From the bottom up: Cycling’s lack of diversity and what clubs can do about it.

Length: Oh boy it’s a long’un. But, it’s so important. Get your cuppa and your snack and take a seat. Set aside some time to think about it after.

Audience: Everyone. Cyclists, clubs, prospective cyclists, other sports clubs.

Sentence summary: Cycling is an unequal sport, dominated by the white male. Cycling clubs can do more to make the sport accessible to people from diverse backgrounds. The actions suggested may benefit everyone.


I’m not a person of colour, but you don’t need to be to recognise that this is an important issue, and now is an important moment. I have been the minority in a cycling club before – and still am. I know from personal experience how valuable it is to have outspoken allies in the majority or more privileged social group. To the men in my cycling club who have supported me speaking out and have offered their help and enthusiasm – thank you – I think you know who you are and I’m not sure you knew how much this mattered. To any POC reading this – this is me saying I want to do the same for you. And to anyone reading this who’s not sure there is an issue. Please read on. I doubt I’ll convince you in the paragraphs which follow, but I’ll hope to start something.

It comes in three parts (1) a brief overview of the background, (2) why this matters in cycling, and (3) what cycling clubs and the everyday cyclist can do about that.


Part 1: Understanding the backdrop – Britain as a racist country

Britain is a racist country. This is something which is often ignored, and which many (white) people choose to dispute. I think it’s something we’re* deeply uncomfortable with, and it seems often we’re more affronted by the accusation of racism than the racism itself. The current climate has brought Boris Johnson’s racism back to the fore. He has previously referred to people of African descent as “picaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and to Muslim women as “letterboxes” and “bank robbers“. In a carefully worded response to the recent BLM protests, Boris avoided agreeing that black lives mattered – instead treading around by sayingwe are right to say that black lives matter“. Whilst his previous words periodically resurface in the news, Johnson still refuses to apologise. His cabinet scramble to defend him. Back in February Dave saidthe truth is our prime minister is a real racist” in his performance of “Black” at the Brit awards (which is as a side note excellent. Watch it here). In response, Priti Patel issued a statement calling the claim “utter nonsense” which it evidently isn’t, and saying “he’s not racist”, he is. That’s one example, and I wonder what impact it has on a country to see someone in such a position of power to be handed a free pass for language and behaviour which is so offensive and damaging.

*(we = white britons)

Dave performing “Black” at the 2020 Brit Awards (source)

Britain has also long painted a picture of “tolerance” which I find deeply unsettling. As if tolerance is something to aspire to, the word in itself implies an inherent unpleasantness of the thing being endured – the dictionary definition suggests it is of something you may not agree with or approve of. Tolerance ignores equality, and “others” POC from Britain. Much as in cycling we often see the male default, in Britain the white default exists. Worse, if you are white, it might be difficult to notice the white default. It’s certainly not flagged in our education system – I was lucky enough to have university friends who helped me see the things I’d never before noticed. But, it goes beyond the white default of pink plasters and pale skinned toys, being white comes with inherent privilege. White privilege.

The British (tabloid) Media have a lot to answer for in my books. This is from a tweet in response to the Mail’s headline “What has become of the tolerant Britain we love?” highlighting their previous negative headlines e.g. “migrants really are swamping parts of the UK” (source)

This privilege goes beyond the racist words of the PM. White privilege manifests systemically. Recently, I’ve heard white people say they don’t see racism in practice“. Which is almost exactly the point – it’s the systemic disadvantage which POC experience, due to their colour.  It’s in any sentence which starts “I’m not racist but…”, it’s in the way the media portray POC, the unemployment of BAME groups**, the studies showing ‘ethnic minority’ named CVs receive fewer callbacks than their identical ‘white’ named counterparts, the microagressions against POC, the disproportionate number of BAME coronavirus deaths**, BAME prevalence in the incarcerated population** and underrepresentation in positions of power and leadership. The list could go on. It’s everywhere, and it’s something many people are used to. Author of White Fragility, Robin d’Angelo suggests that we should think of racism as “a system rather than just a slur; it is prejudice plus power.” It may be an uncomfortable realisation that that needs to change, but we can all do our bit in our respective corners to help.

**BAME is the terminology used in the report.

There’s plenty more to be said on this, but this is enough for a starter. If it was news to you there are some sources I’ve found really helpful on this topic at the end. How does this relate to our sports clubs?

The new mural on Jamaica Street, Stokes Croft is food for thought. Photo @kiusherwood

Part 2: This is the why part. Why does racism matter in cycling.

“But we’re not an exclusive club – anyone can join”

A clipping from the British Cycling Report. These comments were from cyclists of colour and highlight the current lack of action from clubs on the matter. We can do better.

As a note on this section: It focusses on cycling as a sport, on road cycling in particular and on clubs and individuals. For an excellent read on the cycling industry see Jess Duffy’s piece on Medium.

This problem persists in cycling clubs and in other sports too. The British Cycling (BC) Diversity in Cycling Report highlights the issues brilliantly, and has made me realise that within our club, we need to do more. There is a key difference between not being exclusive, and being actively inclusive. I would hope that no club is trying to actively exclude minority groups, but there’s a big gap between the passive position of not creating harm, (“Anyone can join”) and a much more active position of using our privilege to do good (“Everyone is welcome and included”).

Because being in a cycling club is a privilege, and that’s something we should accept. It goes beyond the motivation, health, and training benefits of club rides and chain gangs, the support and advice of club members. Cycling clubs create community, purpose, and belonging. I know many people in my cycling club who have found friends for life there, support in tough times, and guidance that spans beyond the bike – alongside the obvious benefit of team mates. I personally have benefitted from being able to find like-minded outdoorsy people who are now my close friends, adventure buddies and tear my legs off from time to time. Why shouldn’t those privileges be open to all? For the majority who make up our sport (white, men) the status quo might be comfortable – it’s easy to surround yourself with similar people, and to take no action to change that “I just want to ride my bike and eat cake”. That’s passive and lets the status quo continue. The way it’s always been done doesn’t equal the way it should be done, and to be quite honest, those lacking experience of the barriers faced by minority groups are not usually well placed to advise on the issue e.g. “They can join the club if they want to”. Which is why the BC report is so useful – detailing the experiences of these groups.


Kadeena Cox at the Rio 2016 Olympic games where she won gold on the track (source)

We need to recognise that there are barriers to joining cycling clubs which do not affect everyone. Right now we’re certainly not doing enough to address them- as detailed by the experiences of POC shared in the BC report and by the quite honestly shocking statistics (Screenshot above, excerpt below). This is something which has recently been flagged by high profile cyclists such as Ayesha McGowan – noting that there are just five black riders in the world tour, and no black people on the boards of British Cycling, USA cycling, or management committee of UCI. There is just one black cyclist (of 80) on top level British Olympic funding – Kadeena Cox. We have to make clubs more welcoming and inclusive because often that’s where it starts – change will come from the top down and from the bottom up. 

“In London, a city where a third of the population identifies as black, Asian and minority ethnic, 86% of male cyclists and 94% of female cyclists are white – and two thirds of all cyclists are male.”

Kevin Hylon – The unbearable whiteness of cycling

Cycling: Currently not a diverse place. I took a quick look back at cycling weekly covers since the start of 2020 (25) and found three with women in the cover image, and perhaps one featuring a non-white cyclist. Images all from here

Part 3: What now? What can we do?

Cycling clubs are not doing enough – so what can we do?

No one is expecting clubs or individuals to do everything to solve this problem, nor solve it overnight. Refer back to Part 1 – racism in the UK is a systemic issue which will take time, effort and will to resolve. However, each individual effort matters. We’ve also got to start somewhere, and I’m against doing nothing because you’re not sure you can do enough. Make a start, see what happens, worst case scenario you tried. Best case scenario you make a difference. Worth it.

The following are a synthesis of the suggestions from the BC Report and things I’ve read, listened to and watched in recent weeks plus a couple of ideas. The report is brilliant, and I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know it existed until a couple of weeks ago.

The Black Cyclists Network – founded by Mani Arthur. Image from the British Cycling Report
  1. Reflect

This one is important and likely uncomfortable, but I think for clubs it’s important to look at where you’re starting from to think about what to do next. What are you currently doing to make minorities feel welcome to join the club? It’s uncomfortable to realise that the answer may be not much or nothing. My club has, over time, done more to improve the experience of women and we’re still getting better with more yet to do. Like most cycling clubs, we’re still very much white male dominated but I think it’s the trajectory which matters more than the starting point – recognise it and get going.

2. Data

Data matters – start collecting ethnicity information in your membership. This will allow you as a club to monitor your trajectory and see how it changes over time. The BC report suggests the format below for collecting ethnicity data:

Example approach to an ethnicity data collection question – from the BC report.

I also think having some form of survey in your club is valuable. Knowing your club demographic is one thing, but understanding the club experience by demographic is even better and could provide clear insight into what needs to change.  

3. Be visibly and actively welcoming

The BC report suggests a number of approaches to this. I think there are simple things clubs can do like:

  • Putting an inclusivity/diversity statement on your website e.g. “We are committed to promoting diversity and inclusivity as a cycling club, and welcome all new members – please see our club runs page to find out how to join us and feel free to contact us with any questions”
  • Consider making your membership request/form more straightforward and in plain, friendly language. A quick search around some clubs I’m familiar with found some formal ones about. That might seem like a non-issue but if you’re on the fence of feeling brave enough to join a club it might be enough to make you feel not welcomed, and it’s an easy step to say somewhere “new members are welcome/encouraged” somewhere on that form or page.
  • Encourage your members to be welcoming to new arrivals at club events and also at races – the BC report recognises that those who stand out in a group may feel an additional level of intimidation. Make them welcome without overdoing it. And, as a personal note on this – individuals being welcoming and supportive of me made a huge difference when I started cycling and I would love it if everyone could have that experience. Joining a fairly homogenous group and feeling like an “other” – for me a woman showing up to mostly male events or club runs is intimidating and small efforts go a long way.
  • Consider your own behaviour at races and/or sportives or audaxes – whether you’re a competitor or volunteer. Small friendly gestures are much needed here too as new riders may be pushing their comfort zone, and may not know anyone. From my experiences – racing can feel cliquey and terrifying when you’re new and everyone seems to know each other. Friendly volunteers, organisers and fellow competitors have made a huge difference to me in the past. Extend those gestures to everyone.

4. A Buddy System

An idea I’ve had which could work across Bristol’s cycling clubs (and further afield) is the idea of offering a “buddy” system for your first club ride – something which could definitely transfer to other sports! I think one of the most intimidating things going on your first club run is not knowing anyone, especially if you feel like you might not fit in.

A buddy system would work advertised next to club runs (on your website, or on social media channels) and offer an existing member to meet and greet the new person, ensure they don’t get dropped and make sure they have someone to talk to along the way and at the café stop. The prospective new rider could request a buddy for a club run via the website or facebook page, and they could even be available beforehand via email or similar for those last minute questions. It wouldn’t have to be the same person each time either – putting a call out on your club’s members group could work for finding someone who’ll be heading out in that group anyway. I like this idea as it takes the pressure away from one person in the club, and would make sure no one has an awkward experience that would put them off. Being able to do something like this across the Bristol clubs would be a great way to help those who are less confident make the jump to club riding, and show that clubs are genuinely keen to welcome new faces.

5. Celebrate existing diversity

The BC report suggests that if your club has members from BAME backgrounds, then, with their permission they should be included in visual representation of the club – making them and their participation more visible to others. Most clubs have some form of website or social media which would be a great place to start. I know when I first looked at my club’s Instagram (~2018) there hadn’t been a picture of a female cyclist on it since 2016, and at the time this was one of two images with a female cyclist in it since starting.  We’ve since changed that through celebrating our female members (both new, and long standing!) more visibly and this is a similar idea.

Promoting ambassadors is another option. Similar to the buddies idea, ambassadors can be a point of contact for new members from BAME backgrounds, and would ideally be an existing member from a BAME background themselves. The BC report recognises that not everyone will want to take on that role and that should be respected – but creating something similar if not the same could be really beneficial. I’d like to suggest a diversity and inclusion officer in my club to ensure that it’s something we continue to think about (and act on) going forwards.

Finally – do these things but be honest (which ties in with #1 on reflecting). Many cycling clubs are not diverse, and those which lack diversity at present can still promote values of inclusion (#3). State that you are open and welcoming to all newcomers regardless of race and gender and celebrate what diversity you do have.

6. Develop a culture of inclusivity and positivity

One thing I’d love to see is cycling become more open to a more diverse idea of what a cyclist is. It’s easy to become caught up in snobbery of the right kit, right lycra, and right bike but perhaps that makes it feel especially exclusive to outsiders. I remember being baffled by “the rules of cycling” when I came across them.

I know not everyone buys into these but there certainly is a fairly uniform image of ‘cyclist’ that I see. Plus, a new cyclist coming across them wouldn’t know that.  The BC report was eye opening for me as I’d never previously considered that the default outfit of a cyclist might not be open to people from all backgrounds. Some Muslim men, for example, may wish to wear baggy overshorts over their lycra for modesty. And that’s why it’s so crucial we become more diverse. My lived experience is white. I’m doing my best to learn and educate myself but that won’t be comparable to those who have lived it, just as those who have lived as male may struggle to see the barriers which face womxn. Let’s ditch the rules and the snide comments about amateur cyclists who wear sleeveless jerseys or pro team kits and let’s certainly not “correct” riders for not following rules which are quite honestly bollocks. Recognise that many of them would prohibit riders from certain groups. Use your energy to encourage safe, friendly group riding instead. And let’s wave at other riders on the road regardless how ‘pro’ they look or how long their socks are.


An example of some of the rules which I feel really need to go. Cold weather gear may actually be for maintaining modesty, facial hair may be part of your identity, pro team kit might just be the kit you’ve got, family may come first. None of that is a problem. The new rules: “1. cycling is for everyone, be welcoming” (Source)

7. Signpost other options

Here’s another one I want to work on with other Bristol clubs – clubs are different and they won’t suit everyone. Pace, length, and timing of sessions will all have an impact. We’re lucky enough in Bristol to have a huge range of clubs riding at different times of day, different days of the week and at varying paces – it’s key to make this visible and signpost riders to other clubs if you’re not the best fit.

This falls into BCs “promote accessibility” suggestion – covering rides of different start times and links in with managing expectations of those coming to the club rides. Offering a range of sessions at different times allows for those with different responsibilities to attend – Sunday morning at 9am is not for everyone, after all. Managing expectations is important too and includes being specific about the pace and distance of rides and what to bring. For Bristol, I think it would be great to have a combined table of which clubs ride when, how far and how fast so that for newbies it’s easy to navigate the options. This is on my to-do list.

You can also provide signposts on your club website and social media to groups like Brothers on Bikes, the Black Cyclists Network and the Women of Colour Cycling group. BC suggests building a dialogue with these groups too so that riders who may want to step up to club riding can consider your club. This is on my list too.

8. Educate yourself + Raise your racial awareness

Finally, if you’re a white person, take it upon yourself to recognise your privilege and educate yourself. Challenge yourself to be better. Read, reflect, and think about what you can change.

All in all, I think there are a number of quick wins here for cycling clubs. Things which will not be expensive or time consuming to implement that will make a tangible difference. For some of these I’m sure the benefits will be wide ranging, and create an overall more positive atmosphere. I’m not sure I want to be part of aI hope that we can turn this moment into a movement and make a difference in what is currently a very white male sport.

The end. I’ve got a to-do list to work on.

Further reading and references

Further Reading

  1. British Cycling – Diversity in Cycling (2019)
  2. Renni Eddo Lodge – Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race (here)
  3. The Unbearable Whiteness of Cycling  – Kevin Hylon
  4. Everyday Racism: Breaking Cycling’s other glass ceiling – Cycling News
  5. White Cyclists: We must do better – Cycling Magazine
  6. Kadeena Cox interview: ‘A cyclist said racism does not exist in Britain. Are you serious?’ Telegraph women’s sport
  7. Is cycling the whitest sport on earth? Ayesha McGowan Telegraph women’s sport
  8. Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire – Akala

+ many more in the further reading of the BC report, and in the sources section

Social media accounts to follow (list not exhaustive!)

  1. Black Cyclists Network – Instagram
  2. The Black Foxes – Instagram (Also – website )
  3. The Lady Velo (Jools Walker) – instagram and her blog – Velo City Girl
  4. Kadeena Cox – Instagram
  5. This list pulled together by Ayesha Mcgowan for Bicycling.com

Sources:

  1. Responding to Microagressions  – Yes Magazine
  2. “No evidence to show the hostile environment policy is working” – The Independent
  3. Shifting the deadly disease of racism – The Guardian
  4. Toppling statues of bygone tyrants forces British people to face present day racism – The Guardian
  5. “We have to stop thinking about racism as someone saying the N word” – The Guardian
  6. British Cycling – Diversity in Cycling (2019) – British Cycling
  7. Boris Johnson says we shouldn’t edit our past. But Britain has been lying about it for decades– The Guardian
  8. John Humphreys for YouGov – “Is Britain Racist?” – You Gov
  9. Revealed: The stark evidence of everday racial bias in Britain – The Guardian
  10. Boris Johnson says the UK isn’t racist, Black Britons disagree – The Independent
  11. BBC News – Why your name matters in the search for a job – BBC
  12. Centre for Social Investigation, Nuffield College, Oxford: New CSI Research reveals high levels of job discrimination faced by ethnic minorities in Britain – CSI Nuffield College
  13. Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination.  Georgia Tech University
  14. Media representations and Impact on the Lives of Black Men and Boys – Racial Equity Tools
  15. Renni Eddo-Lodge – The debate on race is a game to some, and I don’t want to play – The Guardian
  16. Jools Walker – What happens beyond the black squares – Velo City Girl
  17. Kevin Hylon – The unbearable whiteness of cycling – The Conversation
  18. Why is cycling such a “white” sport? – Matt Seaton – The Guardian
  19. Grégory Baugé calls out racism in pro cycling – Velo News
  20. Commentary: Forget the velominati’s rules, you’re not doing it wrong – Cycling Tips
  21. Podcast: Is it time to ditch the velominati’s rules: Bike Radar
  22. Campbell Tenier: Judge me on my performances – not my colour: News Day
  23. Podcast: Rouleur Longreads – Teniel Campbell (Link)

All Points North – Lessons from a Newbie

Length: Probably a pot of tea…

Audience: Those tempted to give similar, multi day events a go.

Sentence Summary: Lessons I learnt from a 75 hour lap of the North

All points north rider applications open on Monday for 2020… Just saying. See previous blog for an explanation of what it is, or the APN website

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At the start of All Points North, looking and feeling considerably fresher than I did at the end

Warm, dry and with the post-ultra-distance brain fog cleared, I started to distill what I learnt from my first multi-day ~race~ ride – All Points North. A rainy day later I’ve finally finished it.

One of my biggest fears going into All Points North was the unknown unknowns. Irrational, as I knew nothing could be done about these, but maybe also a little rational as I knew I had no experience of what the event would be like and lacked a tried, tested or trusted approach. I was sure I’d make mistakes, and worried over how big they’d be. My hope for this blog is that it provides a little insight for anyone thinking about giving it a go, perhaps plants the seed of the idea in others, and maybe makes some of the newbie mistakes for you. For anyone who’s tempted, I would recommend All Points North without hesitation. The organisers aimed to create a taste of endurance racing, without some of the barriers which might stop you trying something bigger and they aced it. It felt like a real adventure, but I was also never that far from a 24 hour garage, a house I could knock on or some form of shelter, and only needed to take two days off work for it. It was excellent in 2019, and looks to be even better in 2020.

In numbers my ride was: 890kms, 12,400m of climbing, and 75 hours and 2 minutes.  There’s a map showing what it looked like below – it was brutal, and absolutely beautiful.

APN route

All Points North 2019 – I opted for a vaguely clockwise loop, but a variety of routes emerged from the riders!

Onto the lessons learnt:

#1 Check your route thoroughly, then know your route and trust it.

I had major concerns about routing errors. In all honesty, I knew I hadn’t put as much time into the route as I would have liked to. I plotted it on Strava, which kept trying to crash my laptop and didn’t check it against any other software. I got psyched out hearing hints of route plans on the group chat so muted it. I’m prone to adding Alice specials to routes anyway (bike paths, footpaths, dead ends) and this turned out to be no different. I had done some checking, and managed to spot a large section of mtb trail near Kielder – likely featuring due to Strava’s ‘use popularity’ algorithm. Despite that spot, I’d added a couple of others – two misunderstandings with bridges. One dead end which I pursued despite signs turned into some challenging hike a bike over a steep cobbled footbridge around a deep ford (which said not to drive through it), and along a section of footpath that had been largely washed away. Good. It woke me up a bit at 3am which was probably the only upside.* The major downside was after that I didn’t trust my routing at all, and fretted when lanes got a bit laney or when A roads started to get a little too big. My second major routing error was a misunderstanding with the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge. For those also unfamiliar, it’s not a permanent bridge, and it wasn’t open at 5.45am on a bank holiday Monday. I remembering swearing a bit, cheering myself up with a flapjack, and rerouting back round some of the industrial parts of Middlesbrough. Oops.

Moral of the story – invest the time in route planning. I think it also would have helped if I’d known the route a bit better and could have been reassured by seeing places I expected to see. I’d done this well for the first 24 hours – noting the garages and shops I’d pass which would be open and what I might need but had gotten a bit lazy after that…

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The very quaint cobbled bridge I came across at 3am, with my route in yellow…

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The misunderstood Middlesbrough bridge

#2 Train as close to the event as possible

I’ve worked to this before, and find that creating training which is as similar to the real-thing as possible is really handy. In hindsight, I definitely should have done some training with a fully loaded bike. I haven’t weighed my kit but I imagine my set up was double the weight of my usual bike – carrying ~1.5l of water, bivvy kit, food, lights, and extra layers. I also know that I’ve found this hard in the past and worry that as a lighter rider, I feel the extra weight more. This makes it harder work, and slows me down. As I’d not trained with my set-up I didn’t really know how much it would slow me down. I’d done long audaxes – having completed the Bryan Chapman the weekend beforehand, but I’d had friends to draft, and despite carrying water, food, and spare layers, the luxury of being on an audax with a bag-drop and sleep facilities had cut the weight significantly.

Solo, and carrying everything I’d need I was much slower. I’d guesstimated my timings based on an average speed of ~20kph, dipping below this with time for stops (minimal) and especially hilly sections. I was slower than this, averaging ~18.5kph moving speed for the first 330km/6000m section and less with the stops included. This contributed to the route knowledge issues, as I’d listed potential food and sleep stops based on my original pace estimations. It also made me feel like I was being sluggish and should be going faster which wasn’t ideal. Oops. Lesson learnt – whilst it probably won’t seem that fun to go for a hilly training ride with your luggage, it’s almost definitely worth doing if you’re new to these things.

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A first attempt at a kit grid, I opted to take bivvy kit whilst some others opted to sleep only in hotels/hostels/B&Bs

#3 Ride your own ride

I sought the advice and wisdom of many friends who’ve done more of this than me before the event, and this really helped when things got tougher. Rational Alice was keen to set realistic goals, and be open to seeing how it went and just try to get round given absolute novice status and significant unknowns. Competitive Alice had other ideas. Rational Alice won out in the end, but there were points where it got in my head wondering how other riders were getting on, worrying when I didn’t see any others and fretting that I’d done a silly route, or worrying when I did see other riders and they were going the other way. This happened at the start, when a good portion of the bunch were starting by heading East to Flamborough to capitalise on a tailwind, and again when I was 15kms from Brimham Rocks (my first checkpoint) and heard the first rider had already reached it.  It made no difference in the end.

Knowing where other riders were or weren’t was not the biggest driver or obstacle I had to tackle, and the Brimham Rocks rider turned out to be Pawel Pulawski – the overall first finisher. I didn’t need to compare my progress to his, and it wasn’t helpful. I also panicked talking to a rider who I caught up with who told me he’d had 5 hours sleep the first night where I’d ridden straight through. I felt like a snail until he mentioned he was saving Brimham Rocks, a checkpoint I’d already visited, for last. I really took this advice and started riding for me after my fifth checkpoint at Tan Hill. The bad weather which was forecast arrived early and despite my waterproof jacket and layers I got soaked descending, with low temperatures and high winds. I felt verging hypothermic and knew the route to Great Dun Fell would bring me into the worst of it, and decided to stop in Kirkby Stephen for the night despite it being early.* I stopped for much longer than I would have liked but desperately wanted to avoid a re-run of the situation the night before and continued to remind myself that my number one goal was to get round. Anything beyond that was a bonus.

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My second checkpoint at Haworth, and the return of daylight

#4 Be sceptical of the forecast and be prepared

One of the reasons for my pickle on Tan Hill was that I’d packed to the forecast. Keen to limit the weight I was carrying I minimised spare kit. The bad weather had been initially forecast to arrive on Sunday. That, combined with my overly ambitious timings would have seen me largely out of harm’s way, en route to Durham and the East Coast checkpoints by the time it came in. Forecasts and The North didn’t match. As it happened, things turned mid Saturday afternoon with high winds, heavy rains and low temperatures – especially high up at the checkpoints. It had been cooler than I’d expected already and I’d worn most of my layers pretty consistently since setting off – taking my raincoat on and off when it was chilly and saving my down jacket for worse conditions. Still, my computer reported a low of ~2 degrees in a chilly dip just outside of Haworth at around 5am so it wasn’t feeling summery. At Tan Hill, it claimed 7 degrees. I’d planned a meal in the pub and know that I feel the cold especially when I’m hungry and or tired and I was both. However, the pub was rammed with bank holiday visitors and I couldn’t face stopping too long so high up with the descent waiting.

Back on the bike, the rain was biblical. I’d put my lightweight down on under my raincoat but started to feel wet half way back down. I’m not sure if it was the pressure of the down against the goretex, the lashing rain running down my neck, or splash from the road – I didn’t want to stop and investigate. By the bottom, despite being under my raincoat, my down jacket was wet. I could have ploughed on and perhaps warmed up but I was running on empty, and the down coat had been my insurance against the elements. I felt safe thinking I couldn’t be too cold wearing it, and that had been proven wrong. It was time for a rethink, but my brain could only think of warm, dry, and dinner. It feels impossible to know what to pack for these events. However, next time I’ll certainly pack some waterproof trousers, perhaps a proper, longer, raincoat with a hood and maybe an extra base layer. I’m sure if I do, we’ll have the sunniest bank holiday weekend on record.

Average temperature for the whole ride: 10-11 degrees, low 2 degrees (outside Haworth, 5 am Saturday), high 16 degrees (Flamborough, Monday afternoon)

Hours of rain: too many to count

Lesson: be prepared, the North is full of weather.

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The ‘view’ from the top of Great Dun Fell

Video of what it looked like here…

#5 You must be able to eat whatever you want

Other people have a habit of saying things like ‘you must be able to eat whatever you want’ to me when I tell them about these endeavours. My problem was that there were points where I didn’t want to eat anything, and where I certainly didn’t fancy another mini-maltloaf or pack of breakfast biscuits. I think this was another case where training closer to the event may have benefitted me. I did my first through-the-night ride on the Friday of all points North, and my second on the Sunday. I’ve never cycled as sleep-deprived or ingesting so much caffeine and I think the combination impacted my appetite. I was also barely stepping off the bike, keeping stop time to an absolute minimum and at the same time knew that I must be burning a huge number of calories not only due to the distance but also the low temperatures, luggage and hills. Due to a combination of trying to minimise stop time, and limited opening hours on Sundays/bank holidays I ate a large number of garage picnics and ready-made sandwiches. Even the thought of it now makes me feel a bit queasy.

At 10.00am on Monday I stopped just outside Whitby after a painful couple of hours on the busy bank holiday A-roads getting there. I was struggling and felt wobbly. My last meal had been an egg and cress sandwich and a flapjack outside a 24hour Londis garage near Durham around 3am – I was overdue. I ordered a full veggie breakfast which I usually love but could barely face it. On reflection, I think it was the not sleeping that put me out. I slept in Kirkby Stephen on the Saturday night and woke up absolutely ravenous and ate a large saucepan of porridge with two bananas in it. Moral of the story: plan ahead and make time to stop and eat if you need to, learn how your body responds to no sleep and obtain the food items you know you can manage in that state. Being able to eat ‘whatever you want’* is not so much fun when you can’t face anything.

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A very sad tuna sandwich. Nicely marinated in Yorkshire downpour

For those interested, here are some of the weird things I ate. I’m not sure it was an athlete’s diet…: 5 pre made packets of sandwiches: 3x cheese ploughmans, 2x egg and cress, 1x tuna and cucumber (rained on for at least an hour for good measure), 4 veggie sausage sandwiches (I set off with these), one hot egg sandwich, 3 plain granary rolls (I dropped the 4th at some point in the night on a descent), 1 banana sandwich. My Sunday evening dinner was 4 packets of peanuts and a coffee followed by sticky toffee pudding because the pub (1) had stopped serving mains and (2) had a card limit.

#6 Accessibility is everything

Did I mention I was a bit sleep deprived? Accessibility is everything. At the beginning of 2019, I discovered the humble snack-pod. What an invention. And what a ridiculous difference it makes having your snacks by your hands instead of in your jersey pockets. I’m a complete convert and had two pods for all points north – one for savoury and one for sweet. I’ve recently learnt they’ll even hold a coffee cup. In all seriousness, on a ride where you’re trying to avoid stopping, having everything essential to hand is key. I’m much more likely to top up my suncream if I can do it with one hand, or to add a layer if it’s waiting in my pocket. You can be so sleepy that if it’s not within reaching distance it feels like it’s miles away.

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Loaded and ready for a multiple-banana day

#7 Have a Contingency Plan

Contingency plans are a good idea. I didn’t exactly have one. Again linked to the ‘don’t trust the forecast’ lesson – I’d planned to bivvy for my sleep stops, and planned to be fast enough to only have one proper sleep. The weather compromised the first part of that plan, and a combination of the weather, the terrain and my legs compromised the second part. Some other riders booked rooms at travel lodges in the early stages of the ride –  pre-planning that I was envious of. Stopping on the Saturday, I didn’t want to risk a night outdoors, already soaking wet and cold and with the potential for everything to get wetter and colder. I also knew towns on the route ahead were pretty sparse and that my next couple of hours would see me going up and down Great Dun Fell. This led me to stop early, in Kirkby Stephen where I found a hostel with a bed and a drying room. However, if I’d been a bit more organised and had a travellodge waiting up the road I think I could have pushed on. Hindsight is a lovely thing, and by the time I was looking the potential options were all fully booked.

#8 Break it Down

One thing I found really helpful approaching this as my longest ride to date was to break it down. I planned to treat it as three 300km rides. I broke each one down further, and the nine control points helped with this. I’d also often reward myself at a control with a snack and a stretch – it’s the little things that keep you going. The route also lent itself to this approach and had a wealth of scenery to look forward to.

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A break in the weather, and a scenic checkpoint – Flamborough Head Lighthouse

#9 Give it a go

I suppose my final lesson is that it is so worth giving it a go. I was really quite nervous before All Points North, but it’s the perfect environment to push yourself in – never too far from an escape route or a refuge without too much to lose if you don’t complete it. In fact, I know several people who didn’t finish this year and they too got a huge amount out of it. Sometime it’s worth it to find your limit and learn what holds you back from going further. Equally, it could be the turning point which gives you the distance riding bug.

Finally: A huge shout out to the organisers – Angela and Tori and their team for an absolutely wonderful event. I can’t wait to see how 2020 pans out.

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At the finish – one delighted Alice ~11pm on the Monday night

All Points Where?

All Points North. A self-supported cycling event from Sheffield, starting this Friday (tomorrow!) at 8pm. The event looks to give riders a taste of the self-supported ‘race’ scene, on a smaller scale. Covering around a quarter of the distance of the Trans Continental and neatly timed over a bank holiday weekend, (UK) riders won’t need to spend days travelling or take lots of annual leave for those of us tied in to a certain number of days off per year. You’ve got to visit 9 checkpoints across England, north of Sheffield, scattered between national parks and coasts and ridden in an order of your choosing (see map below) and get back to HQ in Sheffield for number 10. I’ve signed up, and it will be my first a lot of things.

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The checkpoints of All Points North

Long story short, I’m a little under-prepared and should probably have L plates affixed. I’ll be testing my bivvy kit en-route, with my bivvy experience to date amounting to two occasions: one overnighter which ended on a little island off the coast of Ireland in a bit of a storm, being rescued by a local and sleeping in a boat cabin instead, and one ridiculously scenic bivvy in the Sierra Nevada in January with equally ridiculously cosy kit borrowed from The Adventure Syndicate. I’ve picked the brains around me and think I’ve acquired the necessary items but I’m still a little concerned about all the things that could happen whilst I’m bedded down in a waterproof sausage in a field somewhere. So far my mind’s picturing all sorts of farm animals trying to snack on me. Helpful.

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The boat cabin which replaced our bivvy bags in Ireland

I made my All Points North application at some point on a Monday afternoon in November (I checked back). I was in my office, wistfully thinking about the days when there was daylight for riding around office hours, and craving some decent miles. I saw an instagram post about All Points North (Yes, very millenial). I looked at the website and read as far as plotting your own route between the checkpoints. In a surreptitious tab I thought I’d have a crack and see how far it would be, the description on the site being 900-1000km. The route I managed to plot was 725km. I thought I’d nailed the dot to dot game, and that 725 might be doable. In January, I got a place. I realised past Alice had been a wally – not zooming out of the map enough to see most northerly checkpoint at Kielder. The distance turned out to be as described by the organisers – more towards the 1000km end of things, and incredibly hilly. I’m not really sure what to expect at the weekend, and I may have bitten off more than I can chew. If that’s the case then I’m happy trying to push myself to the limit and see how far I get. After an uncomfortable experience with some chafing shorts on the Brevet Cymru 400km, and a reduced amount of skin on my bottom afterwards I know that unexpected things can happen which might stop me finishing.

This week, I’ve been oscillating between two positions. Sometimes I just need to egg myself on that I can do this and I should give it a go – knowing it will be the hardest thing I’ve tackled to date and with some serious nerves about even trying.  Occasionally, the competitive side of me makes an appearance, working on persuading me that I should do it as fast as I can knowing that my endurance is pretty good at the minute. I’m not sure who’s winning and there’s little time left for me to stew over it. It will be the furthest I’ve ridden in one trip, it will be the furthest I’ve ridden by myself, the first time I’ve bivvied alone and probably the first of many other things too. But I’m excited. The choice of checkpoints means the route should be incredibly scenic and take in some great climbs along the way – I’ve just got to hope I’ve got the legs for them when they come.

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I’m hoping it won’t be as chilly as this cycle from Sheffield…

The event should be easy to follow. I promise to provide an honest account of how I’m getting on and will be at a minimum posting my checkpoint photos to prove my passage – @alicethomso on instagram, with hashtag #APNrider05. I’ve opted to be GPS tracked for the event too and those of us who have trackers can be watched here. Then there are the All Points North media accounts who will be trying to keep up with the 70 cyclists taking on the inaugral event – @allpointsnorth.cc . If I’m in one piece at the end I’ll likely write something about the experience too. Last minute words of wisdom and encouragement are much appreciated and to the fellow All Points North riders – See you on the start line.

“It’s just a bike ride” but

Eeeeeeeeeeek.

Links again just incase:

The event website

The tracking website

My hashtag: #APNrider05

My instagram: @alicethomso

Ps. Thanks to those who have helped me get as far as the start line – time to see what happens next.

Hill Climb Season: This Year will be Different

Length: No beverages required

Audience: Those who read this blog, anyone with an interest in gender equality in cycling

Sentence summary: I asked a few big brands to change their behaviour, and they did (*/have told me they will). 

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Change is afoot for next season, but there will still be plenty of climbing induced pain (Photo: Ellen Isherwood)

A while back, I posted this article about gender inequality and hill climbs, highlighting issues from the season. This included the contributions of three organisations who support it- Cycling Weekly, Rapha and Hunt. I contacted each of them, explaining what I felt was problematic, and giving them a chance to respond. They did, and their responses were better than I could have hoped for. I’m looking forward to a more equal hill-climb season already!

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First, I got in touch with Cycling Weekly about their article which only mentioned the male records for the 2018 National Hill Climb course. I received a really positive email from Simon Richardson (editor), which said:

“I spoke to Vern Pitt about the piece who said that the sentence you suggested, naming the female winners alongside the male winners, was indeed how it should have been written. Casting his mind back he thought that as the previous winners was ancillary info at the bottom of the article he didn’t put as much thought in to writing that sentence as he could have done. Had it been a story focused on those previous events he is confident he would have included the women’s winners.”

There were also some much appreciated encouraging words around continuing to speak out on these issues and shortly after the text of the online article was amended:

[original] “Pea Royd Lane, which is just over 1km long at an average gradient of 12%, has hosted the National Hill Climb championship on two occasions in the past, in 2009 and 2014. When it was won by Dan Fleeman and current National Hill Climb Champion Dan Evans respectively. Evans’s Strava KOM from the day still stands.”

[updated version]”Pea Royd Lane, which is just over 1km long at an average gradient of 12%, has hosted the National Hill Climb championship on two occasions in the past; in 2009 it was won by Dan Fleeman and Anna Fischer, in 2014 by Dan Evans and Maryka Sennema. Evans and Sennema’s 2014 times still stand as the Strava KOM and QOM.”

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Rapha were next on my list, sponsors of the Bec Hill Climb where the winning woman took home less prize money than that of the 3rd placed male, and less than half that of the winning male. Their response was short, but sweet. Kati Jagger, Rapha’s PR Manager said:

“In the future, Rapha’s support of Bec Hill Climb will be contingent on equal prize money.”

I couldn’t have asked for more than that, and will hold them to it!

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Finally, I spoke to Hunt – sponsors of the Catford event which also had an equality issue. Hunt were really receptive to my criticism, having sponsored a course record prize for the men only, and accepted that it sent out a problematic message – one that they’re keen to change going forwards. They made it clear they don’t want to just talk about change, and I’ve said I’ll work with them to come up with ideas of ways they can help promote and support women’s cycling in future. I don’t want to give too much away but I can say that the prizes they support in 2019 will certainly be equal, and Hunt will look to do more to support women’s cycling across the board – not only in the hill-climb season. Ollie Gray, Hunt’s Brand Manager said:

“As a twenty-something living in Brighton, and someone who considers himself a feminist, I’m of the belief that you’re absolutely right to have called us out on the below, and in short, we should have done better from the off.

I’m painfully aware that HUNT need to do more to increase and encourage women’s cycling. We need to make sure we are equal in our support and prizes in future wherever we can be. Cycling Weekly asked us to support the overall course record, to which we agreed without hesitation, but we should’ve taken a moment to respect both competitions taking place instead of just considering the one. It’s a mistake we won’t make again.”

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This goes to show that we, female cyclists, should feel empowered to speak out and call for change when it’s needed. I’m amazed by the results I’ve been able to achieve with a bit of social media, some keyboard warrioring, and a few emails. I genuinely believe that often organisers, brands, or other entities don’t realise the inequality they contribute to, and the message it sends to women – whether through sponsoring events or prizes, or in their writing. Cycling’s male dominated history has perhaps contributed to this but as women’s cycling goes from strength to strength, now is the time to make the changes which pave the way for the future.

 

How to do an Everesting

Audience: Future Everesters

Length: One cup of tea, more for the planning that may come afterwards…

Sentence Summary: What Alice learnt from spending twelve and a half hours climbing one hill

The best thing about Everesting is that it’s open to anyone. No fancy kit needed, no travelling required. You need a hill, a bike and a large measure of determination. A post-dinner discussion egging other women on to give this a go has finally brought this blog into being – navigate to the sections you’re interested in or read the whole thing. I’ll be talking about training, choice of hill, planning, and kit – including the things I’d change if I were to do it again. I’ve tried to split out the advice into what I’d recommend for those looking to complete an Everesting as ‘comfortably’ as possible, and those looking to make it speedy.

A quick recap of “The Rules” (for a full list of the rules and guidance see here)

  • Choose one hill
  • Ride up and down until you’ve climbed 8,848m (or more)
  • Do this without sleeping (/without a night’s sleep), but there’s no upper time limit

Part 1: Choosing your hill + Planning

First things first, you’ll need to choose a hill to Everest. Below,  I’ve tried to explain what I think the main considerations are, but it may be that there isn’t a hill which fits all the criteria, and personal preference will make up a large chunk of your choice.

Has anyone Everested it before?

The first is that if you’re the first person to ‘Everest’ your hill of choice you get your flag on it in a virtual way. The Everesting.cc hall of fame keeps a record of all the climbs Everested, and the riders completing them – you can view a snazzy map version of it here.

Gradient: comfort vs efficiency

Things you might consider will depend on your goal, but the gentler the gradient, the bigger distance you’ll need to cover on the ground to clock up the 8,848m required. My aim was to go fast so I needed to be efficient. An average ~15% gradient sorted that, and meant that the horizontal distance required was only 122km. However, I think for most people there’s probably a sweet spot between ~8-10% where the climbing is efficient, but comfortable.

What goes up must come down (to then go back up again…)

Climbing that many metres also means a whole load of descending and this is worth thinking about. If you’re aiming for a fast Everesting then a fast descent will be key – wider roads, no hairpin bends, and a good surface could come in handy. Equally, with the aim of comfortably completing, you might want a descent which isn’t too technical and allows you a little respite from the climbing itself – I found myself exhausted later in my Everesting as there was no chance to ‘switch off’ with the tough climb and a descent which required full attention!

Location, views, and traffic

The likelihood is you’ll be on the hill for anywhere between 12-24hours. Choosing a climb with great views can help while the time away – I had a selection of farm animals to look at on the way up mine – including a friendly horse. However, those blessed with a European or mountainous location can likely find something absolutely stunning to look at for a day (or take a trip somewhere beautiful for the occasion à la GCN ). Traffic is also worth thinking about, and I’d choose a quieter climb if I were to go again. This can also impact time taken to turn at the top and bottom of the climb which adds up if you’re aiming for a speedy Everesting, and especially if you’re riding a short climb (like I was) many (89) times.

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Friendly horse of Naish. I went back after my Everesting to offer him a carrot in thanks for the quiet encouragement on the day. Cheers chap. (Photo: Pete Derrett)

Length, and altitude

Length of climb chosen will be entirely personal preference, but I think it’s worth thinking about. Mentally, it might be easier to do 15 reps of a long climb in the mountains, but your body may recover better on a shorter interval with more frequent descents to give your legs a break. This is not something I know anything about so I’ll just put the consideration out there. Equally, whilst mountains may be beautiful, iconic, long, quiet climbs, anything at altitude is going to make it harder. Perhaps that’s partially the draw of doing them…

Facilities

Since completing my Everest, I’ve seen a couple on climbs with a café or pub at the bottom or top. That seems like a pretty great option, and not least for having a decent loo…

Season

The usual seasonal considerations, and weather considerations apply. The main thing for me was trying to do most of the Everesting in daylight hours as I found it more enjoyable, and quicker on the descent. Opt for summer for long days and shorts weather, at risk of sunburn and sweating. Or choose winter/early spring for some quality time with your bike lights and layers.

Soil, Suburban, Significant, Short

You get an additional badge on the virtual “Hall of Fame” if your ride fulfills one of these categories. Certainly not necessary, but if you need an additional challenge the details are here

Count your reps

It’s good to know how many reps you’ll need to do. It’s also important to note that only full reps count – so if you’ve chosen a climb which is long/gains a lot of height but isn’t a close multiple of 8,848m then you may end up needing to overshoot the height gain!

Hopefully you’ve got some ideas for hills, so on to the training…

Part 2: Training

At the start of 2018 I’d been cycling for just over six months. My longest ride was little over five hours, and I was yet to tick off riding a hundred miles. In August I broke the women’s Everesting record (an account of which is here, if you’re interested in tired/sweaty photos of me and accompanying narrative).  I want this to provide some encouragement that, with a bit of training, Everesting can be for anyone. I’m not an expert, I’ve done one Everesting, but here are the things I did to train:

Audaxes and other long rides

I wanted to build endurance, and Audaxes seemed like a straightforward way of doing that (see audax UK for events, and this great blog which explains the whole thing). I also wanted to know that I could spend ~13 hours cycling in a day and not be in (too much) pain. Hilly Audaxes are great training for Everesting, they’re social and scenic and likely more fun than some of my other suggestions.

  • Speedy option: Audaxes to a schedule- Completing a speedy Everest was going to require discipline and a pretty exact schedule of breaks with minimal time off the bike. To find out if this was possible, I rode a 300km Audax with Joe to a minimal stop schedule. In total the event took us ~13 hours, with 1.5 hours of stops which was close to the ratio I’d be riding on the day. Admittedly this was a less fun way of doing an Audax, resulting in less time to appreciate the local cake. On the upside, it was efficient and I learnt that I could ride to a schedule. I also learnt it was possible to get sunburnt through my shorts…

Time trials

I did a lot of short time trials (~10 miles) pre-Everesting. A theory which I didn’t really test was that if you can increase your FTP (which is particularly possible as a newbie) then the average power you can put out sustainably for the X minutes that you’re climbing increases. I never got round to re-doing my FTP test but I maintain that this was possibly a decent strategy and if you’re training seriously for an Everesting then I think it’s worth continuing some top end work too.

A Quarter Everesting (other fractions also available)

I’m of the opinion that training as close to the actual challenge as possible is a really good idea. The first thing I did when I’d chosen my hill was to ride ten reps to see how feasible it was, as a pilot test in April.  In June I went back to take on three hours of reps, aiming for a quarter Everesting.  Good training but also a great chance to test my set up.

  • I learnt that eating on the climb was very hard, averaging 15% left no time for steady spinning whilst snacking;
  • I learnt that my gearing was unsuitable – I was churning up the steeper sections;
  • I learnt that I needed to get stronger – I was very sore after 1/4 of the climbing I’d need to do; and,
  • I hopefully got a little stronger in the process.

This was also a great idea as it gave me an indication of how long each rep would take when I was riding continuously and what kit I’d need to enable that. Even if you’re not targeting a fast Everesting, this could be a good idea so you can plan for how long the Everesting might take you. Once you know your likely climb and descent times, the Everesting Calculator is great for helping your planning.

Not just legs 

The final thing I did, which I probably should have done even more of, was upper body and core training. From the three hour session on Naish Hill, I’d learnt that continuous reps took their toll on my upper body as well as my legs. Trying to squeeze in a core session a week helped.

Practice the eating

One thing I did not nail was eating during Everesting, but it wasn’t for not trying. Well-seasoned cyclists may have a go-to selection of snacks which they know work for them, but I was still pretty new to eating on the go (I love a café stop). I had sort of practiced the eating, but on the day struggled to eat enough – I think mainly because I was working so hard on the climb that eating most things made me feel a bit weird, I’d also bought some questionable ravioli and felt quite sick. I think carbohydrate drinks are a good idea, and a large selection of edibles so that even if you are feeling weird, there might be something that takes your fancy.

Summary: I guess I’d mainly recommend getting to a point where you know you can spend almost as many hours on the bike as the Everesting is likely to take, factoring in some core or upper body strength work – especially you’ll be climbing out of the saddle, and riding some reps of the actual hill to test your set up/kit before the day itself.

A few on the day tips

Make a base-camp

This might be a nice lay-by like I used, with a lovely view of the M5, or a small car-park, or just a pile of things at the side of the climb. Either way – it’s a good idea to have a base, ideally with something you can go inside if the weather turns, or for a sit down and a cuppa.

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A nice lay-by base-camp

Charge your devices

The last thing you want is your computer dying mid-way through – charging devices during breaks can be an option, or for bike computers you can get a charging cable which allows the device to charge whilst still recording.

Podcasts, music, pals

Each to their own for ways to stay motivated – I listened to podcasts when the road was quiet and I was alone and went for inspiring ones preferably with other people suffering. My Everest was at the time of the Silk Road Mountain Race and I loved listening to their podcast. Otherwise, enthusiastic pals are an excellent addition and good morale boost.

Breaking it down

Starting out, Everesting feels daunting. I broke mine down into blocks of 10 reps, with a break after each 10. This gave me something to look forward to and made the challenge seem that bit more manageable

Kit

In a sentence – my kit was entirely unremarkable. Lighter is probably better as you’ll need to push the weight up all 8,848m of climbing. Otherwise, the best thing will be a well-fitting bike that you feel comfortable on and know you’ll be happy on for many hours. A change of kit, or just shorts, mid-way through the Everesting might also be nice – especially if it’s a warm/sweaty day but I found I didn’t have time for this.

The one thing I did change was my gearing – I used a 11-40 cassette which was vital to allow me to get up the climb with a sensible cadence and meant I didn’t tire so quickly. A derailleur extender allowed me to fit this on my road bike.

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Hello nice big cassette

Once you’re done

Celebrate. Then submit your ride here (it’ll need to be on Strava). Then sleep.

Finally…

I’d love to see more women listed in the Everesting hall of fame, and hopefully this provides a bit of guidance and encouragement. Currently, women make up 5.4% of successful Everestings (158 of the 2932 listed). So, whilst this article is for any future Everester,  it is especially for the women thinking about giving it a go. It’s a great challenge, and really good training for other endurance events, but, if you’ve read this far you’ve probably got your own reason/s for thinking about it. This article came about through an Adventure Syndicate training camp which ended with pledging the challenges we’ll tackle in future. Jenny Grahams, Lee Craigie, and Phillipa Battye all pledged to do an Everesting, and others said they’d give it a go too (but pledged other exciting challenges) – Helen, Marguerite, Karen, Kate – this is for all of you, go get it – I can’t wait to see how you get on.

Jenny, Lee and Phil holding their Everesting pledge. Let’s see those boxes ticked!

Prize money matters: Brown envelopes and hill climb season

Length: One sizeable cup of tea, and a good dunking biscuit (+ additional time after for mulling it over). 

Audience: Hill climbers, hill climb organisers, female cyclists

Summary: Unequal prizes are a problem, why, and how we might fix it. 

Before I start,  I’d like to express that nothing I have written undermines my gratitude to event organisers who volunteer their time to put on these events. It’s a huge amount of hard work. I love participating and am very grateful to those who make the season happen.


Last Sunday, Pea Royd Lane in Stocksbridge saw the culmination of hill climb season for 2018. Hill climbs are a niche within a niche, and have had the nation’s club cyclists, and a spattering of pros or ex-pros, taking to many of the UK’s best hills to see who’s fastest. With almost a year until the madness starts again, now seems like a good time to consider what we might want to change. For some it’ll be a commitment to train harder, others might purchase some coveted hill climb wheels, but I’m thinking about bigger changes. Changes which make the events more equal. There are few women at these events, and despite a significant rise in female participation in our local league, women represent ~20% of the field at best. It’s easy to feel like you don’t really belong. Individual clubs organise the events, and setting prizes is at their discretion. This season it was polarized. There was evidence of change with a couple of organisers trailblazing towards entirely equal prize money across all categories.  At the other end of the spectrum, one event saw women receive £1 for every £7.50 awarded to a male competitor.

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Post Nationals in 2017, Hill climbing is a brutal sport

I looked a little further afield to get a bigger picture. It turned out that in the grand scheme of things, our league wasn’t doing so badly. Catford and Bec are two of the most popular hill climbs in the British calendar. Crowds gather to watch cyclists turn themselves inside out to reach the top as fast as possible. Bar tape is a rare species and an unnecessary luxury on such days. Equal prizes are also uncommon. At Bec hill climb the winning woman took home less prize money than that of the 3rd placed male, and less than half that of the winning male. The women’s prizes were equal to the male sub-categories of veterans, juniors and juveniles, and no (specific) women’s sub categories were awarded (see image below).

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The prize list from Bec’s event this year

The point might be made that the veteran prizes, for example, do not specify a gender and are therefore open to women.  In the case of Bec, men won all of the junior and veteran prizes, with a female taking the 3rd juvenile prize – that’s 1/9. My view is that a performance based prize in cycling is a men’s prize whenever there is significant male participation. There’s a reason why men and women compete separately in professional cycling. It’s not a level playing field. Men are stronger by nature, and with hill climb outcomes determined largely by watts per kilo, they’re going to win. I’d argue that’s a poor reason for not celebrating women’s cycling equally.  Course record prizes are particularly frustrating in this respect and I would urge any organisers including a men’s course record prize (N.b. It doesn’t matter if you call this the overall course record prize) to include an equivalent women’s prize. Calling it an overall prize suggests that women’s racing is sub-standard men’s racing and that if women are good enough, they should be in contention for these prizes too. I think that’s bonkers, but I also think organisers who continue to offer these prizes perhaps haven’t thought about the message it sends to women.

Prizes aren’t the only place where this is an issue. Cycling weekly recently published this article on the course change for the national hill climb. The last couple of sentences bother me. “Pea Royd Lane, which is just over 1km long at an average gradient of 12%, has hosted the National Hill Climb championship on two occasions in the past, in 2009 and 2014. When it was won by Dan Fleeman and current National Hill Climb Champion Dan Evans respectively. Evans’s Strava KOM from the day still stands.”  It’s as if there was no women’s competition, but there was. Cycling Weekly appears to have forgotten. The sentence should read:  “In 2009 it was won by Dan Fleeman and Anna Fischer, and in 2014 by Dan Evans and Maryka Sennema – both of their times still holding the KOM and QOM for the segment on Strava.”

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Maryka Sennema on her way to winning on Pea Royd lane in 2014 (Source

There was another thing about the Bec event which surprised me. It was sponsored by Rapha. The same Rapha which promotes women’s cycling and who organise “Women’s 100” rides across the country.  It surprised me that they supported an event with such a disparity, and made me wonder whether we need to speak up about these issues. I don’t believe (based on their ethos) they’d be actively supporting inequality.

They aren’t the only sponsors who I’m at issue with. Catford is another huge event, and this year it was sponsored by Cyclist magazine, Katusha, and Hunt. The fastest male at the event received £300, plus a host of additional prizes (see image below). By comparison, the fastest female received £75. Men’s prizes went down to 4th, but there’s no mention of women beyond the 1st woman, and 1st veteran woman. As with the Bec event, there’s an overall team prize, this year won by three men from Rapha CC.  Totting up the prize money; £600 is for men, £100 for women. Additionally, if the fastest male were to have broken the 1983 course record, they would have received a set of Hunt sub-kilo wheels – worth around £1000. There’s no mention of what the women’s course record is, and there’s clearly no prize if a woman were to have broken it. Again, I think this looks poor for Hunt, and also for the other sponsors. On the day, the course record stood strong, but the incentive, and the prestige, were there.

Catford

The prize list from the Catford Hill climb in 2018

 

The Catford hill climb dates back to 1887. In part, I think the historic nature of these events are the root of their inequality today.  Women’s participation in sports, and in cycling in particular, has grown hugely over recent years, and likely unimaginably since Catford CC first organised a hill climb. It wasn’t until 1999 that women were first allowed to participate at the national hill climb – the pinnacle of the hill-climb calendar.  However, whilst a huge amount has changed since the first hill climbs, and we’re no longer riding penny-farthings uphill (this really did happen), it seems the approach to women’s cycling has not changed as much as we’d like.  After having this and similar discussions with increasing frequency over the past weeks I’m fully aware that not everyone shares my views. Here are some reasons why women’s prizes matter, and some of my responses to the FAQs around women’s participation.

FAQs

But there are fewer women, so the competition is easier for them…?

There are, and less women competing gets raised frequently as an argument for keeping the status quo.

I’d like to recognise that there are far fewer women in road cycling (and cycling as a whole) than men. I think it’s a symptom of greater gender inequality in the UK, and indicative of more systemic issues which I would also love to discuss but would make this a much longer blog. Judging by popular strava segments, I estimate that there are around 10% the number of serious (you use strava) female road (you use strava on a road segment) cyclists as there are male. As such, we’re many years away from having equal (by number) fields at these events, and I’d suggest a field which is more than 10% female is doing well.

That doesn’t mean that the women’s race isn’t valid and shouldn’t be separately celebrated from the men’s. I also think women are less inclined to participate in these events if they don’t think they’re very good at hill climbs and, as such, I’d argue that often the competition whilst less numerous, can still be fierce. So far this season I’ve competed against three riders who have also competed or still compete for Great Britain.

Why do the prizes matter? Is it about the money?

It’s not just about money. The importance of the prizes goes far beyond potentially earning back your entry fee and perhaps covering your petrol if you’re lucky. Awarding a prize is recognition of an achievement, and validation of women’s racing.

What comes first, participation or prizes?

Prizes encourage participation. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the argument that not enough women enter so a prize isn’t needed.  If you want to contribute towards increasing gender equality in cycling, providing a women’s prize is a great incentive.  Winning a prize or being able to simply share that all important brown envelope photo on social media after an event says something important. It recognises achievement.

To go back to the Catford example – Catford had 6 women enter in a field of 130, or 4.6% of participants. The University of Bristol (UoB) Belmont Hill Climb had 20 women entered in a field of 118, or ~17%. The UoB event had fully equal prize money, including a team prize for women. Some have argued that you should wait for women to participate, then add prizes to celebrate them as a follow on. Putting the prize in place allows you to include women in the often shared event photos or race reports, validating their participation, celebrating their achievements, and above all making them feel welcome. It goes the other way too – I’ve participated in events this season where I’ve made it to what would otherwise have been a women’s podium but which went without prizes or recognition. It made my achievement feel less valid.

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‘Enjoying’ the lovely UOBCC Belmont Hill Climb, 2017. 

Perhaps it’s also worth thinking about the worst case scenario, which I think is pretty good. Say you put on your hill climb event this year, offer women’s prizes for all the categories you provide men’s and don’t get entries in some of them. What happens? Say you offer a junior women’s prize, and it’s not claimed – no junior women entered. The club gets to keep its cash. However, next year when women are looking at event information, they might be tempted to enter, they might have heard of it, or they might recommend it to someone. It could change how other women view your club. It says “we as a club care about women’s participation”. Perhaps you’ll end up with more female members down the line. At the worst you don’t, but you’ve made an effort and you’re no worse off for it. Not bad.

What can we do?

There are events which are making progress, I mentioned the local UOBCC event which is entirely equal in prizes. Others moving in that direction include big events like the Porlock Hill Climb, the Chard Wheelers event on the Chineway, and Monsall Head. I’m also delighted that our local hill-climb series has announced a women’s team prize for next year, following on from providing a women’s podium for the series last year. Positive change is happening, here’s how we keep it going:

  • You’re an organising club: Create equal prizes across all categories for your event, then publicise them. See previous points about unclaimed prizes and encouraging women, or add a caveat and say the prize will be valid if you receive X number of entries in the category;
  • You’re a sponsor: Ask the event you sponsor to create equal prizes, get involved sponsoring a local event and offer to cover a women’s prize, or make the addition of a women’s course record prize. Many events don’t have them;
  • You’re a club cyclist: Encourage your club to make its prize fund equal; or,
  • You’re a female cyclist: Be vocal. The vast majority of other cyclists – both male and female- who I’ve spoken to about this have been incredibly on board with both talking about it and coming up with ideas to improve things, and recognising that there is an issue. Through being vocal and talking to other cyclists in my club we managed to secure an entirely equal setup for prizes at our event – we were also grateful for the support of local sponsors for helping us make that happen.  I guess my other suggestion would just be to be robust, to continue to participate, support the events and make a place for women there. Judging from the direction of travel in our local league, women’s participation is on the up.

I want equal prize money at these events to no longer be the exception, or be a story. I’d like it to be the norm. 

* I’ve sent this article to Rapha, Hunt and Cycling Weekly who I’ve mentioned – and I’ll update this if I hear anything from them! – UPDATE: See the article “Hill Climb Season: This Year It Will Be Different” for responses from Hunt, Rapha and Cycling Weekly. 

**Thanks to Kate for help on the fact-finding & Joe for the editing

 

Everesting Naish: >8848m later

Audience: Anyone with an interest in ridiculous cycling challenges

Length: Two cups of tea, at least one biscuit

Sentence Summary: Alice completes an Everesting (8848m of climbing) on Naish hill, it’s very hard.

Photo 19-08-2018, 05 45 02Figure 1: Rep 0 – thoroughly questioning what I’m doing. 

To avoid disappointment, this post is not about climbing the mountain in Nepal. This is about the cycling challenge of the same name (see previous post for further explanation). This is a long one, but I’ve got a lot to say. I’ll be distilling out what I’ve learnt into tips for Everesting in a future post. This focusses on the story. Enjoy.

It’s 4am. That’s not a normal time for me to be up, and it seems especially rude to be stirring this early on a Sunday.  But there’s a reason why Joe and I are eating our oats whilst Bristol’s clubbers stagger home outside the flat. We’re heading over to Naish hill, just outside Bristol, for me to start my Everesting attempt at 5.30am.

I’ve got a clear target of going sub 12h37minutes. This is Ailsa MacDonald’s time, and the fastest for a female Everesting. If the internet is to be believed, she’s pretty unbelievably talented and eats trail ultramarathons for breakfast. I’m not even sure if she was targeting a fast Everesting when she set the blisteringly quick time, using it as training for other events. My challenge is to see if I can go quicker with careful choice of hill (steep), sensible gearing, determination, and a spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet gives six minutes and ten seconds for each ascent, with a minute and thirty seconds for the way down – including time for turning at each end. To keep this up, I found it really important to get into a rhythm. If I thought about it too much, the task and number of hours ahead could become overwhelming and seem near on impossible. A ten minute break every ten reps broke it up, and looking at the challenge in these blocks made it mentally much more digestable. Unfortunately, these weren’t ten flexible British minutes of the kind “I’ll just be ten minutes” or “I’m ten minutes away”. Joe likes a schedule and a spreadsheet, and as I rolled in to the lay-by which we’d made our base, he’d start the timer.

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Figure 2: Portrait of the ten minute break. Appropriate use of a lay-by, featuring our bike-duvet and as many snacks and drinks as I can face.

The eating was hard. Ten minutes is short, and whilst the effort of climbing didn’t set me up to devour anything proper, I knew I needed to eat as much as possible in the breaks. I did my best and we had a plethora of different items – soreen, banana loaf, clif bars, peanut butter wraps, quorn scotch eggs, cheese twists, and some questionably flavoured ravioli. I’m not sure what I managed to eat in total,  most of the ravioli made it home unscathed, and I definitely finished in a calorie deficit. Towards the end I could feel myself running low on energy, but I lacked any desire to eat. For the last three hours I felt somewhere between quite sick and very sick. I guess what I completed on Sunday was a hybrid of a cycling challenge, and a speed eating challenge, interspersed repetitively over around 12 hours to keep things exciting. To my digestive system – I’m sorry for what I put you through. It was worth it.

The weather was also really hard. Top tip would be not to choose a climb with a really exposed section and a day with a strong and gusty crosswind. Naish hill bridges over the M5 and the weather was not on my side – strong winds blowing in just the wrong direction. The descent is fast and scares me a little anyway, and this certainly added a new element.  Steeling myself against the gusts to avoid being blown across the road as I crossed the bridge was nerve wracking but I knew that I needed to keep descending fast. Thankfully, when the weather was at its worst, I was joined by a series of supportive club members acting in turn as conversational windblocks and riding beside me on the way up Naish. The descent was still horrible. To top it off, I also enjoyed a couple of hours of precipitation, varying from drizzle, to sideways rain which joined the gusty winds. A wet and windy descent was not what I’d imagined for my August Everesting, and I’m still grateful that I managed to complete them all without incident.

Photo 19-08-2018, 12 20 18Figure 3: Claire and Luke get a taste for Naishing, I get a windblock over the bridge

Initially, the reps went quickly. The very first flew by. It was dark, and my priority was getting up and down safely in the challenging weather. Daylight allowed me to enjoy all the little features of Naish and I found myself relaxing into it, legs still feeling fine and with the Silk Road Mountain Race podcast for simultaneous distraction and inspiration. There were some beautiful brown cows who I liked to watch on the first, brutally steep part. Then there was a gorgeous brown and white horse, close to the top who stood by his gate almost all morning and who I looked forward to seeing, and having (one way) snippets of conversation with – it was anything to keep my mind off the task ahead. As the Silk Road podcast came to an end Joe offered to ride a few laps with me and then it was time for my first break, as per the spreadsheet. A streamlined lie-down-cold-coffee-snack and back on the bike later and I was chugging towards 20 reps.  

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Figure 4: British summer delivering the goods. 

The chunk I’d been most worried about was the no-man’s land before halfway (~44 reps).  By this point, I knew I’d feel like I’d been riding for ages (~5 hours) but wouldn’t quite have the boost of having done more than half of the task. Thankfully it was around this time that local hill-smasher Ben Davies showed up to support. I’d never met Ben before, but I knew him from the club’s monthly Strava segment competition. His company was a great distraction and I’m sure he must have breezed through around 10 reps with me. As Ben signed off to head home, the stylishly clad club mates Tim and James showed up for a bit of a Naish bash – lending a great windshield, and an anecdote about some Tripe sausages to keep me going.

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Figure 5: Two stylish companions

From here on in club mates came and went, turning Naish the red and gold colours of Bristol South.  ‘A bit addictive’ was the description clubmate Claire gave, getting so into it that I lost count of how many reps she stayed for. In the lulls without company, I was alone with the Radio 4 women’s hour podcast, distracting me with everything from women in politics to GCSE results day. I was cheered through half way mark by the full Jones clan – Paul Jones (a fellow club member and author with a penchant for writing about cycling) plus Helen and the smaller Jones’ – Penny and Elliot. They were well equipped with noise making devices: Cowbells, hooters and the loud voices of small children. I was delighted to have the South West’s premier shouter of UP UP UP (Penny) there for my halfway party (not actually a party, just another hill-rep).

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Figure 6: The Jones clan offer a small cacophony to celebrate hitting half-way

Joe said he couldn’t tell how much I was suffering because I’d be smiling when I came past. On this I’ll say that it’s impossible not to smile when you roll past those cheering you on. The truth is I suffered a lot.  Just staying focussed for that long was exhausting. The ten minute breaks weren’t relaxing, I was watching my splits on the climbs and focussing on the descents to stay safe, fast and claim any time back I’d lost waiting for traffic to turn round. I remember reps 56 and 64 being particularly hard. On 56 I had a friend riding with me, encouraging me to just keep turning the pedals, drinking, fuelling and nudging closer to my goal. On 64 I was alone. I was feeling very sick and I’d been too hot for the past 10 hours. The temperature was only around 19 degrees but spending 6 of every 7.65 minutes climbing fairly hard (averaging a HR of ~175 each ascent) was taking its toll. I’d been sweaty or soggy all day and my head was feeling horrible in my helmet.  The next break felt miles away and despite having around 10 hours effort behind me I started to really question what I was doing. I stopped caring about the pace and tried desperately to keep clocking the reps. I told Joe I was on the verge of tears.

Photo 19-08-2018, 17 19 31Figure 7: Snack offerings ahead

That was when Lucy, a best friend I acquired in nursery, rang. She’d gone to the wrong hill and was worried not to find me. I was delighted. I negotiated with myself to try and do two reps before she arrived. That way I’d only have five till my next break, and could look forward to a sit down with her and Joe. I think it’s hard to explain how ragged you’re feeling to someone who’s feeling fine, and I know from experience it’s a hard thing to imagine. So when I explained the various body parts that were complaining, that I was too hot, that I’d been uncomfortably hot for hours, that I was tired, feeling sick and generally on the brink I’m not sure how much they believed me. Getting back on the bike after that break was tough, but I did it. That was the start of rep 72. It was somewhere shortly after this point that I started to allow myself the belief I might actually finish it. At the same time, I was feeling the worst I’d felt all day. My splits were sluggish, my legs were tired, and I’d had a few slow turns. Joe kept me going with messages of encouragement sent from friends and news that supporters would be joining me soon.

Photo 19-08-2018, 17 44 00.jpgFigure 8: New supporters materialise, Papa Geoff starts running (some of) some reps to cheer me on. 

At rep 80, my family showed up and my dad started jogging reps with me. The end was finally in sight. They’d raided the instrument box at my mum’s nursery and were well equipped to make a racket. Initially I called it a day at rep 87, having calculated that 86 reps should be sufficient, but wanting to be on the safe side. Finishing was wonderful. Friends had shown up, and a small group gathered at the top of Naish to cheer, shout and hold me upright after ~12 hours on the bike. We must have looked an odd sight to the passers-by. Following celebrations, Joe talked me into doing a couple of extra reps to make sure I’d hit 8848m. Wise. But horrible.

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Figure 9: Finishing (unaware of the extra 2 reps i’d end up doing)

It’s taken a couple of days for the achievement to sink in. When I finished my first priority was to get out of my very sweaty kit as fast as possible, which involved glamorously changing in my now favourite lay-by. I collapsed into the passenger seat of the car and was greeted by sharp pain in all the muscles who’d just made contact with the seat. I’d gone deeper than I’d imagined. My legs were unimaginably sore, and my upper body was complaining too. A firm touch of my arms, shoulders, or intercostals was painful.  I couldn’t wait for a bath. 12.5 hours of sweating into lycra, and a frizzante shower had me smelling like a great night out, albeit with considerably less dancing and hopefully fewer regrets. My appetite didn’t recover that night. I think my body was still reeling from what I’d put it through and the unusual mix of foodstuffs. By 9pm, my eyes were refusing to stay open, my body ached more than it ever has – a feeling I relished a little, and I collapsed into bed.

Photo 19-08-2018, 18 03 36Figure 10: Shower number 1 of 2 for the sweaty Everest-er

I learnt a lot about how far I can push myself, and despite some highs and lows, I really enjoyed it. It’s a challenge I’d love to see more women taking on, with the hall of fame male dominated at the moment. It’s not a challenge that goes well with typically female attributes. It’s gritty, gruelling, and sweaty*.  That shouldn’t stop us. I might have the fastest time for now, and whilst it took a lot I’ve only been cycling just over a year, I’m not the fastest or strongest female cyclist in my club, let alone in Bristol. I’ve managed this through careful planning, choice of hill, choice of gearing, a good spreadsheet and a lot of determination. I’d love to see what some of the women who inspired me could do with this challenge.

That’s the story of my Everesting, at least what I remember. I’m delighted to say I did it, and achieved my goal of setting the fastest women’s time but will hold off putting a label on that until it’s confirmed with the Everesting team. Thanks again to all who joined me, cheered me on, or sent encouraging messages – they really helped. Thanks to Joe for being the spreadsheet overlord, keeping me on track, and being there from start to finish. Thanks to Everesting CC for the bonkers idea, and thanks to Ailsa MacDonald for setting the bar. And many thanks to the lovely brown and white horse who kept me going, when I’m next on Naish I’ll bring a carrot.

*First two compulsory, sweaty optional depending on choice of season/geographic location

https://www.strava.com/activities/1784150041

Apologies for not listing all the supporters personally. This would have been a small novel if I had. You know who you are – and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the support on Sunday, I’m not sure I could have done it without. Thank you.

Photos: Joe Hawksworth and Sam Thomson 

Everesting

“Fiendishly simple, yet brutally hard. Everesting is the most difficult climbing challenge in the world.” – Everesting.CC

Everesting. That’s what I’m planning to do tomorrow.39320474_237860776870061_26030619960016896_n

Image: Naish hill’s deceptively steep bridge over the M5, Photo: Joe Hawksworth

What is it? Everesting is cycling up and down one hill enough times to have climbed the equivalent height of Mount Everest – 8,848m in total. It’s a bonkers idea that a bunch in Melbourne, Australia who like riding up hills a lot came up with and which has grown hugely in popularity since – having amassed 2,283 successful everests across 73 countries at the time of writing. There are rules, but the rules are fairly straightforward. The ride must be completed in one attempt i.e. without a night’s sleep inbetween. The ride must be completed on the same hill, by riding laps up and down the same part. You can’t use an e-bike either, but that’s a no-brainer really.

I can’t resist a challenge, and since Joe completed his Everest on Belmont last November I’ve been eyeing up places to do mine, and trying to get stronger to make it a possibility. Naish hill is where I’m going to attempt it, using the steep Caswell-Caswell section and riding just under 90 laps. It’s going to hurt and I’m excited to see if I can do it. I’ll be trying to do it fast. The Everesting lot keep a Hall of Fame of all the completed everesting attempts and whilst this is being rebuilt and they can’t confirm it, the current women’s record looks to be Ailsa MacDonald’s 12hr37minute Everest. That’s a pretty high bar to even look up to, but I’ll be attempting to go faster, and if that turns out to be totally unfeasible then I’ll be trying to complete it and I’d be delighted to achieve that anyway. I’m worried about it as the weather’s not looking friendly (read: gusty headwinds and showers) and also because I think I may have set the bar too high. Only one way to find out though, and if it is too much for me then I’ll train harder and come back for another go.

I’m planning to do my first rep at 05:30am, and once the clock starts that’s it. If I manage to hit the slopes of Naish at 5.30, I’ll be hoping to finish anytime before 6:07pm or maybe just finish at all – I’m not sure quite how tough this is going to be and don’t want to underestimate it. Find me on Naish and give me a cheer if you’re free. Watch this space for how I got on, and for how much I manage to eat. It’s going to take a lot of cake to get me up and down Naish that many times.

I’m hoping to be 2284.

Here we go…

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This has been on my to-do list for ages, and having recently hit my one-year anniversary with cycling I’ve decided to start ticking it off. I’m Alice and I want to write about my experiences in cycling before I forget what it’s like to be a beginner, and hope to offer insight and encouragement to fellow newbies, especially women. I’ve covered ~8,500km since this time last year and learnt a fair bit in that time.

Over the last year some things have changed. Previously an accolade held by a pair of trainers, the most expensive pair of shoes I own are now a pair of cycling shoes, and that’s by a fair margin. The most likely parcel to arrive at my door is a wiggle order. Some of my jeans have decided to stop fitting comfortably following the expansion of my leg muscles, and I now think that spending four hours in the rain drinking from a grit covered bottle, with muddy water gently flicking into my face, is an acceptable way to spend a Sunday in February.

38888198_264905000787426_6837076834123776000_nI’ll be sharing my thoughts on this year, beyond, and I’m also keen to share opinions and write about cycling-related-topics which I think matter. Spoiler: A lot of these will be about women. Judging unscientifically by strava segments I reckon roughly 10% of the road cycling population is female. I’m writing for the men too, but I’m mostly writing for the 10%, and adding a female voice to what can feel like a very male dominated place.