Laura Scott | Ultra-distance cyclist
Over the past decade, ultra-cycling events such as the Transcontinental, the Tour Divide and the Trans Am Bike Race have skyrocketed in popularity. They’ve changed the way many now think about what it means to race and be a “proper” cyclist.
Meanwhile the tough, motivated, hardy adventurers who take on these epic events are - while inspiring - still slightly elusive to those of us looking in from the outside. So what does it take to push yourself to ride thousands of kilometres over a matter of days? And how do you find the motivation while you’re up against the clock, with no food stations for support and no cosy bed to jump into at the end of a tough day on the road?
In our new documentary series, Endurance, we follow three cyclists who are doing just that. And explore what they can teach those of us who aspire to take on bigger, bolder challenges.
Laura Scott is a well-known face on the UK endurance scene. Once a keen swimmer, the Canadian fell out of love with the sport and in to cycling after she began commuting by bike in London, where she now lives.
Perhaps understandably considering her background, the prospect of doing laps for three hours was never something that fazed her. But it was that draw of being out on the quiet lanes, surrounded by nature, that really drove this natural-born adventurer to start looking into long-distance cycling.
Laura explains: “Staring at a line on the bottom of a pool for three hours, you find this flow that you can get into. When I found cycling it gave me that active meditation back - that opportunity to forget about whatever’s going on in your life and be present in the space around you.
“Coming from a more endurance background, I find it easier to get to that place in my mind when doing those longer distances.”
We head for the gravel and chat endurance riding with Laura
Laura first caught the bug for long-distance cycling after taking part in a Paris to London charity ride five years ago, and soon began dabbling with the idea of taking on ultra-distance events.
She slowly began meeting other riders on the London endurance scene, and hearing about their experiences of races such as the Transcontinental. And she was itching to give it a go for herself.
Then in 2016, she finally bit the bullet and set out solo on the epic Trans Am Bike Race.
‘I hadn’t worked that hard, and come all the way to cycle 50 miles’
Having spent her childhood camping and doing solo-canoe trips in northern Ontario, the prospect of sleeping outside in a bivvy bag and carrying a month’s worth of ‘survival’ equipment in a couple of bike bags was manageable.
But her first major long-distance cycling challenge of this kind, Laura says: “I have no problem admitting I had no idea what I was doing. I put a lot of pressure on myself to train pretty much every day.
We joined Laura on one of her regular Essex training routes
“While it did get me to a position where I was able to compete, it’s not necessarily the best way to train for an endurance event.”
Unfortunately, like many things in life, Laura’s race didn’t quite play out as she’d imagined it would (she crashed 80km in, and ended up riding 3540km with a fractured collar bone).
“I put so much pressure on myself in the days leading up to it, in my mind I had to keep going. I hadn’t worked that hard, given up that much and come all the way to the states to cycle 50 miles,” she explains.
“[In the days after the crash] my shoulder kept dislocating as a result of the fracture. Then my stitches got infected… It was just one thing after another going wrong.
Laura cycled 3540km solo across American with a fractured collar bone - yep, ouch
“So I got past the halfway mark, past the Rocky Mountains, which is not what I set out to achieve but I’m still quite proud of it because it was an incredible ride in its own right. The big learning event for me out of that ride was that sometimes things don’t go as planned but they can still be pretty incredible experiences.”
The next big challenge...
Laura’s since taken on events such as Ride Across Britain, the Trafalgar Way and Mallorca 312.
And while her first significant race didn’t go to plan, as we head out with her final training ride before her next big event, the TransAtlanticWay race, it’s clear to see how much her experiences have taught her.
TAT is a 2500km unsupported road race around the west coast of Ireland, and this time, Laura is taking a very different approach to training.
The natural-born adventurer grew up camping and canoeing in Canada
She explains to us: “If you talk to people who run marathons, you very rarely run a marathon in your training! It’s the same with endurance cycling events.
“I don’t need to cycle over 2,000km in my training, but I need to be able to do it once I get to the event so it’s all about building up your endurance base and having consistency.”
Her calm attitude going into this ride reeks of someone who’s dedicated a lot of time to honing their skill and confidence in these kinds of events - and of someone who gets a buzz out of tackling the the unexpected challenges they often throw up.
Laura’s very vocal about the fact that she often draws motivation from friends and family during the more challenging times of these rides. She says reading a positive comment on her Instagram page, a quick phone call and pep-talk with a close mate, or checking out what weird and wonderful songs her pals have added to her collaborative Spotify race playlist all keep her going.
But without a doubt, it’s her own quiet determination and impressive ability that keep her pedals turning.
UPDATE: Laura smashed the TransAtlantic Way! Check out her ride data here.
Laura took part in this event in memory of her dad and to raise fund for The Brain Tumour Charity. To find out more and to donate, click here.
NOW WATCH: ENDURANCE PART TWO | THE AUDAXER