For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be good at something. When I say good I mean really good.
I’ve wondered what it would be like to be one of life’s winners, as that’s never been me.
Let me explain myself a little more. At school, I was on the various school teams, for running, athletics, netball & hockey. I was mediocre. Not bad, but hardly a star on the team either. I never made the podium, always coming in around the middle of the field. But then I wasn’t competitive, and didn’t really train either. I had no concept of the idea of being coached or being a competitor. I just got on the field, did my thing and went home.
All of this stopped when I left school, and other than buying a bike for transport, everything vaguely sporting dropped away for probably a couple of decades.
But as my children grew older I developed a real love for cycling. A bit of mountain biking to start with, since I had the Quantock Hills on my doorstep, but again I wasn’t a strong rider. I would struggle on up the hills, but enjoy the views from the top, and really enjoy the downhill sections on the way home. I have no idea how far I went, as I didn’t measure it in those days, but I did find that the more I did it, the stronger I became, and the easier it got. I didn’t watch or compete in mountain bike competitions I just rode for pleasure, but I discovered that for me, the challenge of the ride and finding harder or longer routes because an immense part of the pleasure. For the first time in my life I discovered the joy from seeing what your limits were, and then pushing beyond them.
Let’s be clear here, I found my limits pretty quickly, I wasn’t particularly fit, and if I was to even consider racing I’d be last, most likely give up before the finish. I was the Eddie the Eagle of mountain biking. Keen, but not that good.
Don’t get me wrong, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the riding that I did, and it was a lot more than others but I’d started comparing myself with others, always a really bad idea, and so rode mostly on my own, where I would only compare myself with myself.
Now for readers of this blog, you’ll know that I discovered long distance cycling later in life, and it turns out that I was good at something. And good at it quite naturally. Once I had mastered the art of actually riding a bike (now road bikes) at decent distances, I discovered my body can keep on going, and going, and going.
But, I’m not fast. Luckily in long distance touring speed isn’t an issue, the ability to keep riding until you get to your destination is the most important factor.
Again, if you’ve been following my blog, you’ll have realised that I like to enter ultra long distance events, in particular Audax. My finishing in time success rate however, has been a bit hit and miss. I’ve yet to finish anything over 600k within the time limits.
So, in 2020 I set myself a slightly different kind of long distance event. My first ‘race’. The Race around the Netherlands. And I trained hard. With the help of my coach, I trained right through the winter, battled endless headwinds, and was just starting to increase my training to include multi day rides, with bivvy practice, then Covid-19 hit. The world started to shut down in March, bang in the most crucial part of final training stage. I had to wait until April before the organiser could decide whether the event would go ahead, or be cancelled or postponed. They decided to postpone until Aug.
In March and April, athletes all over the world watched as events were cancelled entirely, or postponed until much later in the year. Even now, at the time of writing, late summer events as still being cancelled as it becomes clear that social distancing is here to stay for some considerable time.
But for me, back in mid March I had a decision to make.
I had trained too hard, and spent too much to just bimble through the next few months without a plan. I just don’t have enough self discipline to continue to train hard without a goal. There was always a nagging feeling that I could continue training for the rescheduled Netherlands race, but then it get cancelled anyway. No, I needed a plan B.
Over the last year or so, I’ve been talking about wanting to set a world record for cycling. But of course there’s a flaw in my plan, which you might have picked up if you’ve been paying attention. I’m not a naturally fast rider, and surely you need to be fast to get a record?
Well, it turns out, that it’s not necessarily the case. Persistence and the ability to keep moving can actually be more important than speed.
Mark Beaumont got his round the world record by riding for 16 hours a day at an average speed of 14 mph. He was supported, and only had to think about the peddling, but 14 mph for a world record suddenly makes you think.
It made me think – as I had already worked up to an average pace of around 14 mph over a long distance anyway.
So, just as the world was beginning to shut down, I made a decision on my plan B. I wanted to set a UK based world record.
I sent my coach a message – ‘I want to set a world record, I need to ride faster and stronger, will you help me?’
‘I like a challenge’ was the reply.
Since then, my plan B has become my plan A.
The Race around the Netherlands will happen for me next year. This year I plan on setting a world record and becoming 1st for the first time in my life, as a grandmother in her mid fifties.
I may never stand on a podium, but that doesn’t mean I can’t set a world record.
It’s never too late too discover what gives you something to strive for.
You’re never too old to start dreaming!