Take it to the limit: Laura Scott

The ultra-endurance athlete on imposter syndrome and cycling 2,000 miles across America with a dislocated shoulder

People 22 Oct 2019

Endurance cyclist Laura Scott
Laura Scott took up cycling as a way to explore the world around her

I fell in love with cycling as a way of exploring.

It all started seven years ago when a friend asked me if I would be interested in cycling from Paris to London over the weekend to raise money for a charity called Room to Read.

I loved cycling at this point, but most of the riding I did was around London on my red glittery single speed. Not being one to shy away from adventure though, I said yes. A few days later I rode down to Brighton and quickly realised I was going to need a bike with gears. With help from some friends, I put together a cheap road bike and took off for Paris.

On the ferry from Dieppe to Newhaven, I met a Japanese couple who had spent the last five and a half years cycling around the world visiting over 84 countries, covering 97,762km.

Ryohei Oguchi (Rio), was a financial planner in Japan, who left it all behind to pursue his university dream of cycling around the world. When I emailed him to find out how he was getting on a few months later, he signed off the email ‘Ride bicycle for a great life.’ That was it. The seed was planted, and I started to dream about longer rides across continents.

Laura Scott
Laura Scott

When I got back to London, I was keen to keep up this new-found love for road cycling. I asked around and found out about cycling clubs. I went on my first ride and was dropped. A friend in the club waited for me and tried to make me feel better by taking us off on our own ride. But the damage was done. I might love cycling, but I was a crap cyclist.

Being somewhat stubborn, I wasn’t ready to pack it in quite yet. I decided I would enter sportives and ride them on my own until I got ‘good enough’ to join a club. It was not long after I bought myself some cycling kit. Up until this point, I was still riding in yoga gear.

Slowly but surely my confidence grew, I learnt how to deal with various mechanical issues by watching YouTube, I bought a Garmin and was no longer afraid of getting lost, and finally, I joined a club. I went on a club ride and this time I wasn’t dropped. In fact, I was one of the strongest riders that day.

I had imposter syndrome, but I was so wrong in terms of thinking that I needed to have a certain fitness level or level of ability; that’s just not the case. There are so many clubs and groups now, around the UK, that accommodate all levels. They are a great way to meet people and find other people to ride with.

I look back and wonder what my life would be like now if, after that ride which shattered my confidence, I had just given up. I would not know many of my current friends; I would not have rediscovered my sense of adventure; I definitely would not be as confident in other aspects of my life as I am now.

Cycling has given me so much. It has helped me to push my limits and get out of my comfort zone. It makes me think: if I can do that, what else can I do?

My first big challenge was a 620km Audax known as the Bryan Chapman Memorial in Wales. The ride took me a little over 26 hours and served as training for a much bigger adventure. The Trans America Bike race a 6,800km from Oregon to Virginia.

I spent months training for the race. Just to add to the challenge, the race is entirely unsupported, meaning you can access commercial services along the way, but there is no support crew or team car tending to bike issues, handing out water bottles or even finding somewhere for you to sleep. You need to be totally self-sufficient, finding a way to carry all your own food, water, and fix any bike issues.

Around 60 miles in on the first day, a car suddenly made a left in front of me at a T-junction. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground screaming in pain. I don’t remember much about being hit, just the excruciating pain through my left shoulder and arm. The whole way to the hospital I kept saying to the EMTs ‘this can’t be it; it can’t be the end of the race for me.’ After months of training, I was not prepared to accept I would only make it 60 miles.

I was taken to a tiny medical room and had several x-rays taken of my shoulder. The radiologist was away so I wouldn’t get the x-ray results until after the weekend. In the meantime, they stitched up my elbow and put my arm in a sling, and told me I would need at least four to six weeks rest. At the time, I assumed if it wasn’t obviously broken, it must be okay. I had trained for so long and put my whole life on hold for months: So I had to keep going.

I ended up cycling 2,200 miles and reached Colorado before I had to pull out of the race. I had stitches in my elbow, a dislocated shoulder and a hairline fracture in my collar bone. My stitches had become infected, and I was struggling to keep food or water down. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. Mentally I could have easily kept going, but deep down, I knew it was no longer safe. It took a long time, but I am now in a place where I’m happy with what I achieved. I was still relatively new to cycling and had cycled across the Rocky mountains alone with a dislocated shoulder. But at the time, I felt like a failure. This lesson is now something I carry with me in nearly everything I do. Failure is not always a bad thing if you learn from the experience.

In 2018, I was back at it and took part in the TransAtlantic Way, a 2,500km race from Dublin to Kinsale; working your way around the entire west coast. It’s a short distance compared to some of the other races I’ve done so I made the mistake of thinking it would be easier, but it was one of the toughest events I’ve done. I had to contend with the wind and rain and the tail end of a hurricane. Physically, you also have to deal with a whole host of issues. My hands swelled up so much I struggled to change gears.

But once again I got to explore a new place, see things you would never see in a car and meet wonderful people.

Cycling has become my life over the last few years. It has taught me strength, resilience, and how to deal with challenges in all areas of my life.