......The SouthDowns Triple
|Richard on the 'south downs triple'|
"I want to be the first person to cycle the South Downs Way triple, what do you think? "
Richard looked at me earnestly. Inside I was struggling to know how to respond Yer yer funny joke. Only 25% of people who attempt the double have achieved it and Richard isn’t your normal elite athlete.....
He was still looking at me intently and I realised he was being serious – and he wanted an answer.
"Really?" I said “Sure – why not!”. He smiled and I realised that he had already decided he was going to do it. He was just testing me to see if I would be there for the journey.
The rulebook for the South Downs double hall of fame states that there are 2 categories - supported or unsupported – yes some people do the 200-mile double unsupported. Riding 300 miles off road in one go? Slightly crazy in its self, but to ride it unsupported would be crazy verging on dangerous. As the team came together we all wanted Richard to achieve his goal, but understanding the seriousness of his challenge we wanted to make sure that no one got hurt in the process – neither Richard, who was clearly at risk, nor any of the crew, who would also be getting fatigued driving for 36 hours on public roads. This was going to be a supported ride and, having some experience of 24 hour endurance racing and some personal experience at things going wrong, I volunteered along with Simon to coordinate the support.
|Support riders rode behind and allowed Richard do all the gates|
That conversation was 15 months ago and last weekend he set off from Eastbourne to attempt to ride the South Downs Way three times in one go - 300 miles nonstop, including 30,000 ft if climbing, in a target time of 36 hours.
|check point info|
Richard is a planner, dare I say the spreadsheet king. He likes to know everything in advance to the minutest detail. Over the next 15 months he updated his massive file from his previous double achievement with information on the challenge. Photos of every gate and junction from both directions, average prevailing winds, every checkpoint with an aerial view. The location of 24hour supermarkets for emergency supplies for the crew or for if things weren’t going to plan. Each check point had instructions of what he wanted, his nutrition, his clothing, his desired average mph – even when to text his wife! Every situation and possible problem had been thought through with contingencies being planned. Everything and I mean everything was in that file.
Planning didn't stop there, Richard, despite having a full time job and a family, found time to train efficiently and intelligently - it wasn't just about the miles and the hours – it couldn't be. He enlisted my help to work with him on his core, and to help correct muscle imbalances we picked up in his core assessment, as well as Kate Potter from AQR coaching to work on fitness, skills and (between us) on bike fit.
The dynamic core assessment revealed issues which would have led to injury, either as he ramped up his training or as fatigue set in on the ride, if left unchecked. Working with Kate, Richards training involved specific exercises to rectify this as well as to develop a strong dynamic core, to help with performance and efficiency. Kate devised a specific training program both to deal with the specific challenges of the triple as well as to take into account Richard’s work and home life commitments.
|the support van|
So on to the support plan. Both Simon and I know 24 hour racing, but 24 hours with a fixed pit is easy. 36 hours with a demanding, moving pit was a completely different challenge. Enlisting support from the other half of AQR’s endurance race team, Ant and Rach both being experienced in 24 hour races, meant we could plan to work in 2 overlapping shifts, to make sure we didn’t get too tired. I was also particularly conscious of the potential for something to go wrong medically and although I am reasonably well trained, I am no sports doctor. We consulted with numerous experts as to the possible problems we might encounter and done everything we could to minimise risk. The final team was made up of a support van, a camper van, 4 support crew, a Physio (me!), a sports med doctor, and a team support riders for the last leg – to make sure this crazy idea was as safe as possible.
With all this meticulous planning a date was set – Sunday the 3rd to Monday the 4th June - what could possibly go wrong?
A surprise storm coming in after 2 weeks of dry weather meant that the South Downs Way would turn from being perfectly baked to being treacherous, slippery and gloopy. As the forecast firmed up Simon, in charge of logistics, calculated that the best weather window meant pulling the whole thing forward two days – this was on the Thursday morning, which meant we had to go tomorrow. A few phone calls later and it became apparent that a Friday start meant that more than half the team physically could not make it.
15 months of planning thrown up into the air - panic!
I frantically looked through my contacts to see who might be able to stand in. Bingo! Judy and Roy from Dark Star Brewery’s endurance team. They were local, also knew the endurance scene and amazingly they were free.
|The crew left to right Roy, Judy, Dr Jerry and Anne|
(thanks to Mike Anton for the photo)
We scrabbled round trying to get more support riders who were free, but with this little notice on an extended bank holiday weekend it was proving a struggle.
Almost sorted and then another phone call from Simon. "We are also changing the route” The normal prevailing wind is from the West, but the storm coming in was bringing in a strong Easterly wind for the final leg, which didn’t make sense to ride into on the final leg, so all change to as Eastbourne start rather than Winchester argh!!! By the end of the day my hair was pulled out and lying in a heap on the floor and my byro chewed down to the nib.
37 hours after the start, Richard cruised into Winchester. 15 months after that “innocent question” he had done it; The first person to ever to cycle the South Downs Way three times in one shot. The last 37 hours had been utterly brilliant, incredible, scary and exhausting and Richard had been absolutely amazing.
|Richard at a checkpoint receiving physio and food.|
(photo by Mike Anton)
|The crew at a checkpoint at 5 am waiting for|
richard to appear through the mist
The hours and months of preparation and planning had been worth it. For sure Richard had ridden into the record books, and I don't know many people who could have done that, but the pit crew had been kept busy and not everything had gone to plan. In the end there were seven core members of the support team as well as support riders making sure he was safe. Every single member of that crew contributed and just about every “what if” scenario came into play.
in particular I would have hated to have been the one to take the call on whether to stop Richard from continuing when he started to waiver with 60 miles to go. A professional sports medic performing a medical exam and testing for cognitive reasoning confirmed his body was functioning normally despite being exhausted, is just the kind of reassurance we needed; and a fresh set of crew with fresh brains to take on driving duties and question decisions was invaluable towards the end.
|The team plus supporters at Winchester after 37 hours 4 minutes|
|Richard and Simon at the finish-|
both looking exhausted!
So a marker has been set and no doubt someone will try and break it. I know Richard is in many ways an ordinary bloke who has achieved an extraordinary thing, but please don't be temped into thinking it is easily achievable. If you, like Richard, wake up one day wanting to ride a long, long way without sleep, please grab that thought with both hands and say Yes, but also be aware of the dangers involved. Plan ahead, make your body the best that it can be, get yourself a crew who can look after you, and plan for everything!
Remember, it’s about breaking a record, not breaking yourself… Good luck!
Richards own blog about his ride is here:
Judys blog is here to give you the other side of the story.
Pete from Kiss training for his in depth outdoor first aid advice
Dave Buchanan: guiness record holder for endurance mountain biking for his advice on what happens to your body after 24 hours riding
Jerry Hill - Sports Doctor
Dave Brothers, main support rider who changed his weekend plans umpteen times in order to help us
Judy and Roy from the dark star brewery endurance team who dropped everything to help us - they were absolutely awesome!
Mrs Sterry for a truck full of cake