Friday, 28 June 2013

London to Paris 2013 - Cycling Challenge for Homeless International

I have given birth, run three London marathons, and won a bronze medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand (and not in that order), but I can honestly say that none of them compare to how I felt during and after my bike ride from London to Paris earlier this month.

I turned 40 last year and wanted a challenge to mark this occasion, and cycling to Paris sounded like “fun”. So myself and two colleagues signed up to raise funds for the great work that Homeless International do, whilst cycling 316 miles.

Being a novice cyclist, I had to conquer a number of challenges: buy a bike, get used to cycling on the road, not being too self conscious when wearing padded lycra shorts, learn how to change an inner tube, and learn some cycling routes. I trained really hard from January onwards, out in all weathers, and completed my first 100 mile race in Stratford Upon Avon a week and a half before I left for London. That was a significant milestone for me and gave me a big confidence boost as I waited at 6.30am with 79 other cyclists on Blackheath Common, London, the familiar start of the London Marathon.

I wore my Welsh shirt with pride on Day 1. We covered 87 miles from London to Dover and then onwards to our hotel in Calais. We faced torrential rain 10 miles prior to Dover and, fittingly enough, it continued as we got off the ferry from Calais. The hills were also another challenge on Day 1 which left my legs exhausted as I hit the bar in our Calais hotel that first evening. I heard Stella had healing powers! We’d been up from 5am and arrived at the hotel at 9.30pm that evening... a very long day.

Day 2 saw us travel from Calais to Arras – another 83 miles in the seat with the most awful weather conditions and hills. 30mph winds against us for the first 50 miles and torrential rain for the last 30 miles. Drowned rats doesn’t come anywhere near describing how we looked and felt after Day 2, but the sense of team spirit and unification bonded all the cyclists together.

Day 3 was described as one of the easiest days for us, but this is where I hit my wall or “bonk” in cycling terms. I felt every one of those 81 miles. Whilst the rain stayed away, we were followed all the way by 30 degree heat. During my 7 ½ hours in the saddle that day, I did doubt whether I would be able to make it. I was pulled through by my fellow cycling buddies and also by remembering the overwhelming support I had at home. I made it to Compeigne for a well deserved Stella or two.

Day 4 should have been the easiest day with only 65 miles, especially with the lure of finishing at the Eiffel Tower. However, I felt sick for the first 30 miles or so. Again, my team mates kept with me, enticing me with hugs, jelly babies, and lots of banter. So at 3pm, after cycling 316 miles, I fulfilled my turning 40 challenge by hoisting my bike over my head with the Eiffel Tower as my backdrop.

This challenge was not only physically tough, but also mentally tough. I found demons in my head playing tricks with me. Starting out at 7am and trying not to count down the miles. Being away from my 12 year old son was also hard. However, the sense of achievement and accomplishment and the knowledge that I’d raised £4,200 for Homeless International made it all worthwhile.

Things I’ve learnt from the challenge? Stella does not have healing powers. Lycra padded shorts are a godsend. If you ever get your cycling shoes wet, put newspaper in them and they will dry overnight.

The luckiest thing that happened to me on the whole ride was that I didn’t get a puncture. 316 miles, puncture free, until I put my bike in the garage when I got home and noticed my front tyre was flat. How lucky was that?

My next challenge will be walking the Three National Peaks in July with a group of work colleagues to raise funds for Diabetes UK and then the Cardiff Half Marathon in October. And now that I have the cycling bug, I’m sure I will be entering a few races between now and December.

The hardest challenge I think I face is… not having a challenge!

Phillipa Knowles
Director of Central Services

You can still sponsor Phillipa and Homeless International here.


  1. Well done on your efforts Phillipa, truly inspirational.


  2. Thanks Nick and also to The Colour Works for your generous donation. I now have a new found love for the Green Army - but slightly different from yours. Catch you soon. Phillipa.

    1. well done Phillipa will get you a large glass of red next time we all get together from Tich

  3. Well done Phillipa! Great effort and no excuse for me now when my bike arrives in the next week:-) Steve


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