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.
I don't feel guilty if I don't train for a day or a couple of days. I actually just really love it. I just try to listen to my body; sometimes I'm not good at it, but I'm trying to become a lot better at it. I know it's something I need to work on.
Properly switching off is a really big thing which is often hard when you've got work, and emails, and social media and everything going on.
When I do switch off, especially after a big challenge, I really, really notice the difference in being able to bounce back quicker.
Sarah: I think you've hit the nail on the head. It is all about getting that balance, especially working for yourself with your blogging, and your writing, and all the training that you're doing. It's so important that you do listen to your body. Just saying rest your body is absolutely great advice.
In terms of role models, do you have any inspirational women yourself who've really inspired you in your life?
Sophie: I am honestly inspired by everyday women that I come into contact with. I think the pressure and how much goes on in life, and all this having kids and managing everything, what I see people do I think is really, really phenomenal across the board. I just absolutely love seeing people set themselves challenges and set themselves something they didn't think they could do, it doesn't matter how big or small it is, and then going and doing that.
That smile, that sense of achievement, that opening up of the world to you, to thinking, "Wow, I did it," for me that is the most powerful thing in the world. That's my mission. If I can help people find, create and achieve that feeling, then that makes me very happy.
Sarah: That's fantastic. Because I've read your mission statement, which is, "I'm on a mission to show that challenges in the great outdoors are accessible and achievable for everybody."
I so agree with what you're saying. Sometimes people don't realize what they're actually capable of and what their body can do, whether it's running, cycling, swimming, yoga. It's just getting out there and pushing yourself both mentally and physically.
Everyday women, it's so true. Women have such tough lives at the moment, whether it's ... Everyone is trying to be perfect, and it's not necessarily the right thing to be doing.
What are the plans for the rest of this year? I know you mentioned a potential challenge, but would that be coming up in the next few months or is that going to be for the following year?
Sophie: Yeah, that would be for the following year. To be honest, there's been so much change recently. It's been just over a year since I left London and moved to Chamonix. With the Coast to Coast and changing jobs and everything like that it's been really ... I think it's taken its toll on me actually.
I'm just at the moment just kind of enjoying everything, and sitting back a little bit, and just focusing on my training and enjoying life and being with my friends and family.
Sarah: I think you first came to my attention, it was through Twitter and it was a few months ago this year when they were talking about "The World's Toughest Army" and that you'd actually applied for it.
I was wondering if you could just tell me a bit more about what happened in that instance?
Sophie: I applied for a TV program at the BBC called "The World's Toughest Army." Within about five minutes of submitting my application, I had an email back from them saying, "Thank you so much, but in keeping with the selection forces for the SAS we are not accepting women on this."
I was really, really upset about that, for two reasons.
One, obviously I just believe that women should be given equal opportunities. It's something that I care really passionately about and that I really wanted to fight for.
Two, there was no mention of it anywhere on the application form that it was only applicable to men. It just didn't really make sense to me, so I wrote about it on my blog and it got picked up by national press outlets and went a bit viral for a few days.
It was amazing, because a lot of people wrote to me and shared their personal experiences about similar situations. I just thought, "This is incredible. We can all come together, we can fight this together and hopefully drive change." A month later the BBC called me up and they said, "Hi, Sophie? Just to let you know, we've now changed our minds and we're accepting women onto 'The World's Toughest Army.'" So yes, they changed their minds.
I was so happy with that, and I know that a bunch of women were involved in the TV program, and I think they had a very awesome and very challenging time, and I look forward to seeing it on TV screens when it comes out.
Sarah: I think that's so fantastic what you did, because actually you did make a stand. By writing that letter, you really did help actually drive change forward.
I found it totally inspiring.
I know that you're partnered with a couple of some exciting and different brands. Are there any that you want to talk about in a little bit more detail, or share with us?
Sophie: I am partnered on the sport side with Adidas and Oakley, which I absolutely love. These brands, it's really important to me that they're behind my message and what I want to do, and that I can help them as well. I really love that, because I feel like they both work both ways.
I'm also partnered with a company called K2.
K2 work with businesses to help people think, prepare and perform like elite athletes. I'm an ambassador for them, and they kind of set me these performance challenges. It's amazing for me, because I can choose an area that I really want to perform better in.
The latest one was how do I mentally prepare for my next challenge. Some of the other ones have been around goal setting, or dealing with change, or making big decisions. They have all these extremely experienced coaches, in the business, and they work with me and we work through this challenge. Then I create some kind of content as a result of that, whether it's a blog or a video, and share that on social media.
Yeah, it's been amazing, honestly, the things that I've learned from that. Because for me, that is the underlying driving force behind all these challenges. I love the adventure, I love the fitness, I love the fun and sharing it with people, and the places they take me to. I feel so lucky. But what I learn about myself, and humans, and how we interact and what we can do, and about our own limits, I think that for me is really, really interesting.
Sarah: I think that's great, because I think a lot of people do actually, whether it's having a life coach or just having someone to talk about to help you prepare, especially because you are an endurance athlete and you do some incredible things. It does come down to that mental preparation.
Even for people who aren't into endurance sports and doing crazy runs or cycling great distances, setting goals and having dreams that they can actually achieve and break down, if they can work out how to do it and what they want to achieve, that's actually really, really important.
Sarah: I'm training for a race at the moment which is called the Marathon des Sables in....
Sarah: Have you heard of that one, in the Sahara?
Sophie: Yeah, it's epic.
Sarah: That's my next big challenge. One of the things I'm working on at the moment is my nutrition and my food.
How do you manage that for all of your endurance races? Are you high protein/low fat, do you balance out with carbohydrates? Have you spoken to a specialist about your training, or do you just sort of...
Sophie: I think it completely depends on how much control you have over the situation. I know that with the MDS, everyone carries their own food. You can tailor it completely to exactly what you want to eat.
Whereas take something like an Iron Man race for example, or even the Coast to Coast where I didn't have time to prepare food in the mornings, I would just have to eat whatever I could get from the next petrol station. I couldn't really be too picky. Are you talking about the nutrition and hydration on the event itself?
Sarah: Yeah, just in general. Are you protein heavy, or do you try to stay away from certain foods, or are you just sort of just trying to have a really balanced approach to it?
Sophie: Yeah, I've tried a couple of different things. What I find really works for me is sticking around a paleo diet. I do have carbs, but I don't have processed carbs like pasta and bread. Well, I try not to, especially living on the border of Italy. Sometimes I have pizza, but it's the exception to the rule. I just find that works really well.
I think for me, what I'm looking for is I want to wake up in the morning and I want to feel really energized. Food has a huge, huge impact on that. If I eat the wrong types of food that don't agree with me or don't give me the kind of nutrition and energy that I'm looking for, then I just wake up and I feel really sluggish in the morning. I did that for years. I used to go training after work, and I'd then come back and have a huge bowl of pasta. I'd wake up the next morning and I would feel really sluggish, and I thought it must be just because I'm tired and I literally just find it really difficult to get out of bed.
Then once I started to play around with my nutrition and experiment with things, and I wasn't eating a big bowl of pasta, then I basically focused my diet on more protein and fat, to just having loads of great vegetables and some meat and fish and that kind of thing. Then I woke up in the morning, literally wake up even before your alarm goes off. I can be full of energy, not all the time but sometimes if I'm really doing things properly. Then it really works.
Sarah: I think you've really hit the nail on the head, actually. I've tried paleo out, but I have to say sometimes a few processed carbs do slip through, especially if there's amazing bread around. It's like, "Oh, my goodness." That's my.....challenge.
Sophie: .....confidence training thing. I can't live with too much structure. At the end of the day, the reason that we do all these things is to enhance our lives. If it ends up being too structured and too much pressure, then it detracts from the whole point of doing it in the first place I think.
Sarah: Absolutely. I just want to take you back now to the Three Peaks challenge that you actually started talking about originally, when you added the cycling in as well.
Could you just tell me a bit more about that journey? Because it just sort of fascinates me, because I'm interested in doing the Three Peaks in 24 hours, just the walking. How did it come about with the cycling in between? Where did you start, how did it go, how long did it take you?
Sophie: We'd actually started.... We left at I think 5:00 am. We walked to the summit and back down. I think Snowdon you can do in like three and a half hours.
Then we jumped on our bikes and we cycled to the Lake District, and that was 150 miles. We'd go to bed at 10:00 pm, we went to sleep, woke up at 4:00. I had a puncture, so we fixed the puncture and then we cycled 40 miles to the base of Scafell Pike.
Then we climbed Scafell Pike, which I think is about four hours, came back down and then we cycled another 100 miles through the whole of the north of England, through Carlisle and up into Scotland.
......camped on the side of the road, about 11:00 pm at night, drank some whiskey, that was good, and fell asleep. Then we woke up at 4:00 again, got on our bikes. It was so cold, oh my goodness it was absolutely freezing. Sean's beard developed icicles and completely froze. We would go to these petrol stations and we would just like hover underneath the hand dryers, just going, "Oh no, please, I don't want to go outside." It was so cold, but it was the most beautiful morning. It was so stunning. Once the sun came up then we warmed up and stuff like that.
That day was 150 miles through the whole of Scotland, to Fort William. We got to Fort William, I'm not joking, I was ready to throw my bike in the bin. I was like, "I am not going up that mountain. There is no way I am going up .....right now." Sean was like, "Yeah. Yeah, you are." We went and had some Irn-Bru, and some fish and chips, and then I felt like a completely different person.
We started walking up the mountain, it was about 8:00 at night, and we walked up and it was about five hours up and down. Then the next day we drove back to London and walked into work the next day. It was like the biggest whirlwind of my life. I should have taken a day off just to chill out after that.
Sarah: I think you should have taken a day off to chill!
That just sounds incredible. Some of the challenges that you have done are absolutely amazing.
For everybody listening, do go check out Sophie's website, Challenge Sophie, "One life, live it." It's www.challengesophie.com.
Sophie, I know you're on social media as well. Do you want to share some of your links and what you put on Twitter and Instagram?
Sophie: Definitely. My handles are Challenge Sophie, it's very simple, on Twitter and Instagram. Facebook is /challengesophie.
I just wanted to say that I would really, really love to hear from anyone who's got any questions, or training for any challenges, or anything that you think that I might be able to help with.
What I believe is that we're all on our own journeys, and that by sharing different parts of the journey then we can help each other. That's what I'm there for. Just get in touch. I'd love to hear from you.
Sarah: Thank you so much for all of your time. I really appreciate all of your advice.
Just quickly before we sign off, have you got any tips and advice for the women and girls who are out there listening, who've been inspired by what you've been saying, all your different adventures? How can they get involved? How can they go and do their challenges? What would you say to that?
Sophie: I would say find something that inspires you, because that's what you need to get you out there, to do the training, to make the sacrifices when it comes down to it, with your lifestyle.
Find something that inspires you. There's so much you can do.
There's mountains, there's triathlon, there's cycling, there's walking, there's so many amazing challenges. Don't be afraid to go and do something on your own, because you will meet the most amazing like-minded people through doing these challenges and these events.
The last thing that I'd say is that if you're not already get on social media, because there's a huge community of like-minded people there. Everyone is there to help each other, and support each other, and to share their experiences.
Yeah, just enjoy it. Have fun, smile and believe in yourself.
That's what I would say, 100 percent.
Sarah: That's brilliant.
Thank you so much, Sophie, for your time.
I think what you just said there is find something that inspires you. Everybody is different, so whether it's running, cycling, yoga, Zumba, whatever it is, just do something that inspires you.
A massive thank you to Sophie. Please do go check out her website and her blog to hear more inspirational stories and more challenges, www.challengesophie.com.
Sophie, thank you once again for speaking to us today on Tough Girl podcast.
Sophie: Thank you so much. It's been an absolute honor. I really, really loved
speaking to you.