This blog was written by Helen Langridge, a Cyclist about to embark on a world record attempt to be the fastest woman to cycle around the world!
Living in London, I started riding a bike to work to help with the cost of living, but a collision with a police car left me with a concussion and very shaken up. I was determined to not give in to the fear so I signed up to do my first 60-mile sportive a few months later. Not too long after, I signed up to ride the British Heart Foundation’s London to Paris bike ride in 2014 which inspired me to take more multi-day trips, but on my own. One year later I took 2 weeks off work and rode from Lands End to John O’Groats solo and unsupported and that was the cycling bug caught. In 2016 I met Mike on Tinder and on our second date we decided to cycle around the world together – we had both wanted to do it but finding someone else who wanted to do it too was the catalyst for a huge adventure. 15 months later, we left Glasgow to ride 18,500 miles through 30 countries and returned married, broke but completely happy. Now, in May 2020, I’ll leave Brussels to ride 18,000 miles east to break the around the world women’s cycling record, setting a new time of 110 days.
After my A levels, I decided to do my own rebelled in my own way and studied Ancient History with Egyptology at University, which I hadn’t been taught at school. I was bored with learning facts and figures just to pass an exam – I wanted to study something for the love of it. So I spend 3 years at University College London for my undergraduate, then an additional year studying a Masters degree in Forensic Archaeological Science. I’ve jumped around a lot between different types of jobs since leaving University. I tend to take jobs based on my skillset rather than a specific industry, mostly because I wasn’t ready to pursue a PhD in Forensics so that line of work was closed off. Over the years, I’ve worked in technical theatre in and off-West End theatre, in a private medical laboratory, in the box office at the Royal Albert Hall and now I coordinate the social media and run a small shop for an outdoor lifestyle clothing company. I learned so much about myself since travelling around the world by bike the first time. I’ve no doubt that I’ll learn even more about myself this year and I’ll have a different perspective on what I want from a job and what I can give to an employer once I return.
Balancing work with training and my home life is tricky but I’m lucky to have a very supportive and understanding husband who picks up some of the slack at home! I might be breaking the world record solo and unsupported, but there is a team back at home. My mornings are usually when I get some admin done, some yoga and a calm breakfast to start the day. I have a rather sedentary job, which I like to think of as my ‘rest’ in between training sessions. My weekday evenings are split between 2 gym weight sessions, 3 indoor turbo bike sessions, 1 run and the odd bike commute. My weekends are filled with long outdoor road rides and I try to get some normal life in there! The difficulty is getting enough sleep to help aid my recovery between sessions. Time just seems to disappear though, there needs to be more hours in the day!
In a way, I’m a product of the bouts of depression I’ve endured since my teens mixed with my desire to learn as much about the world as possible. My lowest ebb was near Christmas 2015. Suffering in a deep depression, I couldn’t get out of bed, let alone shower or cook a meal. But I was lucky and received the most important message of my life from my friend, Ashley. We’d been gone climbing in the Scottish mountains a few months earlier and he knew the state I had got into. During this severe bout of depression, I said to him that “the idea of getting out of bed feels like climbing a mountain.” And he said, “… but you’ve already done that.” While that didn’t see me jump out of bed and get back into the normal swing of things immediately, it roused my determination to seek help. I’m very hard on myself and blame myself for many things which often were out of my control. While I know I should give myself a break, it’s very often easier said than done. But that drive to live up to my own high expectations is what pushes me to do these things; I just need to find a good balance of what’s healthy.
I really want to use my experience of mental health and outdoor activity to show others that things do get better, but it is a process. Getting outside isn’t an easy ‘cure-all’; once you’ve found that it helps you, it doesn’t mean that everything is fixed and you no longer have to work on keeping your mind healthy. But you have found a way to give your body, mind and soul a boost. Cycling has also given me a better appreciation for my body by seeing what it can do and where it can take me and that’s way more important than what it looks like or what society deems to be beautiful. That’s a really peaceful place to get to.
My biggest achievement is Cycling around the world the first time – but more so was having the gumption to decide to take that leap of faith in myself (and in Mike as we’d not long met before deciding to ride around the world together). It was a huge test of compromise – but we survived it together and got married one year into the journey!
The biggest lesson that I have learnt is that if random strangers in the middle of nowhere in countries on the other side of the world want to take the time to be kind to me, then maybe I can afford myself the time to be kind to myself. 99% of people in this glorious world we live in have a heart of gold and we need to hear more about these acts of kindness.
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?
So far, I think I’ve been lucky – and isn’t that a sad thing to say? Either that or I’ve been oblivious to it.
Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?
When I’m not at work or riding a bike, I’m actually quite a lazy person! Nights at home watching a documentary with a glass of wine with my husband can be just as life-affirming as cycling 100 miles. I try to be present and appreciate every situation I find myself in – though that’s not always easy! I love absorbing knowledge so while I don’t have time to sit down with a book at the moment, I listen to podcasts and audiobooks as much as possible. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember a time before cycling and training consumed my time. Once I’m back I want to make more time for seeing theatre productions, visiting museums and reading books.
Do you have a mantra you live your life by?
Bad days end. Simple, and it can work for so many things!
What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?
“You’re allowed to be you”. Whether that’s deciding you want to say ‘no’ to something, or ‘yes’ to something, to be alone or to surround yourself with friends, to focus on your professional career or to head off to travel – you’re allowed to make your own choices that allow you to be the real, authentic you.
What are your key motivators?
With cycling, there’s something really satisfying and fulfilling about getting yourself from A to B with your legs and some wheels. Anything from riding into town to crossing continents - seeing the world at a slower pace allows the surroundings to percolate into you. In a professional setting, I aim to do a job which allows me to see that I am helping to make changes in the world for the net good.
What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
Listen to your instincts. It’s going to be OK!