January is a time to get focused on your challenge ahead, if you haven’t already. It can be a daunting, nerve wracking prospect (not just the cycling, but the fundraising too), but we know from years of experience that it’s eminently achievable. So we decided to talk to someone who’s done it all before – and helped hundreds more to achieve it too.
Our very own Kate is based up in Edinburgh and has been helping Sarah to run the Tour de Force/Le Loop since its public launch in 2012. She’s ridden from 2 to 4 stages on three tours – most recently in 2016 when she tackled stages 17 to 20 in the Alps (including the Etape du Tour stage). She’s planning to ride a couple of stages this summer too.
Kate also fundraised in 2016, setting herself the additional challenge of not asking a single friend, colleague or aquaintance simply for a cash donation. Instead, she tried a different, less direct fundraising method each month, from cake sales to sponsored spins and raised well over £3,000.
- Can you briefly sum up your general level of fitness, lifestyle and family commitments?
I’m a 47 year old busy Mum with an 8 year old son and husband. I work part time for Le Loop and do a couple of other bits and bobs of work too which all gets crammed in around school runs, kids activities, friends and family, keeping a house etc – life is busy and full. I love to trail run and ride my bikes (commute to school, mountain biking Scottish trails and of course the road bike). I’ve always been active and while I’m no whippet, I’m fundamentally quite strong. My fitness fluctuates of course, but my endurance is never too hard to claw back. I really really hate turbo trainers.
- How do you approach your training in a year when you’re riding Le Loop?
Philosophically! I’m busy and it just have to fit in with everything else that is important – so I have a keen eye for spotting a training opportunity and squeezing it in.I have a turbo trainer that a 2012 Grand Looper gave to me – and I loath it, but in a Scottish winter it can be a necessary evil. I’ve been known to attend a spin class too. However, I’m much more likely to pile layers on and head to Glentress (Scottish mountain biking mecca) or the nearby Pentland Hills for a hard workout on the mountain bike than risk icey roads in lycra from December to March. I commute on the bike to school daily and trail run regularly.In a perfect year, I do the odd swim and some pilates to help with my ever-decreasing flexibility.As soon as the clocks change, I’m out on the road bike regularly (and before, whenever there’s a bright weekend day). By the end of March I want to be able to clock up 70 mile rides, so it’s a fairly quick increase in mileage but I’m often at a Le Loop training ride in March and the fear of being tail-end-Charlie goes a long way to getting me out on the bike in preparation. By the end of April I aim to have ridden at least one 100 miler and I’ll have started to fit in at least one long evening ride a week – aiming for 3 hours as the long Scottish evenings stretch out. I also start to ride at least one early morning each week, heading out at about 5.30/6am for 1.5-2 hours – back in time to shower, grab breakfast and head out on the school run. I keep trail running at least once a week for 1 to 2 hours.
In May I usually ride in the Etape Caledonia – 81 miles as hard and fast as I can. Teamed up with a ride the day before or after, it’s now that I build up the all-important ‘back to back’ rides (I may even have managed one in April if I’m lucky). At the end of May it’s the Tour of Wessex which is probably the most valuable weekend of training in my whole diary – 3 days back to back of hard, hilly, sociable riding with TDF/Loopers old and new. Whether I’m riding the long routes or the shorter (still pretty epic!) routes doesn’t really matter – it’s the getting back on the bike each day that matters and pushing hard. I can’t recommend the Tour of Wessex highly enough. If you can’t make it – mock up your own long weekend of big hilly miles over the bank holiday weekend, wherever you are – it will massively pay off when you hit the roads in France.June is pretty full on in Le Loop HQ, so I aim to maintain my fitness, which is made a lot easier in Scotland by the long bright days. By the time I reach France, I’m raring to go!
- Is it enough? Well I reckon I could always do more (over training isn’t something I’ve ever fallen foul of – though plenty do!) but the above plan will get me over the course with minimal discomfort (inevitably) and I’ll still be able to look up and enjoy the view from time to time. I’m never near the front of the pack, but I have a lot of fun towards the back!
- How do you prepare for the mountain stages?
“Hills are your friends”. I get the map out and I look for closely spaced contour lines! And then I go and ride them. There’s no point avoiding hills – that’s just denial. They accelerate fitness like nothing else I know. It’s the same with my trail running – if in doubt, bash up a big hill. If you don’t live somewhere so gloriously mountainous as Scotland, work out a good hilly circular route and keep repeating those hills. Set yourself challenges, play mind games, race a mate – but whatever you do, ride hills.
- Give us your top riding tips?
Even the most focused and motivated rider is going to have off days. I rely heavily on my husband persuading me out of the door to train on cold wet days and I arrange to do most of my rides with a mate – I don’t want to let them down, so I don’t even consider the option of bailing out. So my advice is to get your family/friends/colleagues on side and ask them to keep a check on whether you’ve done your training sessions and to support your efforts, as well as find folk to ride with. A cold wet day on the bike is made much more bearable by good chat and a sociable coffee stop en route.
Wear kit that keeps you comfortable – decent over-shoes, gloves and waterproof all help to get you out of the door and staying longer on the bike. I don’t have a Garmin or use Strava, but I know that lots of people find these incredibly motivating and helpful. If it works for you – why not use it?
Eat, drink & rest well – on and off the bike – and give yourself recovery time. My husband is an ironman – he talks alot about ‘jelly beans in the jelly bean jar’. In other words, you have only so much energy – when you use it up, you need to replenish it with food and rest. It’s not just time on the bike that uses up the jelly beans – it’s stress, work, family etc. Don’t end up with an empty jelly bean jar!
Find your motivation – when you’re half way up a Pyrenean climb and your legs are empty, or you’re finding it hard to do the next training session, where does your soul search? Do you think about family? Epic heroes of the Tour de France? A famous explorer whose book you just read about losing their fingers and toes to frostbite (that’s got to be worse than this, right?)? What inspires you? Add to this list the kids we’re helping through the William Wates Memorial Trust, because believe me, if you think you’re suffering (while doing something you love, out of choice) then there is nothing more humbling than remembering some of the stories of the kids we support.
Watch this extraordinary TED lecture from one of the WWMT grant recipients:
6. What are your top fundraising tips?
First things first – if you haven’t already, set up your Virgin Money Giving page asap. It really doesn’t take long. Put a profile photo up there. Share it on facebook/instagram/Linkedin/Twitter. Add the link to the bottom of all your emails.
Get organised and be bold. Don’t leave this to the last minute because you need to reach 80% of your target by the end of April. Plus, from April onwards you’re going to really want to be focussing on your training and not on organising a big fundraiser. Get started now. Be innovative, try to find ways that avoid simply asking folk for cash donations (though of course, if you have generous contacts with deep pockets, ask away!). Remember to explain to supporters that you are paying for your participation on Le Loop from your own pocket and their funds are not going towards your ‘holiday/sufferfest’. Share stories from the charities (via our posts on facebook is easiest). Be prepared to invest the time now so that you’re not worrying about it while trying to hit a 200+ mile week on the bike.
This is not a 5 mile fun run that you’re doing – and don’t assume that people understand what you mean by ‘I’m going to ride 3 stages of the Tour de France route’. Spell it out to them. Give them stats. Talk about saddle sores! You will be surprised to know that your own encyclopaedic knowledge of the Tour de France is not shared by regular folk – so you really do need to explain to them exactly what it entails. They’ll think you’re mad of course – but that’s quite useful when you’re asking for donations!
Think about your audience – by that I mean that you have your friends, family and colleagues that you can approach, but there is also the big ‘general public’! For example, setting up a static bike in a shopping mall or supermarket accesses a huge potential audience of donors. Try it!
Check out our fundraising resources page for more ideas.
7. Any final words of wisdom?
Enjoy it! Seriously – appreciate every second of it. Most of us don’t get the chance to do something as huge as this every year. It’s an incredible opportunity, so make the absolute most of it. Be as fit as you can be so that you can soak up as many views out on the road as possible. Raise as much money for WWMT as you possibly can, because your sense of satisfaction is going to be all the greater when you realise it’s not all about you (or the bike!). Your Le Loop legacy is not just a fitter, leaner version of yourself, but a bunch of kids getting a chance in life that they didn’t have before you decided to don your lycra!
Life on tour is absolutely about living in the moment – something that is so difficult to achieve in our crazy, hectic lives. Le Loop will stay with you for a very long time. Be excited!!!
See you on Tour!