By Idai Makaya (19 Jan 2015).
Starting on January 1st 2015 Steven Abraham commenced an attempt to beat Tommy Godwin’s record set in 1939. He has to cycle more than 75,065 miles in 365 days. That is an average of over 205 miles a day, every day, for a year. The UMCA (Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association) has devised a new award for the attempt, called the Highest Annual Mileage Record (HAM’R).
Idai Makaya recently interviewed Steve to find out what it is like riding such long distances, for so long. Steve was just 19 days into his challenge when this interview took place, but he was already averaging close to 200-miles per day – and still increasing his average daily mileage steadily.
Why are you doing this challenge?
It captivated and almost scared me when I first heard about it during a CTC (Cycle Touring Club) club ride when I was 15 years old. I didn’t know who Tommy Godwin was, or who had done this incredible world record ride at the time, but I became fascinated by it and started to wonder if I could do it myself one day.
As I completed more and more long distance endurance events over the years, and reviewed my performances in them, I began to realize that maybe it was realistically within my capabilities.
Where does it rank in terms of cycling challenges? How difficult is it?
I would say it’s very, very difficult – for many reasons – both physical and psychological. I will let your readers decide where it ranks for them, but for me it obviously is the ultimate long distance cycling challenge (which is why I have made the sacrifices I’ve made in order to have a go at breaking this record). It has fascinated me for many years now.
Success in this challenge is not just about fitness or determination, it’s also about some luck and good fortune. I have to avoid illness, injury and incidents in order to get through this. It’s like facing all the pitfalls life can throw at you and finding your way around them. The number of variables my team and I are dealing with is almost mind boggling.
Have you done big high-mileage cycling challenges in the past?
I normally do Audax long distance cycling, solo cycle touring and 24 hour time trial races – all year round. I have done all the toughest and longest Audax long distance cycling events in the UK – and some abroad. That includes numerous multi-day rides (called randonnees) which often require you to ride similar daily distances to what I am currently doing, within specified time limits (the Audax UK website is a great place to learn more about these).
The difference now is that it never stops. I have to do the rides every single day, without fail. If I miss a day I will fall 200 miles behind the planned schedule and I will have to continue putting in average days of 200 miles riding distance, whilst also catching up on the day lost! So far I have not missed any riding days and have actually done some days much longer than scheduled. Let’s hope it remains this way – fingers crossed!
What was your preparation for this challenge?
I have done Audax long distance cycling (and regular 24 hour time trials) for many years now. My last two years in particular were aimed at readying myself for this challenge, by testing equipment and riding/sleeping strategies. I first started doing 100 mile rides with my Dad, well before my teens.
What bike are you riding? Any modifications? How much does it weigh?
- Raleigh sponsored me with 3 of their standard Raleigh Sojourn steel touring bikes. They weigh 26 lbs normally – and when fully loaded for a day’s ride, about 30 lbs (we just weighed the bike now as we addressed this question).
- I modified them each with tri bars (to help distribute the weight of my body more evenly and stress my backside less).
- 3 Garmin GPS devices for recording and navigational backup (if I fail to record a daily ride it’s a wasted day of riding).
- Water bottles from Nuun.
- A bike rack pack from Carridice.
- Special tubeless tyres from Schwalbe that self-repair if they puncture and save me lots of riding time. The 10 minutes required to fix a punctured tyre could cost me 3 miles of riding, and I seem to get punctures every one to two days on a big riding day. So I am saving what could add up to a thousand miles of riding by using tubeless tyres.
- I also have special Brooks saddles for added comfort on each of my 3 identical bikes being used for the world record.
- My main sponsor for the challenge, Chain Reaction Cycles, gave me the opportunity to shop their website for all the wear and tear items I will need throughout the year – and I changed my bike headsets and bottom brackets to the most durable ones on the market as part of that £2,400 shopping spree (Chain Reaction Cycles also pledged a large amount of cash to help cover some of my ongoing expenses).
Otherwise, my Raleigh touring bikes are pretty much off the shelf (in keeping with what Tommy Godwin did in his time – also on bikes provided to him by Raleigh).
My satellite tracking device and ongoing data subscription was provided by Nautoguide Ltd. This is an essential requirement for record adjudication and is very costly – but Nautoguide provided it as a donation to the record attempt, for which I am grateful. This tracker is on my website and shows where I am in real time every day and can be viewed here.
How is it going so far? Are you behind / ahead of schedule?
I am about 400 miles ahead of world record schedule at the moment and on course for my goal annual distance of 82,000 miles. Again, fingers crossed!
Do you plan to ride the same amount every day, or change it depending on how you are feeling?
I plan to lengthen my rides as they daylight hours lengthen, which will give my body time to adapt to the mileage. So I will be aiming for about 170-miles per day in winter and taking it up as high as 300 miles per day in mid summer. I will then hope to taper the distances downwards again going into the next winter. A schedule of my mileage plan can be seen on my website.
Can you talk me through a normal day?
I get up around 4am at the moment. I shower when I wake up (because I’m too tired to clean myself up when I get back from an all-day ride). I then eat and prepare my riding routes (I have a friend called Andrew Morris who makes the routes for me, but I sometimes need to alter them on the day, or load them into my Garmin GPS guidance and recording devices). I have 3 devices for backup, to avoid losing a recording due to a mistake with my settings, a freak equipment failure, or a drained battery, etc.
I try to get onto the road by 5am if I can and am usually quite tired after getting out of bed in the mornings. But I do wake up without the alarm having to go off and my crew chief Chris Hopkinson calls at 5am to check I am out of bed and riding (or he checks the tracker on my website to see that I have been moving).
I ride all day in various areas and various terrains – sometimes with supporters beside me but usually alone. I am enjoying the time on the road – I love cycling – and now that the initial anxiety of starting is beginning to lift I am appreciating the opportunity more and more and enjoying the rides more and more.
I have developed a raging appetite that rears its head after every 50-miles of riding. This is not usual for me, but I think 3 weeks of non stop riding are taking their toll. I am losing more than a kilo each week in weight – at the moment – despite doing my best to stuff myself with food all day long! I weighed 75kg when I started riding and I am now at 70kg (weighs himself as we are speaking to confirm).
When I get home – or reach my host for the evening (my team has recruited a network of hosts around the country who put me up for the night whenever I travel away from Milton Keynes) I will eat first. Then I will spend the next hour or so preparing my bikes for the next day’s ride, checking my routes and charging my equipment.
I must submit each day’s ride to the adjudicators at the Ultramarathon Cycling Association (UMCA) – and that’s one of my most important tasks at the end of each ride (or the day of riding will not count!).
This is also the time I will do any media interviews I have had lined up by Idai Makaya from my team. I usually do 2-3 interviews each week. Sometimes I arrive late at my destination and miss appointments and interviews.
I am often completely exhausted at this point and just struggle my way through the one to two hours after each ride in a tired haze, simply doing what I am told to do, going where I am told to go, and then making sure I’m in bed as quickly as possible!
Then when I get up I start the whole cycle again! Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying this. But it is also very challenging.
Above is a recent video of Steve taken during a day on the road…
How much are you eating, sleeping, resting?
I try to sleep as much as I can but the schedule determines how much sleep I ultimately get. At this point in the year I am aiming to put in 170-mile days, tracking slightly ahead of what Tommy Godwin did on each calendar day. On 3 days this year I rode more than 200 miles each day. On days when I have gone over 220-miles I’ve had to make do with 3-6 hours sleep because my fitness is still developing and my pace is really slow at this stage of the ride.
I am happy to get 8 hours sleep each day on other days – but in the summer I may only get 4-6 hours, because that is when I will be striving to reach consecutive 300 mile days. A schedule of my mileage plan for the record can be seen on my website.
What route are you following? The same every day?
I have a friend called Andrew Morris who is making my routes for me, to save me time and also to keep my rides interesting and varied. Another important role he plays is to coordinate my rides to match the wind direction and weather, avoiding snow and ice, finding cross winds and tail winds, that sort of thing. It makes a tremendous difference to my pace and distance each day. I also have a Garmin 1000 device which can act as a satnav and take me to places if I’m having difficulty.
What average speed are you trying to hit? Are you cycling on flat only?
I’m trying to keep it as flat as is practical, so I’m not looking for any hill challenges! I am riding according to heart rate, aiming to average no more than 110 beats per minute. I often average as little as 80 beats per minute on an all day ride, so I am really pacing myself conservatively at the moment and allowing my body to adapt and strengthen up.
My heart rate tracks my effort level and that effort level determines my pace. As I get fitter the same effort will produce faster speeds. I seem to be averaging about 16 mph (rolling speed) currently (12 mph overall/average pace – including stops). I expect to become faster over the months. Weather conditions also play a big role and the summer is likely to provide the best conditions for faster, longer daily rides.
Are you optimistic of beating Godwin’s record?
I am, otherwise I would not be doing this. However, I don’t take it as a given. It’s not something definite. It’s not going to be a simple procession. Everyone who attempts something like this – including Tommy Godwin himself when he did it – needs to put in a lot of hard work, a lot of determination – and a bit of luck too.
What’s your biggest worry?
I really do my best not to worry – and the guys in my support team do their best to hide things from me that may otherwise cause me to worry! I am going to be living in a bubble for a whole year!
Has anything bad happened so far?
I fell in the ice early in the third week of the challenge, when the rider accompanying me on that day slipped just ahead on a winding country road. I got through the incident unhurt, just slightly bruised, but the other rider broke his hip. I’m really saddened by this and I feel so bad for him. All he could think of after the fall was that he didn’t want to be the guy to end the world record challenge for me!
I really appreciate the help I have received from my cycling friends – and from complete strangers as well. I could not have done this without them and their support (moral, physical and financial). I also could not have done this without the equipment, resources and funding from all my sponsors.
Do you have any niggling injuries?
At the moment my right knee hurts a little. It’s not unexpected when you increase your cycling volume suddenly and don’t give yourself any days off – and I am managing it and waiting for my legs to strengthen as the weeks and months progress. It’s been 3 weeks now of daily riding and last weekend I got very little sleep with average riding days exceeding 220-miles, in very bad weather conditions.
What’s your profession?
I used to work in a warehouse in Milton Keynes – I am going to be unemployed until this challenge is over.
How old are you?
I turn 41 later this year.
Many people are asking how you feel about Kurt Searvogel‘s attempt on the same record and how you feel about Kurt using three different types of bike, while you’re using one type of bike?
“Having Kurt doing the record attempt is good competition and I’m not worried about this. Regarding his bikes, it’s up to him what he uses. We are all attempting the record within the UMCA rules”.
This article was written for the general public, media organisations and online blogs. It has been updated from time to time as we ask Steve further questions and another similar interview will be done later on in the record attempt to gain more up-to-date information.
Any interested party that wishes to draw information from this interview for their own report on Steve Abraham’s One Year Time Trial is welcome to do so.
For media photos related to the challenge please click on this link. These photos can be used in print and online articles about Steve Abraham and copyrights belong to Steve Abraham (unless stated otherwise – on the image itself), so if you use any of these images (in print or online) please acknowledge the copyrights.
Idai Makaya’s video interviews with Steve Abraham can all be viewed on this link. A follow up article to this one, from January 2016, can be viewed here.