Our September athlete of the month, Jan, has gone from strength to strength every single month this year. If you’re looking for someone to inspire you to keep progressing and taking the next step, then look no further! With a cycle across the entire length of the UK, tower runs in Canada, and swim challenges in the open water, Jan has a whole host of adventures to share with us. So grab a cuppa and read on…
You’ve not long got back from the incredible John O’Groats to Lands End Challenge. Tell us about it:
I signed up to cycle John O’Groats to Lands End with Women v Cancer, a charity which fund raises for 3 forms of women’s cancer. Funds raised go to Breast Cancer Care, Ovarian Cancer Action and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. I had never thought of doing anything like this; the challenge coincidentally crossed my path in October 2016 in a period when a lovely friend from spin class, who had very recently lent me her bike and had taken me out to get me on the road as an adult cyclist, was diagnosed very late with a women’s cancer and died 5 weeks later. My ride came out of gratitude to her for her friendship and encouragement and to offer something, however small, towards ending women’s cancer.
I didn’t even have a road bike at the time I signed up. I had done the Tri Energy Go Tri training and duathlon in 2016 on a hybrid bike. I bought a lovely bike with my Dad’s help and had to learn to ride it, to clean and maintain it, to buy kit – lots and lots of kit! I built up my mileage through bitter cold winter rides which felt long at the time but feel like no distance now! I went on a training weekend with the charity in readiness for the ride and met the group leader, Damon Blackburn, and some of the ladies I would cycle with, learned how to ride in a group and how to deal with long hours in the saddle. When I came back from that, I made the transition to cleats and fell off 5 painful times in training.
I had to raise £3,000 before 28th July to be allowed to take part and achieved this, with lots of help from friends, family and the community. My fundraising is approaching £4,000 now.
The JOGLE ride itself was the most amazing experience. I had no idea how I would cope with 1,013 miles over 12 days – an average of 85 miles per day. Our longest day was 110 miles and our most climbing was 2,289 metres! My training really paid off and I found the combination of great leadership, lovely company, beautiful routes and scenery, superb food and good weather meant that many of the days felt effortless, even the long ones! I got stronger each day and coped increasingly well with hills.
I quickly found you need discipline and focus to cope with the routine each day that goes around the cycling itself. We were on the road from 7.30am each day, sometimes until after 8.30pm, so there could be less than 12 hours to clean and maintain our bikes, to shower, dry kit out, prepare for the next day, eat and sleep. I learned a lot about kit, nutrition, hydration, self-care and bike care both before and during the event.
When the weather was bad, it was much harder to keep morale going. We had 2 or 3 part days with driving rain, headwinds and dense fog, notably our last day riding into Lands End which was awful. I never contemplated giving up but if the weather on Day 1 had been like Day 12, it would have been a very much harder experience.
How did you train for JOGLE?
Women v Cancer provided a recommended training plan for cycling mileage, hills and strength training but I had a good base level of general fitness and strength from years of spin classes and more recently long distance running. I knew what I needed was to get road bike miles under my belt and I slowly built the mileage up, through the winter when weather permitted and into spring. My training partner, Dave Ashbery, would drive to Parkrun somewhere like Leamington Spa or Coventry with my bike on the back of the car and I would do Parkrun and then cycle the 30, 40, 50 or 60 miles home. Sometimes I would go via my mum’s house or my mum-in-law’s house to add on mileage and for a cake stop. Plus I’d do at least one shorter, harder hill ride each week as well as a back-to-back double spin session. My personal trainer, Deane Hart, also put together a weekly strength and resistance weights session for me, tailored specifically to cycling endurance. Deane is a keen cyclist and he took me out cycling and taught me road skills, climbing techniques and gearing. Once I had attended the charity’s training weekend, I knew I was going to be one of the fitter, more confident riders in the group and had no nerves. As the event got closer, I did back to back rides – 3 consecutive days of 30 miles per day one week, then 3 days of 40 miles the next week and so on, building up to 3 days of 60 miles. Then 2 back to back rides of 70 miles and a final one of 80 miles. A friend from spin class, Martin, joined me for some of these longer rides which were critical for building my stamina, gauging recovery and testing my kit. I am so grateful to Dave, Deane and Martin for their constant support for my JOGLE training and to my friends Lorraine and Emma who joined me for some of the rides.
You did The Birmingham Velothon shortly afterwards….how were the legs?!?
Great thank you! It was 4 days after JOGLE ended! Riding every day through JOGLE makes you stronger and I just had to clean my bike and do a bit of laundry when I got back. Most people thought I was mad but I had entered Velo before I signed up for JOGLE and I just felt ready for it. The mileage and hill profile were quite like Day 10 of JOGLE and although I am not a fast rider, I coped with it all just fine and finished in 9:16. Our JOGLE days had longer rest breaks.
Every month this year you just seem to be achieving the next challenge. From your first aquathlon at Teme Leisure in February, to an open water aquathlon at Cannock to your fabulous open water Tri debut at Deva Divas! Tell us about your favourite events and what you’ve loved so far this season.
This season has been full of new challenges because I have learned to swim. I’ve enjoyed every event I’ve done but, other than JOGLE of course, I am probably proudest of the Deva Divas Sprint Triathlon. I did better in each discipline than I hoped – I got through the open water swim slightly faster than expected and gained places in the bike and the run. Earlier in the year, I fundraised for a place in the World Wildlife Fund’s CN Tower Climb in Toronto which is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the 7th tallest in the world. I climbed the 1,776 steps in 20:34, well in the top 25% of women and the top third overall. The training for that has been the most intense I have done this year but Tower climbing has been great training for my overall strength and fitness. Also in Toronto, I ran the Spring Roster 8k on a beautiful crisp spring morning in a personal best time, with lovely running friends. I’ve also become involved with the new Worcester Pitchcroft Parkrun this year. Several running friends and I have all celebrated our 50th parkruns this year and I did mine there. I now go most weeks and have also become involved as a volunteer. There are volunteering jobs you can do before and after the run that also mean you can do the run and I like that.
What do you tell yourself to keep pushing when the going gets tough?
I manage my chimp! My swim coach, Sam Anderson from Tri Energy recommended I read “The Chimp Paradox” by Steve Peters and it is very helpful. It gives you techniques to manage the internal dialogue, especially when this is negative. I use it in all aspects of my life, not just in training and events. And on tough runs or climbs, I count steps or revolutions. I ask myself, can I get to 100 more? The answer is always yes and the landscape is always different once you get there.
Have you always been sporty? Has all this come naturally? Out of the swim/bike/run which do you love the most/least?
I never got into sports at school and was only moderately good at the stereotypical tall girl stuff like high jump and goal shooting in netball. I started spin classes with Deane in 2009 to lose weight and found I really enjoyed them. I had always thought I had the potential to run but early attempts resulted in injuries and I only got started in 2013 when I was away from home and couldn’t get to spin class. None of this has come naturally. My first spin class, my first personal training session, my first parkrun, the duathlon training I did with Tri Energy, my first open water swims, the training event I did earlier this year for JOGLE, all of this has been terrifying. And I am not fast at any of it. Swimming has been the hardest to master and I don’t yet enjoy open water swimming but I have grown to love pool swimming. Running is probably my favourite discipline but cycling takes you so much further and has much less impact on your body.
What would you say to someone considering a run/bike/swim challenge but maybe not taken the plunge yet?
I’d say to them what Tri Energy coach Sam has said to me on so many occasions and what I now always say to myself when I am faced with something new. “Give it a try!” That little phrase has taken me to so many exciting new places.
Finally….what’s the next challenge you’ve got lined up!
I have the Macmillan 2k swim at Cheltenham Lido on 14/10 and Birmingham Marathon on 15/10 and then have signed up for the Deva half iron man distance triathlon next June, as well as the Windsor Olympic distance triathlon. I tell myself that I am on a journey towards a full Ironman event but that’s a couple of years away yet.