Challenge of a bike ride

SURROUNDED by skinny men dressed head to toe in Lycra, hunched low over their racing bikes waiting for the starting gun, I suddenly had the feeling of being an imposter.

I hadn’t meant to be right there at the front of the Great Notts Bike Ride with the serious guys. I wanted to be in my rightful place at the back.

But after being taken to the starting line for a photo, I suddenly found myself hemmed in by hundreds of riders, all eager to take on the 48-mile challenge route.

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I was worried that I’d get mown down in the rush and wanted to call out that I wasn’t a cyclist, I was just doing this ride for work, so please feel free to go past me.

I needn’t have been concerned though.

Once the racers had shot ahead in their fancy club jerseys and cleated cycle shoes, the rest of us, in our Marks and Spencer leggings and unfashionable trainers, were able to settle into our own pace and enjoy the ride.

I say enjoy. That might not have been quite the verb I would have chosen if you’d asked me how I was feeling when I was struggling to breathe halfway up a steep hill that quite clearly belonged in the Tour de France.

It was shortly after tackling this monster that I was joined by Maxine from Nottingham, who had seen me shaking out the pins and needles in my hands and came alongside to sympathise.

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We ended up cycling about ten miles together, chatting about the benefits of bikes and exercise, and the need for plenty of padding on our backsides.

Twice we were overtaken by men calling out to us to “stop yakking, you’ll go faster!” but we shrugged off their competitiveness. Didn’t they know it wasn’t a race?

The camaraderie among the riders was great, and I got talking to several people, some of them seasoned veterans of long distance cycling and some first-timers like me.

One guy noted I was riding a Land Rover bike and thereafter kept shouting “here’s Land Rover again!” every time he saw me.

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The organisation was superb, with plenty of marshalls making sure we were on the right route, and several feed stations providing refreshments and toilets.

When I finally rode down the home straight after four hours and 45 minutes - with two breaks - to see my family waiting for me, I felt quite emotional about achieving my goal.

I’m not a sporty person, although I do go to gym classes, so to receive a medal for completing a physical challenge was an amazing feeling and I was on a high for the rest of the day.

But, at the risk of sounding like a cheesy Oscar winner, I couldn’t have done it without the generous support of other people.

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Trevor Halstead, of Church Street Cycles, Gainsborough, let me borrow the Land Rover Ascot hybrid bike which has carried me faithfully for several hundred miles.

He and Dan Nicholson took me out with Aegir Cycling Club, enouraging me from day one to believe in myself.

Thank-you to everyone who sponsored me and helped me to raise around £250 for children’s charity CLIC Sargent, Cerebral Palsy Sport, RNLI and Notts Scouts - four worthy causes chosen by the ride organisers.

I would recommend cycling to anyone wanting to keep fit.

Maybe I should aim for 100 miles next year? Double the fun.