7th October, 2016

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Lessons from an epic challenge…

I actually wrote this blog with two intros. In the original I was sat in my office, sipping a nice cup of tea, focused on the day ahead. I had completed our mammoth charity cycle challenge and was reflecting on my experiences. The alternative was slightly different, as I wept in a state of exhaustion, considering the easiest way to crush my bike so that I never had to endure the same pain again. I am pleased to say its green tea actually, and my bike is safely locked up in my garage.

The plan for this challenge was hatched towards the end of 2015, with training planned to commence once the weather improved, essentially from March 2016. Prior to this, personally I had never sat on a road bike, let alone complete a 500-mile challenge. When I received the call and the challenge was set, the adrenaline junky inside me thought “yeah, how hard can it be?” The draw of raising money for charity is central to our objectives at DB Wood, highlighting our ‘work-hard play-hard’ philosophy, whilst ensuring we give back to the wider community. So with that goal in mind, our team stuck diligently to a packed out training schedule. After 6 months and 2,500 miles worth of training (which by the way is the distance from London to Baku, in Azerbaijan), with a trolley full of energy bars in the support truck, it was time to put ourselves to the test.

We began in Mansfield at 2:30am on Friday morning. Not known for being an early riser, it surprised me how up and ready (or maybe just nervous) I was for this. Going out via Cambridge we reached the 190-mile mark in no time (well 14 hours later, so quite a bit of time). I was feeling surprisingly good, and the team were progressing well…. I even felt the need to text my husband to say so. Of course, what I didn’t realise was what was left for the day; a 60-mile uphill section to Morten on the Marsh, in the Cotswolds.

With our bike lights fading and the darkness settling, our ability to avoid things such as potholes and dead deer dropped significantly. Suddenly the importance of attacking this challenge within a team became more apparent than I ever had ever envisaged. Having watched the Tour De France, I hadn’t fully understood the concept of riding in a group and ‘protecting the rider’, thinking that the one that cycled away on their own was the clever cyclist because clearly they were going to win with several minutes’ gap to the rest of the group. Now not only did we need to be shielded from the wind, but we needed to signal to each other in order to keep everyone on their bikes!

At my lowest point, with 10 miles to go to the end of day one, I could have easily stepped off the bike into the comfort of the support vehicle. The support team were our security blanket, our circle of safety and our chief motivators. Many of the team began to doubt they could complete the final session, and after lots of moaning and groaning (and a little sobbing from me), the leaders within our group gave us a final pep talk, and galvanised (but bedraggled), we made our last ascent.

Phew! We finished day one… needless to say tired and broken. Our group didn’t get much sleep that Friday night, and after waking up to heavy rain on Saturday morning, for health and safety reasons, unfortunately day two of the challenge was cancelled. I must admit that there was a part of me that was relieved and ultimately it was the right decision for the safety of the riders. So although we did not complete the 500 miles in 48 hours, we did achieve 253 miles in 18.5 hours, a feat in itself!

Reflecting on the challenge, I am asking myself why did I put myself through this? I think first of all it is always important to set yourself challenging goals. It focuses the mind and gives you a benchmark for success. Of course, the goal always has to be realistic, and we need to learn from mistakes along the way. Personally I think this challenge was at the extreme end of what’s realistic, but I’ve always been one to push the boundaries! What it did tell me is that I couldn’t have achieved the distance or completed the rigorous training schedule without a clear goal, regular planning, constant advice, specialist knowledge and large doses of motivation! These ingredients were all provided essentially from different members of the team. From the coach through to the health and safety team, we couldn’t have achieved it without each other. It taught me how powerful teamwork can be in achieving a goal; which is true no matter how big or small the challenge.

The real goal here was not 500 miles on a bike, it was to raise money for charity. When I look back in 20 years’ time, I will be able to remember collectively raising £9,000 for charity, with a group of great friends, doing something awesome. We all committed to the goal at the outset, the objective and focus was clear, and although it didn’t go entirely to plan, there are so many positive takeaways from the experience.  If we can all take some of this focus, goal setting and teamwork into our everyday home and work lives, then I am sure this would be to everyone’s benefit. Teams are all about the individuals within. Each must have a function, some more specialised than others, some more collaborative, and some more around structure and coordination. These roles were all evident within this group, making the team the cornerstone of our success. With the support of a focused team, I have learnt you can achieve great things, even when pushed to the limit… so let’s not stand still, lets push!