UNTIL a few months ago, Marie O'Hanlon hadn't even sat on a bike since she was a girl. But next month, she will be one of 90 riders embarking on a gruelling three-day 260-mile cycle from one coast of Scotland to another, raising money for Support in Mind Scotland and three other charities.

This is the eighth year of the Coast to Coast cycle challenge (C2C8) and with an incredible total of £837,000 having been raised in the seven previous expeditions by BP employees and their friends, the target this year is to smash through the magical million-pound mark.

Marie (back row, right, in main picture) is participating for the first time, having decided to join the fray after watching her husband Jim complete the challenge last year. Her main inspiration though, was to play her part in raising money for good causes - and it was her nomination for Support in Mind Scotland that led to us being chosen as one of this year's selected charities.

Funds raised from this year's Coast to Coast cycle ride from 20-22 May will be donated to four charities: Support in Mind Scotland, MND Scotland - which funds research and provides support for sufferers of Motor Neurone Disease - Aberdeen-based children's charity Charlie House and Home-Start Aberdeen, a a local voluntary organisation offering a unique service to prevent family crisis and breakdown.

To say we are grateful is an understatement, but Marie is determined to get from Oban or Skye (the two potential starting points) to the finish line in Aberdeen for us and our three fellow good causes.

BP manager Marie had worked alongside our CEO Frances Simpson through the Pilotlight scheme, which helps ambitious charities and social enterprises thrive by harnessing the skills of business leaders, and it was a visit to our Stafford Centre in Edinburgh which helped her first understand and then champion the importance of supporting mental health services in Scotland.

"Before that I knew very little about mental health, although I had known people and the impact it can have on people's lives," said Marie. "Then I visited the Stafford Centre and met a lady the same age as me. She told me how lucky she was to have the Stafford Centre - in her eyes she had everything.

"Spending three days on a bike and putting up with a bit of wind and rain is not that big a deal compared to the difference the money can make to places like the Stafford Centre."

Marie has already experienced her fair share of wind, rain and reality during her training regime for C2C8.

"To see them all coming over the finish line last year was amazing," she recalled. "Most of them are quite seasoned cyclists, but there were also people who were new to it. My kids are older now and I was looking to do something different, so I decided I would give it a go, even if the last time I had cycled was when I was a child! 

"Last summer I got my first road bike and it's safe to say that I got a bit carried away with my cycling ability, thinking I was maybe a natural. On our first training ride I was so far behind the rest I couldn't even see them! That is when reality hit me.

"We started at 25 miles and have gradually built it up, cycing in snow, horrible rain and gale force winds. Keeping up with the pace has been hard, and dealing with traffic has been a real eye-opener.

"I'm now up to about 50-60 miles each time we go out, and it gives me a lift to know that each time I am going further than I have ever been before.

  • Marie (back row) middle, joins in a group selfie taken by Clair Ferries (front) as the sun shines during training.

"The camaraderie among the group is lovely. The more experienced riders have been so patient and encouraging. Although most of us have a connection to BP, it's people I don't really work with day-to-day, so it's great fun to do something with work-people that is not work-related.

"Has it been hard - yes. Have there have been times I've never wanted to see a bike again - absolutely. But it has been a really positive experience and I am so pleased to be involved. To have Support in Mind Scotland chosen as one of the charities this year is just the icing on the cake.

"I have two main aims: I want to finish it, but I also want to enjoy it. On the last day, all of the cyclists plan to finish together so I need to keep up. My mum and dad are flying over from Dublin and my kids will be there too... so no pressure!"

  • Playing it cool: Marie and her fellow riders enjoy an ice cream during a well-deserved break from training. From left to right: Darran Bryne, Mairi Nelson, Mary Lammers, Joe Lammers, Marie O'Hanlon, Dave Kirton.

Marie, 48, has been working incredibly hard to boost her fitness ahead of the three-day endurance test, taking part in weight training, spinning classes and hiring a personal trainer.

She also squeezes in work, managing two kids and - of course - the long-distance training rides which have been increasing by 5 miles and 500ft of a climb each week. " It's not ALL hard work though - the highlights are always the coffee stops. We've seen a lot of coffee shops in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire!"

"It's the fittest I have been in my life," she adds. "I love the challenge of pushing my fitness and I know I will love the feeling when I finish the cycle."

To have Support in Mind Scotland chosen as one of the charities this year is just the icing on the cake

We will continue to update you on Marie's progress ahead of the 'grand depart' on Friday, 20 May.

Of course, Marie is not the only one cyclist we wish to thank for signing up to the challenge and fundraising for us and our fellow good causes.

The full list of dedicated riders is... Giles Mackey, Mark Worsley, Eric Primeau, Fraser Taylor, Ian Hendry, Tom Fuller, Stephen Johnston, Joanna Reynolds, Jon Turnbull, Lauren Neil, Leofric Studd, Matthew MacKintosh, Natalie Wood, Rory Fraser, Scott Wells, Simon Patten, George Waugh, Marie O'Hanlon, Alistair Duthie, Declan Tuffy, Simon Hicks, Sarah Glidden, John Osborne, Lawrence Carter, Robert Paterson, Nicholas McCarthy, Simon Richardson, Brian Howell, James Blacklaws, David Bowen, Bryan Chambers, Charlie Wright, Chris Cais, Clair Ferries, Colin Wilson, Ben Walls, Barry Valentine, Paul Adair, Angus MacEachran, Andrew Fowler, Andrew Robertson, Alistair Robertshaw, Allan Rae, Darran Byrne, David Lynch, Douglas Wood, Fiona Wilkinson, Gary Hepburn, Gordon Ferguson, Grant Blackwood, Guy Phillips, Hilary Mulligan, ian mclean, Douglas Crooke, Donald Campbell-Brown, David Kirton, David Ewen, Andrew Wiles, Anthony Mathieson, David Conway, James Davidson.

If you would like to donate to the Coast2Coast 8 Challenge, visit the fundraising page by clicking HERE