Thank you TrainingPeaks for showing me every day how much closer my second opportunity at breaking the Land’s End to John o’Groats record is getting! With just over 4 weeks to go until the first possible start date in early July, it is time for a brief update on how the preparations are going.There are lots of mistakes I made the first time; most of which you can read about in my previous blog ‘the gift of failure’.
But I also hope people can understand how many more opportunities there are for things to go wrong in a long non-stop event like this than say a 10 or 25 mile TT. What is more, the current women’s record (52hr45min) is certainly not to be underestimated and neither is the current record holder (Lynne Biddulph nee Lynne Taylor). She is still pretty fast but set this record in 2002 when she was a bit younger (I am not saying she is old now!) and had the benefit of experience both in her support team (her dad John Taylor is one of, if not the most experienced and knowledgeable person when it comes to point-to-point racing and record breaking) and her own experience (the tandem End to End record in 2000 with Andy Wilkinson first and her own End to End record from 2001).
Breaking the End to End record is as much (or perhaps more so) a mental challenge than a physical one. Imagine the mental strength required for Lynne when all she heard until she was far into Scotland was ‘you are down on schedule’ – at one point Lynne was even down on schedule by more than 3 hours. And there are no guarantees for even the fittest. You only have to look at Andy Wilkinson – arguably one of the greatest and most experienced long distance riders ever, evidenced among others by the fact his 24 hour CTT competition record still remains unbroken. Andy “only” broke the End to End record by 1 minute. 1 minute! At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you break it by an hour or a minute, but that is how tough it can be even for some of the greatest and strongest riders ever (and that was before Gethin Butler sliced nearly another hour off it again)… Some of the armchair experts think that these long distance record still stand just because none of the ‘top’ riders target them and if only they did, they would break them. I think that is short-sighted and disrespectful. It isn’t as simple as that. There are no guarantees.
Preparations this year have been very different to last year. Last year I got tempted by doing too many things and entering too many long events and races in the build-up. That was in part because I didn’t feel confident to put all my eggs in one basket; hoping that, if I failed to achieve my big goal, there would at least still be some other achievements to celebrate in 2017. I cannot complain: I achieved a lot, including becoming both UK and World 24 hour TT champion. It would be wrong not to be happy with that and yet … there is one thing I have my heart set on more than all that …
This year I am doing the exact thing I feared last year: I am brave (or foolish) enough to put all my eggs in one basket; to put it all on red; to be 100% committed to the LEJOG record attempt only. No distractions from other races and no training rides that do more damage than good.
It is scary, but second chances don’t come round often for something like this. My motivation is stronger than all those other temptations. I rather have nothing to show for my 2018 season and fail again knowing I gave it my all both in preparation and during the attempt, than risking such a big dream for an event or a championship that occurs every year. Those things can wait. Money, time, goodwill and focus required for an End to End record attempt are not in everlasting supply.
Leave me to my own devices and I would probably still be the same headless chicken. But since I started working with Rob Lee as my coach in autumn last year, I think I am slowly making some changes. I can’t think of a stronger motivator for being compliant with the training schedule than having a great coach who is also part of my support crew. Not sticking to training and race plans means not just letting myself or my coach down but letting my crew down too, which would be rude as they selflessly are dedicating so much of their free time to this mad dream of mine. It also means letting sponsors and all of you down who are willing me on from the side of the road or via social media – if you aren’t already, follow the dedicated @lejogrecord Twitter account where my fantastic media crew will be keeping you up to date with my progress and entertain you with all sorts of wonderful facts about the record, its history, the places I pass through etc.
So aside from having quite a lot of skin in the game (i.e. personal savings), there is a lot of weight on “getting it right” this time. My training this year has been a lot more about consistency and quality, rather than mad long rides followed by time to recover. Life isn’t all about training though and sometimes other things, like a rather full-time job as a management consultant, get in the way. My training had a very welcome pause of a 1 week holiday (scuba diving with my non-cycling husband), but was also interrupted by that chesty flu thing that went round over winter and 1 week where work got the overhand / out of hand. But on the whole, my weekly TSS scores are a lot more consistent and gradually building rather than the big peaks and deep troughs (and even a cliff edge in the weeks leading up to the attempt) showing on my rather embarrassing TrainingPeaks graph from last year.
I will soon share the links to my route and schedule for this year’s attempt, but – again with Rob’s help – I have proposed quite a different schedule than last year which is a lot smarter about pacing and less aggressive early on. Plus I will have my coach in the follow car to whistle me back if I am ignoring the plan and falling into the same old trap again. More importantly, I will also have my coach and the paramedic there to push me back on my bike if I want to quit; as long as they believe I am still capable of safely breaking the record, I will need to keep going. No objections. My job is to pedal, eat, drink and focus. That’s all. They have to do all the rest. Arguably my job is the easier one.
People often say the men’s End to End record is “harder” to break than the women’s record. Perhaps. But one record that is comparatively “weaker” for the men is the 24 hour RRA (Road Records Association) record which stands at ~506 miles (set by Gethin Butler en route to a successful End to End record attempt) compared to ~541 miles CTT competition record (held by Andy Wilkinson). Michael Broadwith approached Andy’s CTT comp record with 537 miles in 2015 but has not been any closer since, despite trying again in 2016 and 2017. With the right conditions Mike is certainly more than capable of breaking the 506 miles RRA record. Yet, have a closer look at his schedule and you will see that he wisely leaves that to luck – a good tailwind – rather than plan and paces himself for the End to End instead; keeping his gaze firmly on the main goal. Wise man.
On the women’s side things are a little different. Christine Roberts holds both the RRA and CTT 24 hour records. While her RRA 24 hour distance is longer (~467 miles compared to her 461 miles CTT comp record), it is important to remember that the 467 miles was done during an unsuccessful End to End record attempt and with a good helping wind. There is more to this record than pacing and there is undoubtedly a lot more to Christine’s unsuccessful attempt that I don’t know about. Yet … the numbers above combined with what can be learned from Lynne’s slow start (due to bad conditions) and strong finish (due to unwavering motivation and belief, improving conditions and experience of both rider and crew) paint a picture that should not be ignored.
I am still giving notice of an attempt to break the 24 hour record, because if you break it you can only claim it if you gave notice prior to the attempt. However, I will not pace for it. If it happens, it is because of luck. It is a bonus. Not a goal.
With 4 weeks to go (or more depending on the weather) I have faith in the training I have done; I am more or less on top of my work deadlines; and thanks to my amazing crew and financial contributions from so many kind people I feel 1000 times less stressed about the financing and organisation of the record attempt than last year. I am blessed to still be working with a lot of the same crew from last year. Like me, they have learned from last year and this year they are firmly in charge of all the preparations. There are all sorts of things being discussed and arranged behind my back that I don’t even know about and I am very happy and comfortable with that. The crew training day on the 16th of June is organised by them, not me. It will be fun to do a final rehearsal before this show gets on the road and hopefully make a success of it together.
Nutrition was a big issue for me last year. I have faith in the new approach – as discussed in my blog Rethinking Fuelling. I have tested the various race food options in training but am also slowly introducing more of those foods into my normal diet. For example, my gut will be even happier and more accustomed to the rice milk, avocado oil and soluble oats drink I gave you the recipe for in that blog post if I regularly eat porridge with rice milk for breakfast than when I don’t. The same applies to some of the high fat homemade baby food combinations I will be eating. Anyone who ever had a beetroot drink on race day without regularly using it in the build-up to race day will know the importance of this strategy …
The one area where I can’t have it fully under control will be the conditions. I don’t have the luxury to pay my crew to be on standby at all times or to have a crew that is fully retired or fully flexible. The RRA Observers are great people, but they too have lives and cannot be on standby all the time and sadly their numbers are dwindling and member age is rising. Arranging last-minute accommodation in Cornwall in summer with a crew is tricky too. Rushing into the start is a recipe for disaster and I don’t want to rock up there the night before after a long stressful journey for all and only a short night ahead of the attempt. Add to that being cut off by attending my brother in law’s wedding in Spain on one side and the school holidays on the other, and the actual window of opportunity is quite short. I could have gone for May but felt that would be too early to have everything in place. I’ll keep my fingers crossed a good weather window materialises in early July. The one thing I can control is deciding to hold off. If the weather doesn’t look favourable enough in July, I will be sad but a bit of holiday time in Cornwall isn’t such a bad thing. In that case we “just” have to put it back to September and see if all the pieces can somehow fall together then.
Having no other big races or events does make me itchy though … so please help me pray to all the weather gods in the universe. Lips (God of SW wind) and Notus (God of S wind) are particularly relevant. I noticed Shu is the God of Wind and Air in Egyptian mythology, so hopefully it is a good omen to have a Shu as my crew chief !
This record attempt is as much about an endurance challenge for me as about doing something to help beat cancer sooner. Sadly cancer will now affect 50% of us at some point in our lives. Those who know me well, will remember that it was a charity ride for CRUK that got me into cycling in the first place, not all that long ago. As I crest Shap during the LEJOG record attempt, I will remember that day in September 2010 with the late Phil Reddy and smile at the memory of seeing him dancing on the pedals up Shap with me in the stragglers group behind.
Donations to Cancer Research UK via the justgiving page are very welcome. I still have a few more Be The Egg caps (50% to CRUK) and entries into to holiday prize draw (50% to CRUK) will remain open until 48 hours before the start date.