How to avoid a pipe and slippers routine – Stevenage Scout leader and councillor Simon Speller completes second Land’s End to John O’ Groats cycle ride
- Credit: Archant
At 66, Simon Speller is a busy man. Retirement from his role as a local authority planner does not find him with a pipe and slippers by the fire. Instead he is constantly active as a councillor for the Pin Green ward and a district commissioner for Stevenage Scouts.
Simon says the secret to his busy life – which would shame many of us 20 years his junior – is his physical fitness regime. He used to a successful runner and can now often be found on his exercise bike at home or pumping the pedals in long distance cycling races.
But even for a fitness fanatic, his latest feat is impressive. Ten years ago at the age of 57 he cycled all the way from Land’s End to John O’Groats to raise cash for charity.
Now, a decade on, he has just returned from completing the same gruelling ride in reverse.
He looks trim and fit and is eager to talk about the challenge which has seen pedal more than 1,000km across demanding terrain.
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Asked if it was harder this time around, he says: “I’m now 66 so I had to give myself permission to drop out every day.
“I’ve done a lot less cycling over the past 10 years so I had to pace myself.”
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He smiles: “I used to do 100 miles per day, but I did about 70 miles per day this time.”
Simon admits he had to really grit his teeth at the beginning of the ride with some ‘massive’ hills on the first stretch down from John O’Groats past Inverness, to Loch Ness and the Great Glen.
“I front loaded the miles because you know you’ve got more in your legs at the beginning of the ride so the first four or five days was pretty tough,” he says.
Simon’s wife Bridy and their King Charles spaniel, Henry, kept him going through the hard times, catching up with him in the ‘support vehicle’ to offer cereal bars and drinks.
He shrugs off the fact he struggled to keep food down on the first stretch of the ride and admits he still managed to finish every night with a pint at each B&B which he had booked in advance.
Fresh from a good night’s sleep, he would start off at 10am or 11am each morning and finish at 8.30pm for a pub meal.
By the time he got though Scotland Simon says he knew he had broken the back of the big mileage and settled into a routine as he came down across Hadrian’s Wall, through Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.
He stopped near Leeds for a night at his son’s house before pushing on south, always using back roads rather than highways.
Eventually the route took him down past Stevenage, then across to Goring on Thames and on through Wiltshire and Somerset.
And far from using advanced medically proven drinks to boost his performance, Simon simply downed a couple of Ibuprofen tablets every day to battle inflammation, antihistamine for the hayfever, plenty of banana milk and, of course, the obligatory pint each night.
When he reached his native Devon, he stopped overnight near the home of his late father, former MP Tony Speller, near Crediton.
He then faced a gruelling stretch through Cornwall, climbing more than 18 hills between Crediton and Launceston and 31 hills between Launceston and Land’s End. He says: “It wasn’t until the last few days that I thought ‘I’ve got this nailed’.”
The weather closed in on the last day and it was dark and stormy by the time he reached Land’s End. There was no champagne reception, Simon simply tucked in to ham, egg and chips and a pint of Cornish ale.
Asked how it feels to have completed the route twice in 10 years, he said: “Like all these things it felt a little bit deflating, because suddenly that was it, but I knew it would and I was prepared for that. It’s only a few days later that it really begins to sink in.”
And while Simon thinks this may be his last time on the cross country trek, he has no intention of putting away the lycra just yet.
He added: “You’re always capable of more than you think you are. It’s about being the best you can be and doing your best, and you have to challenge yourself not to fall into a pipe and slippers routine.
“There’s nothing like being mentally and physically well because you’re physically fit.
“It’s what’s always kept me going. I’ve never not been active since I was 14 or 15 years old.”
It’s a message that won’t be lost on the scouts Simon works with in his role as district commissioner.
And, true to his word, Simon’s next big ride will be a trek from Stevenage to its German twin town of Ingelheim.
Sponsorship money from the recent ride will go to the mayor’s charities, the Stevenage based Phoenix Group for Deaf Children and Letchworth’s Garden House Hospice Care.
If you want to donate to the charities you can contact Tracy Frost at Stevenage Borough Council on 01438 242242.