Tag Archives: friends

Destination Distillery

It has been a long, long winter. Normally it doesn’t bother me but this year, and also when I look back, last year, I have struggled to keep things in perspective at times.

Running has been haphazard thanks to two sinus infections and a chest infection in quick succession. The latter saw me on steroids which had more of an impact than I’d anticipated, and so the return to training has been cautious.

Finally, I got out for a decent long run on Sunday.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was out when I set off, and stayed out for most of my run. There were some impressive rain showers early on, but thankfully they were short-lived.

It was the first run of the year in just a single layer of clothing,  (admittedly long sleeves and long tights), and it was great not to be rustling along in my jacket. I was trying out a new backpack that I’d wanted for ages, and it felt brilliant.

It was also a rare daylight run, and after months and months of running in the dark, at last there was no need for my headtorch.

The world was out enjoying the weather and the scenery. Dogs were being walked, children were learning to ride bikes, sheep were being rounded up on the hillside. The highland cattle I’d seen on my last run down this route had increased their number by one, a tiny calf who could just be seen sticking very close to its mother.

For me, a long run isn’t a long run without a hug from a dog along the way. I stopped counting border collies when I got to ten. It was a similar story with black labradors. No greyhounds this time, but I did see a couple of whippets.

This week’s dogs of the day were Maisie the Westie and Ben the miniature Schnauzer, both happily showing off their newly clipped streamlined spring coats.

My route covered a mixture of the newly designated John Muir Way down to Strathblane, then up the Stockiemuir Road to Carbeth and then onto the popular West Highland Way, before crossing the road at Glengoyne distillery. I had my now customary stop at the stile, and paused for a think before stomping up the hill and then picking up the Pipe Track that runs back to Blanefield.

I’ve been quite homesick lately, and the stile has become a bit of a place to sit and think about friends and family far away.

Glengoyne is a favourite whisky of one of my dearest friends. We go back to days of Ducatis and random meetups with unknown bikers in car parks. It has become a tradition that each time I run past the distillery, I have a quick stop to take a picture of the distillery for her, as a reminder that it’s still there.

Despite being just nine miles from home, I’ve never been to visit, and I hope that when I do, it’s with her.

And…. Action!

Inevitably at the start of the year, we look back on what was, and start to think once again about what might be.

2014 was a pretty transformative year for me. I set myself some monster targets running and cycling wise, and achieved all but the very last one of them.

Everything else was left more fluid. For the first year in a while, I had just a small handful of harp gigs in the diary and I played much less than normal. This was deliberate, for reasons I’ll talk about another time. At the start of last year, I was in a brand new relationship, in a temporary job, with no commitments beyond demolishing a serious debt mountain, looking after two big black furries, and working my way through a long-held list of places I wanted to see and things I wanted to do.

I tried mountain biking for the first time.

I deliberately flung myself face first down a Munro in the snow to practice self-arrest with an ice axe, on my first day of proper winter hill walking (under supervision I should add).

I ran my first ever marathon. On Easter Saturday, I had a brilliant run on the West Highland Way with a favoured running buddy. A few weeks later, I ran my first ever ultra marathon.

I put myself forward as a support runner for the West Highland Way race, potentially running through the night in the Scottish wilderness with someone I’d never met, to help them achieve their goal. I wasn’t needed in the end sadly, due to them becoming injured, but the fact that my offer was accepted was wonderful and a huge honour! Instead, I spent my second Summer Solstice at the top of Meikle Bin, and this time I ran almost to the top.

I cycled up a truly brutal, epic Tour de France climb, in horrendous conditions, again to help someone else achieve their goal. Two days later we did it again.

I took part in my first ever club cycle race.

I had a minor tantrum in the middle of my second ultramarathon and was rescued by crystallised ginger and kind people, and the combination of both enabled me to finish the race.

I spent my birthday weekend in a forest just outside Aviemore, getting rained and hailed on, running/staggering round in circles, and sleeping for approximately 2 hours, to support someone through a big race.

I got my revenge the next week by dragging him up Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis (along with a fab guide) for my alternative birthday weekend.

I ran 38 miles in a day, 20 of these through the most extreme conditions I’ve ever encountered. The first 18 miles were horrendous for other reasons, but somehow when the weather turned, something magical happened. Then the day after, I DNF’d in an event for the first time.

I spent an incredible week exploring the north west Highlands, somewhere I’d wanted to visit for almost twenty years.

I bought a new-to-me harp, and signed up for an online course with an inspirational teacher.

Somewhat unexpectedly, my harp journey started again.

I’ve been to some incredible beaches.

I’ve had lots of time and space to think about lots of things.

I achieved a lot in 2014, and I am incredibly proud of all of it. I’m particularly of getting up Mont Ventoux.

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Photobombing the Buchaille Etive Mor in Glencoe – 12 miles out from Bridge of Orchy with 12 miles still ahead on the first truly hot day in months.

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Thanks to Nicholas Beckett from Edinburgh Sports Photography for the above fab photo, taken along the bonny banks at the Highland Fling.

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Looking surprisingly glam given how knackered I was here – second ascent of Mont Ventoux in three days (Malaucene route this time)

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This was the first time up Ventoux. We could see…. nothing. Both very tired and very cold but full of beans.

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Spidean Coire nan Clach – Beinn Eighe, November in Scotland. Who’d have thought it. Blue, clear skies.

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I think of these words often now – the Tom Simpson memorial on the Bedoin ascent of Mont Ventoux

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Getting to the top of the big hill at Loch Katrine, for the first time.

But there is more to come.

2014 was really about trying to escape from previous failures. I can confirm that if you run far enough and cycle up enough big tough hills, you will find some answers. They probably won’t be what you expect but you definitely won’t forget them if you learn them the hard way.

When you find the things you truly love doing, it becomes ever more important to make space for them in your life.

The fact is that now, there are not enough hours in the day for running, cycling, hill walking, motorcycling. Let alone looking after pets, seeing friends and family, earning a living.

In my previous life, I didn’t know what to do with myself much beyond working.

As a result of a lot of thinking while covering a serious amount of self-propelled miles last year, I have everything I need in terms of ideas and plans for the next step of the journey.

Now, they need action, and commitment, and confidence and the drive to see them through.

But the last year has taught me that if you are brave and keep trying enough big bold things, sometimes they will work out after all.

PS just to prove it’s not all highs and happy faces, here’s me remembering just how much I hate chossy damp dark slimey chimneys! Thanks to guide Dave Chapman for the photo and a brilliant day despite a few squeaky bits.

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And everything stops

I was on my way home last night and just for a few moments, I had to stop. I could hear a familiar pattern of notes coming from a guitar. I wasn’t close enough to the busker to start with, but as I made my way further down Sauchiehall Street, I recognised the song. The tears came and just for a little moment or two, I couldn’t move.

A few years ago one of my friends was killed. As is common in the bike racing world, people who you don’t know terribly well and don’t see terribly often become friends, because of shared experiences and passions. It can be hard to describe why you love doing something so dangerous to those who have never tried it, but with people who have, there’s a kind of shortcut and you don’t have to explain.

The church was packed to the rafters with standing room only, and the first few bars of Hallelujah started up as her funeral started.

It’s a beautiful song which I’ve tried to play many times on the harp. As I settle into the next phase, where there are no big plans on the immediate horizon, maybe this will be something to work on. I’m a lot better at playing through strong emotions now, and I hope I can use them to bring something special to my arrangement.

I’ve been a bit guilty of wishing my life away lately, worrying about the future and making plans for next year so I have something to focus on over the winter.

L/G always reminds me to think of the here and now. I am desperately sad that she has gone, but happy that she had and continues to have such a positive impact on my life.

I hope the weather is kind tomorrow as I fancy a bike ride. I haven’t said that in a long time.

Ultra running, Ultra recovering

This is Lossiemouth beach, on the north east coast of Scotland. It was last Sunday, August bank holiday weekend (well, if you’re in England) and as you can see, we had the best of the weather while it was miserable down south.

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This was our away day after the darkness of the day before. It seemed crazy not to visit the nearest beach when we were so close, and I had ditched the planned race so we had time to spare.

It was everything we needed and more. We had ice cream and Irn Bru and we bought seaside rock. We softened our gnarly feet on the sand. One of us burst our blisters and got sand in them (ouch). We froze our toes in the sea, and were wearing more clothes than most.

We laughed as we got out of the car and shuffled along the sea front. One of us suggested stealing a walking stick off a passing old man. The other gently pointed out that we would be in no position to run away afterwards. We laughed some more. We saw a small child wearing a t-shirt proclaiming him Small But Epic. One of us wondered if it would be possible to steal this too, and realised that perhaps we weren’t quite in our right minds today. The strop over the lack of coffee at breakfast was further evidence of this.

Back to the day before. We ran approximately 37 miles, or as much as we could of this, along the Speyside Way. We started at Ballindalloch and traced the River Spey all the way to Spey Bay, then followed the coastline round to the village of Buckie.

The course should have been easier than our trip to Kintyre in May. It would have been, had we been a bit more prepared.

The first 12 miles were wonderful. We ran past some distilleries and some disused stations.

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A few weeks before, the route had been under several feet of water in all the floods. It was still damp underfoot, but this made for good soft ground to run on. We made it to the first checkpoint in good time, in last place but well ahead of last place last year.

However, life had got in the way, long runs went out the window and we really paid for this. We got to know the sweeper very well. Through chatting to him, I learnt some good starting points for mountain biking and ski mountaineering. We made it up the biggest climb to Ben Aigan and despite a couple of heavy rain showers, we were treated to the most beautiful view down the Spey to the sea. This should have been the tough bit out of the way, and all downhill from here.

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This was to be rather more literally downhill than I expected. Soon after, the wheels came off. I had a big wobble at 18 miles and had we been near the river, I would have thrown my running shoes in it. Everything was wrong and I just didn’t want to run any more, at all, ever. Surprisingly after a few minutes break, a bit of reassurance in the form of a squeezy hand hold from my friend Angela and then some unexpectedly reviving crystallised ginger from sweeper Sean got me back on track.

It got worse. By the last water station at 31 miles, I was ready to pull out. Everything hurt. But two unbelievably upbeat marshals, who had been at the very first water station as well, kept our spirits high. By the time we left, I’d forgotten all thoughts of finishing up and we were on the way to the finish line. I later found out the pink-haired marshal was Race Director Sarah’s mum, and she promised to pass on my heartfelt thanks. Without her encouragement, I would have given in.

Somehow we made it to the end. The welcoming committee was small as we had missed the cut-off, but we were handed our goody bags and medals, and a chap in a Celtic top seemed delighted to shake our hands and was full of so many kind words we really didn’t know what to say. A couple who should have been running but pulled out with an injury had come up to marshal and waited for us, and gave us a lift back to the car to save us walking just an extra 10 minutes. 10 minutes is a long way when you have run 37 miles, and I can’t begin to tell you how much we appreciated this too.

The support from those people made the disappointment of the day so much easier to deal with. I had been very, very hard on myself and realised there was no need. I spoke to fellow runner Ray McCurdy in Glasgow today. He had run his 120th ultramarathon on Saturday, and had also found himself about half an hour behind where he expected to be. At the other end of the race, a new race record had been set by local runner Terry Forrest – a truly staggering time of 4.01.42.

Both of those runners will have had good days and bad days, just as I did on Saturday. I nearly pulled out of my next race, the big one looming large in just 5 weeks time, but have decided to leave the decision until nearer the time.

First, there is a good bit more recovering to be done.

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Into the new

Hasn’t it been a while! I have missed my blog, but I’ve been in the truly wonderful position of squeezing every last drop from the last few weeks and only today have I felt that I’ve caught myself up coming back the other way.

Over the last year I decided I would minimise the looking back, and at this most special time of the year, for me it is all about looking forward.

I’m not really a girl for resolutions any more, but it’s good to take the time to re-focus on what’s truly important and start making some plans for the year ahead.

Despite this, I feel it’s necessary to review just a little. November started with great fear and trepidation, but ended up being a wonderful month thanks to pushing myself out of my comfort zone again and being able to lean on my friends. I ran out of white space on the calendar and it was christened Nuclear November. This gave way to Divine December, where things went mostly well and I didn’t have that awful feeling of “this is going too well, what’s going to go wrong”. Don’t get me wrong, plenty did, but it mostly bounced off the surface and was dealt with as required. I spent lots of precious time with friends old and new. I even squeezed in a couple of concerts, and enjoyed the complete contrast of show tunes with a large orchestra in a huge modern concert hall versus a choral piece with a small string ensemble and harp in a beautiful old church.

How I didn’t make myself ill I will never know, but somehow I made it to the end of the year in one piece and even managed to run 80 miles in the month – an achievement I am hugely proud of especially given that due to a hectic social life (three little words I never thought I would use), 50 of those were run in the last 8 days. A significant number of those miles were run with friends, which was a new experience having done most of my running on my own.

The year was rounded off with an 11 mile run over the Forth road bridge and back on New Year’s Eve. I’d headed east and we were incredibly lucky with the weather – not only did the rain stay away but the expected icy blasts never came, despite the recent storms of epic proportions, and I ended up having to remove rather than add layers.

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I would never have imagined finishing my year here and in this way, despite starting it circling Arthur’s Seat rather too many times, and was chuckling away about this to myself most of the way (apart from the last mile which is a story for another day). I wonder where I will be seeing out 2014.

My body held out despite the increase in miles in a short space of time, and my hard work paid off with my first gift of 2014 – a comfortably sub-60 minute 10k run.

I’m pretty proud of that too, and given the miles that lie ahead as I prepare for my first marathon in March and my first ultra marathon in May, I know the elation of achieving these goals will carry me through many dark and soggy runs to come.

There is much that is uncertain about the coming months but based on recent weeks, I am both optimistic and extremely excited about what’s waiting for me in 2014.

2013 was my first complete calendar year living in Scotland. I’m pleased to say I have the new life I wanted, even though it doesn’t look as I thought it might. Seeing the seasons come and go and come round once again has been a very special experience which I hope to write about over the next couple of weeks.

I’ve just packed my little Christmas tree away and I feel rather sad as it was so beautiful. I am back at work tomorrow after two weeks off, but rather than dreading it I’m raring to go and get back into the swing of things.

I wish you a very happy new year and hope it brings you everything you wish for.

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Mooching of an afternoon

(Written on a gloriously wi-fi free Thursday)

This afternoon finds me in Leiden in the Netherlands. A quick tot up on the plane revealed that this is my most visited country which both surprised me and made me happy.

I’ve been here before, on a school trip some 20+ years ago. I can’t remember why we came to Leiden, I think it was on the way to somewhere else. We didn’t see much anyway, other than a slightly strange artistic installation of wedding dresses in one of the canal basins.

This time I’m here for a rather different reason. This is my second visit to the Jazz Harp Academy. It’s a full-circle thing – the first time I came in 2010, it was in a bid to do something that scared me silly during one of the lowest points in my life.

It worked, and led to many wonderful things, including my move to Glasgow. I met a very dear friend and we have supported each other on our own individual musical adventures.

We are very similar and yet very different. Someone asked how they would recognise us to collect us from the airport once. I said we are both very small with big smiles and we will probably be the noisiest people there as we will be laughing so much.

My friend arrives this evening so I made the most of an afternoon in a different place. For all intents and purposes it’s a new place, as I don’t really recognise any of it.

It was raining heavily when I got off the train from Amsterdam. The windmill count was up to 2 within 15 minutes. I saw a museum and wondered about going in, but at 11 euros I decided against it. Not a huge sum but I figured I could make better use of the time and money.

I had a map but only used it to make sure I was heading in the right direction from the station to check out the venue for the next few days. Other than that, I just strolled, taking whichever street or canal I fancied.

It is so quiet here. It’s a mixture of old and new and they sit comfortably with each other.

The reason for the peace is the humble bicycle. This is Holland, where the bike is king. Near the station, bikes are all you can see wherever you look. There is an occasional car in the town but they are conspicuous by their sound.

I found a gorgeous cafe to have lunch in. I settled down with a book and enjoyed seeing the world going past outside. The cafe was quiet too – unusually in a world of piped music, there was no soundtrack at all, not even a radio. I enjoyed this. I’m a musician but there are times where silence is just what’s needed.

I’m reading Miles Davis’s autobiography and have just read about the first time he heard Thelonious Monk play. He was struck by the spaces left in between the notes as much as the notes themselves.

My harp has 47 strings and 7 pedals. As a classical harpist, when I’m improvising I often feel obliged to use as many of these as possible. (With some orchestral parts it is not so much expected as compulsory to use all of them at once!)

This often adds unnecessary pressure and complexity, and leaves no space for breathing (for me or the music) or thinking about what comes next.

My first time at the jazz academy taught me the importance of listening to what was going on around me, and thinking about bass, rhythm and lead. Now when I create music of my own, I try to use as few notes as possible, to leave room.

It’s hard to find space in everyday life, and today has been a great opportunity to sit, to breathe and to think before the next few days of full-on learning and bashing against my comfort zone in an attempt to push myself forwards som more.

My afternoon cost me considerably less than 11 euros, but was worth much, much more and I’ve probably learnt more than I would have done in the museum. It did have an awesome totem pole outside, though, so I’m off for a proper look at that tomorrow.

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The healing power of cake

Sometimes, when even the pips’ pips are squeaking, the decision is made to invest a few pounds in a cup of tea and a piece of cake with a good friend.

Handing over £10 for a replacement student ID card earlier in the afternoon was like stabbing myself through the heart, so when I came back from the (rather fabulous) loo to find my share of the bill had been paid, I was both lost for words and incredibly grateful. I protested briefly but we both knew what this meant and how much it was needed.

(I didn’t sneak off to avoid paying)

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Good things

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I had some bad news today. It was nothing I didn’t already suspect, but somehow seeing it confirmed in black and white made it all the more real. It’s big news and has a big impact on my the immediate future. However I am determined not to let it put me off course.

So I am thinking about good things. Counting my blessings if you will.

I’m currently watching Frontline to Finish Line – the Race2Recovery team’s incredible journey to compete in and complete the Dakar Rally. Simply amazing – the hardest race in the world, completed by injured servicemen.

I have a sleek black greyhound snoozing away either side of me on the sofa. These beautiful gentle creatures (well maybe not if you are a cat or a hedghog) are happy, healthy rescued retired racers who faced an uncertain future before they came to live with me.

I have a good education, plenty to eat, good medical care and access to clean water.

Every day I get to do something amazing when I pull my harp onto my right shoulder and play wonderful music with my friends. I have big plans on this front.

I’ve had some great feedback on my blog recently, including visits from some very important people and a comment (followed up with an email) from someone especially important. I write it mostly for myself, but I’m enjoying blogging so it has been a real boost to know that it is being well received.

Earlier this week I met a new harp buddy for coffee and we had a great mixture of harp and bike racing chat.

Every day I open my curtains and see the Campsie Fells behind my house.

Tonight I’m going to give my much loved jaffa orange KitchenAid a work out and bake some cakes.

I have a hugely supportive family who I love to bits. I don’t see them often enough but we are in touch regularly.

Some of my oldest friends have a new baby girl and I can’t wait to meet her.

Oh and I might just have reversed my run of seemingly endless rubbish luck on the man front…. And he’s a chef 🙂

The photo at the top of this post was taken outside the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh last Saturday – at first I thought it was rather glum, but I thought about it on my way across to perform in the Cathedral and felt differently.

Miracles rarely happen. I truly believe we make our own luck by working hard and putting ourself in the right places where ‘lucky’ things may happen. I thank Jennifer Crook for these words of wisdom some years ago.

Today demonstrates that bad times come, but I hope that by thinking of Good Things, I can keep myself on track and not get dragged down.

Across the road from the sign above, there was this sign

I couldn’t get my own picture as I was too far away  (this one is from the BBC News website).

Today, thinking back to it, I am reminded of John Lennon’s words as posted on my blog a few weeks ago.

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It started with a kick…

I was face down in the swimming pool, fighting for breath enough just managing to co-ordinate my arms and lungs before it came. Thump. A sharp kick, a man’s hefty heel made contact with the outside of my right ankle. A glancing blow that caught half of the metalwork in my leg, and left me struggling to understand what just happened.

Physically what just happened was an unfortunate, unlucky blow to my leg, seemingly a regular occurrence on this particular swimming session. It briefly winded me. I was so shocked I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to cry out because of the pain and the shock of it all, but my head was about to come out of the water which meant I needed to concentrate on breathing in. I wasn’t far from the shallow end, and managed to get myself to the safety of the end of the pool while I pulled myself back together. Mental note to self, it’s impossible to swim and cry at the same time.

Emotionally it was so much worse. Next Tuesday would have been my second wedding anniversary. A racing friend is off to fulfil a long held ambition of mine and race at the Manx GP this year. I am in the process of moving my entire life from one of a wage slave to one of a girl who follows her dreams. There is so much going on for me at the moment that until last night, I didn’t dare contemplate the extent of it because, frankly, it was all a bit much.

Somehow I managed to keep swimming (see, there goes Dory again!). But in the car on the way home it was a different story and I couldn’t hold it in. I rang a very dear friend when I got back to my house, and was grateful when she picked up.

I got home from work today and a running vest had arrived in the post, sent from the charity I am fundraising for. I was excited as my triathlon kit is frankly a bit substandard, and had expected it to be purple as this is the Lymphoma Association‘s main colour. The vest had purple flowers on, but was bright, lemon yellow. My ex fiance was obsessed with yellow and during our relationship, yellow had gradually taken over my house. I have tried to avoid it as a colour, not consciously because of any hatred towards him, but just because it was his choice not mine. I love sunny, neon, acid bright colours, just not yellow.

Time to reclaim yellow as a colour I think….

Nightrider – long post alert

This post relates to my adventures on Saturday night when I took part in a 100km night time charity bike ride round London – organised by http://www.nightrider.org.uk/ . I was raising money for the Lymphoma Association as they are my aunt and uncle’s chosen charity. 

My uncle David (my mum’s little brother) had a long but successful fight against Burkitt’s Lymphoma in 2007-8, and earlier this year my aunty Laura (David’s wife) was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma. They are both young and it has been a huge shock to our family, firstly when David was ill but even more so when we heard Laura had been diagnosed as well.

This is a very long post but it was an incredibly special night for me, although very sad in places too.

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Saturday was a very busy day to start with – a very long wedding that I’d done a lot of preparation for. Once that was over, I did a drive by on Waitrose to get some nibbles for the ride (including a tough choice, Jelly Babies vs Dolly Mixtures) and then headed home. I put my head down and had about an hour and a half’s sleep – this wasn’t difficult as I am always wiped out after weddings. I faffed about, packed all my kit and was in the car by 7pm.
On the drive down to Gabriel’s, I flicked over to Radio 4 and heard Richard Branson talking on a fascinating programme all about his life and adventures. He talked about some very near death experiences on his balloon adventures, but most of all what struck me was that as soon as he finished one, he was straight on to planning the next.
My fantastic friend Gabriel lives in Crystal Palace, conveniently 5 minutes ride from the start of the Nightrider route. He had kindly volunteered to ride with me to the start and collect me the next morning. He also cooked me some dinner and put the lights on my bike – very much appreciated. I was bouncing around in my normal excited state and was probably being mildly annoying.


The time came and we headed off to the park. The queue to register was huge, but it moved quickly and before long I was at the start, bang on time. 23.55. We counted down from 10 and off we went.

The first stretch was quite dull bar a couple of fairly impressive inclines, but I managed fine and felt positive about the long ride to come.
A few miles in and my bike started to feel really hard to ride, I could hear a hissing sound and was afraid I had a puncture. I knew I couldn’t be that tired yet so stopped a couple of times to check things over, thinking my brakes were jammed. Even riding down hill where I should have been freewheeling, progress was still painfully slow.
I thought the first stop was meant to be at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, so planned to get some mechanical help there, but I gradually realised this wasn’t the case as we went past and then headed through Greenwich. Eventually as I got through Deptford there were a few other riders by the side of the road – so I stopped and asked for some help. Fellow rider #1824 very kindly helped me as we worked out the back wheel had dislodged a bit and was rubbing against the frame, no wonder it was such hard work. He dropped it out and tightened everything back up, and off I went again, and riding was so much easier this time!
The first stop finally came into view – not really realising where I was, I heard someone say we were at Tower Bridge and then as I turned around, it came into view, all lit up. 



It was about 1.15am so we had made pretty good time. I remember feeling a bit disappointed as I thought we were going to ride across Tower Bridge. I had a quick loo break, glugged some drink down and had a quick nibble then got back on my bike. One of the marshals directed us – “turn left and head over Tower Bridge” – I was thrilled. I’ve walked over it many times, been over it in cars etc but have never driven over it myself. There was a photographer there – the first shot I know I was definitely pulling a daft face but managed to smile for the second one so hopefully I will be able to find that online somewhere.
We headed through the City and progress really slowed, as there were so many traffic lights to stop at and at approx 1.30am, still a fair bit of traffic around. Plenty of people were still out and about and were asking what we were doing and cheering us on which was really uplifting – and incredibly funny in places!
We headed east out of the City into Canary Wharf which was pretty special – I’d been briefly before but this was a few years ago when it wasn’t so developed. Seeing it so quiet at night was very eerie. A policeman on the least secure security checkpoint ever cheered us on, and after looping round all the towers we then passed him again on the way out.
I’d started to feel a bit rough and had started to hurt round my stomach. I suspected my fetching bum bag was a bit tight – normally I wear it on my motorbike and snug is good so it doesn’t flap around. Not so in this case, and as soon as I loosened it off, I felt much better.
The next break point appeared at Mile End stadium, another quick loo stop here and another munch. A kind marshal topped up my water bottle and waved me off towards the next leg – past the Emirates stadium and up up up to Alexandra Palace. I felt cold getting going again after the stop but this didn’t last long and I was fine once I got going again.
Just after the stop, I saw another cyclist who had stopped and was struggling to hold her bike up while she got her pump out so I stopped to see if I could help. She was OK, just struggling with her coordination a bit, and I was struggling to get my words out – I was trying to say, are you OK, you look like you know what you were doing – but it came out as a right old garble and I realised how tired I was. It was about 3am by this point, so no surprise there. In the end she decided to head back to the Mile End stop, and I carried on.
The postcodes on the street name signs moved up the E numbers, and as I hit E3 I thought of my friend Zanna who lives in Bow, and felt jealous as she was probably snoozing away just feet away from us! I saw a bus going to Romford Market and saw signs marked A12 Chelmsford, and felt a bit flat that I was so far away from home.
As we rode across Victoria Park (on roads I’ve been down with Zanna many times in various states!), I could see the sky was starting to get lighter already. The E numbers got higher, then hit E9 which I recognised was getting towards Hackney. At one point I saw a beautiful fox, with the bushiest tail I ever saw, obviously not bothered by humans as he/she was pretty close to me.
Es headed into Ns and I knew we would shortly get to the Emirates Stadium. As football stadiums go it was certainly impressive but all I could think about was how big the climb was going to be up to Alexandra Palace. I’d walked up it a few years before but thankfully couldn’t remember any details.
I remember going past Finsbury Park interchange as my back started to ache here. I was then surprised to go past the actual Finsbury Park – felt a bit daft here as I didn’t know it was actually a real park!
So. A few little inclines and there it was, the unmistakeable climb up to Alexandra Palace. It was very long rather than being very steep, but it was hard going. By this point we had covered 60k/40 miles so were just over halfway. As we got nearer the top, people were starting to get off their bikes. While I really, really wanted to ride up, I am afraid to say I followed suit and walked the last third of the hill.
The sun was really starting to come up now and when we got to the top, we could see over the whole of London – the Shard and Canary Wharf on one side (to the right of photo), the City (on left of photo) on the other. It was very uplifting thinking that not so long ago, I had ridden past those areas that now looked so very far away.


Another quick loo stop, then I grabbed a drink by my bike. A guy started chatting, asking me who I was riding for. It turned out that not only was he also riding for the Lymphoma Association, he was actually someone I was in touch with via Twitter. I asked, was he Ian, Mel’s Dad, and he said yes. His daughter Mel had died a couple of years previously and he was fundraising and raising awareness of an organisation that had supported his family, just as I was. He is doing a 140 mile Coast to Coast ride this coming weekend!
Meeting Ian, my thoughts turned from keeping myself on my bike, to why I was actually doing the ride. It was a sad and very poignant moment. I thought of Mel and of Ian and his family, and was so grateful that David and Laura are still with us when so many others are not. Mel was younger than me when she died.
A quick chat with Ian, who was on his third Nightrider, revealed the distinct possibility of more, and bigger, hills around Highgate.
Sure enough, after some false hope in the form of going downhill, before long we began to climb again through some beautiful residential streets full of big old houses. This was Muswell Hill, then Highgate. I had to walk/push up two rather substantial hills. I was now regretting the fact that I hadn’t eaten more than a couple of dolly mixtures at Ally Pally. I doubt I would have made it all the way up both hills, but I might have done a bit better if I’d eaten a bit more!
We passed Hampstead Heath and Kenwood House – I remember my back was really starting to hurt by now.
The next part I remember was one of my favourite parts of the night. Hurtling downhill past Belsize Park station, I was on my own at this point, and was the only person on the road. This was very special and I really loved the sense of isolation and being out and about while everyone was asleep. I can only begin to imagine the hustle and bustle of that road during the daytime, but here as I whizzed down the hill, I could collect my thoughts a bit and knowing the hills were over for a while, I began to relax again.
We came through Camden, then began to head into the West End and I started to recognise street names. We turned onto Regent Street, which was a feast of union jack flags, left over from the jubilee. We came across Oxford Circus, past the big Topshop which is a huge part of my day job.
Then we turned onto Shaftesbury Avenue. The sun had really started to break through by now, and I was struck by the polluted haze of the city. We turned into Covent Garden, across lots of cobbles – an interesting experience riding across them and one I don’t feel the need to repeat!
Then across Waterloo bridge – had a quick photo stop here as it was pretty much daylight. According to the clock on Big Ben, it was 5.45 and the city looked beautiful. 



Soon after, we reached the final break stop at the Imperial War Museum. I made a point of eating here although I still didn’t really feel like it.
We set off again, this time past the Oval cricket ground. Having an avid cricketer for a father, I had seen this on the telly lots, but had never appreciated just how close the flats and houses are to the ground itself. After the Oval, we headed  back towards the river again, and just before we crossed Westminster bridge, I found myself behind Ian again. He stopped just outside Westminster Abbey and I carried on.
We rode down Whitehall, past all the memorials. Around here and Pall Mall, there was LOTS of horse poo – again left over from the jubilee. We rode past past Trafalgar Square and into St James’s. The traffic in the city was starting to get busy now, and I was amazed how many people were up and starting their days already at 6.30am.
At Hyde Park Corner, I took a wrong turn here – just one more arrow would have made things a bit clearer, but I definitely wasn’t the only person to make the mistake. I turned off down Grosvenor Place rather than going straight over onto Knightsbridge. Some people followed me, but I made to pull over and they stopped too. Fortunately someone knew where he was and where we needed to go.
The downside – he said “I’m sure we are meant to head up Knightsbridge past the Albert Hall and then past Harrods”
At this point, I’m afraid to say, my only thoughts were, I don’t want to see the f**king Albert Hall or Harrods, I just want to get to the end!
As we went past the Albert Hall, I thought of the last time I was there, with Donna to see Goldfrapp playing an incredible gig. This was actually the first time I saw an electric harp (before I started playing again) and I remember being very excited about it.
A woman at the traffic lights had said we only had 10k to go and I felt relieved. Then we headed past the museums, past V&A and past a little Italian coffee shop where I’d caught up with Paivi for a good gossip, then we looped back along Brompton Road – I barely registered Harrods! Finally we headed back over the river, across Chelsea Bridge this time.
It was starting to feel like a very long 10k. We started to see signs for Clapham and knew it wasn’t far. One of the marshals said it was now 6k to the end. There were a couple of minor hills, and the group I was cycling with at this point had gone very quiet. It was hard work for everyone by now. By this point I was counting as I was pedalling, just 1,2,3,4 each time. I used to do this when I was climbing and it’s surprisingly effective at keeping you going.
I pulled over at Clapham Common to text Gabriel to let him know I really wasn’t far away now. Back At the Imperial War Museum, I’d optimistically sent Gabriel a message saying I wouldn’t be long, but trawling round some of the most exclusive parts of London really took ages with the traffic. I could have cursed the woman at the Albert Hall – looking at the map now I think she meant 10 miles not 10k!
I rode past some bizarre shop called This and That and Something Else (or something like that) and remember starting to feel really really incredibly tired by this point.
Gradually more road signs said Crystal Palace, and there it was. The very last hill we all knew was coming.
I got up it via a mixture of riding and walking, and was mortified to be passed by a girl on a bike that appeared to have hardly any gears, and to add insult to injury her bike had a basket on the front.
I walked with another girl briefly, and mentioned about the basket, and the girl I was walking with said she was beyond feeling any shame now, and she just wanted to get to the end. I had to agree.
Sure enough, at the top of the hill, we could see the park which meant the finish point. We rode briefly down the hill and into the park. It was really busy with people collecting medals and getting in the queue for breakfast. The time as I came in was 7.53, so I had taken 8 hours to complete the ride.


Gabriel was waiting, flaked out on the grass, enjoying the early morning sunshine.
The weather had been unbelievably kind, perfect in fact. The previous week had been rain and wind, more rain, more wind, and I was really worried about what sort of conditions I was going to be riding in. I’m writing this now and it’s hammering down outside, so to have had a little window of no rain and no wind just at the right time, well I feel very blessed to say the least.

I saw a guy who I’d been in the queue with, who looked far more like a regular cyclist than I did, and I was pleased to hear that I’d only finished half an hour after him.
Gabriel took a couple of very unflattering photos but frankly, after being up all night, I doubt any photo would have been particularly attractive. I couldn’t stop rubbing my eyes, a combination of being awake all night and wearing contact lenses as well as a bit of smog and general dirt/grime. By the time we got back to his flat (up hill again!!!) I had very fetching pink eyes.
We celebrated with a G’n’T which I have to say, knocked me absolutely sideways. But after the buzz of finishing the ride, I figured something to get me off to sleep was not such a bad thing. I had a bit of a stretch, much to Gabriel’s amusement, and then headed off to bed.
The after effects? I was a bit stiff on Sunday afternoon, and had an ache in my right knee, on the exact spot where I landed after getting knocked off my motorbike when I was 17. I haven’t felt anything there in years so that was a bit strange. Back at work on Monday, I still felt a tiny bit stiff, noticeably if I had been sitting for a while. But other than that, I’m absolutely fine.
The ride was brilliantly organised (apart from a clarifying arrow that would have helped on Hyde Park Corner). The break stops were well manned and all the volunteers were so kind and helpful, doing their best to keep our spirits up. Not having done an event like this before, I didn’t have a clue what to expect, but everything went really smoothly and I have to thank all those involved.

Most people rode in groups but when I wanted to, I chatted as I went, and lots of giggles were shared at some of the nightlife going on around us, particularly after the Emirates stadium where a group of guys were laughing at us for stopping at traffic lights. It was great to meet Ian, and to take plenty of time to reflect on why I was doing the ride.
Mostly I was happy with my own company, lost in my own thoughts and enjoying the whole experience as I rode. I’ve never done a big organised charity event before, let alone such a mammoth undertaking. I did a few bike rides to get some training in, but harp events meant that this was probably not enough. Although, I doubt I would have got up all of those hills unless I was on a motorbike, regardless of how much training I’d done! 

Best of all, I’ve rediscovered my sense of adventure and am looking forward, Richard Branson style, to the next event. I hope to continue with my fundraising for the Lymphoma Association, and am looking forward to training for September’s triathlon.


If you would like to sponsor me, my page is still open – sponsorship page – it’s via Virginmoneygiving which is a not for profit organisation that distributes funds raised to my chosen charity. Every £ is gratefully appreciated.

For those who are interested, a rough guide to the actual route is here: