At 3:41am on Thursday 7th May 2015, the rear wheel of our tandem passed over the drain that marked the end point at John O’Groats 45 hours and 11 minutes and 842 miles after leaving Lands End. In so doing, we had broken the 49 year old End to End record that had stood since Swinden and Withers rode the route in 1966 in a time of 50 hours 14 minutes and 25 seconds.
The history of this record is littered with failed attempts including two of my own. My relationship with it began five years previously when it was first suggested to me by John and Ruth of JD Tandems. In 2012 I made my first attempt, but my riding partner at the time and I were simply not quick enough. Two years on in 2014, cycling legend Glenn Longland joined me, but it was to end prematurely with Glenn collapsing just after Shap.
In 2015 I was joined by time trial specialist and good friend Charlie Mitchell. For 10 months we trained hard, some weeks as much as 40 hours. During the week we’d be up at 5am to train before work and out again at 7pm for yet more.
Each of my previous failures had brought with them heartache and sadness but also a great many lessons. Following the advice of Euripides Charlie and I left no stone unturned in our quest to beat the record. With this has come a growing respect for the incredible ride made by Swinden and Withers. But despite the science that underpinned our approach, these are not the things that stand out in my memory.
Far more important for me has been the camaraderie I have developed with my riding partner. The hours in the saddle (Brooks of course) laughing our socks off or deep in contemplation of an issue or the shared pain during some of the intense training efforts. Then there is the scenery we have travelled through. Training rides have taken us from our home in Hampshire up the Welsh borders to the Lake District and beyond. Others have explored the Cotswolds. We’ve ridden the southern coastline from Hastings to Lyme Regis. Thousands of miles have passed beneath our wheels through some of the prettiest villages and towns in the UK. Our overnight rides sometimes cold, dark foggy affairs and sometimes resulting in sun rises of indescribable colours. It’s not all been easy, a great many sessions have required grinding out interval after interval on the turbo trainer during which no amount of music has disguised the pain and boredom.
Unsurprisingly, the question I get asked the most is why? It’s all too easy to stand on the side lines being wise about the Herculean struggle unfolding before you, be it a football match or a business struggling to achieve challenging goals. Like looking at a beautiful painting on a TV screen, there’s no substitute for being there. Living it is intensely more powerful than the vicarious experience. Working in a business focused on catalysing performance as I do I was hungry to live what we preached to others. In particular, was it possible for an ordinary person like me to do something extraordinary?
Although the focus on records is always on the athletes, Charlie and I are simply the riders, we stand on the shoulders of expert coaching, nutritional advice, a brilliant support team and the generosity of those prepared to underwrite the costs involved. Many of these people give their time for little or no gain. Their generosity of spirit and time is humbling.
As the achievement slowly sinks in, I am struck how the journey leading to setting the new record has turned out to be one of the most profound and insightful experiences of my life. It has given me a deep and personal understanding into what it really takes to achieve a great result. Above all it has taught me that ordinary people really can do extraordinary things.
Dominic Irvine May 2015