Meet Eleanor, self-confessed ‘transcon nutter.’
I meet Eleanor in a bright and breezy coffee shop by the river in south Bristol. The wind’s blowing outside in a nippy fashion, but in the Little Victories coffee shop, it’s warm enough for shorts, and in El’s case, a 2pm beer. I catch up with her on what she’s currently training for, how she’s doing it, and why, oh why.
“Let’s be honest. We can’t all be professional bike adventurers. I’m a real woman trying to have a real job, a life and an adventure. Stressing myself out about not doing it ‘by the book’ is not constructive. This is a personal challenge. I’m not competing against anyone else. I’m not racing against anyone else. I’m competing against me.” [Excerpt from Live in the Big Ring]
Q. What are you currently training for?
A. To ride 4000km unsupported across Europe at the Transcontinental Race 2017. [#TCR05] I am aiming to finish in two weeks, averaging 250km and probably around 18–20 hours of riding every day.
Q. That sounds brilliantly ridiculous, why?
A. Because I wanted to undertake a challenge that I didn’t know if I could complete. I don’t really know what I’m getting myself in for, I’m no Gareth Baines. (TCR x 2 finisher, placed 8th in 2015.) I’m just like ‘ahhhh!’.
Q. Why this?
A. I’ve been inspired by cyclists like Juliana Buhring and Emily chappell, but also from watching the Transcon race unfold in 2016. I was sat there watching dots online of the cyclists out there doing it, it gave me a restless excitement, I wanted to be a little pink dot.
Q. Have you ever done anything this crazy before?
A. No, not on this scale. I’ve done little things like swimming the English Channel as part of a relay and small bike packing trips as part of my preparation, the furtherest of which was Bristol to Paris in the middle of freezing winter, which is not advisable. The French countryside was sparse and I was cold.
Q. What do people who love you think about this?
A. My mum isn’t keen but she hasn’t told me not to do it, she just wants me to be to be safe. My friends mostly think I’m a nutter, but they are all being really supportive and understanding when I have had to pass on a lot of social events.
Q. What are you most scared of?
A. The elements that I can’t control, like wild dogs and bears. I’m also worried about the hills. (She means the Alps!) I’m not so worried about the people, because people who’ve done it say that they experience a lot of kindness from people on the way, I’m not worried about bivvying because I’ve done it before and I’m not too worried about language barriers of passing through different countries, if you’re polite to people and friendly then you can muddle through. I’m a blonde girl on a bike, so I shouldn’t look too intimidating crossing borders in Europe.
“The Transcon will either make me stronger or it will break me — I guess it all depends on how it unfolds. At the moment it’s a work in progress, there is no magic formula. I can’t stop my life and quit things, when the Transcon is over, I’ll be coming back to my life. So the training has to be sustainable around everything else I do.”
Q. Does the lack of sleep bother you?
A. It’s all about getting creative with napping. There was some research done by Team Sky that showed how a 40min afternoon nap can massively increase performance. Sure, you can’t sleep for eight hours, but you can get creative.
Q. Who inspires you?
A. My Mum. Whilst she isn’t an adventurer she shows real mental grit and determination with everything she does. She is strong.
Q. How are you fitting all of this in around finishing your thesis and working? Are you Superwoman?
A. No, I don’t really know how I am fitting it all in! I’m doing shorter rides of the right kind of zone training at the moment, and as the days get lighter I’ll build up the volume of training by commuting by bike. My social life has gone out of the window, and I don’t have anyone to look after, i.e. children — which makes it easier.
“I’m learning not to worry about things I cannot control such as being chased by bears.”
Q. How much are you cycling a week in preparation?
A. At the moment I’m riding 7–10 hours a week, balancing training with my thesis. After that’s done, I’ll be riding 400-600km over the weekends. But It’s not just about the cycling training, it’s also about the route planning, getting your kit ready, knowing what facilities will be available along the way, plotting out where the bike shops will be and where the stores to stock up on route will be — there’s a lot of preparation!
El’s preparation has, so far, seen her cycle solo across France in winter, back from weekends away by bike and commuting from Swindon to Bristol – and the miles only ramp up from here…
Q. How do you mentally prepare for something like this?
A. I’m learning not to worry about things I cannot control such as being chased by bears. Worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet is just anxiety and it’s not constructive. To help me prepare I’m reading the Chimp Paradox by Steven Peters and learning a lot about managing and recognising anxiety.
I know I already have a certain amount of mental resiliance because of the things I’ve done before, like playing rugby or swimming in the English Channel. It’s about learning to focus your mind on the moment and the task your need to achieve, rather than simply burying your head in it.