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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.