It's been 3 ½ months since I signed up to take part in the Tour de Force - riding the final five stages into Paris, including the epic Etape du Tour stage 20 this coming July. I might be forgiven for sitting back and waiting until the weather improves and the days get longer before worrying too much about what I've just signed up for! But that is not to be. I haven't just signed up to ride the gruelling Alpine stages of the Tour de France, one week ahead of the pro tour - I've also taken on the fundraising challenge that is a requirement of taking part in the Tour de Force.

Created by the William Wates Memorial Trust, the Tour de Force is their principal fundraiser and riders are committed to raising, on average, a minimum of £1,200 each (more for those riding the entire 21 stages, and less for those riding just one or two). Sound daunting? Well the majority of particpants raise well over that amount each year - a testament to the family behind the Trust, who are all closely involved in the event and help the riders to appreciate the work of the charities the Trust supports.

The Tour de Force offers riders the chance to ride every stage of the Tour de France in aid of charity.
The Tour de Force offers riders the chance to ride every stage of the Tour de France in aid of charity.

2016 is a big year for the Trust and the event: it's 10 years since the inaugural Tour de Force and 20 since Will died, so as the fundraising coordinator for the event, I decided this year that I should put my money where my mouth is and not just tell people how to go about their fundraising, but actually demonstrate it myself. Plenty of riders tell me that they feel uncomfortable approaching the same old friends and family each year to ask for sponsorship (let's face it, we've all seen plenty of 'those' emails), and so I have set out to try a different fundraising method each month from October to June, without ever asking any friends, family or colleagues for hard cash. So let's see how I've got on...

October: a request went out to friends, including those from the school gate, for donations of unwanted goods for a car boot sale. A Sunday morning in a multi-storey car park later and I'd raised almost £300 in profit.

November: I invested my own cash up front (a calculated risk) to get 1000 Christmas cards printed with a suitable image (Santa on a bike in front of the Eiffel Tower - who'd ever have thought that could be found on istock photo!?) and a message on the back about the event and the Trust. I sold these in packs of 10 to make a clear profit of £200.

December: This was a big one. I arranged with a local Sainsbury's store to ride my bike on a turbo trainer in their entrance for 8 hours, simulating a day on the Tour de Force. I raised an astonishing £679 and jump-started my training.

January: Since October I've had a collection tin in my local greengrocers - one that is visited every lunch time by hordes of school kids who, apparently, can't be doing with small change in their pockets (I know - whatever happened to looking after the pennies so the pounds look after themselves?). Every fortnight I empty it and collect between £15 and £37. So far I've raised £120.

February: Some of the donated goods I received in October were too good for a car boot sale, so this month I'm loading them all up onto the Ebay for Charity pages, giving 100% directly to the William Wates Memorial Trust. Who knows how much I'll make - but this will hopefully maximise their value in a way that a car boot sale just couldn't. Ebay waive a percentage of their fee dependent on the amount you pledge to your chosen charity. A 100% donation = 100% reduction of their fee.

Trek have loaned me a beautiful Silque bike to train for and ride the Tour de Force.
Trek have loaned me a beautiful Silque bike to train for and ride the Tour de Force.

I admit I've also put a signature on all my personal emails that explains what I'm doing this year and gives a link to my online fundraising page - so without actually directly asking anyone for a cash donation, I have still managed to clock up over £300 worth of donations from friends and family. I have also set up an easyfundraising page and asked friends and family to do the same. This has raised over £50 so far and cost none of my supporters a penny.

In total, I've raised over £2,000 so far, smashing my £1,200 target (and that's before the Ebay sales close this month). I've increased my target now to £2,500 (which is the amount we ask 'Lifers' who ride the entire route of the Tour de France to raise). Coming up, I'm planning a series of events each month including a pop-up restaurant at home, an April 'daffodil tea' and more.

A number of lovely friends have also offered me their skills or services for auction, from a shellac manicure to a Swedish massage and a family day out in the hills with a mountain guide amongst other delights! I'm now planning an event to really make the most of that. It's amazing what friends will offer by way of their time and skills, and they're all too happy to do this instead of dipping into their pockets for yet another £20.

On top of this steady effort on the fundraising, I've made it my business to learn as much as possible about the William Wates Memorial Trust and the charities it supports. I regularly update my supporters on stories from the charities, have visited one that is already supported by a WWMT grant and have championed the application to WWMT for a grant by a local charity that works in precisely the area that WWMT is interested in: helping to support the UK's most disadvantaged youth to keep away from a life of crime and violence and to fulfil their potential. That charity (the Pilton Youth and Children Project) is now the delighted recipient of a £22,000 grant from WWMT over three years, which will help them to target the kids in their community who most need their help. Now I can really see directly where my efforts on the bike will pay off.

The Pentland Hills provide offroad training when the weather is just too icy for road cycling.
The Pentland Hills provide offroad training when the weather is just too icy for road cycling.

So with my fundraising well and truly nailed, how about my training?

I live in Edinburgh and I have to confess, training in the winter here is a tough old business. The sponsored spin in November forced me onto my turbo trainer at least a month earlier than I'd planned, which gave me a great head start going in to Christmas and the New Year. I spent the first 2 weeks of the New Year finding it very difficult to motivate myself at all, but eventually gave myself a damn good talking to and found a way to get myself up off the sofa and squeezed into my lycra (see my blog Let's Get It Started!).

Dogged by filthy weather, I've snatched the clear days (and the odd filthy one) where I can between school runs, part time work hours and family commitments. The nearby Pentland Hills and mountain biking mecca Glentress provide the perfect playground for some lung-bursting cycling when the roads are too icy to risk.

At last, (thanks to Trek Bikes UK who are providing our Tour de Force fleet of back up and demo bikes, and have loaned me a bike for the tour - lucky lucky me!) my new, beautiful, sleek and nippy Trek Silque SL has been christened on the roads; and with as many thermals as I can fit on while still pedalling, I'm starting to get some winter road miles in. But if I really can't get outdoors on the bike I head into the garage and the dreaded turbo trainer to just get some miles in. To my astonishment, I've learned to... well, if not love it, at least not mind it too much!

Long hours in the garage will pay off in the Alps!
Long hours in the garage will pay off in the Alps!

As per my plan, I'm still trail running regularly and fitting in at least one good pilates/stretch a week. So far, so good. But this is all going to have to ramp up considerably in March. As soon as the clocks change I'll be out regularly on mid-week evenings and I've blocked off several key weekends through the Spring for big training rides, not least taking part in the Etape Caledonia and the Tour of Wessex - both in May.

I aim to ride my first 100 miler in April (if I haven't yet managed it in March). Knowing I've got this under my belt helps reassure me that I'm on track. I'm determined to be as Tour-ready as I possibly can so that I can really enjoy myself this summer. I want to have the time to look around me and take in the beauty of the mountains and to suffer as little pain and discomfort as possible. I'm investing the effort now to reap the rewards on tour.

There's much more work to do, both on my training and my fundraising. I've only just started. I'm still a little bit daunted by the challenge I've set myself, but my overwhelming emotion is one of childish excitement. I can't wait!

I trust this will be me by July - speeding away from the pack!
I trust this will be me by July - speeding away from the pack!

Taking on a significant sportive or multi-stage ride is a big commitment. When that's coupled with a substantial fundraising commitment too, it's fair to say that a cyclist needs to have focus, motivation and good organisational skills. But the rewards are huge. Not only am I going to ride five epic stages of the incredible Tour de France route through the Alps and beyond, I also know, first hand, that this is going to help change more lives than just my own. When I'm struggling to persuade myself onto the turbo trainer yet again on a cold winter's night, I visualise the kids I've met at PYCP and the other WWMT-supported charities I've visited and know that whatever I'm about to suffer for an hour or so, it's nothing compared to what some of these kids are facing on a daily basis.

Whatever challenge you've set yourself on the bike this year - embrace it wholeheartedly, ride safely, and you'll achieve more than you ever thought possible.

Tracy Norris helps to organise the Tour de Force charity cycling challenge, following the route of the Tour de France each year, one week ahead of the pros. There are one or two spaces remaining for the 2016 tour due to cancellations. If you're interested in taking part, check out their website: or contact Tracy and the team on 0131 3000796.

You can support Tracy by making a donation here (not that she'd ask you herself!).