Lockdown in the saddle

12th June 2020

We’re coming to the end of Bike Week 2020, an annual celebration to showcase cycling. And as we have seen thousands of people all over the UK enjoy the simple pleasure of riding a bike to make their lockdown life bearable, we thought we’d catch up with our colleague Tom, a cycling enthusiast who has recently combined his hobby with raising thousands of pounds for a charity close to his heart. Here’s what he had to tell us.

Q Why did you start cycling?

A I’ve always enjoyed getting out on the bike for all the reasons you hear about; great exercise, good for your mental health and one of the best ways to see new parts of the world we live in – which I don’t get to see from behind my desk! More recently though, specifically during lockdown, I’ve started cycling with a renewed passion after I saw an urgent appeal from a local charity I know, Ashgate Hospicecare.

Ashgate is known to me because my family had support from them a couple of years ago for my dad, and we have always wanted to support them by raising funds. They are dependent on charitable donations to support their incredible work, and due to Covid, as with many charities, Ashgate has suffered from a considerable drop in such contributions. I had already planned to do ‘Ride London’ in August to raise cash for them, but like so many other similar events, it had to be cancelled – and it’s this sort of thing that’s really impacted the amount of money the hospice is likely to get this year.

One of my mates, Zach, decided to do a 24-hour bike ride on his Turbo Trainer using Zwift to raise money for the Ashgate Hospice urgent appeal. He set a target of £7,000 to achieve, and he smashed it. Seeing him complete the challenge inspired me, so much so that I decided to do the same, aiming for the same amount, and to do it in commemoration of my Dad. With that in mind, I decided to do the challenge on what would have been my dad’s 74th birthday.

Q How did you prepare for the challenge?

A Owing to lockdown, I was already working from home, so without a regular commute, I found that I could fit in more training either very early in the morning or after work. I even did the odd training session at lunchtime to break up the day, rather than eating lunch at my desk as I would do normally. I have to say that I would recommend that; I got such an energy boost for the afternoon that I found myself being more productive and with a clearer head for creative thinking – quite crucial for my job! Having that limited time over lunch also meant that I did fewer miles but at a harder pace, and I figured out the perfect route for this. It was a different element to my training but built up my strength and endurance. I also had to put in the miles, as time spent in the saddle would be essential to get me ready for 24 hours in it! But getting the mix right was important and I took a lot of advice from Zach and others who were more experienced cyclists than me; I knew it wasn’t something I’d get through without the prep.

Q What have you found to be the main benefits of cycling?

A Being out on the bike is one of the nicest bits of freedom you can have. You get to see such a vast area in a short space of time, averaging 18/19 miles an hour. And because of focusing on keeping safe, monitoring your breathing and just generally checking in with yourself, it’s almost meditative and you reap all the additional benefits of mindfulness. I can switch off when I’m on my bike and pedal any worries away, while setting myself little goals as I go along! It’s amazing how productive it can be! To get to do this on a lunch break is an absolute gift and something I’m aware I should be grateful for and memories that I will now treasure.

Q How did the challenge go?

A The challenge went well, in fact, no, it went far better than I expected – certainly in terms of the money raised. As far as my own performance and experience, well let’s just say there were times when it was tough going! I was very nervous ahead of it having never cycled for that duration before. On the morning I was particularly anxious but following Zach’s lead I set up a live stream on YouTube so that people could join me on the journey – and give me the support and motivation I knew they would. I had an endless run of comments, even in the middle of the night! There was a lot of love in the chat box, and I felt very humbled.

The first six or seven hours went really quick and one of my neighbours set up on their bike just outside where I was doing it so that helped massively. It was after that where it started to get a bit difficult – and I realised I’d got another 17 hours to do! Throughout the whole 24 hours though I always had some level of support, including my mum who stayed with me all night, which was when I needed it the most. The night-time was the hardest, although my colleague and team ‘mum’ Donna was on the live chat at 2am sending words of encouragement! I’d like to add that she had just got a new puppy so was up because of him, and not just to check on me (that’s what I like to think, though knowing Donna and her commitment to our wellbeing, I’m not too sure!)

It was at that point though when the tiredness kicked in and my body was telling me to stop and go to bed; I’d definitely hit a wall. My knees were hurting, sitting down was hurting and it was feeling like a never-ending cycle, all culminating in blurring my vision of the end goal. Despite this, I somehow managed to remind myself of the challenge and the reason why I was doing it, which motivated me to carry on. At 3.55am I had my one and only 15 minute power nap. I woke to hear the birds singing and this was an indicator that it was morning and a new day had started; I can’t tell you what that did for me, but I suddenly felt strong again and was ready to power through to that finish line.

Q How did it feel reaching your goal?

A At the end of the 24 hours (and over 320 miles and £11.5k of donations later!) I really felt that I was surrounded by a huge amount of support; as though I was actually cycling down the street and it was lined with cheering people! The InterLearn family let me know they were all on Teams to virtually applaud me across the line, so I logged on and there they were – not one or two, but the entire company (or so it seemed!) It was amazing that I had their time and support during such a busy period, and it was humbling to know that they all cared, which certainly helped me through it.

Q Has this inspired you to do anything else?

A I’ve already been thinking what challenge I can do next! Yes, I must be mad. Some people have hinted that we do another 24-hour challenge, possibly walking, but it won’t be running as I am not a runner! What is has mainly inspired me to do is to keep the positive changes I have made while training for it. Working from home means I have the flexibility to ride before work, after or at lunch, and it’s true what they say, energy breeds energy, just as apathy breeds apathy; I know which one I want to generate more of and which one feeds my mind, body and soul. So, watch out for my next adventure – you might want to be part of it!”

To see more of Tom’s story or to still donate to the Ashgate appeal for essential funds, visit Tom’s Derbyshire to Dartmouth 24 hour blog post.


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