On the morning of Sunday May 4, Dominic Irvine and Glenn longland set out from Land’s End to try and break the record for the fastest tandem ride from one end of the UK to the other. They were roughly halfway and looking on track to beat Pete Swinden and John Withers 1966 record of 50 hours, 14 minutes and 25 seconds when Longland collapsed. Dominic Irvine reflects on the record attempt and its unpredictable hazards.
“Can everyone shut the f**k up and do exactly what I say.”
There was instant silence, and Dr Ian Rodd gave Glenn oxygen, set up drips and wrapped him up in a sleeping bag, and briefed the ambulance service on what to expect.
It happened so quickly. I had radioed into the support car for a fix of caffeine and had stopped momentarily to slug back a super strong coffee as I was a bit sleepy after just over 24 hours of cycling.
Glenn Longland, 58 year old time trialling god and cycling legend had pushed himself way beyond what most of us can comprehend in his quest to help me break the Lands End to John O’Groats tandem record, and collapsed on to the ground.
The warning signs were there at the previous pit stop when he was looking wobbly but he was so determined to keep going the team put him back on the bike. You can see the support team helping him up in the photo. But just under 50 miles later at 457 miles it was game over.
Ultra distance cycling is hard. Breaking records takes it to a different level. You think you’ve covered every eventuality but something will come along and catch you out.
Near the start of the record attempt (Photo © Joolze Dymond)
Just two weeks prior to the start, at the end of a long training ride, a car turning right mowed me down. I went from one of the fastest rides I had ever done to being unable to tie my shoe-laces or cope with small steps such, was the damage to my back and shoulder.
Physiotherapist Dr Claire Ryall, working with my coach Dr Simon Jobson, did an amazing job of rehabilitating me and helping me complete my training sessions in spite of the discomfort, but I was still worried the pain might become too much during the attempt and this would be what halted progress. It turned out fine.
I’ll never know what ultimately caused Glenn’s collapse. He and I were chalk and cheese in our approaches to this attampt. His is an old school approach: you get on your bike and ride it, lots. Without having Glenn’s pedigree I’d turned to science and with the support of the University of Winchester analysed the hell out of every element of my performance I could and set about making the best of the limited capabilities I have. Our data sets are not comparable.
The frustrating thing is we were on fine form on the bike and rolling along just about where we needed to be prior to things starting to fall apart. The final conversation I had with Glenn before the previous pit stop was: “410 miles done, 22 hours gone, 28 hours to do the next 420 – we can do this.”
It was frustrating not just for me but the support team. People focus on the riders, and mostly Glenn in this instance - rightly so given his achievements. But without the support team, we wouldn't get fed, get wheel changes after the four punctures we had, nor have changes of kit instantly at hand. It might be hard for the riders but it’s not easy for the support team. And then there are the sponsors who stumped up cash and kit to help us
succeed. Everyone bought into the dream. Everyone could taste success. Word had got out and the support from the side of the road even at 2am was incredible.
But when all is said and done, this is about riding a bike, fast – and there are more important things. Glenn is home safe and well. And we raised nearly £11,000 for Heart Research. We experienced the care and support of the most amazing team I have ever had the fortune to work with.
The day after the ride finished I awoke to find this quote in my inbox from Dr Claire Ryall. I have taken much solace in this quote.
‘It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.’
Irvine and Longland were riding to raise funds for Heart Research UK’s Young Hearts and Helping Little Hearts campaign which raises money to provide rehabilitation facilities for children that have undergone serious heart operations. To make a contribution, go to their fund-raising page.