My hope is to get as many women as we can on bikes and the best thing is we have the opportunity to raise money for Breast Cancer Now while we do it

By Lisa P

So here is my story ….

I was 40 at the start of this year and had not been on a bike since I was a kid. Early February I was on the phone to my brother and he announced he was going to take on 1,000km cycle around Sicily… I was dumbfounded because, like me, he had not been on a bike since we were at school, he’d never been on a road bike and knew nothing about cycling! Despite the facts, I could hear in his voice that he was going to do this. 

The next morning, I woke up and thought if he can do that, I can do a triathlon … I’m still not sure why triathlon as I’d never followed it and knew very little about it other than it was a real challenge. After a couple of weeks letting that idea percolate in my mind, I signed up for the Olympic distance triathlon at Rutland Water at the end of June. Having not done any open water swimming, been on a bike for 30 years and only just completed the couch to 5k after about 3 years of trying, this was a rather significant undertaking. I’m not your typical athlete, I smoked for over 20 years and have spent most of my adult life a healthy size 16 avoiding anything sport related.

Determined, I set about making this happen. I was thankfully pointed in the direction of Her Spirit, an in-person and online training community who provided me with all the tools, training programmes and support I could possibly need to take on my first triathlon. My first Her Spirit swim session at Victoria Baths in Sneinton was the game changer. I have never been involved in an all-female community before and what struck me the most after my first session was the atmosphere. The energy was completely different. It wasn’t judgemental, it wasn’t aggressive, it wasn’t competitive, I wasn’t self-conscious and I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove. There were women of all ages, shapes and sizes. It was friendly, supportive, inclusive, challenging and most of all fun! I laughed freely and came out with a huge smile on my face. I’ve banked that feeling and it makes me smile now just thinking about it. I didn’t really understand it at the time but looking back I think I knew then I’d found my tribe and that was going to be the key to this huge challenge I was about to take on.

I got myself a second-hand road bike from Nottingham Bike Works (who, by the way, from the get go were super helpful to a newbie who didn’t know anything about cycling). It took me two weeks to figure out how to use my gears and a few rides with a friend to feel confident on the road before I felt I could cycle the 5k to work on my own. I built up my confidence by cycling into work a few mornings a week and, then on Thursdays, I’d head off at 6am to the Embankment and do 25km on the Big Track which is a wonderful way to start the day.

With the support of the wonderful women in the Her Spirit community, I worked my way through various milestones, my first open water swim, my first 10k run and my first flat tyre and somewhere along the way I fell in love with cycling and no one is more surprised than me.

It was intense training for the triathlon. My training was dominated by the run as that was the discipline I struggled with the most. At this stage, cycling didn’t get much of a look in because I was focused on doing what I needed to make sure I was going to be able to finish the triathlon. It wasn’t actually until the 40km cycle on the triathlon that I first thought, hang on a minute, I’m enjoying this! It was my first time on a closed road circuit and I remember the freedom of the road, the beautiful sunshine, speeding through the stunning countryside and I thought, when this is all over, I need to get out on my bike not because I have to but because I want to! I finished the triathlon on Sunday and on my lunch break on Monday I bought some cleats.

Two weeks later I was on a train to London with my bike heading to my first cycling adventure…so remember my brother? Well not only did he complete his 1000km Sicily challenge but he also fell in love with cycling. He was 40 this summer (our birthdays are a year, a month and a day apart) I asked him what he wanted for his birthday and he said he wanted the two of us to do a cycle challenge. To be honest I was hoping for something easy like John Lewis vouchers or gig tickets but no he was adamant we should go cycling. I hit google for cycle challenges in July and came up with an organised cycle from London to Amsterdam!  

What a trip! We started at Trafalgar Square cycled 135km to Harwich where we caught the overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland and on day 2, cycled 90km to the centre of Amsterdam. What an incredible experience! It was tough, by far my longest cycle and there was one hill I wasn’t sure if I was going to get up but I kept saying to myself “You are not getting off this bike! Just keep pedalling!”. But boy it was worth it. It was an absolute joy to be cycling through the countryside in the sunshine with my brother and it was a great feeling when we crossed the finish line.

Since returning from the Amsterdam trip, I’ve cycled a couple of times a week and did my first my first solo bike ride with Komoot a few weeks ago. I’m amazed that I’ve lived in Nottingham for the last 10 years and there is so much of it that I haven’t seen! Getting out on my bike has just opened up a whole new world to me and I’m incredibly grateful for that. 

Now, I’ve signed up to the Lakes to London challenge and I’ve set myself the challenge to cycle 500km in 5 days! On my first solo cycle I was surprised that I only saw one other woman out on her bike. It was a Saturday morning and I saw a number of solo male cyclists and about four groups of men cycling together but only one other woman. I felt disappointed as I was having such a good time. I posted on the Her Spirit community and Holly one of the co-founders commented that only 11.5% of women cycle in England! 

I felt sad about this because it has been such a joyful journey for me but then I thought, well actually it’s never occurred to me to get on a bike until I embarked on the triathlon journey and this new world was opened up to me – so that is why I feel so passionate about getting women on bikes. For most, I suspect they just need a reason or an opportunity to think about getting on a bike and then with support they can take it from there. I guess perhaps the first hurdle is that you need a bike which can be expensive and, then for me, I needed support in knowing how to use the gears, change a tyre and feeling confident and safe on the road. 

I’m hoping to get as many women as we can to join me for the last 5km of my 500km journey. So many wonderful women have helped me on my journey this year and now I feel more confident to offer that support to others and try and encourage women to give cycling a go (even though I’m still very much a novice myself) – so what are you waiting for? Why not join me on Monday 5th September at 7pm at Holme Pierrepont for my last 5km? It’s £20 to sign up to the challenge, all the money goes to Breast Cancer Now and you can choose your distance and how you do it. 

Find out more about Lisa Lakes To London adventures and how she is getting on with her fundraising and KM’s.

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