Lakeland 200: how to make off-road endurance riding more accessible

Velocio and Steezy Collective are working together to change cycling’s narrative

“Before we did this project, the only content that would come up if you Googled Lakeland 200 was like some really gnarly videos of male athletes going out and having a horrible, horrible time in the rain and then vowing never to return. It doesn’t have to be like that.”

Steezy Collective is trying to change cycling. Dissatisfied with the common narrative that surrounds the sport, they are a collective of women, non-binary and trans people aiming to demonstrate that riding bikes is for everyone. It’s especially with adventure and ultra-endurance riding that Steezy Collective has spotted a problem with inclusivity, and with their latest project, Lakeland 200, they are boldly challenging the status quo and seeing tangible results already.

It’s improving representation in the media that Steezy Collective see as a crucial factor in achieving their goals. That’s where filmmaker Catherine Dunn comes in, who I’m speaking to over a video call a few weeks before part two of her short documentary “Lakeland 200” is released.

“We’d looked at the finishers list of the Lakeland 200 trail and there weren't any women on it at the time, that’s where the idea for the project came from,” Dunn explains. “We reached out to individuals and brought a group together to tackle the trail. They didn’t know each other at first, but they do now!”

Dunn is laughing as she speaks, but there is no doubt that a challenge as difficult as the Lakeland 200 reduces riders to their rawest form, and those who complete it together have a bond that only they will understand. Skirting around the heart of the notoriously hilly Lake District and spanning 212 kilometres with 6100 metres of climbing – 70 percent of which is off-road and 20 percent of which is single track – it’s one of the toughest routes that the UK has to offer.

​“Everyone had their difficulties,” explains Dunn. “One rider was really struggling with mental health at the time, we had another woman who was not used to staying up all night and was just struggling to maintain consciousness throughout the day. Then we had another woman started her period the day before and that was affecting her. There's a lot of really honest chat about those sorts of things in the film.”

Cat Magill is a rider who took on the Lakeland 200, and, although she fundamentally found the experience invaluable, it wasn't without its challenges. "I think it took me about 37 hours and I didn't sleep at all," she tells me. 

"Going up Scarth Gap, it was a very long and very steep climb from the road and at some point, I was like, I don't know if I'm going make it up, but I was in the middle of nowhere so I thought: I've got to sort this out myself," Magill says. "In between the two passes, I sat down, ate some food, and thought: I have to make it over. I told myself I would take it one step at a time, and go slowly as I needed to get over it."

I ask Dunn if it is difficult to film people when they are at their most vulnerable, and how she coped with the delicacies of each rider’s situation when they were struggling. “It's so difficult to work out when you need to be a friend versus when you need to be objective versus when you need to be filming,” she admits.

“In recent in projects, what I've tried to do is actually really separate myself from it and try be there in the moment to capture their vulnerabilities, but to ask them to do that themselves.I actually think that the whole idea of people self-filming on these kinds of trips is a really authentic way of capturing some of the more vulnerable moments.“

It’s also important for Dunn to portray the positive side to doing a challenge like Lakeland 200, with the ultimate goal of encouraging more people to take part in ultra-endurance riding. “They did show how hard it was and there was a lot of content that reflects that but, my God, did they find the joy,” says Dunn.

When completing the challenge, Magill found her joy in seeing other riders on route, encouraged by the camaraderie of the group. "I ended up riding the anti-clockwise by total accident. Everybody else was riding clockwise. So I saw Lorah, and Jade and Naomi  [other riders completing the Lakeland 200] at about 11 o'clock at night, and just that little bit of crossing paths with them and seeing them all out there, knowing we were all facing the night, and the dark, and the tiredness and the mountains and the craziness of it all together and on our own. It was so fantastic to not feel like you were completely alone doing this," she says.

“There’s so many funny moments when they’ve been hiking up a black trail path in the rain for hours," Dunn adds. "I guess that kind of comes back to the whole narrative that we see around this trail, especially through film, on the internet, it is primarily male, and that does come across. There's not quite so much empathy or fun and joy to be found in particular moments that I feel like only women can really experience. That really comes across more so than any of the anguish or pain in the film, the little moments of laughter.”

Magill explains that her headspace was perhaps the most important factor to getting her to the finish of the Lakeland 200. "I think it's switching your brain space. For me, it wasn't like I got to a point where I was super low. I didn't have to dig in and overcome it. Instead of being anxious and worried and thinking, I'm not going to get around, I'm slower than everybody. It was more switching my mindset to be like, I'm going to live in the moment, I'm just going to see what I can do," she says. "I'm just going to have an adventure. I can't even explain it really, it was just like, I let go of any sort of expectation or need to do anything or overcome anything, and let it happen."

While Dunn’s film and the social media coverage that Steezy Collective will produce around the Lakeland 200 project will go a long way in encouraging a wider pool of people that ultra-endurance and off-road challenges are something they could try, there are still some fundamental barriers to entry to the sport. One of them is the kit required to take part in a multi-day bike-packing event. From a tent, to a bivvy, to appropriate clothing and bike bags, there’s a big equipment list when it comes to preparing for the Lakeland 200.

Thanks to the support of their clothing sponsor, Velocio, all the riders in the Lakeland 200 had a range of kit options that were optimised for long-distance cycling. "When we were contacted about the Lakeland 200 project we immediately felt like the project was an extension of our own messaging and identity" Velocio explains. "The Lakeland 200 project is about bold personalities pushing limits while exploring the opportunities available. Doing so, riders are stating a great example that an adventure is created by anyone who dares to try. Their vision of recruiting more women and more people to ride their bikes represents the idols we would love to see more of in cycling and therefore it was a no brainer to support this project."

The brand’s Trail and Gravel collection was the perfect choice for the job, and ensured that riders were warm and comfortable throughout the excursion.

“What I would really like to do with that kit is make a redistribution scheme, so for people who now want to take on the Lakeland 200 or do parts of it, we can offer them more technical gear that might help them. It’s about trying to break down those barriers,” says Dunn when I ask her about the future plans for the Velocio clothing. 

There are also a number of steps that Dunn thinks could be taken by the organisers of ultra-endurance events to make them more inclusive and appealing to a wider range of riders. “In terms of ultra racing, a lot of organisers need to acknowledge that women have a completely different experience from men on the trail,” she says.

“There's a lot of chat going around at the minute about GPS trackers and how appropriate they are to be used, especially if people are sleeping at night alone. Also about how you make things comfortable for women on their periods, like how you acknowledge that and build that into race rules. With the Lakeland 200, I think it's really cool to see more specific amenities put on the route, places where you can get a shower, places where you can sleep and get good food. Just so people don’t look at the route and think that it’s just made to smash round as fast as you can.”

The first film that Dunn and Steezy Collective produced about the Lakeland 200 has already inspired a number of people to get involved in ultra-endurance riding. Sally Ozanne became the first woman ever to get onto the Lakeland 200 finishers list, taking on the trail after watching Dunn’s first film. The end goal for Dunn and Steezy Collective is to create more content around lesser known trails in the UK, as well as continue to change the narrative of ultra-endurance and off-road riding as a whole. They encourage people to get in touch via Instagram for advice and help with starting out in the world of trail riding and cycling in general.

It was meeting other people from the Steezy Collective that encouraged Magill herself to attempt the challenge. "I drove down to the second attempt with Naomi [another rider completing the Lakeland 200] and she's done some huge stuff and really challenging things," Magill says. "I was like, how do you keep a positive attitude? How do you get through these things? What kind of mental tricks? And she just gave me like a few excellent tips about just keeping on going, just keep going. Don't stop, don't quit, don't let yourself think negatively. Also one that's quite silly that I've heard from other people before, which is that when you're feeling really down and really grumpy, just force yourself to smile. When you have that forced smile on your face, it changes your whole attitude."

“I think it's just all about trying to try to bring in as many different voices and experiences as possible to show actually how inclusive of a sport cycling can be,” says Dunn.

“You can have all sorts of different experiences out on the trail, and each one of them is valid, and each one of them is just as credible as the last. Whether that's being able to put up a mad front and ignore pain, or whether that's being like, now's not the time for this or, I'm not mentally in the right place for this, or I'm actually really enjoying this. Those kinds of experiences, we need to see them as credible, otherwise you’re instantly excluding a whole bunch of people.”

Subscribe to the Steezy Collective YouTube channel to see Part Two of the Lakeland 200 challenge

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