The latest instalment in my guest blog series (examining why some of us choose to travel long distances on bikes) comes from Sean Conway. Sean recently made national headlines for having a ridiculously awesome beard (and also for being the first person to swim the length of Britain.) Prior to that, however, he cycled around the world, and despite getting run over en route he still covered 16,000 miles in just 116 days. Below Sean shares with us his thoughts and motivations on taking to the pedals:
It’s the 31st December 1939 and a thin tired man dismounts his bicycle after spending 365 days in the saddle. The crowd and media surround him as he wobbles on his legs. He has been riding from 4am till midnight every single day for the entire year and has forgotten how to walk. His name is Tommy Godwin and he has destroyed the record for the most miles cycled in a year having covered the unimaginable distance of 75,065 miles. Already a hero he decides he’s not done. He takes a few days off and carries on and eventually completes an astonishing 100,000 miles in 500 days. That’s an average of 200 miles per day on a heavy steel bike, a record that even in today’s standards seems impossible – so much so Guinness have decided it’s too dangerous for anyone else to attempt and have discontinued it.
Ultra-long distance cycling has always fascinated me. The distances that can be covered turn even a large country like America into a two-week crossing. Unfortunately since 1939 ultra-long distance cycling has taken a dive in popularity. Had we reached our physical limit? Did less people cycle due to better public transport and the mass production of cars? Whatever the reason was, people just weren’t that interested in doing big miles on bikes anymore.
This changed somewhat in 2008 when Mark Beaumont broke the record for round the world cycling completing 18,000 miles in under 200 days, averaging 100 miles per day. Although far off Tommy Godwin’s pace it started to capture people’s imagination in long distance cycling again. In the 1930’s the goal was to cycle the most miles in a year. It was now who could cycle around the world the fastest. A new wave of ultra-long distance cyclists was reborn.
So being inspired by Tommy Godwin and seeing Mark Beaumont’s record I knew that the bar for round the world cycling could go much higher. Would it be possible to cycle around the world averaging somewhere near the 200 mile per day mark, fully self supported? This excitement, and the fact I was miserable with the life I’d made for myself, helped me decide to sell my business for £1 and attempt to break the record for round the world cycling.
Now as most of you will know this didn’t end well for me when I got run over in America suffering a compression fracture to my spine, whiplash, concussion, torn ligaments and broken teeth and thus ending my attempt. But that’s not what I want to concentrate on. I want to talk about pushing big miles, feeling strong both in body and mind and exploring the world, fast. Nothing beats the feeling of doing 200 miles and then falling down under a bush, exhausted, having conquered headwinds, hunger, cold and deep fatigue. The world was my battlefield and I was winning against all the elements. I loved every moment of it.
The question was; Why did I decide to do a long cycle ride? For me it was to push myself physically and mentally way beyond what I thought I was capable of. I surprised myself and it increased my confidence in other aspects of my life. If I had not done that, I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to swim the length of Britain and therefor probably wouldn’t currently be living my dream of being a professional adventurer.
I’m not sure anyone will ever be able to recreate what Tommy Godwin achieved in 1939 but he certainly inspired me to push big miles on the bike. Cycling remains my favourite sport and I still try and do big days on the bike as often as I can. There is nothing better than seeing your bike computer tick over the 200 mile mark. It always brings a smile to my face – no mater how tired I am.
Sean Conway is an endurance adventurer, blogger, author and speaker. You can keep up to date with Sean's latest adventures (including a plan to run the length of Britain this summer) and check out his books at www.seanconway.com
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Other posts in this series: