Blog

Diary of a RAAM widow

Some people call themselves football widows, when they lose countless weekends and evenings to their partners obsession with watching a bunch of blokes run around a field. Well for the past 18 months I’ve been a RAAM widow!


As I type this, I’m lying on our comfy sofa under a blanket, I’ve just had some ice cream and watched an episode of Greys Anatomy, and Tom… well, poor Tom has been (and still is) outside the window on his turbo, p***ing with sweat, as he would say, looking like he may throw up at any second. (See picture evidence) Oh, and it’s the start of Easter weekend too, when everyone in their right mind should be indulging at least a little bit right now.

For the past 18 months, Tom has lived and breathed RAAM, which means I’ve been living and breathing it too. Whether it’s lending a supportive ear, helping to plan logistics, trying to watch TV in our old 1 bedroom flat while Tom powers away on his turbo literally right next to me, waking up to the floor shaking from a maximum effort in a pre-work turbo session in the dining room, or not seeing many weekend mornings where the alarm doesn’t go off at 6/7am for his training rides to the Peaks.

I’ve seen Tom come home in bits, and I mean a proper mess, while he was learning how to handle this level and type of training in preparation for the main event. He’s come home freezing cold after a winter ride, standing shivering in front of a radiator and in a hot bath, trying to get warm after hours outside in -6… so cold that their water bottles froze!! He’s come home from fasted rides feeling great, only to go downhill later on and spend the rest of the day feeling generally grim. Even some of his turbo sessions are so tough, that he ends efforts hunched over his bike, while I ponder how fast I can run and get a sick bucket.

With RAAM less than two months away, and given that I’ve volunteered to be part of the support crew, it’s getting VERY real now.

Last weekend we did a practice follow and rider changeover day. We (the support crew) went over our strengths and weaknesses, so we can utilise those to form the best support possible for Tom and James in America. I’ve supported bike rides before, but nothing on this level. Nothing where you (as a crew member) may not get to sleep in a bed for 3 days straight, catching z’s in the van as and when you can, driving through the night behind Tom or James on their bike – ultimately keeping them safe, fed and watered 24 hours a day, for 8 days.

I won’t lie, I can be pretty rubbish when I’m tired. Picture a drunk person, or a toddler… or a drunk toddler, not that I’m endorsing that…. moving on. Anyway my point is, that’s a big worry – being exhausted. I’ll have no right to be saying I’m really tired, when Tom and James are spending 12 hours a day each on their bikes, and going up hills my little car would struggle getting up, but I know I will be. Needless to say I’m excited to get reacquainted with my old pals the Sour Patch Kids, to keep me awake when I need a sugar high. Sometimes I curse myself for my hatred of coffee…

Another thing that plays on my mind is seeing Tom in a state while we’re out there. RAAM as a two person team is incredibly physically demanding, and I know I’ll hate seeing him in any pain, or suffering through any rough patches.

The countdown is really on now. The annual leave is approved, the flights are booked, and I’m doing some super important prep like making playlists to keep us going! There’s even a singalong playlist that’s looking brilliant… Try and contain your excitement support crew.

In all seriousness, I’m so proud of Tom for taking on this mad challenge, and pushing himself to the limit to smash it, even though I think he’s an absolute nutter. I’m excited I get to be part of this, and share in his experience. Saying that though, I’m also looking forward to July, and Sunday’s without alarms set!

I’m now crap at all other exercise

When I write this we are 67 days, 6 hours, 5 minutes and 14 seconds out from RAAM and believe me that’s terrifying.

I’ve just got back from Budapest, the last break I’m allowing myself in training until RAAM – it’s now full steam ahead with training, no distractions just get your head down and get to the States in the best physical shape possible.

Budapest and the break itself was amazing and anyone training for a big event I would whole heartedly recommend that you take a step back from it to refocus the mind and body. When over there I didn’t think about riding my bike. The closest thing I go to training was sitting inside an 85 degree sauna for “heat acclimatisation” – that’s the story and i’m sticking with it. However, I did realise that I am now useless at all other forms of exercise. So, when on a city break we (Me and Fiona) did what most people do and walked ourselves into the ground, going from ice cream parlour to the next recommended tourist attraction and it was after about four-hours of walking round I started to notice some niggles; a sore back, sore hip, tired legs. The dickhead part of my brain springs into action

“aren’t you supposed to be riding a bike around America and you can’t even go for a gentle walk”

I was ruined. How is this possible?! I am the fittest I have ever been and probably ever will be but I’ve been broken in the space of a few hours walking gently around a city. I suddenly feel old and realise that training for an event like RAAM has turned me into a finely tuned athlete, finely tuned for one thing and one thing only. Obviously, I wanted to share my new found atrophy with James which amused him.

A few days later James texts me after walking around London all day.

I couldn’t be happier; solidarity.

There a few lessons I’ve learnt and would like to share with fellow competitors or people thinking about their next challenge. First, take a break and enjoy the break. If your life is just training you will fail. There needs to be some balance in your life and this is especially true if you have a family. Second, you’re going to be crap at any other sport but that’s fine.

A Day in the Life of a Crew Chief

I have known James for about 8 years through work at Wythenshawe Hospital, he was aware I liked cycling and when I told him I was retiring in July 2018 he responded by asking me to do this RAAM event with him. At first I thought, are you joking, I cannot cycle across America, he reassured me it was as part of the support crew so I was relieved and also honoured to be asked.

So…. I retired from the NHS and then spent the next four months in France and Spain, travelling and cycling with my own support crew, Pat (my wife and fellow retiree). Didn’t think much about the event until we were on a beach in Torremolinos when I was contacted by James to ask if we would be prepared to drive an RV back from Annapolis (Near Washington DC) back to San Diego. Pat agreed, eventually, as long as we didn’t sleep in the RV on the way back and had chance to see some of America.

When we got back to England James contacted me to see if I knew anyone else who might want to join the crew. I thought … I know someone who would be ideal, my good lady – Pat. I managed to persuade her (I am not sure she would agree that I persuaded her – lol) to join the crew.

It is currently the 8 April 2018 and I am wondering what the heck I have let myself in for. James and Tom asked me to be their Crew Chief for their Race Across America – sure why not guys I said – and then it hit me after the London RAAM seminar. This is going to be something of a ‘challenge’ as they say in the NHS! Temperatures as high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit, roads with desert to each side or grass that can catch fire if you park over it, potential for Tornado’s and severe thunderstorms or torrential rain along the way sounds wonderful doesn’t it.

I have read and re-read the rules, I have read the gear book too, 55 pages approx.. in each. However I could not get my head around the magnitude of the event from a cyclist point of view. I hatched a plan to map out the whole route on lining wallpaper which I had a spare roll of in the garage. This took me the best part of 6 hours one Sunday afternoon and I have now plotted out the whole route over the 3100 miles of the race, I can now see where the mountains are and where the flatlands will be. I did have to buy another roll to complete the route, it is stretched out over about 30 feet of lining paper showing all the climbs, the Walmart’s the gas stations and all the Time Stations along the way.


James and Tom are aiming to complete the ride in 8 days, we set off on 15 June and will aim to complete on Sunday 23 June, eight days and nights of cycling at an average speed of 16-18 mph. We will have two vans, equipped with bike accessories, food and fluids, washing equipment etc… but when do we rest?

This is really difficult to plan and will need the whole team to consider what would be the best approach. The race will not succeed unless we have a great team who are all working towards James and Tom’s objective. The race crew consist of Darren and Maggie Weatherall, Eddie Allen, Fiona Comley and Gan and ourselves

The crew and racers are meeting this week on 13 April to plan our strategy. We will be talking through the roles and responsibilities of the crew members. Driving, navigating, bike maintenance, nutrition, shopping, washing and most importantly keeping James and Tom entertained and motivated during those difficult times when they would just like to give up and go for a well-earned beer! After our strategy meeting we will practice handing bidons to James and Tom, both at the roadside and from the window of the car. This is not as easy as it sounds. Then we are off into the Peak district practising leapfrog handover of riders and a small amount of direct following which we will have to do each night for 12 hours during the race – 8 long long nights driving at 16-18 mph keeping the riders at a distance of 30 feet in front of us. Easier said than done.

So……. Pat and I continue to discuss tactics, what resources we are likely to need – how many bananas can they eat in 8 days? Where will we get James’ Spaghetti Bolognese (we will get you one somewhere James)? How much water can we actually carry in the van when they will be drinking 1-2 litres per hour. The whole thing is scary but we are determined to get this done and to make sure that James and Tom’s goal is achieved.

What a party we will have when we finish, roll on Annapolis!


Pete, Crew Chief

Race Across America Seminar

Late February saw us driving down to Wembley for a day’s seminar on Race Across America. The day was run by father and son who run the Race, not only do they have huge experience of organising the race, but Dad has raced as both a Solo and a Team of Two. 

We’d hoped to get many things from the seminar; mainly, how the race worked in terms of logistics, we also wanted to find out whether it was best for our support team to drive cars and stay in motels, or whether we should have a Mobile Camper. Oh, and Tom and I wanted either Toms dad Eddie or our mutual friend Pete to be so enthused that they agreed to be Crew Chief 😉. 

It quickly became clear that having a mobile camper was not necessary and a large expense. The camper has some plusses; a toilet, cooking facilities. But other riders experiences told us they are difficult to sleep in when moving, and due to their size they can’t follow the whole race route. Oh and they are ridiculously expensive. Chatting to other racers we decided upon having the team in two cars following the riders. This would mean one car with the riders at all times and the other car is free for logistics, stopping at a motel for a quick sleep or shower, filling up with fuel, shopping, washing, etc etc etc. 

The day was mind blowing. Eight hours to cover every aspect of RAAM, the most amazing thing was that this was just bullet points, highlights, not the details!!! Suddenly like a sledgehammer over the head you begin to realise what a massive logistical challenge this is to organise.  Follow two bike riders across the US, sounds easy right. Er no apparently!! 

During the desert crossing, it’s too hot to leave a rider on the road in 50 degree heat for too long. So 15 minutes turns on the bike are recommended otherwise your rider cooks. So while the rider is cycling away, the support car has to drive up the road, find somewhere safe to pull right off the road, get James’s bike out, Tom arrives, bike in back of car, overtake James, repeat. This is complex. During that 15 min period the navigator will be checking the maps and turns on the road, bottles need to be filled, food allocated, rider wet wiped etc. It is constant. 

Every aspect of daily living becomes that little bit more complex when you have limited space and are moving across country. Where to have a number one? Or god forbid a number two in the middle of nowhere, and US police are not keen on nudity of any sort. Washing – Tom and I will change bib shorts every four hours, and shirts, this alone is 12 pairs of bib shirts that need washing every day. 

And so the day went on, we talked about kit we needed, preparations before the race, food, washing, sleep, navigation, communication between rider and team, dealing with emergencies, following at night ……..An awesome day. Really good for letting us know what the previous Unknowns were. Nothing to fear now, ha ha ha . 

Oh, and most importantly, Pete is gonna be our Crew Chief. Thanks Pete. You are gonna smash it.

Pete is everything Tom and I wanted in a Crew Chief, keen, a doer, organised and calm in a storm. BRING IT ON 

Nerd Alert: The Results are in

Me and James recently took on some physiological testing with the big one being a Vo2 Max test and our results are finally in!


James’s Vo2 Max Test Results

Click here to download James’ full test results

Tom’s Vo2 Max Test Results

Click here to download Tom’s full test results

So what does all this mean?

The results from testing can help us with our final training push by identifying where our weaknesses lie and how we can improve on these with the support of MIH and in our training. For instance, I should really be doing more work at above threshold to help increase my Vo2 Max.

It can help us identify the right training zones which are especially important for RAAM and any ultra-endurance event. For instance, riding at 180 watts is achievable with minimal stress on our bodies, riding at 210 watts for 3,000 miles however will push us out of our endurance zone.

Ultimately, these are just numbers and it’s important not to get too caught up in them. Could I increase my Vo2 max? Yes, probably. Will it be ever as high as Chris Froome’s? Probably not because he’s probably just naturally better than me.

What’s next?

We get to play in MIH’s environmental chamber which is pretty cool. After having a quick glance over the training programme they have sent through, we are going to be pushed up to a dizzying 3,000 metres in altitude and to a brain-melting 45 degrees. There is one small caveat to going to such extreme temperatures safely and it’s how the team at MIH are going to monitor our core body temperature accurately. James broke the news to me and I can still remember my initial reaction

Did he just say rectal thermometer?

Yes, yes he did.

I’m going to leave you with that thought. Let it sink in.

Manchester Institute of Health and Performance Physiological Testing

Today was a day me and James were looking forward to. We are lucky enough to be supported by MIHP, a sports performance and excellence centre in Manchester.

The day started with me and James performing some static strength tests that measured the peak power of your hamstrings and quads at different torque; the test was repeated on each leg, with five efforts at 100% effort at three different torque settings. The idea of this test is to find out if we have any alarming muscle discrepancies – if found now we can work on them and make ourselves a little bit more robust for the challenge ahead of us. Personally, I was also interested to see the difference between me and James in terms of peak power.

It was safe to say this was a daunting first test – I’ve never needed to be restrained by gym equipment before so that was… interesting.

Next, we were taken to the most painful lab of them all – a room full of SRM ERGs and fancy oxygen measuring computers. I’d seen these tests on documentaries when normally someone superhuman like Lance Armstrong or Chris Froome is attached – not me or James (the man still protesting he’s not a cyclist).

First, I’d like to say that the team at MIHP are brilliant – they explain every aspect of the test that you’re about to do, when they’re going to pull the plug on the session and what they’re looking for, so in this case we were looking for our Vo2 Max and our Lactate threshold – essentially they’re testing our engine efficiency almost like a rolling road where you’d test a cars MPG.

Back to the lab, to begin with, you give a baseline blood sample and you’re hooked up to a ventilator which measures your oxygen and co2 output, amongst other things but I’m not smart enough to figure them out. The one thing I can say about the mask is that it makes you feel like you’re being suffocated.

This is when the test begins in earnest. The test starts with a very nice warm up at 130 watts, this is where you’re presented with a scale of perceived exertion and you get cocky

nice and easy – feeling great, how hard can this test really be. It turns out very.

The ERG ramps up the intensity every three minutes by 30 watts and gradually climbs up to 300 watts. Your power and heart rate is steadily climbing and with no rest, you’re really starting to struggle to control your breathing. This is exactly where they want you – your lungs are like massive bellows and your legs are full of lactate as you’ve now well and truly pushed through your lactate threshold. Good science for them – the longest three minutes for you.

Mercifully, they finish the test. Maybe you’ve hit a Vo2 ceiling but really your heart is probably just maxed out. You collapse over the bars (well I did, annoyingly James didn’t), and you’re instantly pricked for another blood test. You then want to immediately remove the mask you feel has been suffocating you for the past 20 minutes but no dice – the words

we need to collect some recovery data keep on pedalling

have never sounded worse. The irrational part of your brain is screaming “screw your recovery data I’m out of here”. One final blood test to measure how your body has recovered and processed the lactate and you’re done and get to go lie on the floor.

As amateur athletes being given this opportunity to test ourselves has been brilliant and with MIHP input we will start using their environmental chamber to help acclimatise to the altitude and deserts we will face at RAAM.

I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone at MIHP, so Ross and Mal who looked after us and to Pete, crew member, who gave up his time to help us document our experience at MIHP and cheer us on when the pain really set in.

If you want to take on your own physiological testing then visit the MIHP website to find out what they do. https://www.mihp.co.uk/

Half term holidays –Static Zwift Bike Ride at Manchester airport – Feb 16th 2019


We’d been planning this ride for months with great help from Manchester Airport Staff. We’d organised a prime spot in Departures of Terminal 1 to cycle for 10 hours on our indoor trainers and to raise some money for Gareth Evans Research Trial.  

This didn’t help when Tom and my alarms went off at 2:30 am, aiming for a 4am start at the airport. Busiest day of half term with 4-8am being the peak period for departures and foot traffic. They weren’t wrong! 

Id love to say that Tom and I were positive at 2:30am, the first message I got from Tom at 2:51am was

“This is shite will be my next blog title” ha ha ha 

 My feelings were similar, how did we think that getting up at 2:30 on our day off was a good idea? Negative feelings were soon banished when we arrived at the airport and staff were super helpful getting set up. The bay we had been given had no power so with their help we ran a few cables from the Swissport desk into our bay and got up and running. 

The airport was super hot and the idea of cycling for 10 hours without power and with no fan was inconceivable. Trainers were all set up, fans set up, and big screens thanks to Barry Bugg from Pixel were arranged to show us cycling in a virtual Zwift world. 

4-8 am was absolutely bonkers. My son Will was a super star getting out of his bed at 3am to come and hold a bucket to collect. He definitely had the magic touch and I think the families going on half term ski and sun trips were sympathetic to the poor 8 yo who was supporting his dad in the middle of the night to raise some money. A big thanks to Adrian and my wife Sophie for getting gup so early to help. 

The people watching at the airport was ace!!! It was all going on , massive queues, some wonderful stories from people donating money. Best of all was watching all the family arguments as stressed families checked in for their flights.

AS the day went on Tom and I really suffered in the heat, we got hotter and hotter and both had banging headaches by the end of the 10 hours. We kept telling ourselves it was good training for the deserts of America! We had three shifts of supporters who all did a great job in helping us to raise £612.68 on the day. Well chuffed. A little closer to our total everyday.

If you fancy running a small event to help us raise money towards our total please contact Nikki@preventbreastcancer.org.uk , any event small or large will get us near our total. 

James and Tom

479EB571-85B8-4402-9D56-64338DB06C7B

Image 1 of 23

Smile if you like gravel

Last week I had one of the most enjoyable bike rides I’ve had in a long time (probably my 2nd favourite bike ride behind the Lan Las Ogwen trail – an old slate road that connects Bangor to Ogwen Cottage).

Me and James both met up for our normal Sunday ride to batter it around the Peak District. As the weather is still a bit rubbish we are still on our CX bikes which means big chunky tyres and almost go-anywhere-ability. After taking on three or four pretty serious climbs in the Peak District we dropped into Buxton and, after an inspired decision by James, we hit the Monsal Trail.

For those of you who don’t know, the Monsal Trail is an old Railway line that connects Buxton and Bakewell. It has been turned into 8.5 miles of glorious, traffic free gravely trails. The trail cuts right through the heart of the Peaks, cutting out the big climbs of Monsal Head and Worm Hill (thank god) using old railway tunnel networks.

The stress-free riding of traffic-free trails and the added fun of riding through gravel at 20+ mph was enough to put a massive smile on my face, make me forget about the previous hills and 40 miles in the legs and the fact that it was four degrees and raining.

I’ve said this before in a previous blog post, you need to make training fun every now and then – you should be transported back to that first time you step over the top tube of your bike riding to shops for sweets or racing your mates across the park. You should never lose that sense of adventure. As you can clearly see from my little face I had an amazing time.

If I can offer any advice to anyone training for a big event – it’s not all about the numbers and hours on the bike – so get out and plan your next adventure.

Winter training continues

Race Across America is fast approaching. In just over four months we will be in the 40degree heat of California . From the North West of England that sort of heat is unimaginable in January and February. Long rides are hard in the snow and ice and cold, so Tom and I are making the most of the short days. Cycling into work and home twice a week, indoor sessions on Zwift midweek and then a ride together at the weekend.

These rides are a nice chance to catch up on how the preparations are going but also for quality training with a mate. Fat burning – during Race Across America we can’t consume the amount of calories that we will be burning. This means we have to use stored fat as an energy source for the ride. Strange thought that Tom and I are trying to keep some weight on in preparation for it fueling us across America. Fat is a good fuel source for low intensity exercise, at higher intensity, glycogen and stored sugars are the main source. With training you can increase the proportion of fat you burn in relation to carbohydrates. So, that’s why we do a fasted ride on a Sunday morning. Wake up, black coffee for the caffeine (no milk that’s cheating ha) then out of the door. Glycogen stores in the body last about 90 minutes for Tom and I, so we do a 2.5Hour ride on a Sunday morning fasted. That’s essentially an hour of guaranteed pain.

I still remember our first fasted ride ha ha ha, Tom broke first, I was chatting , he wasn’t. By the time we reached breakfast neither of us were talking. The brain needs sugars to work and we had used most of ours. Our awareness and coordination had gone as had our sense of humour. We sat down and had white coffee, even the small amount of sugar in the coffee was enough to make our brains come good. Thirty seconds later we both became hysterical and started giggling and within two minutes we were back to our normal selves. A weird feeling. People talk about “bonking” during a marathon, essentially it’s running out of sugar, we are bonking every Sunday. On purpose!! It’s not pleasant. Nice thing is though, your body gets better at using fat, last time out, same ride, we both felt absolutely fine at the breakfast point and we were both still chatting. Progress. This is key to performing in RAAM. Slow and steady and fat burning will help keep the bonk away. 

And if you want to see how tought training in the winter is check out our latest training video.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to make my training…

So over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to make my training more ‘interesting’. It’s safe to say I’m going through a bit of rough patch. I’ve been training hard for over a year for one single event and sometimes it can be hard to maintain the same pressure (even for an event as big as RAAM). You do get the occasional day of shit i’ve got to ride my bike across america that jolts you back to reality and usually onto the turbo doing the hardest session you can find on Zwift but trying to maintain this motivation can still be difficult (for me anyway). 

I’ve found that the key to maintaining my focus is by scheduling small training treats as a way to keep my training a bit more interesting. Me and James both did this in the winter by taking on some of our local cyclocross races but I’m now itching for my next, small, adventure. 

I’ve been googling mini Manchester to Lands End – Manchester – I thought, how far can I get in 7 days but then sanity provailed and I realised March may not be the right time to ride over 800 miles unsupported. 

I have since been riding my cyclocross bike equipped with gravel tyres (schwalbe G One) which are absolutely incredible and it has completely changed my view on the versatility of the humble bike. I’m itching for my next gravel adventure which could pass has some solid endurance training before the big one, RAAM. I think I’ve found the perfect event, Dirty Reiver. 200km across gravel tracks and trails in Kielder Forest! What more could you ask for?! If you had told me a few years ago that I’d even consider riding 200km in a day, nevermind for fun and offroad I would have laughed in your face but this is what RAAM has done – you get the itch to go to places you’d never normally go and you want to test your new found ultra-fitness. 

For now, I will be riding my gravel bike more, have as much fun as humanly possible on my bike and, importantly, getting my head down in preparation for June. 

If you’re interested in some crazy gravel riding check out their event page – it looks boss! https://www.dirtyreiver.co.uk/