On riding for 24 hours: Discipline got us there!


Two weekends ago I embarked on quite an adventure, even by my endurance athlete standards. A 24-hour solo bike ride around Brands Hatch race course. Before I head into the gory details, the short of it was that the result was 3rd female soloist, over 18 hours moving, 108 laps and circa 20,000 calories burnt. Mileage was 262. And let’s also get one thing straight: this was the hardest thing I have ever done. I went to places I didn’t even know existed. Full Ironmans are a walk in the park compared to this and the fact I still believe that two weeks later is a firm indicator its true.

I had already written in the days before about the enormous military mission that we were about to embark on and so when we arrived at the track, already feeling a little bedraggled, it’s easy to understand why for the first time in my life I had chills down my spine. I have never had that before in a race setting. Immediately I went to my default race philosophy, one also used by the cyclist Geraint Thomas: “Convince yourself that none of it matters, even when it matters more than anything you will ever know”.

I’d been training and looking forward to this since Janaury 2017 but at 2pm on the Saturday afternoon before the 3pm start I just could not get my head around the fact that this was the last hour before I would be getting on my bike for 24 hours. N.B. It was called something less polite than a bike after about 10 hours of riding.

So, here are the high/low lights:

At 4pm (the first hour!) it absolutely tipped it down. Wet and cold rider. First kit trashed and needed to be worn for 5 more hours.

After dry clothes at 6pm (I couldn’t wait any longer) I rode for about 3 hours which was pretty non-eventual really as there was too much further to go. In the zone.

9-10pm I could see our plan was working and I was starting to make progress up the field as others tired so I decided to keep pushing into the night.

11pm brought a big smile, as I left the paddock for my next one and a quarter hours stint my Dad put my freshly charged lights on my bike and said, “See you tomorrow”, as I wouldn’t be back until after midnight. That genuinely brought home what we were doing.

2am. Delirious. I remember going to the toilet, I didn’t need to, it was just something to do rather than ride my bike. The whole thing was all starting to feel a little odd. My eyes were blood shot and stinging, and I felt so spaced out I could barely manage to even open the door handle to the toilets, let alone hold a conversation.

Sometime during the early hours, my dad also joked that “We are going home today!” that made it feel temporarily better too.

3-4am past delirium, now into “The waking dead” shift. The coldest part of the night and pedalling without even knowing I was doing it. After the tenth jam sandwich I realised I never wanted another. I was also approaching the point of never wanting to ride my bike again. Ever.

4.58 am I couldn’t take anymore. Yes, I remember the exact minute! Because my body was spending all my calories keeping warm, I was just getting too tired and could have easily slept on my bike. It was getting really quite manic because of the fog, lack of visibility and slippery track. So I sat in the car with the intension of 20 minutes sleep. After just 5 minutes I got such bad cramp in my legs and was shivering so profusely that I called it a day. “Up you get, back on that thing”. Relentless.

8am – Breakfast! One’s sense of taste and appetite after so much food and sugar tends to go a bit crazy. So I had cold chicken noodles. Delicious and perfect to take us up until lunch.  The fog was at last lifting and so I could dispense of lights and my headlight. Good job.

At about 1.30pm my Mum had managed to work out that if I could do 10 more laps then I would secure 3rd place and that became my mission. Once done I had a brief sleep on a cold concrete floor at 2pm, before heading out for the final time at 2.20pm for 40 minutes of victory laps.

When the chequered flag came down at 3pm that was one very proud moment. In a flash all the bad bits had been forgotten and the gushing moments of pleasure from being an endurance athlete came flooding back. Pure elation and very surreal.

The recovery?

Well, that was all very fun. The legs were a bit sore but nothing in compared to my self-diagnosed “endurance-flu”. I often get it in events more than 12 hours and it goes along the lines of a sore throat, indigestion from so much sports energy stuff, dehydration, sick, headache, groggy, sleep deprived and generally feeling rotten. And Oh My God. Blood sugar crashes like never before. In the three days post riding, I ate the world. Given the calorie and sleep deficit, recovery necessitated a very managed approach with light riding but all is good now!

I won’t lie, I was disappointed with the mileage, a cyclist of my ability should be heading for at least 350 miles. Of course, there are a huge number of factors to take into account but I firmly believe in warmer and flatter conditions then I would get closer to that. I am minded to do another attempt early next summer but I can’t drag my parents through that again. The poor souls! I will be needing a hand. The job description includes (in no order of importance): stay awake for 24 hours, charge Garmin, feed and water rider, pain relief, provide and dry clothes, keep tabs on distance, sort out mechanicals, monitor and charge lights, be visible to me when riding and do the transport stuff. Contact me if interested!

Ultimately, regardless of my moaning about the mileage, this was a pretty big achievement. If there’s one thing that got us to the end, and on the podium, it was good ole fashioned discipline and consistency. I rode for 75 minutes with 5-10 minute breaks for 24 hours. Although the “breaks” were hardly rests, I don’t remember sitting down with a cup of tea chilling during any of those. I was busy shoving a little food in, changing clothes at 6 hours, keeping tabs on battery in lights and garmin, and massaging my feet. However bad I was feeling, we rarely changed anything unless absolutely essential to the performance. No big sprints or efforts, just plod all day long, literally.

I should have done this first but I owe a massive thanks to all of those who dragged me through the night in what turned out to be one of the hardest things I’ve done. You will never know how much those words and support helped me. An equal giant thanks to my parents. If my job was hard, then I feel damn sure they had it harder. I was kept awake fuelled by an inordinate amount of sugar and adrenaline and a bit between my teeth to just get the job done. They just had to drag themselves through the night working their hardest for a cyclist.

That’s almost certainly me done racing until next February/March, I’ll be back soon with something other than race reports and promise to keep developing and updating my page during the darkest months.

I need your help? 24-hour bike ride starts tomorrow! 

At 3pm tomorrow I will climb on my bike at Brands Hatch race circuit and then continue to ride it until 24 hours have passed and it is Sunday at 3pm. Some people will be doing 6 hours, some 12 and some 24. Some will share those blocks of time with others. Not me. I’m going “solo”. That means I’ll be doing all 24 hours powered by my own legs and energy, with my two static domestiques in the paddy.

With recent events riding for GB and the ongoing foot saga I have briefly considered not riding, I couldn’t do a shorter distance or time because that wouldn’t give me anymore satisfaction than not riding at all. The answer is all or nothing.

The biggest problem is the foot pain, although it is slowly improving. After all, my decision to ride became easy and very clear when I was out running in Spain. The issue is not a fitness one, whilst I only have just over 4000 miles cycling in the bag this year, I know that’s not my concern. My legs are just fine and my capacity for endurance has never been in question for years. I’m the kind of idiot who could do an ironman tomorrow without really doing focused training. So it’s not an injury per se, it’s more being uncomfortable and hurting but there’s not necessarily any damage going on. At least not that has been seen during assessments.

OK then, what’s our mission? 24 hours exercising pain management. The plan? Drugs. After that? 50 minutes on, 10 minutes off, repeat 24 times. This is the team contract (Note that Charlie has a shorter list!):


And here is the huge list of kit:


So where do you guys come in? I need your support, messages, insults, whatever. Just help me keep going round and round when I’ve bonked, got a mangled head or crying with pain. Or if you see average speed slipping give me an arse kicking for that too. You can use Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, walls, text messages, whatever you choose. If you send me stuff in the hours of darkness then you’ll get extra points. Regardless, everything single one of those words will be meaningful and very much appreciated by me and I’ll owe you big time. I will get messages on my Garmin bike computer and on my phone in my breaks.

Also send love to the support team who are my parents and who are dead looking forward to a night without sleep watching their mental daughter ride around a track continuously whilst being her lackey.

You can track me here:


And as I have already said, I am doing the solo for 24 hours and racing number 271 .

I’ve known a year about this and I’m still floundering the night before with kit, of course. Standard hurricane Charlie. That means I need to sign off and panic now but I’m going to learn a lot about myself this weekend and will write a more intellectual post after.

For the win.









What happened last weekend? I asked the wrong questions, but still proud as!


Last weekend I travelled to Albi in the South of France and rode in the World Championships and for my country for the first time. In short, we had an amazing time and waxed lyrical about the place and GB camaraderie from Friday until Monday morning when we left. That was the case despite a disappointing race on Sunday. I finished and now have a world ranking of 46th but it did not go to plan. I was dropped off the main pack after 20 miles due to excruciating pain in both feet.

When I was first motivated to write about being an academic athlete the idea was prompted by Marty P when we were chatting over tea about the difficulties of early career research or research in general. Of course, closely connected was the notion of rejection, the painful and hurty bit and this was one of the direct things that we were discussing and how being an athlete may help academic life.

But, things can also go wrong in sport too and I’d known from the beginning of starting this blog that one of the closest interfaces circumventing both realms is dealing with defeat or rejection (talk about the words later) and how my worlds support each other. And then telling you lot about it. I didn’t know when that moment of writing about the less nice bits would come, but I knew they would and this would be a very incomplete blog and idea if I just wrote the rosy bits down, right?

Here comes the story/excuses.

I have been playing with my shoe and bike set up recently to try and eradicate foot pain. It had been going on for a while but getting progressively worse during the season and through the roof bad in the three weeks leading up to Albi, though long term should get better.

So, why was I grumpy about finishing a World Champs race towards the back, even though I had been in so much pain?

Because I was having to ask the wrong questions. I spent my time querying foot pain, asking why my feet hurt so much when ultimately, I wanted to be asking my body what it was capable of doing in its fittest state of my life. Nine months into the year I had ridden almost 4000 miles. One way to describe racing is a bit like when normal (don’t know what that means) people start exercising again after a period of time. It hurts, not necessarily painful like an injury, but the exertion feels very uncomfortable, heart rate up, muscles straining, lungs burning etc. However, when one is deflecting pain in the body (rather than exerting themselves) it becomes very difficult to push your body to its physiological limits. I was bursting with fitness but I couldn’t answer the questions myself and my legs wanted to find the answers to. i.e. how fast can they go and for how long? The reason I race!

I had succumbed to the biggest rookie error: doing something new or different on race day. It couldn’t have all been avoided but an easier pair of shoes could have helped and I didn’t travel with them. The temperature was 37 degrees which makes my feet worse but I couldn’t turn that down and was enjoying the tan anyway.

And what else went wrong?

I wrecked the balance of academia and athlete. I hadn’t slept properly for weeks due to writing, with 3-4 hours a night being the norm. Whilst less sleep may equate to more deep work and writing (good!), it also means a tired Charlie who still has to train (probably at 5.15am) on those few hours sleep. These things have to work together, not against each other. A firm lesson to be taken back from work/life balance here. Agreed, sometimes deadline chaos happens, and having sleep apnoea and being on excellent medication it means my sleep pattern is very well in sync and can take it. I can get away with one complete sleep cycle of 4 hours for a night or two and I can still race at the top of my game. In fact, I do that for nearly every triathlon due to race starts often being at 6am, but the clear message is that I cannot make an enduring pattern of that. It’s not an excuse because I should have known better but I can’t imagine that it helped.

Writing this a week after the event I have had time to see how my emotions and reflections on it have changed. It might not sound it from the above but I am overall very happy to have finished and extremely proud to have ridden for my country. In the days after the event you would have found me pretty miserable and that was because I was very tired and more worried about the long-term prospect of what might be going down with my feet. I have trained this week but today was my first outside ride and in short it was better. OK, I have had a fair bit of painkiller, but, I am sat writing this after 100 miles (of sublime power and cadence) and my feet seem a bit more settled. There’s a long way to go but it was amazing to experience the endorphins and be reminded of why I ride.

Just in case you might be wondering, my application for the qualification ride for 2018 is already in.

Yours in health and fitness.