I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves at some point why we are braving the weather, pushing beyond our comfort zone or embarking on something that most people wouldn’t even consider. This might be a first marathon swim, swimming the Channel, or in my case, cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats. We know that on the day, the excitement, adrenalin and atmosphere will lift us and let us push that little bit further or faster, but what gets us to the start line in the first place? What makes the early starts, cold and wet training sessions and the aches and pains bearable? I have always found that the best remedy for those low moments is a sense of purpose; our very own reason why.

In September I will be cycling from one corner of the UK down in Land’s End to the opposite corner up in John O’Groats. The journey will be 1000 miles with more than 16000 m of climb, which is almost exactly twice the height of Everest, and I will be doing it in 9 days, camping each night.

I must admit that I am excited to be starting the challenge but am a bit daunted by the training that will be required. Starting a training program in the middle of winter when 70% or it needs to be out in the elements is not always fun, but it is a necessity. As well as general conditioning, my training consists of everything from short 90-minute interval sessions to rides that go beyond 10 hours with every hill I can find in the local area. I have already had times when I feel like staying in bed, turning back on a training ride when the wind and rain really picks up or not getting on the turbo trainer I have set up in my office for the sessions I have to do at the end of my working day. Fortunately, those thoughts have never been acted upon and I have somehow always found my way to the end of the session. I can only put this fact down to two things, a sense of purpose to give you a reason why and the knowledge that before long you will be warm and comfortable if you get to the other end.

In late 2017 my wife, Jody, was very unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 4 Bowel Cancer and was told that if she didn’t have emergency surgery immediately, she would not survive more than a few weeks. She was two years into her training to swim the Channel which was booked for August 2018. Fortunately, the surgery was a success but not before she found out that the cancer had spread to her liver and her lymphatic system. Even with three major surgeries, countless smaller procedures and endless rounds of chemotherapy, she never lost her sense of purpose. In fact, that sense of purpose got her back in the pool 5 weeks before the surgeon anticipated and got her through the days of chemo. She wanted to swim the Channel and no amount of discomfort would deter her. Although she had to delay her swim by 12 months, Jody managed to swim the English Channel on 27th August 2019, in between chemotherapy sessions!

Because of this, my purpose is very simple; I want to give back to an incredible charity that continues to support Jody following her diagnosis. Shine Cancer Support provides a support network for those in their 20s, 30s and 40s that have been diagnosed with cancer. Without them, I am sure Jody would have found coping with her diagnosis unbearable and may well have never achieved her dream of swimming the Channel. That in itself has kept her alive. I knew that if I was going to do something to raise money for them, it had to be fairly epic. I had run ultramarathons before but doubted my knees would cope with much more punishment; I was a mere paddler in comparison to Jody when it comes to open water swimming and therefore the only logical choice was the bike. In reality, it would not matter what the challenge was as long as it took me beyond, well beyond, my comfort zone. It had to be something worthy of making people donate to this very worthy cause.

There have been and, I have no doubt, will continue to be plenty of times when I think things are getting too tough. That is where my purpose comes in. Without it, it would be too easy to turn around, but with that sense of purpose, it would be impossible to justify giving up just because I am a bit uncomfortable, especially when I think of everything Jody has gone through. That is how purpose motivates us and persuades us to continue.

So what of comfort? Well that is both the reward and the panacea! Having spent most of the last two decades in boots and uniform in the army, I now spend most of my life wearing hoodies and anything that is comfortable. However, never are those hoodies more comfortable than when I pull them on after a 10 hour ride. For others it may be your bobble hat after a cold swim or your sweatpants after a run. Either way, those comfortable things seem to encapsulate you and trap the euphoria of having completed that challenge. At the same time of maintaining that warm glow, they eradicate the memories of the discomfort and make the prospect of the next training session that much more manageable.


 Richard features on our Charity Challenge Page