photo: Stephanie Webb
So Kajsa, what spurred you on to do this? It’s not every day someone decides to take on a world record…
I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro a few years ago, so I’m used to quite physically strenuous tasks. I’m one of those people who likes to have a goal in life – in the post-Kilimanjaro blues, I felt I didn’t really have a goal anymore, nothing really to focus on. I read about Billie Flemming in the press when she died in 2014, and I was inspired by her story; she went on a huge tour of Britain to promote the health benefits of cycling to the country. Her mileage travelled in a year set a world record, and it really got to me. I finally decided to do it during a six-hour car journey back from a friend’s wedding, where I was thinking “I could do this” the entire time.
You must have already been quite an avid cyclist already?
Actually, I only started three years ago. I got into it when a friend of mine started doing triathlons – I decided to do them too as it gave me another goal to focus on. I first learned to swim; I could already swim, of course, but splashing about in a pool as a kid is very different to doing lengths as an adult, then I bought a bike off eBay and just started taking part.
How much cycling are you doing now?
Since I decided to try the world record, I’ve eased off the swimming and running to focus purely on cycling. I do about six hours a day in preparation for the record attempt. I’ll probably never want to see a bike again after this.
I wouldn’t blame you! How much would you say breaking the record means to you?
It means a lot, but it’s not everything to me. I always wanted to be in the Guinness Book of Records; my brother used to get them at Christmas and we loved reading through all the amazing achievements of mankind; even the weird ones like the world’s longest fingernails. But, to me, the journey is as important as getting the record; I’ve learned quite a lot about myself already in the process.
Such as what?
When I first started training for the record attempt I would do cycling for six hours but then find myself in excruciating pain – it turned out I had a few problems with my hip muscles so I went to physio and got that sorted. That’s something I didn’t know about myself before I started. l also found out I have a twisted pelvis, which is something quite a few people have, but when you’re cycling for so many hours a day it can really alert you to it, so I have to be careful not to push myself too far.
So, apart from overdoing it, what other dangers do you face?
Falling off is always something to worry about – only today, someone I was cycling with fell off their bike and has potentially broken their elbow. Another word of warning to cyclists: don’t stop to take pictures. Although, as I’m travelling the country, I’ll allow myself a photo every now and then. And of course, there’s always the typical British weather: it’s been really icy and rainy recently with all the storms. I’m small and light so there’s a danger I’ll be blown off my bike; sometimes there are winds of 40mph, even in Nottingham. To try and avoid this, I plot my routes against the wind direction, which is often quite difficult. It means I can’t visit the north of the country on my tour until at least March or April time.
Sounds intense. You must have to eat quite a lot to keep you going, then?
Oh, yeah. I’m starving all the time. I try and eat something healthy every three hours or so, and have an hour break for lunch. Some people say to me, “If you ride through lunch then you’ll cycle more miles”, but there’s a very real danger that I won’t eat enough if I do that.
What kinds of food are you eating?
I’m trying to be healthy, but I need lots of energy so quite a lot of high carb foods like pasta and bread. But I do pig out every now and then; my mum and I have pizza night every Friday, which is sacred in our house.
Speaking of your mum, what does your family think of all this?
My family are used to me doing more and more ridiculous things after Kilimanjaro, so they weren’t too surprised. My brother lives in Australia, so I don’t know how much he’s heard about it, but my dad, who lives in Spain, is really excited. My mum is a bit more worried but she’s still supporting me; she’s coming with me on the tour and going to help prepare the food for me while I’m cycling.
Do you know where you want to visit when you start cycling round the country?
I can’t do hills, so that rules out places like Sheffield and the highlands, so I’ll be sticking to mostly flat land and more rural areas. I’m going down to Essex early in the year to visit the head office of where I’m currently working, and twenty people have volunteered to join me on a 100 mile loop, which is pretty cool as I don’t know any of them and I’m trying to get as many people involved as I can.
In what ways are people getting involved?
Instead of people donating money for my cycling, I’ve asked people to donate ‘sweat’ and pledge to do something that gets them off the sofa and keeps them fit. Most of my pledges are towards people doing something bike-related, but I’ve had a few more unusual ones, such as the woman who pledged to do a minute of exercise for every mile I do – so she’s going to be knackered by the end.
What are your thoughts on the amount of pledges you’ve received?
I’ve genuinely been quite touched by people’s support, it’s helped keep me going. I remember when I climbed up Mount Kilimanjaro and it was really hard work; the altitude and the lack of oxygen lead to people hallucinating and struggling to breathe. I was finding it really difficult to carry on, but a lovely guide called Gerald basically dragged me up the rest of the mountain and we got through it by singing songs and just by knowing there was someone else there kept me going. It’s the same sort of thing with this really.
What do you think Billie Flemming would have said if she knew you were going to attempt her record?
Well, as she inspired women to get fit through cycling, I’m hoping she would have supported it. I contacted her stepson once I decided I was going to attempt the record, and he reckoned she would have been thrilled. I liked the whole story of Billie, and I hope I inspire women to get fit much like she did.
A Year in the Saddle website