I’ve never actively exercised since my university days and put on a lot of weight. Last year, I decided to join Slimming World, which increased my confidence and in March when my MD sent out a message at work to invite everyone to join the GNBR I thought ‘why not!’ and signed up for 25 miles.
Trouble was, I hadn’t been on a bike for 25 years and didn’t own one, so at the age of 46 I set about buying a bike. I made some bad decisions – I didn’t know that my employer was part of the Cycle to Work scheme, although I didn’t at that stage really have time to go through CTW. I didn’t know that organisations like Ridewise operate a bike loan scheme. I didn’t even know much about bikes.
However, 42 days before the ride, thanks to the patience of Joe, the assistant in the shop, I took possession of my lovely, shiny new bike. I was too frightened to cycle on the roads, so on a that first rainy day I put the bike in the boot, and drove to Rushcliffe Country Park. Where I discovered that you do forget how to ride a bike. I really struggled to even balance, and didn’t know how to work the gears but all the same managed my first bike ride. I don’t know how far I went. I guess probably only about 1.5 miles maximum but I do know I really struggled. I was so short of breath and my legs felt like jelly. But I’d made the first start.
I knew that as a driver, I was too frightened to cycle on the roads so in the very early days, I took to taking the bike in the car to Attenborough Nature Reserve and practicing there. I struggled to get my mileage up, but I always like to research things so found out about Ridewise, and that as I live in Broxtowe and work in Nottingham City, I would qualify for a free bike maintenance course which I thought was wise as I knew I may potentially have mechanical issues while out cycling. I took the course, which was brilliant, with a colleague from work who had cycled from London to Paris the year before but didn’t know how to fix a puncture!
I also discovered that I was entitled to some free training – either 5 hours in a group, or 4 hours one to one so I signed up. Ridewise allocated my trainer, Wayne Brewin, who came to my home. Taking up this training and becoming Bikeability Level 2 qualified was the single best thing I took on. Wayne was amazing – over the course of 3 sessions, he made me set up my bike correctly, despite my objections that I needed to be able to put my feet on the floor when stopped! He took me out from home on quiet roads, explained about road positioning for cyclists, he taught me how to work the gears and convinced me he was confident that I would be able to complete the ride if I could do 3 one hour rides in a week. He also gave me my first Nottingham Cycle Map, told me about the Erewash ValleyTrail, which runs about half a mile from my home and I’d never heard of, and the Big Track route, he told me about organised rides like Sky Ride. My cycling world opened up as he gave me the confidence to travel further afield, and on our last session we cycled from my home, down to Attenborough Nature Reserve and out by the Trent. Combined with a comment from my colleague at work who told me that when cycling a distance from home, the worst that could happen was ‘an expensive taxi ride’ I realised I could take on longer and longer rides and didn’t need the car.
By this stage, however, time was running short and by the date of the GNBR, my longest ride was still only 12 miles.
On the morning of the GNBR, and at the start line with Claudette (as my bike now had a name!), I remember feeling physically sick, I was so nervous. Although there was a group of us from work, I stressed to them that they should go ahead, I would manage it in my own time and quickly fell behind. What was amazing though, was the support from other riders. Every time through the ride it was clear I was struggling, someone would be there with words of encouragement and a quick chat. I’m not sure I would have finished without that.
As I approached the first feeding station at Plumtree, my sister and her family had come out on the road to cheer me on. I was euphoric, the support from my family really boosted me. I then set off on the second leg, expecting to be on my own for the remaining ride. As 12 miles passed I realised I had gone further than ever before, but was still really only at the half way mark. I struggled with the hills but I’ve realised there’s no shame in pushing! About half a mile before the second feed station, a car passed me with whooping and hollering! My sister’s family had been out to Chilwell to pick up my husband who doesn’t drive, and there they all were to cheer me on some more. I really needed it at that stage, they were so supportive and I wanted to make them proud by finishing.
On the route back to the Embankment, my chain came off but I didn’t panic as I knew what to do from the maintenance course! However, a lovely man I didn’t know stopped and helped me – again showing what a fantastic community event this is. I can’t thank him enough.
At 19 miles I wanted to cry – and I’m not a cryer! At 20 miles as the distance cyclists came whizzing past me I began to feel like I’d never finish. But I’m no quitter and I just had to grit myself and keep on. As I went by the National Water Sports Centre, my phone rang and it was my colleagues wanting to know how I was doing! The worst point was as we came back into the city, and the lights changed at the end of Trent Boulevard which meant I had to stop. My leg went into cramp and I had to wait 3 rotations of the lights before I was able to continue. It was so frustrating, I was so close to the finish.
As I rode back along the embankment, I thought I’d be euphoric, but all I could think of was that I just wanted to finish, and as I crossed the line it was amazing to see my family had come up trumps again and headed down to cheer me over, along with my colleagues.
That medal was the hardest earned thing I’ve ever owned.
I continued cycling, doing lots of Sky Rides around Nottingham which showed me beautiful parts of the city I didn’t even know existed. I met some amazing people and regularly started taking 20 mile rides. We don’t have shower facilities at work which makes it challenging, but I started to bring the bike in, leave it at work overnight and travel in the next day on the bus so I could cycle home. On Cycle to Work day I rode both to and from work. I’ve tried to cycle rather than drive when I need a short journey like a quick pop to the shops in Beeston. I have totally fallen in love with cycling, and even cycled, rather than driving, from home to the Embankment to sing at the Armistice Day service in November with my choir.
Another colleague at work recommended me to Nottingham City Council as a case study for their cycling initiatives, which is on the Nottingham Insight web page.
I signed up straightaway for the 2015 ride to get the discount! This year, my nephew is going to ride with me. I’ve even persuaded some of the other ladies at Slimming World to take up cycling.
To be honest, I’m finding it a bit cold to be cycling currently, but the confidence cycling has given me has encouraged me to start a Couch to 5k with the Sweatshop Running Community. I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so Claudette and I can get mobile again!
My aims for 2015 are to take a picnic and cycle the whole of the Erewash Valley Trail, take Claudette out to Derbyshire with my friend to cycle the Tissington Trail and around Carsington Water and to cycle to and from and participate in Beeston Park Run. And to complete the GNBR in a much quicker time and with less pushing, but most of all this year to enjoy it!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my story. I appreciate it’s a long one but cycling has changed my life, and the This Girl Can campaign I’ve found so affirming. My weight loss and fitness journeys are still very much works in progress after 25+ years abusing myself with too much food and no exercise. The reality is that I’ve only ever had one negative comment from someone when out cycling or running – most people are incredibly supportive and friendly. And to the guy with his negative comment yelled from his car I say ‘yes, I jiggle, and yes, I’m overweight. But at least I’m out there having a go. What’s your contribution?’