New training blog – www.decaironman-training.com

Apologies for no recent updates – I will seek to amend this in the coming week. I have been working on a separate training blog – http://www.decaironman-training.com, in order to keep this site quite focused on the ‘how to meet a million people’ challenge.

Interestingly the new blog has featured in the Telegraph online yesterday in an article by the Olympic rower, James Cracknell. I have posted details of this article below.

Thank you for your patience!

Original article:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/10472742/James-Cracknell-my-recommended-brain-injury-charities.html

James Cracknell: my recommended brain injury charities

image

@JamesCracknell Had bike crash 2yrs ago & helmet saved me, fundraisin in DecaIronman decaironman-training.com/2013/11/18/1strecommended charities? @NWlongworth

I think I should be recommending you a therapist rather than a charity! I’m not one to instantly dismiss an endurance challenge, but the thought of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then a 26.2 mile marathon – in other words an Ironman – never struck me as the most pleasurable way to spend all the hours of the day.

That being said, it must subconsciously be on my radar, simply because I already know what a DecaIronman is. For the sane out there who have never heard of the term before, a DecaIronman is ten Ironmans back to back!

Once you’ve finished the marathon in the first Ironman, you get straight back into the water to start Ironman 2 and another 2.4 mile swim. A process that you repeat, repeat, and repeat, either for a lifetime or until you reach 10, whichever comes first.

While we don’t share a DecaIronman as an ambition, what we do have in common is that we’ve both been saved by a bike helmet and now want to raise money and help others by taking on challenges.

Headway (The Brain Injury Association) is who I raise money for. They help victims and the families of Acquired and Traumatic Brain Injury (ABI & TBI) sufferers. Headway were the charity that helped my family and I understand the impacts and effects of T/ABI on my life and how to cope with them.

Through Headway I was able to build strategies to cope with my injuries, gaining an understanding/insight into an illness that I’d never been exposed to previously. Today I fully appreciate how lucky I was to survive, and feel privileged to be able to raise money for a charity that helps so many people.

At this stage I should point out a potential conflict of interest: I’m the Vice President of Headway – but don’t let that dissuade you from raising money for a charity that does phenomenal work for sufferers and their families.

Other charities dedicated to helping brain injury sufferers are the Child Brain Injury Trust (CBIT) and The United Kingdom Acquired Brain Injury Forum (UKABIF).

Like so many victims of TBI or ABI I now have epilepsy, which shamefully still has a stigma associated with it that prevents people feeling able to talk about their condition. The Epilepsy Society does amazing work in this area.

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Dear TED,How to build a conference on Triathlon – Part 1,Day One

kona crawl

Looking at what goes behind the pain and suffering…..and I suppose also the sense of achievement

Good morning TED

Your work in providing a forum for innovative presentations on technology, entertainment and design has clearly left a mark on the conference industry (I should know, I work as a producer in it), prompting debate on the world wide web and inspiring the next generation. Great stuff. As an avid sports enthusiast, I have always wanted to produce/be involved in a thought-provoking, exciting event whereby the best sports athletes and scientists come together to challenge old ideas and establish new ones. Being in Singapore, there are present challenges in putting together a forum on my own using your TEDx platform (flight reimbursements etc. I dare say this is a call out to those organizers in the country :p!) and furthermore I think an exciting topic such as ‘Sport’ needs a full team behind it anyway. To that end, I thought I would put together a ‘wish list’ for an agenda  on the specific subject of triathlon – any further suggestions, just drop me a line.

We would definitely have athletes on spin bikes & infinity pools alongside the stage throughout the days proceedings!

We would definitely have athletes on spin bikes & infinity pools alongside the stage throughout the days proceedings!

Granted, not all of these presentations are as wacky or striking as some of your other installments but I think it is a careful balance between recognized veterans of the sports/its disciplines and the highest respected innovators in the sport. Whatever it is, the speaker line up is an extremely exciting prospect and I think the triathlon industry will queue up to get into the front row – no risk of a ‘quiet’ day two morning (as can be the case with conferences) at this one! Hope you enjoy and sure if nothing else it will break up the late afternoon in the office!

Day One – Excelling in the three disciplines of Triathlon

Session 1: Opening remarks

To start the day off, well there are dozens of great quotes but I found this one, that is not by a triathlete but I think sets the spirit of why in our often comfortable day to day lives we still challenge ourselves with a triathlon:

We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves…The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, ‘You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.’ The human spirit is indomitable.” – Sir Roger Bannister, first runner to run a sub-4 minute mile

Now to the opening speeches: I think this has to come from a respected and prolific winner of the Ironman Kona World Championship, as it will really set the tone of the meeting to come & certainly get people to sit down & listen! They won’t even need a coffee. My vote for opening day one or two (depending on their own schedules and I picked retired athletes because of training schedules etc)

Chrissie WellingtonChrissie Wellington is the queen of Ironman triathlon and has been World Champion 4 times. She holds, or held, all three world and championship records relating to ironman-distance  triathlon races: firstly, the overall world record, secondly, the Ironman World Championship course record (from 2009 until Mirinda Carfrae lowered it in 2013), and thirdly, the official world record for all Ironman-branded triathlon races over the full Ironman distance. She won the World Championship in three consecutive years (2007–2009), but could not start the 2010 World Championship race because of illness, but regained the title in 2011. Furthermore (there is quite a big list here!) she was undefeated in all thirteen of her races over the ironman distance and is the only triathlete, male or female, to have won the World Championship less than a year after turning professional. This achievement was described by the British Triathlon Federation as “a remarkable feat, deemed to be a near impossible task for any athlete racing as a rookie at their first Ironman World Championships’.

Dave Scott

Dave Scott, is a former US triathlete and the first six-time Ironman Triathon World Champion. He won in Kona six times in 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, and 1987, with only his rival, Mark Allen, managing to match these six titles eight years later. Scott is also referred to as “The Man.” Remarkably Dave Scott came out of ‘retirement’ in 1994 at age 40 to take second place in Kona and 2 years later he returned again to place 5th, running the marathon in 2:45!

Of course there is a whole host of great triathletes, some of which can be found in this list below:

http://triathlon.competitor.com/2011/02/news/inside-triathlon-the-15-greatest-male-triathletes-of-all-time_19561

http://triathlon.competitor.com/2011/02/news/inside-triathlon-the-10-greatest-female-triathletes-of-all-time_19996

Session 2: Panel discussion on ‘The future of Olympic distance triathlon’

[1] Andy Schmitz, USA Triathlon’s High Performance General Manager

[2] Ben Bright, Head Coach, British Triathlon

[3] Omar Gonzalez, Coach of Javier Gomez (Winner of ITU World Championship, literally by a few metres – great race report here)

[4] Dr Patrick Schamasch, Medical & Scientific Director, International Olympic Committee

Session 3: Breaking it down into the 3 disciplines; what advice do the most accomplished athletes have?

Swimming – Dr. Rondi Davies

Rondi Davies

Ok swimming is hard but marathon swimming is even harder! Rondi Davies is the American record holder for the fastest time around Manhattan Island (5:44:47) for a woman and holds the world record for a 10 mile swim. It doesn’t stop there, she also co-founded the 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, a 7 day event of 120 miles, with David Barra and in 2012 was the only person besides Grace van der Byl to finish each of the stages on the race!

Cycling – Chris Broadman

Chris Broadman

Chris Broadman is a British former racing cyclist  who won an individual pursuit gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics and has broken the World Hour Record 3 times – including breaking Eddy Merckxx 28 year old record under the same conditions by only 10 metres in 2000. He has worn the yellow jersey on 3 separate occasions in the Tour de France and is nicknamed ‘The Professor’ for his meticulous attention to detail in preparation & training, and his technical know-how. Boardman had a huge focus on interval training and was a keen user of power measuring devices – something which was being developed in the early 1990s. He quite famously had an altitude tent  built in his house to help him prepare for the hour record attempt. Although suffering from low hormone levels which outside professional cycling competition would need testosterone therapy (and in 1998 he was diagnosed with an illness like osteoporosis) Broadman still holds the record for the fastest average speed in a time trial (of 55.152kph) in the 7.2km time trial prologue at the 1994 Tour de France.

Running – Paula Radcliffe

Paula RadcliffePaula Radcliffe is the current world record holder for the marathon distance at a time of 2:15:25 hours. She is 3 time winner of the London Marathon (2002, 2003, 2005), the NYC Marathon (2004, 2007, 2008) and also winner of the Chicago Marathon in 2002. She is also the former world champion in the marathon, half marathon, cross country and winner of 10k silver medal at the 1999 World Championships & 2002 Commonwealth champion at 5k. Paula has represented Great Britain in 4 consecutive Olympic Games. All this and she is an asthma sufferer! In addition to her running titles she is an MBE, winner of IAAF World Athlete of the Year, Laureus World Comeback of the Year, AIMS World Athlete of the Year (3 times) and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Session 4: On the day , looking at the grub & the gear

Why proper race nutrition is so important – Mark Allen, 2nd six-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion. 

Quick background, can’t really use that phrase with the mountain of stuff coming next, to Mark Allen: Competing in six Ironman Triathlon Championships up to 1989 before emerging victorious that year. That would be the first of six Ironman victories, the last coming in 1995 at age 37. He has also excelled at the Olympic distance, winning the sport’s inaugural World Championships in 1989 in Avignon, France by more than a minute. He also went undefeated in 10 trips to the Nice International Championships and from 1988-1990 he put together a winning streak of 20 races. Over the course of his racing career, which ended in 1996, he maintained a 90% average in top-three finishes. He was named Triathlete of the Year six times by Triathlete magazine, and in 1997 Outside magazine tabbed him The World’s Fittest Man. Allen was inducted into the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame in 1997.

Session 5 – What’s next in wetsuit innovation?

Xavier Merian, Founder, Aquaman

In 1983, triathlon started on the world scene and with the lack of wetsuits in the sport – much like this epic 80s advert:

Then Xavier Merian changed it all and started working on the world’s first 1984 Triathlon wetsuit. AQUAMAN, as the company became known, put together the first wetsuit in 1984 which could provide warmth, freedom of movement, low water friction, and easy to take off. Even to this day AQUAMAN is dedicated to finding technological advancements that make a suit quicker and more comfortable. @triathleteurope recently reviewed the latest model – AQUAMAN ART – to have the ultimate in suit flexibility,link

[LUNCH TIME!]

And with all that talk on innovations in making you go faster in the water, my recommendations is the lunchtime talk should be about being invisible to sharks…..

Session 6 – Its all about the bike

Cervélo Triathlon/Time trial bicycles have won more pro races than any other, and they are by far the most popular bicycles at Ironman and time trial events for athletes of all levels. Enough said. I think we should get the whole time to join us………

Session 7 : How to get a powerful running experience

Ian Adamson, Director of Education & R&D, Newton Running Shoes

Ian is not only an expert in shoe design but an extremely successful adventure racer with six world championship wins, 15 world championship podium finishes and 14 international adventure race championship titles. He is a three time and current world record holder for endurance kayaking (262 miles in 24 hours.) Additionally Ian has competed internationally in adventure racing, canoeing, kayaking, orienteering and sailing. Ian holds a BS in Bio-mechanical engineering and an MS in Sports Medicine, and is featured regularly in the educational videos posted on the Newton website (also on the Newton Channel on YouTube).  You can read a great Q&A session with Ian on runblogger .

Session 8: IRONMAN Panel session – Still stuck on where to phrase this as the next trends/innovations in the sport or perhaps more ‘the future’.

Remarks – ‘From the Trenches’ with Diana Bertsch, Eleven Year Race Director of Ironman Kona – might go something like this

[1] Asker Jeukendrup Global Senior Director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (@Jeukendrup).

Jeukendrup, a distinguished author, Ironman triathlete and registered sports and exercise nutritionist, comes to GSSI from his position as Professor of Exercise Metabolism and Director of the Human Performance lab at the University of Birmingham in England.

[2] Joe Friel is an endurance sports coach best known as an elite triathlon and cycling coach as well as the author of The Triathlete’s Training BibleThe Cyclist’s Training BibleThe Mountain Biker’s Training BibleGoing Long: Training for Ironman-Distance Triathlons, and Your First Triathlon. Joe has trained endurance athletes since 1980. His clients are elite amateur and professional road cyclists, mountain bikers, triathletes, and duathletes. They come from all corners of the globe and include American and foreign national champions, world championship competitors, and an Olympian. He is the author of ten books on training for endurance athletes including the popular and best-selling Training Bible book series. He holds a masters degree in exercise science, is a USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified Elite-level coach, and is a founder and past Chairman of the USA Triathlon National Coaching Commission.

[3] Walt LoweMedical Director of the IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute at Memorial Hermann. 

The Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute is a comprehensive sports medicine clinic providing elite care for athletes of all ages and skill levels. The institute is based in Houston, Texas, serving the community with locations in the world-renowned Texas Medical Center, Memorial City Medical Center, and The Woodlands. The Institute brings together highly trained experts in sports science, orthopedics,orthopedic surgery, sports physical therapy, human performance, strength and conditioning and sport nutrition to help athletes of all ages and abilities prevent injury, recover from injury and improve performance to reach their personal athletic goals.

Followed by REFRESHMENTS

I HAVE to get one of these!

I HAVE to get one of these!

Afternoon sessions take a further look behind at keynote researchers & advocates of our three disciplines

Session 9 – Perfecting that swim stroke

Rajat Mittel, Professor of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins

Rajat oversaw the famous ‘Paddle vs Propeller: Which Olympic swimming stroke is superior?‘. Using high-precision laser scans and underwater videos of elite swimmers, and additionally using animation software to match the video sequence. The study supervised by the fluid dynamics expert found that the deep catch stroke, resembling a paddle, has the edge over sculling, the bent-arm, propeller-inspired motion. This research was later published in the Journal of Biomechanical Engineering but you can find a popular science write-up here – ‘Delineating the Perfect Swim Stroke’

Session 10 – Aerodynamic Cycling Analysis

David Salazar, General Manger, A2 Wind Tunnel

David manages the world’s first wind tunnel which can measure aerodynamic forces and can capture biomechanics as they occur in a real-time, frame-by-frame fashion throughout the entire tunnel session. The tunnel provides a consistent aerodynamic environment at speeds ranging from 30 to 85 mph and clients include everything from triathletes, time trialist to motorcycle manufacturers, racing cars!

Session 11 – Barefoot Running – should this be how you should train & race?

An the debate ravages on – Barefoot running advocates argue minimal running is better for the feet in that it strengthens them and reduces chronic injuries such as IT Band Syndrome, Runner’s Knee, shinsplints and other common running injuries. The side of the oppostions argue the barefoot running forces runners to forestrike as opposed to heel-strike, which is the result of the evolution of the running shoe to exhibit a cushioned heel.

I think with all this running around in preparation for an Ironman we should get one of barefoot running’s greatest supporters in; Christopher McDougall  is an the author of the best-selling book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. He is also a contributing editor for Men’s Health and a host of other major magazines. And of course is quite a good runner as well!!!

Session 12 – Altitude training research

Mo Farah is arguably as Lord Coe put it ‘the greatest British athlete of all time’. Maybe we should find out how and why he is so good, might help that dreaded final 10k on the Ironman marathon right? Alberto Salazar is the American coach of Mo Farah and Galen Rupp (Olympic silver medalist and current American recorder holder of 10k)……I bet he has a few interesting things to say!

Evening session bonanza – Determination & guts

I would NOT like to get in a ring with this guy!

I would NOT like to get in a ring with this guy!

‘Guts and Glory’

Baxter Humby is a Canadian kickboxer known as “The One Armed Bandit” due to his missing right hand, which was amputated at birth just below his elbow after becoming entangled with the umbilical cord. He is the only man in the world to win world titles with only one hand. Baxter is the current IMTC (International Muay Thai Council) World Super Welterweight Champion. He holds a number of different title belts including WBC Super Welterweight National Champion (2010), IKKC USA Kickboxing Champion, IMTC World Middleweight Champion and IKBA International Kickboxing Champion.

‘Yes you can’ with Team Hoyt

Team Hoyt is father and son Dick Hoyt and Rick Hoyt, from Massachusetts, who have competed together in various athletic endeavors, including marathons and triathlons. Rick has cerebral palsy and during competition Dick pulls Rick in a special boat as they swim, carries him in a special seat in the front of a bicycle, and pushes him in a special wheelchair as they run. Team Hoyt was inducted to the Ironman Hall of Fame in 2008

Now delegates you can go out and enjoy the town………but get ready for Day Two!!!

12 Top Endurance Races featuring #CostumeRacers; It is Halloween after all!

Zombie

So as we all eagerly prepare our costumes for All Hallows Eve (I don’t think we will get trick or treaters in the condos of Singapore expat community!) and Twitter becomes filled with #Halloween hashtags; I am guilty also!

I thought I would touch on some of the most notable events or racers which like the challenge of dressing up. WARNING The entries below are a funny mixture of stupidity, bravery, stubbornness and novelty, complete with some very interesting running sores no doubt!

1. Vincent O’Neill, 89Km Comrades Marathon, South Africa

Rhino finish

The Rhino runner Vincent O’Neill, supported by Asics – I must admit I like there tagline ‘Better Your Best’, followed on from his entry in the 2012 London Marathon (also in a Rhino suit and with the fastest time in Save the Rhino’s history of 4hr 17min [makes you think you should up your game right?]) with a 10hour 38 minute finishing time at the 89km Comrades Marathon. Immense.

Apparently the race was one of the hottest in recent years which must have been just an additional factor with all that chafing in the 11kg suit! Hats off to you Vincent, and we salute your effort to raise funds & awareness to fight rhino poaching.

2. Bogsnorkelling Triathlon in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales

Try not to shallow a lot of water!

Try not to shallow a lot of water!

The Bog Triathlon first ran in 2005, following a demand for more dirty fun around our famous Waen Rhydd Bog. Whilst embracing the local flora & fauna, competitors will run 7.5 mile run followed by 2 lengths of the 60 yard peat bog trench and then a 19 mile mountain cycle. Make sure you have a shower afterwards!

Check out more on the race and other barney events (bath-tub paddling, penny farthing racing etc) http://www.green-events.co.uk/events.html?id=56

3. Chariot Racing in in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales

Chariot

I wonder if you are allowed to get the spikey bit to stick out the wheels of the cart!?!?

So I couldn’t literally make a list of fancy-dress events from Green Events in Wales, but alongside the ‘traditional’ Bog snorkeling (and one more event to feature later) I have put this gem in. Held in conjunction with the Saturnalia Winter Warmer Real Ale Festival in November this event finally lets you put tha old mountain bike to good use! Bring a good rain jacket though……it is Wales….in winter……..

I loved Ben Hur and always wanted to be a Roman when I grew up. Enough said. (Details here: http://www.green-events.co.uk/events.html?page=3)

4.  Hairy Gorilla Half Marathon, Voorheesville, NY -‘Best Costume Trial Race in the Americas’ – RunnersWorld ‘The Trail’ 2012

BXRF_qwCUAE7RNx

Run this year on Sunday 27th October, costumed runners are supported by a host of fancy dress volunteers on a course that runs through Albany Running Exchange’s version of a graveyard. If a half is not your thing, there is always the Squirelly Six mile run. (Details here: http://www.albanyrunningexchange.org/hgh/)

5. Day of the Dead Cyclocross Festival, Oregon

Not just Zombies....unless that fly is on a dead frog!

Not just Zombies….unless that fly is on a dead frog!

1,980 riders in a festival mash-up at Bend, Oregon where the ingredients are comprised of bikes, beer (you gotta have beer), and the dead…..and yes possibly a few random costumes….

A festival of dust, bikes and the dead

A festival of dust, bikes and the dead

And beer!

And beer!

6. Lloyd Scott, The ultimate charity runner

Lloyd is most notable for competing in the 2002 London Marathon in a deep-sea diving costume during which he broke the world record for slowest marathon time. The diving suit he wore is now on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. The number he wore is still attached to the suit on display.

Lloyd is most notable for competing in the 2002 London Marathon in a deep-sea diving costume during which he broke the world record for slowest marathon time. The diving suit he wore is now on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. The number he wore is still attached to the suit on display.

Lloyd Scott, MBE, was back in the day an English former pro football goalie but is now an unstoppable charity fundraiser, best known in the UK for his charity marathons. After surviving leukaemia  Scott has raised more than £5 million for a number of charitable causes, through what he calls “alternative charity fundraising events”, including the list below. Note this is only a highlight and is still epically long. Read down it with a smile and then tweet him some support – @

• April 1989: London Marathon – Just 3 weeks before life saving bone marrow transplant for leukaemia

• November 1993: Everest Marathon – Staged 18,000 feet up the world’s highest peak

• May 1996: Sahara Marathon des Sables – 150 mile ultra marathon carrying all equipment.

• Oct – Jan 96-97: Scott 2 the South Pole – Expedition to the South Pole

• March 1997: 125 mile Devizes to Westminster canoe marathon

• July 1998: Completed 135 mile Death Valley ultra marathon in 140 degrees of heat

• Feb 2001: Climbed Mt Aconcagua, Argentina (22,841ft)

• October 2001: 168km Jordan Desert Cup ultra marathon – dressed as Indiana Jones

• April 2002: London Marathon in deep-sea diving suit – Taking 5 days, 8 hours, 29 mins and 46 seconds to complete; followed by New York CIty & Edinburgh marathons

• August 2003: Completed the Marathon of Britain – 175 mile ultra marathon

• October 2003: Completed the world’s first underwater marathon in deep-sea diving suit in Loch Ness – taking 12 days

_39433374_scottarrives203

• Oct-Dec 2004: Cycled Penny Farthing across Australia – Perth to Sydney nearly 3,000 miles taking 50 days

• May 2005: ‘Swam’ from John O’Groats to Land’s End in swimming pool on back of a lorry, taking 12 days

• September 2005: Completed Great North Run in Apollo 17 spacesuit on bouncy stilts

• April 2006: Completed London Marathon as St George in 100lb suit of armour, pulling 200 lb dragon, taking over 8 days. Helped Sir Steve Redgrave break world fundraising record of £1.8 million

_41621954_getty_dragon

• April 2007: Completed London Marathon as Indiana Jones – ‘chased’ (but really pulling) 350 lb boulder around course

boulder

• May 2007: Trekked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu

• April 2008: London Marathon as Iron Giant – 9 feet tall robot, weighing 70 lbs, on stilts taking 6 days

London_Marathon_Lloyd_Scott_Robot

• April 2009: London Marathon as The Beatles (Sgt Pepper uniforms) in the Yellow Submarine

• July – Sept 2009: Land’s End to John O’Groats walk with life size tyrannosaurus rex – ‘T-Rex Treks’ taking 72 days, raising £175,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust

• June 2010 – World’s deepest underground marathon, 12,000 feet down at bottom of world’s deepest mine in, South Africa – sever heat and humidity over 2 miles underground

• April – May 2011: Magic Marathon – dragged around London Marathon as Brian the Snail from the Magic roundabout, taking 27 days

7. Las Vegas Great Santa Run

Like being back in school

Like being back in school

“Now in its 8th year, the Las Vegas Great Santa Run has raised millions of dollars for Opportunity Village and individuals with disabilities. The Great Santa Run has become a must for visitors, a community involvement activity for local businesses, a holiday tradition for families and an international spectacle.”

And for those weekend stag parties it would be the most surreal hangover walking out on this! Not to mention probably strikes an element of fear (:P) – is it just me or does anyone else think a Santa race is just one down from a clown race?!?!

8. Man vs Horse, llanwrtyd Wells, Wales

20131025-004053.jpg

According to legend this race was created after a drunken argument in the local pub, Neuadd Arms, in 1980, whereby it was suggested that over a significant distance across country, a man was equal to any horse. It was only in 2004, on the 25th race that a man finally beat the horse at 2hours 5minutes and 19 seconds – although after cyclists were allowed in in 1985, Tim Gould beat the first horse by 3 minutes in 1989 – don’t think your 2 wheeled friend is allowed now though! The 2013 race attracted an entry of 65 horses, with 44 completing the course, enabling it to lay claim to being “the world’s largest horse race”. Gripping stuff right? I actually missed out in a chance to do this because of an injury in the Cork marathon, it’s definitely on the list!

You can find out more on wiki of course http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_versus_Horse_Marathon

Highlights from last year are here:

9 Wife carrying championship

Lets hope this man doesn't just put his head between her thighs during the day....

Lets hope this man doesn’t just put his head between her thighs during the day….

Wife carrying  is a weird viking sport in which male competitors race while each carrying their ‘wife’. The World Championship claims it has been held annually in Sonkajarvi, Finland since 1992, but I have been to some of those places in Scandinavia and Siberia, and there must be some nomad tribes competing in the depths of winter ever since they raped & pillaged the collapsing Roman Empire or parts of Middlesbrough.

The objective is for the male to carry the female through a special obstacle track in the fastest time. Several types of carry may be practised: piggyback, fireman’s carry (over the shoulder), or Estonian-style (the wife hangs upside-down with her legs around the husband’s shoulders, holding onto his waist). The competition also has probably the best prize in sport – your wife’s weight in beer!

Of course this entry wouldn’t be complete without a video

10. Formula H20

Whale racing can only be next.......

Whale racing can only be next…….

Formula H2O Racing is the weird and wonderful sport that features scuba divers competing on diver propulsion vehicles (DPV) around the superstructure of artificial reefs. Didn’t see this at my University fresher’s fair!!

According to Natalie Oriente the Marketing Director for the The Wreck Racing League, Formula H2O racing is a “way to showcase the underwater sights and provide a level of competition not previously available to recreational scuba divers”. Refreshingly the sport also aims to highlight the need for artificial reefs; so a tad more environmental than Formula 1 gas gurgling monster machines and parades of beautiful women – statement of fact rather than a criticism, the movie Rush is currently hot on the mind I must say.

If I have you interested, check out; this video from youtube (insert isn’t working atm: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Th7KSWuP3xU&list=PLEE75403985368037

Or the league website: http://wreckracingleague.com/

11. World Naked Bike Race, Global

World_Naked_Bike_Ride_-_Zaragoza

The World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is an international clothing-optional bike ride in which participants plan, meet and ride together en masse on human-powered transport (the vast majority on bicycles but some on skateboards). So if you have been walking through a major city on a warm sunny day and a load of naked people cycled by this was probably it. And sorry nudists, our capitalist, materialistic world has made clothing compulsory so I will put this in the fancy dress category – German nudists aside!

The dress code motto is “bare as you dare” and I love the wiki quote:

“There is no mandate to cover intimate parts; this is a distinguishing feature of the WNBR against other cycling events.”

You can check out the history of this novelty of human social creativity on wiki, but basically there was lots of Naked Bike Rides – mainly German – but in 2003 Conrad Schmidt conceived the World Naked Bike Ride after organising the Naked Bike Rides of the group Artists for Peace/Artists Against War (AFP/AAW); with the first WNBR event in 2004 being a collaboration between the WNBR group (riding on 12 June) and Manifestación Ciclonudista in Spain (riding on 19 June), establishing a precedent as a solstitial Saturday observance.

You can google your own youtube videos, you pervs.

12. ‘Nasa Astronaunt does Boston marathon in space’

So how do you conclude this weird and whacky list of fancy dress running, cycling and holding one’s breath. Well I googled the final frontier.

A bit surreal, no falling down on this marathon attempt!

A bit surreal, no falling down on this marathon attempt!

210 miles above Earth, Expedition 15 crew member Sunita Williams attempted something no other astronaut has ever done. She ran the Boston Marathon while in orbit on a station treadmill, finishing in a time of 4:23:10 (which for the physics geeks out there was 8mph on the treadmill but flying around the Earth 5 miles a second – circling the planet at least twice). The Boston Athletic Association had issued Williams bib number 14,000, which had been sent electronically to NASA and then forwarded it to Williams.

I have no doubt this achieved her goal – “ to encourage kids to start making physical fitness part of their daily lives. I thought a big goal like a marathon would help get this message out there.” – Sunita Williams.

But the story continues and Sunita also did the Nautica Malibu Triathlon “held in Southern California” using exercise equipment, including a stationary bike, treadmill and strength-training machine specially formulated for weightlessness, to simulate the triathlon experience in space. Her finishing time was 1:48:33  after “swimming” half a mile (0.8 km), biking 18 miles (29 km), and running 4 miles (6.4 km).

Makes you ask what did you do this week right? Some more casual reading on this off-world endurance test can be found at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/sunita-williams-triathlon-space-nasa_n_1892893.html

Thus concludes our list today

So if you are planning to do something stupid over the next 12 months and don’t mind a bit of chaffing, I hope this blog has stimulated some ideas!

After my own attempt at stupid costumes in the Great North Run I can fully agree - Chafing is a serious problem!

After my own attempt at stupid costumes in the Great North Run I can fully agree – Chafing is a serious problem!

How the Garmin Edge 800 allows you to focus on the cycling

My Garmin Edge 800 nicknamed 'beauty'.

My Garmin Edge 800 nicknamed ‘beauty’.

After the Transcontinental Bike Race at the start of this month, and my inevitable conclusion in a Greek hospital (see previous post for details), I went about taking a stock check on how I could improve and what equipment should stay in the kit list.

There is certainly a balance between comfort & weight, and any kit that allows you to just get on with just the cycling is at the very top. The Garmin Edge 800 is part of this kit that just allows your mind to wonder and get focused on just the cycling – or should I say just moving the pedals round! I had countless night rides where I had been going on 17-18hours and all I wanted to do was lay down, certainly have a warm shower anyway. But I had to keep going and the gleaming light of the device on my handbars was a very reassuring sight when I was in the middle of rural France or Italy. After 18 hours riding (and on top of that, we are looking at 5, 6, 7 days on the trot) your mind is putty and all you want is to be told which way to go – certainly I negiotated with my body that as long as it kept moving the Garmin Edge 800 would handle the rest. And so, the device which I nicknamed beauty – my SPOT tracker was named Ruby, it was a weird relationship in those early hours – was the ONLY thing that convinced me to keep moving when all I wanted to do was go to bed. The problem is when you get tired you start to doubt directions and the Garmin Edge 800 removes this.

What I must stress is the Garmin Edge 800 should form part of your route planning. It should be complimented with some background reading on the terrain, brief notes or flashcards on the major towns you will be passing, and perhaps some of the main roads to look out for. Unfortunately this is something I learnt the hard way in Albania. The Garmin will know every road you can possibly imagine, certainly the roads going east from the Albania capital Tirane are there, its just some authorities mark them as good roads, while perhaps they are not. This is not a drawback on the Garmin – after all it can point you (and very accurately, I mean it pinpointed me to metres in rural Albania) on the roads that exist, and in my case the shortest possible way to Greece, it is just very difficult to get a picture of the road conditions etc.

I think really what summed up my feelings for the Garmin Edge 800 was the time I entered Ancona on the Italian coast. All day I had just went south along the coast road, with the sea on my left and no need for a map, GPS or anything. Enter a big town and all you get is signs on to the major highways south, panic sets in and finding a way round becomes a daunting 2 hour task, with all your hard work of the last 9 hours being laid to waste. On that occasion I had let the battery run dry – stupidly I didn’t have a dynamo with the bike and the Garmin’s battery, whilst easily lasting a few days ride with lengthly directions, of course does need to recharge at some point – and I paid for it. Don’t relie on asking the 1 out of 6 strangers who know the road out other than the major motorway, get that Garmin Edge 800. Kepp it charged. And keep moving forward.

How I almost made it to Istanbul….Tackling Europe’s toughest, solo bike race

It was nice having some weight when I started!

It was nice having some weight when I started![More pictures coming up, no USB connection at terminal]

Well that was one crazy trip and now I am into my trip across Asia. So while I wait for my train to Lviv in Ukraine, I am going to pick my head and try to remember the details of those crazy two weeks.

As many of you may know, I was struck down by food poisoning tanstalisingly close to the finish (NE Greece) but certainly I will remember a lot more from the trip than the ‘result’. I also hope that the sheer experiences of cycling the distances involved everyday will bring me closer to pro cycling and the industry as a whole. i certainluy hope to engage with cycling clubs when I settle in my new job in Singapore. I also want to use this blog to express my thanks to all those that helped me along the way – including my father, girlfriend, family & friends and all those called upon at late notice to help out – for example my bike is currently being shipped back to Ireland by some very kind family friends. Thank you.

And finally, and very importantly, I wanted to express my thanks to those people who donated to my charities – the WWF and Injured Rugby Players Foundation –http://www.justgiving.com/Nicholas-Longworth1 &  http://www.justgiving.com/Nicholas-Longworth2 respectively. Two fantastic causes and I hope this account justifies your time and donations. Thank you.

There seems to be a few holes in this account – How keeping an accurate record was difficult

As I soon found out, keeping a record of the journey is quite frankly very hard. This was a race after all, 2200 or so miles that you are going flat out. You stop to take pictures, that speed average that you just spent the last 3 hours doing in the midday sun is down. That being said lets not be a Nazi about it. The ‘main’ reason for little camcorder footage (I think I have some from the first day or two) is that I didn’t have a dynamo (electricity generator on the bike) so every power point was for the GPS or the emergency battery – and when you are camping in the woods for 2-3 nights in a row, that 30minutes getting refuelled in a cafe to escape the sun or getting a free shower in a friendly hotel goes straight to the GPS!

Why the Garmin Edge 800 should be always be an important part of your kit and so is having a route plan

Going to put a follow up article on this but as you will see from the trip review, when you dont have the Garmin GPS as your buddy, assistant, these trips can be filled with panic and ultimately that uses up energy and distracts focus from covering the day’s distance. The Garmin is a wonderful back up to a planned route – i.e. you know the kind of terrain in an area, the main towns, cities. Like every tool in the adventure inbox ultimately every piece of kit compliments or aids another, the GPS is part of your map reading and route planning, a very vital part. It will keep you off very busy roads and will allow for progress even when in pitch black darkness – I had several occasions when 17hrs into a days ride all I wanted was that left or right on the GPS so I didn’t have to ‘THINK’ about directions. But get to know your GPS, I made mistakes because I didn’t use the device to its full advantage and regrettably I only got in the flow later in the race. In addition to the GPS, if you are using it for hours after hours (and the device can last all night) is get a dynamo to charge it. Like all devices it needs to be powered and it can give you the best short cut in the world – missing out big towns etc, just make sure you can keep up with its power demands – don’t worry about the GPS, it will know all the roads you can ever imagine. Very accurate, and got me out of very sticky situations.

Day one

Press commitments first on the bridge at Westminister, 31 or so riders eagerly anticipating the start of the toughest solo bike race in Europe. It was tremendously exciting and thanks to some dear friends I was not tired from last minute planning (I took myself off to bed while they put together final maps etc, thank you again!), I couldn’t wait.

Day one turned very much into team racing, ie. everyone was going to the same checkpoint in Geraardsburgen in Belgium (where all the cobbles are for the Tour of Flanders) and so we found ‘sharing’ resources, maps, drafting etc seemed to come into play. I certainly enjoyed setting a pace in northern France and Belgium – logistics is not my strong point but I love killing myself on the bike!

The route down to Folkstone was fairly straight forward, heading towards Ashford and on. In the heat of the moment, you do see different riders take different courses and ultimately a particularly route may shave 20 minutes off etc. Certainly I found myself on some great country roads coming down from the A2 towards Maidstone, which may have been a great ride but heading down towards Faversham may have been best. Still I was on an ok time and was heading for the 2pm ferry in good time (the ferry departure times that people reached were 12pm (they had definitely practiced the route and were fast(, 2pm, 4pm). Ok start. 4miles from Dover, I got 3 punctures – 1 of which had been my own fault with a rushed inner tube fix. A stop in Halfords meant it was the 4pm for me. Still I meet some great riders, a former pro called David I recall and a member of one of only 4 teams (of 2) that had finished the race across America in the time limit. So not too bad considering.

I had been advised to take the ferry over to Dunkirk rather than Calais, shaving 30miles off and about a dozen of us set out at different paces from the port. At this stage I was still getting to grips with the Garmin GPS and my original route had been from Calais (what I later discovered was the best way to utilise the device was to just find the best way to a particular location rather than set route). The roads were magnificant and we set a hard pace – 38kph average – which as my legs later got stronger was peanuts to the 42+kph I was setting with pros down the Italian coast.

With 3 other riders we tackled the maze of routes from Oudenaarde towards Geraardsbergen and landed at the checkpoint at about 1am…..tragically as I found out when we reached the arranged hostel, those few hours from the ferry and confusion through Belgium made a huge difference in this race, as riders were setting out for day 2 as we arrived.

Checkpoint one and exhausted

Checkpoint one and exhausted

Day two

Disaster. This was my first real test in doing big mileage day after day with little sleep so I just went into auto pilot as I set out at 6:30am or so the next morning. Got my route up on the GPS – after all it was set out from the first checkpoint – and off I went…..little did I realise that I had stupidly – and this bugs me to the day – brought it up in the wrong direction. It was only when I started focusing on my compass that I found that I had been going 2 hours NORTH!!! In a little bit of a panic at this stage I passed back past Geraardsburgen 4 hours later and heading east to Brussels, plenty of signs and well we had to go east, right? It was on the edge of Brussels though that the GPS really came back in its element. I stopped and calmed myself for a few minutes as I struggled to find a decent route south out of the city. I entered in south to Freiburg on the device and behold the route was there – A route which I must add I had past about 20minutes before, which consisted of quite a busy road (but only for 2 miles or so) and which I had dismissed because well frankly I didn’t want to be stuck on that busy road for 50-70 miles, not around a busy city anyway. But the GPS got me on the right track and I made my way down to Huy – wonderful town around a river. I was thinking of heading out through the night but my mind was fried and I was in no mood (or brave enough) to take on the dark country roads. Certainly that is an element of the race I struggled with throughout the two weeks – to make ‘real’ time and distance, you cant stop for 4-5 hours at night and you have to treat the night’s riding like the day. As the race went on, I made a semi rule of cycling til about midnight or around that time when I found a suitable bed, and then setting out at first light. About 18hours cycling – 300km or so (depending) – that became the goal – and certainly as the days came one after another, it was this short term goal that kept me focused.

Day three

So I had my first dose of camping out in my emergency foil tent and blanket that night, and well it isn’t too bad apart from the very quick movement in the morning to heat the body up! At this stage the memory gets a bit fuzzy, the rest of the pack were about 70-80-100miles in front of me and I had made a pitiful effort (in terms of distance) on day two. This was really when I decided to pick up the race at the scruff of the neck and stop worrying about cameras or notes or photos…..I had to go all out.

The GPS lead me down towards Luxemburg City – in passing Luxemburg and southern Belgium are not flat (of course nothing to what comes later) but after the easy going coast road on day one, this told me the real cycling was just getting started.

To be honest, trying to recall were I crashed that night is proving very difficult but I followed a German cycling group toward Metz in France….and then heading out towards Strasbourg……I really was going flat out…..

Day four

This was the first taste of hills and mountains. I wanted to cross over the hills around Munster – towards Strasbourg and Freiburg – as it was meant to be stunning. I wasn’t disappointed. Solid ride into the early afternoon and I meet the Rhein canal at Erstein I believe. This was where I could pick up some distance and the flat canal lead me down towards Basel in Switzerland – had to chat to quite a few German campers to get restocked with fresh water – I would have killed for a cafe to just collect my thoughts and get rehydrated – but nevertheless, even after the easy going canal cycle path seem to have stopped at about Marckolsheim, I stopped on the German side of the border at Neuenburg am Rhein to get some food at a garage and recharge the GPS. Tell you what it all seems so casual when you are reading from Google Maps – you really earn each mile when you are out there!!

My happy face after a tough morning ride

My happy face after a tough morning ride

Until about 1am-2am that night I made my way around Basel – through Weil am Rhein I believe – and got on the ‘3’ road towards Zurich. Thunderstorms lit up the nights sky and I dived for cover in a office complex courtyard. No point getting soaked right and got my head down for a few hours. In all this rush though and with the memory of the hot day I didn’t anticipate the drop in temperature. After a quick warm up in a lift! that next morning I set out for day 5 towards Zurich.

Day five

I must admit by this stage I felt absolutely disgusting, after camping out for 3 nights in a row with only one dry kit. Luckily that morning I had convinced a hotel to let me use a shower and get breakfast, and so after a few days camped out, I felt refreshed and ready to go down towards checkpoint two in the Alps.

On the road to Zurich I joined a Swiss triathlete for a hour or two and although the pace slowed it was nice to get some real company. I circled Zurich and made my way towards St Gallen. At this stage the GPS had died but I knew roughly the route and was quite confident with my compass reading! Without following the main roads, things get a little tricky in this area, with the changes in altitude of the road meaning that you often had to go back on yourselves to go the right way. Past Rapperswil I joined a cycle path down towards the Walensee – the scenery around here is absolutely spectular, you should look into it! Unfortunately for me but although Google maps make the route obvious, I followed the cycle path on the north side of Walensee and it ended. An annoying detour but for an afternoon cycle it was fantastic viewing. Back to the race…..it did occur to me the opportunity to ask for a lift on a yacht across to the south side but to avoid the lengthly negiotations involved, I decided to head back and crossed over at Weesen. Some very weird cycle routes this side, which has mind blogging gradient – some must have been 20-25%. I did meet a great Czech character with Bon Jovi playing loading on an electric assisted bike – I post a picture when I get a chance, I think he had a cowboy hat on in fact.

Got to love Bon Jovi

Got to love Bon Jovi

Avoiding the main roads and intimated by getting lost up some high mountain roads – lots of effort to come back down – I found myself stopped in a German bar/old hostel for the night. Can’t believe I lost the bar’s card, but this place was in about Saas im Prattigau along the main 28 road south. Two great Swiss guys – or should I say one, the owner, the other guy was pissed as a fart and kept joking with me in German – shared a beer with me in this quiet village alongside the now, mad, dangerous 28 night road.

Day six

So as much as I had hoped, I didn’t reach the Stelvio Pass the day before. A former Italian pro cyclist – who had been in the Tour of Britain in 1969 apparently – had told me I wouldn’t make it and he was right….regrettably. Being stuck up a mountain at night with limited kit was not my idea of fun but unfortunately in my lovely abandoned hostel accommodation in Saas im Prattigau I overslept my alarm – well I think I whacked it off the bunkbed, and was woking by the owner and his Russian yet English speaking wife for breakfast, along with a couple who were guests at the hotel. After a small breakfast – I found it had to eat very large amounts at this point, being use to snacking for almost a week now – I heading towards the toughest day I had ever had on the bike. The Stelvio Pass – which is the second highest paved road in the Alps, by like 13 metres, wasn’t the only challenge of the day, as the every increasingly bad weather made the 2 or 3 mountain 2000m passes a real challenge. With no real energy in the legs this far in and little chance to recharge the batteries, or even settle down to some food, the Ofenpass and most notably the previous Fluela Pass was beastly. Having the wind in your face didn’t help. I caught up with two other riders up the mountains and we shared a few stories over some warm food and tea in Zernez (I believe).

On the Stelvio Pass, we entered Santa Maria, me just a head of the other two with an early start from lunch. Regrettably I should have reloaded my fuel supply in the town because the 2000metre climb just keeps going. The gradient isn’t anything nasty but I bonked several times up there. Fortunately I had some generous car drivers – one group that even got food from the top and brought it back – that keep my head straight til about 1300metres from the top. I was spent and just as the clock turned 9pm I walked the last 1500metres or so, with several attempts to balance myself on the bike however the head was absolutely spinning, to the top. After a quick look for the checpoint crew – I should have come up another side of the mountain I am told, I ‘collasped’ into the mountain top hotel – mind you shared some stories with quite a few tourists at the top. Mission accomplished.

The mountain tops on Stelvio pass

The mountain tops on Stelvio pass

Day seven

I understand I had made some good time on the other riders who had just got down the mountain the night before. Unfortunately the quick descent meant that I waited until first light to go down the mountain towards Bormio. Absolutely freezing and certainly had to keep your wits about you but it was fantastic coming down right from the top of the Alps. It seems most riders went down via Meran and towards Trento…which in hindsight would have been best. At the time I was concentrating on getting down south asap. I needed to get down to Bari in Southern Italy as quickly as possible and I knew that this gamble down through the Adriatic Italian coast could make up time on the riders heading into Slovenia. Unfortunately the mountain ranges lay in such a way that you head down to Sondrio, along lake Como and as my GPS dictated up a small mountain climb around Lecco. The aim was just to get south and slowly head back Southeast as I got to the flat plains around the plain of Lombardy. As night flew, just as I had done in Southern France – it is coming back to me now – I just focused on the Garmin beeps – left, right, straight ahead. When my back bike light failed around Cremona I decided it would be stupid and dangerous to keep going on the fast roads. I arrived at a casino/whiskey tavern in the middle of nowhere and these 3 barmaids – the poor girls had no idea what to make of this figure that had just come out of the darkest – made me up a bed in the outside Gezbo. The whole trip was a collection of favours – which I am incredibly grateful for – early that night in fact I had had my back light replaced by a group of Italian guys in the pub, but unfortunately that two failed or in fact I think it got broken as I put my bike down exhausted at about midnight!!

Day eight

Phew this was a long trip. Day eight started with a bit of difficulty as I spent about 1 1/2 hours trying to wake the bar owners for what I thought was a charging GPS – the bar power socket must have been switched off as the GPS cut out a hour or two later – damn it! A mistake that at least I like to say can be easily done, well when you are manically trying to catch up to the 6-7 place guys. By this stage the winner had already gone through the finish line – machine – and it was all about a decent effort. With a unenergized GPS I headed toward the southeast city with the most road signs – Bologna. Even looking at the map, the details of the day are hazily, but after some epic lightening I hid out in a hotel about 20km outside of Bologna for 35euros – with breakfast! It was mega.

Day nine

So I admit the body was pretty beaten by this stage and I slept in til about 8am. I knew I had to stick my finger out and loaded up with a big breakfast, round after round of bread and salami, and set out for the coast road. I had aimed for Rimini the previous day and directions proved to be epically simple, with a course set via Ravenna, Cervia and Cesenatico.

Apart from a nasty hill side in Ancona, the ride down was fast and flat. I meet numerous Italian cyclists on the way down, one particular guy I called the Ferrari, with legs like tree trunks, basically like Chris Hoy. Certainly he didn’t look out of place next to the Olympic German cycling team that I had chased around Sondiro in northern Italy. I also meet a English couple near Senigallia while asking for directions at a petrol station. It was funny but I feasted on that couple of minutes of conversation after all the communication fustrastions of the last few days. Coming out of Ancona is a bit of hurdle and I am positive I went up one hill road twice – trust me as a cyclist you learn very quickly that most people know the way out of town through a highway but not something for our two wheeled hobby. As much as I was pushing for a 20+ hour cycle I knew the eyes were getting heavy now – the legs are your solid base, they aren’t the thing that fails on you! – and even with a massive pizza and double expressos in Civitanova I knew I needed just a few hours kip. By this stage I was on the busy coast road – busy with tourists mind you and a quiet spot to camp was just not an option. Plus I knew that to get to Bari in 24hours I would need to revive under a warm shower. At about Pedaso I found a campsite, who’s owner, a nice young guy who sat me down for a beer before bed in fact, let me camp inside the compound. No new blankets but at least no worry of passing traffic or drunken tourists!

Day ten

My internet access for the whole trip had been limited to some friendly bike shop owners, a few cycling teams in cafe’s with smartphones or as I hope was sent – the campsite the previous night sending emails on my behalf. Anyway, I recall at this stage I knew that the 3 riders going down Italy would be approaching Bari that day and I hoped that if I could make good time/great distance they would be caught up in the ferry terminal, and not only could I catch them if I was lucky but with the distance covered while I slept on the ferry, maybe catching up with some of the higher placed riders.

Going down to Termoli was easy, in fact I remembered cycling with a Italian Superbike Rider to Pescara. As the road bends in towards San Severo and ultimately Foggia thats when confidence gets a bit weak – after all hugging the coast for 36hours made you think this was easy. A recharged GPS that evening got me off the truck filled roads around Foggia but with no light and tackling D class roads progress was slow. These D class roads, although silent also twist and turn, taking hours to go the 50km I just pulled out in an hour & half from Lesina to Foggia – bike times and distances go out of the window a bit after this length of time on a non-stop trip with kit (at least if you are not with the leaders) but it is amazing how satisfied you get after doing a good 50km. Sad really.

I settled down for a night’s sleep under the stars, and bonus this time it was on a lovely grass blanket, its the little things.

Day Eleven

I was now aiming for a ferry whos departure time I didn’t know – after all the Italian job was an idea only a few days old – would have been nice to do SOME research before hand!

By Corato or was it Bitonto, I crawled into a small ball outside of a Lidl, trying to recharge the batteries on milkshake, flapjacks, coke, orange juice, etc etc. As good as the flexibility of ‘wild’ camping is, when you get up and do 2-3 hours of riding before breakfast, the crash is pretty awful. Finally though Bari. Job done……now a 12 hour wait damn it! I must admit, my options were zero now, I had to wait for the ferry and two pizzas and several beers & cokes into the ‘fuelling’ in the port I didn’t care. Also internet was a major priority, with a SPOT tracker that had failed in Switzerland – I am now told it was the batteries, even though I got them checked coming down the mountain in Italy – no-one knew where I was for 48hours. Some kind American tourists negiotated with probably the best hotel in Bari – Palace Hotel I recall – to let a smelly cyclist use the internet. Thank you.

Day Twelve

There was no favours on the ferry and the crew offered me only a full cabin – with 4 beds – for a full price of 110euros. I found a couch in the crowded lounge which was closely guarded by my new Albanian friend – who I thanked with beer.

We arrived into Durres at about 8am…..as I am finding out now with my trains across Eastern Europe this could be an end to my on time public transport! In the GPS it was 166miles to Thessaloniki. 3 days and I am in Istanbul I thought. The nerves were high setting out in Albania but I soon found that apart from some mad over taking coming towards me the drivers were pretty good in giving me room. I was quickly through Tirana (the capital) and into the Dajti Mountain National Park. The route on my GPS was southeast over the mountains and down into Greece. Now with a full stomach no problem. As I look at Google maps now, the roads stop at Bize…..I kept going……was a new route through Italy and Albania such a good idea I know thought? Then real trouble happened. Bike tyre got shredded 4hours up this mountain and my cleats got wrecked walking the 5hours down the other side – keep moving the right way I thought. Reaching a bar as the sky got dark I knew at least I had accommodation for the night but the bike was a problem. A hole has been ripped in the rudder and no matter how many times I changed the inner tube, it was puncture, puncture, puncture. Needed new tyre I thought. As much as I wanted to get down to Librazhd about 20km away, I was informed that to get my bike and now my cleats in order I would have to go back to Tirana. And with that it all happened in a flash I got a lift from a friendly driver in the bar and 5-6 hours later I was having dinner with his family in Tirana. Surreal.

Hill top roads in Albania, a taste of things to come

Hill top roads in Albania, a taste of things to come

Day thirteen

Through the newly studied english of their daughter I informed them I had to set off early in the morning in search of an internet cafe to locate a bike shop. Even with an internet cafe found a bike shop was looking bleak but some young lad joined me from the cafe and took me on a bus through the city to find this elusive cycling mecca. With a few visits here and there and some detours for working ATM machines I found myself in a bike shop owned by an Albanian who had lived in Islington, London – even had a London accent. Very helpful guy and even with two orders for the ‘specialized’ bike cleats as I set out from Tirana at lunchtime they just wouldn’t fit in normal riding – I was push power only now. As recommended I headed south the Elbasan and Korce, stopping in a hotel just shy of the Greek border at Krystallopigi. Hard ride, as shown by all the mountain shadows on Google maps, but at least I was at Greece, maybe I could make the cut off in 48hours or at least be in touching distance.

Day fourteen

In the hot Greek sun it felt like I went over every mountain in the north. Through Krystallopigi to Kastoria was a wonderful ride, absolutely flew down the mountain passes at 40+kph average – bear warnings everywhere so you can imagine the kind of untouched scenery. The one thing on my mind was food – I really was struggling after no proper food since the late afternoon before, and once again I recuperated outside of a Lidl on the Kastoria lake peninsula. With the chuckle of some helpful direction givers (I had got used to people thinking cycling across Europe at that speed was stupid), I headed towards Kozani, making every effort to stay close to the path of the main highway through side roads or service routes. Direct line I thought. At Polimilos (coming up to Veroia) there is a monster of a hill that just keeps going – I swore I wouldn’t do anymore hills! – but the 4 road was relentless, up and up. But like every hill there is a reward and for the next 20km I sat on my pedals and flex down towards Veroia, pedalling when only essential!

And then we had Veroia. And that sandwich. I resupplied in the town, ready to take on the route to Thessaloniki and a bit further down the Greek coast. Replenished I made my way through Alexandria and into the busy Thessaloniki city – I had after all not been in a busy environment since the Italian coast – well tourist environment anyway! The plan was to keep going through the city and after a missed turn on to the ‘2’ route, keep heading east on the ’16’ towards Galatista and then back on the 2.

Day fifteen

Game over. You know you are beat when you and your body doesn’t care what race you had been in for 14 days. Ultimately I found out that I had bad food poisoning in the hospital. That morning at 5-6am I had searched out a hotel to recoup for 24hours but failing that an airforce base called an ambulance. Apparently it was pretty nasty so probably for the best! Although the worst was gone after 7 hours, I had to resign to the fact that my race was done and 48hours later I shipped my bike back to Ireland – via a very kind friend of a friend.

I now set off to Singapore on an overland train journey. Soon after I left hospital I jumped on a bus to Sofia – still in some smelly cycling clothes – then from Sofia the following night to Belgrade and now I sit in front of computer in Budapest. Right time to get myself in order for the train towards Kiev. I’ll try to get the few photos I have up asap! I will also put together an article on top tips, where you can go wrong on a trip like this and I would like to put something together on the winners/leaders races.

Ultimately this trip is more than just cycling. All the riders could do 300-350km a day, granted the 400-450-500km is tricky to say the least. Getting lost and having problems not only uses up time but knocks your confidence and uses up valuable energy – even if it ‘just’ makes you feel tired. After this trip I know I had a 12, perhaps even 11 day cycle to Istanbul in me but, and I am not trying to make excuses because ALL riders had problems and that is a fact of life about the race – it is WHY it is so challenging – I messed up quite a lot. I hope to take this knowledge on how I felt on some big rides, the determination of staying focused for 18hours or so, forward and perhaps join some cycling teams in Singapore. For now I am trying to get my weight back on and I am not going to take future plans too seriously until I reach my Asia destination – after all I will be sitting on trains and buses for 6 more weeks.

There will be new adventures though. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading!

List of cycling kit for 2400+mile endurance race over 12 days

Travelling light for an endurance cycling trip

Travelling light for an endurance cycling trip

Travelling light takes on a new meaning tonight. For the next few days I will be laying out the kit for the Transcontinental Bike Race for London to Istanbul. All of it has to fit in that saddle bag in the top left oh and on me! And just put in the route tonight – 2446miles – double checking the kit quite a few times.

The kit –

[Left-Right and back across] Medical kit – iodine, sudocream, etc ; lighter ; 2x spare tyres ; dry kit – cotton trousers, WWF T-shirt, water bottles, back-up energy gels (or just for day 1 to get going) emergency tent, thermal blankets, two cycling jerseys, 3x socks, toothpaste + brush, helmet camera [have to get charge lead], passport, visa, bank cards + emergency debit card, medical insurance dog-tag; tiny camera + associated leads, GARMIN Edge 800, emergency power source; MP3 (for those dark moments :p); light-weight rain coat; night bike torch; thermal layer; 2 x cycling shorts; calf supports [going to hurt after all!]; (to be made) translation flash cards + daily route highlights……..must get small suntan cream….small phone and power adaptor……..

Oh course there is also bike helmet, bike gloves and top tube snack bag…..let me know in the comments if I am missing anything!

A Tour de France on your own

With the Tour de France 100th Anniversary just completed, and Chris Froome coming out on top after some mighty and determined displays in the Alps & Pyrenees, the pub talk around me always turns to the fact – ‘Is this the hardest endurance race in the world?’.

This monster of an event, consists of 22 teams of 8-8 cyclists with an army of back-up psychologists, team doctors, masseurs, drivers, chefs and well I suppose coffee boys.  And the Tour’s ‘supply chain’ doesn’t stop there, they have team cars loaded with extra bikes – each costing between $7000-$14000 – handing out water & energy bars. They have lunch placed for riders along the route, so they can keep their head down and bash it out up the mountains. Then of course there are marshalls, route maps, markers, closed roads (no traffic, very important note!). They also have good hotel rooms, a regimented dinner and breakfast, a phone so they can ring loved ones whenever they like. And in addition to all of this they have the ability to draft behind team-mates/the peloton (which takes out about 40% of the effort) and 2 rest days (although on those rest days it is better to go for a little ride to keep those legs moving).

Now I wouldn’t dare say that the Tour de France is up there with the most difficult. The climbs and the speed of that race is far greater than any physical struggle on a football pitch (:p). Those athletes are some of the fittest people on the planet.

However…. there is a little race on 3rd August that will test the mind and body quite a lot too. Only 46 riders, who are not allowed to draft. They have two checkpoints scattered across Europe (1 in the 2nd highest pass in the Alps) which they have to find themselves amongst the 17-18hours (or no doubt sometimes 24hour) biking days, with limited battery on a GPS and a battered map. There is no support cars. The clock is always ticking. There is no stages. No rest days. You have to carry everything you will need. Not even a friend who will meet you at the end of the day. In fact you will be cycling across countries where no one speaks your language and quite frankly they don’t care what you are doing. Oh and to be competitive you are looking at doing a greater distance (2446miles according to Google maps) than the Tour de France this year in 2/3 of the time or about 13-14days.

This is the Transcontinental Bike Race. I will be on the start line.

To find out more about my charities –  WWF & RFU Injured Players Foundation – please follow the links. Pay for the pain.