LEJOG is an iconic long distance cycle ride of the whole length of Great Britain between the most south-western and north-eastern coasts.

This cycling adventure is not for the faint-hearted, in fact, it is commonly known as one of the most challenging rides the UK has to offer.

In June 2018, a group of friends, or otherwise self-proclaimed ‘middle-aged bums’ set out to complete LEJOG to prove to themselves that they can do it, and in the process, raise over £150,000 for Bowel & Cancer Research.

Paul Reynolds, leader of the group, aptly named Bums on Bikes, talks to Charles Peacock about why he decided to cycle 1,000 miles, over 12 days on 2 wheels, all for charity.

Paul was a Sandaire Relationship Director from 2007 to 2010.

Charles Peacock (CP): Paul, it is great to see you, looking rejuvenated from this trip. What was the inspiration behind this challenge?

Paul Reynolds (PR): It was in my second year at Sandaire in 2008, that I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. The good news is, I’m still here, I have completely recovered. This year marks 10 years since my diagnosis, which is a major milestone. With cancer, if you get through 10 years, you are officially ‘cancer free’. That seemed like something worth celebrating and that’s what this was all about.

There were many good things to come out of having cancer which sometimes seems bizarre but it allowed me to restructure my life and consider what’s important. I also decided that I wanted to get fit, so I took up cycling.

I needed a goal, like everyone in the investment industry, I needed something to aim for. So, I entered into a ride from London to Cambridge. Everybody knows London to Brighton but I chose London to Cambridge as it’s much flatter and easier – that’s only 60 miles. That was my first ride and I loved it. After doing a lot of cycling over the years, LEJOG seemed like the ultimate challenge.

CP: What were the highlights and the lowlights of the trip?

PR: I hit a pothole and came off my bike. Unfortunately, I dislocated a finger which had to be put right and hurt my ribs, which means that, so far, I haven’t been able to ride since.

Thankfully, there is a school of thought that your body can only take pain in one place at a time, so while my finger was hurting, my ribs were fine, and when my finger was fine and my ribs were hurting, my saddle sores were fine and on it goes…

Ambleside via “The Struggle”

People had told me before that the difference between success and failure is down to how driven you are and, in a way, it’s not surprising that many of the people who do these types of challenges come from highly competitive industries. So many people and corporates had supported me and I was responsible for putting the whole thing together. There was no way that I wasn’t going to finish.

On the road, someone came up to us in the car park in Tavistock as we were preparing to set off; their cousin had died the previous day from bowel cancer, which was quite an emotional moment for all of us. It reinforced the message that too many people die of bowel disease.

We did it to raise money but we also did it to raise awareness. Bowel cancer is the second biggest killer after lung cancer. There’s a certain taboo attached to bowel cancer. People are embarrassed about it and that’s a real issue. There’s something strange about the English psyche… they don’t mind bottom humour but tend to supress anything serious about bottoms and rarely go to the doctor – especially men!

If bowel cancer is diagnosed early, there is a 95% chance of survival but as soon as it becomes stage four, there is a 95% chance of it being fatal. Lack of awareness and an unwillingness to talk about it isn’t just bad, it kills people. Part of what we wanted to do is simply reduce the embarrassment.

I was lucky that, at the time, I was at Sandaire, and they were incredibly supportive and so is the company where I work now. I know people who haven’t had this support and so I know how lucky I am.

Awareness is vital. Everyone should know the ABC – check for abdominal pain and acute tiredness, bleeding from your bottom and change in your normal bowel behaviour. If you experience any of these symptoms, then go and see your General Practitioner (GP). If your GP says don’t worry about it, as happened with me 11 years ago, tell them that you are worried about it.

People think that it only affects people in their 50s and 60s but I was 43 when I was diagnosed and I have met people in their 20s who had it. That awareness is critical.

CP: Why did you choose to support this particular charity and what makes Bowel Cancer & Research so special?

PR: When I did that first ride from London to Cambridge I looked at a lot of bowel cancer charities and decided that I wanted to support research. There are two reasons, firstly coming from my background, working in the investment industry and in particular working for a family office, I believe you get the best results from thinking about the future and investing in research.

Secondly and personally, when I got diagnosed, I looked into the treatment that I had and it didn’t exist 20 years beforehand. So, if I had been diagnosed 20 years earlier, the cancer would have killed me. I felt lucky that people had invested in research in the past.

I decided that Bowel & Cancer Research had the right focus and I wanted to support them. At first, I started raising a bit of money for them, then I joined their Finance and Investment Committee and then I became a Trustee, and finally a few years ago, I was asked to become its Chairman. I am very lucky to be able to help such a great charity. It’s a charity that I know very, very well.

When I decided that I wanted to celebrate 10 years, I kept on thinking of doing LEJOG. It is the UK ride. One of the guys that I had ridden with before is a fund manager. He said that if I did the ride, he would sponsor me. I started organising the trip about a year ago and as riders came on board, we started calling ourselves ‘Bums on Bikes’.

CP: How did you select your team members?

PR: It had to be people who I thought could spend 12 hours a day together, who are driven and share similar values. The group grew quite quickly.

The sixth member to join came with a sad story, which makes you realise how lucky I am. Chris Seary is a guy who was diagnosed with bowel cancer back in 2011 and like me he needed two operations. After the first, he was told everything was good but after the second he was told there was a complication that was fatal. He didn’t know how much time he had at first, so he thought he would raise some money for bowel cancer research by riding from John o’Groats to Suffolk where he lives.

Sadly, two or three weeks before the ride he realised he just couldn’t do it. He was there when the group finished on Father’s Day in the middle of June 2012 and then a few months later he was dead.

His wife Eileen had this beautiful bike at home which had been bought for this special purpose. She put it in a clinic that had worked with Chris in Harley Street and a sports trainer, called Doug Tannahill, decided to ensure the bike fulfilled its purpose, which is how Doug came to join us.

Overall, we had six riders plus support and everyone got along very well and finished the challenge.

The Finish

CP: How much funding have you raised and how will it be used?

PR: Our target was £100,000 which we reached before we set off, so we increased our target to £150,000. We have gone past £160,000 and given some of the pledges we have, we think that we may well get to £200,000. People have been incredibly generous. I am so grateful.

The charity funds research in two main ways. The first is what I call early-stage, almost venture capital research. There is a catch-22 challenge for young scientists, in that they must prove a hypothesis before they can begin their research. Yet, it is difficult to prove their concept without funding. We have been very successful with funding emerging scientists so far.

We funded, for example, two young scientists who wanted to understand polyps more, so they could determine why some polyps go on to become cancerous and some don’t. On the back of the research that they did, funded by our charity, they’ve secured funding of over £1m. We couldn’t give them £1m but we got them started.

The second thing we do is fund PhDs which cost £75k over three years. It’s a great investment because you get an academic who will spend their whole life researching bowel cancer – it has a long tail in terms of an investment payback opportunity.

We fund research not only for bowel cancer but also for bowel conditions: diverticulosis, Crohn’s, IBS and colitis. We have a great grants panel that searches through many applications for funding and narrows it down to around six per year. Our passion is funding good science and fund projects that will make a difference.

CP: Is it too late for those who wish to donate and if not, how can they get involved?

PR: Bumsonbikes.org is our website, where you will find lots of donate buttons through which you can contribute. If you want to learn more about what we do at Bowel & Cancer Research please don’t hesitate to contact me via bums@bumsonbikes.org.