The One Surprising Thing... Riding Across Britain Gave Me
Riding the length of Great Britain is an achievement in itself. But for these three LEJOGgers, the challenge taught them so much more. Here Michelle Dickson finds out more…
Boasting an impressive 969 miles of Britain's most stunning cycling, Ride Across Britain (or LEJOG - Land's End to John O'Groats - as it's fondly known) is one of those bucket list rides; an epic adventure that takes you through the rugged Cornish coastline, the rolling fells of the Peak District and Cumbria, before hitting you with a final whammy of the Scottish Highlands. Then, of course, there's the added bonus of coping with whatever the best of British weather can throw at you. A challenge? You bet. But, as these three women who took on last year's nine-day Ride Across Britain can attest, it’s one that can reward you with much, much more than you'd expect. Here are their stories…
“I came out as transgender in 2014 and it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I was lucky enough to have support from my employer's LGBT group, so when Balfour Beatty wanted volunteers to ride the RAB for charity, it seemed a good way to raise funds and awareness for LGBT networks and also mental health support in the workplace.
“For over 23 years I had suffered with anxiety and having to hide who I was. Being able to transition at work and be supported during that time was something I really wanted to highlight.
“Although I had cycled as a teenager and while studying in Bristol, once I started work, my bike went in the garage and never came out again! I had to go out and buy a bike and start from scratch. I didn't really realise the gravity of the challenge until I saw the map and exactly how the nine days break down. Building up from cycling near my home in Bicester to hill training around the Chilterns, I finally managed to ride from home to my office near Heathrow and back - I'd cracked my 100 mile goal.
“We gathered at Land's End the night before the ride in a Force 8 gale and I didn't get much sleep that night. The first day's ride is one of the hilliest too, a 10-hour challenge that was pretty tough. I did feel vulnerable at first, being in transition and having to wear revealing Lycra was daunting. Should I wear my hairpiece, do I put on make-up? Will others question my gender identity? In the end I had to face my fears and get on and do it. I felt very supported and safe and blessed by the human side of the experience - seeing the best of people when faced with adversity.
“It really is more than a cycle ride - an emotional journey. Being part of a group of 700 others all facing the same challenge does bond you. Day 7 (Hamilton to Fort William) nearly broke me. My whole body was hurting. I had cramp and pain in my knees, hips, shoulders and neck. I crossed the line crying that night and cried again the next morning, but I knew I wasn't going to give up. I was caught up in the RAB bubble, where all that matters is making it to the end and helping others do so too. You make new friends, talk along the way, meet and compare notes in the evening. Everyone's in it together.
“It was a great feeling to make it to John O'Groats. Riding in a pack of about 30 riders on the last day felt like being on a rollercoaster. It was so exhilarating. I was so proud to raise money for my charities, but most of all I did it for my daughters, Charlotte and Rebecca. My gender transitioning hasn't been easy for them and I wanted to show that being in transition didn't stop me from being me or doing amazing things. I'm doing the RAB again this year so I can have two medals - one for each of my girls.”
“When my sister Tracy died of cancer in 2015, it was a terrible shock and a difficult time for the whole family. She was only 38 and had a 9-year-old son. I ran a marathon that year and found that having something to train for and focus on helped with my feelings of depression. I wanted to keep that focus, so decided to give the RAB a go. I was fit and active and wanted to turn that bad experience into something positive by raising money for charity in memory of my sister. It was a big journey for me - and a way to show my nephew that, although losing his mum was a terrible thing, we could try to make something good come of it.
“I started cycling, but it wasn't the best start. I was pretty nervous of riding in traffic and on a group ride I ended up all scraped and bruised after going over the handlebars. As I went out cycling more with friends, I met another girl who was training for the RAB and that helped a lot. My confidence improved with more group riding.
“At the start of the ride I was really nervous. My dad had agreed to follow by car, which was great and I had a lot of good luck messages, but I was feeling the pressure. I didn't want to let anyone down. I was raising money on the premise that I'd finish, but I was worried about being picked up by the 'broom wagon'.
“What I didn't expect was how much I enjoyed it. It was hard, of course, but being in such a supportive group all working toward the same goal and encouraging you to do well was amazing. I met such interesting people, all with their own personal reason for riding, but all so inspiring. The scenery was beautiful too, riding through parts of the country you wouldn't otherwise see.
“I'll never forget the mid-point of the ride, near my home town of Leyland in Lancashire. My friends and family all turned out to cheer me on - it was great, but emotionally and physically tough too.
“I used to feel anxious in social situations. Now I feel it's ok to be nervous or scared, but if you work hard you deserve to believe you can achieve.
"When my sister passed away, it made me step back and think about my life. I resolved to do what makes me happy and stop being hard on myself. Life is too short to be unhappy.
“It's also made me hungry for more challenges. I'm trying to do one for every month of this year - from a 140-mile cycle ride to an ultra marathon and an Iron Man - and my dad and I are going to do the RAB together in 2018. My attitude now is to not let anything stop you having a go.”
“I was looking for a demanding cycling challenge after doing the L'Etape Du Tour in 2015 and The Ride Across Britain appealed as I could do the training from my own front door - hill training in the Chilterns and lots of riding around The Fens in Cambridgeshire. After a long day on the Fens I often felt like picking up my bike and throwing it in a ditch! Riding on what can be pretty boring terrain in the wind and the rain built up my strength both physically and mentally.
“I was also lucky enough to win a power meter in a RAB competition, but initially had no idea how to use it. At the same time, one of my friends was training to become a Level 3 cycling coach. He was looking for people to coach and taught me how to use the power meter to help me ride properly, rather than just going out as hard and fast as I could. I learnt how to ride within zones to pace myself. He also gave me rigid training plan. As a single mum with a full-time job, I was worried I might not be able to keep to it, but it worked out really well. I ended up training in blocks of time rather than distance and found it much easier. I ended up less stressed and more focused.
“I did feel well prepared for the ride, but that's not to say I wasn't scared or apprehensive. The RAB team is fantastic, with lots of support leading up to the ride, including a Facebook forum where you can talk to others who've done it before.
I got a great tip which was to break each day down into rides between feed stations - 3 rides of around 35 miles per day is much more manageable if you think of it as blocks of ride/rest/eat etc.
“I also learnt a lot about myself on the ride. I was worried about being able to ride in a group as I'd done all my training on my own and stuck rigidly to my power meter zones and riding plan, but I quickly built up a group of seven riders who all bought into riding the same way and we stuck together. We've become friends for life - it's a really bonding experience riding together 10 hours per day.
“I also came to recognise my ability to motivate others and to appreciate my leadership skills. I was able to bring together a team of people, lots of strong characters, and drive that team forward, setting times to meet each day, encouraging everyone to keep going. It certainly boosted my self confidence and showed me that with hard work anything is possible.
“I discovered that I am the happiest person I can possibly be when I'm on my bike. By the last day I was feeling incredibly emotional and had to keep riding off ahead to have a little cry on my own. Getting to the start line is definitely just the beginning of the journey."
This year's RAB takes place between 9-17th September. Get full details and sign up at www.rideacrossbritain.com