Lanware’s James Tovey set himself the ultimate challenge to raise money for a charity close to his heart, Parkinson’s UK. Currently there is no cure for Parkinson’s and 1 in 37 people in the UK alive today will be diagnosed with it in their lifetime. James felt compelled to help this charity and has just completed an incredible sponsored cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats in just 9 days, cycling a gruelling 980 miles and raising over £2,700 on his Just Giving page with the support of Lanware to help fund vital research.
Mind over matter
It all began early on the 9th September, when James pedalled off from the remote South West corner of the British Isles in Lands End to begin his epic 980 mile journey. There was no gentle introduction to his trip, it was tough right from the start. After cycling 106 miles on the first day, James admits that this was his toughest , “Day 1 was the worst day by far. Having left your comfortable life behind and not having slept very well in a tent the night before, day 1 brings to life all the discomfort you are about to suffer for the next 9 days. Most of the day for me was spent wondering how I was going to complete this epic challenge if this was how I felt when I was supposed to be fresh!”
It was at this point that James realised that it wasn’t just a physical challenge he was undertaking, but actually a mental one. It was becoming more of a psychological endurance event as he began working out how best to get through each day mentally. Waking up on the second day feeling completely shattered, James realised that he needed a new approach to get through the challenge, “The morning of day 2 brings a whole new outlook. The body still aches, the discomfort is there in spades but my mind had just shoved this to the locker of ‘things I can’t really do much about’ and instead life is boiled down to short little segments, generally revolving around food. 35 miles until the first morning’s stop – food. 35 miles until lunch – food. 35 miles until camp – hot shower and yet more food.”
Fuelling the body
Food not only became a focus to get through each day, but was essential to ensure James had the physical strength to complete the challenge. Because he was burning so many calories having to cycle 7.5 to 8.5 hours a day, his daily consumption needed to be way over his usual intake of food. James says, “It is incredible how much food you can actually eat and not put on weight.”
So, what was on the menu on a typical day? He kicked off with a helping of porridge with peanut butter & Nutella (a not to be missed combination apparently!), followed by a full English fry up of bacon, sausage, baked beans, fried egg and toast. A large morning snack of a tinned tuna salad, crisps, mini cheddars, chocolate bars, a banana and tangerine kept him going until lunch, when he ate all the same again!
James also had a pre-dinner snack of slices of toast, houmous, ham, cheese and coleslaw and finally his last meal of the day usually comprised of either Thai curry, ratatouille and fresh vegetables. And not forgetting a couple of slices of cake to finish off the day as a reward for all his hard work!
And just to ensure he never went hungry, eating on the bike also became a necessity, so easy to eat food such as bananas, granola bars, skittles and minstrels were on hand to keep the energy levels up throughout the day.
Such an overload of food meant that it was difficult to adjust his calorie intake once he got home and he clearly couldn’t maintain such enormous meals in real life. “I’m not sure whether it’s the body trying to repair itself, the habit of eating that you have to re-wire or just having really enjoyed being able to eat all of the time, but it is impossible in those first few days to resist that trip to the fridge/cupboard!”
The great British countryside
When it wasn’t the food keeping James going, it was the beautiful countryside that he was able to experience throughout the journey. From Cornwall & Devon, to Shropshire, the Lake District (which surprisingly is the half-way point) and the Borders and Highlands, the scenery constantly surprised him. But did James have a favourite stage in the journey?
“For me, Scotland was my absolute favourite. The Highlands, especially (when I could see them through the wind & rain) were breath-taking. It got to the point on the final day travelling from Balblair to Betty Hill that I would stop to take a photo of a beautiful vista only to have to stop 2 minutes later because there was an even better one just around the corner.”
When James finally reached his destination, he didn’t quite know what to expect up at John O’Groats and was actually surprised how the scenery and terrain was much flatter compared to what he was expecting. He adds, “There is very little up at John O’Groats. Not surprising I suppose as it’s a long way from anywhere. Aside from the hotel and the sign, there is very little around.”
The ultimate fitness workout
Nothing can really prepare you for such an extreme physical challenge, but James was pretty confident that he was aerobically fit enough from his running, even though he hadn’t done much cycling this year. Interestingly he became fitter as the challenge went on from all the cycling, rather than becoming more fatigued. The cycle ride actually became a fitness workout as he goes on to say, “Having been roughed up by the hills of Cornwall & Devon in days 1 & 2 and then having a few gentler days through Somerset & up to Haydock, by the time I hit Scotland, I was in great shape, flying up the hills and feeling fairly invincible despite the successive 5am alarms & broken sleep having camped each night.”
Friendly support to help him on his way
James would openly admit that the worst part of the challenge was the actual cycling! Even though the views are incredible and the sense of achievement huge, it was actually about the people that made this such an amazing experience. Such friendly support gave him the boost he needed to keep going as he explains, “The time spent off the bike with the friends I travelled with, meeting new friends that we regularly cycled with on the trip, re-connecting with a fellow Norfolk boy that I played hockey with for the county, over 30 years ago, a uni friend joining me for a cider in his home-town of Edinburgh. The cycling is a means to an end, becomes monotonous and is in truth the one thing you want to end. I’d be happy for the trip to go on for much longer, just as long as the cycling wasn’t mandatory!”
The sense of achievement for James as he reached John O’Groats was massive. All the hours of cycling (and eating!) meant that he has raised £2,700 for Parkinson’s UK. This money will fund research and help improve the lives for people living with this debilitating condition.
The relief of not failing or letting anyone down was almost greater than the achievement, which leads him to suggest it’s not something he would repeat anytime soon! As he states, “the thing I remember most was the relief that I’d not failed or let anyone down that had been kind enough to sponsor me.”
Parkinson’s is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world and currently there is no cure. If you have been inspired by James’ experience and would like to support this worthy cause, then please follow this link on Just Giving.