RIDE ON!

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On the 18th of February at 15:19 GMT  (after a false start on the wrong course… ahem how did I manage to get lost on the turbo ?!), I achieved a big goal: breaking the Zwift distance record, previously held by Chris Hopkinson at 1010.7 miles. When I set out on this mission I was quietly confident in my own abilities, yet at the same time worried about the unknown I had thrown myself into. Who was I to think I could sit on a turbo for that long? And who was I to think I could break a record held by one of the best male ultra-endurance racers? But 70 hours and 11 minutes later, of which 62 hours and 4 minutes had been spent in the saddle… I climbed off as the new Zwift Distance Record holder, having added more than 200 km to the old record, achieving a total ride distance of 1828 km or 1135.9 miles. 

I understand that for 99.9% of the population, including many cyclists, this is just absurd. Why would anyone in their right mind do this? Ok, so perhaps I am a bit bonkers, but for me there are good reasons behind all this madness.

For one, I used the record attempt as a fundraiser for Cancer Research UK, a charity that does important research that can hopefully soon stop some of the misery cancer brings to so many lives.

Secondly, it didn’t scare me that there was just one Zwift Distance Record, rather than separate categories for men and women. It provided a great opportunity to test how close women can get to men in endurance challenges. Certainly, with these long-distance endurance challenges, it becomes more of a mind game. Who can best handle sleep deprivation and saddle sores? Who can stay focused and motivated when everything becomes so repetitive? Who can just keep going and going despite fatigue doing its best to bring you down? It becomes much more of a mental than physical challenge and therefore it makes sense that the gap between men and women becomes ever smaller, and potentially reversed. I cannot speak from personal experience, but after all, women were built for labour, which is a pretty painful endurance feat.

Finally, for me, indoor and outdoor training go hand in hand. Of course I know that there are plenty of elements that I will have to face during my LEJOG and 1000 miles record attempt on the road in September that this Zwift distance record has not been able to prepare me for. I enjoyed the benefit of not having to battle the wind, no rain, no potholes to constantly stay alert for, no road feedback to shake your bones, no scary traffic trying to cut you up, no navigation to worry about, no hand ups to concentrate on, no freezing cold preventing my hands from using the brakes, no dark nights to ride through. Yes, I know I didn’t have to deal with all that. And Yes, I have done and I will do quite a few more challenges to help me prepare for those conditions (a number of 12- and 24-hour race, long audaxes, LEL and another solo recce of my whole LEJOG route for example).

But one shouldn’t dismiss the benefits of an indoor record attempt like this either. I don’t think I would have ever gone for the Zwift record just for the record’s sake, but as a warm-up, as a stepping stone, as an important learning event on my way to that LEJOG and 1000 mile record attempt in September, it ticks many boxes: A safe and controlled environment to test how I respond to sleep deprivation whilst cycling; finding out what times of day are my natural high and low points; how big a caffeine boost or loud music uplift it requires to get me out of that; which foods my stomach likes and doesn’t like over such a long time; what mental strategies I can usefully apply to stay focused on the task ahead of me; how to find a comfortable position on the saddle (or keep changing to stay as comfortable as possible); how to pace myself over such a long period; how to work with my support crew to get the best out of them; how to deal with all the preparation that goes into a record attempt; which bibshorts are my favourite ones; which shoes give me no hot foot whatsoever, etc etc.

Aside from the learning experience, this Zwift distance record has given me a huge boost in confidence for the challenges still ahead and a stronger belief in myself that, with the weather gods on my side, I will be able to break the LEJOG and 1000 miles record on the road in September. It has also been a very valuable learning experience for my support crew, to better understand what organisation goes into a record attempt like this, what their respective roles demand on them, and how best to support me during my highs and lows.

An unexpected advantage I hadn’t anticipated was how much fun it was to use Zwift for this record attempt. Zwift really is an impressive bit of technology, making indoor training a lot more fun. When I set out for my LEJOG and 1000 mile record on the road I am not allowed any company riding and people are only allowed to cheer me on from the side of the road, but it was amazing to be able to ride with so many people from all over the world for this record attempt. It literally rained ‘ride ons’ on me, my virtually jersey pockets were constantly stuffed with them and I think Zwift is looking into getting me some sort of special commemorative item for the most ride ons received in one ride!

So how did it all unfold? Well, for anyone who, unlike my #1 fan Yvon Muller, wasn’t glued to Zwift and social media for the 3 days of the attempt hopefully the below account gives somewhat of an insight. I apologise if it appears hazy in parts, I am still awaiting some bits and pieces from my support crew to help me fill in the bits I cannot quite recall anymore.

Pre-race interview: Simon Schofield from the Zwift Podcast was so kind to do a pre-race interview with me the evening before the record attempt. It is a great to have that as a memory to look back at now. To see how I was mentally approaching the record attempt, what mood I was in etc. It also was a great way to bring my record attempt to the attention of a wider audience, beyond just friends and family. Thank you very much for this Simon!

He also did a similar interview with Chris Hopkinson, the record holder at the start of my attempt and the one to beat, which helped to frame the record and give a first-hand account of what it takes.

An interview with my crew member Josephine Perry who runs sports psychology consultancy Performance in Mind, to delve a little more into the mental aspects of such a challenge.

18th February 2pm: Rob Gardner arrives to help Chris with the set up for the record attempt. I press send on a last work-related email, eat my favourite pre-race lunch of turkey and avocado sandwiches and slowly start thinking about getting changed.

18th February 3pm: false start of Zwift Distance Record… in my nervous state and with my limited knowledge of Zwift I had accidentally selected the ‘flat’ course in Watopia instead of the ‘flat vulcano’ course I wanted to be on. It took me about 18 minutes to finally realise my mistake. How stupid am I getting lost on the turbo?!

18th February 15:19 GMT: start of official Zwift Distance Record attempt, this time on the correct course, the 12.3km long flat Vulcano course. At this point in time London was still scheduled as the official Zwift ‘world’, so those who wanted to ride with me had to use the worldtag hack to join me in Watopia. Luckily a few had done so, including a couple of riders from around the world who had kindly responded to the request and doodle rota set up by one of my support crew members, Rob Lee.

After about 20km on my own, during which I earned the green jersey by virtue of the fact there is hardly anyone on this course, the wonderful Billy Olsson pops up and turns out to be a great wheel to draft for a while (I think it was about 40km!). Thank you Billy! The first hour passed by quite zwiftly with an average speed of 38.8 kph, quite a bit faster than the average 25.2 kph I had scheduled for. Because I only started ‘Zwifting’ less than 2 weeks before the record attempt, I had only managed to make it to level 9. I started the attempt on 50mm wheels and the Zwift carbon bike, but just 1h40min into the attempt I managed to unlock the faster 808 wheels. Once Billy Olsson had a break I was alone for a little while, but not that long after other riders started to appear: John Anderson and Peter Lin joined, followed by Jason Perez (my super fast recumbent neighbour from the World 24 Hour Time Trial Championships), Tom Percival, Helen Sharp, Henrik Persson, Jen Lee, Inge Jansen, Helen McKay (from Les Filles RT) and Simon Beard (apologies if I left anyone out). We started working as a pack and literally eating up the kilometers. The pace was arguably a bit too hot early on. I always make this mistake as it all just still feels so easy. Plus I had this wonderful group of riders to ride with and didn’t want to lose them. Eventually Rob Lee interfered from distance, telling me off for overdoing it (and he was right). As Jason Perez pointed out, with a bit more organisation we probably should have set up a discord link so it would have been easier to communicate about pace. Next time…

I tried to do a bit of my own videoing for Facebook Live. Here is a 10min clip I did about 2hrs into the record attempt. Apologies for the quality of filming and you may need to watch in a 90 degree angle from time to time. It isn’t easy to cycle and film and talk all at the same time!

18th February 21:19 GMT: I had planned to take a 5 minute break at the end of every second hour, to stretch my legs and give my bum some relief from the saddle, followed by a 10-15 minute break at the end of every block of 6 hours, to go to the toilet, have a wash, change my kit and eat something more substantial. Things were going really well early on, so I had foregone all those stops and only took 7 minutes at the end of the first block of 6-hours to wash and change kit. By this time my average speed was still 37.8 kph. Consumption in first 6 hours: 3x750ml bottles of OTE energy mix, 1x750ml bottle just water, 1x750ml bottle just Precision Hydration electrolytes (1500), 2 bananas, 1 Zip Vit energy bar, 1x margarita Clifbar energy cubes (6 pieces), 1x500ml bottle of diluted Ambrosia rice pudding. Total 55-71 grams of carbs per hour. My saddle had tipped a bit too far forward, so Rob readjusted it at this point.

18th February 21:27 GMT: Upon returning from my break I found Danny KOMbine (brother of my lovely friend and ex-colleague Shirley Butter). Danny was fantastic, he rode with me so many times and for such long stretches during the record attempt, always setting a wonderful steady pace and being incredibly patient with me each time I fell off the back or had to stop to deal with saddle sores. Danny you are awesome. I hope to ride with you in real life some time soon.

Throughout the first night there were a few lonely spells where I switched to a TT bike, but often someone would come to the rescue and keep me some company, including Rob Lee himself. After 8 hours I had covered nearly 300km and my overall average speed was still 36.5kph, with an average moving speed of 37.1 kph. During the second 6-hr block I, again, pedalled through all my scheduled 5-minute stops, only to climb off after 12 hours for a 12 minute stop to go to the toilet, have a wash, reapply chamois cream and change my clothes and shoes. Consumption in second block of 6 hours: 2x 750 ml bottle OTE energy mix, 1×750 ml bottle plain water, 90gr sushi, 150g sweet potato, 50gr grapes, 1x 500ml bottle diluted Fresubin, 1 margarita Clif bar energy blocks (6 cubes), 1/2 banana, 1x 500 ml diluted Ambrosia rice pudding, 1/2 Zipvit energy bar.

19th February 03:41 GMT:  Back on the bike for the next block of 6 hours and enjoying brushing my teeth. Again I pedalled straight through the whole block, only taking a 10 minute break at the end for a toilet stop, wash and change of kit. My average speed had ‘normalised’ a bit more now, around 34.9 kph overall and 35.5 kph average moving speed.

16640889_10155088221584744_6822218214718430880_nI think there were about 4 hours where I was mostly riding alone on the Zwift TT bike, but I got through the first night OK, with only 25 mg of caffeine, and was pleasantly surprised by a visit from Kingston Wheelers club mate Kasia who is bringing delicious muffins to perk all of us up.

Meanwhile social media is also really starting to pick up on my record attempt with friends reposting and retweeting the messages put out by my support crew, messages of support flying in and people on cycling forums discussing my mad challenge with various degrees of admiration and complete incomprehension.

I stopped the OTE energy mix from the 12-hour point as it was starting to make me feel a bit sick and instead swapped to more Fresubin, electrolytes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin soup. Reading back the notes from my support crew it looks like I started to look a bit pale during the witches hour.

19th February 10:00 GMT: I lost track of who was with we when, but I believe that at this point Rob took a break to go home and be with his wife and child and Josie has come to keep Chris company and give me mental support. Together they read out messages of support received through social media to me. This was really cool and gave me a lot of renewed energy, just knowing that there were so many people thinking about me and willing me on. Thank you all!

Sonja Whatson also stopped by on Sunday morning together with her husband and son to take some of the official photos. I have seen a sample already and got to say they look great! All those who donated £50 or more should shortly received signed copies.

19th February 12:31 GMT: Jonny Noblett from Zwift Community Live called in for a live broadcast and update of my record attempt. If you start the video from c. 02:19 in you will get a cool insight both into the logistics and real life situation at my home and what it all looked like in Zwift (for those of you who don’t have Zwift). At this point I was c. 21 hours into the attempt and had covered some 540 miles.

After 22 hours I took a brief 5 minute toilet stop as some of the food I am taking in isn’t going down so well. Then a few hours later, after a nice stretch of riding with Holly, Hoppo and other kind Zwifters, reaching a total of 24 hours of ride time it is finally time for my first shower and a 30 minute break. We’ve had the windows open the whole time and both fans on, but you can imagine the smell..

19th February 16:19 GMT: The euphoria of getting through the first 24 hours without much rest and without any sleep soon waned off and I was getting a bit of the ‘dozies’ during the warm afternoon, (well warm compared to the weekend before when it was still near freezing). Emily had arrived (taking charge of responding to an absolute flurry of social media message) and Rob was back too. Their positive vibes (and a bit of caffeine) soon have me smiling again and the 900km mark is reached within 26 hours of riding. It felt good to munch on more sweet potato, cheese, mango, banana and a mix of diluted Ambrosia rice pudding and Fresubin.

It was at this point however that a saddle sore started to turn into an infected wound, a Staphylococcal infection to be precise, which effectively created a big hole in my groin. I won’t describe too much detail but you can picture what the effect of another 48 hours of riding, sweat and chamois cream was. Ibuprofen kept the pain at bay for a while.

The infected saddle sore started to slow me down and I got a bit annoyed with myself for not being able to draft very well anymore in Zwift. It was fantastic to get so much support, so I was sad when my pedalling became more erratic and I was no longer able to hold steady wheels. It is all relative though. My average speed still was 34.2 kph at this point, with an average moving speed of 34.0 kph.

After 29 hours of riding the 1,000km mark was reached, giving a great boost.

19th February 22:19 GMT: Another block of 6 hours had passed and by this point Shu Pillinger (my crew chief for my LEJOG record attempt later this year) had arrived. It was up to Emily and Shu to support me through my second night.

After c. 32 hours of riding nutrition becomes the biggest struggle. I don’t fancy much and Emily and Shu literally have to force feed me.

But at least a second pair of shorts (worn inside out to reduce chafing) was giving me a bit more relief.

After 34 hours of riding I took my first power nap of just 25 minutes. It wasn’t easy getting back on the bike again, but I can see how much good it did me just from looking at my skin colour pre- and post- sleep in the pictures.

20th February 04:19 GMT: Now this is where it becomes a bit hazy again. I think it was the great playlist suggestions I was receiving at this point and Emily and Shu’s fantastic double act that got me through the next few hours.

Eventually dawn breaks. The speakers can be turned up again and day light is giving me a new boost of energy.

Despite a tough second night I find great encouragement in the fact that, 37.5 hours into the record attempt and with 1,241km done, I was almost 300km ahead of where Chris Hopkinson was at this point.

20th February 08:00 GMT: Monday morning and the neighbours from downstairs pop up before heading out to work. I am so grateful to have such cool neighbours. No complaints about the noise of the Wahoo Kickr or the 3 days of living with effectively a big rave above them. Nothing but encouragement. Without them this record attempt would not have been possible.

I slowly starts to dawn on me how incredibly cool Zwift is. I am riding with all these people from all over the world (UK, US, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Poland, Netherlands, Germany, France,.. the list goes on and on). Some of these people I know, but most I have never met before. The Zwift community really is very welcoming and encouraging.

It’s monday morning and I had anticipated everyone to be at work, but am pleasantly surprised by still having some company, including from UK riders.

Just before 11am that morning I received the following heartwarming message from Clare Evans on my Facebook page:

Jas is peddling like a queen,
It’s like nothing I’ve every seen,
You are focused and super strong,
I can’t believe you’ve been on that saddle so long,
Keep on with the acceleration,
You are a total inspiration!
Go Jaz, Go!! Xxx

By midday the temperatures started to rise. Although I was no longer sweating, my skin was boiling, probably not helped by the double bibshorts. But hooray for a freezer and the 80s sweat band look.

20th February 15:19 GMT: After 48 hours of riding I had covered 1,461 km and felt confident I would be able to break the previous record.

It was fun doing the Q&A by Facebook Live broadcast. I think the thing people were most baffled about were the double/inside out shorts!

After the ‘high’ of reaching 48 hours and the 1,500 km mark not long after, I had another dip. I had taken on some caffeine around 3pm, but when this still hadn’t kicked in by 6pm I decided to climb off the bike for a short sleep. Initially I slept for just 10 minutes, but when I tried to get back on the bike and found that I was still pretty dopey, I went back for another 25 minutes. It still took Holly and Chris a lot of effort to get me up to speed again and the infected saddle sore was really starting to bug me properly now (that kind of toothache pain that just doesn’t go away whatever you do). Eventually I managed to snap out of my dip when Chris encouraged me to pedal to the increasingly faster beat of Mory Kante’s Yeke Yeke Hardfloor Remix and to crank up my power and speed along with the beat.

20th February 22:00 GMT: As I approached the 1010 miles (the previous record set by Chris Hopkinson), Jonny from Zwift Community Live called in for another live update (start the video from 04:37).

Not long after Jonny ended the update, the magic moment had arrived: I hit the 1,627km mark and had officially broken the record.

People have asked me what moment I was most proud of during my record attempt. Well, this moment. Surpassing the previous record, having people from around the world cheering me on (including so many women) and receiving a #JFDI (Just F*cking Do It) cap directly from Danielle Welton, editor of women’s cycling magazine Casquette. It was a proud moment to be able to prove that when it comes to endurance sports women can be just as good as men, and sometimes beat them. It felt amazing. There really is no better hashtag to use for a challenge like this than #thisgirlcan. It was all about confidence. Confidence to go after my dreams, to not be afraid of anything (be that male competition or saddle sores), and test and redefine my own limits. I hope I did women around the world proud and gave them confidence to go after their own goals.The sky is the limit.

Whilst that moment was the highlight for me, I know that for some of my friends the highlight was this tweet from Jens Voigt; that was pretty cool indeed!

20th February 23:30 GMT: With the record broken, it was time to reward myself and have a longer sleep. I had another shower and when woken up 90 minutes later I felt revived, almost jumping out of bed, ready to go again. My appetite had returned and I was eating all sorts. Fresh real food like yellow bell pepper, cucumber, cheese, sweet potato and grapes were particularly nice to eat. The real winner was a boiled egg Holly surprised me with.

21st February 09:00 GMT: From here on everything started to get really sore. I kept going but slowly and very stop-start due to the saddle sores.

It wasn’t just me who started to feel a bit weary…

21st February 13:33 GMT: So when I called in my support crew later that afternoon and asked them if they were OK with me stopping, it was no surprise to see a sign of relief on their faces.

I had set myself a 72 hours window for my record attempt. Not because there are any rules to the Zwift distance record. Theoretically, as long as you resume riding within 24 hours, one could go on forever. But to make my record attempt comparable to Derek Boocock’s (52hrs ride time and 71h30mins total time) and Chris Hopkinson’s (61hr31min ride time and 72h36mins total time), the 72 hour window seemed like a good thing to aim for.

But.. with the record beaten by over 200km, 62 hrs4mins in the saddle and a total time of 70hrs11min… and my main goal of surpassing the 64hr38min mark ticked off (that is the time I need to beat for the 1,000 mile record attempt on the road later this year)…. there was little left to strive for. My legs were still fine, my mind was still strong, but the infected saddle sore had swollen substantially even going 10cm down into my upper leg, red, oozing and painful. It was enough.

After a relaxing holiday in Spain (I guess you can all guess that I didn’t do much of the planned walks), 5 days of antibiotics and 10 days of not wearing underwear, I finally managed to do my first proper ride again today (a gentle newbie club run).

The Zwift distance record has given me a huge boost in confidence for all my goals ahead and there are plenty of lessons learned and things I can now fine-tune for my LEJOG record attempt.

Thank You

I am incredibly grateful for all your support (both in Zwift, online and in real life). I am chuffed to have raised a total of £2,600 of which 50% will go to Cancer Research. You are still very welcome to donate of course (https://www.lejogrecord.co.uk/zwift), but unfortunately all prizes have been awarded.

A special thank you to my support crew (+ Holly Seear); Wahoo Fitness for the awesome Wahoo Kickr and Rowley’s support in getting it all set up; Zwift for making it so much fun (and Fabio for being available in case of any technical mishaps), Isobar Compression for the calf sleeves which kept my legs as fresh as possible; Precision Hydration for the high-strength electrolytes; Verbatim for the powerpacks which I could trust to keep my Garmin and phone running; Renee McGregor for nutritional advice; Forth with Life for blood testing and biomarket tracking giving me the confidence that my inner health optimised; University of Surrey Human Performance Institute for sleep deprivation advice; Paligap for sending some very comfortable Ale bibshorts; my coach Rich Simmonds for supporting me with every mad plan I come up with and lending me a second fan; Danielle Welton from Casquette for the cool #JFDI cap; Tish from Mongoose Agency for opening doors; and all those print and online publications and forums (in so many countries!) spreading the news before, during and after the record attempt.

Legacy

What I am perhaps most excited by is the fact that my record appears to have done what I hoped it would do: encourage other women to reach for the sky. Perhaps she was planning it all along, but as I am writing this, Jessica Bélisle is pedalling away in Zwift, aiming to push the record out to 2,875km in 128 hours (which would be a new world indoor record). I wish her all the best and hope many of you will join me in helping her out with the same amazing support you have given me.

 

 

 

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