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Karen Tostee's Transcontinental Race

Name: Karen Tostee
Age: 28
Challenge for 2017: Transcontinental Race
What made you decide to take on this challenge? How did you prepare for it?
Self-sufficiency, camping, cycling, physical challenge and adventure are all things I relish and felt I needed more of. So, when I first heard about the Transcontinental Race in the summer of 2016, I knew I wanted to give it a go, but I certainly didn’t anticipate I’d be doing it the following year!
Regarding the physical preparation, I was super lucky to have the help of a coach who I’d met on the Adventure Syndicate training camp. He devised a flexible weekly training plan for me. Mid-week training involved a mixture of running and cycling tempo and intervals sessions. Weekends were filled with longer and longer bike rides – 300km audaxes, 900km round trips over bank holiday weekends, with the longest one-dayer being 525km.
Then there was all the other preparation, which felt endless and was slightly less enjoyable – kit decisions, route planning…
 Karen T on bike with friend
Can you tell us about a moment when you realized you might be capable of more than you thought you were?
Two key moments spring to mind. The first was actually on the Adventure Syndicate training camp. I assumed that I would be the slowest and the least experienced cyclist there. (It turns out I wasn’t, but it wouldn’t have mattered one bit if I had been – everyone was so encouraging). I learnt so much about cycling – how to ride in a group, how to descend better – and felt like I really found my legs that week.
The second moment was when I completed my first ever 300km audax, in March of this year. In the end, I did the route faster than I had anticipated, and felt rather self-satisfied to be arriving ahead of athletic-looking men on bikes that were half the weight of mine. Eating hot stew and drinking beer at the arrivée (a bus shelter at Oxford park and ride) I started to believe I might be able to finish the TCR.
Karen T eating
Photograph from the Transcontinental Race taken by James Robertson

Did anything not go to plan on your adventure? How did you deal with setbacks?
Lots went not to plan! But dealing with the setbacks is just as integral to this race as the stuff that goes well.
The biggest issue for me was the heatwave. I had anticipated that it would be especially hot in Italy, and had planned a slightly longer and more mountainous route towards the fourth control (in the Tatra mountains), hoping to avoid the worst of the heat. But I never really found a good way to cope with the heat.

One day in Italy I had to check into another hotel at lunchtime after less than 200km because I felt I was on the verge of heat stroke. Other days in Austria and Slovakia I tried to siesta in the afternoon and ride through the night, but I couldn't sleep in the afternoon and really needed to sleep in the darkest hours of the night. So, I just ended up losing time. I also tried to find myself a mid-afternoon swim spot whenever possible. By the time I reached Greece I had just given up on any kind of a strategy. I was a mess!
Were you worried or frightened about anything before you set off? What happened to your fears once you were on the road?
My main worry was about having an accident. Tragically, these fears were reinforced with the news of the death of another TCR on the first night, in a fatal collision with a car. Like many other riders, I reasoned that these are risks that I take, and will continue to take, when riding my bike, and so continued with the race.

Did you have any heart-warming encounters on the road?
Yes, lots! The road was full of kind gestures and friendly people, particularly in Romania. Maybe it's because Romania threw so many challenges at me, that the kind gestures were all the more noticed and appreciated. One night I was taking a long and hilly detour to avoid both gravel roads and dual carriageways. I was running out of food and water, repeatedly being chased by dogs, and generally feeling pretty sorry for myself. It was the first time I cried during the race. At around 11pm I stopped in a hilltop bar in a small village to fill up on water.

Everyone in the bar insisted I stay for a drink. I was promptly handed a delightfully sugary fizzy drink, instructed to sit down, and bombarded with questions about what on earth I was doing. All of a sudden everything felt light-hearted and joyful once again.
Karen T - rider 228
Karen and friends
How did it feel to finish? Was it as you expected? What happens next?
If felt very good! I was so ready to finish. I’m not sure what I expected, because I had never let myself quite believe that I would get that far.
I plan to ride the TransatlanticWay Race next summer and I’ve started to dip my toes into road racing. I've only done a couple of crits so far. It's so different to any kind of cycling I've done in the past – the tactics and the bunch riding are all totally new to me. It’s fun!
I've also started organising women's rides from my local bike shop. The first two seem to have gone well and our third ride is coming up in a couple of weeks' time.
Karen T Official Transcon Photo
Photograph from the Transcontinental Race taken by James Robertson

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