At last year’s Christmas lunch my colleague John Brown Kenna had a bit of a crazy idea. He suggested cycling between the three offices that make up Emerald Learning. They are not exactly around the corner from each other – Towards Maturity is in London, Emerald Publishing is in Bingley and GoodPractice is in Edinburgh. Could we really cycle from London to Edinburgh, a distance of around 500 miles, in only five days? As you can guess, I was more than up for this challenge, and the opportunity it presented to fundraise for a fantastic charity, The Social Mobility Foundation.

The Emerald Grand Tour was born.

But, I wasn’t doing it alone.

The Emerald Grand Tour team

The team comprised eight cyclists and two all-important support roles. Joining me on the cycling team were Ben Davies, Tim Wood, Michael Main, Chloe Ridley, Stuart MacMillan, Ewan Farrow, and Jason Richardson. John Brown Kenna and Amarpall Samby drove the support van and organised logistics along the route. We left Wimbledon early last Thursday morning and headed north.

Over the next five days, we faced physical challenges, some truly horrendous weather and emotional ups and downs. I’m glad to say it’s all been worth it, as the team have raised over £10,000 which will go a long way towards helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds get on in life. Here is my account of our journey from a (crazy) idea to the finish line. 

Initial excitement and planning

All plans start with an idea, but it takes passion, commitment and drive to turn an idea into reality. The team quickly got stuck into the practicalities of planning the route and sorting out the logistics and support we’d need along the way. We also told everyone what we were planning to do.

No backing out now!

Realising the enormity of the challenge

By March of this year, the enormity of what we were taking on was sinking in. We began to get to grips with more detailed aspects of our planning, and my training started in earnest. For me, this was way more cycling than I had ever attempted before. Five days of back-to-back riding, with each day more gruelling than the last, not to mention a total ascent of over 30,000 ft – that’s higher than Everest. This was going to be no pleasure ride!

Nervous anticipation sets in

In August, with about a month to go, it’s fair to say I suffered doubts. Had we taken on more than was actually possible? Excuses for how I might drop out started to cross my mind, but I kept up with my training. I even had dreams about cycling and would wake up needing to check some tiny detail in our plans. I became one of those annoying cycling obsessives! I also worried about whether we’d be able to reach that all-important £10,000 target for The Social Mobility Foundation.

The calm before the storm

The last few days before the tour kicked off were surprisingly calm. I’d done all I could to get myself as fit and ready as possible. The team were ready and everything was in place. We were also well on track towards our fundraising target, having reached £7,000.

Off we go!

Getting started was a relief after all the anticipation and build up. Day 1 just flew past! However, from that point onwards, the ride became an exercise in mind control. There were spells, particularly first thing on the mornings of Days 3, 4 and 5, when I had serious doubts about being able to continue. The team felt the same.

Emerald Grand Tour photo collage 1

We set ourselves small, achievable goals to get through it. Just do 10 miles and see how you are. Just make it to the mid-morning coffee stop. Just make it to the lunch stop. You get the idea. During these harder times, the mind plays tricks and puts all sorts of ideas and suggestions into your head. Make an excuse, say you are injured, or sick, or the bike is broken, say anything just to get off that bike. But we all kept going.

This was a familiar feeling across our group, as my colleague Tim Wood says:

“I knew from the outset that I would just need to see how I felt, whether this was after 15 miles, or 60, or 80 or even the next day when I woke up. I realised that I had to ride at my own pace, work within my limits to achieve the end goal.”

Michael Main adds:

“You can hurt all you like, but so long as you keep your hands on the handlebars and your feet moving in circles, you can pretty much get anywhere if you have the right mindset.”

Recognising the positives

Alongside the devil in my head was another voice. The one which told me to keep pedalling, and I’m glad I listened to that voice. Surprisingly, no matter how hard the day had been, I often felt at my best during the last 25 miles of the day, when the end goal was in sight, even when we were cycling through biblical rain at 10.30pm.

The other great positive thing was cycling with such a great group of people. We all relied on each other and kept our collective spirits up. We also had the most amazing support from our wider network of family, friends and colleagues. Sending a quick message of support may not seem like a big thing, but it really made all the difference to receive so many texts, emails and tweets with positive thoughts. Knowing people wanted us to succeed was a real helping hand for the entire team.

As Ben Davies adds:

“One of the biggest positive influences on how the ride went was our team support. Amarpall and John may not have been riding, but the team would be been completely lost without them. They were always updating us via WhatsApp, tracking our progress and ensuring key activities were completed.”

The home straight

On the last day, we climbed a hill above Gifford in East Lothian. As we reached the summit I knew it was all downhill from here. In the distance, I could see the Firth of Forth, Arthur’s Seat and the Pentland Hills where I live. I had such a feeling of euphoria, as we were on our way home. When we reached the GoodPractice office in Edinburgh’s New Town it was a wonderful feeling to know we had reached our goal.

Emerald Grand Tour photo collage 2

The aftermath

I am so proud of what the team have achieved together. Not just in terms of going the distance and supporting ourselves through it, but of what we’ve done for The Social Mobility Foundation. We’ve raised £10,252 so far and the money is still coming in. I’ve also made some wonderful new friends on this adventure – it has been an absolute privilege to share this journey with the Emerald Grand Tour team.

Emerald Grand Tour photo collage 3

Donate now

If you’d like to make a donation, please visit The Emerald Grand Tour fundraising page.