Believe

You don’t always need to know you can do something, you just need to believe you can do it.  That belief will drive your motivation, your determination and your willingness to do everything you can to succeed.  (Or just bone idled stubbornness which I have in abundance.)

I didn’t know for sure I could cycle 132 miles but I believed I probably could.  I also believed (and confirmed this to myself frequently during the cycle) that this was an utterly ridiculous idea.

I packed my bags last Thursday night ready for my early start on Friday.  I was anxious and worried particularly given that the longest ride I had ever done was 44 miles.  I was about to do 3 times that non stop….by myself.

I started at 5.38am on Friday morning from my house in Surrey.  By the time I had got to my starting point in Peasmarsh I had cycled 9.5miles and already lost 2 bananas (they must be somewhere on a towpath near Guildford) and I had managed to also snot all over my face by attempting to clear my nose (sorry, and something I really dislike but is sometimes necessary) and failing. IMG-20170825-WA0000

The downslink route is a flat (mainly) almost completely off-road route along the line of two disused railways the first from Guildford to Horsham and then Horsham to Shoreham – then I tagged on the bit to Brighton pier for good measure.   It didn’t operate for very long in comparison to others closing in 1965 just a few months before its centenary.  Old stations across the route include Bramley, Baynards and West Grinstead with, the now private dwelling of, Baynards being a beautifully well kept heritage site the garden housing the two well maintained station platforms that used to operate here.  The steepest part of this route follows this station as the route avoids the Baynards tunnel (long since closed although the opening still obvious from the south side) – which makes you curse the fact you had to just go up an incline that felt like 90 degrees to get over it.

When I say steep, I mean ridiculously steep both up and down the other side.  I had to do that 3 times on this challenge.  I cycled up it the first.  That was the only time I could.

The rest of the inclines on the route were less severe although to be honest by the time I had done so many  miles anything steeper than a kerb seemed insurmountable.IMG_20170825_105337_497

I got to Brighton (the first time) about 10.30ish, 50 miles down and actually feeling good but I knew the worst was yet to come.  As I had essentially formulated this route for myself I then I had to also plan in rest stops, somewhere where I could check in with my other half and also switch round food, etc or things I didn’t want to have to carry.  At Southwater (for the second time) I was starting to flag desperate to get onto that last leg back to Brighton but that was still 20 miles away.  In my head at the time I really thought that maybe if I got back to Peasmarsh that would be it, did I really have to go back to Brighton again? How disappointed would people be?  But of course it didnt come down to that it came down to how disappointed I would be…I had to do it.

 

Then, at Rudgwick, under a railway bridge I was joined by my other half’s brother, Graham, he couldn’t have joined at a better time, I was flagging and grumpy and was desperate to get those last 10 miles back to Peasmarsh done.  As we went through Cranleigh for a water / banana stop I knew we weren’t far yet it seemed to take forever along the endless trail.  Not helped that it being an old railway it is also pretty straight so you can always see so far in front of you that it just adds to the thought that the trail will never end….ever.  Soon after Cranleigh though we heard the unmistakable ‘Pssst’ noise.  Puncture…on my back tyre.  A huge thorn had got lodged and instantly deflated it, we did as quick a change as possible and got back on our way but it felt like a set back.IMG-20170825-WA0009

As we got back to Peasmarsh I knew I still had 41 miles to go but at least it was all in the same direction, the direction of the finish.  Graham stayed with me for another 6/7 miles – thus avoiding the third time of going over Baynards tunnel (I don’t blame him) but I was grateful for the company on that stretch which I always knew would be the hardest.  I got to Southwater for the final time and I knew I could do it but I was tired, my shoulder hurt (I think I trapped a nerve) and everything on my bike was rattling.  Pepped up by some motivational words from Ali suffixed with ‘do you want another Snickers’ or ‘do you have enough water’ he told me he would see me at the end.  The end.  It was only 2 hours away.  2 hours.

By this point I could picture so much of this route in my head that I knew the bits that were straight forward and those that were going to be more challenging.  The stretch from Henfield to Bramber was quite frankly….a bitch.  Unconsolidated track with lots of loose stones that goes up and around the farmers’ fields before you get into Bramber.  This part of the route, not a dissimilar surface to a lot of the route, just particularly rocky, was like a slendertone workout for your arms – my fingers, arms, shoulders aching so much from the continued vibrations as I bumped along the track.20170825_162517

I passed two older guys taking a breather at one of the bridges before the farm track and about 5 minutes later the older one caught up with me.  ‘you slowed down?’ he questioned.  His mate had bet him that he couldn’t catch up with me.  I responded that I had done a lot of miles today, regaled my story to which he replied ‘wow, go on girl!’.  When his mate caught up the older guy said ‘do you know what she’s doing?’ as he then shared my endeavours to which he responded ‘you’re kidding’. Oh how I wished I was at that point, although the retort did make me feel like i was in some kind of bad sitcom. Delirium had indeed set in by this point.  They wished me luck and I sped on.

As I crossed the A283 at Bramber to get onto the nice gravelly track down to Shoreham which weaves its way down the banks of the River Adur I was reminded of the chap I had met earlier in the day off to get his morning paper who as he and I passed the ‘Shoreham 3 miles’ sign he turned to me and said ‘Funny thing, that sign says Shoreham 3 miles, so does the next one, and the one after that, its actually 4 miles from this point’.  He was right. Those next 2 signs did indeed also say 3 miles to Shoreham – clearly there was a discount if they didn’t change the wording on the sign.  I knew I was so close now to the end, I weaved my way from Shoreham high street down to the docks (NCN Route 2 in case anyone is interested) which takes you over the pedestrian lock.  This same lock which I was stuck at for 10 minutes in the morning coming back from leg 1 because of a massive cargo ship.  But I took my chances this time of a safer, albeit smellier and definitely not pretty route to the ‘front’.

British Airways have their 360o viewing tower a few 100m from Brighton pier, the problem is that you can see it for bloody miles.  I knew I wasn’t far but it was deceptive and by this point any energy I had was in trying to dodge the idiots that walk in the very clearly marked cycle lanes and concentrate on not blubbing like an idiot before I got to the end.

As I reached Brighton pier I saw my other half smiling and knew I had done it and I burst into tears. I had just cycled 132 miles…apparently for my own enjoyment (I think my body may have disagreed at this point) in 13 hours and 48 minutes including stops.

It was a very odd day, I felt like much of it was very surreal, meeting random (mostly very friendly) country folk, alone with my thoughts (turns out I am quite boring) and avoiding small dogs (and a few children) who in their attempt to get out the way do their very best to actually get in my way.

I had become a big fan of MapMyRide during  my training however at some point 1 hour 40 mins in I managed to pause it, not realising for some time and then getting grumpy that I had I just turned it off.   To mellow out my rage with this occurring I was delighted to see so many messages of support on all forms of media – the family WhatsApp group for example had so many messages it was difficult to catch up with them all. My particular favourite was a picture of my dad on his bike cycling the 2 miles to the local town ‘2 miles, no support vehicle – and back again’.  Thanks Dad…that definitely made me feel better.IMG-20170825-WA0004

It was a long old slog I am not going to lie there were many times I cursed at myself, the bike, the hill, the nettles, the lost bananas but that last leg knowing I was so close was the best feeling, that feeling of knowing I was going to complete this challenge made me want to get it over sooner…my legs just couldn’t pedal any faster than I did.  Dodging the Friday night crowds in Brighton was almost as perilous as trying to cross the A283 although I think most people could tell by looking at my hot sweating and dusty face that if they got out the way then things would be a lot better for them – including the girl wearing the ridiculous fluffy flip flops.

Even being told at the end that we needed to walk a  little way to the car…I didn’t care as long as I didn’t need to get back on the bike.

I am extremely grateful for all the support from everyone, those who put up with me delaying social occasions due to training, leaving early due to training or just for being the lovely friends (and family) that you are.  I would especially like to thank Ali for being my support vehicle, motivation booster, peanut bringer, snickers provider and generally lovely human being.   You stayed up all night (as did my parents) when I did the walk (and picked me up at 5am) and you took a day off to support me during this second challenge and spent most of it driving around the South of England – I know you are as relieved as I am its over but thank you I really couldn’t have done it without you! 😊

I have never been a sporty or fit individual, as I have said before, and it’s true.  PE was the only subject at school my parents didn’t care what grade I got.  But a challenge isn’t a challenge unless it pushes you so that’s what I did last year and pushed myself more this year.  I have trained hard, been focused and ever conscious I am not a quitter (although it has felt like I may as well be at times).  Its made a massive change to my focus and my direction and motivation towards what I do for MRKH Connect but also in life in general.

If I can do it, honestly anyone can.

I have raised over £1,300 in total so far (with donations still coming in).  Thank you so much to the bottom of my heart I really didn’t expect to raise so much after we raised such a large amount last year.   It means such a lot to me and will make a difference to a lot of what MRKH Connect has planned so thank you.

The challenges may be over for this year but the blog continues…

Lots of love

Charlie xx

IMG_20170825_195749_080

Advertisements

Monday Motivation

Dragging my bum out of bed at often very early hours at weekends, before work, at work, after work and even on holiday to train has been a challenge in itself but the end is within sight as I will be doing the challenge on Friday…this Friday (weather permitting).

I’ve motivated myself with the thought that I am making a difference not just to me but also doing my bit to raise awareness and also perhaps more selfishly motivated myself with the thought of a hot bath at the end of each long ride.

I’ve been humbled by the comments from friends and family who have not only been supportive of my crazy endeavours this year but who have also been inspired with their own exercise goals.  I hadn’t anticipated that particular outcome at all but it’s an unexpected pleasure to think I may have had a small part to play in helping them make changes to their life or perhaps rediscover a lost love for a particular sport.

I am reminded often why I am doing this through the ongoing conversations on the always very active support groups, to those through MRKH Connect or to reading shockingly poorly understood comments to a to be honest overly sensational article (apparently written by a woman, shocking in itself), about the struggles of an MRKH woman raising money for surgery.  Comments written by men who don’t understand the female form.  I don’t feel the need to rehash this when my friends at Global MRKH have written an open letter that so beautifully does that already (which can be read here) suffice to say that what it highlights is the need to continue to raise awareness for and of MRKH (and for biology of female genitalia and its formation to be better taught in schools).

As more of us are open semi-publicly or otherwise with the reality of MRKH there are still plenty who discover they have this condition and just don’t know where to turn, those that perhaps will never be comfortable with talking about it and of course on the flip side those who are perhaps not open but yet comfortable with it to the point they don’t feel the need to reach out for support in the same way as others.

There is still a long way to go here and a lot that is being done to improve that situation not just for us MRKH women but also for general public and more importantly the medical profession.  The same medical profession that can misdiagnose, not be aware of, or if they are, have absolutely no idea who would be a specialist for that girl/woman to speak to.  An already heart-breaking time can become scarier and more isolating than ever before.   Clearly something needs to change here – and of course MRKH is not the only condition that can be affected in this way and I am by no means saying it is special or a priority but it is one of the reasons to highlight the need for improved understanding particularly of a condition that isn’t really that rare.

I’ve said the word ‘vagina’ probably more times in the last couple of years than I ever did before that point.  I’ve said it in pub, over email, in blogs and even conferences (not MRKH related!) and on the London to Brighton 100km walk to my walking buddy Angela.

The more things are talked about, whatever they are the less taboo they become.  ‘Lady parts’ and their function are often in that ‘delicate’ category and of course the upshot is the effect of a condition in that delicate category does have a very real effect on the person who has it and therefore often talking openly is something very difficult and upsetting.

But there will always be some who are willing to put themselves out there and try and make a stand which is what a number of us have done in our own little way whether its through setting up charities, blogs, global organisations or crazy challenges to raise money and awareness.  It doesn’t take much when you think of it like that but it does take courage to get to that point.   That courage is inside all of us if we want to grasp it.

I am always happy to speak to others about it (those with MRKH or not). Everyone is different and deals with things differently but I am happy to share how I have handled certain situations (good or bad) or whatever is required to help support someone or continue to improve people’s understanding of the condition whoever they might be.

I will be doing the Downs Link cycle route on Friday which runs from Guildford to Shoreham and then tagging on a bit to reach Brighton Pier (plus of course getting to Guildford in the first place).  Then back to Guildford then back again finishing on Brighton pier sometime Friday evening – totalling ~130 miles  – it’s a route I’ve wanted to do for a while having lived in the area for some time.  A disused railway track converted into a truly picturesque, multipurpose and almost completely flat trail with quaint old stations.  I’m excited scared and looking forward to starting but also very much looking forward to it being over.

I will be trackable on the route most likely via Instagram / facebook – keep those messages of support coming in they really do help!

Nothing of what I have done has intended to inspire but it’s wonderful that has been the case.  Sometimes you just need to believe in yourself, make that change you have been dying to do, do that challenge and just find something that motivates you.  Never give up.  That amazing feeling, that drive and passion may be a slow burner but its there and it will make a difference.

This girl will

Charlie x

IMG_20170722_140255_686

If you would like to donate you can do so here

 

Challenging Challenges

Its fair to say that these challenges have been challenging both physically, mentally and emotionally.  The first challenge I knew what I was in for but it still didn’t make it any easier. The second was something I had never done before, never contemplated and I had never ridden more than 20 miles – and certain people will tell you what a grumpy human I used to be in doing that.

I am not going to lie the last little while has been difficult.  The long work days at my new job (which I do incidentally love) coupled with fitting in training and then the set back of the accident hasn’t helped.  It knocked my confidence more than I could really appreciate it would to be honest and I questioned whether I was really cut out for this and if I should give up.

But as I explained this in tears after the first ride since the accident, the chain having probably come off again, and every minor descent feeling like Mount Everest I was told ‘you’ll never give up, you’re too stubborn’.  Bugger, I thought, you’re right!

It is a truly horrible feeling and whilst not wanting it to get to me it did and it has and it has made training more challenging than before but has also made me more determined to try.  I force myself out at every opportunity possible (which has been very difficult at times) whilst also trying to allow myself time to rest, sleep, eat and maybe even have a social life.

I wanted to do these challenges for me and I have but I admit I will be glad when they are over and I can relax knowing what I have achieved on a personal level if nothing else.  I am looking forward to the feeling of knowing I don’t need to train so intensely and not panicking when for many reasons that is not always possible to do.  I may even take a few days off in celebration.

I have been truly blown away again by the support of everyone to me but also to MRKH Connect. If you were still interested in donating the page is still open (https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/makingmymark) and will remain so until after the challenge which is now only 2-3 weeks away – weather will determine the exact date!

I am fitter than I have ever been (and yes I know I said that last year) and the main reason for doing this has always been to raise awareness of MRKH.  Perhaps this year it’s more been about me and my own courage which hasn’t been intentional but I hope what it shows is never to give up.  Dreams and aspirations come in many different forms and we often have more than one.  Find out what yours is and work towards it.  You are always capable of more than you think if you let yourself believe you can do it but also give yourself a chance to try.

Love and hugs

Xx