International Women’s Day Interview – Emily Chappell
“I think women don’t yet realise how well suited they are to cycling long distances, but physiologically and mentally, they have many advantages over men.”
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve interviewed endurance cyclist Emily Chappell, founder of Adventure Syndicate, and Women’s winner of 2016’s Transcontinental Race. This year Emily will be tackling at least one 300km ride per month, and June’s big ride is the Dragon Devil (300km), as part of the Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales.
You must have started somewhere! How did you get into endurance cycling?
It was working as a cycle courier that got me into endurance. Delivering packages around London is in some ways very different from riding non-stop across Europe, but when cycling is your job, you get used to getting up and getting out on the bike no matter how tired, grumpy, ill, hungover or premenstrual you are, and I think that built a lot of the fortitude I took into my racing career.
You were the fastest woman at one of the toughest amateur cycling races on the planet! Do you think women are better set up for endurance cycling?
I think women don’t yet realise how well suited they are to cycling long distances, but physiologically and mentally, they have many advantages over men. I noticed early on that I tended to get stronger many miles into a ride, while my initially speedy riding buddies started to flag. I’m now delighted that what I’ve been predicting for years – that women will eventually outstrip men in endurance events – is starting to become reality, with women like Lael Wilcox, Sarah Hammond and Sarah Cooper winning races outright. Once you’ve been riding for several days, it becomes less about your ability to sprint up a hill, and much more about resilience, determination, and the will to keep going, qualities which women possess as abundantly as any man.
What tips do you have for women who have some experience of cycling but are looking to progress into bigger distances?
I’d recommend setting yourself a target you’re a bit scared of, getting on your bike, and seeing what happens. In all likelihood, it’ll go a lot better than you think! I’ve been cycling for 12 years now, and the whole time I’ve been surprising myself with what I turned out to be capable of – so now I’m constantly wondering: what if I just went a little bit further? Also, you can prepare yourself mentally by thinking through the details of the ride, and breaking it down into sections (it’s much easier to ride 100km three times than it is to contemplate 300km in one go).
Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen, then think about how you’ll deal with it. Most problems that come up can be resolved with food, water, extra clothing or a short rest. And if something happens that stops you from completing the ride, treat it as an experience you can learn from, rather than an out-and-out failure. Success will be all the sweeter when you finally make it!
You’re planning on riding one 300km ride each month this year. What three things would you do to prepare for a long day ride, and what three things would you not be without?
To prepare: a long sleep, a big feed, and lots of liquids the day before, to make sure I begin the ride with plenty of fluids in my system.
Ride essentials: tool kit, snacks, and a cycling cap (essential to prevent the horrible sweaty interface between head and helmet padding).
The Dragon Devil (300km) was introduced to the Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales in 2014, and since then just 26 women have finished the ride. What words of advice would you give women considering taking on this challenge?
You are capable of more than you think. Also, don’t be afraid of doing things that are hard. Riding 300km will be hard. But you are capable and resourceful enough to deal with what the ride throws at you, and every challenge you overcome will make you stronger for the next one.