‘I’d never felt such a strong sense of achieve­ment’

In­spired to take up a phys­i­cal chal­lenge, Heather Tif­fany found her­self be­ing pushed in a whole new way

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Real Women -

I’ve al­ways en­joyed ex­er­cise, but never re­ally had a sport to call my own un­til I watched a film called Tracks. It’s the true story of a woman’s jour­ney herd­ing camels through the desert in Aus­tralia. It was an awe-in­spir­ing ad­ven­ture, and left me feel­ing like I needed a chal­lenge of my own.

A cou­ple of years ear­lier, we’d bought bikes for the whole family. I only ever used mine lo­cally, but my hus­band An­drew had done long rides and I won­dered if I could do some­thing sim­i­lar. I dis­cov­ered a sports­wear com­pany called FLAB was host­ing a sportive – the cy­cling ver­sion of a marathon – that was be­ing held in the York­shire Dales in six months’ time. You could choose be­tween the 25, 50 or 75-mile course. I men­tioned it to some friends, and man­aged to re­cruit a few of them to train with me.

Our first ride one cold Novem­ber morn­ing was a dis­as­ter. We’d barely made it past the end of the road when my bike chain fell off, and we were too un­fit to man­age some of the hills, so got off our bikes and pushed.

I don’t think I was pre­pared for how tough it would be on my body. After one ride, I felt so sick I had to lie down for an hour be­fore I could be up­right again; an­other time I was cy­cling up a hill so slowly that a run­ner over­took me. But my com­mu­nity of fel­low novices sus­tained me. I watched Youtube tu­to­ri­als about re­pair­ing punc­tures and chang­ing tyres, and we built up our fit­ness un­til we could man­age 10 miles.

After a month or so, the mus­cle burn be­gan to ease and my stamina im­proved. I could ac­tu­ally en­gage with my sur­round­ings – mar­vel­ling at the rolling hills and fields as far as the eye could see.

I loved feel­ing fit, but I also found cathar­sis in the rou­tine of ex­er­cise. Get­ting up and out on a Satur­day morn­ing felt like a se­cret only we were in on. Even on grey, driz­zly morn­ings, when it would have been easy to stay in bed, I’d drag my­self up and out. With the wind on my cheeks I’d feel the ten­sion melt­ing away, and I’d re­turn home feel­ing re­stored.

By the time the day of chal­lenge ar­rived in May 2016, I’d de­cided to at­tempt the 50-mile route. It took six hours to com­plete the course, stop­ping along the route for lunch. A few miles from the end, fa­tigue set in, and I won­dered if I’d make it. I re­fused to give up and got to the fin­ish line, ex­hausted but elated. I’d never felt such a strong sense of achieve­ment.

What started as a search for a chal­lenge has evolved into a pas­sion. As well as do­ing the York­shire sportive again this year, I’m or­gan­is­ing other long-dis­tance events. When I went out for my first ride my daugh­ter laughed to see me wob­bling down the road. Now, clad in my Ly­cra, and with the fit­ness to match, I mean busi­ness.

Cy­cling has be­come a pas­sion in my life

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