Monday, 1 May 2017

A & B to Brighton

Earlier this year I received an email from Adam from the Bigfoot Cycling Club. Every year they have an annual club trip to the seaside, and every year they open their doors to members of other clubs and members of none. Adam organises a series of training rides of increasing distances to help people who want to give it a go get ready. Knowing that he also ran these for families, I asked my 11 year old daughter if she would like to do it, and she foolishly said yes!

Typically, we had managed to organise other things for the weekends of the first 2 rides, so our first official ride was the 25 miler - at that time about 8 miles further than Bia had ridden previously. We had done a bit of training, cycling to Greenwich & back, along a very flat route & detouring to find any hills we could. Here's us on our first ride to the Cutty Sark.

Cycling is not really Bia's thing, she only had a mountain bike which she had won in a competition from JDRF & the type 1 diabetic cycling team, Novo Norodisk. She was going to Go Ride with Penge CC on a Saturday morning, and the coaches there suggested I put some smooth tyres on it to make her life a bit easier! So when she informed me after the 25 miles we did to Eynsford with Adam and the family group that she didn't really like hills, I wasn't sure how to tell her that the subsequent rides weren't going to be any easier! Especially as the next one included locally renowned beast, Hogstrough Hill, the Hog - or as it became known as she was grinding up it shouting at me "This is Hogrid"! Still, it was a beautiful day, she had made friends with another girl, and they battled on together.

It took a long time though, we had several long breaks in the warm sunshine - no one really wanted the ride to finish! Nevertheless, I was starting to wonder how long it would take to do almost twice the distance if the 30 miler was the best part of 7 hours! I needn't have worried, as Adam had it all in hand...

We didn't get much riding in over Easter in Northumberland, as we had a failed cannula on our one day out which left her with very high blood sugar levels, feeling crap, and unable to continue - so we were rescued from Blyth after 10km.

The week of the 35 mile training ride, Bia was running a high temperature, so we decided that discretion being the better part of valour, we would save ourselves for the big one the following week. All week I was worried that she'd be unwell again, or that her diabetes wouldn't behave. She's been running high quite a lot recently, so I was keen to avoid this. I was also aware that 10 hours of exercise could well be problematic, so I sought the advice of some experts on Twitter & in real life - the consensus was to cut the background insulin by half for the duration, eat jelly babies regularly, and give a smaller proportion of insulin for any food. So I was delighted when she woke up on a solid 10.5 in the morning - this boded well!

After forcing down some porridge, Gaby & H drove us to Hayes for the start of the ride. Not being proud, I had fitted a basket to the front of my hybrid for the "spotty bag", which holds all of Bia's diabetes stuff, and also the jelly baby supply. On the back I had more food as well as the rain jackets - we were going to be out all day.

We got off to an easy start, out through Keston then up to Layhams and along past the White Bear towards Warlingham. The bluebells were out, and it was a lovely morning. There were 14 of us in our group initially, including a seven year old who was going to cycle to the first stop, 20 miles in.

My friends Henry & Chris & their boys dropped by at the first stop to cheer us on, which was lovely. The interest and support we have had throughout the training process, and then on the ride itself has been phenomenal. I'm not as knackered as I look in this picture, though I may be as fat ;-)

After a half hour stop for coffee we carried on, the main challenge of the next third of the ride being Turner's Hill, up to Worth. It's a long drag, though not hugely steep, and by this time (it was midday), Bia was starting to feel the affects of rapidly dropping blood sugar. This made her feel pretty rough, so we stopped on a grass verge, did a test, reduced the background insulin even more, had some more jelly babies (though by now she was getting a bit fed up with them), and a bit of a sit down. After a few minutes, she felt well enough to carry on.

The rest of the group were waiting at the top and gave us a lovely welcome. This was a feature throughout the day, everyone supporting everyone else, encouraging each other and it makes a difference when those little legs are tired. After 15 minutes or so resting and enjoying the views back the way we had come, we set off with more beautiful views all around and nothing nasty in the hill department towards the second stop at Staplefield, where there were chips waiting for us, as well as Gaby, H & Giulia; and a momentary change in atmospheric conditions!

Before the ride, I had shared my story & plan with Alicia at the Queen of the Mountains cycling clothing brand for women. She found it very inspirational and very generously sent Bia a jersey & some arm warmers. B swapped both jerseys throughout the training & on the ride itself - here she is at Staplefield, 2/3 of the way to Brighton & still smiling. Rather appropriately she also had it on as she got over Devil's Dyke, as you can see below.

It was now starting to rain, which we had been expecting, but were hoping wouldn't happen, so out came the raincoats and on we went. Bia was now well past the furthest she had ever gone before, and her legs were starting to go. All the hills were troubling her, but no matter how steep it was, she was determined to finish each hill on her bike - even if she had to walk up part of it. As the rain got heavier, the final challenge grew closer - Devil's Dyke. As a surprise, my brother David came down to support us with his family, to the great delight of Bia, and he also brought his mountain bike along so that we could ride some of the way together. Without him there to help encourage Bia, and to give her a guiding hand up the worst parts of Devil's Dyke, I think she would have walked a lot more, but as it was she rode nearly all of it! Gaby & the support team arrived just as we reached the top, so were there to see her conquer the biggest hill of the course.

The top of Devil's Dyke is the symbolic end really, it's all downhill after this, there are no more hills, so the sense of achievement for all the kids, and the adults, was immense. And Bia had done all of this while her blood sugar was fluctuating, and her legs had gone. Whenever I offered her the chance to bail, she was most indignant - she was going to finish, no matter what, so I couldn't have been more thrilled for her to get the top of the final hill. I don't think she could quite believe what she was doing for much of the day, but she was an absolute trooper, not a whisper of complaint - she just got on with it, walked when she felt she had to - after asking if it would be ok to do so first and apologising!!

At this point my phone battery, and the spare battery, finally died, so I couldn't update people on where we were until after we had finished! However, we knew where we were, and that was a 6 mile, 40 minute ride downhill to the seafront. We enjoyed this part, but by this stage Bia was looking more tired than I have ever seen her, and was absolutely exhausted. She could get herself down the hill, but with nothing in her legs just couldn't catch up with the others in front! It didn't matter because we all regrouped at the lights and on the seafront and finished together!

Hugs, high fives, handshakes & photos all round, and then we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. It was cold, windy & wet down on the beach, typical bracing bank holiday weekend weather, not very conducive to hanging around, and certainly not for the ice-cream I had been looking forward to! One of my local friends had come down with her family to cheer us in, and also had a JDRF banner, which was then employed in a couple of photos, before we loaded up the cars and went for fish & chips. Never was a meal more deserved!

What a day! Bia had made it. She had battled her fluctuating blood sugar, and the hills, and the lack of power in her legs, but she had prevailed. She had ridden 54 miles from Hayes to Brighton. When I asked her the worst thing about the ride, she said it was going up Devil's Dyke. The best thing about the ride? Getting to the top! I don't have the words to say how proud we are of her. There were other kids riding too, some younger, but all had more experience. She had ridden 2 official training rides, 2 rides to Greenwich and .... er....that was it!

When she agreed to do it, we thought it would be a good way to mark the end of primary school, and so we thought we would set up a sponsorship page, starting with a target of £250, and see what happened. Well, to our absolute delight & amazement, over £14000 raised for JDRF is what happened - an absolutely surreal amount of money for an 11 year old to raise, but I think many people took inspiration from this, including some newly diagnosed families, showing that that this juggernaut which has crashed unwelcome into their lives can be used as a force for good, and does not mean that everything has to change. Six years into this journey, being able to give people whose lives have been turned upside down by this diagnosis some hope makes any achy legs more than worthwhile!

So, to the stats! Her diabetes had even generally behaved itself, apart from a wobble about 4 hours in. I was happy for her to be slightly higher than we'd usually like for the day, to cover every eventuality, and it worked out ok. I had the libre scanner to keep an eye on the trends, and that wobbled about a bit, rather like the profile of the ride, but also meant we didn't have to do too many finger prick tests! The medical numbers?

  • Reduction of background insulin to 60%, then 30% for the duration of the ride and a few hours afterwards to - this to prevent any nighttime lows once the exercise was finished.
  • Starting BG of 10.5
  • 12.9 at 0930
  • 9.0 at 1140 and then 7.4 at 1300, when she started to feel quite rough – I suspect because, although she was eating, her blood sugar was dropping quickly. Some jelly babies and a sandwich perked her up (as well as a rest) and she went back up to 12 at 1415
  • 14.5 at the finish at 1800

The other numbers

  • 54 miles ridden
  • 9 hours in the saddle - as many breaks as were needed, but nothing longer than 40 minutes. Adam really wanted his fish & chips this year!
  • 1 adult group overtaken on the road (to huge cheers!)
  • 1.5 packets of jelly babies (H had the other half!)
  • An inestimable amount of parental pride and love for this incredible girl.
  • A final and completely mind-blowing total of £14,030 raised for JDRF

Massive thanks to:

  • Gaby for trusting me to take our daughter on this challenge, on public but largely quiet roads despite her concerns about traffic
  • All at Bigfoot who organise this ride every year and invite others to join them, in particular Adam, the stalwart organiser and leader of the younger family ride, a man with the patience of a saint.
  • Penge Go Ride for giving Bia the confidence that she could do this, and giving her the skills to do it safely
  • The family & friends who came out to support us
  • Every one who donated money, sent messages, liked Facebook statuses, tweeted, & otherwise got involved
  • The hero of the hour, my amazing daughter, for agreeing to embark on this madcap plan and never ever giving up. I am so so proud of her.
Thanks for reading!


  1. Absolutely brilliant achievement by Bia, the cycling especially but crikey what a huge amount of money to fundraise for JDRF

    1. I know, right? Really delighted for her.

  2. Fantastic! Well done Bia!

  3. Brilliant!
    Well done Bia, and Dad too.
    Thanks Yvonne at Penge CC For sending this in, and to Adam and all at Bigfoot Go-Ride for organising, really enjoyed the read.
    Best Regards.
    Luke. British Cycling - S.E Regional Manager

    1. Thanks Luke - go ride is a wonderful thing for building the confidence & skills of children to take on this kind of challenge

  4. Fantastic achievement. Very proud of her too! Reading how it went with interest as T1 son due to do his DofE cycling expedition this weekend. So hard to judge what 3 or 4 hours cycling will do , especially without us there to nudge him.
    Would love to do something like this with him. Maybe we could do a big group T1 kids ride sometime. Kate x

  5. Fantastic, inspirational achievement. I hope Bia carries on with the cyling and achieves many more firsts.

  6. Fantasy achievement! I'm type 1 too and have been since 12 years old. I'm 56 now and have been cycling most of my life. Please feel free to contact me if any advice is needed. Btw. I'm on an insulin pump too.

    John. (07769278701).

    1. Thanks John, that's really kind. As you read, we kept it above 7 and below 14 but there were wobbles and it wasn't particularly level! How do you handle it - tbrs & less insulin?

  7. It's an amazing acheivement even for a fit 20 year old (as I vaguely remember myself being at the time), so for a young girl with diabetes it's phenomenal. She's an absolute star, and her Dad is brilliant for setting it all up so well. Super amount raised!

    1. Thanks H! I think we t1d parents sometimes forget how awesome our kids are! To do that ride is one thing, to do it with t1 takes it to another level!