We meet with Scottish mountain bike champion Lee Craigie who talks women's place in adventure sport, training and living in the moment.
How did you get in to cycling?
I’ve always ridden my bike. I started riding a mountain bike when I was maybe 14 or 15. I would escape in to the hills behind the school and avoid Standard Grade French!
How did you make the transition to professional mountain biking?
That was a mistake! I was never supposed to be a racer. I entered a local race just for fun when I was 26 and I smashed it. I’ve always been physical so I was already reasonably race fit. So when you find out you’re good at something you just get better and better.
From 2009 to 2013, you were winning many races in Scotland, Europe and the rest of the world. What was your training schedule like?
I love riding my bike, so training wasn’t a problem. You ride your bike every day, but it’s not full on all the time. There’s a section of the year when it’s just racing / recovering and when you get to the end you’re knackered. But in the winter, you ride every day and do long miles with friends and that’s quite nice. But yeah, race season is 3-4 months of really hard graft. I was riding for about 5 hours a day with some strength conditioning and this would get harder in race season. Now I’m riding for 12 hours a day because I’m training for adventure stuff.
In 2015, you cycled the GR5 on a fat bike. What was the biggest challenge for you during this trip?
I think the biggest one was in my head. The physical challenge was hard but that’s never what stops you doing it. The first 3 days when I was on my own, I almost talked myself out of it. It was a crisis of confidence. So my loneliness was the biggest challenge. It’s much easier when you meet up with people and you’ve got your mates around you.
You’re launching The Adventure Syndicate soon, a group of women who are passionate about adventure biking. Tell us why you’ve created this, and what you hope to achieve?
We’re a group of well-established cycling adventurers who are a bit bored of the way women seem to be represented in the outdoor industry. Our idea is to present a different platform for those women, so that what they’re doing comes first over what they look like, what their race or religion is… It’s about doing stuff from a deep down passion – your looks and aspirations don’t matter! We’re about enjoying the experience, staying in the moment and hopefully encouraging others to do the same.
From this group of inspirational women – who all have their own projects, sponsors and race aspirations – we’re going to create an online platform to show others what we’re up to. The Syndicate will be an online forum, a workshop series and talks to get others adventuring at whatever level they want to. We’re thinking about doing projects like the Tour Divide, the transcontinental bike race, the North Coast 500… But there might also be articles about taking your daughter out camping, a group of friends traversing the Pyrenees with loads of different bikes… Adventuring means loads of different things to different people, so we’re hopefully going to represent a range of abilities, aspirations and backgrounds.
Who else within the outdoors community inspires you and why?
I watched the film about Gwen Moffat at the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival. She was the first ever female British mountain guide – I loved what she had to say. Am I allowed to talk about people that are dead? Well, Ernest Shackleton was a bit of a dude, wasn’t he? Sometimes, when I’m out on a hard ride and I’m cold and hungry, I’ll just think about Ernest Shackleton and think… toughen up, princess!
Have you got any long term cycling projects in the pipeline?
At the moment I’ve got my eye on the Tour Divide, an almost 3000 mile individual mountain bike time trial from Banff to the Mexican Border. Quite a long way, eh? It seems like you just have to be able to suffer and not sleep to do well at a continuous event like that… I’m going to try and have a four hour sleep cycle, so I’ll ride until midnight and sleep until four. You don’t have to go very fast, you just have to keep going.
If you had to spend a day in Scotland cycling, where would you go and why?
The north west coast! I always migrate there. That’s the reason I moved to Inverness – Torridon is 50 minutes from my house. So on a summer’s evening, I can be in Torridon and ride until midnight and it’s light… It’s the best place in the world. So Torridon, Gairloch, Lochcarron… these are all beautiful places to ride.
What advice would you give to women – and budding adventurers in general – who want to chase their dreams?
I would say don’t do something like the Tour Divide! Keep away from 3000 mile individual time trials! Haha. Get out there with your friends and keep loving it. Stay in the moment, make it sociable, set your objectives and ride just for that day. Don’t think ‘I want to be the world champion at something’. Just enjoy the feeling of your muscles being tired, your lungs filling, your heart rate hammering… and if you enjoy that, the rest just follows.