Earlier this year, we featured Katie Peers, an OT who was attempting an almighty cycling challenge to raise money for The Prince’s Trust. Sponsored by specialist seating company CareFlex, Katie completed the Deloitte Ride Across Britain from Land’s End to John O’Groats and raised over £3,000 for The Prince’s Trust.
Here Katie shares a glimpse into the physical and emotional rollercoaster that she experienced over a wet and windy nine days across the country.
How did you feel after the first day?
Day one of my journey started at 5:30am on a Saturday morning and I was already sleep deprived having slept in a tent under stormy skies. I was super excited to start, but terrified at the same time. I felt really pleased to have completed the first of nine days, 105 miles from Land’s End in Cornwall to Okehampton in Devon, with 8,232ft of climbing done. Meeting the CareFlex team just outside Okehampton was a real morale boost.
Where did you sleep at night?
When I arrived at the days finish line, I put my bike away for the night, and got my tent number – each rider was assigned their tent as they arrived each afternoon/evening. Tents had just enough room for a rider to sleep next to their bulging kit bag – getting changed had to be a well thought out procedure! 700 or more tents were neatly laid out in fields on each basecamp plotted along the route. I slept on an inch of air, a self-inflating camping mat. I don’t think I had more than a few hours sleep over any given night due to aches and pains and worrying about oversleeping the next morning. Sleep deprivation was something I had not trained for! Due to the unfortunate weather conditions we had, basecamps were basically a field of mud. The crew team put up all the tents, and our kit bags were on lorries between each basecamp. Walking around basecamp to get to/from my tent in cycling shoes was a skill I was learning! The other facilities were simply luxurious in contrast! Porta-loo’s about 75 metres from my tent (across the mud don’t let’s forget!); mobile shower units somewhere near to the toilets; outdoor communal tap/troughs for teeth brushing and cycling bottle washing; an overflowing tent/room to hang up your kit to attempt to dry it! The saving grace was the incredible food available at basecamp each night – a superb catering team cooked at least four different main meal options for the 700+ hungry cyclists headed their way. And desserts, they were amazing!
Did you have a breaking point each day?
Each day brought its own challenges. These challenges varied in intensity and in cause, with variants including weather conditions (rain, wind and rain, more rain, did I mention rain?…you get the idea), terrain (uneven and potholed road surfaces), each days route (mostly hilly routes), not forgetting my legs (at times feeling like they were going to pop under the pressure of continually cycling!) and my mind (getting in and staying in ‘the zone’, to survive the challenge)… the list goes on! What was incredible and something I will savour forever is how all the RABers came together and helped each other, be it a second pair of hands to fix a puncture at the side of the road, or a morale boosting companion for a section of the route. Although I am a determined and driven person, I generally achieve what I set out to achieve, without the camaraderie and team spirit of the RABers and support teams on the Ride Across Britain, I doubt I would have made it to JOG.
One day stands out in particular. I was frozen cold, starting out in the rain, with cold and wet cycling kit as the drying room had failed in its duty the night before. I set off from basecamp miserable and exhausted! It took over an hour to warm my body, but my toes just didn’t warm up at all. I doubted my ability to keep going, as every turn of the pedals caused foot pain and nothing I tried would shake the frozen feet I had. Toe wriggling was pointless as I couldn’t feel my toes to know if they were wriggling or not! I got off my bike at the bottom of a climb, and considered getting the Broom Wagon (this is a coach to get people to the end of the day if they were unable to cycle it for whatever reason). I didn’t want the broom wagon option. So, I managed to get one of the support team cars to pull over, and I climbed in. I asked them to turn up their heating, and removed my shoes and socks (soaking wet from the continual rain!) and sat with my feet under the heaters for about 15 minutes before I started to get feeling back in my toes. I then had to brave the wet socks/shoes, before getting out of what had become a car-sauna, into the rain and cold, and set off uphill to finish the climb ahead. Later that same day, I had to stop again; I was frozen again, and wet through from the torrential rain. This time I headed into a nearby cafe with other cyclists, who were equally frozen, to try and warm up. It helped but only took the edge off the cold until we ventured back out into the rain to finish the days route. It was on days like this that I had to really focus on why I was doing this ride, not to give up, no matter how exhausted I was both physically and mentally. I had to continue, for The Prince’s Trust, to raise money and hope for young people less fortunate than myself, to give them a chance at life, and to give them something meaningful and purposeful to live for in their promising futures. All I had to do was cycle for 9 days…..easy….right?
What kept you going?
I honestly don’t know! I was so overwhelmed at times that I was just focusing on counting my breaths whilst counting down the miles to the next pit stop. Pit stops were there to refuel – endless supplies of savoury and sweet snacks, hot drinks, water, mechanics, first aid, and always a motivational sign. During those moments of doubt, I did remind myself what and who I was doing this charity event for, that the challenge for me would soon be over, but the challenge for people receiving help from the Princes Trust was a much bigger one. The Princes Trust, the chosen charity of the Ride Across Britain organisers (Deloitte, Threshold Sports) was one of many charities being supported from the event – and every rider had their own reasons and often quite moving stories of why they had signed up to do the ride. Some people were already cycling before they signed up to the event, others were new to cycling. Personally, I’ve always been a keen cyclist, but never anything quite like this! Every morning and evening on the RAB, I was lucky enough to meet up with a small group of likeminded RABers I’d met, to share our experiences, and support each other through the good and the tough times. We tried to start the day’s rides together, and meet up at the pit stops on the way, but this was not always possible. It was amazing how much easier the miles felt when I was cycling in the company of others, whether there was a spectacular view to share, stories to tell, or just a bracing weather front to push through in silence. It was certainly a life-event, and probably a once in a life time event at that!
Did you experience any injuries?
Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable was one of my training mantra’s – there wouldn’t be a charity event without there being something challenging about it now would there? I was unsure just how uncomfortable it was going to get (although I had a very good idea!). The obvious area of soreness for anyone cycling is their saddle area – I was thankful for my knowledge on pressure sores and moisture lesions from working as an Occupational Therapist in the NHS. I was able to look after myself well. Tubs of chamois cream and Sudocrem must have made top sales that week!! As they say, prevention is better than cure, and I was very very thankful that I continued on a path of prevention. I sought advice from the medics, and was reassured that although I felt like I was sitting on a seat made out of tiny cacti, I was in fact ‘fine’……It didn’t feel fine, and was taking medications to relieve some of the pain, but I had heard tales of others experiences on RAB, so I knew that I was really ‘fine in comparison’. It was another reminder that my pain (physically, mentally, emotionally,) was nothing compared to others. I was supported by a team of people. I had a clear end in sight, although it was easy to lose sight of that fact. Muscles and joints hurt like I’ve never known it before – and mostly when I was trying to sleep! My right knee decided to swell up, as did my face oddly enough! I discovered that water retention is a side-effect of endurance exercise and the body’s natural healing process. I also managed to hurt my back with the effort required to carry my kit bag about basecamps each morning/evening. I’ve nearly got all the feeling back in my toes, just one or two to go and I’ll be ‘back to normal’! Believe it or not, I came away quite unscathed – some people are still unable to feel their hands to do up buttons or turn keys etc, plus their journey or ‘prevention’ wasn’t so successful as mine I mentioned earlier.
What was the best thing about the cycle?
The best thing by far was the ‘RAB bubble’ – the new friendships made, the camaraderie along the way from strangers, the relentless support and motivation from the various different crew members. There were also multiple rainbow’s over the 9 days, ‘Rainbow RAB’ was full of beauty alongside it’s challenges. It goes without saying that crossing the finish line in JOG was also something quite indescribable, and rather overwhelming. I also got my photo taken with one of my cycling hero’s – Mark Cavendish (Professional cyclist for Team Dimension Data) who joined us for a morning from Bath up to pit-stop 1. Seeing Mark cycling past me, I couldn’t believe his incredible speed. I blinked and he was gone over a hill that I was still rolling slowly towards!
What was the worst thing about the cycle?
The worst thing has got to have been all of the rain and wind we had. That, and getting into cold damp cycling kit. Being cold. I’ll never forget how cold I was! And waking up inside a tent filled with condensation, and covered in dew outside (if it wasn’t actually raining).
How much money did you raise?
I raised over £3,000.00 for The Prince’s Trust. I am incredibly grateful for all of my sponsors, family, friends, friend-of-friends, neighbours, colleagues, people I’d never even met! Every new donation gave me a little kick of energy and motivation to keep going. I was extremely proud when CareFlex became my major sponsor for the event – they really got behind me, not only did they make a huge contribution to my fundraising, but they also helped me with my on-going fundraising and kept in contact to find out how my training was going through the year and met me out on the route on day 1.
How did CareFlex support you?
CareFlex were amazing. I signed up to this event and committed to cycling from Land’s End to John O‘Groats, whilst raising a large amount of money for The Princes Trust in doing so. There were times when the pressure of the training, let alone the fund raising, was just too much. CareFlex may not ever realise how much their support meant to me – for me to have achieved this challenge would have been so much harder without their support and enthusiasm. I can’t thank them enough.
Would you do it again?
I have been asked this multiple times, even encouraged by some. I would love to do it again, if the weather behaved itself, and if my legs didn’t threaten spontaneous combustion! If anyone is considering taking on a cycling challenge and would like to get in touch I’d be happy to offer advice based on my experiences – you can email me at email@example.com.
Needless to say, this challenge has changed my life. I’ve pushed my own limitations beyond what I believed possible. I felt pain and exhaustion physically and mentally, I went on a roller coaster of emotions. Yet my challenge was for just 9 days. And I recovered. The Prince’s Trust will be able to take the money that myself and others have raised, to help change the lives of so many young people. The results of their work is phenomenal and not to be underestimated. If you would like to make a donation towards their lives and the work of The Prince’s Trust, please go to: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/katiepeers