On September 18th 2016 I completed a 972 mile journey, cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 9 days as part of Deloitte Ride Across Britain. Writing that sentence almost a month on, it still doesn’t feel real when I look back on where I started.
Twelve months ago I was not a cyclist - I couldn’t clip into pedals, I could barely ride 30 miles and I was walking up most hills. Plenty of friends can vouch for this. On my first group ride I managed to snatch my front brake, hurl myself over the handlebars and go from upright in to a wall faster than I knew was possible. Thankfully my bike was relatively unscathed and I (somehow) got back up and onto the bike (bleeding chin and all) and rode 35 miles through Kent. I developed a bit of a reputation for being hard as nails - though I knew it was just my stubbornness to not be seen as “weak”.
It was around this time that I had decided to sign up for Deloitte’s Ride Across Britain (RAB for anyone that’s been in the “bubble”). During that first group ride, I had a growing self-doubt. I signed up because I needed something to focus on but was I taking on more than I could handle? My sister had passed away less than a month before this, the family was grieving and I was 250 miles away feeling guilty for not being there and all the while not taking care of myself. I felt myself getting very angry at the world and knew that I needed to channel that negativity into something more positive - hence finding the biggest challenge I could and going headfirst (quite literally) into it.
It’s only on reflection that I’ve realised how far I’ve come. The training gave me a focus and gave my family a light to cling to. I realised how excited they were for me, and heard a distinct lift in their voice that I hadn’t heard in a long time. I realised that this event was bigger than my need to channel that negative energy; it had become a way to show my family that while bad things can happen, you can turn it into something positive and that “you didn’t come this far to only come this far”.
The event wasn’t easy! Back-to-back centuries are hard, but doing them for 9 days straight is the ultimate test of endurance and strength. And I loved every single second of it, just thinking about the event and the “bubble” brings a smile to my face as I remember the laughter we shared, the songs we sang and the inspiring people I met. Describing this event to friends, family and co-workers - most people questioned my sanity but on arriving at Land’s End it all felt so normal.
My nerves fell away to excitement. The smiles and support of every person there (crew included) made me realise that everyone had the same goal. How often do you encounter 600 plus people working towards the same objective and helping each other through it? The event is a test of an individual’s strength but also of the strength that human beings can give each other, and I feel so privileged to have been apart of it.
There were so many highlights. Day 2 was my favourite day, cycling from Okehampton to Bath, covering 110 miles, 6,000ft of climbing and two category climbs in Cothelstone and Cheddar Gorge. As a self-professed lover of climbing hills (feel free to question my sanity here - many people do!), I came into my own. Day 2 was my first RAB revelation - I was a strong cyclist, I could out climb a good number of people and still smile and laugh while doing it. I felt strong and I felt on top of the world.
Day 5 was wonderful - the route went through my home town of Leyland and I was greeted by family and friends cheering on the route. It was a special moment to be able to ride through the place where I grew up with my sister, especially completing the ride in her memory. I could see how proud my family and friends were and I it reminded me of the bigger picture for this journey.
Scotland was my favourite place. It was vast, peaceful and beautiful. Revelation number two as it dawned on me on day 7 that I was going to complete this. It was hilly - but the climbs were manageable, with fast descents on wide, open roads where you can see miles ahead. The weather was on our side too and made the landscape all the more spectacular. It treated us to views of the summit of Ben Nevis, it blessed us with sunshine on Glen Coe and it made for some truly epic riding to John O’Groats.
Ride Across Britain has been the biggest physical challenge of my life. It taught me a lot about myself and gave me a very powerful gift - a belief that I can achieve anything I set my mind to and that my quote throughout my training was so, so right: “you didn’t come this far to only come this far”. I want to share that belief with everyone - I want everyone that is unsure to feel this power, I want to inspire others to believe that they can and I want to find the next big challenge to complete.