by Steve Bate
(Header image by Joolze Dymond)
It’s simple - just start!
With the Games being shifted to next year, and wondering what my future holds as a 42 year old athlete, I needed a plan fast. My coach Dan reminded me that I’m a goal-focused rider, and now the Games are over 500 days away (again!), I needed a short-term ‘now’ kind of goal. So, with lock down on and no Games, I decided to stay inside and ride Zwift on my turbo. But to make it more challenging, I gave it a purpose. I wondered if I could ride seven hundred miles in a week. I mean, I knew I could physically, pretty much everyone could, if they had a gun pointed at their head. But mentally I wasn’t sure, after all, it’s six hours sat on the turbo each day!
Like all adventures, planning is the key. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got. I figured I’d start riding at 10am every morning which would give me a goal to be ready by a certain time, keeping me disciplined. I’d ride a four-hour block, and if I could average twenty five kilometres per hour, that would give me one hundred kilometres in four hours. Then I’d take a break, eat lunch, change shorts (very important!) and grab a brew to get me going for the afternoon session. At 3pm, I’d climb back on the bike, start turning my legs and ride until I hit the one hundred and sixty one kilometres for the day. In theory it was simple. I also knew that it was important not to get off the bike in those four hours, so I’d need everything at arm’s reach. Food, liquid, phone, and music. Having all of these things around me meant there was no reason to get off, so mentally I knew I was breaking my rules if I did. I was in it for the duration. I was committed!
On the first day I worked stuff out, I wasn’t too hard on myself, aside from being strict with my timings. On the bike at ten, off the bike at two. Then back on and spinning by three. The rest kind of fell into place. Early that morning I’d sorted out my towel and bottles. Set up my laptop and the fan. I’d made some oat balls and rice cakes the previous evening to keep me fuelled during the ride. They were on a plate next to my laptop. Then I set up my camera tripod and found an extension arm that would hold my phone - a bit like what you use in your car. Along with some earphones, this was the key to keeping in touch with people as I rode along. Using earphones blocks out the noise of the turbo, so you can hear people speaking to you. It also means you can be hands-free during video chats.
My goal was always to break the back of the ride, so to speak, in that morning session. I’d clock up between one hundred and ten to one hundred and twenty five kilometres (which was my best block). I found the hardest time mentally was the last hour before lunch. Similar to most things I have done like this, I think it’s because you know you are getting off and you just want it to be over. On day two I had reached one hundred and fifteen kilometres with fifteen minutes to spare, and I battled with myself to stay on for the extra few minutes. I wanted to get off as I had gone further than the previous day, and I figured I could get a longer lunch break, giving me more recovery time, in theory. However I stuck to the plan, rode the four hour block, had my lunch and enjoyed a shorter afternoon session.
It was during day three that I realised I’d never ridden ten one hundred mile days back to back. I’d ridden nine when I took part in the Ride Across Britain in 2017. I saw this as an opportunity to a) beat a personal record and b) ride Land End to John O’Groats in distance. So that was that - I’d ride ten days straight, one thousand miles on my turbo, in the garage - the length of the country. I was also testing some newly-developed product for one of my sponsors (Peaty’s Products), so I asked Bryn if they wanted to run a competition to guess how many miles I’d ride in the week. It just worked out that day one I rode one hundred and sixty one kilometres, and day two was one hundred and sixty two kilometres. I said to Bryn I could just add a kilometre a day to each ride, giving people a pattern to follow and then guess the overall distance, but in miles, just to make it interesting. This gave me a focus and full commitment, as it went online the following Thursday.
By day five I was starting to get sore. My left knee had been giving me a bit of grief, but I’d ridden through that, and it was now my right knee that was bad. A knot had formed in my calf muscle, right up behind my knee. This meant that every time I sat up and took my hands off the bars, a shooting pain would be sent down my leg with each pedal rev. With some ‘off the bike treatment’ (self-massage and stretching), by day seven this had pretty much gone, and I continued on my strict schedule, four hours on, an hour off, then finish the miles.
By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, I’d clocked seven hundred and eighteen miles and Peaty’s had their winner. For everyone else, that was that - little did they know or care that I still had to get up and ride for another three days. By now I had my routine down pat. In the evening, I’d sort everything so it was good to go the following morning: bottles, food, towel etc, and I even got to the point of looking forward to the days ahead. Knowing I was close to achieving this goal, I was joined by friends and team mates Jon Gildea and David Smith. We’d ride along talking on House Party, riding together in the Zwift cycling virtual world side by side, chatting like it was a group ride on a training camp. The hours flew by and the miles grew.
I remember waking up on Wednesday morning knowing it was the last day. I was excited not to get on the turbo the following day, but sad to no longer have the structure and purpose this ride had given me over the past few days. I let my discipline slide a bit on that final day - I was fifteen minute late to get on the turbo, but I wasn’t bothered, I knew these miles were in the bag now. My body adapted to the daily grind, my mind still strong with its purpose, my focus on finishing the job at hand. After lunch I was joined by my coach Dan, to ride the final fifty kilometres to my virtual John O’Groats. Dan drove my support car with my physio Katie for five hundred and one kilometres, when I rode the length of Scotland in a day back in 2018. He messaged me during my final lunch break to say if I dropped him after riding one thousand miles he’d be having words. This was never an issue as we hit the virtual John O’Groats sign post and dipped our toes in the chilly North Sea. Another goal ticked off, and target achieved. The bonus about actually not being stood below that famous sign post in the north this time, was the fact that the trip home was pretty quick.
I’d like to thank Sonder Bikes, Peaty’s Products, Hunt Bike Wheels, Elliot Brown Watches and Happy Bottom Bum Butter for supporting this adventure during lockdown. Thanks also to British Cycling and Zwift. If you have any questions about this ride or you are thinking about trying this and want to get in touch for any advice, drop me a message on instagram here @stevebatembe