5 Minutes With... Jenny Tough

Jenny Tough has a long record of challenging herself. She's lined up at some of the biggest ultra-distance races on the calendar as well as challenging herself independently. First and foremost she is an outdoorswoman: you'll find her running across entire mountain ranges or bivvying on a school night to escape the pressures of everyday life.

Her first attempt of the Transcontinental Race back in 2017 left her with a long list of lessons from which to learn. Despite the setback, she continued to race in order to fight her demons and grow as a person and as a racer.

Ahead of this year's race, we wanted to ask Jenny how she's overcome the experience of TCRNo5 to find herself on the startlist for TCRNo7.

You’re on the record for championing women to take solo adventures into the wilderness. How do you encourage this and have you seen a difference in the gender balance as a result?

If you can't see it, you can't be it. I think it's as simple as that. If we really show off the women and underrepresented demographics, more will be encouraged to get outside and take on big challenges. I've definitely seen a shift in the past few years, and it's great to grow the community of outdoorsy women.

Do you see a difference in approach from other riders who come from a pure cycling background rather than an ‘outdoor’ background?

I'm definitely on the side of an outdoor background, and still really wouldn't call myself a cyclist! So from my perspective, I definitely lack the confidence in the riding side, but on the SRMR I didn't fear the natural obstacles, the weather, bivvying, or any of the other challenges that really made the race. It was just the pedalling part that held me back :). I think it's really cool in bikepacking that you are often riding alongside people who have completely different skillsets, and can help each other in the areas that you're confident in and benefit from each other in that way.

You’re supported by a number of outdoor and adventure brands. Do you see these same brands taking a keener interest in bikepacking?

It's incredible how much the bikepacking industry has grown in a very short space of time, and I think we're in a really exciting era in this sport. More and more brands are hopping on while new ones are launching all the time. Bikepacking is pulling cycling into the traditional sphere of outdoor brands, as we require more "mountain" products than "cycling" stuff in order to stay safe and comfortable out there, so I think some outdoor companies are starting to recognise this opportunity. Bikepacking also really pushes the fast and light approach, so I think over the next few years we'll see some outdoor brands focus on bikepacking.

You’ve spent a lot of time moving quickly in the wilderness without a bike. How have those experiences helped you in events like the SRMR?

I spent a lot of the SRMR off the bike... It was a great hiking trip. In all seriousness though, both physically and mentally I think it's good to have a few different sports. You learn a lot from doing different things that you can apply to others. For example, fastpacking needs to be utterly ruthless in going ultralight, as I can't run with very much weight on my back. This has helped me be much better at packing my bike even lighter, and explore the absolute limits of what I can safely do with.

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Hike-a-climb-a-bike

Who’s your tip for this year’s SRMR?

I think Lael Wilcox will give them all a run for their money, but I know that James Hayden has worked really hard on preparing for this and has a mindset that truly wows me every time I talk to him. Jay Petervary's bringing back the experience, so it's going to be a great race to watch! There are also a lot of names on that list that I'm really, really stoked to dotwatch and cheer on... I don't really care who wins, it's all about the personal triumphs out there!

What’s easier: running or riding around Kyrgyzstan?

Ooh, tough question. I would not use the word "easy" in association with either of those challenges! When I did the run, it was the hardest thing I've ever done, but I was on my own schedule and I slept 8 hours every night. I was totally alone though and went through seriously long stretches without speaking to anyone. SRMR, on the other hand, had the huge benefit of the other participants to make it fun and motivating. Even if I was coping with 4 hour sleeps max and trying to keep up! Really impossible question there!

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Hike-a-bike is often necessary even for the toughest of riders.

What are your demons? From @andyclarkan

I struggle with confidence, and there is always that voice in my head telling me I can't do it, that I don't belong here, that I'm going to mess this up. She doesn't help. 

What are some of your coping strategies during your endurance events?

I have a handful of tools that I've developed over the years to get me through the variety of problems - physical, mental, or emotional - that will crop up. I'm a big fan of how music can manipulate your mood, so I always have some playlists on hand (I use cheap earphones as they don't block out the noise of traffic, and I will inevitably drop them into my drivetrain at some point). I'll also call on the Invisible Peloton (Sarah Outen™!), and imagine some of my buddies and the things they would say to cheer me up and spur me onwards.

How will you apply learnings from your previous TCR attempt to hopefully succeed this year?

I've had two years to reflect on that disappointment, and have done a few races since, learning a lot in every experience. I think my biggest challenge will be putting those demons to bed. My focus this year will be 100% on making sustainable choices to stay in the race. I don't care if that means I come last.

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Always learning, always challenging

Would you consider riding in TCRNo8 as a pair? From @miserhal

I hope I never have to ride the TCR again, to be honest! But then I've never been known to turn down a bike ride….

Best/worst coffee experiences? From @giacomo_mayhem

Best: Rock Coffee (which is to say, we sat on a big sunny rock) with Cap 33B after the world's longest hike-a-climb-a-bike out of CP2. Worst: Wet Brick Coffee (which is to say, we sat on a stack of wet bricks and had plastic bags on our feet) with Cap 33B on the side of the road after Naryn.

Self-supported coffees with the other guys on SRMR, where we all set up our own stoves but enjoyed a brew together, was such a highlight of the ride, even if some of the locations were questionable.

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