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Cycling and time trialling – racing alone against the clock ‘the race of truth’ is in my genes. My grandfather and uncle raced for Border City Wheelers Cycling Club. My father continues racing and has just finished another successful season.
It was inevitable that I too would take up the family tradition.
I felt naturally drawn to the hill climbs and sporting courses and distances held no fear.
Two names dominated the distance events – Lynne Taylor and Marina Bloom. Both formidable and both my age. Perfect competition.
If I were to prove myself I could only do it against these two. So it was…
I have spent my life being the one that believes that when someone says ‘no’ it is my duty to turn it around into a ‘yes’. That old adage ‘be careful what you wish for’ has, on occasion, bitten me hard on the bum.
Growing up as one of triplet girls I felt an obligation to join my dad in the more adventurous things life had to offer. Living in the rocky lands of the Lake District outdoor pursuits were a natural pastime.
Having spent a few years away working, I returned to Cumbria buzzing with enthusiasm. I grew up with cycling time trialling. From a girls point of view there was nothing better than mingling with sports mad enthusiasts. It was October and the only event left was the last of the season and only for the hardy; a nasty little hill climb.
I say nasty but in fact it was a twisty-turny road weaving through a beautiful forest in the Eden Valley so no real hardship.
Most train for such a thing but I grabbed one of my dad’s bikes and waited for my push-off wondering about a conversation I could overhear about big and small rings (whatever they were). I’ll always believe that in some cases the less you know the better. With a perfectly respectable time and nearly five months before the next season I became ‘a cyclist’.
All or nothing has always been my motto in life. So it was full on. I spent my days ‘eyeballs out’ chasing blissfully around the country lanes with my father come rain or shine.
My father introduced me to the SpoCo courses. A series of hilly circuits that take in, amongst other classics, the ‘Circuit of Greystoke Forest’ and the ‘Circuit of the Dales’ and when the original organisers were stepping aside took over the series himself. For six years, until he then stepped aside, I began every season competing in the series and taking the ladies title.
I often encountered surprise when I presented myself on the line. My packaging didn’t match the gritty events I faced. Not for me the plain look – it was lipstick and gloss all the way. It has to be stressed that packages can be deceiving. I am ruthless and thoroughly happy to admit to being a bad loser. I simply don’t believe that looking bad has to go hand-in-hand with winning. I received many a compliment from my male rivals about that day’s perfume choice.
In 2002 I was riding a fairly local ‘100’ mile time trial and went off course. Determined I tried to chase back to the start and ask for a late start but it was hopeless. It was when a marshal intimated that 100 miles “was not for girls” that I felt livid at the injustice of not being taken seriously in the sport. I had, afterall riden many ‘100’s’ by this time. I couldn’t help wondering what it would take to receive recognition.
It was whilst I carried on round the course that day, supporting my father, that things became more interesting. I palled up with a local supporter who mentioned a 12 hour coming up in two weeks time. I’d once casually asked dad about these ‘12 hours’ but it certainly hadn’t occured to me to ride one. By the time I got home that day I had made my decision to enter it with only two weeks to plan. Surely after all these years my legs could do it – they knew how to pedal!
A day or two into my lead-up I got chatting to a fellow winner of 12 hours and he casually mentioned his programme. It was simple. Deplete the body, build it up with protein and then follow that with lots and lots of carbohydrate. With nothing to lose I followed his programme, didn’t touch the bike, and pondered if I’d lost my mind. I even refused to ride a Club ‘11’ the week before. I quietly rather liked this form of preparation. Resting and food, food, food.
Being a vegan and running my own business teaching Pilates the nutrition part did pose a problem. I ate a diet full of chickpeas and peanuts much to the amazement of those fascinated with my quest. I spent many a Pilates class deep in discussion over the perils of depletion. For the record, I managed to do the full 3 days of depletion. The self- discipline involved in that alone made failure no option.
My day arrived with relentless rain, a computer failure and steamy eyewear saw me complete my very first 12 hour with the ladies course record covering 240 miles feeling fantastic and with more energy than I knew what to do with. My father was just oh so slightly impressed. Having started and aborted his very own 12 hour back in the 80’s, it was too much to expect him not to take my glory away the following year with glee.
I followed this in 2003 with 2004 gaining the Ladies National Championship with 243 miles. Defending in 2005 I was up against hot favourite and end-to-end record holder, Lynne Taylor together with previous championship(s) holder Marina Bloom. Formidable competition.
As a result of the field being laid out with Lynne at the back, we found ourselves together at the six hour mark. She’d been moved off one of the early sections which meant that I ended up passing her although she had started behind me. With identical pace over the next six hours we could not, try as we might, get away from each other. This marred the event and meant an end result separating Lynne and myself by yards.
This and being approached by a ‘supporter’ who believed Lynne and I had assisted each other. Drafting can mean disqualification. Lynne would never need my help and I certainly did not need hers. This man could not have known, at that moment, the upset he was about to cause.
Lynne ruled the 24 hour and I knew exactly what I had to do.
The journey home that day was flat. The season end approached and winter training began. I began to quietly prepare. I was going to compete in my first 24 hour. My father’s support over the years had it’s limits namely a 24 hour.
It wasn’t that he wouldn’t support one he just wouldn’t support one with me in it! It was a beautiful day in June that I dropped my bombshell. It was met with blank stares and huffy indignation. From that day my father barely looked me in the eye. My mother and sisters were mildly hysterical. The night-time section filled them with dread and if I was honest it filled me with dread too (not that I was ever going to admit that).
I carried on racing, got a decent 100 in, and made sure my bum got on that seat everyday. My wedding was going to be six weeks after the event so I told myself that if I did well I could justify a honeymoon of at least 4 days! This caused my fiancé great amusement. Holidays were not my thing. We were also in the midst of a house sale which was reaching its critical stage i.e exchange the day before the 24 hour began. I felt my solicitor had never wanted something as badly as I wanted success in this 24 hour. Being of a controlling nature I was writing list upon list upon list. It was agreed that it was not the best of timing.
I could sense my father quietly hoping that I would crumble. Having never cycled in so much as dusk my night-time cycling was a concern to many. I spent many a sleepless night gazing into the darkness wondering how cycling in the dark along a strange road would feel.
My bike resembled a Christmas tree as I ventured out for my foray into the darkness. Leaving the village on a balmy July night my trepidation was soon forgotten amidst the beauty of a clear night sky. As I cycled along one particularly quiet lane I spotted the lights of a lorry heading my way . As he slowed down to let me pass I shouted up to him to ask if the lights on my bike were visible to him. You can imagine his thoughts as he replied that they were – dazzling! With husband- to- be driving cautiously in the distance, as the safety vehicle, I felt such peace and the feeling that all would be okay. I returned with joy and no sense of fear.
My future husband and I, along with my father, studied the course map and I decided to spend a weekend taking a look. Doing that to then find that part of the course had been changed meant a return trip with lots of oohs and aahs about how much better it seemed. Anything to put a positive spin on it.
As the day approached I followed my usual formula. Chattered about it endlessly; fended off tearful calls from worried sisters (one of whom was expecting twins).
Bottles lined up with every imaginable concoction numbered 1 – 24 with empties . Energy bars and Jelly Babies, bananas and glup were all packed along with all sorts of inconceivables.
Before an endurance event I try to listen to a record that sticks in my mind. For my first 12 hour it was ‘Round and Round’ by the Sugarbabes. James Brown ‘I Feel Good’ was 2004 and so on. For this it was going to be Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ as sung by McFly. Sorted.
The day before the house sale fell through. Watching a tv doc’ on James Cracknell and Ben Fogles determination in their trans-Atlantic row was an inspiration the night before. A rather sleepless night in an auspcious Travel Lodge (one pyjama clad trip to the lobby to ask for quiet) preceded the big day.
I had made the odd comment that I would like ‘nothing’ weather. We got a heat-wave weekend with flash floods. At one point the road resembled a bubble bath. Prior to the start shelter was no-where to be found. I love the sunshine but it was red hot. Setting off and creating a breeze was a welcome relief. The minute the race started I felt exhilarated. All my stored energy and all my hopes had begun and it felt empowering.
I felt privileged to have all these fantastic people willing to give up their time to allow my dream to be fulfilled. My father arrived late afternoon (he’d raced in a club event back home that day) which meant that my fiancé was my ‘Team’. That team swung into action and the campaign had begun. The arrival of the other half of the team, and being aware of their disquiet at the early pace, made me stronger and stronger. The night-time section arrived and that wonderful sense of calm arrived. It was surreal. Seeing the occasional fellow competitor with an exchange and all the marshals dutifully positioned with their words of support was keeping me strong. I didn’t want it to end.
I didn’t want to know anything about my competition. The less I knew the better. My father is a man of statistics so for him not to divulge must have been difficult. I could sense his delight and happiness which told me all I needed to know.
At the 12 hour mark I had covered 234 miles just 10 miles less than my average 12 hour distances.
Unbeknown to me, my team were somewhat panicked by battery charging issues. Happily I was oblivious to their anguish and my lights just made it. As dawn approached I changed bikes and got back into my rhythm. That’s when my eyes decided they wanted to shut!
It suddenly dawned on me that I had now been awake for over 24 hours and my body having never had to stay awake for so long wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Tall hedges shielding pretty Shropshire cottages suddenly looked like great places to sleep! Emergency bananas were found so lap upon lap I was fed one banana after the next. I recovered my pace and was back on track.
I should have known. I had been warned that 2am was a low point but not wishing to conform to that I believed I’d got away with it. Not so, but luckily the quick thinking of my team and the begging of bananas saved the day. Remembering Gethin Butlers words ‘just don’t stop’.
My pace quickened at my joy at reaching the finishing circuit. All the cheers and support was uplifting even if that part of the course was uncomfortably twisty and turny. I passed many a flagging fellow competitor and encouraged their efforts. My style changed to a sprint. When I heard the words you will reach 445 miles (spoken by my father) I practically sprinted for the 2 miles to my final time-keeper.
I had done it and the words I will never forget were spoken by my father “I have never been more wrong about anything in my life”. Priceless.
Savouring the moment at the event HQ a familier face approached. With a look of shame he looked me in the eye and held out his hand ‘congratulations’ he said ‘fantastic ride’. I’ll never know who he was but I wonder how he would have felt if he had known his part in the day.
My distance of 445.19 gave me the 3rd longest distance for a female in the events history. I had achieved my goal leaving my competition 23 and 34 miles away respectively gaining the Ladies National 24hr Championship of 2006.