One thousand, eight hundred and fifty one kilometers. Bit stupid really. And it was only at some point in the later afternoon to early evening on the Sunday did the realisation hit me that I had exceeded one thousand miles on a Zwift ride. x10 back to back imperial centuries in one sitting and the first time I've had an imperial distance on a bike with 4-digits. That was new territory to me and I hadn't thought of that! By that point, RPE was in the factors of 10's, but that was pretty insane. So how did it all end up that way?
Here the all important money shot:
The morning of 10th November 2022
Around 9 am I recorded a short video of my little world. A little world that pretty much consisted of the inside of my house, a load of calories and a couple of screens linked to PC's and the wider world. And a portal to a very familiar virtual desert flats in the world of Watopia. After this I started what was a ridiculously long ride; the execution of 18 months of thoughts and planning and recently, a lot of hours of training. And what unfolded over the next 80 hours and more was far more than what I expected. So here's the inside picture of how it all happened.
More than several hours later, I had ridden 1,851 kilometers in a single ride, slept less than 5 hours, burn 25,000 calories, lost 5% of my body and mild organ damage.
Going all the way back to where the idea came from.
I was turning 40, I had ridden various endurance events and enjoy the process. Covid was ebbing away, I was mixing IRL and virtual riding and I was going through house renovations. In a way, I felt a little bit empty in targets and ideas as stepping stones to LEL'22 compared to some of the other events I had done. As Covid lockdowns had shown me that there's stuff that can be done from home and that like so many others who'd bought a turbo trainer, I thought I'd better justify the expense. So after doing 1,000km in a single Zwift ride in 2021, I thought why not trying to double it and go for the record? A project is born.
I had tempered a lot of my expectations on this project as I knew that what I wanted to do was extremely simple and modest, but at the same time very very very tough. With those stakes, I thought that there would be a lot of external expectations and pressures, so kept the project as a low key affair as much as I could. I put a few coded teasers around on #P2kWRA meaning "Project 2,000km World Record Attempt" on a few online sites (so pretty much lost in the noise) and that was pretty much it. My concept was simple: clip in with a load of food on a table next to me, ride a long distance and see if anyone has a partial passing interest. Since getting recognition from what I did, I've had people under the impression that this was done with a big team, time booked into a gym or sports center with a buzzing team around me, checking on me and with pace boards and stopwatches through the whole project. It was far from that! This was a very modest project based on me doing the work and organisation.
Developing the project
From my initial internal thoughts and ideas, my timeline and process was roughly:
October 2021, mulling ideas on a ride home - "Hey, I have a an idea. Can I ride Zwift to over 1,828km, beating the record set by Muller? Should be a good target and I'll be 41, in the same year as LEL'22 so should be in pretty good shape, but I'll need to do some work to figure this out....... If I do something like this in the spring of 2022, it'll be really good as a springboard to LEL'22. I think this might be a bit ethically out there, so I'll take this one on pretty much by myself." One of the important aspects of the whole project was what would the end objective look like and then the visualisation of getting there. I recorded a video to think about it.
Late October 2021 in Strasbourg - Let slip to a few work mates after a bit of wine that I had a bit of a silly idea of going for the record, but kept it quiet and didn't publicly talk about it much more than that......
October 2021 - Starting to think about fitness. When would be a good idea to try this out? In the month of May before LEL'22 would be a good time frame if all other factors work as it'll be a really good spring board into LEL'22
December 2021 - What would the rules be? I'll scope them out. To make this workable, I'll need to be able to stream this live and have reliable IT stuff to make sure nothing trips over. That'll take some thought, some equipment and I'll need computers and bike stuff to make it work. If I can get the basics and the bulk sorted, then most of this will be keeping the mind and muscles going. Keep it simple.
Early January 2022 - Started training in mind for LEL & #P2kWRA
January to March 2022 - having to move out of home due to house extension work stalls the training for the project, but gives time for some of the IT work. Training drops from regular sessions and structure to more sporadic and opportunistic while staying away from home and I think the May time frame may be difficult.
Spring 2022 - training and riding restarts with The Racing Collective TransEngland, Mores and Wolds audax, Skeg-a-Vagas there-&-back, a 400km training ride and an aborted 600km training ride. Some of the pre-preparation work starts with blog posts, Twitch registrations etc. As spring rolls on, it become more obvious that the timings wont work with house and home commitments, so #P2kWRA is stalled for the spring and put into autumn instead. Some minor bike parts and IT parts start to appear for the project and I put an obscure Strava events page out there too. My thinking on OSPW is not to keep with the fashion, more that anywhere where efficiency can be gained is a marginal gain. I'm in my room, I don't need aero, but anywhere where resistance in the system can be reduced, that has a benefit.
Summer 2022 - London-Edinburgh-London 2021 in 2022. The amazing ride that that was with the glamourous sunglasses and heat waves. The pains of LEL 2017 were vanquished and a lot of joys and memories formed over the 1,500km. Spectacular event!
August and post-LEL'22 - time away from the bike and head to the remote hills of the Outer Hebrides! Family holiday hidden away in the hills.
September 2022 - switching cycling for long distance walking and the Bullock Smithy competition hike with Anna. Sadly time-out after a navigation errors but walked 47 miles. So much fun! One of the clear highlights of 2022 was sitting with Anna in a dark barn/checkpoint with a mug of soup deep in the Peaks at 3am. That'll stick with me for ever.
Early September 2022 - return to Zwift with a determined plan (see below). Nearly all road riding stopped, diet stabalises, all alcohol banned until after the attempt. A few more people learn about the project pretty much on a need to know basis, but the circle is still very small. My family and kids start to learn about my plans.
Late September 2022 - learning the new skillsets of Twitch streaming and the IT side of things start to set into place. Thoughts to food choices, time frames, logistics and support start to solidify. My training is in full flight and I can see the progression of the training and a glimpse at when everything might fall into place.
Mid-October 2022 - the details with work start to emerge as I book time off and start low level discussions with what I intend to do. My line manager is informed but (as agreed) keeps in quiet. The task to me is fairly daunting in terms of risk (illness, faillier, tech problems, nerves etc), and being a pretty introverted person, I don't really have the desire to make big public broadcasts about what's going on. To me, this is all pretty exciting, novel, routine and scary all at the same time. By being within myself, I have more opportunity to just focus on the task without answering questions or having people distracting me with loads of "have you thought about this...." comments. As a way of stopping being drowned in noise, I opted to be quiet about the project. My data is starting to show a fitness window starting to open in the early to mid-November time frame. Some of my friends, suppliers, co-workers and others get to learn about what I'm intending to do.
End October 2022 - Finally weeks of training are in progress and the 10th November has been set. I had planned a 450km ride from Nottingham to Norfolk through the night after a full days work as the mental break and final unsupported fling of the year, however this has to be cancelled due to booking problems with a family holiday. Instead this is replaced with 500km on Zwift through the night in 16hrs after full days work to replicate night sessions and sleep deprivations and to test food benches, runs to the tap and all the tech setups.
Start November 2022 - I started to post a few comments on "I have a crazy idea" on the internal Yammer channels at work and the wider groups become aware of what I'm going to do. I have the opportunity to clean down the bike drive chain, clearout the gunk from the cassette and replace the chain for fresh in preparation for the attempt. The week before, I taper down all efforts, final bike checks, gain last bits of food and set up web links and auto-post the FAQ blog post.
10th November 2022 - the attempt starts.
My determined structure training.
Over the window of time from finishing the Bullock Smithy to starting the attempt, my training plan was fairly simplistic with a couple of notable changes. The basic structure was built from four sessions per week consisting of x3 high intensity and structured sessions and x1 long endurance session. I suspended pretty much all of my road riding to ride exclusively indoors on Zwift with the exception of an occasional commute. For timings, my basic routine consisted of:
Monday 6am - interval sessions on HIITS with sustained high power or single long high intensity threshold pace session. Objective was between 90 and 120mins depending on structure and TRIMP score to build threshold base and increase FTP.
Tuesday 6pm - 5hrs+/200km+ in pace setting on the Watopia flats at 60 to 80% threshold. Objective was building endurance base and conditioning to consistent steady state at a pace above the record attempts cruising points.
Wednesday - casual like. Nothing to see here. Move along, move along.
Thursday 6am - interval sessions on HIITS with sustained high power or single long high intensity threshold pace session. Objective was between 90 and 120mins depending on structure and TRIMP score to build threshold base and increase FTP.
Friday 6am - recovery and consolidation interval sessions on HIITS with sustained high power or single long high intensity threshold pace session. 90 to 120mins depending on structure and TRIMP score.
Saturday - family duties
Sunday - family duties.
For weeks the weekly cycle of intervals and 200km evening rides repeated as I monitored fitness, average weighted power, weights, p/hr factors and other metrics to watch performance start to improve through Intervals.icu and other platforms. As the time accumulated, the ability to add load into training with the time available became limited, therefore a performance plateau into early to mid November was expected. Luckily this window landed roughly into a time frame where it would be post heavy work loads and pre-Christmas build up so a good opportunity window.
For me, I enjoyed the consistency and structure of the training and the returned investment of each turn of the cycle. The difficulty I did find was the missing of road time and the mental boost that comes from being out in the fresh air.
Run up to starting and going public.
From late 2021 to early 2022, the circle of people I was talking to about this project was very, very small. Only a very small exclusive group of friends and immediate family had knowledge of what I was thinking and the motivations, pains, hurdles and thoughts that was going into #P2kWRA. These were my brother and wife, Matt knew a few things fairly early on. There's a lot of mentality going on behind the public declaration and pinning yourself to a commitment compared to shunning the light and looking to remove pressures. As I knew the target was large and the chance of fail, illness, injury or other circumstances were pretty beefy, I kept it quiet and worked away at the project behind closed doors. I did ask various anonymous questions on forums and other areas concerning parts I didn't understand ("how the hell do you manage a Twitch streaming set up??"). Only into mid year and late summer did the group widen to my kids, my brother-in-law and a few others got let in and only in the very final few weeks and days when I thought form, fitness, metal strength, technology and low risk of illness/injury was all aligned did I start to loosen the lips.
In terms of actual publicity and declaring what I was going to do, I don't have a PR team, publicist, sponsorship spokes person or anything else. My social and public reach is very small. I did announce what I was doing to my work team (around 8 people), the Whatsapp group I cycled with in 2021 (around another 20 people (?)) and my wider family. The only "splash" I made at work was a Yammer post (video below)
The big ride
Pre-ride set ups.
Like the other Zwift challenges I had done, in the days before the event I had tapered and then 12 to 24hrs before starting, the last checks, calibrations, run through of all the systems and being ready.
For those curious about the Zwift PC platform I used, I used a Dell 3030, i3 3240, 4gb planted into a 4u rack case along with a AMD Radeon HD 7800 series GPU. This was installed with Windows 10 Pro, Zwift and a few other tools (Spotify for example) but everything disabled to keep the Zwift PC on Zwift only. This had Ant+ and BLE USB dongles for communicating with the turbo trainer and HRM only. Far from fancy!
For those curious about the Twitch PC platform used, a MSI H91I with i3 4170, 4gb ram, AMD Radeon 6800 series GPU, webcam, BLE USB dongle, old PC speakers and running Streamdeck along with Spotify, Chrome (for streaming movies) and that was it.
To make sure all was ticking over correctly, I used a 2-port KVM to switch between the PC's, keeping the KVM on the Twitch side (last thing I wanted in a sleep deprived state was to hit the wrong button and quit Zwift!).
Finally, the last thing I wanted was to have Windows 10 try and do an update 50 hours in. I updated Zwift, disabled everything possible on both PC's, updated Windows and stopped the auto-updates and had everything ready. Last thing I wanted was to get into this with the dreaded "Windows needs to install and update and will auto-reboot in 2hrs, and we'll change all your settings to MS Edge."
I had in my mind that if there was a major mechanical problem, I could switch to my Engima. Otherwise, with the bike prep I had done and a spare Di2 battery, I should be set.
For those curious about the Zwift virtual settings I used, I had the trainer on 100% at all times and calibrated 24hrs before the attempt. I weighed in before the ride too and updated my Zwift rider weight to reflect my actual weight. There are differences in the virtual bikes, however I wanted to make this "open" to all. For my selection I used the Pinarello Dogma F frame along with Zipp 808 wheels (available from the dropshop), then the basic Zwift jersey (I still remember the grandfathers of 2013 joining Zwift and I think this was the only alternative strip we had back then), no gloves or helmet (only time I'll ride without head protection), Mavic shoes and some bad taste sunglasses (keeping my 2022 trend going).
(If Pinarello want a claim to fame, they now have a virtual bike that's done some massive miles! I'd love to have the real thing, but maybe I can sell my mega-miles Dogma F as a NFT...........)
Others have argued that I could have used the Zwift Tron bike, a TT bike or the disc rear wheel to push the aero gains further, but I wanted to go for a more "what would I use on the road?" approach and not have to have a gazillion drops and level 50+ if someone else wanted to challenge the distance. It is also my default set up when Zwift'ing.
|The bar extensions will be changed, but the rider view is pretty much there|
This is where everything I had worked on started to click into place. The day started relaxed, with my wife and kids going to work and school around 0800, leaving me at home alone (to them, it's just another Thursday like any other week). I started the PC's around 0900, recorded my first video of the day, started the Twitch stream around 1000 and started Zwift. I'm a Twitch noob so took a bit of faff but then up and running. And then time to select Tempus Fugit, spawn and stat riding!
Through the day, I had WhatsApp messages, Krystal and co-works found my Twitch and I settled in. Everything was a little different to the audax and road lifestyle as weather was a little irrelevant (it was a nice few days for weather!) and the legs kept spinning. I took full advantage of having the house to myself with speakers turned up loud to play a good mix of tunes from my youth and the loud and shouty music with explicit lyrics that have to be muted when the kids are around. Riding into the evening and night, various friends joined me in chatters and ride alongs and the day passed with ease! Family life occurred in the living room next door and I kept spinning. My wife and daughter did runs out in the car for the school orchestra, my son kept me company with his next set of crazy ideas and all was pretty chilled out. As I settled into the night, I knew the first night would be fine and it was. This was territory well experienced and I knew the processes and feelings well. I was comfortably banking sleep time. Family life around the house kept it's pace with the kids and Anna visiting me, before they drifted off to beds. Power wise, I was maintaining the around 200w region with some areas where groups would help me draft but a lot of the time it would be me solo or with just another rider.
Through Friday, I was still relaxed in mentality and ticking though the km's. I started to have digestive problems (always do with these kind of things) and these carried on through the day. This made the balance of burn and calorie intake difficult. While the kids were out I could play Spotify loud and I'm sure the neighborhood heard Burdock, Rage Against The Machine, Prodigy and alongside Noel Gallagher, Bent, 90's indie rock and Britpop through the day. I was rocking it and all was good. The day passed well and by the time kids had finished for the week, all was good. Friday night started and various co-workers were WhatsApp'ing me, chatting, on Twitch with me, Zwifting and all was settled.
As people started to see my numbers increasing, the chatter on Zwift fluctuated with people realising what I was up to. A whole team were running "Mile-o-rama" based in the US, so I had the US riders pulling up some big numbers while I kept spinning through. And like previously, the riding through the time zones gave me the rhythm of different nations being active at different times. As Friday afternoon turned to evening, the post-work EU riders would ride before logging off for their Friday nights and the North & South American riders would join. By later night, the America's would be logging off while the East Asians would be joining and this rippling would be seen around the world with the riders flags on the list changing.
Massive thank you to Claire for giving me a call for a while late on the Friday too!
Tactical naps occurred again with feeds through the night, keeping the drink going in. Otherwise, things were looking on pan.
By Saturday early hours of the morning some of my favourite foods were being broken out - Frosties with extra sugar. Goes down a treat.
|One of the food of choice is Frosties with extra sugar.|
Like I said, this wasn't a big organised event and Saturday happened to also be a family birthday party in Leicester. I had to send my apologies while Anna and the kids left me to it. Through the day, being in the front window I had the advantage of being very approachable to passers by. Nick and Mike (other local dads) enjoyed having the ability to drop round and say hello and support me through the window. At various times through the ride, Nick and Mike would make their excuses to their families and "I'm just going round to see how Alex is doing........" A Nick, Mike, Kath, various kids and others would appear at the bottom of our drive and walk up to my window to give me support (and share some baking with me). For me, it was the support, for them it was the curiosity.
Through Saturday, I had Paul joining me along with Jim online on Zwift and also a couple of other long term crazy riders - Ale "Sweet Cheeks" Hedez and Co from the ACG group. Sweet Cheeks accompanied me for a while which was a real boost as we've done many km's together yet never met or spoken together. After finding each other on crazy ideas through Covid (along with Katniss as a core, then DGA, Hippo, Cat Allan, Maazle and others) the community of riders with silly ideas has taken on a life of it's own and I love the community of support - it's incredible how others will donate their time and energy for others across the Zwift platform.
Going into Saturday night, fatigue was starting to appear, but after riding Thursday and Friday, all was (relatively....because this is insane) good and stable. The music kept playing, the food was (slowly) going in, the drink kept being drunk.
By riding into Saturday night/Sunday morning, one physical comfort point I started to become more aware of was the saddle comfort. Through the ride up until this time, on bike comfort had been stable. Periodically I would go off camera to the loo and apply more chamois cream to keep the friction levels low. However this was a different type of discomfort. This was more like the saddle had changed shape and now my sit bones were sitting on the saddle in a different way compared to the start phases. I grabbed an hex key to tweak the position however the reasoning became apparent through Sunday!
|Riding with Sweet Cheeks.|
By Sunday, this was where things really developed. Sunday has both swimming and climbing for my kids, so Anna was going to be busy with home life. My life was still revolving around keeping my feet revolving. I had timed naps to work with Anna having the ability to wake me up while my task was pretty easy - ride. Through the morning, all was pretty stable. Hitting around the 1,650km mark area, although clearly weakened, all was positive and going well. My average power had dropped from the 200w mark to the 150-170w ranges. Sleep deprivation was taking a toll by this time, but the mind/body link was still going. Through the day, I had my visitors at the window, online chats and was enjoying the process, but things were starting to get noticeably tougher.
Through the day, I was becoming more aware of the saddle not having the same fit and no matter how I adjusted my positioning things were...........different. One aspect of being next to the window was seeing my reflection - my body was significantly different in build compared to a few days earlier. The result of the calorific burn and food intake was that my metabolism had shifted to keep me going - I was burning carbohydrates, fats........ and proteins. The changes in my sitting was due to being less of me to seat.
I was becoming more aware that a sleep was needed as the 3.8 hrs since the last re-start were taking a toll more than what had happened in previous nap cycles. After Anna had finished with climbing, that was when the chance would be taken for a 50 minute nap. As per the process, I slept for 50 mins but on waking I felt like I had been hit by a bus. Compared to other wakenings, this one was tough, really tough. On getting back onto the bike and trying to refresh it was notably harder and I could feel the RPE score for the power output had shifted. What had previously felt rideable effort was now feeling labored. Where I'd typically put out 100w without thinking about it, this was feeling more like the same effort as putting out 300w. But crucially, the former record was coming into sight.
Into Sunday afternoon, Anna joined me along with various others - Jim, Paul and now Ged too online on Zwift with me, Anna and kids in the room, Mike and Nick at the window. At one point Anna said to me "well, you've now passed 1,000 miles". At this point I hadn't given this a thought in terms of being a milestone target - and then it hit me with a "Holy fucking shitballs! 1,000 miles! That's longer than anything I've ridden before and longer than LEL!" The wave of disbelief hit me pretty hard with that comment.
After this point riding on was exhausting, exhilarating, surreal, painfull, bizarre....... the community of riders around me built as either riders found me during their rides and joined me; or they had logged in specifically to ride with me. Anna could take my phone and reply to comments for me on the Zwift companion app, Twitch, WhatsApp and other places as I was incapable by this point. I was massively unaware of the number of others watching me in various places around the world through Twitch and with the link being posted on Reddit. My world had condensed down to those physically with me and the names on the screens with me. With Anna being my fingers to type messages, I could make some dry jokes about sprints and chasing each other on the Zwift chats which would appear on Twitch and elsewhere. 1,664 was a notable marker as "Kronenburg 1664" which is a local beer to our Strasbourg office.
Riding upto 1,800km, I was clearly being very damaged, so going on to 2,000km was looking unrealistic, but my head was still (stupidly) wanting to say keep going to 2,000k, With the window by my side I could see my physical profile had been destroyed. My thighs had lost a lot of mass and far narrower than at the beginning. Cupping my buttock, I could feel a huge amount of it had gone - it was no wonder why my saddle comfort had changed.
By the time I was closing in on the 1,828km record, I was now going to go further than Jasmijn Muller in 2017. At 1,828km, the room and chats erupted as I hit that target and I could celebrate. I had something still left in me, but it was getting to the point where it was the last few remaining vapours. The angels and devil on my shoulders (literally Nick and Mike) were arguing if I should or could go on to 2,000km, but by now my body was extremely damaged and the thought of another +6hrs of riding was going to be extremely tough with the pace dropping as my power dropped and struggled to keep 100w. I had the record and the 2,000km would have to be another time. Chatter on Zwift and in the room agreed that I should keep going to finish on a nice number - 1,850km I thought would be respectable, however I overshot to finish at 1,851km.
As I closed out at 1,851km, I had buried myself deeper than I thought I would or could, I had lost >5% of my body mass, been on the go for 80 hours with less than 5 hours sleep. All I could do was thank those that had supported me because my vision of this 18 months earlier had me quietly finishing whereas the support and interest that had swelled up while I did this far exceeded anything I could have expected.
I very, very, very carefully went through the steps of saving the data one click at a time. Once I had seen that Zwift had saved the data I could wait for Strava to autosync. Once that was confirmed, I could then start the close down of systems.
Anna took fantastic care of me, aiding me out of the room and to a well earned bath (and making sure I didn't fall asleep in it), before rolling into bed.
The morning after.Strangely, sleep wasn't that deep or long. By circadian rhythm kicked in on the Monday morning and I was awake early. I struggled to walk, sitting was weird not due to saddle sores or friction, more due to the changes in muscle masses.
And the time after.......
As the days and weeks went on, the extent of damages become more obvious. I had lost weight in fat and muscle loss. I had cyclists wrist and mild cardiac arrhythmia. My legs and buttocks had a lot of wasting but on the positive side, I only mild friction damage. My stomach had some troubles but pints of cola helped a lot. I didn't do any strenuous exercise for a week after and my walking had a strange gait to it. In terms of difficulty, this was probably only topped in pure physical damage by London-Edinburgh-London 2017 which cause severe damage to me. As a TMI note, I found that putting your body through that, actually fixes a mild case of thrush.........
A fortnight later, I managed to get to go for a curry with Nick and Mike with a few beers to celebrate the insanity of 1,851 kilometers.
So all the important data links and hours and hours of videos.
For the data to support this, it's open to the public and on a number of sites.
For the link to the Zwift account and ride, that can be found here.
As "If it ain't on Strava, it didn't happen!" people, the Strava link is here. (Be aware, browsers take a while to open it)
For videos, there's way too many hours of footage and milling through the video processing is more of a boring task than riding the bike. Created is a playlist of the group of videos covering the event.
What it looks like in Intervals.icu?? This:
Like I've said, I was riding this with the personal expectations of what I wanted to do but largely stepped back from what the public expectations or interest was going to be. When the events unfolded, the response and connections was far beyond what i had expected. I had world that people in all the different countries were watching, commenting and contributing as word spread. Far, far beyond what I had anticipated.
The learning points and regrets.
The thanks and eternal gratitude section
First thanks as always has to go to Anna for the support. Without her support I would not be able to have done this or any of the other ideas I have come up with. I am eternally grateful.
A huge thank you to those who with me physically and digitally. Nick and Mike coming to the window so often along with Kath; Jim, Paul, Ged and Ale for riding with me on Zwift; the work team I have with the sharing of messages and links and all the other people that contributed, commented, watched, shared, tweeted me, used Reddit and all the other avenues to make the event "the event"
Finally, I have had this blog post in draft for far too long. I need to push publish, but will need to re-edit!
Thank you all.