The Rapha Festive 500km challenge this year attracted a whopping 82,389 participants globally
5487 of them were women.
1401 women completed the challenge.
I was one of them…….no. 1159 in fact!
Sat in the village pub over the “festive” period my oldest friend explained to his lovely wife, my husband and my brother in law the problem with my cycling when I was younger was “she used to watch her feet go around” and as a result “used to ride into things like lamp posts….
Never a truer word was said and he has actually witnessed the result of my “watching my feet go round” in 30 + years of friendship he has only ever blamed me for 2 things. The bike driven into a street light being one and failing his A’levels the other. The former I take full accountability for, the later I maintain was not my fault – who knew that a revision strategy of lying ing the sun eating ice lollies and going to the pub was not a winning one! This is a the sort of friend who really has seen it all. The annoying 8 year old little girl barrel running at the cricket club. He tolerated the much more annoying teenager often drunk and disorderly, put up with my impossibly cold house in Leeds and carried me through the streets of over his shoulder on my 21st birthday, sent me flowers on my graduation and went on adventures “in that London” with me. When he fell off his bike I picked the gravel out of the cuts, we watched the Eurovision song contest the Tour de France and often went to the pub with 69p and asked for 69ps worth of cider and 2 glasses. Still now after all that he still knocks round to go to the pub with me- God love the man!
The observation of watching my feet go around is also true of my life there are times when I have just watched my feet go around, not looking forward, not seeing the lamp posts and other street furniture ready to send me tumbling and causing serious damage. Not any more. I figured out that looking up and taking on challenges is much better. The reason we were talking about cycling was my participation in the Festive 500 challenge. Despite protests carefully laid out by Mr R I decided I would join the challenge. Slight issue was that due to my age and clinging to imperial measurements I hadn’t quite clocked how far 500km is…its a really long way. In fact its something like 310 miles (gulp) I also hadn’t realised that at least half the folks would be in glorious southern hemisphere sun shine as opposed to the hurricane winds and near freezing conditions of Manchester (doh!)
So all I had to do was work out how to carve out 20+ hours of bike riding and not impact the “festive period” or as the week went by it became known as the the “not so festive” period. The easy (if you think cycling 500km in 8 days can ever be easy) is to do 7 rides with a day off for Christmas day. But who wants to do it the easy way!??
Determined to get off to a good start and not impact on my planned cocktail drinking in the afternoon meant getting up at 7am on Christmas Eve and battling the remnants of hurricane Barbara. I rode around a familiar route wrestling Donna (she is my bike) and trying to work out which way the wind was blowing….every way seemed to be the answer! Mr R gallantly got on his bike to support me for the last 50km. Boom 100k done.
As a mention of riding on Christmas day was met with a rustle of divorce papers I instead just had a test ride with my new fancy Garmin round the block in my pyjamas – 0.2km added to the total (it all counts)
On Boxing day Barbara had been replaced by Conor but as my bike friend says “at least it was dry” 50km before returning home to open some presents with my sons and then off for a further 50km where I managed to come across a nice GB cycling fellow so did my best “cycling stalking” and clung to his wheel for as long as I could seeking shelter and a good bit of towing. By now I was really missing my usual windbreak (30% less effort don’t you know) The resulting PR’S show the effort I put in. My attempt were nearly thwarted by a suicidal squirrel who ran out of a hedge and through my spokes. He made a funny noise. I hope he was ok.
Two days visiting my parents now posed a challenge as Donna could not come with us and the forecast of freezing fog sounded less inspiring- if you ever do this challenge my top tip is do not read the twitter feed those knocking out 200k at a time in Australia and complaining about the heat…
I had an idea! my mum has a bike! its a hybrid that weighs probably a touch more than me but it had wheels. So as Mr R and my brother in law ran off some of their Festive 500 calories an hour I pedalled along the Cotswold tracks along side them. I am claiming this as my first off road ride. My eyelashes froze and I went at 8mph. Who cares it all counts.
My mantra as the week went on was “it doesn’t matter how slow I go as long as I go” So with 3 days to go and 270km still to ride I began to contemplate watching my feet go round and considered defeat. My bike friend said “don’t worry just do as many KMs as you can it will be more than most” Now he also knows me well and would have known this was a red rag to a bull. More determined than ever to complete the bastard hard thing I set off again knowing that there had to be 2 100k rides in the next two days to give me a chance. Thankfully some encouraging texts arrived form Uncle Malcom at this point.
Good news the winds had passed……now there was just ice! So here is the challenge for all us northern hemisphere peeps that pedal slowly the amount of daylight at this time of year does not allow for a late start. I literally needed nearly every day light hour to pedal! So I spent a long time putting on as many clothes as I could and still move and off I went again. My cornering is sub optimal at the best of time, add in tired legs and a bit of ice some homicidal drivers plus the fact that many people seemed to be taking on a festive challenge of restricting the use of indicators meant staying up right was my biggest achievement.
So 2 days and 171km remaining time to go for another 100k My best intentions of going on some interesting rides to new places faded away and I reverted to riding round a loop. The tiredness couldn’t cope with navigating as well as pedalling. The more tired I got the less I changed gear, braked or steered. All pretty essential to cycling but one thing was for sure I was not going to look at my feet going round. New tactic was to sing to myself – I only know the words to “I know him so well” by Barbara Dixon and Elaine Paige and “Last Christmas” by Wham and a few Foo Fighter songs! I am tone deaf so this was delightful for fellow cyclists – sorry. A stop for cheese on toast and another loop and I had 1 day left and 60km to go.
At this point a quick check of the leader board showed that less than 1500 women would complete the challenge and the thought of the little cloth badge and some very lovely socks and a cap from Rapha my cycling store of choice (think Karen Millen for my bike wardrobe) spurred me out the door one more time. I knew I had less than 3 hours of snail pace spinning to make it. Most of the way I muttered “don’t get a puncture, come on Donna” as by this stage the poor old girl was pretty much fed up of changing gear too and the long discussions we have about what gear I want to be in and what gear she is in ceased and I pedalled in what ever she thought appropriate!
Just before lunch time I arrived home and made sure I pressed all the right buttons on the Garmin to save the ride, gathered my sons and employed son no. 1s special talent of riding his bike no handed taking selfies to some good use by taking some celebratory pictures. I am sure that a picture of me drinking pink fizz later that evening got more likes on face book than my triumphant declaration of completing the Festive 500 however I know what it took to do it and what it means to me. It was epic and lonely and tough and I chose to do it rather than spend that time with my family and friends but I am cool with that and they are too! I will not look at my feet go round. Instead I will look up and straight ahead and take on each challenge. So to the other 1400 women (and the fellas) who also achieved this “Chapeau”
The biggest big thank you goes to those who “fly with me cause I can’t quite make it on my own” Mr R, Thomas, James, Uncle Malcolm, Rafal, the Strava Kudos folk and the twitter inspiration and of course original bike friend Paul – thank you xx