If I had to choose one mission to dedicate the rest of my life to, it would be this. To inspire and empower ordinary people, like you and me, to achieve extraordinary things, develop a robust self-belief, and overcome the fears, doubts and obstacles that hold us back.
Every year I run my annual London to Paris Sportive where 120 people join me from all over the world to take on the epic challenge of cycling 200 miles in 24 hours between two of the world’s most iconic cities.
A week before the event this year, Caroline contacted me saying she would be unable to come because her Stepfather was dying and she had just split up with her boyfriend. After a few emails back and forth, she said she was committed to giving L2P24 her best shot.
This event means so much to me, because I know it can change people’s lives, and seeing it in action, living that experience as it happens, is quite phenomenal.
A week after L2P24, Caroline wrote to me with her story. Today I’m sharing it with you, I’m sure you’ll know why when you read it. Don’t miss the end, I think what she says in the last few sentences is really powerful.
We all have fears, doubts, anxieties and limiting beliefs, but I hope this encourages you to know that we can become stronger than they are. We can achieve extraordinary things, and in the process, develop the strength to overcome the toughest challenges life sends us.
Caroline's email to me:
This is what you did for me.
Anxiety, you’re back again; slithering around me, enveloping me, suffocating me. I can’t breathe. I literally can’t breathe; shallow breaths. I can’t eat, I literally can’t put food past the lump in my throat and the knot in my stomach which is grower tighter and bigger as the new reality dawns. My mind feels like its drowning, blood rushing to my head and ears; flight or fight.... I can’t cope. I can’t do this. Not again. Not more loss. Not more anxiety. I’m pacing to keep sane, but I’m panicking. The London to Paris cycle is in just over a week. I can’t do it. I want to stay here, in the house, in my safe place, I won’t have the physical strength. I’ve lost my motivation. Tears, so many tears. My heart feels like it has cracked open as the tears flow and flow, hour after hour. My god, when will it stop. I can’t focus. I can’t think. I can’t go. I have nothing.
Greenwich Observatory. I’m here. I’ve made it. Somehow through the fog of grief, I got myself to the start line. Friends have supported this definitely. And so it begins. Me and a stomach full of anxiety, manifesting itself as burning and emotional pain, that I'm desperately willing to trade for physical pain, lets go.
An hour in and I can breathe for the first time in two weeks. A few hours in and the endorphins must be kicking in; with each push of the pedal, the inner demons are silenced; I am enough; I am here, I am doing this, I have got this....
Every time I look up I am reminded that one day I will not be able to do this; today is not that day. I am empowered.
I break away from my group and join others along the way to Folkstone; we chat, we share stories, I am feeling happier than I have in weeks.
Sophie joins me for a while, we chat, she uplifts me, she pushes on.
As dusk turns to dark and I continue to push out my pain through the pedals, I find myself alone. My anxiety is talking to me; you can’t navigate, you’re alone, it’s scary, you should panic. I decide that I have a choice; follow the story or embrace this moment.
I am brave, I am here and I feel alive. I decide to push forward, I’m following the arrows just fine, I’m cycling descents with courage, I’m out of my comfort zone, but this is what I’ve signed up for, this is what I need to feel alive; this is when I truly live in the moment and feel at my happiest.
I am greeted by a bubbly Canadian girl Fia, we eat our fish and chips; and we settle into the channel crossing. Finally a few broken hours sleep and the lights go on and we are at the hotel preparing for the second leg.
Mentally this is the toughest part of the journey. I arrive at first food station where I practically ingest the breakfast. I have never eaten so much food in 24 hours in my life; I cannot believe how hungry my body is.
I attach to a few others and we are now a group of 6 including Hamlet who is to become my wingman all the way to the Eiffel Tower. I begin to draft, I am breezing along, enjoying myself, enjoying that I’m coping with the lack of sleep, not feeling anxious. I’m fixated on the food stations and my mental strategy is that I am only focusing on the distance to the next one.
At the third stop, we are told there is only about 60 miles to go. Something in me shifts... I compare it to a few routes back home, I am excited. At the final feed stop, Hamlet says that we could be in Paris in two hours. He pushes his pace and I follow. We are now riding alone.
It rains, there’s a headwind but I’m enjoying the sense of pushing harder. 40 miles left, I want to push my limits. It’s hard, there are many hills. We cycle mostly in companionable silence. We pass an ambulance, one of the cyclists has slipped and had an accident. My anxiety jumps up and starts to party in my head "Oh it’s you next, something bad will happen." Sod you anxiety, you are not spoiling this day.
It’s now the final leg, 18 miles through the city of Paris. The style of riding changes; when we are at our most tired, we need to be at our most focused. We work as a group, six pairs of eyes and ears monitoring lights, roads, traffic, signage and watching each other’s backs. Ken at the front with hand signals, Fia shouting out clear instructions and Hamlet at my rear, watching my back and warning me of potential risks around me. He has had my back the whole way, even placing his light on the rear of my bike when I’d foolishly let mine run out.
We cycle the final few miles in torrential rain and wind, the momentum building as we know we are near the finish line.
As I head around a corner, to my right a huge iconic building suddenly appears, the Eiffel Tower. I want to cry, I shout, I "whoop whoop!" I see my friends standing at the roadside shouting and clapping. Oh my god, I have done it. I have made it through a busy city of traffic with the anxious voice in my head unable to get a word in as focused and felt a determination so strong and a belief that I can do this too. And I do. With these five humans who 24 hours ago were strangers, but who have become part of the most epic emotional and physical journey I have ever completed.
And there she is, Sophie. The lady who said ‘It is life changing.’ The lady who wants to inspire others to believe in themselves and to challenge themselves. She was right.
I have run marathons. I have learned to swim and I bought a bike and completed half ironman races. This journey was something incredibly special and unique.
I joined the start line with so much anxiety and limiting beliefs. Throughout the journey, I pushed through every one of them and more. The sportive gave me everything I love about life; movement, challenge, the opportunity to connect with and encourage other people. People who inspire me. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone is where I truly find myself; I feel free and completely at one with myself.
Fear and excitement live on opposite sides of the same line for me, they feel very similar physically. I am fortunate enough to have an inner drive and determination that won’t allow me to settle for an ordinary life. Therefore I have to take my fear which tries so hard to debilitate me and keep me still, and push myself to complete these challenges, because when I reach the other side, I feel so totally alive. It gives life meaning. The sense of positivity and self belief increases and I just feel that its all going to be ok. It gives me peace, It fills my heart and soul.
This adventure has taught me that I can achieve so much more than I ever thought possible. That happiness is a choice, I chose to find my way to the start line and I know that that choice has put me in a much better position to deal with the loss in my life.