Updated: Jan 4, 2020
In just over a weeks I’ll be setting off on the biggest challenge I’ve ever undertaken, by far.
I’m doing the Trans Pyrenees Race, a self-supported ultradistance cycle race from Lost Dot, the team behind the Transcontinental Race (TCR). The Trans Pyrenees is based on the vision of the late Mike Hall, founder of the TCR, who had started designing the race back in 2016 to reward “the most adventurous, providing opportunities to beat the clock by facing the most demanding terrain”. Eeeek!
I want to share the experience, partly because if I know people are watching, it will help me feel less alone, and will hopefully mean there’s less chance of me dropping out, but also because I want to try and encourage other women to undertake this sort of thing. It might back-fire spectacularly, and I put off more people than I attract into endurance racing, but hopefully not!
How to follow my progress (or lack of it)
I would massively appreciate any support on these channels, when I’m alone and feeling like giving up, I know it will really help to know that people are watching, but apologies in advance, I probably wont have time to reply. And remember, even if you can see that I’m taking a bad route, or you know of a hotel or a friend that has a room etc, no outside assistance is allowed.
I’ll have a tracker on my bike which will update on here once the race starts on 4th Oct - https://transpyrenees.cc/tprno1-map. I am rider number 8 and Hector is rider 91 (cap numbers are randomly allocated).
The official hashtag for the race is #TPRNo1 and my personal hashtag is #TPRNo1cap8 My priority has to be riding and sleeping and eating, so I wont be stopping to take too many photos, and whilst I hope to update Instagram each day, that’s dependent on having any juice left in my phone battery and my brain.
When I can I will post updates to Instagram (@feelfitwithlucy) and this will auto update to my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/feelfitwithlucy/) and Twitter (@feelfitwithlucy)I plan to update this blog once I get back (and have recovered from the experience!)
We start at 6am on Fri 4th Oct on the west coast of the Pyrenees, in Biarritz, across the continent to touch the sea on the East coast, and then back to Biarritz. We choose our own route, but must pass through certain obligatory check points and parcours. We carry all our own kit, choose where we sleep (hotels or bivvying) but are not allowed to book anything in advance.
And we must be entirely self-supported, only buying food and drink from places available to all, no support cars or feed stations, and no drafting or helping each other out on route. (Hector, my partner, and training partner, draft buster, live-in bike mechanic and my complete rock, especially when things get tough, is also doing the race, but we’re not riding as a pair, and therefore are not allowed to ride together or support each other. This well may be one of the toughest parts of the race.)
To put it in context, we need to cover just over 1600km and 37,000m of climbing, and if we want to stay inside GC (General Classification) we need to complete it within 7 days. Which works out as about 230km and 5300m of climbing a day. But that’s on average, most days there wont be a convenient hotel or bus shelter at exactly 230km, and the mountains aren’t evenly spaced along the route so some days there will be less climbing, some days there will be much more.
As a comparison, the 2019 Tour de France was 3,400km over 21 days (plus 2 rest days) so just 161 km per day on average, and 2019's toughest Pyrenean stage (stage 15, where Yates won and Alaphilippe popped) was just under 5000m of climbing. Yes they went a lot faster than I will but they also had bit more support! Oh, and it’s their job!
Or for anyone who's done the RAID Pyrénéen, that's part of our route (with its 28 Cols and 13,000m of climbing) but that's just a third of our total distance and climbing. And we've got rather less time to do it in.
I have no doubt that this will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, not just from the physical aspect, but it will also severely test my will power, my self sufficiency, my planning and decision making skills (when lacking sleep and calories), sense of humour, and ability to withstand saddle sores.
But I also hope that it will be rewarding – the views and experience will be unparalleled, it's a luxury most people dont have to spend that long on a bike and I’ll certainly learn a lot about myself, cycling, and the people and the area during the process.
I have no illusions of doing ‘well’, this is waaaaaay more than I’ve ever ridden. I plan to start off with a schedule based on completing within the GC, but expect that to be quickly abandoned. And because I’m committed to get a train home a few days after the race officially finishes on the 11th Oct (and because my legs might be ready to drop off), I think it’s pretty likely I’ll have to scratch before I get to the end. I don’t see that as failure, it’s been demanding to even get to the start line, and I'm proud of getting this far. Anything after that is a bonus.
Out of the approx. 120 riders doing the race, there are only about 10 women (this is not the fault of Lost Dot, I know they work hard to try and improve equality and access for under-represented groups). And I hope to be part of changing that.
I already expect applications will be far higher in 2020. Hopefully 2019 has been the year when inspirational women around the world have shown that we are just as capable as men when it comes to endurance racing, and none more so than the amazing Fiona Kolbinger, winner of this year’s TCR.
And the more than women see other women doing this sort of thing, the more a little flicker ignites, and they start to think “maybe I could do that…one day…”.
And hopefully if I can share my experience, the good, the bad, saddle sores and all (don’t worry, no photos of that!), the more it might help women (and men) start to get their head around what it is. Rather than it being a vast and impenetrable scary thing, it starts to become just a bit more tangible, and a bit more possible. Still scary but based on understanding which can be broken down and rationalised rather than undefined and unimaginable, and therefore impossible to deal with.
That's the hope, maybe you'll just get lots of photos of petrol station food or me alone on a mountain wishing I'd never started. I guess we'll find out soon! Eeeeeek!
If you want to read how I got on (spoiler alert loved it!), here's my post race posts:
Learnings / what I think I could have improved on (this is a long one! But hopefully pretty useful if you’re thinking about this sort of thing