Lands End to John o'Groats ("LEJOG") Challenge
The Length of England and Scotland (900 miles)
Charlie B, Penguins Against Cancer President (far right) lines up with his fellow participants at Lands End, hopeful that the weather will improve once they get out of Cornwall (hence their smiles). It didn't.
A vigorous, vivid and therapeutic experience. If you do not have the energy to read much further, my key lessons (spookily familiar to those I took away from marathon running) are:
It is a long way
It takes a long time
It is a good idea to listen to, and act upon, sage advice regarding anti-chafing measures
It is a good idea to have done some training prior to the event itself
7 months of concentrated carbo-loading may be more than is required
I undertook to attempt to cycle LEJOG for reasons which are still not entirely clear to me. I used to cycle a moderate amount as a teenager and extrapolated that LEJOG would be as ‘easy as falling off a bike’ (which did actually occur on 4 occasions).
I was sold a robust bike at an apparently very reasonable price. The ‘T-34’, as it became known, was not the lightest or most hi-tech machine, but suffered no punctures or mechanical failures during approximately 900 miles of cycling. A testament to Soviet engineering. This is quite remarkable considering the weight it was obliged to bear, and the user-error-associated rough handling it suffered.
I also purchased a number of lycra products, of varying size and utility.
It was suggested that I should undertake some training prior to the event. Andy was my weekday trainer who urged me to ‘get a 28 on my back end’ and introduced me to 10 and 5. This consisted of cycling at 85% of Andy’s aerobic capacity for 10 minutes then cycling at 100% of Andy’s aerobic capacity for 5 minutes, then 10 at 85, 5 at 100 etc ad infinitum. As my aerobic capacity was significantly less than Andy’s, I found this somewhat taxing. Trevor was my weekend trainer and introduced me to hills, the descent of which presented few problems.
I received much practical advice such as ‘just keep going’. My companions gave me a number of tips which were designed to be helpful, but which I am afraid I largely failed to heed. One was to do with water bottles. It was suggested during a hilly phase that I may wish to carry less than 3 litres of water in my water bottles to lighten my load. Therefore at the next scheduled stop I drank most of the water. This didn’t seem to make much difference. On another occasion, whilst ascending a large hill, Alice very politely pointed out to me that if I used the full range of gears I may find it easier. She was of course correct and this miraculous discovery benefitted me greatly thereafter. I had some difficulty with ‘clipping in’ my boot to my pedals (it’s a bit like with ski boots). Again, user error was largely to blame. The support crew hit on the ‘launch panzer’ expedient where one member would buttress either side of me whilst I clipped in and they would then give me a shove to get me going. This was all good, until I launched into a pothole, got stuck and toppled over. Luckily this only happened on a few occasions.
The T-34 required some maintenance. I was told in no uncertain terms to ‘get some wet lube on my chain’ and that I had ‘dirty rims’ which needed attention. I was somewhat nonplussed, but luckily my team mates very generously helped me with all of this. My body required significantly more maintenance, which I provided myself. Lots of food (although I was defeated by Larne sausage), various drinks, and numerous anti-chafing measures.
Within chafing academia there seems to be some debate regarding the virtues of petroleum jelly versus Chamois cream (how is Chamois cream made? Do you put a Chamois in a cider press and squeeze hard?). Neither of these was up to the job in my view. Foot blisters have in my experience responded well to taping. Surely this
would apply elsewhere on the body. The first tape I tried, however, reacted with the Petroleum Jelly, the adhesive dissolved, and the tape fell off, much to my chagrin. Simon came to my rescue with a roll of Zinc Oxide tape, a far more sturdy material, which sufficed for the remainder of the trip. I will remain eternally grateful.
Nutrition was a constant preoccupation. I encountered significant challenge whilst trying to order breakfast in Warrington, engaging in a dialogue of the deaf with a young assistant:
Me: May I have some porridge and an omelette please (both of which were on the menu)?
Her: Do you want a Barm cake?
Me: No thank you, just porridge and an omelette
Her: Some porridge and a Barm Cake?
Me: No, I would like some porridge, and I would also like an omelette
Her: OK I’ll do you a Barm cake then
At this stage thankfully Jacko, a master of the vernacular, intervened. The compromise solution was porridge and an egg roll.
The Team was outstanding and I am indebted to them all for their companionship and assistance. They were an amazing group; the cyclists (Alice, Jacko, Neil, Oli, Sarah, Simon, Will) plus the support crew (Andy, Kenny, Mark and Suzie). Oli appeared to require no rest, nourishment or insulation from the elements. Will and Alice were much the same. They acted as windbreaks for me for much of the trip (we had been advised to go from Cornwall to Scotland because of the ‘prevailing Southwesterly’ wind, but experienced a Northerly wind for 6 days. Besides, Cornwall to Scotland is clearly going uphill, is it not?). Navigation was done by STRAVA, which I previously assumed was a Czech lager, and was largely undertaken by Sarah, Jacko, Neil and Simon, who all also allowed me to ride in their respective slipstreams. The support crew were also outstanding, not withstanding the odd ‘launch panzer’ incident. The whole venture would not have occurred without Jacko’s superb organization, commitment and attention to detail.