‘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
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