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Record has stood since 1966

The record for riding Land’s End to John O’Groats by tandem is one of cycling’s most enduring. On May 3 2014, Dominic Irvine and Glenn Longland will set out to crack the mark of 50 hours 14 minutes and 25 seconds set in 1966 by Pete Swinden and John Withers.

A typical End-to-End touring ride takes about ten days, though riders doing it for fun usually take a longer route than the 840-mile track Irvine and Longland will use.

The solo men’s record is just over 40 hours (40:04:20, set in 2001 by Gethin Butler) so on paper the tandem record looks vulnerable, tandems usually being faster than solo bikes.

In practice, it’s not so easy. Olympic rower-turned-endurance cyclist James Cracknell has tried to break both the men’s record (with Jerone Walters) and the mixed record (with Rebecca Romero) and failed both times.

In 2012, Irvine and Ian Rodd rode the full distance, but missed the record by more than eight hours after Irvine became ill early in the ride. They are thought to be the only team to have ridden the distance non-stop since Swinden and Withers.

After that attempt, Irvine described the record as “unfinished business” and now he’s back with one of the legends of British time trialling, Glenn Longland.

Longland was the first rider to average more then 25mph in a 12-hour time trial when he set a record of 300.8 miles in 1991 on the way to winning the British Best All-Rounder time trial title for the second time.

As well as an endurance cyclist, Dominic is a motivational speaker and facilitator and is all about ‘Maverick Thinking’ - examining how ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

After his 2012 attempt on the record, he said: “It’s really great, isn’t it, as an ordinary person, not a superstar, not an Olympian, to take on an extraordinary challenge, and just see if you can do it.”

Irvine and Longland hooked up after Ian Todd decided another crack at the record was not for him, and Irvine put the word out that he needed a partner.

On his blog, Irvine wrote: “Glenn’s a legend, and living proof that age is just a number. At 57 years of age his prowess on a bike is simply phenomenal. We had our first century ride together a few weekends ago. If you were riding a sportive in and around Pewsey and Upavon, my apologies, you weren't slow, it’s just we were in the groove and flying. It bodes well, really well for the next attempt.”

Talking about his latest attempt on the Land’s End to John O’Groats tandem record, Irvine said: “I like to practice what I preach and I am a prime example of someone ordinary accomplishing something extraordinary.  With dedication and training, myself and Glenn have a real shot at breaking this record and we’re very excited for things to get going.”

Irvine and Longland will be using the attempt to raise money for Heart Research UK’s ‘Helping Little Hearts’ campaign.

Irvine said: “Having spent a number of years helping young people make the most of their potential through sport, and with several members of my own family benefitting from the improvements in heart surgery, supporting 'helping little hearts' as part of HRUK seems a particularly appropriate focus.”

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

11 comments

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thelimopit [144 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm sure there's a Legoland pun in that title somewhere, but it's too early for me to work out where.

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kcr [154 posts] 3 years ago
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Gethin Butler's record is actually just over 44 hours: http://www.rra.org.uk I think he carried on riding to set a 1000 mile record as well!

Andy Wilkinson did a 41 in a Windcheetah recumbent, and might have gone sub 40 without a mechanical problem.
Worth noting that Wilkinson and Lynne Taylor also set a mixed tandem record that is just over an hour behind the 1966 men's record.

So the men's record is definitely due to be updated, but riding that sort of distance is a journey into a whole different world. Good luck to them!

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Simon_MacMichael [2477 posts] 3 years ago
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kcr wrote:

Gethin Butler's record is actually just over 44 hours: http://www.rra.org.uk I think he carried on riding to set a 1000 mile record as well!

Did he swap to a pedalo?

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Cycling Goldsmith [3 posts] 3 years ago
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As the son of the current holder (Pete Swinden) I have a keen interest in this attempt, and although I applaud anyone who has a go at this crazy sort of thing I would like to point out my father was not an Olympian, was a regular club cyclist (in fact he still rides over 100 miles each week at 78) He and John both dedicated about 6 years of their lives to breaking records, most of which were seen as "warm ups" to the End to End attempt, they still hold 6 records including the Birmingham to York and Back, the Birmingham to Holyhead and back, (which they broke twice) and also the 1000 miles. They just trained very hard, regularly putting in 200 to 300 miles on the tandem over the weekend and often going on overnight rides to get the miles in. Nutrition was based around bread pudding and marmite sandwiches, warm sweet tea and sugary milk.

When they set their record in 1966 the route they took was 868 miles, (not including the two diversions into hospital so my father could have pain killing injections in his knee, which cost them in time). Because of new bridges and bypasses the route Irvine and Longland will take will be 36 miles shorter. With modern nutrition and equipment they should break the record comfortably if they have prepared well enough.

Hopefully I will be able to see them go over the severn bridge when they come through, good luck to them

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Nick T [1037 posts] 3 years ago
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Great to hear your dad is well and still putting an enviable amount if miles in each week.

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Cycling Goldsmith [3 posts] 3 years ago
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Yes, he even broke his leg last year, but was back on his bike pretty quickly as he developed his own adjustable cranks to aid his rehabilitation. He usually manages 150miles each week through the summer months. More than I generally manage to get in. Admittedly if they break the record, myself and Andy Withers, son of the late John Withers may have to try to restore family honour, so I'm hoping they don't break the record and put me in a difficult position.  3

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Simon E [2985 posts] 3 years ago
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I hope we can follow their preparation and, even better, updates from the attempt itself. The mere mention of Glen Longland's name is enough to see older time triallists prick up their ears.

Nice contribution from Cycling Goldsmith  1 If they break the record you could at least ride the route, even if you don't attempt the record.

Not LEJOG, but a recent feature on two local tandem record holders, who still hold the Liverpool to London tandem record, which is unlikely to be broken:
http://www.shropshirestar.com/news/2014/03/01/shropshire-cycling-mates-a...

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Simon E [2985 posts] 2 years ago
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According to CW the attempt is due to begin on Sunday. More here:

http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/news/latest-news/lands-end-john-ogroats-t...

It also links to a tracker - https://share.delorme.com/DominicIrvine

Twitter and facebook:
https://twitter.com/DomIrvine
https://twitter.com/gorgeousglenn4
https://twitter.com/OrbitTandems
https://www.facebook.com/tandemchallenge2014

Our club is affiliated to RRA and I have just seen a detailed route description, and it goes through Shrewsbury! Suddenly rather excited...

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withers5312 [1 post] 2 years ago
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As the son of the stoker (John Withers) on the existing record it's safe to reiterate they weren't olympians, just two regular guys who rode and raced together.... lots.... fueled by (as Cycling Goldsmith says above) bread pudding, marmite sarnies, rice pudding and sweet tea, the latter two often in the same bottle.

When my father died in 1990 (ironically of a heart attack), I came across his old CTC training diaries, and for the weekends of the End to End and the 1000, the diary entry was simply the distance rode and the time. No fanfair... followed by whatever club TT was on that week.... Some of the weekend tandem distances were terrifying. Folks just dont ride 600 miles a week, week in week out anymore. I vaguely recall dad telling me they somtimes trained with a house brick in the saddlebag.

I remember as a lad, Thursday night winter club runs would come round our house on occasion and they would bag over 100 miles, that on a "school night" too. I was always in awe of a visit of these gnarly hard men of cycling coming to my house... Pete Swinden, Pat Kenny, Les Lowe, John Taylor, Bob Beaman but its not until you get out there and start to carve your own niche you figure how hard these guys were.

Dad and Pete were some of the early adopters of "sport science" such as it was in the 60s and sought assistance from (help me out here Cycling Goldsmith) Dr Somebody from Loughbourgh Uni with some elementary indoor testing on the tandem.

They were machining their own wheel axles, building their own wheels, the machines were heavy, the clothing was heavy and gearing limited. I raced on my dads old tandem (their spare) as a student and if you had to stop or go round a corner you had to make an appointment...thankfully the A34 doesnt have many bends. By comparison my Orbit tandem handles like my road bike and is about half the weight (not of my road bike...ahem)

Its always with a sense of great anticipation / dread watching the End to End going under the hammer as it were but also sad when they pack. It was a good effort and I'm sure Glenn will recover swiftly.

We've all been there in our own way.....you get dropped, puncture, crash, whatever... Its easy to hypothisize from the comfort of a PC on the whys and wherefores but do spare a thought for these guys as they are probably gutted.

But they have (and still are) raising a whole heap of cash for a good cause. Make it your good deed for the day.

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/tandemchallenge

Cappo gentlemen.

Ride safe

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SamShaw [266 posts] 2 years ago
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Very much enjoyed reading the above post by withers5312!

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Cycling Goldsmith [3 posts] 2 years ago
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As far as I can remember it was Dr Hambley at Loughborough, but would have to check with Dad to be sure.

I would like to Add mine and my fathers' best wishes for Glenn speedy recovery and admiration on a bold effort.