Jenny Graham’s record-breaking year

Jenny Graham celebrates becoming the fastest woman to cycle around the world
A year ago Cycling UK member Jenny Graham broke the world record for the fastest woman to cycle around the world. She now works with the Adventure Syndicate encouraging others to get out on their bikes. Cycling UK’s Victoria Hazael caught up with Jenny to see how has her life changed

It took 124 days, cycling an average of 156 miles each day to become the fastest woman to circumnavigate the earth by bicycle. After arriving at Brandenburg Gate in October 2018 there wasn’t much time for Jenny to immediately rest and reflect.

A year on, “I feel, although the pedals have stopped, I’m still on the journey,” said Jenny who regularly gives talks about her adventure. “I was not prepared for the craziness, reliving it all. The talks, podcasts and upcoming film have been part of processing the big journey I rode alone.”

“I have such special memories of it. ;If I’m out riding and get down on my tri-bars it takes me back to the beautiful places I went through – like Mongolia. I was content on my bike throughout the journey; I liked the ease of being on the road and only having basic needs to look after.”

Jenny filmed many parts of her journey and that footage has been beautifully woven together to make a short film called Eastbound which premieres at the Kendal Mountain Festival on 15 November.

Home coming

When Jenny returned from her record-breaking four-month trip, she handed in her notice at her council job and had left by Christmas. She decided to make a living riding her bike and inspiring others to have cycling adventures of their own.

“I am taking the opportunities now. I’ve been asked to speak at lots of events and I’m a co-director of the Adventure Syndicate, encouraging more women and girls.”

What started as a quest to see how far she could go gathered momentum. Jenny’s journey was followed by more than 100,000 people watching her GPS dot move over 18,000 miles around the world.

As the Adventure Syndicate is affiliated to Cycling UK and Jenny is a Cycling UK member, the charity su​pported her by answering Jenny’s press enquiries. She sent us video messages along the route, and in turn many Cycling UK members sent her messages of encouragement.

Jenny is now home in Inverness with her son who has just turned 21. “It was so lovely seeing him again. When I came back he was a 20-year-old man – he managed so well without me.

“He thought he was fine, as every day people were asking about me; it was massive part of his life. But he didn’t realise until I got home safely that he’d been worried, and he had a huge sense of relief. My family have been brilliant. They never asked me not to do it. They were all so supportive.”

It can be hard to adjust when you return from an adventure, but Jenny is happy to be home. “I love being at home – I’m not someone who feels they need to escape. It’s been so lovely and like I’d never been away.”

This year there’s been a new addition to the household. Jenny has given a home to a rescue dog – a German Pointer called Belle – who loves running alongside her when she’s out riding in the Highlands.

Thinking back, looking forward

Reflecting on the trip that changed her life, Jenny said: “The end was a really hard time. It was an emotional last 12 days coming through Europe, and I was becoming aware of the size of the interest in the trip. Lee Craigie was drip feeding me information to get me back to the real world, as I’d just been concentrating on riding my bike.”

Back in the UK, Cycling UK was co-ordinating Jenny’s media interviews. She had a busy schedule in the week after she broke the record, from sitting on the BBC Breakfast sofa to chatting on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

Jenny explained again and again that she was just an ordinary girl who hated PE at school and that, when she was a teenage mum, she didn’t have the time, confidence or inclination for adventures. Little by little, though, with the right encouragement and support, she was able to take time for herself to explore the Scottish Highlands and eventually find out she was far more capable than she thought.

I’ve had people get in touch in person or via social media saying I’ve helped them to get out cycling. I think that’s part of being an ordinary person who pushes boundaries and barriers

Jenny Graham

“I spent a week in London, staying in my sister’s house alone, and cycled around London talking for an hour at time. Then I would come back, flop on the bed and not be capable of talking to anyone else. Mentally it was a buffer to get my head around what had happened. Different questions made me think about the trip and start to process how I’d got there.”

A year on, the response has been huge. “I’ve had people get in touch in person or via social media saying I’ve helped them to get out cycling,” said Jenny. “I think that’s part of being an ordinary person who pushes boundaries and barriers. They went cycling because they knew I was out there riding all day and sometimes all night!

“Feedback had the same effect on me. Having that support was and is a real morale booster; I never felt alone.”

Looking ahead, Jenny is busy with plans to share the film Eastbound and with projects with the Adventure Syndicate such as Match the Miles.

In January, Jenny and the Adventure Syndicate will be running another Winter Gathering in Spain to encourage and support eight women to experience their own backpacking adventure. There’s also a fully funded place available if your income is limited.