Portsmouth grandma breaks world record by cycling Land’s End to John o’ Groats and back

Marcia with her Guinness World Record certificate
Marcia Roberts awarded Guinness World Record for the fastest woman to complete LEJOGLE
Cycling UK member and 54-year-old grandma Marcia Roberts battled through Storm Francis, saddle sores and fatigue to become a Guinness World Record holder as the first woman to complete Land’s End to John o’ Groats...and back

After 11 days, 13 hours and 13 minutes, Marcia became the first woman to record an official time for the Land’s End to John o’ Groats and back (LEJOGLE), and now she’s been officially recognised by Guinness World Records.

“It was such a surprise to finally receive the acknowledgement that Guinness have accepted my Land’s End to John o’ Groats and back to be the official female World Record,” said Marcia.

“It goes to show that you don’t need to be young, or a life-long athlete to set a cycling record. What is most important is the desire to ride, and the consistency to keep riding regularly no matter what the weather is. This cements the mindset that enables you to suffer and to keep going when it gets really tough.

The ride has inspired others to challenge themselves to ride further and I feel very privileged to have played a small part in that

Marcia Roberts, Guinness World Record holder

“Finding a cause that you believe in certainly helps and the amazing support from people on the route.

“I still keep pinching myself that I can now stand proud in the list of amazing cycling distance records holders such as Michael Broadwith, Lynne Taylor, Christina MacKenzie, Jane Moore and Richard Thoday to name just a few.

“As well as raising over £10,000 for mental health, the ride has inspired others to challenge themselves to ride further and I feel very privileged to have played a small part in that.”

Marcia and her motorbike companion, keeping traffic at a safe distance

Marcia was cheered on along the route by supporters, friends and family. On the first leg of the journey, she was joined by a rider from Cornwall and then accompanied by a motorbike rider called Steve who had become aware of her record attempt online and came along to ensure cars kept a safe distance.

“This was the kindness of a stranger #2,” said Marcia. “And it wasn’t even 8:30am on the first day.”

Setting out for a record

Marcia only decided to take on this epic challenge during lockdown. After riding in the Paris-Brest-Paris in August 2019 she had been unable to finish within the time and decided she needed something a bit flatter for her next challenge. She decided to next take on the Race around the Netherlands, due to take place at the beginning of May 2020. 

After a winter of training she was feeling prepared. “I started thinking like an athlete instead of a rider who happens to ride a long way,” said Marcia. “My riding changed phenomenally over the winter.”

Then, after coronavirus hit, everything changed. The Race around the Netherlands was cancelled and the country was in lockdown.

“I started to think, what can I do that I could do in this country, that I could organise myself and that would be pretty spectacular? When I looked, there hadn’t been any women who had even attempted a Land’s End to John o’ Groats and back record.”

She was inspired by the technique used by Mark Beaumont in his round the world in 80 days challenge.

“He said you can’t think about the distance because the distance just overwhelms your mind, and it was the same thinking about the 1,800 miles for LEJOGLE.

“Mark set his ride into four-hour blocks and only ever thinks about the four-hour block he is in.

“I thought I can get my head around that.”

She planned to cycle 50 miles every 3.5 hours before taking a short break. She would do that four times every day.

LEJOGLE world record attempt

Marcia was told by Guinness that to get the world record she would need to finish the ride in eight and a half days.

Originally planning to complete the ride unsupported, she realised she needed some help, and help arrived from everywhere.

Accompanied by her husband in a support van for much of the journey, a volunteer she had never met heard she was tackling a stretch alone and came out with her own camper van.

Stormy weather

One of the toughest moments for Marcia came during Storm Francis which hit the country on day three of her ride.

“On the day of Storm Francis, I really lost a lot of miles,” said Marcia. “I got on this road that goes from Gretna Green to Hamilton, that was when my saddle sores really started to get going and also we were still in the middle of the storm. It wasn’t raining so hard but then the winds picked up and got stronger and stronger.

“Then when it got dark, the rain came as well. So it was cold rain into a headwind, in the dark.”

At the half way point John o' Groats

Marcia demonstrated her incredible strength of mind and spirit towards the end of her gruelling journey when her body started fighting against her.

“The last two days were just awful, in every way you can imagine,” explained Marcia. “I was in pain with saddle sores that I picked up on the way going north in Storm Francis and then they just got worse and worse.

“The most difficult moments came once I realised I wasn’t going to do it in 8.5 days, I could never catch up the time that I’d lost.

“I was close enough to the end that there was no way I was stopping. I was going to get there come hell or high water. There was nothing that was going to get me in that van. I’d cycled all the way up and most of the way back.

“You can’t stop when you’ve only got 150-200 miles to go, you just can’t, you’ve got to carry on.”

Marcia raised money for her local mental health charity, Solent Mind.

“Through the Covid crisis so many people have been experiencing more problems I would say than normal. We have the threat of unemployment, people being lonely, people being apart from their family, people not really sure what the future is going to hold.

“I’ve seen really good friends struggle through this time and I thought, we really need to be raising money to help the mental health services and mental health charities.”

Marcia was joined on route by several riders who came out to tell their own mental health struggles.

Whatever stage you are at on your own journey, these stories show that it’s possible to get through the dark times...You are never alone, even though it may feel like that at times

Marcia Roberts

“Some have agreed to let me share their stories on my blog in the hope that they help others to see that it’s OK to talk or to seek help. Whatever stage you are at on your own journey, these stories show that it’s possible to get through the dark times.

“There will always be someone in your life that will support you if you will let them, be it a friend or family member. You are never alone, even though it may feel like that at times.”

Arriving at Lands' End

Marcia smashed her fundraising target even before setting off.

“Oh my goodness, it’s been amazing. By the time you add gift aid, and the money from the virtual event, we’re close to £11K.”

“I am reminded that even though cycling can be the most socially distanced of sports, there is something about it which can also bring people together.

“My LEJOGLE journey somehow did just that. I started the ride with just a few friends, family and Audaxers having any real interest in my journey. But by the end hundreds, possibly thousands, were watching my ‘dot’ and encouraging me to the finish, regardless of whether I had passed my target time or not.”

Enjoying a well earned glass of bubbly at the finish line

Join the virtual LEJOGLE ride

If you don’t have a spare 10-20 days to take on the LEJOGLE yourself, you can now get involved virtually.

“I decided I wasn’t quite content with just doing the ride. I want everybody else to get involved as well. Keeping fit, riding your bike, running, walking is known to improve your mental health. If you’re stuck indoors all day, there’s nothing better.”

“For me, cycling is my way of finding balance. Especially when I’m locked up at home all day. When my head is not in a good place I like night riding.

“I’ll just keep going until I’ve had enough. It just feels great. I can go for a night ride in places where there’s lots of street lights but there’s nobody on the roads, you hear everything, you smell everything. I just love it so much, it’s just total calm.”

Join the virtual LEJOGLE