On your marks…

As part of the fundraising campaign to raise money for the Gryphons Abroad project, I’m attempting to complete 12 sponsored sporting endeavours in 2016.

As the link above details, the Gryphons Abroad project is a life-changing sport and education programme run with the Bambasinani Partnership in South Africa. It gives young students better access to education, and opens new windows of opportunity. It also allows Leeds University students and staff to experience differences and similarities in cultures and values elsewhere in the world – which I think we can all benefit from.

This year, the Gryphons Abroad will deliver two projects: Inspiring through Education, raising educational aspirations, and Cycling to Success, enabling students more increased, affordable, sustainable transport. Students may drop out of education due to walking up to 8 miles to school, so this will be life-changing.

I know there are a lot of worthy causes out there. So, why this one?

Firstly, I know colleagues going to South Africa do a genuine and fantastic job there, so it’s because of personal involvement. But also, unsurprisingly, it has to do with my first love… bicycles.

My cycling obsession started in 2012, when someone bet I couldn’t cycle to London from my home in the Scottish Highlands. The full blog is here, but the basics are: a £50 second-hand bicycle, a little practice while I transitioned from motorbike to pedal power, and seven days later I was in London, bored. A day’s rest, and I set off for Portsmouth, and then I couldn’t cycle any further ‘cause the sea was in the way. Cycling to the other end of the country proved to me that I could achieve impressive physical feats, and – clichéd as it sounds – it was also a vital spiritual journey, helping me to recover, discover and aspire.

Since then, I’ve volunteered at numerous bicycle workshops and co-operatives, gained a decent working knowledge of bikes, and helped others to do so. I’ve cycled to Land’s End, and given talks at Leeds Beckett about women, independence and cycling. As well as fitness, it’s had a huge effect on my confidence and life journey. I’d not have moved to Yorkshire had I not cycled through it the year before the Tour de France, and thought hey, this is the place for cyclists to be.

So I want to support a project to enable others to raise their aspirations through cycling. To help get them to places they want to be, and to help make all places ones for cyclists.

The events I’ve opted for are below. Thank you for any sponsorship you can donate: https://www.gofundme.com/d2fh4y7w. I’m aware it seems like donating money for me to do things I want to do anyway, but I wouldn’t be doing such a challenge in this manner if I wasn’t inspired by this cause. All monies donated go to the casue – I’ve paid entrance fees, transport et al myself, which had totalled several hundred pounds.

I’ll be updating this blog after each event – say hi.




The chosen twelve

  • cycle
    Leeds – Land’s End, 2015. “If someone can conquer Dartmoor by bicycle, surely a 10k can’t be too bad…” – the famous last words of Catriona Ward Sell.

    January: Serpentine 10k Road Race, 1st January, London – DONE

As everyone else is recovering from new year celebrations, I’ll be kicking it off fairly gently with a nice flat 10k through London.

Also the Winter Run, London, because one race power month isn’t enough.

Stepping it up a gear (and maybe visiting the penguins afterwards).

Adding some more mud, some barbed wire, hay bales and logs. And a bit more running (should be quite good at that by this point).

  • April: Harewood House bubble rush – DONE

A change of plan from the original planned race, due to being very ill with a kidney infection for most of the month…

Been there done that. Trying to beat 01:49:25 (yes, those 25 seconds matter).

Just for fun – an obstacl

Speaking about being daunted by the prospect of doing my first triathlon, a customer at work told me that one of the best triathlon competitions is in Leeds this year. Not that that helps the nerves at all. Sorted. Beginner distance.

  • July: Bramham cross-country 10k, followed by the Leeds Skyride – DONE

An inaugural race followed by floating about Leeds on a bicycle with lots of other cyclists.

  • August: The cycle starts. UK – Netherlands. DONE
  • September: The cycle continues: Netherlands – Italy. DONE
  • October: still cycling: Slovenia – Austria. DONE
  • November: more bicycles?! Austria – Romania  

A fun one to finish, and back in Leeds. The Christmas 10k… which I propose to do on a space hopper. Not taking this seriously? C’mon, I should have some fun with the final challenge!


You can sponsor me killing myself through stupid amounts of cardio here: https://www.gofundme.com/d2fh4y7w

It’s Downhill Forever

bikeA re-post from my personal blog from 2013.

Someone in my hometown of Blairgowrie, mid Scotland, said in jest that I couldn’t cycle to London.

Challenge accepted.

Obstacles? Time, money, resources, commitments. The life that get in the way of doing amazing things. I didn’t even have a bicycle at the time. I booked two weeks off my uninspiring Pharmacy job, bought a £50 second-hand bicycle from a man in a nearby town who couldn’t physically cycle any more, borrowed some panniers from a friend, and set off.

I didn’t tell many people I was doing the cycle, I think because I was trying to claim a bit of the world for me. I think that’s what a lot of people cycle alone: they want to do something amazing by themselves, for themselves. The only people I told were the friends I was going to see along the way – my brother in Edinburgh, my friend in Newcastle, my Grandmother and Cousin in London.

I cycled Blairgowrie to Edinburgh on the first day after work, cycling from 5.30pm til 11.30pm, complete with a sunset over the Forth Road Bridge. When I got to my brother’s, he looked at me: “do you want food? Of the actually edible kind, or of the GIVE-ME-CARBS-NOW kind?” I was eating the pasta as it was cooking. Half-cooked pasta is delicious when you’ve just cycled 70 miles after a full day at work.

The next day, I left about 3KG of stuff at his, deciding to travel with as little as possible. He accompanied me cycling for a day. Scotland lives up to it’s mountainous stereotype. We were pulling up one steep hill for about an hour, including one break. I was thinking WHY THE HELL AM I DOING THIS, particularly when overtaken by motorbikes – that’s the way to travel.

And then I heard my brother, cycling in front of me, giggling. I looked up. We were at the top. Rather than being a steep downhill descent, there was a long slightly downhill road, miles long, disappearing into the horizon. He was cycling no-hands, shouting “IT’S DOWNHILL FOREVER!” Giggling like children, it was no-hands it the whole way down.

The most interesting day was in Newcastle. There, I met a friend who I’d known about a year. And when I say known, I mean spoken to online. That was surreal, and I felt weird meeting up, but it was impossible not to suggest it: we’d skyped a lot, and he was also a long distance cyclist. There’s no one I admired more. We clicked instantly. It was amazing how comfortable I felt around him. He asked if it was weird meeting him. I replied it wasn’t, for me, and asked the same back of him. “No, but I have to keep imagining a Skype box around your head to normalise myself…” was his unforgettable reply.

The worst part was the third day. The road felt sticky. The last six miles made me physically sick. But thereafter, my body seemed to accept that my brain was going to make it do this, like it or not. I met wonderful people in Youth Hostels – the volunteers who had opened a bare YHA hostel in the middle of no-where in Lincolnshire just ’cause I had requested a room, and the cyclist from Bradford in his yellow lycra who saw my panniers in the hostel and said they were good ones. Did I have a very posh bike? He asked. I borrowed them and had a second hand bike and was cycling to London, I explained. “You’re cycling to London in a summer dress?! I’m just going to Leeds and I’ve spent a fortune on padded shorts!” he shook his head. “Your stupid. I admire you so much!”.

The most magical moment was in Ely. I had written a university history dissertation on the monasteries of Ely and Ramsey two years previously, although I’d never been to either. They were both fairly en-route by the time I got to Cambridgeshire, just adding 12 miles to the day’s track. Ramsey was forgettable – none of the tenth century monastery was visible. Ely, however, was incredible. I had studied the tenth-century monastic reform, and a part of that study had included the musical developments of both places. When I got to Ely, there was a choir assembling to sing Evensong. I’m not religious, but it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life: sitting in a place I knew so much about historically, but had never seen before, listening to the songs that would have filled the place in the tenth century.

My Newcastle friend and I texted throughout, which was great support, having someone virtually by my side throughout the journey. That was until he decided I couldn’t be in his life as “just a friend” any more. I think he expected me to pull the brakes and cycle back to Newcastle. Sweet, but not right, at the time. A week previously, this would have upset me.  “I’m sorry for spoiling your trip”, one of his last texts read. But instead of upsetting me, this made me smile – it was impossible for one person to spoil this trip. Throughout my journey, I re-discovered the world, and travelling, and history. I re-fell in love with independence, and opportunity, and with so many people I’d met along the way. Of course, there are still what-ifs and maybes. But for a life-long love of cycling and completing a journey, it was a worthy trade-off.

And seven days later, I was in London. I decided to cycle on to Portsmouth, to reach the south coast, after a rest day. One of my closest friends lived near there, but I didn’t know if I would cycle onto meet him, so I hadn’t told him that I was cycling. I told him to meet me at the train station, requested he bring a bottle of water, and cycled there in two days. He was very surprised to see me cycling up to meet him. I have never let him live down the fact that I cycled 691.3 miles to see him, and that he wouldn’t even buy me a bottle of water in return.

That day, I had an email from Leeds Metropolitan University asking me for a job interview. I got the job. I don’t know why, but for some reason, that cycle seemed to kick-start me into living again. Next time, the road will be even longer.