A Guinness World Record

This summer, a group of 12 cyclists set a new Guinness World Record from Land’s End to John o’Groats as a relay team. The team included TORQ owner Matt Hart, along with a few other TORQ compadres and here Matt gives his account of events as they unfolded.

On 2nd March 2021, I was contacted out of the blue by a former racing adversary, Steven Price, enquiring after nutritional sponsorship for a World Record attempt. A few days later I was involved in the attempt myself and went on to enlist the help of James Emery, the TORQ Triathlon team manager, TORQ resident Sports Scientist Marcus Willday and Mark Turnbull, one of TORQ’s legendary performance athletes.

Steve and I raced Pro/Elite Mountain Biking together back in the 90’s and although we always wanted to beat each other, we were great friends and travelled the length and breadth of the country, often sharing accommodation and expenses. We had lost touch over the last 15 years or so due to family commitments and living at opposite ends of the country, but 2021 turned into a fantastic reunion, working on a fitness performance project, but this time for our own mutual benefits. Steve initially enquired about nutritional support – could we help fuel this attempt – and then followed this question up with ‘…and do you know of any good riders?’ I reckoned that in theory I should be as good as Steve and therefore if he was up for the challenge, then so should I?

I took my place on the team and invited TORQ Triathlon Team manager James Emery to join us too. He jumped at the opportunity as it gave him a solid goal to focus on after a year of being locked-down due to Covid restrictions. James and I are also old racing adversaries, but this time it was on Time Trial rather than Mountain Bikes. It had been around 7 years since we’d competed, but back then we regularly attended 10-mile time trials together where we’d often get high placings (often 1st and 2nd) separated by a few seconds either way. As this World Record attempt would require us to be on fully aero time trial bikes, James was a huge asset to the team as this really was his bag. James and I attended a number of time trials for the 6 weeks leading up to the attempt to condition ourselves and just like the good old days, by the time World Record weekend arrived, once again only a few seconds separated us in a 10-mile time trial. We were back!

We wrote about Mark Turnbull’s epic TORQ-Fuelled National 24-Hour title attempt on these pages a couple of years ago. He’s a hugely talented time trialist over a variety of distances, so we viewed him as our trump card and we were hugely appreciative that he agreed to ride with us.

Marcus Willday runs our Fitness Consultancy and keeps TORQ up to date with the latest research developments. He generously agreed to support the team by driving a TORQ backup van, doubling up as a substitute in case there were any mechanicals/issues. Suffice to say, he was called upon and did get to test his legs during the event!

I’d never met the other riders on the team and as we were in lockdown, we made our introductions virtually over Zoom/Teams. The whole event was the brainchild of Adam Hinds who runs a great company called Life Proven who help real estate developers to build properties that benefit the health and wellbeing of their occupants. During Covid lockdown he decided that he wanted to get himself a World Record and he came up with a variety of whimsical ideas and the one that stuck was the challenge of riding Land’s End to John o’Groats (LEJOG) non-stop as a relay team. It was a format that had never been attempted before, so Adam set about asking Guinness World Records (GWR) how we could go about it and what the time standard would be. Guinness set a maximum time standard of 50 hours for our attempt to be verified and qualify as a World Record. Team member and logistics supremo Tom Read did a few calculations and set us an extremely challenging 40-hour target, 10 hours faster than the time set for us by GWR.

None of us, aside from Mark Turnbull, were athletes at the pinnacle of our careers and Adam himself took up cycling for the first time during lockdown, having sustained a career-ending rugby injury. We were a bunch of normal, albeit fit, blokes with a shared desire to achieve something spectacular and raise some money for charity along the way. We all focused and trained incredibly hard and put hours of work into figuring out the logistics – it’s not until you stop to think about how to execute such a challenge that you realise how much could go wrong! Prior planning would be absolutely critical to the success of this project, because we would need to perform rolling changes, provide mechanical backup, collect significant amounts of video evidence for GWR and allow time for the riders to recover and take on essential nutrition.

We decided to split the 12 riders into 4 groups of 3 with each one tackling a different section of the country. This allowed all 12 riders to discuss overall tactics weekly and share ideas during weekly online meetings, whilst each sub-group could work at a macro level to ensure that the detail was taken care of, including understanding the route and which rider was going to do which leg. Our sub-group of myself, Steve Price and James Emery were lucky enough to have the final leg from Perth to John o’Groats. Lucky, because we got to ride into John o’Groats and be at the finish line and also navigation was really easy for us, because we pretty much sat on the A9 all the way through Scotland. This allowed us to focus on our riding without having to worry too much about navigation. That said, I have to say that this was probably one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life! We’d planned and planned and planned, yet there were still high levels of uncertainty. So many ‘what if’s?’ We all woke up early on ‘Race Day’ and couldn’t get back to sleep, turning over in our minds all the potential issues we might have. We’d planned to control the controllable, but it was the uncontrollable that had us on tenterhooks! What if I have a puncture? What if I can’t find my changeover point? What if we let everyone else down?

Sub-group 1 set off from Land’s End at first light very early on Saturday morning 26th June. We didn’t drive to Perth from TORQ HQ (Welsh borders) until Saturday lunchtime, so the whole thing felt surreal – our team mates were hammering out the miles before we even woke up on Saturday morning and we’d get another night’s sleep in before the baton finally got handed over to us on the Sunday. We seemed to luck-out with the timing too as the scheduled time for handover was around 9:30am on Sunday. How very civilised.

The first quarter of the country (Land’s End to Bristol) was ridden beautifully, getting the team to the sub-group 1/2 changeover point a whole hour ahead of schedule. This was incredible and the guys had emptied the tanks to put us in this position. Sub-group 2 then took over and these guys had some serious challenges ahead. The timing of their leg couldn’t have been worse with the Saturday afternoon traffic and they had to carve their way through some of the busiest spots on the route. Additionally, this team had two of the strongest riders in Mark Turnbull and Craig Jackson and between them they dovetailed 1 hour on/1 hour off between Bristol and the Lake District, which was a huge amount of work to do regardless of how able they were as athletes. Marcus hit the road for their final leg to hand over to sub-group 3, but by now through no fault of their own, they were an hour down on the schedule.

The third quarter from Keswick in the Lakes to Perth in Scotland would involve the riders battling through the night. Fortunately, we had great support from Exposure Lights who supplied their extremely high quality lighting and bespoke brackets to fit under our aero bars. The riders fought hard and delivered an incredible performance so that when the baton was handed over to us in Scotland, we were 10 minutes ahead of schedule – they had made up over an hour through the night. The baton by the way was a GPS device, wrapped in bubble wrap, stuck inside a drinks bottle and it recorded our entire journey.

The baton was passed to us and first off was James Emery who had a scorching first leg, averaging around 25mph, which pushed us further ahead of schedule. Steve Price went next with most of his leg being a long gradual climb, which didn’t allow for a great average speed, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t delivering a similar power output to James and I. Just over half of my first leg was a long gradual descent allowing for a really high average speed (I did this leg because James and I had the fastest, most aero set-ups and James wanted to go first – I think he knew how nervous we’d all be). Despite a few lumps over the 2nd part of the stage, I managed to average over 27mph. It was great to have the support of an old school friend living in Scotland during this leg who got this footage as I rode past, advising that I should “GIVE IT SOME WELLY!”

My first effort was a 30-mile stint, which took me a little over an hour to do and it wasn’t without drama! My saddle moved whilst I was riding, tilting it to a more upright position, which really isn’t a good thing when time-trialling in a low position. It caused me significant pain for the last quarter of the effort as it trapped my sciatic nerve. I couldn’t stop (obviously), so had to push through it, but this left me pretty broken by the time I’d finished my stage and I actually questioned (much to the horror of Adam and Tom) whether I would be able to continue? Was it one of those uncontrollable issues I’d been worrying about? Whether it was or wasn’t, fortunately I recovered sufficiently over the next couple of hours to enable me to get back on the bike again.

As our day progressed, the terrain got much more challenging and for my last but 1 leg, I had to use every gear I had even though I was actually running a mountain bike cassette on my rear wheel. Up the toughest climb, I was sitting at about 4mph, which contrasted with up to 50mph on the downs. All three of us physically buried ourselves and other than my little fiasco on leg 1, the logistics worked faultlessly and our sub-team gained some significant time on the schedule. By the time we reached John o’Groats we had smashed the 40-hour barrier and we registered an official time with GWR of 38 hours 54 minutes and 22 seconds.

The entire journey was satellite-tracked and we really caught the imagination of those following us on our challenge. We had numerous comments from people who had enjoyed the weekend’s entertainment of ‘dot watching’ as they saw the team move slowly but surely up through the country. We also raised over £13k for our nominated charity Jigsaw South East and would like to thank everyone who donated to support us.

Adam sent our evidence to GWR, which included, along with much other detail, a 2-minute video every hour demonstrating our changeovers and progress, plus a GPX file showing tracking data from the first pedal stroke to the last. On Friday 10th September, the it was officially announced by GWR that we had the World Record.

The web page officially stating our achievement can be viewed here:

www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/99709-fastest-journey-from-lands-end-to-john-o-groats-by-bicycle-relay-team

I would personally like to thank every member of the team. I have told my story here, but everyone will have had their own highs and lows throughout the 39-hour journey and all of their memories will be as poignant as mine. A huge thank you to Steve for inspiring me to do this, to Adam for having such a fine idea in the first place and doing all the admin with GWR. Also, a massive thank you to Tom who coordinated all of the logistics and made it happen.

Finally, we’d all like to say thank you to those who supported us and gave us words of encouragement along the way, including my mate Chris who stood at the side of the road near Aviemore filming and ringing cowbells! It was an epic effort from all of us and I’m extremely lucky to have been a part of it – plus I’m now the very proud owner of my very own Guinness World Record certificate.

If you would like to read the article we published ahead of the World Record attempt, click HERE.

If you would like to learn about the unique plan we had for fuelling this attempt with TORQ products, click HERE.

If you would like to discuss the TORQ products we used during this event or for a specific challenge that you might have, don’t hesitate in contacting us to discuss at enquiries@torqfitness.co.uk or 0345 332 0852.