Niall’s Miles – Nine Days in the Saddle for Cancer Fund for Children
We caught up with Niall McFarland, who recently took on an epic cycling challenge and raised over £3,000 for Cancer Fund for Children. He kindly took the time to give us an idea of just what is involved in such a challenge, his motivation and a bit of advice for anyone considering an endurance event like this for themselves.
- Tell us a bit about what the Ride Britain Challenge entails.
I took part in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain from 9th to 17th September 2017. It involves cycling 970 miles from the South Western tip of Britain at Land’s End, England to the North Eastern tip at John O’Groats, Scotland in 9 days.
Cycling over moorlands, along hidden valleys, up and down winding back lanes, along coastal roads and past historic sites. The Route involves climbing 16,000m – almost twice the height of Mt. Everest.
“This challenge has changed my perspective on life. I have pushed the limitations of what I thought was possible for myself. I experienced pain and exhaustion both physically and mentally. I rode a huge roller coaster of emotions. However my challenge was only for 9 days and a few days later I was fully recovered. Cancer Fund for Children will be able to take the £3000 I raised, to help change the lives of so many young people who face a much bigger challenge than I did.”
- What made you decide to take up such a challenging event?
I wanted to raise money for Cancer Fund for Children who had supported my younger brother Iain in 2014 when he had testicular cancer at the age of 20. At the same time I wanted to experience pushing my body and mind to a place it had never been before. The challenge ended up giving me the opportunity to see what Britain has to offer while getting to experience every little sight and sound by bike.
- How did you find all of the fundraising, training and the event week itself?
The fundraising takes a lot of thought and time, but is one of the most rewarding things you can do when you see your total. For me a coffee morning & raffle took a month of planning but in the space of two hours I had raised £1400. A bucket collection at half time during a football match helped me raise £250 in 15 minutes.
In terms of training, I was cycling regularly before taking up the challenge. Despite having a good level of fitness nothing could ever prepare me for riding over 100 miles for 9 days. I had an 8 month training plan which got off to the worst possible start. In the first week I had an Audi Q7 pull out in front of me, I front flipped over the bonnet landing on my shoulder in the middle of the road. This resulted in training on a turbo indoors for 3 months with a subluxed shoulder. I couldn’t wait to get on the road and over the next few months I was out on my bike in all sorts of weather – though nothing could prepare me for the weather we would face during the event.
When it came to the event itself, if I had to list the top 10 days of my life so far my Ride Across Britain would account for 9 of them. Getting engaged to Hanna would be the other one. It is an experience like no other. The sights, the camaraderie, the food, the awful weather, the support crew and everything else made it in to one of those special occasions I will remember very fondly for the rest of my life.
During the week I struggled with my right knee. But every day I battled on usually encouraged by a few words from my mum or girlfriend the night before. During those moments of doubt, I did remind myself of why I found myself in that situation, that the challenge for me was only small and would soon be over, but the challenge for those receiving help from Cancer Fund for Children was a much bigger one.
Crossing the line in John O’Groats was something quite indescribable and rather overwhelming. Everywhere there were tears, hugs, champagne, families reunited and a party atmosphere. The memories that Ride Across Britain gave to me are to be savoured and will be remembered for many years. Cycle trekking is something everyone should experience.
- What advice would you have for anyone thinking of taking on a similar challenge?
Stop thinking about it & do it! You will get an overwhelming feeling of “I’m going to do this” as soon as you sign up.
The more effort you put into your fundraising the more successful it will be. Give yourself plenty of time to plan. Don’t be afraid to ask for raffle prizes, as people love to help.
If you have aches and pains on your bike while training get a bike fit at some local shop. These can drastically improve your comfort levels.
If you have aches and pains while on the trek, deal with them immediately and don’t be embarrassed. Everyone knows the common problems of hours spent on a bike.
Make sure to train in all weather conditions. Common sense you won’t go cycling in torrential rain. But on your trek you have no other option than to get on with the task.
Embrace the challenge and enjoy it. Remind yourself everyday “I can do this”.
- Do you think you’d do something like this again?
People have asked me would I do it again. Initially I said probably not as I can explore other countries and places on my bike but as it gets nearer to the start of the Deloitte 2018 Ride Across Britain event on 8th September I wish I was there on the start line. I would have loved to have been part of the Vietnam to Cambodia cycle in 2019 but instead I am getting married and go on honeymoon. I have picked out 2020 as the year for another challenge. This may well see me take part in the Ride Across Britain once again or I have looked at the option of cycling the length of Portugal in 5 days.
At Cancer Fund for Children, we are very grateful to Niall for his amazing efforts and fantastic fundraising. If his story has inspired you to get in the saddle and have a life-changing experience for yourself, have a look at our Cycle Vietnam to Cambodia trek. It is sure to be a really special event, and we would love you to join the team!