Monday, 30 November -0001

WHY I’M GETT ING ON MY BIKE

Cycling shorts? Tick. Vaseline? Tick. A 1,000-mile ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End? Really! Well, it is for a good cause, says Fern Britton

Written by Fern Britton
At the beginning of the month, having just published my fifth novel, A Good Catch, I embarked on Challenge57. This is a 1,000-mile bicycle ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End to raise funds for Professor Robert Winston’s Genesis Research Trust and its work in isolating the reasons why women suffer miscarriages.

This means cycling 57 miles a day – give or take – arriving at the destination three weeks later on 21 May.

Robert’s been spearheading the trust for 30 years now, although I’ve only been a part of it for 10 or 11 years. I first got to know him when I was having trouble falling pregnant in my first marriage; he’s famous for his fertility treatments. As it turned out, my twin sons, Harry and Jack, were IVF babies so I have much to be thankful for.

It must have been 2004 when I first saw the advert inviting people to Cycle The Nile (an appeal set up by Genesis Research Trust) and I immediately thought it would be a fun thing to do. Then I happened to mention it to the producers at This Morning and they said they wanted to send a film crew to follow my progress. So suddenly it became a big thing.

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My younger daughter, Winnie, was two at the time and this was the first opportunity I’d had since she was born to go out and get involved. I was 46, very overweight and exhausted. I was doing this for charity, yes, but I was also doing it for me. The only responsibility I had was to get on my bike and cycle. That was it, although having a film crew in attendance turned it into something different.

The Nile ride wasn’t too hard in comparison to the UK challenge. We arrived in Egypt, got to the river and there was our boat with everyone assigned a cabin. The next morning, we woke up and our bicycles were waiting for us on the riverbank. We cycled off while the boat sailed down the Nile to rendezvous with us when we’d completed that day’s ride. Then we’d repair to our comfortable cabins. And so it went on for four or five days. Easy-peasy.

It’s not like that on Challenge57. We cycle roughly 100 kilometres a day and have to carry our things with us. It was me who came up with the idea this time last year. I rang up the charity and said this was something I’d like to do. And, within two days, it had become a reality.

I’ve done a charity bike ride pretty much once a year now for the past decade. The next destination after Egypt was India, where we cycled through Rajasthan from Agra to Jaipur. We’ve also visited Cuba, Sri Lanka and Jordan, my favourite. It was hot, dusty, arid and mountainous but absolutely breathtaking as we cycled through biblical cities like Petra; heat doesn’t bother me but I find humidity draining.

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China, by contrast, was freezing cold up in the mountains where you were engulfed in mist all day long. We all came back to the UK with chest infections. There can be between 30 and 90 of us volunteers, lovely women who cycle alongside you and tell you their stories. You forge great friendships, you keep physically fit and it does your head good.

Vietnam and Cambodia proved a particularly tiring challenge because the roads were long, straight and flat. I know that sounds great but it isn’t because you never get a chance to freewheel; you’re pedalling away all day, every day for hours on end. There was wonderful scenery, though – we finished up in Angkor Wat – but it was exhausting.

In South America, we cycled on the Pan-American Highway up to Costa Rica and on into Nicaragua. That was amazing. There were monkeys in the trees as we cycled more than 250 miles in five days. As a result of all these trips and the money we raise, we just might help to crack miscarriage.

I always wear padded cycling shorts, a good pair of trainers and make sure I have a plentiful supply of Vaseline. You very much don’t want any chafing if you’re spending hours every day in the narrow saddle with a hole in its middle to ease any pressure.

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I trained more than ever before for the UK ride because it will be the longest I’ve ever done over the most amount of time. In the normal course of events, I cycle every week to keep in the swing of things and because it’s good exercise. My legs and stomach are quite strong as a result. So good things are coming out of a good thing. It’s all win win.

I’ve also been going to the gym for a couple of spin classes and two weight-training sessions a week. And I’ve been running in preparation for the ride. It’s taken me 18 months to be able to complete five kilometres in just over 36 minutes. It makes me red in the face and sweaty but I’m quite proud of myself.

This is the first time we’ve undertaken a cycle ride for the charity in the UK. And although the trust works to finance medical research and teaching in the fields of gynaecology and paediatrics, it was decided to make miscarriage the focus of the funds raised because everyone understands that. I was told that £32,000 was all that was needed to complete the research on 200 samples from women who had suffered a miscarriage. But I said that, if we’re doing Challenge57, because I am 57 years old and I was born in 1957, our target ought to be £57,000. And I’m delighted to say we’ve already exceeded that target by appealing to the existing supporters on the charity’s database. I don’t want to tempt fate but it looks as though we’ll reach a six-figure sum. Fingers – but not legs – crossed!

To register for donations, visit: fernbrittonchallenge57.com or call 020-7594 2158. A Good Catch, by Fern Britton, is published by HarperCollins, priced £12.99.


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