How CTC Derby and Burton helped novice cyclists to get off the couch and cycle 100 miles to the coast!

The Couch to Coast finishers celebrating after reaching Skegness
CTC Derby and Burton's Couch to Coast Challenge riders celebrate achieving their goal of cycling 100 miles in a day
This year, CTC Derby and Burton's Couch to Coast Challenge was a runner-up for the Best Cycling Programme at our Volunteers of the Year Awards. But what is the Couch to Coast Challenge, and why did Cycling UK think it such a worthwhile project? We decided it was time to ask one of the organisers why the group decided to start the challenge.

The idea behind the Couch to Coast Challenge is to coach new riders out of the comfort of their couches to - eventually! - cycle 100 miles from Derby to Skegness. For many of us riding a century in a day is a hard enough challenge, but for those who aren't regular cyclists or who haven't cycled for a long time it's a very daunting thought. So, how did CTC Derby and Burton manage to help 32 novice riders accomplish this goal?

Paul Hilditch, one of the organisers of the Couch to Coast Challenge and member of CTC Derby and Burton, very kindly answered our questions.

What is CTC Derby and Burton?

CTC Derby and Burton is a Cycling UK Member Group made up of two sub-groups, one in Derby and another in Burton-on-Trent, which have been in existence since 1924. They both run their own rides but come together for social events, including of course the Couch to Coast Challenge. Many individual members have completed big tours and audaxes themselves, including the Paris-Brest-Paris, London-Edinburgh-London, the Arrow run to York Rally, the End-to-End and round the World tours.

It’s not unusual to find the ride leader of an easy-going club run has just completed some amazing cycling feat or adventure. They’re always too modest to shout about it, but also prepared to share their experience and offer help and encouragement. Among such accomplished cyclists the club doesn’t forget the sense of achievement cycling can bring to all and that the first time someone gets up that hill on the way home is as notable as anything else.

The Couch to Coast starters beginning in Derby

What is the Couch to Coast Challenge about? What does it do?

We provide a supported programme of rides taking cyclists from their first pedal strokes to cycling the classic 100-mile route from Derby to Skegness through a series of rides that become progressively longer throughout the summer. This year, the rides started in April, with participants covering about 10 miles along quiet lanes and experienced Cycling UK riders supporting them every step of the way, with the goal being to be able to cover the 100 miles to Skegness in September. The rides were increased in distance by 10 miles each time so riders could see each goal was achievable and realistic, building up to the final 100.

What inspired CTC Derby and Burton to start the Couch to Coast Challenge?

We’d been discussing ways to raise our profile and we talked to people from other groups including Cycle Bristol CTC. The inspiration for the challenge to be a series of increasingly longer rides certainly came from them and their successful Get Gorge-ous Cycle Challenge.

How many people on average came to the event?

32 people came along to cycle for the first time.

What many would think of as extraordinary (like riding 100 miles in a day) is within the capabilities of most people.

Paul Hilditch, Derby and Burton CTC

What did you want these people to get out of the challenge?

An understanding of the sorts of rides our groups do every week, and to discover that what many would think of as extraordinary, like riding 100 miles in a day, is within the capabilities of most people.

What did you want CTC Derby and Burton to get out of the Challenge, and how did members help support the ride?

We wanted to raise our profile by introducing more riders to who we are and what we do. We also wanted to increase participation in our regular programme. Plus, these rides are just as much fun for existing members as newcomers. Most of our ride leaders are involved in the rides that lead up to the big one. Members helped with publicity, organisation and mainly just being welcoming and encouraging to participants.

Couch to Coast ride

Were there any difficulties getting the Couch to Coast started? If so, how did you overcome them?

Not really. It required some research to get the logistics right and we learnt from the first year how it could be better.

The route to Skegness is pretty tried and tested, but being aware there would be some less experienced cyclists, we tweaked the route to avoid some main roads and crossed major trunk roads at the simplest junctions.

Not wanting to spend too much cycling time waiting to be served at stops, we researched the cafés (one of the tougher jobs!) and found ones where we could pre-book.

The first year, we were unsure on numbers, so we booked a pretty flexible transport company with a lorry and two minibuses to bring us back. The second year we were able to book the services of Bikeliner with their coach and purpose-built trailer, which was perfect. This year we also booked an overnight stay at a local hotel in Skegness which was a sociable end for those not wanting to get back immediately.

Both years, we offered a bag transfer so people had a change of clothes for the journey back. The first year was a bit haphazard - the bags arrived after the riders and the choice of places to change were the back of the lorry or the Tesco toilets! This year we booked some refreshments and the use of facilities at the hotel some of us were staying in. Considering how wet everyone was, it would have been worth ten times the cost!

Other small things that added to the smooth running of the challenge were:

  • Finding a start point with parking and toilets;
  • Knowing where the shops and toilets are along the route (or easy diversions to);
  • Having non-riders available at the start to take group photos and keep an eye on things;
  • Organising the riders into appropriate groups with the idea to put people riding at similar pace together, and starting them out to arrive at around the same time.

Were there any difficulties on the day of the event? If yes, what did you do as a group to overcome them?

There were slight mechanical issues both years on the end ride in September, and a couple of times on the build-up rides. We didn’t do anything different to any other of our usual group rides, though. Everyone helped out, and got it sorted.

Both years we had riders struggling a bit towards the end, but we had ride leaders ride with them so no one felt isolated.

Both years had contingency plans in case a rider wasn’t able to complete. In the end this wasn’t needed, but the reassurance was worth having (for organisers and participants!).

What was the best thing about this year’s event?

Everyone made it to the end with a smile, despite the far from ideal weather conditions. They really appreciated the Challenge Ride medals they earned that had been donated by Cycling UK!

What advice do you have for other Groups or Volunteers who might like to run something similar?

Just do it! Get as many people involved as possible to share the organising.

CTC Derby and Burton Couch to Coast
Balsall Heath members collect their award

Has anyone started to come along to your regular rides or become a member after this event?

Yes, several new members and also a couple of riders who were already Cycling UK members but hadn’t ridden with the group before.

Do you have plans to run the challenge again next year?

Plans are afoot for another series of challenge rides next year! It will be a similar format but the destination may be different. Keep an eye on our website for more details early next year.

YOU could make it happen too!

If you are from a cycling group and would like to put on a similar programme in 2019 to encourage others to cycle, please get in touch with us as we'd love to help.

Register your interest in becoming a volunteer

Current volunteer vacancies

Meet two of the inspirational riders who completed the Couch to Coast

Susan McIvor (below) never thought she could complete such a physical challenge, having had extensive spinal surgery.

Susan McIvor with her bike in Skegness

She says:

"I remember finding the details for the Couch to Coast accidentally online and being intrigued. Although I had enjoyed cycling on off-road paths on my own, I was mostly a fair-weather, flat cyclist. I turned up to my first training ride having not told anyone close to me that I had signed up for the challenge; I didn't want to admit failure to anyone. I was so anxious on that first ride that I felt sick at the start.

Everyone who did this ride last year...

The coffee stop helped. "Everyone who did this ride did Skegness last year", I was told. Ride two: with my bike just fully-serviced, my chain snapped before the coffee stop. Fortunately, a member of the group had a chain tool and knew what to do with it, as I stood helplessly and gratefully by. Our arrival at the coffee stop was met with an encouraging cheer. At the end of the ride the same voice echoed: "Everyone who did this ride last year..." 

I later took my bike of shame to a different bike shop. "There's not many people doing those kind of distances on a bike like this", the bike fixer said. 'Couch to Coast' information says simply that the bike needs to be comfortable and so I persisted with the bike and pedalled on.

The road less travelled

With each training ride, the Skegness challenge was slowly and steadily getting closer, my slow and steady cycling pace now familiar to the ride leaders, who kept to their promise of never leaving anyone behind. I pedalled roads I had never driven, through pretty villages I'd never heard of and up hills I'd never noticed. I learned about group cycling and road cycling. Following the two 50+ mile rides, I finally began to believe the 100-mile ride would be possible. I began to tell my friends about the challenge. They were amazed.

The ride day was exciting, and for the first 30 miles to breakfast, I think I was powered by adrenalin but then waned on the way to Woodhall Spa, feeling very uncomfortable in the seat. Tea and chocolate cake revived me and on we pedalled through Spilsby's wall of wind and rain, and the final countdown miles began, to the promised fish and chips. 

I never imagined that I would undertake such a physical challenge in my life as I had undergone life-saving neurosurgery at 16 followed by years of extensive spinal surgery

Susan McIvor

I was really emotional when we cycled into Skegness as a group. I never imagined that I would undertake such a physical challenge in my life, as I had undergone life saving neurosurgery at 16 followed by years of extensive spinal surgery. My friends who knew me from that time were impressed at this personal achievement and promptly donated more than £1000 between them to my chosen charity, the Wesley hospital in Burma.

We shared stories of personal achievement at the reception party at the hotel. Many of the cyclists raised money for charities which had personal significance for them.

So much good has been achieved through the generosity, experience, kindness and encouragement of the group's regular cyclists, many of whom we waved  off in awe into the headwind as they rode back to Derby the following day. Derby to Skegness Couch to Coast 2018 was such an amazing experience. I'll probably always be a slow and steady cyclist. My Dutch genes dictate that I may only ever be really happy cycling on the flat. But I know that I have achieved what many others cyclists may never do, 100 miles in one day!

Norman Todd's story is equally inspirational. He decided to join this year's ride to meet new people and get active again.

Cycling back to health after a heart attack

Having retired from teaching just over three years ago and then suffered a heart attack, I had been on a mission to improve my health and fitness. Having got to a stage where I was fit and healthy, I felt it was time to expand my activities by taking part in more challenging mainstream events such as the Couch to Coast ride. 

Norman Todd

I went along to my first training ride and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although it was just over 20 miles, I coped well and was keen to have a go at each of the subsequent training rides. By the time we got to the big day, I was confident in my ability to cope and complete the challenge. I preferred to ride with the leisurely group rather than the medium or fast-paced groups. It was very reassuring to realise that no-one would be left behind. 

Cycling with others

Social group riding is enjoyable, gets you out of the house and keeps you active, which is essential to maintaining good physical and mental health. It is a great form of low impact exercise. Once you start cycling regularly, you become fitter and will notice that it becomes easier. Where I live, there are numerous cycle paths that are away from traffic and therefore much safer, which makes cycling all the more enjoyable.

From being completely unfit and inactive three-and-a-half years ago to be able to rise to this challenge was, for me, mind-blowing.

Norman Todd, heart attack survivor and 100-mile cyclist 

I now ride regularly, often with friends, and have joined Cycling UK so that I can take part in the CTC Derby and Burton rides over the next year. A number of my friends have seen how much I enjoyed the experience and are keen to join in and take part in next year’s challenge too. The main thing I remember about this year’s Couch to Coast is the wonderful people I met and cycled with. I felt an enormous sense of achievement when we all arrived at Skegness seafront having ridden just over 100 miles. From being completely unfit and inactive three-and-a-half years ago to be able to rise to this challenge was, for me, mind-blowing."

Well done Norman and Susan and thanks for sharing your stories! And a big thank you to Paul Hilditch and the rest of the wonderful volunteers from Derby and Burton CTC who made their cycling journeys back to health and happiness happen.