Monday, 22 September 2014

Pushing new limits - Thruxton100 ElliptiGO race report

Well it's being quite a start to September with two major ElliptiGO rides having taken place. We live so much of our life through Social Media these days that I'm starting to wonder where a post race blog fits into it all? I was taking photos and posting updates on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter before, during and after with the (self-imposed) pressure to provide live updates to folk that (may) be interested.
However a blog presents an opportunity to reach out to a different audience that is more interested in the detail rather than just a quick sound byte that disappears within an instant. It also allows me to relive the moment and capture it for future learning, reflection and posterity. So anyway with that here's a walk through (or should that be ride through!) of the Thruxton 100 where I was attempting to break the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for 100 miles on an ElliptiGO (5:50), which took place at Thruxton Racing Circuit in Hampshire on the 7th September

I'd waited over a year to ride the Thruxton 100 event. In 2013 I had an entry and training was going really well (mostly because I was in build up for Western States and UTMB). But British Cycling who despite their name, clearly don't understand what's happening in cycling (in the broadest sense) banned all non-traditional cycles from the event which included ElliptiGOs. Another one of those organisations run by a few at the top completely out of touch with the modern scene. Anyway rant over and happily Action Medical Research who organise the Thruxton 100 ended their association with BC (good on them!!) and ElliptiGO were back in! :-) And so 18 months later from when I first registered for this ride (always with the intent of having a crack at the ElliptiGO 100m FKT here I was. That kinda raised the bar a little as to expectations on what I might achieve but in my heart of hearts I felt that I wasn't anywhere near the fitness levels that I reached in 2013. Back then I PBed at the Half Marathon in 1:20 and now I'd be lucky to run 1:30! But endurance riding on the ElliptiGO isn't quite the same as road racing on foot and I just hoped I could perform on the day and see what happens. One thing for sure is that I was going to give it 110% for all 42 laps of the 2.4 mile circuit. And if I fall short so be it but I would fail having given it by very best shot.

As just described the format was very simple and I liked it this way. All that stood between me and glory was 42 laps of the smoothest (so I'm told) racing circuit in the UK. But significantly though it's not he flattest either with a noticeable rise in elevation in the final part of the lap. I arrived the evening before to take in the surprisingly low key atmosphere. There was a 24 hour event taking place side by side the 100 mile alternative. Ride24 was the main event with the Thruxton100 just a side show. I had the choice of four different start times and opted for the last one starting at 6am on the Sunday which coincided with the last 6 hours of the Ride24 event. There were a few reasons for this choice.... I'm definitely a morning person and I hoped having ridden for 18 hours already that the soloists, pairs and team of cyclists in Ride24 would be knackered and provide me with a target and the motivation I need to whip around the circuit :-)

I slept track side in my small pop up tent and had an ok nights sleep although did get up at 3am to wander over to the start/finish straight to see the riders push on through the early hours. Impressive stuff! It wouldn't be long before it was my turn. My strategy for fuelling my FKT attempt was simple - get in a full english breakfast one hour before I set off! It didn't touch the sides and I was soon in a mild panic at 5:45 still getting the ElliptiGO race ready having also had a quick massage to warm up the muscles. There was no warm up lap so I would be straight into the required pace from the very start.

I had no time to reflect or walk through in my mind what I was about to be doing. I rushed over to the start at 5:55 to file in line with about 10 other cyclists. Sarah the AMR race director briefly talked through the race format but I was too busy fiddling with the Strava app on my iPhone and Garmin. I wanted to make doubly sure I recorded this one (and it's a good thing I did as you will see later). At exactly 6am we were off. Obviously no one else knew what I was attempting and quite frankly it wouldn't mean too much to them even if they did. So there was a real feeling of being both on the track with other riders whilst at the same time being totally alone in my endeavour. I loved it. My pace strategy was to ride as evenly as possible from start to finish. To break the current 5:50 record I'd need to maintain an average speed of 17.5 mph so that was my target pace. I'd hoped and expected that this pace would come easy in the first half as I was fresh and would (just) require me to dig deep to hold on in the later stages. That didn't happen and my first few laps were below the required pace already. I couldn't believe it! I wanted to start conservatively to save something for the second half but the required pace simply didn't allow this. I had to ride hard from the start. There was no safety cushion or room for error.

I was having a lot fun out there!
When working in averages it wasn't a case of significantly increasing my pace or getting carried away. I just had to up my effort my a few percent to up the pace. It wasn't too significant now but I had no idea what it would feel like in 50 or 75 miles. The 2.4 mile lap was varied and kept me fully engaged. After the flat start/finish straight (Gear 11 - top gear) the circuit climbs ever so slightly (Gear 10) whilst curving left before a quick right and left that starts to descend ever so slightly. It then curves right for a long series of sweeping curves (Gear 11). The wind in the early stages could be felt the most on this section but wasn't significant. The circuit then swings right and descends for the quickest most thrilling section with a long sweeping bend reaching the lowest point on the circuit. What goes down must though go up! And the climb (Gear 10 and then Gear 9) was the slowest part of the course. At the top of the ascent you reached the tightest section on the circuit with a right / left / right chicane before finishing the lap and starting all over.

Thruxton Racing Circuit - 2.4 miles
So that was what I did for lap after lap after lap. Clearly there's no point in relaying all 42 laps (you will be relived to know!). But what I want to try and convey is the intensity of the ride and effort throughout. It was intense but in a great way. I was so focused and concentrated so hard on everything I was doing. Keeping every gear change as smooth as possible and ensuring my effort was as even as possible. 

The scare of the first few laps and my lower than required record pace settled and my average steadily climbed from below 17mph to 17.2 and soon 17.5. Every lap from there on after was about maintaining equilibrium and doing nothing different. Just going through the motions whilst staying focused and keeping the intensity high. My average pace continued to rise however and soon I found myself riding and maintaining a 17.8mph pace. It was decision time on whether I felt this effort was sustainable for another 80 or so miles or whether I needed to back off. I assessed how I felt and couldn't really see a need to back off at this stage. I felt great and was thoroughly enjoying myself so I didn't want to change anything. From then on it was just a case of subconsciously reassessing my effort on every lap and making micro adjustments accordingly. 
Looking very relaxed which is the only way to ride
As I hit 50 miles my average pace increased further and now I'd hit 18 mph. I used the 25/50/75 milestones (on my garmin) to mentally tick off each part of the race and look at the total time. At 50 miles I wanted to clock 2:50 so when I rolled through at 2:45 I was pretty excited and was already doing the simple maths to work out a realistic finish time. I couldn't believe how well the first half had gone and just prayed that the second half would go equally well and that I could maintain the same pace or at least not completely implode.

Clearly things were going to get more difficult not easier as the miles and laps ticked by. That's of course an inevitable part of riding a 100 miles. I just kept looking at the Garmin on every lap expecting the 18mph average pace to drop but it didn't. The toughest test in the second half came not from the miles but from the strengthening wind. Now I'm not talking here about anything hugely significantly but it was still strong enough to know that I was having to put in extra effort to maintain the same average speed. I continued looking at the Garmin and the speed still didn't drop. 

I could very occasionally get in the slip-stream of other riders whilst I fiddle with the Garmin 
It was time to think about nutrition for the ride. I basically had a few Cliff bars and shot blocks in my rear pockets. Because the intensity was so constant throughout I knew I wouldn't eat too much on the ride but needed something to keep my energy stores topped up from the big breakfast. So basically throughout the ride I ate one cliff bar and about 6 cliff shot blocks. Those things are awesome and way better than sticky gooey gels when riding! I don't often eat such things at all but for this ride it did call for something easily digestible that would deliver a quick release of energy just enough to keep me GOing strong.

And so we got to the business end of the ride and the last 25 miles. Now it was all about holding it together and hoping nothing dramatic happened e.g. A puncture or mechanical failure of the hub (this was the first proper ride on my now functioning 11-speed Alfine Hub which had given me so much grief for weeks prior to this event). I just carried on doing what I was doing and did allow myself to enjoy what was unfolding and what looked like being a new ElliptiGO record far quicker than I could ever have hoped or dreamed of.

The Hill!!! Doesn't look much but in the second half I could feel it!
A note at this point on the actual race format and the 42 laps that I needed to cover. There was nothing that told me what lap I was on as I crossed the start/finish line. Therefore I was just going on the distance being recorded on my Garmin. However 42 laps wasn't exactly 100 miles and was over-distance and worst still the timing system for the whole event was suffering from technical difficulties. What this lead to in the final laps was not knowing exactly what lap I was on and how many left I would therefore need to ride to officially finish the event. This really started playing on my mind and was the only stressful part of the entire ride. I knew I could trust the Garmin on it's accuracy to record the distance but the organisers were an unknown. 

It was also in these late closing stages with less than 5 laps to go (10 miles) that for the first time my legs were REALLY starting to feel it. Despite this and because I was getting close to the end I had upped the pace and my average speed was now 18.1mph. I was giving it everything I had whilst still keeping things smooth. I hit 100 miles on what must have been 41.5 laps. I allowed myself a moment to celebrate and stopped my Garmin on 5:32. Wow that's frigging crazy I thought to myself in utter disbelief that I had managed to maintain that pace throughout. 

But the hard work wasn't over and I still had at least another lap to ride as I didn't want to take any risks. This is when it got really interesting. It's as if because my brain knew it had completed the 100 miles that the job was done, and all of a sudden my legs completely lost power. It was simply unbelievable to feel and sense in the space of just 1/2 mile going from super strong to having to fight really hard just to maintain forward momentum. I reached what I thought was the end of lap 42 but a board held up for me by someone at the start/finish line indicated I had another lap to go. No way!!! I was completely gone but had no choice but to carry on. It was a struggle and meant I couldn't really celebrate or feel good about the ride as I now just wanted it to end. That last lap felt like it took the effort of the last 42 combined. Of course like everything it was soon over as I climbed up towards the finish straight for the last time and pulled right into the pitlane area where I rolled across the timing mat and came to a finish. 

Celebrating on the last few laps
Now I could relax and enjoy the moment and get off the ElliptiGO for the first time in a very hard 5 and 1/2 hours of riding on the edge. A few spectators and marshals came over to congratulate me on finishing the 100. Of course they had no idea of the significance to me of the time. But this wasn't a ride where I was looking for some kind of external validation of my performance. This was a personal goal that I had set myself some 18 months prior to this day and it felt so damn good to accomplish that goal in way I had never quite imagined. 

Mission Thruxton Accomplished!
The end of the Thruxton 100 coincided with the end of the whole Ride24 event too and so at exactly midday everyone has finished and was soon off the circuit. They even opened up lots of champagne in true 'racing' tradition and damn it tasted so good. 

And so that was that. I had set a new FKT for the 100 mile distance taking 18 minutes off the previous record finishing in 5:32.34 (my official finishing time). I know it won't stand forever but it's a great feeling to set the bar higher and I hope that this effort will spur others to give this distance a good crack. Other stats of the ride was a total elevation gain of 2, 183 feet.

Garmin Connect File of the ride here

All Official ElliptiGO Records

And I must also mention an amazing performance by Carrie Hook who rode the 100 on the Saturday on her ElliptiGO in her very first 100 mile event and set a new women's record of 7:18. Way to GO Carrie! :-)

Carrie and I after she set a new female World Record on the Saturday


  1. Incredible feat Stu! Thanks for taking the time to share this all with us. It has inspired me to do more distance on my GO. You're a true trail blazer! Keep up the great work!

  2. Haha… You will never forget that last lap! Years ahead of talking about it over drinks with friends and fans! BRAVO so much Stu! They would have found me dead in the middle of the road after only a few laps at that kind of pace loll ;-)

  3. Cheers guys. Scott - the only trail I've been blazing since the ride has been straight to the kitchen cupboard for cake and biscuits! lol