Dom’s post-ride thoughts
7 May 2014
“Can everyone shut the f**k up and do exactly what I say”. There was instant silence and Dr Ian Rodd gave Glenn oxygen, set up drips and wrapped him up in a sleeping bag and briefed the ambulance service on what to expect. It happened so quickly, I had radioed into the support car for a fix of caffeine and had stopped momentarily to slug back a super strong coffee as I was a bit sleepy after just over 24 hours of cycling. 58 year old Glenn Longland, time trialling god and cycling legend had pushed himself way beyond what most of us can comprehend in his quest to help me break the Lands End to John O’Groats tandem record, and collapsed onto the ground. The warning signs were there at the previous pit stop when he was looking wobbly but he was so determined to keep going the team put him back on the bike (you can see the support team helping him up in the photo). But just under 50 miles later at 457 miles it was game over.
Ultra distance cycling is hard. Breaking records takes it to a different level. You think you’ve covered every eventuality but something will come along and catch you out. Just two weeks prior to the start, at the end of a long training ride, a car turning right mowed me down. I went from one of the fastest rides I had ever done to being unable to tie my shoe-laces or cope with small steps such was the damage to my back and shoulder. Dr Claire Ryall, working with my coach Dr Simon Jobson, did an amazing job of rehabilitating me and helping me complete my training sessions in spite of the discomfort, but I was still worried the pain might become too much during the attempt and this would be what halted progress. It turned out fine.
I’ll never know what ultimately caused Glenn’s demise. He and I were chalk and cheese in our approaches to this. He is old school – you get on your bike and ride it – lots. Without having Glenn’s pedigree I’d turned to science and with the support of the University of Winchester analysed the hell out of every element of my performance I could and set about making the best of the limited capabilities I have. Our data sets are not comparable.
The frustrating thing is we were on fine form on the bike and rolling along just about where we needed to be prior to things starting to fall apart. The final conversation I had with Glenn before the previous pit stop was “410 miles done, 22 hours gone, 28 hours to do the next 420 – we can do this.” It was frustrating not just for me but the support team. People focus on the riders –and mostly Glenn in this instance (rightly so given his achievements), but without the support team, we wouldn’t get fed, get wheel changes after the four punctures we had, nor have changes of kit instantly at hand. It might be hard for the riders but it’s not easy for the support team. And then there are the sponsors who stumped up cash and kit to help us succeed. Everyone bought into the dream. Everyone could taste success. Word had got out and the support from the side of the road even at 2am was incredible.
But when all is said and done, this is about riding a bike, fast – and there are more important things. Glenn is home safe and well. And, we raised nearly £11,000 for Heart Research. We experienced the care and support of the most amazing team I have ever had the fortune to work with.
The day after the ride finished I awoke to find this quote in my inbox from my Dr Claire Ryall my physio. I have taken much solace in this quote.
‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’ Theodore Roosevelt.
Photo credits: Joolze Dymond – All rights reserved
28 April 2014
Crew Member’s Perspective – Pre-challenge Team Meeting Sunday 27th April
By Bob Campbell
Bob is a former World and European Champion freestyle kayaker, an experienced mountain biking coach, survival expert, communications specialist and key member of the tandem challenge team. Here he offers his own perspective on the challenge and the team’s final preparations.
I have known Dom for many years, we are close paddling buddies from our younger days and we have spent too many hours putting the world to rights and dreaming up challenges and ‘stuff’ to push ourselves a bit further, so it was no surprise to me that the table is surrounded by an amazing mix of people: logistics gurus, planners, trainers, sleep deprivation experts, media team, medics, tandem designer and manufacturer and also two amazing riders: Glenn Longland, who at 57 is a legend in the road riding fraternity (amongst other things he was the first person to do 300 miles in a 12 hour time trial) and Dom Irvine who will be up front on the bike and who also has his own list of amazing achievements on and off bikes, as well as the ability to get this distinguished group together round the table early on a wet Sunday morning in April. The fresh coffee and croissants helped admittedly!
There is plenty of ‘banter’ around the table, this team is a mix of some of the people involved in the last attempt and fresh members. However all are 100% focused on how we are going to get the bike from Land’s end to John O’Groats (over 800 miles) in under 52 hours, 14 minutes and 25 seconds, the current record which has stood for 48 years, testament to its challenge.
The team are meeting for one last time before the first (weather dependent) scheduled start next week at 6am on Saturday 3rd of May. The discussions cover every eventuality, from when to call off the attempt due to rider health or fatigue or just bad weather (most attempts don’t make it to John O’Groats), communications and all the other ‘what ifs’ we will face as well as the really obvious challenge of just riding a bike pretty much non-stop for that period of time!
The actual logistics of keeping the bike, two riders & support team and the official observers from the Road Records Association all serviceable, fuelled up and safe while they roll along the 800+ miles route is amazing.
The route is discussed in detail along with scheduled stopping points and the ‘F1’ style pit stops to feed, water and kit up the riders for the different situations they will face along the route, as well as the rolling refuelling strategy (passing food and drink to the riders without them having to stop) and the challenges of two back-to-back overnight rides.
After a bit of lunch we headed out to check out and practice some of the pit stop ‘strategy’ and rolling refuelling skills. Passing a water bottle to a bike moving at 20mph on a road safely is way harder than it sounds trust me, and thats before you have been awake for over 20hrs!
After a few runs everyone was looking good and we had also ironed out a couple of glitches that we just won’t have time to deal with next weekend.
With a definite air of confidence and focus as well as respect of the size of the challenge in front of us, the team dispersed after months of training and preparation.
We’re all as ready as we will ever be so now it’s up to the weather to play its part and give us a window next week and we will be off. Make sure you follow the live GPS tracker and also keep up to date with the team on Facebook and Twitter (#tandemchallenge).
25 April 2014
Colliding with success
It was as if in slow motion. I could see the car was going to hit me. In that split second I realised that a head on impact would be hurt like hell and if I angled the bike, it would be more of a glancing impact. I remember seeing nothing but black as I flew through the air finally ending up on my back in the gutter. Was this it? Had everything I’d been training for ended through the actions of another?
The collision with the car whilst avoidable was understandable. The driver was turning right, the sun was low in the sky and it is possible I was hidden behind his ‘A pillar. Having trained hard for a long time, I travel faster than most on a bike and perhaps he didn’t anticipate a bike moving at speed. This is not a rant against car drivers. I am one. Accidents happen. The driver was apologetic, courteous, caring and concerned for me and surely when something does go wrong, an attitude like this is what matters.
The problem was, with two weeks to go, I found myself unable to walk properly, tie my shoe laces or pick anything up. How on earth would I be able to ride 832 miles nonstop in two weeks time?
I am struck time and time again how the difference between success and failure is the attitude taken. I hobbled into physiotherapist Dr Claire Ryall’s treatment room expecting the worst. Instead her approach was profoundly positive. We didn’t discuss whether I could or could not make the start line of our epic record attempt, but what we needed to do to make sure I could start. This approach alone was incredibly therapeutic. We focused on how to make it possible to do the sessions Dr Simon Jobson, my coach from the University of Winchester wanted me to do. Whilst it took me five minutes to get on and off the bike because of the pain in my back, once on, to be able to nail the required session was just so uplifting.
One week on my back still hurts but I have hit the required numbers in every session over the last few days but more importantly been reminded of three key lessons.
1) If you shift the decision from ‘can I can’t I’ to ‘we’re going to do it, all that remains is to work out is how’ it creates a sense of energy and possibility that is liberating.
2) Surround yourself with positive people. Dr Claire Ryall’s approach to the injury and Dr Simon Jobson’s opening words on hearing about the crash were ‘keep positive’. Positive people exude an infectious force for good that rekindles the dampened fires of motivation.
3) Small steps really work. Each day has enabled just a little more movement and a little less pain. I’ve not worried about riding the 832 miles, just getting through the next session.
I would rather not have crashed, but the lessons learnt may be just the things I needed to be reminded of to help us succeed in breaking the record.
22 April 2014
Making a difference
When all is said and done, however impressive the challenge, breaking the Lands End to John O’Groats record is just a bike ride. Admittedly a very long and fast bike ride, but that’s all it is. At 3am in the morning as we ride over Shap just over half way with about 400 miles to go, riding a bike fast is insufficient motivation to keep me enduring the pain, fatigue and the desperate desire to stop and sleep. Neither is the the personal pride of having set a record time sufficient motivation to overcome the pain and keep rolling.
What will keep me going is the memory of meeting a small boy called Riley.
In just the first three years of his life this little lad has had to undergo 3 major heart operations. And he faces more in the future. His heart issues have taken their toll. He’s a bit unsteady on his legs, and whereas you and I would grumble or moan over a day or two’s ill health due to a cough or a cold, for Riley these are serious issues with potentially fatal consequences. Helping rehabilitate children like Riley to give the best possible chance in life is what the ‘Helping Little Hearts’ campaign is all about. Heart Research UK has initiated the campaign.
Meeting Riley reminded me of an apocryphal story of man watching a young lad walking along a beach. The beach was smothered in stranded star fish washed up on a particularly high tide. Every now and then, the lad reached down picked up a starfish and tossed it into the sea. The man watched for a long time as the boy meandered slowly towards him along the beach.
As he got closer the Man shouted across to the lad: “I can’t help but noticing you keep throwing starfish back into the sea? Why?”
The boy looked up at the man, surprised by the question. “I’m throwing them back into the water so they can live.”
“But there’s millions of them, the mas said, what difference is throwing one or two going to make?”
The boy picked up a starfish and threw it into the sea: “It made a difference to that one” he said and continued his walk.
In riding from Lands End to John O’Groats, we can’t solve all the problems of heart disease, but just like the boy, we’re throwing a starfish back into the sea. We can make a difference to Riley and the others like him. It’s thinking about throwing starfish back and the difference we can make is what will keep me going through the inevitable very tough patches.
So please, throw your own starfish back into the sea and sponsor us. It might not seem like much but trust me, it will make a difference.
7 April 2014
Hampshire to Geneva – Snow, slow and sleepy
The undisguised look of horror on the receptionist as I approached the hotel door had me looking behind to see who was freaking her out. I realised it was me. Dressed all in black, waterproof trousers velcroed round my ankles over black overshoes I was splattered in road grime from hours longer on the road than I had ever envisaged. It was 01:30am which I guess didn’t help either. Who the hell cycles at 01:30am? Reluctantly she checked me in. I stunk to high heaven. I had been riding since 6am, fighting a losing battle into a strong headwind, torrential rain and eventually a deep black dark night. The 240 miles from Paris to Chalon-sur-saone had dragged interminably. A navigation error with just 60 miles to go had depressed me deeply with the incursion of an extra 10 miles. This was punishment for a momentary lapse in concentration.
The plan had been to arrive early evening, shower, eat a huge pizza and have a good sleep before climbing the Jura mountains on my way to Geneva the following day. Instead, dinner was a handful of sweets and the two biscuits that came with the coffee making kit in the hotel room.
The concept had sounded cool. Take a Friday off work and cycle to Geneva over the weekend. Have a meal with my niece in Geneva and fly home early Monday morning in time for work. The portent of what was to come was the failure of my change of clothing and bike bag to arrive with my niece in Geneva in advance of my arrival. My minimalist luggage plans were scuppered and I had to find a way of taping a polythene bike bag to my pannier frame. I swapped spare bike kit for a change of clothing for the journey home (there was no time to get anything sent on and no time to buy anything on arrival). And so, with just one set of cycle clothes, spare inner tubes, a length of chain, tools, pump, satellite tracker, phone charger and waterproofs plus a change of clothes for the journey home and the bike bag – I set off at 4:30am on the Friday morning.
Alresford to Newhaven was quick and easy and followed by a very nice breakfast in a café before stocking up on provisions prior to boarding the ferry. An interminably long and boring crossing to Dieppe had me rolling through the French countryside by 4:30 in the afternoon. The miles flew by and by late evening I was dodging the traffic around the Arc du Triomphe on my way past the Eiffel tower to the hotel. 178 miles ridden and buzzing. This is the joy of training for an ultra distance challenge – training rides cover huge distances and lots can be seen. A couple of years before, I’d hatched the plan of riding to Paris for lunch, and then riding home again. Whilst it too was a bit more of a challenge than anticipated, it nonetheless was huge fun. Home to Geneva via Paris was then in the same vein – just ever so slightly crazy but very doable.
The thing is, it’s not about the distance – the principle benefit of these rides is training your mind for the main challenge of the year, in this case an attempt on the 48 year old Lands End to John O’Groats record tandem record. In almost every single long distance activity I have done, something unpredictable happens. Examples include:
• crashing and having to get 14 stitches before carrying on;
• crashing and riding as quickly as possible to get to the end before the infection in the wound could get too bad. I figured I had 36 hours of non-stop riding to finish the ride and surely no infection could get that bad in that time?
• A high speed crash as a result of hitting an unanticipated patch of mud at the bottom of a steep hill trying to negotiate a dog-leg bend, 18 hours into a 75 hour ride. Nothing broken but lots of grazing and wrecked kit.
• finding oneself vomiting whilst riding (this happened in two separate events);
• a complete misreading of the weather resulting in a bitterly cold night of riding with the brakes on to keep the bike slow enough so the wind chill was bearable whilst still enabling me to ride hard enough to keep warm
• or, the occasion when a spoke in the rear wheel snapped in the middle of nowhere, with the resultant buckle so bad I had no choice but to sit on the side of the road and true the wheel.
I don’t want these things to happen, but they do go with the territory. They are the unpleasant downside of otherwise amazing experiences.
In fact it’s predictably unpredictable that such things will happen. The first time something goes wrong leaves you feeling very, very low and ready to give up. But the more you experience the shallower and shorter the lows get. In other words, practise at dealing with them helps. The trouble is, they are unpredictable so you can’t force them to happen – you simply have to create a context where they are likely to happen and get ready. Hampshire to Geneva, 540 miles over three days into a headwind stood a good chance of dishing up a few challenges. It didn’t let me down.
Day 2 had been hard. My legs were very tired, my kit stunk and I had not had a proper meal since the ferry crossing on the previous day. Riding for so many hours into a headwind had been soul destroying. I could have done with Day 3 being straightforward. My first objective on day 3 was to find a supermarket with, well, anything I could eat. Sunday in France can be challenging when it comes to finding shops open selling cycle friendly snacks. Sports nutrition is all well and good when you have a support team. But for the solo unsupported ultra distance rider, sports food is that which you can find, buy and eat from wherever you can get it. The pack of sliced cheese in the back pocket and baguette strapped to the top of the pannier bag is a not uncommon sight. A bit of no handed riding to reach back, grab a chunk of bread, split it open and fold in a couple of cheese slices, cough, splutter and choke your way through before washing down with whatever local brand of iced tea, juice or flat coke you have found is about as sophisticated as it gets. A large Danish pastry can be a challenging proposition to consume whilst spinning along, but practise makes perfect. And the amount of cheap sweets that can get eaten would be the envy of any self-respecting kid. But I digress.
The climb into the Jura Mountains was beautiful. The moody sky broken occasionally by shafts of sunlight. The visibility was astounding after yesterday’s rain. The road surface was good and apart from the stiff headwind, it was a delight of meandering through bend after bend as I inexorably rose up the side of the hill. Even the first flakes of snow were a novelty – I stopped and took a photograph. As the snow showers became heavier, it ceased to be quite so much fun. Layers of snow were building up on my feet and on the tops of the handlebars. The snow covered my bike computer screen and stung my eyes. As it got heavier still, I faced the prospect of riding back to the valley floor and round the base of the mountains, an extra 100 miles on top of the 117 I had to ride that day and the several thousand metres of climbing. I decided to press on. The snow stopped and I was rewarded with a stunning snow covered landscape. it felt like Christmas all over again. By the time I crested Col de la Faucille, the view into the Geneva valley was spectacular. All that was left were the 19 miles of swopping descent into Geneva – pure pleasure. Swooping through bend after bend, dodging the occasional patch of snow and ice. This time, I arrived at the hotel with time enough to check in, shower, eat and relive ‘Ice cold in Alex’ with a large, cold and thoroughly satisfying beer.
I had banked some fantastic mental preparation for the LEJOG record attempt. Three days of nothing but my own company, deep fatigue, stressful riding with the snow, navigation errors and headwinds had reminded me I can cope if I put my mind to it. All of this is in addition to the training benefit of 540 miles of endurance effort. However the real prize was the pure aesthetic and athletic pleasure of the quiet enjoyment of riding through three countries in three days.
2 April 2014
Performance, pain and punishment
They asked kindly, was it comfortable? How comfortable should a mask be that is strapped to your face so tightly no air could escape? It was the second part of the lab tests being undertaken by the MSc students in Applied Sports Science at the University of Winchester. The first was to establish something known as your lactate threshold, and once this information was known they could then work out the point at which I needed to start before riding myself into the ground in order to measure my ability to utilise oxygen.
After an hour of prodding, poking, measuring and subjecting to me to testing at insane levels of effort I ended up with three useful numbers. Firstly how fat I am – 7% they reckon. Secondly the level of effort if I can keep below I should be able to keep going all day and some benchmark data against which future tests can be compared.
I’ve also been asked by the students to keep a sleep log – apparently there is some interesting research associated with sleep and performance. Over the last month I’m averaging a shade over 6 hours sleep a night. Next they wish me to take my temperature every two hours and keep a record. I’m trying to work out how I can do this surreptitiously throughout the day to avoid accusations of hyperchondria.
Why go to all this effort? I now know we can do the distance. So this time it’s about making sure we can do it fast enough. I want to know that whatever happens we have left no stone unturned in the quest for an improvement in our performance.
When I think of all the people that have got behind what we are doing to raise money for Helping Little Hearts it makes it all worthwhile. At the end of the day it’s just a bike ride. But the difference we can make through the funds raised will change lives.
7 March 2014
What to expect en-route
It’s funny how when you have to give a presentation on something it forces you to think really clearly about what you are trying to say. I was standing in front of the MSc students in Applied Sports Science at the University of Winchester persuading them that our Lands End to John O’Groats tandem record attempt was a great focus for their time and efforts whilst studying for their degree. One thing I was asked to describe was the route. In their minds they were already calculating the power output necessary to achieve the distance in the required time. If only it were that simple.
1348km and 10,000m of climbing doesn’t really convey the challenge. The route is very hilly for the first 200 miles, then undulates before becoming 75 miles of interval work racing from one set of traffic lights to the next through the vast conurbation that stretches from south of Warrington almost to Kendal. The hills resume for a while before easing back. The final 70 miles however, takes you to one side and gives you a damn good kicking with a series of long grinding climbs – just what you need after 40+ hours of non-stop riding. To add to the challenge of working out the right power output for the ride is that at 3 am in the morning your focus is much more on staying awake until the arrival of the first light of dawn – desperately trying to convince yourself that sleep is simply not necessary. Power and speed are no longer at the forefront of your mind. Speed picks up with the onset of a new day.
Whilst the speed / power calculation is going to be difficult, we are really glad to have the support of the students led by Dr Simon Jobson. His book on performance cycling is sat beside me at the moment. A reminder to stop writing and start reading.
When I think of all the people that have got behind what we are doing to raise money for Helping Little Hearts it makes it all worthwhile. At the end of the day it’s just a bike ride. But the difference we can make through the funds raised will change lives.
25 February 2014
Remembering our last tandem challenge – and looking forward to the next
As I retched for the umpteenth time and we were only 250 miles into our record attempt I was beginning to seriously question my sanity. It had seemed like such a good idea – break the tandem record from Lands End to John O’Groats, a record that has stood for an incredible 57 years and resisted numerous attempts. On paper, the 52 hours, 14 minutes and 25 seconds seems very possible. The reality is very different. My riding partner, Ian Rodd and I joined the ranks of the very few that had made it all the way to the end in one go, and the many that had failed to break the record.
It remains an aching obsession, an itch that needs to be scratched, an obsession that focuses the mind every time I ride my bike. Ian on the other hand stopped riding his bike for almost a year after our attempt, such was the intensity of the experience. Sadly, he also decided that another attempt was not for him.
After newspaper appeals, articles on websites and radio appearances, Glenn Longland, who, amongst other things was the first person to do 300 miles in a 12 hour time trial signed up. Glenn’s a legend, and living proof that age is just a number. At 57 years of age his prowess on a bike is simply phenomenal. We had our first century ride together a few weekends ago. If you were riding a sportive in and around Pewsey and Upavon, my apologies, you weren’t slow, it’s just we were in the groove and flying. It bodes well, really well for the next attempt. It’s off the University of Winchester next to talk to the Sports Science department to get some help working out how to go even faster.
Of course, one of the biggest drivers is knowing we are doing it for a worthy cause. Riding through the wee small hours massively fatigued and struggling to keep going needs a strong external driver. When I think of all the people that have got behind what we are doing to raise money for Helping Little Hearts it makes it all worthwhile. At the end of the day it’s just a bike ride. But the difference we can make through the funds raised will change lives.
12 February 2014
Breaking a record
I had a growing and aching doubt. I’d been working in the arena of people development since I completed my first degree. A brief departure into academia aside, my whole working life was (and is) about helping others succeed. I remember standing in a conference room helping to motivate a group of managers achieve an extraordinary challenge. Inside I was wondering whether I could do what was being asked of them. I needed to stretch myself. I needed to find out for myself what it meant to set an outrageous goal and struggle and strive to achieve it.
Empathy through experience
I turned to sport to meet my need. It started with completing an Ironman triathlon. When I began training I could run, but had never run a marathon, had not been swimming properly since I was a child and had a bike for the purpose of popping into town for bread and milk. To swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and run a marathon back to back seemed an impossible goal, especially with only 10 months to go before the race date.
What began 14 years ago was a journey into ever longer endurance events pushing the distances ever further. Last year, completing London, Edinburgh, London non-stop on a bike with just one gear was a stop gap for the main event. The year before, along with my riding partner and now dear friend I failed to break the tandem cycle record for the fastest time from Lands End to John O’Groats. Our consolation prize was continuing to the bitter end, knowing we hadn’t broken the record but had at least made it all the way, something seemingly no other team attempting the record had done since it was set in 1966. Failing to break the record was an itch that needed to be scratched. And so, with a new cycling partner in May of this year we will attempt to ride the 832 miles in less than 50 hours, 14 minutes and 25 seconds. But it’s not about the goal anymore.
A journey into myself
I’ve come to realise over the years that the goal is merely a vehicle for an incredibly enriching and life affirming experience. When I started I believed it was all about training plans and the right kit. I would spend hours researching the benefits of one pair of goggles over another. The more events I did the more I learned that the greater gain was the voyage of self-discovery. I have developed a much deeper insight into just how hard it is for ordinary people like me to do extraordinary things.
Moments of truth
One such lesson was realising what a ‘moment of truth’ really is. I was standing by the side of the road half way up an alpine pass, mid way through an epically hard 525km of non-stop cycle race over the alps. I was sick again and again. I remember glancing back at the support car and in realising the decision was incredibly simple. Do I stop and go home? I had the excuse, I was being sick. Or do I get back on the bike and carry on riding up the hill. It ceased being about the race and became all about understanding what I was capable of doing. I saw with incredible clarity in that moment the decisions that come time and time again in all facets of life – do I give in or do I carry on. There, in that place, on the side of a hill in Italy, I realised I didn’t want to give up or give in. The revelation was not so much that my reserves were deeper than I thought but the realisation that once you make the decision to continue, it’s not a question of whether you will make it to the end but how you are going to get there. Whenever I am challenged to this day – and I’ve had to make far harder decisions since then – I remember the feeling and the scene and draw strength from the decision I made.
I was reminded of another key lesson this morning. I stared at the small glass of purple fluid. The container from which I had poured it had sat unopened in the fridge for over a week. It was defeating me. All I had to do was pick up the glass and swallow the 70ml of concentrated beetroot juice it contained. Somehow I just couldn’t do it. The evidence is overwhelming that nitric oxide, the ingredient in the beetroot juice that makes it worthwhile drinking it has a significant positive effect on sports performance and when you are seeking to break a record – you’ll consider all legal means of enhancing performance. I can get up at 4.30am in order to fit in a training session in the pouring rain and in the dark but I was struggling to drink the beetroot juice. The lesson I’ve learned is that whatever you think will be difficult will not be the thing that catches you out. There will always be something you didn’t anticipate that will cause you a difficulty. It is predictably unpredictable.
When we made our first attempt at the tandem record, I thought it would be the fatigue that would get to me. It wasn’t. It was the one section of road I had never ridden prior to the attempt. It was a short section from Moffat over to Edinburgh. On the pre-ride we had ridden a different route and realised it simply would not work. The team checked out the alternative and it seemed the sensible decision. But for those few miles I felt at sea. I had no idea what was coming up, how hard, how many hills or where the difficult bit was. It seemed to go on and on forever. It coincided with the support team taking a much-needed break. It took all my mental reserves to get my head around riding a few miles of unknown road, something I had done thousands of times over during training. Something that should be easy to do was destroying my mental reserves.
The lesson I learnt was that you can’t predict however and wherever the challenge will arise. Coping with it however seems to involve the same process.
1. Don’t fret the big stuff. Thinking about the end goal – in our case getting to John O’Groats in record breaking time – is self-defeating. Better to just focus on the here and now and the things you can do to get through the immediate future.
2. Set yourself micro goals. Even on a non-stop ride in excess of 1300kms, we found ourselves setting the goal of riding to the top of the next hill, or to the next junction. We’d review progress at that stage and set a new micro goal.
3. Cut yourself some slack – you are where you are – enjoy the successes of the micro goals and give yourself some space to get your head back into the game.
4. It takes time – for us it was a few miles – but for other challenges in life it could be days / weeks or longer. Allow it to take the time it needs.
5. Keep the faith – however low the low gets have the confidence to know you will come out of the other side of it and be able to continue
The big surprise
The biggest lesson of all was not what I expected it to be. What has pulled me out of the deepest and darkest lows is knowing someone else is benefitting from what I am doing. On our first tandem record attempt, the charitable focus was an after thought – something we ought to do. It was grinding up the long slow climb up over Shap Fell where my riding partner and I considered abandoning that connected me with the importance of others in achieving goals. It was the thought of those people who had pledged donations in support of our efforts that drove me onwards. It wasn’t about me anymore, it was about the people who would benefit. This gave me a real purpose, a deep and profound sense of value. So, from a very real and selfish perspective, fulfilment has come to really mean what I have come to love doing over the years – helping others.
Rather than being an afterthought, on this next record attempt the team and I have set about involving lots more people on the basis of helping them, help us, help them. For example, working with the local University to enable the Sports Science students to work on a real project and in return learning from their thoughts. We have chosen to work with Heart Research UK on their ‘Helping Little Hearts’ initiative for the same reason. Helping them provides the focus for the deep dark moments of the ride and benefits them through the support we can generate. With a father and two brothers needing medical attention as a result of heart conditions and in honour of my friend and previous riding partner, a consultant paediatrician, the focus on children seemed all the more appropriate.
It’s a team thing
One of the other amazing experiences has been being part of a truly awesome team. I can claim no responsibility for this other than simply bringing people together. They became the amazing team that with selfless focus did everything they could to help us succeed with our tandem attempt last time and are set to do the same again this time. The experience provides a frame of reference against which I compare all other teams.
I have no idea the lessons I will learn from our next tandem record attempt. I do know there will be something and I will be all the richer for it. It will enable me to approach with humility and greater empathy my day job of helping people in business achieve their aspirations. I will continue to watch in awe as they achieve what at the outset, appear to be impossible goals. Meantime, it’s back to training for me.
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