Sarah: Hello, and welcome to the Tough Girl podcast, which is all about motivating and inspiring you.
Hello, and welcome everybody to today's Tough Girl podcast. I'm delighted to have Sophie Radcliffe with me from Challenge Sophie.
Hi, Sophie, how are you?
Sophie: I'm very good. Thank you. Very pleased to be here.
Sarah: Excellent. Where are you at the moment?
Sophie: I'm in Chamonix, in the French Alps.
Sarah: Oh, that's fantastic. I actually saw some of your photos you put out on Instagram, and the views just look absolutely stunning.
Sophie: I'm going to admit, it's not that difficult to make the photos look really good out here, because everywhere you are around Mont Blanc it just looks amazing.
Sarah: It does look absolutely stunning. I'm delighted to have you with us today.
For those who may not have heard of you, how would you describe yourself?
Sophie: That's the million-dollar question.
I would describe myself as a totally normal person that loves to go out and push limits and push my limits in the world of adventure and endurance sports.
A couple of the challenges that I've done over the couple of years have been ... I've done a lot of London to Paris in 24 hours cycling. That's one of my favorite ones. I've done the Iron Man Challenge in Wales twice.
I learned how to climb mountains and become an Alpine mountaineer, and then last summer I combined that with my passion for cycling and set this expedition to cycle the length of the Alps and climb the highest mountains in each of the eight Alpine countries along the way, which I call the Alpine Coast to Coast. That was undoubtedly one of the most challenging and amazing experiences of my life.
Sarah: Have you always been very sporty? Is it always something you've sort of grown up doing?
Sophie: No, I've not. I went to school in Central London, in Knightsbridge, and we had zero sports facilities. We lost at everything. When I say losing, I don't just mean kind of losing three-one. Sometimes we'd lose like 21-0. It was so bad, but we had all the motivation and enthusiasm to go out there and practice, and to go to all these matches in whichever sport it was. Even those this might sound a bit like a cliché, I really think that was really instrumental in me developing a self-competitive spirit, and wanting to go out there and challenge myself and be part of sport, but without necessarily needing to win.
Sarah: What first got you into your adventures and your challenges? What pushed you into this direction?
Sophie: After I graduated from university, I moved back to London and I had started a job in sales. As I'm sure many grads do, I was going out a lot, going to the pub, and I wasn't really doing much fitness but I really wanted to. I had a bike; I was commuting to work on it. I decided, "Okay, I really want to get fit." I'd always had this motivation, this deep, deep inspiration to do something that I thought that would really, really challenge me, that I thought was completely something that I couldn't do.
When I was younger, I always had this dream of swimming the English Channel. I guess that dream just got put in a drawer and became further and further away.
When I graduated from university, I thought, "Okay, well maybe I could go and go a challenge," because I needed something outside of my work. My work wasn't enough. I always felt like there's got to be more, and I wanted something to focus on to motivate me to get fit. To focus on that, that would change my habits.
Sarah: I think that's really interesting, what you just said actually, because I do know a lot of people who maybe were sporty at university, they move down to London, they start their jobs and then they're suddenly in this crazy lifestyle where they're working 10-12 hours a day sat behind a desk. You just don't have the time or the inclination, no matter how much you want to do it. It's just actually finding it and doing it is a real challenge.
I love that fact that you obviously made quite a gradual change when you moved over into doing these different challenges.
How did you come with the idea for the Alpine Coast to Coast?
Sophie: I loved cycling. I'd spent a couple of years coming out to the Alps in the summer and learning to climb in the mountains. I thought about the idea after I did this ... Do you know the National Three Peaks Challenge in the UK? I'd done that a few times. Then one year when I met a friend of mine, Sean Conway, he asked me if I wanted to go and do the Three Peaks, cycle in between them over three days. I thought it sounded like the craziest thing I'd ever heard of, and so off I went and did it with him. It was the first time that I'd done something consecutively over more than one day, so it kind of made me think, "Whoa, okay, maybe I can do something that is more than a one-day event, or a two-day event, or a three-day event. Maybe I can do something that's longer."
I just absolutely loved this combination of these two different sports, because I felt as though with cycling, once I've been on a bike for ... cycled 150 miles or been on it for more than 12 hours, it hurts so much to stay on that bike. Even though I had energy in my legs, my whole neck, and my bum, and my back and everything would be really painful. Then we got off it and we'd go and start climbing the mountain, and it's using different body parts and a completely different experience. I was able to go on for another five to 10 hours and climb up this mountain. I loved that, and I thought, "Ooh, maybe there's something here."
I got the maps out, got the thinking cap on, and came up with this idea to basically do the Alpine Coast to Coast. I remember getting my spreadsheet out and putting in all the mountains and the distances I had to cycle, and worked out what kit I would need to buy. Then I just let that spreadsheet sit there for a year, at least, and I continued my job and my life in London. Then one day I just said, "Today is the day. This is the time. I've got to make this happen. Of course it's going to be scary, of course it's going to be big and it's a huge risk."
I felt that in order to do it I needed to be in the Alps to train for it, so we moved to Chamonix. Which was always our dream anyway, to move to Chamonix, but that was a huge risk that we had to take, and a big commitment, but that's what we did. We packed up everything, quit our jobs in London, moved to Chamonix last May, and then in August set off on the Alpine Coast to Coast.
For me, I worked in banking for eight years before I decided to change and leave my job. It's so inspirational having people out there who've actually done it.
You've done all this planning, you've got this spreadsheet full of information, you know all the mountains and the distances that you're going to be doing.
How did it all come together? How did you get that start date when you said, "Yeah, we're going to start here, this is it, this is when I'm going to do it"?
Sophie: This might sound a bit silly, but I'd already committed to doing Iron Man Wales, which was on the 13th or 14th of September, and I really wanted to do that. It was my second year going back to do it, and I knew a bunch of people who I'd spoken to throughout the year who were going to do it, so I was like, "I really want to go back and do it." I kind of backtracked from there. I thought, "I.....this challenge, I would love to do this challenge in a month."
I just basically fabricated numbers, literally. The whole thing is so insane when you think about these things, because there's no rules when you go and do something that you have no idea what it's going to entail, how you're going to feel, how far you can cycle each day. You just fabricate numbers. That's all you're doing, is just guesswork. That's what I did. I picked the first of August as the start date, and I thought, "Maybe I could cycle 150 kilometers a day, and this is how many days that might take."
By the time that we got to day 15, we're halfway through, we were already five days ahead of schedule. That was quite confidence boosting. Then I had an accident on Mont Blanc. I fell over, and I had to go back down and rest and recover and stuff for a day, so I kind of ate back into my time that I.....at the beginning.
Sarah: I'm actually, I'm on your website, which is www.challengesophie.com, and it's telling me that the Alpine Coast to Coast is eight countries, seven summits, 1,653 kilometers and 51,016 meters of descent. Obviously you were already incredibly fit because you were training for the Iron Man.
How did you mentally prepare for this challenge? Because a month of cycling 150 kilometers a day, how do you even prepare for that?
Sophie: I think that is a really interesting question, and it's one of my favorite topics to think about, to work on, and to talk about as well. For me, mental preparation is so important. It's more than half the battle. Something that I did that I really focused on before the Alpine Coast to Coast was what I called confidence training.
Instead of setting myself and saying, "Okay, well, I've cycled up this mountain in 45 minutes, today I'm going to go for 40 minutes," or whatever it is, I would just go out and I would do the best I could to make sure that I came back and I felt confident, and positive, and strong. I thought, "If I come from this place and I can wake up tomorrow and I can address this challenge, and my training, and my outlook on life and everything that I'm doing, from a place of feeling confident, and positive, and strong, then that's going to be the biggest motivator for me to want to do more training but also just basically facilitating more of those feelings."
That's what I did. I went out on my bike and I did what I wanted to do. I had awesome, fun times. I went on the mountains, I did big challenging routes, and I just focused on just enjoying it. For me, that worked incredibly well. In terms of mental preparation, I think that there is so much that goes into that. The worries, and the anxieties, and the fears, it's basically like going through that process and not just trying to reject those but understanding what they are, finding a way to manage and control them, and saying, "Okay, I acknowledge that yes, of course I have these huge doubts." That I might get to the start line and I might panic and think, "There's no way I can do this." I might get to day five and be absolutely shattered and not be able to do this.
Of course I had all those doubts, but I had in me a bank of tools. Those tools were like my...
I set myself a challenge because it was the biggest thing I could possibly dream of and I wanted to see if I could do it. If so, how was I going to motivate myself to do it? That was the challenge for me. Then also other things like, "Okay, if it becomes too much, yes, I can take a day off." Or, "If I fall over, I know that I'll be able to look after myself." My husband was there with me, and we did all the climbing sections together. We partnered up on the climbs.
Just knowing that you've got your bases covered and whatever happens, the world isn't going to end. You're going to be able to find a way out of it. That self-reliance on your mind, and your body, and all the tools you've got in your toolbox, that's what really helped me prepare mentally and also get through the challenge.
Sarah: I think that's absolutely fantastic advice that you're giving, like confidence training. I think so many women, especially young girls, do lack confidence.
I love what you just said about how you've got to acknowledge it, and then manage it, and control it. That's really, really great advice out there, even for people who aren't doing sporting challenges but anything that's going to affect them mentally.
You obviously have a real passion for cycling. You've done London to Paris, and you recently arranged an event this year where you took a group of people, didn't you?
Sophie: That was my first event at Sportive. I had 70 people sign up, and we cycled from Greenwich to the Eiffel Tower in 24 hours. It was really, really phenomenal. It was amazing. If anyone wants to sign up, I'm going to be doing the same thing again next year. The website is londontoparissportive.com.
Sarah: Fantastic. Did you keep 70 people all together, cycling in one formation, or was it broken down into different groups?
Sarah: Yeah, it was broken down into different groups. It was fully supported. We had fully catered food stations, and we had mechanics, and the whole route was arrows. If someone got separated from the group then they could find their way on their own. It was really, really nice. People were saying it was so much more like a real team event rather than..... find yourself cycling on your own.
Sarah: That sounds absolutely fantastic, so potential future challenge out there for everybody who's interested in doing it.
What about you, in terms of what's going to be your next challenge or your next adventure?
Sophie: I have recently gotten into trail running, running in the mountains. I just absolutely love it because I find it really free. Yeah, I just love it. I just put my shoes on, and my shorts, and just go and run. I don't have to pack my bag, or worry about risk, or routes, or anything like that.
It's really inspired me to think about running a mountain range, and I've got my eye on the Pyrenees. I'm thinking about linking up a few of my favorite sports with swimming, and cycling, and running the Pyrenees. I'll leave the rest up to imagination and....
Sarah: Wow, that sounds absolutely amazing. That's just incredible.
You're obviously super fit already, but what ... I know you do the running and the cycling, but do you do strength training or yoga, or do you mix it up?
How do you balance your training so that you don't end up over training?
Sophie: Yeah, that's a good question.
I do strength training, and I think strength training is really important for building ... I find it so amazing for building endurance and also for injury prevention. We do kettle bells, swing the kettle bells.
With over training and injury prevention, I basically like ... I love training and I love going out and doing big challenges, but I also love just chilling out and living, and going and having nice dinners, and just doing all the stuff that's in between that.