. However, as the race progressed, I found my pace and settled into the rhythm of the ride. The rest stop at the 25-mile mark was exhilarating, and to boost my energy, I stocked up on sugar packets and coffee.
By the time I reached the 50-mile stop, exhaustion and nausea from the gels and sugar set in. I desperately needed a Coke to settle my stomach, but the long line and the impending presence of the “broom wagon” sweep car posed a threat. George and I had made an unspoken pact that we would cross the finish line, so I had to leave the Coke and keep going.
At mile 70, I spotted a gas station and seized the opportunity for a quick bathroom break and a sugary, carbonated drink. As I emerged from the station, I was surprised to see George walking in, searching for Gatorade. We had been cycling slower than expected, and his presence provided me with the extra push and strength I needed to keep going.
Throughout the challenging journey, I faced a truly testing moment when my leg gave out as I attempted to conquer a steep hill at mile 83. Falling with the bike on top of me, I severely scraped my left knee. Despite offers from race marshals to call a medic, I refused, knowing I couldn’t afford to waste any time. Determined to reach the next medical tent at mile 90, I persisted.
As I approached mile 90, my chances seemed slim as the medical tent was closing, and the streets were opening up. The possibility of missing out on the main road needed to reach the finish line at Tower Bridge loomed over me. A race marshal suggested taking the subway, but fueled by sheer determination, I insisted on cycling to the finish line.
At this critical moment, a stroke of kindness from a random stranger named Nasim provided a glimmer of hope. Nasim, a member of the “Cycle Sisters” charity organization, a group of Muslim women who cycle, offered to accompany me to the finish line. Slowing down to match my pace, Nasim guided me along the way, restoring my faith in humanity.
Finally, among the last cyclists to cross over Tower Bridge, Nasim and I were welcomed by a cheering crowd, as if we were elite cyclists. This momentous accomplishment taught me invaluable lessons – to step outside my comfort zone, grow as a person and athlete, never give up, and confront fear instead of avoiding it.
As I proudly collected my medal, I felt immense gratitude towards Nasim, knowing that our chance encounter had forged a lifelong bond. Later, joined by George and Kevin, we celebrated our monumental achievement and the unbreakable bonds of friendship at our hotel.
From our humble beginnings in a small charity house in Hopkinton at the start of the Boston Marathon, George and I have embarked on a remarkable journey of personal growth and international adventures. While our next destination remains unknown, one thing is certain – the London Classics with the Serpentine Swim in September 2024 will be the next milestone we conquer together.
As I reflect on our incredible journey, I am inspired by the power of friendship, the strength of the human spirit, and the endless possibilities that lie beyond our comfort zones. With every obstacle we overcome, new doors open, and the world becomes more vibrant and fuller of promise. Through friendship and endurance, we have discovered a newfound passion for life, and we can’t wait to see what lies ahead.
Dr. Maria Bendeck is a board-certified internal medicine physician, freelance writer, world traveler, avid marathon runner, and community builder. She believes in embracing life to the fullest by exploring new places, helping others, and empowering people through writing.