Outside the box: James Pilgrim-Morris

Hiscox London Market’s Head of Professional Indemnity Claims, describes the pleasure, and pain, of being a racing cyclist.

I’ve always done sport. I rowed when I was young, and competed for Great Britain in the World Junior Championships when I was 18. But, as I grew older, I couldn’t devote enough time to train, so when my first child was born I stopped rowing and started cycling, as it was far more time efficient. Since then cycling has become my passion, which now consumes far more of my time than rowing ever did.

I started by going out on my bike with friends. I did a few sportive rides – the cycling equivalent of running a marathon – but then I began to think about competing properly. My first road race, being in a tight bunch that is going fast on open roads, was pretty scary.

I’m a firm believer that you’re never too old to learn new skills.

I still love competing, even though I sometimes ask myself why I put myself through it. But the feeling I get when I pin my number on and line up at the start can’t be beaten. It’s quite addictive, so it’s not easy for me to rationalise why I do it. I just love it.

I’ve competed in every type of cycle race there is: road, track, time trialling and my two current passions – cyclocross and mountain bike racing. They both require a lot of skill, and I’m a firm believer that you’re never too old to learn new skills. I’ve trained hard and have progressed over the past couple of years – quite a good thing to do in your 50s, I think.

Stress release

Racing is good displacement activity, because on the start line you have to focus on what you’re about to do – everything else goes out of your mind. You’re completely in the moment: full of adrenaline, totally absorbed in the effort you are about to make. It’s a wonderful release from ordinary life.

Although I think I take it seriously, I’ll sometimes compete in a race where I get absolutely slaughtered. In that way, cycle racing offers a good lesson for life: you to try to improve yourself by identifying your weaknesses and working hard on eliminating them.

Time is my biggest constraint: I go training as soon as I come home from work on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, which is tough when I would much rather sit down and have dinner and talk to my family. But, trying to do something to the best of your ability takes hard work, commitment and sacrifice. I want to do well, which is why I have a coach and cram my training into what little amount of free time I have.

Having said that, I’ve always loved training since I was a teenager. For some people, training is the hardest aspect, but I get twitchy if I’m not training. Losing weight, however, is tough: I weigh myself every morning, which probably isn’t healthy!

It’s absolutely brutal: I’ve finished races totally exhausted and covered in mud from head to toe, but I’ve had the best fun.

An intoxicating Belgian brew

I love everything about cyclocross, including the sheer Belgian-ness of it. It’s such a minority sport that hardly anyone knows about, which means there’s great camaraderie between competitors. It’s absolutely brutal: I’ve finished races totally exhausted and covered in mud from head to toe, but I’ve had the best fun.

I’m probably going to concentrate on mountain biking next year. It’s always good to have a plan and this year’s was to get into the top five of an endurance mountain bike race and the top ten of a regional cross-country race. I’ve achieved both, which I’m pretty happy about. My ambition for next year is to compete in a couple of national level mountain bike races.

I think cyclists can take themselves too seriously. After all, it’s just mucking about on a bike, really. I was out mountain biking in the woods behind my house recently where I met a couple of young riders I know, and we decided to practice some tricky drop offs. I thought: “I’m the Head of Professional Indemnity Claims at Hiscox, but here I am out with some friends filming each other on our phones doing ever-crazier jumps on our bikes. How cool is that?” 

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