On Sunday 18th September 2016 I cycled into John O’Groats to a father beaming with pride and among hundreds of others that had just completed a 972 mile journey that started 9 days previously in Land’s End. We had done it. We had completed the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.
We’d lived the RAB bubble for 9 days. We’d laughed and we’d groaned, we’d climbed and we’d pushed. Each of us had given everything we had and we’d done it together. Looking back on a year prior to that and I couldn’t ride a bike. But something in me decided to commit to this epic challenge and I haven’t regretted it since. Through training and riding the event itself I have loved every second of it – even the bits that at the time, I professed to hate.
For context, this incredible event sees some 600 plus cyclists pedal from Land’s End to John O’Groats in just 9 days. It is glorious, it is wonderful, it is teeth-gritting-get-me-up-that-hill cycling – but it is worth it.
Here are my top 10 reasons for cycling Deloitte Ride Across Britain:
10. The Training
Let’s start at the beginning. And I mean THE beginning. That moment where you hover over the “submit payment” button and commit your money to what seems like an unobtainable goal. You breathe a sigh of relief that you’ve come that far and then realise the mountain you have to climb (or should I say cycle?). You panic and think “how on earth do I train for this?!” and then you breathe another sign of relief when you see that Threshold have that one covered for you.
Monthly training plans for every level, with tips on what you should focus on. The sessions are all achievable and realistic and not too complicated. Everything I now know about cycling, I learnt from training for RAB. From focusing on getting my cadence right, to balancing straight distance sessions with speed work – they are there for you right from the word go.
9. The Organisation
The level of organisation that goes into this event, from both the crew and organisers, means you don’t have to think about anything except riding your bike. They have it all covered – they carefully transport your bike from home to the start, they haul your bags between campsites, they set up hundreds of rows of perfectly lined tents every day and in the meantime ensure there’s a food tent, bar, massage tent, medical tent and showers set up too. Mummy Karen and Daddy Mack take care of everything – along with Andy Cook, they brief you on the day ahead and make sure everything and everyone is taken care of.
8. The Crew
Through the whole nine days, despite them getting up earlier than every single cyclist and staying up later, I never once heard them complain. I never once saw a frown! The crew made this event. Their support, their smiles, their words of encouragement along the whole route were just the pick-me-ups you’d need if you were having a tough day.
From pit stop crews making sure you’re fuelled for the day, to the sports physiotherapist students making sure you can get back on your bike the next. Then there’s all the crew that help set up your tents and make sure you’re sleeping in the right area, as well as the security crew who protect your pride and joy. And let’s not forget the wonderful DHL crew who made loving nicknames for most riders – they haul over 600 bags between 9 campsites every single day and were always there to welcome you with a smile and a hug at the end of each day (for reference, my nickname was “Wellies”).
7. The Food
The catering crew deserve a category entirely to themselves. They manage to cater for 600 plus riders, mostly from a tent in a field and they produce some incredible food too! Lulu’s cooking is second-to-none, after a long day on the bike you have to keep fuelled for the next day and Lulu’s delicious cooking ensures that (and there’s always enough for seconds!). Fear not for any allergies – I can’t eat dairy yet there was always at least one option (often more) that I would happily tuck in to!
6. The Hills
Feel free to question my sanity at this point, but the hills on RAB are awesome. Through Devon and Cornwall they’re constant, but what an achievement to get up them. Gritting your teeth through the pain, sweating it out on the hill and the elation at the top is made all that sweeter with the crew cheering you on. Day 2 was my favourite day, cycling from Okehampton to Bath, covering 110 miles, 6,000ft of climbing and two category climbs in Cothelstone and Cheddar Gorge. This was quickly surpassed by climbing over the Highlands to Glen Coe and being treated to the most stunning view, it was well worth it. These stunning and “grippy” climbs are all testament to Andy Cook’s genius, with each day offering a different challenge.
5. The Journey
You learn a lot about yourself on this journey. You’re detached from the real world for most of the day and it is blissful. We all live busy lives, most of us probably spend most of our day looking at a screen – at work, on our phone, on the tube to see when the next train is. How often do we stop, take a minute and think about nothing?
RAB gave me that – it was the most relaxing 9 days I’ve ever had. It was away from emails, it was away from my phone, it was outside in fresh, clean air every single day. You fully switch off from the business of every day life and you focus on the task in hand, on this journey you will learn that more is in you, you will learn that your body can do so much more than you ever thought possible and you’ll do it in the most incredible scenery you’ll ever see…
4. The Scenery
Whether you call Great Britain home or not, it is beautiful. I didn’t realise quite how beautiful it was until I was riding through it. From the “grippy” roads of Devon and Cornwall, to the welcome (relative) flat of Cheshire. You’re then welcomed by glorious Lancashire (I’m biased) and into mountainous Cumbria. Then you get Scotland – my new favourite place. You see the highlands, you see Glen Coe and (if you’re lucky) you see the summit of Ben Nevis.
3. The Bubble
Away from the real world, you enter the “RAB bubble”. This comes from a combination of everything I’ve outlined above but I think what makes the bubble is the camaraderie. Imagine 600 plus people all working towards the same goal – to get to the next campsite, and then the next, until eventually you’re at John O’Groats. I don’t think I’ll ever experience the same level of support and teamwork in any setting again.
On the days you’re struggling, someone else picks you up. On the days you’re flying, you’ll carry someone else. It’s all done without questioning and it’s all done without judgement. This event is a test of an individual’s strength but also of the strength that human beings can give each other, and it’s a privilege to have been apart of it.
2. The Inspiring People
Everyone completes RAB for their own personal reason. Whether it’s to raise money for a good cause or to prove that their legs still have it in, but each and every single person there is an inspiration to someone.
There’s always some standouts – such as the Mark Bullock, Balfour Beatty team organiser who, despite undergoing treatment for cancer, rode one of the days with us. Or Rosabel Kilgour, a wonderful girl who, prior to her first day on the Scottish leg of RAB, had only ridden 30 miles. Her endless enthusiasm and kind energy meant that you couldn’t help but want to cycle with her and support her along her incredible journey. My Dad was the biggest standout and inspiration, following me the whole way, to turn round and say he fancied a go himself next time!
1. The Gift
Ride Across Britain has been the biggest physical challenge of my life. It taught me a lot about myself and gave me a very powerful gift – a belief that you can achieve anything you set your mind to and that my quote throughout training was so, so right: “you didn’t come this far to only come this far”. I want to share that belief with everyone – I want everyone that is unsure to feel this power, so if you’re looking for my number one reason for riding Deloitte Ride Across Britain, it’s so that others can experience this incredible gift.