Part 11: Wow, it really worked!

Never dreamed I might have a photo like this

It’s hard to believe, but it all came together perfectly on the day. With amazing support from my dad, wife, and kids, all the training, kit, pacing and nutrition worked beautifully. Despite some very wet and windy conditions, the plan proved resilient and we made it though without any major issues.

A week later, I’m still feeling stunned that this added up to, not just a 516 mile ride, but also the 2022 UK National Champion’s jersey!  Although I had said I would like to cover 480 miles, I had secretly believed that 500 might be possible – but I had zero expectation of going any further than this or finishing on the podium.

Now, I’m under no illusions that I’m the fastest or most talented long distance TT rider in the country – there were others on the start sheet who would normally beat me by a good margin.  But, with only 33 out of 54 riders able to finish in the wet and windy overnight conditions, I ended up being the one who came through the night with my plans intact. 

(photo courtesy of Kimroy Photography)

Reflecting on it now, I think I’ve learned two things. 

Firstly, if you can get a great team around you, figure out the components of a good performance then really work to optimise everything, it’s amazing how close someone with fairly average talent can get to a top-level performance. 

Secondly, part of the beauty of sport is its unpredictability. It’s hard to account for chance, weather and variable performances, and there will often be an unexpected winner. I just feel extremely grateful that, this time, it could be me.

Since the event, I’ve enjoyed answering a lot of questions from family and friends about how it went on the day.  I thought these could be a good way to finish my blog, so here they are:

How often did you stop? What did you do in your stops? 

The course was multiple loops of about 35-80 minutes, each returning to a central roundabout where most support teams were camped. My dad, my wife, and my two teenage kids all took turns supporting me from a simple base we set up from our camper van.

We had a well-drilled routine which worked very well on the day. Every 2 hours I stopped at our base and we worked concurrently for the quickest possible pit-stop. While I jumped off the bike and went for a pee, they replaced my water bottle, feed bottle, and energy bars on my bike. They then passed me a pitta bread sandwich which I stashed in the leg of my skin suit. Finally, as I jumped back on my bike, they passed me a small treat to eat as I pedalled off. 

The whole process took less than 90 seconds so we averaged about 40 seconds of stops per hour overall. As well as being efficient, my team did a great job of keeping me confident and motivated. Overnight, they always seemed cheerful and never mentioned the grotty weather. Over the last few hours, when I was starting to look and feel pretty wasted, they still kept smiling, told me I was looking great and encouraged me to keep pushing to the end.

2-hourly pitstop, helped by Dad

What did you eat and drink all that time?

I had spent a lot of time on training rides figuring out and testing the most reliable way for me to manage 75-90g per hour of carbohydrates, along with electrolytes and plenty of fluid.

For the carbs, I took something every 15 minutes so that each hour I consumed 60g from a homemade drink mix (fructose powder, maltodextrin powder & electrolyte tablets), 15g from an energy bar (half a Torq bar), and 15g from a sandwich (pitta with various savoury fillings).  

For the water, I kept sipping from a bottle on my TT bars, aiming to need a pee about once per 2 hours.  For the electrolytes, I aimed to get about 500mg of sodium per hour from the drink mix and salty sandwich fillings (eg Marmite or salty cheese and bacon).

This plan worked well and I managed 90g/hr for the first 12 hours without feeling over-fed. By the last few hours I was feeling quite sick and full, but I was still able to manage all my energy drink and I averaged about 75-80g/hr for the event overall.

The amazing pit crew 🙂

In total, I took in 1,900g carbs (7,600 kCal) while burning about 15,000 kCal.  Assuming I used about 1,500 kCal from glycogen stores, the breakdown of energy used was:

50% from carbs consumed

10% from glycogen stores burned

40% from fat stores burned 

I don’t know what the impact of all this was on my weight because I made a point of not getting on the scales for a week either side of the event.

How did you pace yourself?

From training (including a non-stop 600km Audax ride), I had an idea of the power and heart rate I could sustain over 24 hours, so I tried to keep within some fairly tight targets. 

In the first 8 hours, I tried to be strict about keeping my HR below 145 at all times and keeping my normalised power below 210w (67% FTP).  The route was quite hilly and it was tempting to push a bit harder on the climbs, but I kept reminding myself of the need to save energy.

In the middle 8 hours (overnight, from 21:30 to 05:30), fatigue started to build and I no longer had to hold myself back. When it became very wet and windy in the middle of the night, it was difficult to judge effort – everything felt like hard work.  I tried to ignore any thoughts or sensations and just ride to my target, knowing my body could cope.  I had factored in a drop in power of 0.5% per hour, so this meant aiming for 200w overnight.

(photo courtesy of Kimroy Photography)

Towards the end of the ride, and particularly on the bumpy finishing circuit, I stopped looking at power and focussed instead on just sustaining the highest effort I could without feeling too sick or wasted.  Eventually, I changed the computer display to just show total time and distance, focusing on racking up as many miles as possible while the clock ran down.  This felt much more motivating than watching my average power and speed constantly decline.

Did it hurt? What about your back and neck?

I had told myself beforehand that of course it was going to hurt, so it was no surprise when it did.  Because I felt so motivated, and because I had expected the discomfort, it didn’t really bother me when my neck and backside became sore.  The only thing that troubled me about sore muscles was that this might mean they would fail on me before the end. 

Happily, my back and neck held out nicely – I’m sure that is because of the amount of time I had spent training in the TT position wearing a heavy helmet.  Oddly, the only part of my body that really failed was the muscle raising my left eyelid. It simply became exhausted from constantly looking upwards until it was impossible to open my left eye properly. Thankfully, my right eyelid seemed to have better endurance, so I rode the last couple of hours with one eye open.

2 hours to go, filthy, knackered and down to one working eye, but still keeping aero…

Didn’t you just want to stop and sleep?

I expected to feel strong urges to ease up or stop as the ride went on. Actually, these were never very strong, probably because I always felt my ride was going well.  I definitely felt the impact of being awake for a long time, but more in terms of slow and clumsy thinking rather than a strong urge to sleep.

Having a strong sense of support made a big difference, too. I felt this directly from my pit crew every time I passed them, but also from the many kind messages I’d had from club-mates, friends and family over recent days.

When did you realise you were in the lead?

I had no idea until 5 hours from the end when my wife shouted “you’re winning!” from the side of the road as I passed.  I couldn’t believe it so I guessed I had either mis-heard her or she was just speaking figuratively.  It was 40 minutes later, when I passed her again, that I could check what she meant. From that point on, I had an extra boost of motivation and tried my best to push as hard as possible, telling myself I must not throw away this opportunity by giving any less than 100% to the end.

(photo courtesy of Kimroy Photography)

How did you feel at the end?

I didn’t realise it at the time but my 13 year-old son, Will, decided to “interview” me at the finish and record the answers on his phone.  I’m pleased he did, because it would be easy for me now to underestimate how trashed I felt when I stopped:

How do you feel?  “Oh terrible, fucked, never felt this fucked in my entire life. I imagine this is how it feels to be in critical care.” 

If you could have one thing right now what would it be? “To feel decent, my feet not feeling so sore. I feel like they are in a flipping vice clamp.  That took years off my life, that did.

What hour would you say was the hardest? “Probably the second last one.

(a bit later) How do you feel now? “On a scale of one to bollocksed, bollocksed.

So what’s next?

Firstly, a nice bit of chilling out, going on holiday to France and riding my bike without any performance goals. Next year, I plan to ride Paris-Brest-Paris, but very much for the experience rather than any particular target. Beyond that, we’ll see – I may do another 24-hr TT at some point, but it won’t be before 2024.

Massive thanks to:

The Mersey Roads Club volunteers for putting on another fantastic event

Alison, Cat, Will and Dad for supporting me all day/night/day

Toby at The Endurance Habit for all the coaching support

Phil and Alex at MV Fit for all the strength and conditioning training

Steven Harris and Rhona Pearce at Loughborough Uni for the nutrition and metabolic testing

My VC Venta clubmates and other friends and family for all their support and encouragement

Everyone who so generously donated to the Genies Wish charity, helping us beat our target and raise over £2,500 for people with terminal or life-limiting conditions.

N xxxxx

Part 10: Mind Games

The kids getting ready for their first time paragliding: definitely some mixed feelings going on!

Only a couple of days before the big day! PLEASE have a look at my JustGiving page for the charity I am supporting. Genie’s Wish really deserves the donations, so they can improve the lives of people with terminal and live limiting illnesses. Thank you so much, Nick xxx

Mind Games

So the day’s nearly here and how do I feel? Anxious? Intimidated? Excited? A bit of everything?

Actually I’ve been pretty knackered, coughing my lungs up, and feeling ill. I probably caught a bug on the flight out to Portugal then got sick at the end of my final hard training block. The COVID lateral flows are negative, but perhaps it’s they’re false-negative. In any case, I’ve been off my bike for a few days and it’s hardly the final week I had hoped for. Thankfully it’s improving now with only 48 hours to go.

At least all the real training is in the bag. As I posted on Instagram before I got sick, I know I’ve done everything I can. Now it’s just about mind games and getting the job done.

Cracking few days in Portugal to finish off the training – final session in the in the bag today 🙂 Just 10 days of tapering now before the 24-hr next Saturday….

Over those last 40 weeks of training, I’ve had plenty of time to think about the mental game, and I’ve learned a lot from others along the way.

The best opportunity was a 600km effort I did six weeks ago, on a hilly Audax ride round the Pennines and Lake District.

I used my road bike and it wasn’t a race, but riding non-stop and self-supported for 24 hours was perfect to learn more about how it feels to keep pedalling all day and all night. 

Here’s what I think I’ve learned:

1. Save Your Mind Bullets 

24 hours is much too long to sustain a hyped-up, dig-deep, go-get-it attitude.  If you’re well prepared and pace it sensibly, there’s nothing difficult until at least the halfway point.

So just follow the pre-ride routine, roll though the first few hours, watch your pace and keep eating and drinking.  It’ll get tough eventually, so save that mental energy until it’s really needed. 

Teaching the kids to climb – just love Will’s total focus and commitment

2. Accept the Difficulty

Nobody can ride this long without discomfort – it’s part of the game. 

Along the way, you know you’ll have:

  • difficult sensations: sore feet, legs, backside, shoulders, neck; heat and cold; nausea…
  • difficult feelings: weariness, anxiety, doubt
  • difficult thoughts: “I’m so tired…I can’t sustain this…I’m getting weaker…there’s so far to go…why the hell am I doing this…”
  • difficult impulses: to sit up, ease off, miss a feed, extend a break, stop completely

Trying to crush or deny these difficulties isn’t sustainable. It might work for a while, but then the mental battle just becomes another source of stress.  

If you can, it’s far better to acknowledge and accept the difficulty, then move on regardless: “Ah, here’s a tough patch. Oh well, it’s not a surprise and it won’t last forever. Now, let’s try to focus on…”

3. Focus on Something Helpful

It’s best to have this pre-prepared. Positive thoughts don’t tend to come naturally when riding alone at 2 am!

Confidence“I know I can do this. I’ve done everything I can to prepare, my plans are tested, and there’s no way I’ll quit unless I have to.”

Opportunity: “Finally, here’s my reward for all the hard work in preparation. I’m lucky to be here: fit, healthy and with the choice do do this.”

Ice climbing in Vail, Colorado, 1997: intimidated and totally bricking it – but I just couldn’t miss the opportunity to climb something like this

Support: “My friends and family are on my side. They want  me to succeed and I want to do them proud. The other riders are on my side too, so let’s support each other and feed off the positivity.”

Physical: “Remember: smooth pedalling, steady pacing, nice aero position, relaxed shoulders, steady breathing…”

Bite-sized pieces: “…15 mins between feeds, 1 hr between laps, 2 hrs between pit stops… Almost done 1/4..1/3..1/2..2/3..3/4…”

Knackered and overheated – but it still felt amazing descending to Le Grand-Bornand after a long, hot slog up the Colombière

4. Keep the Harsh Motivation in Reserve

Sometimes harsher, more aggressive motivation can work too.  Pressure, targets, the risk of failure, and competitive urges are all powerful forces and they can certainly help to dig deep.  

But they’re also mentally tiring and not sustainable for hours on end.  It’s best to use these thoughts sparingly, and only when really needed:

  • “If I ease up now just because it hurts, all that training will have gone to waste.”
  • “If I come up short because I didn’t commit 100%, I’ll regret my weakness tomorrow and forever after.”
  • “If I let my friends and family down now by screwing this up, I’ll be ashamed to face them in the morning.”
  • “Look at those others suffering – it doesn’t hurt me like it hurts them. Let’s show them what a real athlete looks like.”
  • “Stop whingeing Nick. Just turn the pedals and do as you’re told. You’ll stop when I say you can stop.”

5. Remember Your Why

I find this the most powerful of all. As I wrote in part 2, I’ll just try to keep coming back to what I said at the start:

“Because this is who I am, someone who takes on challenges and sees them through.”

Next time: Did I make it to the start line? And how did it go???!!!

Part 9: Fuel the Machine

Everything needed for a 16-hour test run. Cheesy potatoes and rice pudding definitely the best bits – well, apart from that nice, cold beer at the end 🙂

Only a week to to go before the big day! PLEASE have a look at my JustGiving page for the charity I am supporting. Genie’s Wish really deserves the donations, so they can improve the lives of people with terminal and live limiting illnesses. Thank you so much, Nick xxx

Fuel the Machine

Riding for 24 hours is as much an eating competition as a bike race. When a machine runs out of fuel, it stops.

The challenge is to be able to put out an effort, while still taking in carbs and burning fat, without emptying the body’s energy stores.  This is a tricky balance to strike and I’m lucky to have been helped with some testing at Loughborough Uni.

First, it’s important to understand the way muscles use both fat and carbohydrate for fuel.


Even in a lean person, fat stores are effectively limitless in a 24-hour event.  Just 7kg of body fat contains 63,000 kCal : enough to ride more than 1,500 miles without eating. 

Sadly, fat has two major limitations. 

First, fat stores can only be burned quite slowly. In me, this peaks at about 48g/hr.  This releases 430 kCal, enough to produce about 125w of power on the bike (the body is about 25% efficient at converting food energy into mechanical work).

Second, fat-burning drops off when exercise gets more than moderately hard. My fat-burning peaks when I’m riding at about 215w (70% of threshold power). By the time I reach threshold, fat-burning is effectively zero.


In contrast, carbs burn faster, but also have much smaller stores.  In my test at Loughborough, I could burn about 265g carbs per hour at threshold, enough to produce about 310w on the bike.

The problem is that using carbs at this rate will burn through the body’s stores very quickly. The 500g of glycogen stored in the liver and muscles contains only 2,000 kCal – enough to ride about 50-60 miles.

Fortunately, consuming carbs during exercise can make the stores last longer. Typically, we can absorb up to 90g/hr of carbs, but only when the conditions are perfect: low-to-moderate exercise intensity, the right combination of foods*, adequate hydration, and little fat or protein in the diet.

*The composition of carbs ingested is also important. Glucose and fructose are absorbed from the gut through different transporters at a ratio of 2:1.  To make the most of both routes, food should ideally contain 2g glucose (or glucose polymers such as starch or maltodextrin) per 1g fructose.

So what does this mean in practice?  For a short event like a 10 or 25 mile time trial, it hardly matters.  The intensity is so high that fat-burning is near-zero while the duration is short enough that glycogen stores will last the distance, even without consuming anything.

But for a 24-hour ride the opposite is true. Carb stores alone can only fuel 50 miles of riding, so carb intake and fat burning are crucial.  For me, riding at around 200w, fat burning can supply about half the energy I need, but I still need to make sure I’m keeping the carb stores topped up. If I don’t eat enough, or if my gut slows down, it won’t be long before the reserves run out and the man with the big hammer comes along.

Putting it Together 

So after a lot of trial and error, and applying the results from Loughborough, here’s my tested plan:


  • ride a steady 190-205w Normalised Power (65%FTP) 
  • keep the effort easy at all times (HR always <145)
  • avoid power surges (power always <275w)

Carb Load

  • for 2 days before the event, eat 8g/kg carbs per day, with low-fat, low-fibre foods (eg rice & pasta), generous salt, and plenty of water
  • on the morning of the event, eat breakfast 3-4 hours before the start, with 120-150g carbs, some protein and just a little fat (eg rice and 2 poached eggs)

Food during event

  • eat or drink some carbs every 15 mins
  • consume 90g/hr carbs if possible, 60g/hr minimum
  • take a combination of energy drink, sports bars and savoury snacks to give a 2:1 ratio of glucose:fructose
  • minimise fat and protein intake while riding

Water during event

  • consume enough water (about 500ml/hr) to need a decent pee once per 2 hrs 

Sodium during event

  • consume 500-750mg/hr sodium per hour (eg 2xHigh5 electrolyte tabs in drink + 1x salty snack)
  • If drinking more than 500ml/hr, take extra sodium (approx 1000mg per extra litre drunk)

Will it work? I suppose we’ll find out next weekend!

Part 8: WTF you doing with lead weights on your helmet?!

I promise there’s a good reason for all this…

First, a quick pitch for the charity I’m supporting:

It’s a great cause: Genie’s Wish make a huge difference to the lives of young people with terminal or life-limiting conditions. They aim “to bring respite and joy, by providing a life-changing wish, experience, or ongoing opportunity”. 

And it’s a proper tough challenge: I’ve entered the UK National 24-Hour Time Trial Championships.  Sure, I ride a lot for fun anyway, but I promise this will be difficult: 24 hours, non-stop, on a time-trial bike, on open roads in Cheshire.  

If everything goes perfectly, I might just manage 750km (463 miles) – the distance from Portsmouth to Edinburgh.  If we could raise £10 per km, that £7,500 could make a huge difference to other people’s lives.

I’m covering all the costs of the event, so 100% of your donations go to help others.

Thank you, Nick x

Lead weights on a helmet?! I know it seems strange but hear me out…

With 8 weeks to go, I’m thinking what I can still do to squeeze out a bit more distance on the day.  That’s sent me down a rabbit-hole of calculations to figure out what it would take to do just one extra mile.

Fellow geeks – click here for full details!

With data from my own 12-hour on the same roads in 2020, plus Andy Rivett’s amazing 480 mile ride on Strava, then a bit of tinkering in the MyWindsock app, I figured out:

To ride 1 mile further over 24 hours, I would need to:

Reduce stopped time by 8 seconds per hour


Reduce total weight by 1kg


Pedal 1 watt harder


Reduce drag by 1 watt

So which of these can I address?

Stopped Time: This is a big one. 8 seconds per hour sounds tiny but the calculations show how it all adds up. I’ll be doing everything I can to plan and practice my pit-stops with my helpers.

Weight: At 78kg and 10-ish percent body fat, I could probably lose about 1-2kg and still be healthy, but not in the next 8 weeks without seriously messing up my training.

Power: I’m already doing what I can to train hard and recover as well as possible. My pacing and nutrition plans are tested and I can’t really refine these further without actually riding a 24-hour TT.

Drag: I know from tests last year that my setup is pretty well optimised. But finding a setup that works in testing is only the first step – being able to sustain that position for the full 24 hours is where it gets tricky.  

The hardest thing for me is keeping my head in the right place. Wind tunnel tests showed that keeping my head low with my eyes up saves a huge amount of drag (around 10w at 30kph). That’s great to know, but it’s really hard on the neck muscles.

It’s the best I could get in the tunnel…
…while still looking up the road ahead…
…but it does get hard on the poor old neck

It’s made more difficult still by the weight of my TT helmet (460g), almost double that of my usual road helmet.  And, after a few hours, that difference feels like a lot more than 200g. 

I’ve been wearing my TT helmet as much as possible on training rides, but that’s still for only 4 hours at a time. To get the muscles ready for another 20 hours in that position, I need more training stimulus.

Thankfully, my needs are a bit different from Anthony Joshua’s:

…so that’s where the lead weights come in!  £10 bought me a pack of ten 60g fishing weights from Amazon, which I’ve taped to my spare road helmet. For now, I have it weighing 600g, which feels a good bit heavier than my TT helmet.  A 90 minute ride is bearable, but definitely taxes the neck muscles. Hopefully, I’ll be able to build this up over the next 8 weeks so that, by race day, my TT helmet might even feel light. 

I doubt I’ll convince anyone this is a sensible thing to do – but have I at least shown it’s rational?

PS. I know it’s not very safe riding around with lead weights on a bike helmet – but I have to balance this with the risk of not being able to see properly on the 24-hr if my neck muscles are too tired to hold a good head position. On balance, I think it’s safer to do the training.

Part 7: Get the right coach – for you

With Toby at our Christmas Pudding TT – slightly mucky conditions!

I’ve mentioned before how helpful it’s been to have a coach this year. But what is it that working with Toby actually adds to my training?

Every coaching relationship is a bit different. As Toby points out, some of his riders just want to be told what to do, some need encouragement and advice, while others want more of a two-way conversation.

I’d been self-coached for 15 years and this seemed to be working fine. I enjoyed reading the books, making my own plans, and testing myself – so I was sceptical about enlisting outside help.  I didn’t struggle to push myself, so why would I need someone else to motivate me?

I’d known Toby through our club for a few years.  We’d ridden together on the chain-gang and I’d seen him do a lovely job of coaching our junior riders: from primary school kids at our Go Ride courses, right through to the uni boys at national-level road races.  But it was only when chatting to him after my first 12-hour in 2020 that I realised how he could help me too.

Over a post-ride coffee, we got chatting about everything that went into an endurance performance: from the training, to the pacing, the nutrition, and the mindset. Toby shared what he’d learned from his long-distance MTB challenges and we compared notes on what each of us found helpful.

This exchange of ideas really got me thinking and challenged my assumptions. A lot of my training was already good, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t improve.  Was I really making those hard sessions hard and the easy sessions easy?  Could I do more to get stronger over winter?  How about refining my pacing and nutrition plans on my weekly long rides?

16 hour test run, 7th May 2022

Since working together, we’ve addressed all of these things – and I think I’ve seen the benefits.  But I’ve also appreciated the accountability – not for getting the miles in (I was doing that already), but for getting the right balance of rest, recovery, and properly challenging workouts.

Importantly for me, this remains a two-way process.  Toby is in charge of the key sessions for the week, which we schedule together in the TrainingPeaks app. I then upload my data and feed back on how it went.  Each week, I also write a report summarising what has gone well or badly in my overall training and recovery, along with my thoughts for the coming weeks.

After a big ride or event, we’ll look even more closely at the data and learning points. Here’s the data generated from my 16-hour test ride two weeks ago…

…and my take on the findings and learning points: 

Looking ahead to my next big ride, I have been a bit unsure of how I should approach it – and even if I should ride it at all.  The email discussion we had this week is a nice example of the way we work together:

Hi Toby,

I have been thinking about this 600k and trying to decide if it’s a good idea…

Reasons to do it:

– It could be a fun adventure

– I already have the time booked away from work/family

– Completing it would get me an early entry to Paris-Brest-Paris

– It would help train the mental resilience needed to pedal for 24 hours solid

Against doing it:

It will leave me very fatigued

– There is quite a high risk of overuse injury (eg flare up left knee)

– I could get more done overall by just training through this period, rather than resting/over-reaching/recovering from one mega-long ride

If I do ride it, I’ll:

– focus on mental resilience rather than power or speed

– maintain a very easy pace (180w normalised, 10% below my 24-hr target)

– keep riding for 24 hrs solid, stopping only briefly for water/controls

I think this will let me average about 25kph, so 24hrs for the 600km. At 160w average power, I’ll need about 570 kCal/hr, which I could achieve with 75g/hr CHO intake (300 kCal) plus fat oxidation (30g/hr = 270 kCal).  I can use the same food and drink as on my 24-hr TT if I bring everything except water in a frame bag.

What do you think?

The Audax setup – shamefully short of mudguards!

Hi Nick,

My thoughts are not to use it for pacing or power targets or speed, but for practicing riding for 24 hours, tweaking and perfecting the nutrition plan, working on the mental resilience of finding the right focus level for the duration of the ride (not always wired but also not day dreaming).

If the injury flares up then take remedial action, carry on, if still sore or pain worsens then pull out. You will need to define a strict level of what constitutes withdrawing with grace!

Whilst the 180w NP target is probably sensible, I also wonder if having more freedom and just riding really easy is a better goal, as you are indifferent of it takes you 23/24/25 hours. The focus is just getting being in the saddle and doing the time. I am concerned that having a power metric becomes the sole focus rather than just riding?

That being said, having a 180w target would be useful to hold you back, so I would rather put it as a limiter rather than a goal to chase the power up to this level.

We have plenty of time after the Audax that you could have a complete week off the bike and not damage your training path for the 24hr TT.

In summary; if you are excited about doing it then let’s plan to complete it and just put some restrictions around it so you enjoy it and learn from it as well as getting your PBP rides done. If you are unsure and don’t want to do it but feel you should do it, then don’t and we can reframe your training. Words in bold for clarity!


So it’s decided – the 600k is on. The route looks pretty tough so, if nothing else, I am sure we will achieve the aim of practicing mental resilience!

Part 6: Don’t just train, experiment

Race-day fuel for the 2021 National 12 Hour TT – would have been great if I could actually consume it all

So I’ve entered the UK National 24-hour Time Trial Champs in July 2022 – riding as far as I can on open roads in a 24 hour period – oh dear…

As a 44 year old dad working full-time as an ICU doctor, I’m not going to win – but I still want to ride a performance to be proud of. More than that, I want the whole process to feel enriching, with learning and adventures along the way.  

Over these six months, I’m finding out more about everything needed to perform in an ultra-distance bike race. By sharing what I learn, I hope to discover more about the sport, myself, and the ingredients of success…or failure.

Preparing for this 24-hour TT needs a lot of time in the saddle. Not using this time to experiment, learn, and refine plans for race day would be a huge, missed opportunity.

Experiments on a single person are never going to add anything to the world of sports science – but they’re still vital to figure out how to apply science to the individual. The fundamentals don’t change, but we all have subtly different minds and bodies with subtly different needs.  

Plans for this weekend’s Audax, with the pre-ride nutrition plan I have now settled on for long events

Some differences, such as aerobic fitness, are pretty obvious. Riding at 200w will feel easy for some, hard for others, and near-impossible for others.  A simple fitness test (say, riding 20 mins as hard as possible) or looking back at race data can put a figure on this.

But some differences are much harder to measure. How many grams of carbohydrate per hour can you digest?  What percentage of your maximum power can you sustain for 12 hours without collapsing?

JP putting his fitness to the test on Old Winchester Hill

To answer these harder questions, we need a methodical approach. Without this careful planning and measurement, it’s far too easy to draw the wrong conclusions:

Were you faster today because you produced more power…. or was the course/weather/traffic more favourable?

Did you feel stronger today because you fuelled better… or because you were fresher/better-paced/more motivated?

For reliable answers, we need to standardise as many factors as possible, while adjusting the one thing we want to study. We then need a structured way to record and compare the results.

When planning my training with Toby last autumn, we realised a key question for me was:

“What combination of food and drink will give me the highest, sustainable intake of carbohydrate per hour?”

Experience during my four previous rides of 12 hours or more suggested this is a key limiter to my performance.  On each of these rides, I reached a point where nausea and fullness limited how much I could eat and drink. Unsurprisingly, I then found myself getting weak, spaced-out, and slow.

At the finish line of the 2020 National 12-hour – not a drop of glycogen left in the body!

To tackle this, we started by looking at my training and racing logs, including power data and my notes on what I had eaten each time.

I then learned more about the physiology of endurance metabolism, including the way sugars are absorbed from the gut, and the limits of the body’s fuel stores.  I also read evidence and opinions on how best to fuel long efforts, and what were thought to be decent rules-of-thumb.

After learning about the important role of fat as fuel, and how this varies between individuals, I got in touch with physiologists at Loughborough University to find out more.  They tested me at various power levels on my TT bike while measuring the gas I breathed to calculate how much fat and carbs I was burning at each power level.

60 minute fuel-utilisation ramp test at Loughborough Uni

But most importantly, I tested the theory and refined my plans.

Toby and I included a series of nutrition tests during each of my weekly 4-hour endurance rides over the winter and spring. Each time, I tried to standardise my power and my pre-ride food, while tweaking one thing at a time for my on-bike nutrition. We were then able to look through my notes and power data to see what worked and what didn’t.

I now have come up with a plan that seems to work for me – at least over shorter durations. But this 24-hour is a LOT longer than those 4-hour training rides. 

So this spring I’m testing it out over longer and longer rides.  After a 200km/8 hour Audax ride in March, I added in some more savoury options (energy drink gets a bit sickly after a while!), then returned to Loughborough in April for a combined 6 hour ride and repeat lab test (full geeky data to follow!)

Testing and refining plans on March’s 200km Audax. Worked well, but would be even better with more cheesy potatoes

My final long test of fuelling and pacing will be this Saturday, on a 400km/16 hour Audax ride in East Anglia. Sadly this means skipping the tea-room and chip shop opportunities, as I’ll carry all my food and drink mixes in my jersey and an enormous saddle bag.

The roads are too bumpy for a TT setup, so I’ll be taking my road bike, but I’ll otherwise try to match my plans for race day.  To keep the experiment as realistic as possible, I will follow the first 16 hours of my power targets and fuelling plans for the 24.  I can then make any final tweaks based on my experiences (good or bad!).

Everything prepped now my the evening before, my pre-ride brekkie, and my 400km ride (plus a little refreshment for the end)

So… let’s see how it goes!  Along with the fuelling, I’ll also be testing out a GPS tracker link, which should be live from the start (09:00 GMT+1 on Sat 7th).  Let me know if it works, and I’ll report back via Strava at the end…

Live Tracker:


Part 5 : You can only train as hard as you can recover

Totally bollocksed and in need of some recovery. Climbing mountains with Tom and Iain in Peru, 2000

So I’ve entered the UK National 24-hour Time Trial Champs in July 2022 – riding as far as I can on open roads in a 24 hour period – oh dear…
As a 44 year old dad working full-time as an ICU doctor, I’m not going to win – but I still want to ride a performance to be proud of. More than that, I want the whole process to feel enriching, with learning and adventures along the way.  
Over these six months, I’m finding out more about everything needed to perform in an ultra-distance bike race. By sharing what I learn, I hope to discover more about the sport, myself, and the ingredients of success…or failure.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had time to write – appropriate, really, given the topic.  This post is all about the balance of training and recovery.

It might feel as if fitness gains are happening while we are actually training but, in fact, the reverse is true. 

All training – whether cycling, running, or weight training – creates fatigue that makes us less fit in the short term. It’s only with recovery, nutrition, and adequate sleep that the body can adapt and become fitter.

Training Stimulus

The basic principle of training is to overload the body with more work than it is used to doing.  Without this, the body won’t bother getting any fitter.  

This overload needs to be progressive, with increased frequency, intensity, or duration of workouts.

It also needs to be specific for the type of improvements we want, especially as the target event draws near. The body gets better at what it’s made to do.

The underlying physiology of the stimulus is complex, but all training activates one of two main pathways. Aerobic training stimulates a messenger called PGC-1alpha, while strength training increases another, called mTOR. 

What’s going on inside, and how endurance training can actually suppress muscle growth. Hawley JA. Molecular responses to strength and endurance training: are they incompatible? Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism 2009 34(3):355-61

Interestingly, these pathways interact with each other, so that aerobic stimulus can actually suppress the strength pathway and limit muscle growth. At least this is my excuse for these weedy muscles!


Over time, PGC-1alpha and mTOR trigger an incredible range of physical changes that boost athletic performance.

Aerobic adaptations:

  • Bigger heart with thicker walls to pump more blood with every beat
  • Increased capillaries in lungs and muscles to increase blood supply
  • Increased enzymes and more, bigger mitochondria (the tiny factories inside cells) to burn more fat and glucose for energy
  • Increased plasma volume, to help blood flow more quickly.
  • Increased muscle glycogen stores , for bigger energy reserves.

Strength adaptations:

  • Faster, more powerful activation of muscles by nerve fibres
  • Thicker muscle fibres for stronger contractions
  • Thicker, stronger bones and tendons

This all sounds wonderful and it’s tempting to think the more stimulus, the better. Sadly, this is true only to a point.  Stimulus only creates improvement when the overall level of fatigue is manageable. 

Daz Lyons smashing it up the VC Venta Hillclimb…
…and generating some pretty decent fatigue


Along with training stimulus, every workout creates fatigue in the body: systems need to be restored and repaired before the next bout of work.  

  • Micro-tears and inflammation in muscles
  • Depleted glycogen energy stores
  • Dehydration
  • Mental fatigue 
  • Altered hormone balance (eg raised stress hormone, cortisol)
  • Suppressed immune function 

Without allowing enough time to recover, fatigue keeps rising until we either decide to take a break, or we’re forced to do so by illness or injury.

Everyone has a limit eventually. Persisting with too much fatigue for too long will cause the body’s systems to degrade into overtraining syndrome.  At its mildest, the symptoms are subtle: constant tiredness, declining motivation and mediocre performance. At worst, it it can lead to severe chronic fatigue, illness, and long-term hormone imbalances needing years of recovery.

If the only source of fatigue in life was training stress, this wouldn’t be so hard to manage. But there are many other life stresses that create their own fatigue:

  • Work pressures
  • Emotional stress
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Illness
  • Alcohol
  • Poor nutrition
Not the best recovery, but proud to be part of this team – Christmas night 2020

Finding the Balance

The challenge, then, is to maximise training stimulus without creating more fatigue than we can recover from. This means taking into account all sources of stress, whether that’s from training or other life stresses.

A professional athlete might be able to reduce life stresses to a very low level: getting eight hours sleep every night, employing a dedicated chef and nutritionist, and ditching all other responsibilities… but that’s far from realistic for the rest of us.

In the real world, we need to to find the right balance for our own circumstances.  But how? It’s tempting to seek a technical answer to this problem and there are, in fact some tools available:

TrainingPeaks – this software analyses heart rate and power from workouts to give each session a Training Stress Score (TSS). It then takes these scores, factors in recovery time and produces a long term graph of TSS and fatigue. This works well to track training load in isolation, but does nothing to account for other life stresses.  For example, TrainingPeaks tells me I am super-recovered after working 3 night shifts in a row with no training. In reality, I’m totally knackered.

Heart Rate Tracking – changes in resting heart rate (RHR) and heart rate variability (HRV) might be helpful as early indicators of poor recovery.  In practice, I have found RHR actually correlates quite poorly with my recovery.  HRV sounds interesting but, so far, there is little published evidence to justify the expense.

Subjective Scoring – simply noting down daily scores for freshness and sensations when training might actually be the most useful indicators of recovery. The difficulty here is trying to be honest with oneself, while differentiating between feeling a bit unmotivated and genuine physical fatigue.

Nice cold beer and a chippy tea.. feels perfect, at least, after 500km from Lands End to Portsmouth

My Approach

Like many amateurs with a full-time job, I find the balance between training and recovery difficult to strike.  What seems manageable on paper can often prove unworkable in practice and, when motivated, it is easy to fall into the trap of a “more is more” mindset.

I find having a coach (the wonderful Toby Leyland) to be hugely helpful. This gives me accountability to make sure the hard workouts get done, but also the necessary perspective allow enough time for recovery.

Life, of course, is unpredictable but I have found some useful rules-of-thumb for what works. Toby and I use TrainingPeaks to track my workouts and, in a typical week, I’ve learned I can average around 80-90 TSS per day (the equivalent of a 2 hour steady ride or an hour of hard intervals).  

On a non-boozy holiday with plenty of rest and good nutrition, I can do about a third more than this and still come home feeling awesome. On the other hand, when working a busy week on ICU, after missing a night’s sleep on call, or after enjoying more than a couple of beers, the amount I can handle might be reduced by 50% or more.

My conclusion:

Train hard and keep progressing – but balance this with other stresses and commit just as hard to your recovery as your training.

Training Stimulus + Recovery = Performance

The extra nerdy part….

For anyone interested in this level of detail (not many, I suspect!), Here are some specifics of what I’m doing.

Overall structure

42 week programme, from 10 Oct 21 to 23 Jul 22, guided by Toby

First 14 weeks focussed on strength work and winter miles on the road bike.

Middle 14 weeks building more structured sessions on the TT bike, while continuing to progress strength in the gym.

Final 14 weeks (starting now) building ultra-endurance specificity, with long Audax rides (200, 400 & 600km), extended time in the TT position (up to 7 hours per week) and fine-tuning the pacing and nutrition plans.

Key Weekly Sessions

1 x 4 hour endurance ride (65-70% FTP, fuelling at 60g/hr CHO)

2 x 1 hour strength sessions (small group training with free weights at MVFit)

1-2 x 1-2 hour structured intervals on turbo or outside (eg 6×3 min @ 120% FTP, 2×20 min @ 100% FTP, 2×30 min @ 90% FTP)

1-2 x 1 hour steady-state rollers in TT position (active recovery, while practising form in the TT position)

Training Stimulus Targets

Build to, then maintain 80-90 TSS/d

Build TT position time to 7 hours per week

Recovery Targets (often not achieved)

2-3 easy or rest days per week

Minimum 7 hours sleep, 5 days per week

Average 2-3 double espressos per day

Average 1 unit alcohol per day

Neutral energy balance with 2g/kg protein daily

Progress so far

Overall training volume has progressed nicely, with the bulk of weekly load coming from endurance rides, now sustained at 80-90 TSS/d

23 x 4-hour endurance rides and 40 x 1-hour strength sessions completed over 1st 28 weeks.

Time in TT position built to 5 hrs/wk (my 2021 maximum) and on course to reach 7 hrs/wk.

Only managing 7 hours sleep around 4 nights per week.

Variable alcohol and caffeine intake: sometimes held within target range, but frequent 2-3 week periods (eg over Christmas) of higher intake.


So far, I have done a good job with the training stimulus, and a so-so job with the recovery.  In the final third of my programme I hope to build the training further, while prioritising better sleep and being more careful with alcohol and caffeine intake.

Part 4: Break Down the Challenge

If only all winter mornings could be like this one!

So I’ve entered the UK National 24-hour Time Trial Champs in July 2022 – riding as far as I can on open roads in a 24 hour period – oh dear…
As a 44 year old dad working full-time as an ICU doctor, I’m not going to win – but I still want to ride a performance to be proud of. More than that, I want the whole process to feel enriching, with learning and adventures along the way.  
Over six months, I’ll be finding out more about everything needed to perform in an ultra-distance bike race. By sharing what I learn, I hope to discover more about the sport, myself, and the ingredients of success…or failure.

It’s one thing having a goal for a 24-hr TT, but how am I going to get there?  It’s time to break down the demands of the event and figure out what’s needed…

Like any big challenge, it feels overwhelming to consider, all at once, all of the training and preparation needed.  Instead, I am a firm believer in breaking it down into separate areas, to appreciate what matters most and focus effort in the right places. As the cyclist and engineer Dan Bigham recommends in his excellent book, Start at the End,(1) we can begin by getting back to first principles.

Fundamentally, a 24-hr TT is a long, solo, ride against the clock on open roads. Results are given by mileage and the winner is the person with the highest average speed on the day. 

Speed on a TT bike comes from Power (pushing the bike forward) divided by Resistance (slowing the bike down). In a 24-hr event, the clock keeps running regardless, so the final distance will also depend on the amount of time actually spent riding.  The basic formula for a 24-hr, then is:

We can then look at each of Power, Drag and Time in turn to figure out what governs them.  The simplest of these is Time, which comes from the total time allowed minus any pit-stops (for food, drink, clothing, toilet, lights etc) and mechanical problems (punctures or otherwise). The formula starts to expand:

Turning now to Power, this is a result of all the factors leading to the body’s physical performance : the amount of power that can be sustained on the day. For an ultra-distance event, these are Aerobic Fitness, Pacing, Hydration, and Energy Supply.  So Potential Power can be shown as:

But there’s always a difference between our potential and what we can actually deliver on the day.  This is regulated by the mind, which tries to protect our body from excessive and damaging efforts.  It does this by governing our power output to what it believes to be safely sustainable – the concept of the “Central Governor”.(2) 

But far from being a fixed restrictor of power output, the Central Governor is flexible and depends on our circumstances. Some factors will open up it up (eg. motivation, confidence and stimulation), while others will close it down (mental fatigue, worries and external stresses).

We can also break down the Resistance side of the equation. Cyclists are typically obsessed with weight, but on a flat or rolling course, wind resistance is actually the biggest factor.  

This analysis of my own data (from a 12-hr TT on the same course as this summer’s 24), shows 57% of my energy went into pushing me through the air.  Another 23% went into the resistance of my chain, gears, and tyres on the road, while only 20% was used to climb hills.

From these fundamentals, we can continue to work backwards, eventually finding the specifics that need to be developed.  

Taking Air Resistance as an example, this involves both Equipment Drag and Rider Drag.  Rider Drag depends on having an optimised riding position and then being able to sustain it… and a sustained position needs whole-body strength and resilience in the neck muscles.  These, then, are the things that I need to work on.

Expanding the diagram out to show everything I want to address, it starts to look a bit complex, but there’s also find something reassuring about seeing it all fit together.  

It is also good to recognise that, with 22 weeks to go, I am not starting from scratch in any of these areas.  Instead, I plan to use this blog to help me focus on each key area in turn, to work out what more I can do to give myself the best chance on the day. 

Next time, I’ll start by looking at how to develop the engine: aerobic fitness…

Quality winter chaingang with Paddy and the VC Venta boys


  1. Bigham D. Start at the End: How Reverse-Engineering Can Lead to Success. Wellbeck Publishing Group 2021
  2. Weir JP, Beck TW, Cramer JT, et al Is fatigue all in your head? A critical review of the central governor model. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2006;40:573-586.

Part 3: Set the Right Goal

At the end of the 2021 National 12-hr champs – totally knackered but satisfied

So I’ve entered the UK National 24-hour Time Trial Champs in July 2022 – riding as far as I can on open roads in a 24 hour period – oh dear…

As a 44 year old dad working full-time as an ICU doctor, I’m not going to win – but I still want to ride a performance to be proud of. More than that, I want the whole process to feel enriching, with learning and adventures along the way.  

Over six months, I’ll be finding out more about everything needed to perform in an ultra-distance bike race. By sharing what I learn, I hope to discover more about the sport, myself, and the ingredients of success…or failure.

So the motivation’s there, and I think know my reason “why”, but what’s my goal in this 24 hour TT?   A finishing position, a total mileage, or just to do my best on the day? 

Prof Steve Peters, the psychology brains behind the British Cycling successes of 2012, advocates just one simple goal of “do your best”.  He argues you can’t do better than this, so you win every time.(1) 

Steve Peters with Victoria Pendleton

His advice fits nicely with the idea of intrinsic motivation but I find it too vague. Of course I’ll try my hardest on the day, but what would “doing my best” actually mean in terms of training and preparation? When I finish my ride, I want to know I have achieved something more tangible than this.

The most tangible goals would be to target a distance or finishing position.  My club’s 24-hour record has stood at 426 miles since 1988, while my best result in a National Champs TT was 9th place (in last year’s 12-hour). 

Both of these are exciting targets to beat, but they are also problematic. They encourage a very extrinsic form of motivation (recognition for a club record or top-ten finish), and they depend greatly on factors outside my control. I could prepare and race perfectly but still fall short because of the weather, punctures, or the performance of other riders on the day. 

Perhaps the right balance is to set tangible goals, but base them on aspects of the process I can control, rather than targeting the final outcome.  If I can set and achieve the right process goals, then I should feel satisfied with whatever result I achieve. 

A lot has been written about goal-setting, in sport and in the world of work. The concept of SMART Goals, introduced introduced to business in the 1980s, describes good goals as Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-Based.(2)

More recently, Scott Geller, a US behavioural psychologist, suggested four key questions to identify a useful process goal:(3) 

  • Can I do it?  (am I capable of following the process?)
  • Will it work?  (will the process lead me to the outcome I want?)
  • Is it worth it?  (is it worth the time and effort?)
  • Do I have a choice?  (am I doing this for me or for someone else?)
Scott Geller at Virginia Tech TED Talk in 2013

I find Dr Geller’s questions an excellent summary of everything else I have learned so far.  If I can answer “Yes” to each of these questions, I should have found an effective process goal that is both intrinsically motivated and compatible with my own personal “why?”

So, after looking at past performances and considering what I want from this TT, I have written my goal. Above all, I want to finish the event with a sense of satisfaction that I have ridden a proper, solid 24-hour TT by turning up fit then riding the best I can on the day.  

To be more specific, I have added sone process goals that I believe are within my control. I have then listed outcomes I hope to achieve, both for physical performance (dependent on how my body behaves on the day) and overall mileage (dependent on weather and conditions). I hope these will give some extra motivation to train and prepare as well as I possibly can.

My Goal: Ride a solid 24-hr time trial 

Solid = satisfied I did everything within my control then gave my best effort on the day, leaving me comfortable with my result, regardless of performance relative to others. 


  • turn up fit, strong and well-prepared
  • ride within my tested pacing plan
  • keep pedalling for 58 mins per hr (moving time at least 23hrs 12 mins overall)

Performance (depends on my body)

  • stay in my aero position throughout
  • ride an average of 180w Normalised Power* including stops

Outcome (depends on external factors)

  • Good: Beat 1988 VC Venta club record 426 miles (17.75mph)
  • Great: Ride 450 miles (18.75mph = 83% of 12-hr speed**)
  • Amazing: 480 miles (20mph, would be 0.05mph faster than local hero Andy Rivett in 2021, so unlikely to be achievable)

*Equals the power I managed in on an 18-hr solo Lands End – Portsmouth ride in 2020 (although totally exhausted at the end).  Equals 82% of my 12-hr NP in 2020 & 2021 (219 & 220w).

**In 2020, on the same roads as this 24-hr, I rode 272 miles at 22.7mph with 219w.


  1. Peters, P. S. (2012). The chimp paradox. Vermilion
  2. Doran, G. T. (1981). “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”. Management Review. 70(11): 35–36.
  3. Scott Geller (2013) The psychology of self-motivation. TEDxVirginiaTech

Part 2: “OK Dad, but why?”

So I’ve entered the UK National 24-hour Time Trial Champs in July 2022 – riding as far as I can on open roads in a 24 hour period – oh dear…
As a 44 year old dad working full-time as an ICU doctor, I’m not going to win – but I still want to ride a performance to be proud of. More than that, I want the whole process to feel enriching, with learning and adventures along the way.  
Over the next six months, I’ll be finding out more about everything needed to perform in an ultra-distance bike race. By sharing what I learn, I hope to discover more about the sport, myself, and the ingredients of success…or failure.

Find your reason why

Last week I wrote about finding the right sort of motivation for a big challenge like a 24 hour TT. I’ve enjoyed lots of interesting feedback but when Cat, my 14-year old daughter, read it, she just asked, “Why?”  A simple question, but with no easy answer.

Thinking more, I’ve appreciated how important it is to have a rock-solid answer to this question.  As the professional ultra-endurance performance manager, Laura Penhaul, says, “the “why” is so important behind any big endeavour. The person doing it has to know their “why”, their purpose. Otherwise, when it gets difficult, they’ve not got something to draw on.”

Laura Penhaul, Performance Manager for Round-the-World cycling record holder, Mark Beaumont, speaking in the GCN Documentary, “Lone Rider” 2021

Back when my obsession was mountaineering, we had a simple, if clichéd answer: “Because it’s there.”  But I doubt George Mallory’s famous quote will work so well at 3AM on a nondescript A-road in Shropshire. “Because the A41 from Whitchurch to Prees Heath is there” doesn’t quite conjure the same emotions.

George Mallory, speaking to the New York Times in 1923 about climbing Everest – before dying on his third attempt on the mountain the following year.

So, taking Penhaul’s advice, I have tried to find my own “why”. This is really a philosophical question: Why should any animal do something that doesn’t help its species survive and reproduce?

I believe we need to give our own lives more meaning than this, by living as fully as we can. For me, this means trying to make the most of all my roles in life – as a husband, father, doctor… and as an athlete.  

Whatever the reason, taking on challenges and having adventures has always been part of my identity – something that makes me feel excited and alive. I get a kick out of trying to do something that feels extraordinary.  I suppose this is how I’ve found myself climbing north faces in the Alps, competing in an Ironman and riding 50, 100-mile, and 12-hour TTs.  

On our first trip to Chamonix in 1997, dreaming of climbing the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses, before finally climbing it 9 years later

So this must be my personal “why”.  When things are going well, I won’t need to think about it – but when the training’s a grind or when the racing hurts, I can tell myself: 

“Because this is who I am – someone who takes on challenges and sees them through”

Speaking of which, it’s time to stop navel-gazing, get outside and train now!  After working the weekend on ICU, this morning I have a nice, steady 4-hour loop along the South Downs to enjoy.  It should feel good to give the mind a rest and just let the legs settle in to a steady rhythm, building up those base miles…