When we speak with Sophie Radcliffe of Great Britain, it’s a rest day for her, but just ahead of her is the final leg of a cycling challenge that--if finished--will make her the first and only person in history to cycle the eight alpine countries of Europe and climb their highest mountains, a feat she’s doing alongside her support staff (her husband, Charley) and sponsors Adidas, Haglofs, and Suunto. As you might expect, she's pretty tired. "The Alpine Coast to Coast challenge has undoubtedly been the biggest challenge [of my life] so far," she says. "I'm on day 24 and it's only my third rest day. Asking your body to perform repeatedly above and beyond any previous expectations is tough."
But this isn't Radcliffe's first rodeo. After quitting her corporate job to enter a jungle race a few years ago, she developed an insatiable taste for pushing herself to extremes, leading her to start the blog Challenge Sophie, a platform for her to invent even more grueling tasks for herself--and finish them. So far, she's cycled from London to Amsterdam in 48 hours, completed the Three Peaks Challenge (cycling 430 miles and climbing the three highest peaks in the U.K.), and won the CapitalTri, her first open water swim race.
We caught up with Radcliffe to talk pain, sweat, and why bringing her husband on her ride from Italy through Slovenia, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and France (finishing in Monaco) was her best decision yet.
We know you're tired and sore--how do you keep yourself going?
Self belief. There have been moments when I’ve been too cold, tired or lacking in motivation to continue. When the pain becomes too much and you think you are at your limit with suffering, you have to find a way through! I talk to myself positively; I repeat words that will make me feel stronger, and I tell myself I feel the opposite of what I'm currently feeling. I also remind myself that nothing lasts forever.
If you complete Alpine Coast to Coast, you’ll be the first person, meaning this is your experience and yours alone. What will be the hardest part for you?
The hardest part of completing this challenge will be maintaining the drive to push myself to the limit day after day. To spend long days on the bike on my own, that’s a lot of time to look into my mind! That’s also why I do it and why I love it. I’m here to find out how and why I can motivate myself to achieve something like this--to go out there and make my dreams happen.
Are there any challenges that come with working toward a goal with your husband rather than someone you don’t know as well?
Working with Charley is incredible. We will go through extreme highs and lows and be in situations where decision-making and teamwork are key to survival. In the mountains, we need to work together and as he is very strong in the mountains, so I know I can rely on him to help me get through tough times. He’s so supportive and wants to do everything he can to help us achieve this; I couldn’t ask for anything more. I’d choose him time and time again as my adventure buddy (his hugs are the best!).
What do you miss most right now?
My mum! She's instilled this self-confidence in me to believe I can do anything and also to make me aware of my potential. I know she worries about me when I’m in the mountains, and I can't wait to get back to London and see her again. Her hugs are pretty good too!
How do you keep yourself comfortable? I’m sure there are blisters and back aches involved, so what products or measures do you take to stay healthy and healed?
The advice I give to anyone wanting to take on endurance challenges is “you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Doing a challenge like this means I have to get used to being a bit gross! Being sticky with sweat and grime most of the day, peeing in bushes, eating anything you can get your hands on, and not being picky (all my normal dietary habits have gone out the window), sleeping in tents, cycling through the rain, being freezing whilst climbing mountains--the list goes on. It’s all part of the challenge, and you have to do the best you can. The comforts I normally take for granted feel amazing, too, like having a shower after a day’s cycling or changing my clothes after three days in the mountains!
Any thoughts on the first thing you’ll do when you finish?
The first thing I plan to do when I finish is jump in the sea in Monaco, drink champagne, and eat ice cream with Charley.
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