The women’s ride. A photo story

The women’s ride. A photo story


Two of my cycling friends, Alice Monger-Godfrey and Cat Forrest and I recently collaborated with photographer James Cannon to tell the simple story of the women’s ride through a series of photographs.

He captured the hard efforts, the silliness and the unique bond that comes from road cycling with your girlfriends.

I’ve met so many great men and women through cycling but I think my journey into the sport has been particularly influenced by the women I’ve met on the road.

They’ve given me the inspiration and motivation to get up in the morning and pull on my lycra. They’ve introduced a certain depth to my weekends that used to only revolve around trips to the pub.

Cycling is like an incubator for growing a friendship. It happens quickly and it happens in reverse. You set off on a group ride with people you’ve never met before and suddenly you’re telling them your life story, your darkest fears and your five-year plan.

And then at the end of the ride, you say “oh, I’m Lorna by the way”.

A very strong bond is formed between the sisters of cycling. I’ve felt it on big challenges like cycling from London to Liverpool and from London to Paris. And even on a quick brunch ride when we’re all feeling a bit knackered.

I think the beauty of my rides with women is that nothing particularly remarkable happens. We chat a load of bollocks, we pedal hard, we flatten a packet of Jaffa Cakes in 12 seconds, and at the end, we feel powerful and happy.

I felt daunted when I bought my road bike so I found a women’s cycling network through Instagram and started turning up to their rides.

They stuck me in the middle, slipped me a flapjack, called out potholes, cars and branches and taught me every hand signal in the book.

They even fixed my handlebars when I crashed into an electricity pylon.

And once my confidence had been built, I started to aspire to get to the same level as the other women, push myself and explore my limits.

That’s why everything I’ve achieved in the saddle is thanks to them.

You can find more of James’ fantastic work on his website

Paddleboarding 50 miles down the Thames

Paddleboarding 50 miles down the Thames

cycling rome to bari with ride25

I met Claire at Richmond Station after work one September evening. She was loaded with two deflated paddleboards, camping gear and two train tickets to Reading. I halved her burden and we staggered down to the platform like a pair of hermit crabs idling along the seabed.

The station was packed with a flurry of Friday night commuter traffic as we shuffled into a clear space, away from the fed-up tuts of those that couldn’t get around our sheer bulk. I was eager to get out of London and spend the weekend on the tranquil Thames, far from the madding crowd.

At the start of our big adventure, we had a look of wide-eyed excitement as we stood at the gateway to the unknown. Neither of us had spent more than a couple of hours on a paddleboard but over two days were attempting to power ourselves 50 miles down the Thames from Shillingford to Windsor.

And that wasn’t our only challenge. With six minutes until our train, I saw a sudden a flicker of alarm dart across Claire’s face as her eyes scanned our luggage.

‘Erm, where’s the second paddle?’

I turned to look at our pile of baggage only to see one prominently poking out from our bags. Frantic at the thought that one of us might literally be heading up the creek without a paddle, Claire went on a search to see if it had fallen out as we’d walked to the platform.

She returned empty-handed and with our city-mentality, we both jumped to the conclusion that it must have been nicked out of Claire’s hermit shell. Flagging down a nearby Community Services Officer we rattled off our statements which were pretty patchy seeing as neither of knew for sure if it had been packed in the first place. Our adventure had got off to a rocky start. 

It was 11 pm before we arrived at a dark field near Shillingford Bridge where we would camp for the night. Thanks to a detour to Active 360 in Kew to get a replacement paddle, we were so late arriving at Reading our only option was to take a black cab to get to our campsite.

I wondered if there was anyone in the history of the earth that had ever arrived at a campsite in a black cab.

With head torches lighting our way in the night, Claire pitched the tent whilst I set about pumping the boards ready for launch at dawn. As I rolled out the second board flat on the grass, I let out a long sigh. Lying mischievously in the middle was the missing paddle. 

The next morning our alarm went off at 5:30 am and I lolled around in my technically inadequate sleeping bag like a weary frankfurter with a lifejacket for a pillow. I think I’d had about three hours sleep, waking up regularly from the cold, my hips feeling bruised by the hard ground. It was dark and misty as we poked our heads out, mole-like and temporarily reluctant.

We began the process of getting our gear and ourselves onto the river. Over the course of the weekend, this process would get more streamlined but our first launch onto the water was fairly disorganised. We both had a huge bag each strapped to the front of our boards which contained food and drink supplies, our camping gear, the pump for the boards and one redundant paddle.

Claire and I eventually pushed off the side of the bank and onto the water where we would spend the next two days.  We glided onto its glassy surface at the very moment the sun peeped over the mist and immediately remembered why we made the effort.

Claire and I are old pals from university. Over the years we’ve built up a collection of stories from our adventurous mishaps, often fuelled by beer. We have a history of challenging each other to do crazy things and are both too stubborn to say no. As a result, it’s quite common to find us in unusual situations with little contingency planning and often in extreme danger. It’s a great friendship.

As adventures go, aside from the debacle with the paddle, this was as simple as it gets. Two friends, two boards, a tent and other survival items, slowly paddling in the direction of London. It was a megamix medley of Wind and the Willows, Swallows and Amazons and the Famous Five rolled into one and adapted for two women in their thirties.

I have done a lot less in the way of endurance challenges this year. After a high-octane 2016 my body was knackered and I needed a break. And as a freelance copywriter, I needed to make some serious money, especially with a wedding to pay for next year.

So this adventure for me was like a shot in the arm after a long period of being chained to my laptop trying to build a business, retain clients and pay the bills. The fact that is was 48 hours of pure endurance gave me such a thrill after months of inactivity. The idea for this trip was Claire’s and it came at totally the right time. She has always been motivated by adventure and now as the mother of two young girls,  she wants to inspire them to respect and explore the great outdoors as they grow older. 

Seeing the world from the river outwards opened our eyes to a whole scene of British aquaculture that you just don’t notice from the banks. My biggest observation was just how accessible this part of the Thames is. The river was open for exploration, we didn’t need a license, just common sense, a bit of base fitness, life jackets and joie de vivre.

We also learnt that the river unites people. From tanned couples sipping white wine on Sunseekers and gaggles of teenagers in Thames Skiffs to seasoned long boaters and a wooden dinghy full of terribly smart blokes on their way to Henley for lunch. Practically everyone we passed gave us a hello or a friendly wave. But it was the fleet of charity kayakers who proved our biggest river allies that weekend (and who later that day came to our rescue).

A quick note on slow travel. This isn’t a fast-paced sport. Bank-side pedestrians on a leisurely walk looked like Concorde compared to us. In addition to being onboard a vessel that has a top speed of a three-toed sloth, the Thames is peppered with locks. Paddleboards are too wobbly to pass through the chamber so Claire and I had to walk all our gear and the boards to the other side. This took about 15 minutes each time and is particularly tiring if, like me, you have breadsticks for arms (I’m a leg-sport girl). 

The ancient Thames is also just so wonderful, you can’t help but get distracted. We were often awestruck as we floated past multi-million-pound properties including the 17th-century mansion of George and Amal Clooney. We marvelled at how ever-changing the scenery was, how diverse the wildlife and how some parts of it felt like we could have been paddling down the Mekong or the Mississippi (with a little artistic license).

The slowness was something that Claire and I had slightly underestimated on this voyage. When it got to about 4 pm, it became clear to us that we weren’t going to make to our intended campsite in Hurley before nightfall. We had been paddling for around 11 hours and were low on food and energy. With two hours still to go and all the campsites in Henley fully booked, we faced the prospect of a risky wild camp and a scavenge to find dinner.

Our morale began to wane with the fading light but the river soon responded to our call. As we turned the bend into Henley, we spotted the friendly charity kayakers from earlier, setting up camp on the private lawn of a boat club. Claire and I looked at each other for a brief second before she leapt off her board onto the pontoon to seek refuge from these kind strangers. They didn’t hesitate to welcome us and this act of generosity felt so poignant against the prospect of a hungry night in obscurity.

We made a donation to their charity, the All Hands Foundation and enjoyed a warm shower, a hearty dinner, shared our river tales and slept soundly in our safe pitch.

Learning our lesson about slow travel, the next morning we set up at the very crack of dawn (or at ‘sparrow’s fart’ as my dad would say). Headtorches on to light our way in the early darkness, we pulled our paddles through the inky water before the sun soon turned the sky and water pink. It felt like we were the only ones awake with the misty river all to ourselves.

But as stunning as it was, Claire and I were well aware that we still had 25 miles worth of paddling ahead of us. 

Shortly after sunrise, the weather made a turn for the worst. Unlike Saturday’s meander, this was going to be a head-down effort to get to Windsor. The mirrored surfaces and butter-knife paddling descended into a battle of headwinds and choppy waters. Where the river had welcomed us the previous day with sun-kissed warmth and serenity, today it had tired of hosting its guests. It required more effort, strength and balance and the reality of this paddleboard ultramarathon was very present in our minds.

Luckily the stolen hours of the morning had served us as well, as did our new-found militant approach to locks and feed stops. Our arms quivered, our backs ached but we were determined to get to Windsor and complete our mission. 

We pushed on through Marlow, Maidenhead and Dorney, following the most direct line we could without breaking river rules. At last we went under one final bridge and saw a little rain-jacketed girl waving to us from the banks. It was Elsa, Claire’s three-year-old daughter accompanied by her husband Tim and baby Beatrix, beckoning us to dry land and looking impressed by her mummy’s show of strength.

For the entire two days, Claire and I had managed to stay upright on our boards. But on seeing our welcome party on the banks, I got really excited, lost my concentration, crashed my board into a stone wall and fell backwards into the Thames.This resulted in a broken toe, a course of antibiotics and much teasing from my co-paddler.

This hiatus did nothing to dampen my spirits (although I was very, very damp) because Claire and I had stuck to our guns, we took on a challenge with naive ambition, faked it til we made it and added many more memories to our adventure bank.

Info box

Board, paddle, pump, lifejackets hire: Active 360, Kew
Start point: Shillingford Bridge
Overnight point: Henley
Endpoint: Windsor
Total distance: 50 miles
Average paddle time per day: 7-13 hours

My mum runs 53 miles along Scotland’s West Highland Way

My mum runs 53 miles along Scotland’s West Highland Way


Not many people take up ultra running in their sixties but my mum, Ais North, has never stuck to the rules.  Last week she tackled her biggest race yet, the Hoka Highland Fling.

This is her story. 

I didn’t feel at all confident when I stood at the start of the Fling Race in Milngavie Scotland on 29 April.

53 miles of terrain that was hilly, technical and long, stretched patiently in front of me. My winter training had not gone well and I felt sluggish and slow. My right glute was also painfully taunting me with the expectation of failure. This was not going to be easy. Who did I think I was, aged 66 and competing with these experienced and younger trail ultra-runners?

It was the cut off times that caused me to fear the Fling. I’d have to race at more than two minutes per mile faster than my previous two attempts at ultra-running. And that was a big ask.

Oddly I didn’t have the butterflies I usually have and when the gun went off I trotted slowly behind the others out of the built-up area and into Mugdock Park. Runners swarmed past but I plodded gently enjoying the rhythm that my heart set me.

I found this section of the Fling fairly straight forward, not flat but gently rolling countryside. Before I realised it, I was just outside Drymen with10 miles done and soon to be at the checkpoint. I couldn’t believe my time was over 30 minutes faster than I had anticipated.

I grabbed my bottle and banana from my husband Geoff and with a cheery wave I set off for Conic Hill.


The path on this next stretch goes through gorse bushes and trees on a wide path before leading you gently upwards to Conic Hill. It was an ascent that slowed me down to a walk, then a plod. As I reached the summit a cheery photographer stood snapping everyone

“66 and not out!” I shouted merrily as I passed him.

I’m very comfortable on the downhill thanks to some advice from the Run Experience and its awesome community, so I enjoyed the speedy bit. I reached the cut-off with 36 minutes to spare. 

The next part of the race is a little blurry. I’d been hydrating and fuelling up to this point but I was not that hungry when I bit into my Marmite sandwich. I began to feel tired and although the early part of this section to Inversnaid wasn’t too bad, the most technical stretch was still to come.

There were rocks, boulders, tree roots and damp terrain. I was on my own a lot with the occasional relay runner passing me or slowing to walk up a hill with me.

Around this point I caught up with a few runners and followed them over a stony path, eventually overtaking and leading about five runners to the other side of this section about three miles out of Beinglas. But they eventually overtook me. I just couldn’t keep my legs turning over fast enough to keep with them.

Defying my expectations, I made it to Beinglas and the cut-off with 22 minutes to spare. This was the first time it started to sink in that I might actually finish this.

Geoff was there and as usual cheered me up. I had thought that there was an A82 cut-off at 8:30pm and I was about ready to quit at Beinglas. I felt so worn out after the last section, but one of the volunteers said “no – get going – this next bit’s not so bad – you’re going to make it”.

All the volunteers are amazing on this race and I must thank those who refilled my bottles and rushed me out the other side with food from my drop-bag and words of encouragement. It is amazing how a positive word fuels your heart and your legs and speeds you on.

As I set off again I realised I was going to make it to the finish and collect my ‘Fling Bling’.

I welled up inside – “just keep it together you’ve still got 13 miles to go”, my inner voice chimed as I kissed Geoff goodbye and ran, yes, ran off.


Geoff, my most loyal supporter. Taken on the recce run the day before

13 miles is still 13 miles and I was tired and alone. It was pouring with rain so my positive spirit was dampened somewhat and I just kept thinking “not another bloody hill”.

The odd runner passed me silently, I even passed a runner and a number of walkers, but it was a slow, cold and damp slog and even the amusement of cow poo alley and the odd cuckoo sound did not lift my mood. My fear of the A82 cut-off loomed large, and my watch told me I still had a long way to go, and my legs were saying you won’t make it. Two guys passed me – “only Crianlarich hill left and then you’re almost there”.

Ah, Crianlarich, the hill you should keep something in the tank for.

It was hard, but as I reached the summit and began to descend a couple of ladies caught up with me. Michelle, who opened her heart and her Haribo and shared both. She admitted to being so emotional and could not believe she was going to finish, then Shelley appeared. How strange we had spoken briefly in the start pen and now here we were a mile from the A82 and together again, running at a similar pace downhill towards the cut-off with 28 minutes to spare.

We raced over the road – only three miles left, a mere dog dawdle that I normally walk in under an hour. I might just make the 15 hours and even though I was guaranteed a finisher’s place I thought it would be cool to finish on time. Michelle jogged, Shelley and I walked fast.

That last mile – so long and hard. Until you see the end and then somehow the red carpet rolls up and pushes you on and into a jog, then a run and the finish line which I crossed at 15:00:38 which was 2.55 minutes / mile faster than the previous ultras on terrain that was so much harder.


In spite of my negative thoughts before the race, being a few decades older than many of the runners and gruelling terrain, I managed to reach the looming cut-off times and collect my medal.

It just goes to prove that even when you say you can’t, you can. 

Congratulations to all the runners and respect to the four other women in the over 60’s category who stormed over the finish line ahead of me. They all prove that there is still so much you can achieve as an older runner!

Celebrating with my sister Louise, my friends Anne and Greg and my mum, Heather with my bottle of Fling Fizz!

I’m fundraising again for Friends of Charing Cross Hospital – to buy much needed items for hospital, patients, staff and community. If you could spare a few pennies we would be very grateful. I’m running a 100 mile race (in under 30 hours) the Liverpool to Manchester Ultra Double (#L2MUltraDouble) on 27 May. If you would like to support me on this ultra you can do so here. Thank you

Cat Benger shows me some strength work for running and cycling

Cat Benger shows me some strength work for running and cycling

I am sure most of us can relate to the misery that injury causes us. After I had to drop out of my Thames challenge, an injury that had been kept at bay for months, all of a sudden lost its rag and has been with me ever since. It’s now been five months and with my plan to return to the Thames at the end of the summer, I am doing everything I can to prevent it from ruining the experience and causing long-term damage.

Luckily, there are some experts out there to help me.

As part of a training plan from coach Cat Benger (of ABCpure) I am learning about the benefits of strength and conditioning in ways that can help improve both my cycling and running but also prevent further injury. In this post, Cat explains the theory behind this and shows us some moves we can do at home as part of our quest to get strong and prevent injury.

Cat Benger


Training on a consistent basis is key for any runner and/or cyclist to maximise their performance and achieve success in their chosen sport. Often our approach to strength and conditioning (S&C) training is to wait until it’s broken and then get fixed. You should view S&C as an essential part of a balanced, well-structured training plan and as injury prevention as opposed to rehab. Common cycling and running complaints, niggles or injuries can be largely preventable if you’re prepared to incorporate regular S&C sessions, and it doesn’t have to mean long, boring trips to the gym or lots of expensive home fitness equipment.

So why do we need it?

An increase in the strength and power of the legs will improve your cycling efficiency through the application of greater force through each of the pedal strokes. Our muscles are “wired” to perform functions and move in a particular way. If the muscles are not performing as they should and, instead, allowing fellow muscle to take the load, it will eventually start causing you pain.

S&C also helps co-ordination, balance and delays the on-set of fatigue and poor form creeping in. It also increases your functional strength which is our performance of daily movements and tasks, for example climbing the stairs, lifting arms above your head and running for the bus! It is key the exercises and movements are performed correctly with proper form and technique. Quality over quantity is definitely the desirable here. Here are a few practical pointers before you get going:

1. It is recommended doing 2-3 S&C sessions per week
2. Keep the movements controlled, starting with small ranges.
3. Once comfortable, increase the range of movement without sacrificing quality and/or control
4. Start with a low number of repetitions and low weight (where applicable), then gradually increase with the principle that never sacrifices quality
5. Take adequate rest between rounds
6. If you feel any pain, then stop the exercise immediately

It’s really important to remember that everyone is different and there are lots of factors that will influence the frequency and type of session. It’s a good idea to get the advice of a coach or trainer to ensure that you are performing these exercises correctly and in a schedule that suits your individual needs.

For more guidance, get in touch with Cat at

Overcoming failed challenges

Overcoming failed challenges

running the length of the Thames

She was utterly magnificent. The mermaid. Beautiful and grotesque at the same time and about four times the size of me. Her tail slithered just under the surface of this remote part of the Thames as her scales caught the low winter light and sparkled green and blue. It was unnatural but brilliant, peaceful but also disturbing because I knew, deep down, she wasn’t really there.

It was day two of my seven day challenge to run the length of the Thames, self-supported, from source to the barrier. And I was about one delirium away from declaring my trail shoe as its own principality and me as prime minister. It’s accurate to say, things had gone a little wrong.

I set off on Monday 5th December with a little running rucksack and a heart full of excitement about embarking on a seven day, 184 mile trail running challenge. To me this was going to end 2016 on a high, after what has been widely reported as one of the more testing years of this millennium. My parents gave me a lift to Kemble in Gloucestershire, where this great river begins, on a cold December morning as the sun was slowly starting to rise.

Here I met film maker, Frit Sarita Tam who had seen my story on Instagram and asked if she could document my challenge at the start and finish of each day. After a scramble over a few fences and a frantic scurry across a railway line, Frit and I finally found the river’s source, modestly signalled by a stone with a fading inscription which I imagine if legible would read something like “Lorna, what the F$$$ are you doing”.

running the length of the Thames

I garbled out a few words to Frit and her camera to herald the start of my great solo adventure and took off down the wintery trail with all the promise of Fivel in search of America. That day I watched the infant Thames grow alongside me as I ran alone through remote fields and passed glassy reservoirs in the crisp winter sun. I followed the little signposts and marvelled at how clear the water was in these rural chapters of the Thames’ story. No floating coke cans or rusty trolleys in this section of the river.

Knowing that fuelling is not a strength of mine, I was militant about keeping my fluids up and taking in regular nibbles of the rice balls my parents had packed me off with. I ran for hours, at times excited about being so alone with only nature as my companion. At other times, pretty intimidated by the lack of human life. Aside from a few tweaks and niggles, I was in high spirits and bounded along this first trail marathon to successfully reach Lechlade, well within the daylight timeframe I was aiming for. Frit came to meet me at the bridge and I gave yet another rambling interview, buoyed that the first day was done. But also aware I had six still to go.

running the length of the Thames

But within the course of the next 24 hours, my fate took a hairpin bend and this story of trail and tributary soon became one of trial and tribulation. Fast-forward to the end of the second day. I was a mile away from my finish point in Oxford, and was facing my ultimate fear; running in the dark. Dusk had caught up with me and I was trudging through the eerie fading light to reach safety.

A thick fog had cloaked the river and rain was pouring down my neck. I had no head torch and my body was in such deficit that I was struggling to take on food. I was about to finish a 30 mile trail run but that final mile felt longer than a very boring corporate training course I was once sent on (which has become my barometer on how slowly time can pass). Each step was like one of its breakout sessions where I, caffeinated to the eyeballs, would have to participate in yet another role play exercise.

It had all been going pretty well until mile 15. I’d run through heavy fog, deep mud and drizzle for most of the morning. At one point I missed a gate with the Thames Path symbol and had to do a Mission Impossible style shimmy under a low hanging electric fence wire to get into the right field. Quite early on, I lunged into a deep puddle of icy water leaving my feet wet for the rest of the day.

But up until mile 15 – all those things were still just part of the adventure. I was feeling relatively good until my head became heavy, then my legs and then weakness flooded my entire body. And of course, there’s the small matter of the mermaid. My mind was playing tricks on me, filling my head with images and figments. Perhaps because I had barely seen a soul out on the path for hours, shapes were starting to take on human forms and I could see figures in the shadows that weren’t really there.

When I did finally make it to Oxford, there was no relief or sense of accomplishment, only anxiety. I went straight to M&S and grappled cack-handedly at the shelves for food, snatching items that made no gastronomic sense whatsoever. (A bucket of mini-Scotch Eggs with a caramel wafer? Sure).

That night in a pokey guesthouse I had a series of nightmares that I was drowning in the Thames. I kept waking up in a pool of sweat despite feeling cold, my legs jittering, overwhelmed by nausea and stifled by panic. I have never known my body to communicate with my brain with such violent messages. Every single cell was telling me I need to stop. T

he next morning, I made the very hard decision to let my body off the hook. I paused my journey on Oxford Bridge and made a teary call to my mum to send for the broom wagon. After releasing my parachute I spent the next few days, whilst lying in bed, trying to rationalise what went wrong. The short answer is, I had a virus. A few days before it had started to show signs but in the throes of excitement I put it to the back of my mind until running 53 miles of muddy Thames path sealed the deal. By the second day it had started to manifest and distracted by symptoms, I also failed to take on food at regular intervals.

It’s been over a month now since I dropped out and I have done very little with my body since then. It’s also taken this long to feel like writing about it but I am glad I waited because now I can give you a better-rounded account and not a 20,000 word dissertation full of self-loathing. When you have to drop out of a challenge it feels like an utter failure. Whilst there were several scientific, rational answers, all my brain wanted to do was berate me for being weak, not having the stamina, being ridiculous for even thinking I could do it. In fact, for a few weeks after pulling out, I was horribly mean to myself which made my recovery slower.

But, there comes a point where you have to stop being a dick and accept that you aren’t the only person on earth to have missed the bar somewhat. You need to acknowledge your mistakes and that it wasn’t your day but mostly understand that some stories need the adversity to make them interesting. Imagine if Harry Potter was just a story about a tween that got into a good school and never had to fight off an evil Lord that was trying to kill him and everyone he held dear. Or if Cinderella just became a princess without being bullied by her wicked step sisters whilst scrubbing their floors. It would probably be as boring as that corporate training course I went on. And they wouldn’t have learned as much.

Around the time of my Thames howler Patti Smith accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of Bob Dylan by performing an arrangement of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. It was one of those performances you occasionally watch that comes out of nowhere and hits you right in the head. Of course, it was sung beautifully in Smith’s soulful way, but what made it even more moving and personal to me was that she seemed to forget the words after the second verse. Smith composed herself, apologised by saying “I’m sorry, I’m so nervous” and carried on singing to the end. What I realised when watching her was that forgetting the words and stopping the entire Philharmonic Orchestra half way through the verse, didn’t negatively affect her performance at all. Instead, Smith just sounded more powerful and the vulnerability she showed made her voice all the richer.

So just as Patti Smith’s song was done in two parts, so shall mine. I’m going back to the Thames once I have sorted out a knee injury and built up my strength and fitness. Hopefully this slight hiatus will only make me more determined to push on.

Thanks for everyone’s support so far. This river will be run.