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World Bike Speed Record: Looking back at the record with James MacDonald

Joe Robinson
22 Sep 2017

James MacDonald talks us through the highs and lows of his JOGLEJOG record

Most of us can put our body through a lot of pain for a short amount of time. Some of us are tough enough to endure pain for one day. 

There are very few who can inflict it upon themselves day after day, but one of them is James MacDonald.

To be precise, he can bear the pain for 5 days, 18 hours and 3 minutes. That's a very long time. 

Now a record holder for the fastest time to go from John O'Groats to Land's End and back again, MacDonald has had time to recollect on his achievement almost two weeks on. 

The first thing that comes to mind is his mind when I talk to him is the pain. Not the muscles but the hands, feet and contact points. 

''The hands and feet are very sore from the vibrations of the roads, especially the A9 in Scotland,' adding, 'It's just a nerve thing but will go eventually however it's what I'm really struggling with.'

'The real problem was going through cities in Northern England. I got a sore wrist and had to strap it up.'

Beyond the contact point pain, MacDonald surprises with what he says is the hardest part of tackling an ultra-endurance event. 

Consuming up to 10,000 calories a day, the body is almost put into shock at the sheer amount of food you are trying to get down. 

Whilst your body needs this excessive intake to function, it takes time to adjust and understand what you are doing to yourself. 

'The hardest thing is the transition from normality to 8,000-10,000 calories a day .You are essentially force feeding your body. I have done this before and it's the worst part of it.'

'The first day is ok but the second is the worse because you have to keep riding and eating despite feeling sick. You have to break through until your body accepts it.'

You may think that a solution to this consumption is to limit the amount of solid food and substitute this with a 'liquid diet' however, this is far from a solution for MacDonald.

'The risk of a liquid diet is that it is difficult to monitor. I keep to a solid diet, eating little and often, keeping snacking.'

As expected, devouring big calories for five days cannot just be turned off like a light switch. The body lags behind and asks you to feed it even when you have stopped. 

'Part of the process is almost like a come down and it takes me around ten days to return to normal. I just don't fight it and eat when I'm hungry. I've started putting weight back on now which is good.'

Eating 10,000 calories a day would usually see you gain weight, but when you are riding almost non-stop for five days you experience the reverse. MacDonald found himself lose around 5kg over the record attempt. 

'The weight loss was obvious when I was getting changed or physio. The guys said I looked ripped, there was no fat left on me.'

When people ask questions of ultra-distance riders, they usually surround what was toughest or what went wrong. When asked what went right, MacDonald was shocked but happy to praise his hard working support team.

'The way the crew worked together was great. It's a high pressure environment with people sitting next to each other for long hours with no time off.'

'They worked really well together which gave me a lot less to worry about.'

Predictably, a question on what went wrong was always going to follow. MacDonald believed that more time could have seen them plan their route better avoiding cities at the busiest time of the day.

Often MacDonald found himself distanced from his support team, who found themselves caught in traffic. This saw the Scot waiting at the side of the rode, unsure of where to go, waiting for his team to catch up.

The next natural challenge for a man like MacDonald would be to ride around the world. Mark Beaumont recently broke this record, completing the challenge in under 79 days.

If anybody could challenge this, it would be MacDonald, yet hefty logistics and a high benchmark make this off-putting.

'The biggest challenge is logistics. Visas to sort, flights to book, dealing with your team. It makes it ten times the challenge.'

Mark has set the bar extremely high and there isn't a lot of scope to go quicker. I think his record will stand for a long time.'

'For me, I'm probably going to concentrate on mid length ultra races. My coach and I threw some ideas around yesterday. It's exciting to think we might be able to do something else.'

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