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HART Veloce Member Spotlight – Danielle Millar

How it started!

Way back in my mid-twenties I was introduced to cycling by my now husband Keith, he was an experienced cyclist who lived and breathed cycling. He bought me my first bike which I believe was a Raleigh and I became addicted. It certainly was not an easy path for me; I possessed no natural ability and I vividly remember crying a lot especially when I got dropped. I had to work hard at it. In those days it was pedals and toe straps, no fancy watches or Garmin devices for the bike; I had something that measured the mileage but that was about it. No fancy gears or brakes, bog standard stuff in comparison to what we have now.

We were living in the North of the country at this time near to Liverpool where the racing scene was, quite frankly, massive. I was inspired by many, both men and women and I kept at it. I got better, enough that I joined a couple of cycling clubs and enjoyed many weekend rides both with Prescot Eagle and the Liverpool Century. I dabbled by entering a few time trials; not my thing they were too hard, and I struggled with the speed. I remember doing a two-up time trial with Keith and I sat on his wheel for the duration of the 10-mile route and could hardly breathe. We finished just under 30 minutes if my memory serves me well, thanks to Keith. I stuck to riding my bike most nights after work and at weekends! Sunday club runs were the best thing; I loved it. This is where I built my confidence, and I threw myself into it. I thought nothing of doing 140 miles each weekend (split over the two days). I hardly rode with Keith; he was too fast and was constantly training with the big boys so that he could realise his dream. Which he did. I used to ride with a chap called John Geddes former track Olympic cyclist. I remember those days well; a gang of us used to meet in the same spot every weekend and we would spend the day riding our bikes, stopping for tea and cake and then riding home. It was fantastic, I loved it!

Many years later when we moved to Hampshire, I lost a bit of interest because compared to where we lived in the ‘north’ it was so hilly. I thought this is no fun, I can’t do this. We literally would go a couple of miles outside of Alton and bang there was a hill. Then suddenly, my mojo came back, and the bike came out again. Keith was a member of Alton Cycling Club and again I just rode my bike for miles just enjoying myself and getting used to the hills – which I have never got used to, but I dig deep and get on with it.

Before we moved to Basingstoke from Alton in 2006, we were looking for a cycling club to join and I came across Hook Velo. We both got great vibes from speaking to John Gayton via email and I thought this is perfect for me, perhaps I could get Keith back riding with a club again. I was keeping my fingers crossed that I could at least keep up with the Foundation Group! We loved the Club the Saturday and Sunday rides were fantastic and my group riding and speed improved.

At the same time, I also joined a running club; I came to love running too, and this is where my love for triathlons came a good few years down the line. There were a couple of guys in the running club who were going to have a go so I joined them. My first sprint triathlon was at Reading Lake; 700m swim, 12.5-mile bike ride followed by a 3-mile run. I fell in love with triathlons. Swimming was my weakest discipline, so I took myself off and had lessons; this is where I learnt to swim free style – breaststroke was my thing, however it slowed me down in the water. Eventually I got there, and I entered triathlons and swam free style. I often had panic attacks in the water which also slowed me up and often the last out of the water. My breathing was the gremlin! I didn’t care I loved it so much. I kept going. To help me with my swimming I entered the Swim Serpentine two-mile distance event – it took me a while to do as I was interchanging between free-style and breaststroke, I was by no means the last person out of the water on this occasion! I did a few Sprint and Olympic distance events and eventually went on to do a middle-distance triathlon event run by 113 Events in 2020, which is equivalent to a Half Iron Man.

I am always looking for a goal to achieve! I discovered the London Classics Hall of Fame. I thought I could do this, and I love a medal. To be awarded this medal I had to run the 26.2 miles of the London Marathon (which I did for charity - The Hampshire Medical Fund and raised over £6K), cycle the spectacular 100 miles of the Ride London 100 and complete the two-mile swim at Swim Serpentine in Hyde Park. I completed the two-mile Swim Serpentine and the London Marathon in 2018 and completed the Ride London the following year and received the London Classics Hall of Fame medal at the same time. All three I entered and completed on my own.

Being a member of a sports club encourages you to push yourself, do the unexpected, have a go at something you could never imagine in your wildest dreams you could achieve. Paul Davies a Hook Velo and also now a Hart Veloce Club member encouraged the Club to enter Chase The Sun in 2021; he had done many in fact year after year.200 miles he said! I was away with work at the horse sales at the time, and I was back at my digs in the evening, and I remember messaging Keith and asking him whether he thought I could do this and whether he would do it with me. Yes, to the first part of my question and no to the second part; he had no interest in doing it at all. Well, this was the hardest challenge I have ever done to-date in my life. Cycling from the East side of the UK to the West side arriving before sunset having departed at sunrise. How was I going to complete this on my own; a group of us from Hook Velo had decided to ride it in 2021, so I wasn’t on my own. Mark Farrow-Smith rode it with me and wow, without Mark I am 100% sure that I would not have finished before sunset; he was my hero, and I will never ever forget what sacrifices he made for me. The weather was not brilliant it was very wet for the last 50 odd miles; however, the wind was kind and blowing in the right direction (albeit not a lot of wind), perfect for a long-distance challenge. I had no idea as we rode into Burnham-on-Sea whether we had made it by sunset as the weather was so bad! I think we made it by seven minutes! That day we covered around 215 miles I believe in total. The kindness of other Club members to look after the group that day was remarkable – we had, if my memory serves me well, about four feed stations and a support vehicle – driven by the lovely Stuart Player. It was a challenge for sure but one I am most proud of. The support from Hook Velo and extended family members, Mark and Keith were just amazing. I will never forget!

Over the last couple of years, the lovely Gareth Wood, together with other Hook Velo members created the wonderful small racing arm of Hook Velo, namely Hart Veloce. A small, very friendly, kind and inspiring Club who are keen to embrace racing, whether that be road racing, circuit racing and time trials as well as group sportives such as the Mallorca 312 events. It’s really helped me with my speed and encouraged me yet again to push myself that little bit more. I am still chasing that under 30-minute time trial; one day I tell myself. I have ridden a few open 10s and a 25 in the last couple of years and take part in the Farnborough & Camberley Cycling Club 10s on a Thursday evening; I am also their Club Secretary – I wanted to give something back as they really have helped my time trialling skills.

What is my next challenge, well I can’t quite believe I am doing this, as hills are not and have never been my forte. I have entered the 2023 Dragon Ride, which will take me over the undulating hills of South Wales; the Gran Fondo 213km with 3,488 meters of elevation. This is going to be extremely brutal! The training itself will be hard! Keith has kindly agreed to ride it with me on the day (and of course anyone else can ride it with us) although we have entered the event with quite a few other lovely members of Hart Veloce, so I won’t be on my own. Hopefully I will be able to report back with fond memories. This may be the hardest challenge I have ever completed – fingers crossed!

Danielle x

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