Christina Mackenzie has stood on top of the middle step of the podium at cycling, triathlon and ironman events on more occasions than the humble athlete would ever allow herself to boast, but all that experience, all those gruelling miles, glorious honours and sporting experience was no help as she took on her greatest ever challenge – Lejog.
Mackenzie has been out-sprinting, outlasting and outperforming top calibre athletes at events around the country, and beyond, for several years now, collecting titles, medals and records like stamps and forging a reputation as the Hebridean Ironwoman, but taking on a world cycling record which had stood for 17-years proved to be unlike anything she had tackled before.
But Christina is no ordinary athlete and while most of us would baulk and shirk away from the kind of sporting challenge which would require 35+ hours of training per week – after work hours and sessions which would make you vomit, she is never more at home than when pushing herself to her physical limits.
“To say I am overwhelmed by all the messages of support is an understatement,” admitted Christina.
“My support team were keeping me updated of all the positive vibes that were been sent but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would capture so much interest, support and good wishes. I am still catching up with reading all the messages and apologies if I haven’t replied back yet.
“This challenge has been a year in the making and I have had full support from these guys, Dougie, Lynne, Garry, Norrie, Graeme and Bruce helping me every step/pedal of the way. I could not have done any of this without them, their belief in me is what got me to the end.
“I set out with the intention to try and break Lynne Taylor’s record she set in 2002 of 52hrs 45mins. I knew this would be a tough ask and was going to be the challenge of a lifetime. I have endured long distance pain before in the 24hr’s TT’s and know this was “double & a wee bit extra” I was under no illusion this was going to be pretty and I would go through some dark times.”
Dark times is something of an understatement for Christina who dug deeper than she ever had before but what an effort, what an athlete.
Throughout the epic 839-mile route from Land’s End to John O’Groats members of the public, friends, well wishers and people just enthralled with her inspiring record attempt lined the roads through the length of Great Britain with signs, cheers, waves and words of encouragement and even though she narrowly missed out on the world record her valiant and brave finish, the roar as she climbed off the bike after 55-bum bursting hours on the saddle was so loud it could have torn a hole in the John O’Groat’s sky.
She might not have broken the world record but she did set a fastest ever time by a Scots woman taking on the might of Lejog while she was also the third fastest female EVER to complete the ride.
It was always likely to require a herculean effort to beat the world record from Christina but she set off in good speed and she remained well ahead of her target pace for more 700-miles but after two days in the saddle and more than 700-miles of tarmac in her thighs the steep climbs of Helmsdale, twinned with a gruelling headwind, proved to be too much as she slipped below target.
Having pedalled 766-miles in 48-frenetic hours it is no surprise her pace slowed a little and it is a testament to her iron will and determination she refused to give up and she continued to the finish at John O’Groats.
“Arriving at the iconic Lands End and getting ready to start was nerve racking, my heart rate was already sky high, nerves and excitement will do that to you,” explained Christina.
“Over the course of the 55hrs I went through highs and low and at times I doubted what I was doing even attempting this challenge, that I was just a girl from Stornoway who got her first road bike seven years ago and have “bitten off more than I can chew.” With the support from my team they put these doubts to the back of my mind and gave me words of encouragement throughout.
“I cannot believe the amount of people that came out to support us on the road, starting in England with Mike Broadwith the men’s Lejog record holder and the legendary Lynne Taylor (who’s record I was trying to beat) both screaming and shouting words of encouragement on the road.
“Then coming into Scotland, from Gretna facing a headwind and a low point getting perked up by cheers from two Stirling Bike Club / Wallace Warriors Members assuring me I would get a tailwind once I turned towards Edinburgh.
“Heading towards the Forth Road Bridge I got the biggest surprise to see so many friends and colleagues gather on the bridge to cheer and wish me well. Apologies I could stop to chat after everyone making such an effort to come out and support, it really was a great boost and spurred me on to my next destination. It was great to be greeted with good wishes along the way in Kirkliston,Inverkeithing, Kinross, Milnathort, Glenfarg then the SBC Perth roundabout party corner and even on the A9.
“I was slightly apprehensive on the approach to the A9, I have driven it many times to know it’s not the place for a bike but is a must on this occasion. My nerves turned into giggles when on approach all I could see was a large group of SBC members and friends shouting words of encouragement and pushing me on towards nightfall on the 100 mile stretch of the A9.
“I had my ever vigilant support team in convey protecting me from the traffic and ensuring I just had to focus on keeping peddling.
“Nightfall came, this was my second night riding with only 20 minutes since the start and sleep deprivation was kicking in.”
Christina continued to reflect on the gruelling A9 saying: “Cycling along the A9 in the dead of night,climbing the Drumochter pass was a challenging time that could have finished my attempt. Seeing a sign saying Inverness 100 miles, knowing I was peddling uphill and feeling like I was hardly moving, then getting so cold everything became a hard task.
“Sleep deprivation was taking its toll and I was seeing things on the side of the road that weren’t there, I knew that but my mind was trying to tell me otherwise. Six hours later I thankfully started to see the lights of Inverness and was looking toward to the decent into Inverness, never did I envisage I could/would actually fall asleep at descending at 49mph and actually stay upright. Thankfully and I don’t know how I didn’t come off the bike and maintained my balance as none of the support team knew until I mentioned it to them after.
“When I crossed the Kessock bridge the guys informed me I had to maintain an average of 16mph to JoG’s to achieve our goal. I thought in my head this was achievable as I was currently averaging 16.5mph throughout and progressed toward Tore, ensuring I didn’t take my usual left Ullapool turning and head towards the east coast flat route toward Alness.
“At this point (and well before now) every part of my body hurt, but I was happy that I could push the necessary power on the flats and able to average 25mph. Then....the realisation I still have Helmsdale and the Berriedale Braes to climb and keeping an average of 16mph was going to be a challenge. Helmsdale was as expected, a killer. I had no climbing legs left and knew from them it was game over and would not be able to maintain the required average speed.”
The dawning realisation that Lynne Taylor’s Lejog record was now slipping out of reach would have been enough for most athletes to chuck in the towel or abandon the attempt but this was never a consideration for Christina who remained determined on reaching the end point.
“I was gutted,” confessed Christina, “I felt I had let my team down and disappointed all the people that had assured me I would smash it and had every confidence in me to break the record. I continued to try and increase my average speed on the flats and descents in the hope this would balance out and a possibility it may still get me to JoG’s before the 12:45pm deadline.
“Time was running out and I knew it was unachievable at this point, I spoke with the support team. I knew I had to get to John O’Groats even if I didn’t break the record, to stop before that would result in me failing myself and everyone that has support and invested time, encouragement and enthusiasm in me.
“I hurt all over, my body wanted to get off my bike and put it in the van and head back to the hotel. Thankfully my mind is stronger than my body and I continued the painful 39 miles over Helmsdale and Berriedale,slowly and painfully to get to Wick, where I had another sleep deprivation moment but my team safely chaperoned me to the finishing line.
“The funny thing, I got to the sign post and felt great! I was greeted there by friends, strangers and media who congratulated us all on getting there, in the official time of 55hrs 19mins and 52seconds. It wasn’t a record breaking time, but is the third fastest female and fastest female Scottish time.
“Once returning to the hotel, sitting with team they showed me all the comments,posts, encouragement from people near and far. I was speechless, tearful and every emotion in between.
“My disappointment of not achieving my target time was diminished after seeing how many people were glued to the “Dot” and following our progress the whole 55hrs was unbelievable. The Lejogmack team are on a high and none us can believe the engagement this has received.
Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to comment, like,share, RT, come out to support and helped in any way.
“Here’s to the next adventure, whatever that will be.”
Having burned off a remarkable 23,502 calories over the course of her world record attempt Christina joked it must be time for cake.
Christina was raising money for the Lewis branch of Cancer Research UK.