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Sweaty, tired, and uncomfortably sticky after a 75 mile dash from Oxford to Portsmouth, while attempting to remove myself from a sports bra in a toilet cubicle, trying to avoid contact with the sporadic automatic flush button or dropping my socks on the mysterious wet patch on the floor, knocking limbs against walls as the ferry swayed into motion, I heard a disbelieving traveller question my teammate outside:
'But why on earth would you DO THIS?'
With sports bra constricting both elbows, I peered through the confines of Lycra at my current situation: Why AM I doing this?
And then in that toilet cubicle, while being stabbed in the back by a toilet roll holder, I began to seriously question my motives, and came up with justification, in part, away from the predictable spiel of 'I'm raising money for Save the Children to help...*insert current dire socio-political situation involving children here*'.
Needless to say, I was in that cubicle for a long time.
Those four hundred reckless miles turned out to mean much more to me than simply an impersonal attempt at throwing money at the world's problems. And, if you'll bear with me, dear reader, I shall try to bumble my way through this reasoning.
Every day, around the world, people are thrown involuntarily out of their comfort zone. They may be displaced by conflict, battling cancer, or simply working up the courage to phone the bank. I may not be able to even begin to understand what many recipients of Save the Children's aid have witnessed or experienced, but I can at least attempt to empathise with being pushed out of that personal comfort zone. As someone who was told she had 'eaten too many Mars Bars' by her snarling terrier of a P.E. teacher as she limped after her classmates through cross country, cycling the length of England was seriously out of mine. Perhaps one day I will be able to make a real change to people's lives, even if it's just as a cog in the complex infrastructure machine, but right now, raising funds will have to do.
Every day, as I'm sure you're well aware, we are bombarded with ideas of what our bodies must look like. We confront our bodies with seemingly endless amounts of loathing, broken promises and wishes for change.
For at least 17 years, despite regular exercise and endless amounts of spinach, an awareness that my body must somehow meet some elusive standard has lingered around me like a bad smell. Trips to the gym almost always ended with my naked reflection pulling the loose flesh away from my stomach to observe what my body would look like if I didn't have, well, a stomach. On the road somewhere between the a damp tent in Yorkshire and a damp tent in Lyons-la-Forêt I reached an almost primal state - eat, cycle, sleep, repeat - and those insecurities seemed to melt away. Calories were suddenly something you wished were plentiful. The salt in crisps was to be savoured, enjoyed and sweated out. Legs were just another means of transport, arms were to be concerned with braking, and stomachs were to contain fuel for the ride.
On the mere hour-long flight back from Paris as I flew over the vast maze of hedgerows and a gradational quilt of green it occurred to me that although I still have a body which no fashion magazine would ever print - with 42" hips that frequently get wedged between benches in lecture theatres, compelling me to do a shifty side-step bounce to my seat - I am still lucky enough to have limbs and a body healthy enough carry me over this expanse of land - to adventure, and back again. An adventure few have the opportunity to experience.
Now, I run because the idea that I have complete control over my body empowers me. I cycle because the sense of freedom my speed creates as I stream past beautiful surroundings overwhelms me. And I look at my limbs with pride because their resilience, their strength, their willingness to get out of bed, run for the bus, stretch and bend in contortions of joy and rhythm fascinates me.
Surely, I owe this body some respect, and when the feeling that I can't carry on, or I'm too afraid to begin, creeps up, I'll think of those six days, what they stood for, and remind myself that so far my track record for survival is 100%.
Failing that, I will at least have mastered changing out of Lycra in a toilet cubicle.
Through our collective efforts, our team raised an astounding £19,000 for Save the Children.