In her own words, Gina shares more about who she is and why she's developed a love for cycling.
I spent most of my childhood in Essex, I am one of four children although due to a big age gap I’ve grown up like a single child and I don’t remember a time when we all lived together as a family. I spent much of my childhood outdoors; my Dad was a keen sailor.
I’ve always loved horses but it wasn’t until I was about ten that I got to have lessons, finance and my mother not being able to drive had a big part to play.
I was terrible at sport at school, always last to be picked for teams. Riding really was the only sport I was good at but sadly not on the school curriculum.
My Dad finally bought me a horse (Mr Darcy) when I was old enough to work to pay for his keep. I produced him myself from a youngster and competed locally and nationally mainly in dressage although we did occasionally jump. He was very successful in the show ring but had a horrible temperament on the ground – how I never got seriously hurt was a mystery!
I had to have him put to sleep after he broke his leg fighting, he was always injuring himself and bouncing back, bit like a cat with nine lives but not that time. I always gave horses my all and it was a lifestyle not a hobby. I even did a BSc in Equine studies. Although I’ve never worked in the equine industry as I was offered a fast track management position at Tesco. My life consisted solely of horses and my social life went with that. I met my husband through horses as he was my farrier.
Getting into cycling
When Mr Darcy went so did my life. I spent more and more time in the house and became unhealthy and unfit which was when I first heard about the Cycle to Work scheme from the maintenance man at work. It was only meant to be a way of saving a bit of cash on petrol and helping me to regain some fitness and lose some weight. Life was also pretty tough as my Dad had been diagnosed with dementia and at the time he was still living at home with my Mum.
Shortly after buying the bike (winter 2014) my husband suggested I join a local Cycling club to help me meet some friends – I had left my old ones behind in the world of horses.
At that point it was only intended to be an occasional trip out on a social ride with the group. In fact I believe there was a conversation that went along the lines of ‘I’ve no problems with you going out with them on the odd Sunday ride….!’
After the second week and a harder paced ride I decided to start riding mid week as well as commuting and riding with the club on a Sunday. I started knocking up the miles and it wasn’t long before I was riding at least 100 miles each week.
I found cycling was a great stress relief as my Dads state of health deteriorated and he was eventually placed in a secure facility (where he lives today in the advanced stages).
Her 1st Sportive
I entered my first sportive in the February, it was 60 miles and the longest ride I had done to date. I was nervous about doing it and wasn’t sure if I could do the distance, longest ride before that was about forty miles with a café stop. It all went well distance wise but I did have an incident with a suicidal cat that ran out in front of me causing me to hit the tarmac hard. I broke my helmet in the incident (although I didn’t realize at the time) and took a hefty impact on my elbow knee and head. I was determined to carry on, I had about 10 miles left, so I did and came in with a gold time.
After that I booked lots of sportives that year (2015) and completed my first of many centuries in the April. In the October some friends and I decided to push the boundaries and ride a 150 mile ride. None of us had ridden that far and we choose a ‘three leaf clover’ shaped route so that we were never that far away from home if we ran into trouble. That was the start of my love for ultra cycling and really where the addiction took hold. In my first year of cycling I completed 11,000 miles.
Goal for 2016!
I upped my mileage over the winter setting myself a target of 15,000 miles for 2016. I also set myself three goals for that year, one to break the ladies distance challenge for the Tilnar challenge, (previously 150 miles).
I completed 225 miles in the allotted time. I also did the Tour of Cambridgeshire and I wanted to qualify for the Amateur World Road Championships in Perth, which I did, even with a lengthy stop at the feed station.
I had decided to travel light and only take one bottle which was a mistake when riding fast through the windy fens and had to stop to top up. I also made arrangements for a lift to the event with the plan of cycling home, although stupidly I didn’t check where it started and instead of starting in Cambridge like I had originally thought, it started in Peterborough so ended up doing another 40 miles home on top, making the total mileage for the day in excess of 190!
I got home well past midnight, hungry and tired but my wonderful husband had stayed up and cooked me dinner when I got in.
Completing a 24 hr endurance race
The final goal was to compete in a 24 hr endurance race for which I choose Revolve 24.
Never, ever, for one minute, did I think I would win the event. It was a total shock and by far my biggest achievement to date.
The strategy was to ride at my pace and knock out as many miles as possible and it paid off, I’m not a fast cyclist but I do have a powerful diesel engine and a very stubborn streak!
I rode in total 309 miles on three Muller rice pots, a packet of Wotsits and a couple of cans of coke! I ended up doing just over 16,000 miles in total for 2016.
Until the end of last year I hadn’t had any help or advice with my training or nutrition. I had just done my own thing and ridden lots of miles – although I have done the mileage and spent hours on the road in many terms I am still a novice.
I don’t look after my nutrition as I should do and I don’t drink nearly enough left to my own devices. I also didn’t do any stretching or use any recovery techniques. Rest days were unheard of, I cycled every day. I now have a training plan and a nutrition plan.
Plans for the future
Going forward I have my heart set on RAAM, the pinnacle of ultra cycling, (plan to qualify for that this year and complete in 2019 once I have raised some funds).
This year I will be doing three 24 hour events – Le Mans, Mersey TT and Revolve 24 as I intend to secure myself a place in the top five international women for the Ultra Marathon Cycling Associations 24 hour distance competition.
All three are also qualifiers for RAAM. I am also doing London- Edinburgh- London at the end of July (900 miles) and I will be doing it over three days to practice back to backing long days in the saddle.
I have a target of 20,000 miles for this year (so far I’ve done in excess of 2,500 miles and am currently in fourth place for the Ultra Marathon cycling associations year round standings) and since the end of 2014 I’ve cycled in excess of 30,000 miles.
This year is about making a name for myself and getting out there.
All this has escalated from the Cycle to Work scheme; I had ridden a bicycle in my youth (backwards and forwards to the stable yard) but never actually cycled.
I had to Google how to change the gears on my first bike as I really had no idea! And although I thought I was fit when I rode horses I really wasn’t, so I owe everything to that scheme including my sanity.
Gina will be sharing more of her story on the Tough Girl Podcast on the 9th May.