The first meeting with team Adventure Syndicate lasted about five minutes, and was what I would call the perfect introduction.
Lee Craigie had kindly made her way to Girona station to transfer the weekend arrivals to the training camp. Magdalena and I were welcomed like old friends and when I let Lee know that I fancied cycling the last 15 miles I was neither doubted nor discouraged.
Instead she let me know that there would be a bunch of like-minded souls waiting for me on arrival, and left me to it.
In that moment I knew that I could rebuild my bike, cycle through the night on the wrong side of the road and take in whatever this weekend would have to offer.
For me that was the moment of being enabled – if there is someone who believes you can do something, than believing in yourself seems a whole lot easier.
On arrival at Mas Pelegri I felt instantly at ease. It was a perfectly peaceful spot and, most peculiarly, a place where pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago used to stay. A place linked to the pilgrimage I did with my daughter on chunky urban bikes a year ago. The very journey that started my passion to cycle. Was this a coincidence or destiny?
Standing on the balcony and gazing at the mountains through a clear starry night, I realised I was about to become part of my own favourite story – a story that seemed to write itself and had many exciting chapters. The first page was right in front of me.
The next day held a solo ride with Emily Chappell in store, as the other ladies were on their recovery day. Tinged with excitement, I curled up to sleep.
It’s easy to become discouraged. The endless long winter in the UK with its fog, muddy roads and icy mornings had sucked the fun out of my cycling.
Here in Spain neither of those conditions were to be found. Unfortunately that meant that I had no valid excuse to descend at the speed of a two-legged tortoise. In fact I had landed in a descender’s paradise.
Emily somehow managed to break down the whole downhill experience into digestible chunks. Of course there is no instant cure for poor technique but good has come out of it in the long run. On my return to the UK I noticed that my personal records are starting to come in whilst flying down hills.
Riding with a more experienced cyclist is a fantastic chance to learn. I will forever have a Chappell voice in my ear: 'Use the whole road, outside long, inside short, look where you want to go.'
Encouragement goes a long way. When I cycled back from the camp to Girona on Sunday it was like it was throwing myself back onto my old path, but at the speed of light. My first ever ride over 18mph. (Maybe the tailwind helped a little bit too.)
Everyone has boundaries, as well as the ability to move beyond them. My boundaries usually move when I see someone taking on a challenge that I consider almost impossible and completing it effortlessly.
The first experience of this nature was seeing Karen climbing the arctic Pyrenees in shorts. She paced it so well that even the wiry-looking lycra warrior who attempted to pass her struggled to keep up.
I count myself lucky that she has since been in touch wanting to tackle The Shark 200k Audax with me. The 3,200m of climbing will be a walk in the park with her relentless legs as company – at least I keep telling myself that.
And I would have never expected to meet the woman who won the TransAtlanticWay Race last year.
Paula shared invaluable insights about the race and gave me clues for how to complete the challenge. The 2,500km is going to be mainly wet with lots of headwind – well wind from all directions really. The number one luxury by the end of each day is one item of clothing that has somehow been kept dry. The best roadside mattress is bubble wrap and the main aim (next to endless pedaling) is to eat constantly. When Paula told me how much weight she lost on last year’s race I realised that I will need the daily calorie intake of a horse to keep my little body going. Nevertheless, I am already looking forward to bumping into her in Dublin in June, although there might not be time then for hour-long discussions about unconventional sleeping arrangements.
Back at Mas Pelegri, my coaching session with John Hampshire made me realise that using a heart rate monitor might be a great addition to my training. Sure enough, it has become my new favourite toy whilst training towards improved endurance.
And as for the insignificant training rides – I had to go on one today. Alex was in need of a recovery ride after breaking speed records on Zwift and this time he turned out to be an insult to my heart rate.
It has been a unique experience to be part of the training camp and with all the new insights and motivation it gave me every day has become a valuable new puzzle piece towards the race in June.
The next months will see increasingly longer rides and I plan to join every strenuous challenge on two wheels that comes along. There are still a few new areas to be discovered, like aero bar use and the anticipation of the Thursday evening chain gang.
One thing is for sure and firmly ingrained since Girona – I did not get this far only to get this far.
Somehow I will make it all along the rocky road to Dublin and beyond.