The Ultra Distance Scholarship

The Ultra Distance Scholarship was created to elevate representation in the discipline of ultra distance racing and to amplify conversations around the lack of diversity in the cycling world at large, and to inspire others in the industry to take initiative.

We’ve been supporting the three recipients of this year’s scholarships as they prepare to take on GBDURO, a 2000km self-supported bikepacking enduro from Land’s End to John O’Groats on road, gravel, singletrack, and everything in between, which begins on Saturday.

Ahead of GBDURO, we caught up with this year’s scholars – Carla, Zara and Aandy – to hear about their experience of the scholarship, what it’s been like training for an ultra race, and what Albion products they’ve been using. We also hear from Taylor Doyle, who set up the Ultra Distance Scholarship, on why it was needed and how she hopes that one day soon, it won’t be needed anymore.

Carla

“The scholarship has been completely life changing for me and I’ve had the most wonderful experience being part of it. I started off completely doubting my abilities as a cyclist, and had even considered not applying because I didn’t think I’d be good enough. I went from cycling for a few hours a week very early on Sunday mornings to avoid cars, to completing the Pennine Rally in June and doing my first 275km road ride in May. Since starting this journey, I’ve had some of the most amazing experiences of my life, with lots of exciting adventures and meeting really lovely people along the way.

The journey has been far from easy; I’ve also had lots of difficult life events, injuries and illness to contend with, so although I’ve had an amazing time cycling, my training has often had to fit around some difficult things. There is also of course an inherent pressure with being a scholarship recipient and a black woman in a majority white space, and the old chestnut of feeling the need to work twice as hard. Although I’m a Clinical Psychologist, I’ve sometimes been guilty of having specific ideas of “success” and what I “should be” doing – but as soon as I allowed myself space to breathe and figure out what I wanted out of the journey, and of course with the support of the scholarship crew, the process became much more fun and enjoyable.

Sadly, following the Pennine Rally I developed pneumonia and have been pretty ill since then. I’m recovering, very slowly, and I’ve had to make the difficult decision to pull out of GBDURO this year. I do feel a little sad about this, but I know it’s the right decision. I don’t feel I’ve wasted any time training for the event, as I’ve grown so much during the process, and I’m super excited to see what the future holds in terms of cycling adventures. I know for sure that I’ll be fully embracing my love of gravel adventures.

My favourite piece of kit has to be the Zoa insulated jacket – not only does it keep me super warm during winter rides and chilly starts, it packs down into its own pillow! How cool is that!!”

Zara

“Being a part of the scholarship has be life changing! It’s opened up a whole world and community within cycling that I didn’t know existed. Taylor, Alison, and all the mentors have been such a great support through my journey – I really can’t thank them enough.

Training has been a bit of a rollercoaster! Alison has been amazing at being so understanding and tailoring the training around me. I don’t think I’ve trained enough, but I think you’ll always think that! Taking part in some of The Racing Collective trials and doing the Pennine Rally really helped me push my boundaries and was the best preparation.

I’m pretty nervous, but I’m trying to take the pressure off myself by rewiring my thinking… I have decided that GBDURO is basically a big bikepacking holiday and I am just going to have fun and enjoy the ride and the route which will take me to some amazing places. I’m not sure I will meet the cut off times, but I definitely want to keep riding even if I don’t make it!

My hands down favourite Albion product is the lightweight gilet!!!!!!! Such versatile fashion on and off the bike and also so practical! I love the double zip which makes it easy to unzip from the bottom when going up the hill and them close it for the downhills. Honestly the perfect layer for all occasions! I also love the pocket bib shorts, pockets are the best. And the ultralight insulated jacket has saved me in many a situation!!!”

Aandy

“It has been a massive honour and privilege to have been part of the scholarship this year, it’s been such a challenging and rewarding experience. The support behind it all from the team and the sponsors has been amazing and I’ve been particularly proud to be spreading the word to pretty much everyone I’ve come in contact with along the way.

The training has been amazing and when I look back and track my progress it’s incredible to see how far I’ve come. It’s not been a linear process by any means, juggling everyday life commitments has been hard but still extremely rewarding. Alison is an amazing coach and I can’t thank her enough for all her help.

With just over a week and a half before the start my thoughts are a mixture of nerves, excitement and a sprinkling of fear. I guess this is to be expected and I’m realising now this is probably more of a mental challenge than physical. I feel like I’m in a weird holding pattern of anticipation but I’m sure once I get to the start line and start riding things will settle down. I’m really looking forward to riding my bike further than I have ever ridden and soaking in some incredible landscapes.

My favourite Albion product? That’s hard to pin down as I pretty much love them all. I think the most versatile item for me is the Ultralight Insulated Jacket. It packs up amazingly small and it’s always in the back pocket in case things get a bit nippy. The new pocket bib shorts are really good too, it’s amazing how much you can stuff in those pockets plus there’s that genius rear stash pocket too!”

Taylor Doyle created the Ultra Distance Scholarship in 2020, frustrated by what she felt was a lack of genuine action to try and make Ultra Cycling a more inclusive and diverse space. Below she shares her thoughts on the scholarship, its purpose, and why she hopes that one day soon, it won’t be needed anymore.

Taylor

“I always get asked how the Ultra Distance Scholarship started. When describing the Scholarship I often begin with this detail, and I feel like it is important to continue to remember– the Ultra Distance Scholarship started during the height of the BLM (Black Lives Matter) protests in the USA (and beyond).

It was a time when my cycling communities were having hard, overdue reckonings about their own exclusivity. There were so many conversations happening around me about the lack of diversity in the sport, and the ways in which we could make our communities more inclusive. People were calling out insincerity in groups, brands, and clubs who claimed to have strong values and initiatives around Diversity and Inclusion. There was a surge in the scrutiny of performative politics, virtue signalling, and the calling out of tokenistic gestures. There was an urgent scramble in the white, male-dominated industry to ‘do something’, and that quickly became, anything, to show that you wanted to be a part of the solution.

But what actions were sincerely helping on the ground, and making actual change within our communities?

It’s dang hard! To know how to help, where to start, who to ask. I am no expert and continue to make mistakes, feel unsure, and listen to the experiences of others. I learn more everyday.

The Scholarship exists to help create opportunities for underrepresented folks to experience the magic of ultra distance cycling and racing. Many scholars have explained that they simply were not even aware of the existence of this world. Representation really does matter. ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ really rings true.

Ultimately, it would be great if one day this scholarship did not have to exist, that the need for it was no longer lingering. That is the goal here. Until then, it will continue to help open up people’s worlds and offer support as the scholarship grows and transforms itself accordingly.

The Ultra Distance Scholarship annually supports three riders in a life changing, year-long journey towards a major ultra cycling race. The support spans the course of approximately ten months and includes individual performance coaching, a mentorship program, a custom bicycle, professional bike fitting, technical training and navigation equipment, training snacks and fuel, cycling clothing and apparel, entry to training events throughout the year, and other forms of support.

This year’s scholars have been preparing for and are set to tackle GBDURO ‘22, which starts this weekend. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Beyond the pressure cooker of training and looking towards one event over the span of several months, the real value of the scholarship lies within these long months, in the memories and connections made, the new experiences gained, and the people who have witnessed and been inspired by their journeys along the way.

The Scholarship will continue to build and expand community, and make the ultra cycling world we all love, a more inclusive space for everyone.”

The Ultra Distance Scholarship is supported by Albion, Stayer, Outdoor Provisions, Wizard Works, Tailfin, Ali Veloqui Coaching,  KomootPretty Decent Beer CompanyThe Racing CollectiveHope TechTeravail and Arundel.

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