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2013 Challenge Champion

Only one athlete on Strava finished all 23 of the goal-oriented Challenges in 2013. His name is Calum MacDonald.

Challenges2-1Calum MacDonald does it all. He admits he may not be the most competitive cyclist or runner, but he’s certainly one of the most dedicated. Last year, 47,577 athletes completed at least one Strava Challenge. Calum was the only athlete to complete all 23. What did it take?

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He ran 1,108 km, rode 11,831 km, completed 2 marathons, 2 half marathons, a 300-mile ride, and a Gran Fondo. He climbed over 7,000m in a week, rode 500 km in an 8-day period. In one calendar year, Calum put in over 100,000 meters of vertical on his bike and almost 10,000 meters on foot – that’s the equivalent of summiting Mount Everest 13 times. Calum logged most of his kilometers starting from his home in a small town on the Northern Coast of the United Kingdom. Like the rest of us, he struggled with time management, weather changes, injury and illness. We caught up with him to ask him about the highlights and obstacles along the way.

Calum MacDonald Athlete Journal: I’ve been into cycling for a few years but it was only really in 2012 that I began to take it seriously. I signed up for an organised event to ride from Lands to John O’groats (the length of Britain) in September 2012 and began training for it in May. I purchased a Garmin and was out on my second ride with it when I was caught by a couple of riders who invited me to join them. They started to talk about Strava; I created an account as soon as I got home and haven’t looked back!

One year later I went back and rode the same route I had on my very first upload. The difference was incredible and I attribute a lot of that to Strava itself. The social aspects of it, the leaderboards and viewing your own personal times on a segment board all contribute to making you a better athlete. I’m looking forward to seeing how much I can improve again this year.

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When you completed your first Challenge how did it feel?

The first challenge of the year was the Half Marathon. I felt great on completion, as you’ll see below I hadn’t run anything like that distance before. I knew I was on a very steep learning curve with the marathon series of challenges but I was confident after finishing the first one.

What was significant about the Festive 500 challenge in 2012?

Although I had already completed the BMC 79 Mile Challenge in November 2012, the Rapha Festive 500 was the first challenge that I really had to fight to finish. The weather in Scotland isn’t great in December and it was a particularly cold and windy week. I really felt I had to overcome some adversity to complete it and at that point I decided I wanted to push myself even further in 2013.

It was during the Festive 500 that I had the idea to do all the cycling challenges. Adding the running ones in too just kind of happened when the first marathon series of challenges was announced. Once I had started, I couldn’t stop!

You started the year in 2013 barely able to run a 10k, what did you do to improve your running?

In October of 2012 I decided that I would like to do a triathlon (I still can’t really swim so that hasn’t happened yet) so I started running a little. I ran one 10k that year and my time was just over an hour. I was delighted I managed it without stopping. In January 2013 I joined a local running club (Ayr Seaforth) and gradually began to chip away at my times.

“I set out to complete the half marathon challenge on the 2nd of February never having run more than 8 miles before.”

I picked a route, running from my house to my parents’ house, 14.5 miles away and just went for it. It wasn’t quick or pretty but I ran 13.2 miles to complete the challenge before I had to stop for a breather and then jogged the rest of the way.

Which challenge proved to be most difficult for you?

There were several challenges I found difficult for varying reasons but through the entire year I only twice doubted that I would finish them all. During (and after) the first 20 mile long run challenge and during Rapha Rising.

The March 20 mile run challenge was a disaster for me. The longest run I had done prior was the 14.5 miles for the February Half Marathon challenge and I was in no way ready to step up to 20 miles. Still I set off feeling pretty good until around the 15 mile mark, when I could feel my pace dying off. At 16 miles I had to stop to walk a little and at 17 I had to walk again, but for a bit longer this time. By the time I finally made it to 19 miles my knees were in agony and I was a shambling mess as I fought to finish the last mile. Those last four miles seemed to take forever and I thought I might never make it. Even when I did, I was already thinking ahead to the next challenge in the series, the April Marathon and was wondering how on earth I could ever complete it considering what the 20 miler did to me.

I doubted myself during Rapha Rising for an entirely different reason. I had a few days off work so headed to the North of Scotland, to stay at the foot of the biggest climb in the country, Bealach na Ba. I set off to conquer it the following in damp, foggy conditions and managed the 2,000ft climb in around 45 minutes. I then got a little carried away on the descent and came a cropper on a bend at 30+mph. I hit the road very hard, backside first and then the back of my head, splitting my helmet (thankfully I was wearing one!). I was very dazed but managed to pick myself up, remove the stone that was embedded in my ankle (the only scar I have as a result) and freewheel down the hill. That afternoon I stiffened up severely and became very concerned about the challenge. In fact I was feeling so sorry for myself I was ready to pack up my gear and head home the following morning.

When the next morning dawned however, I had a renewed sense of vigour. Even though I couldn’t lift my head up off the bed due to my stiff neck and was struggling to walk, I got up and drove 50 miles to the nearest bike shop to buy a new helmet and new tyres, as mine had been shredded. I managed to get back on my bike that afternoon and the following day I went back over the Bealach, staying upright this time.

If you were to talk to yourself a year ago, what would you say?

I would say improve your time management.

I look back at the year I had and wonder how I ever managed to finish some of these challenges. I turned up at a half marathon race in March, having cycled 80 miles the previous day in freezing temps and constant sleet/snow purely to finish the Train Like Taylor Challenge. I ran the April Marathon Challenge then had to get on my bike the next 3 days for 54, 38 and 70 miles to finish the Spring Classics Challenge. I rode back to back 100+ mile rides on the last weekend of the Eddy Merckx Challenge. I had to do hours of hill reps on the last afternoon of the Take it to the Trails Challenge (after a 62 mile morning ride). And in the last week of the Fall Forty I did back to back 100+ milers on the weekend, then went out every evening after work, in the dark and some of the worst weather of the year (high winds/sleet/snow). So yeah, better time management!

What did you learn over the last year about your athletic ability?

I learned about limitations and that if you train right and eat right, keep yourself hydrated, you can do anything you want to.

“When I was a young boy I set an ambition to one day run a marathon. Up until last year I never thought I would actually be able to do it.”

It still feels kind of surreal that I ran two last year. I also completed a 300 mile bike ride (with RideUK24) in less than 24 hours (fortunately that event fell within the CTS Bucket List Challenge timeframe so that was half finished in one ride). The key for me was discovering how strong I could be mentally and learning how far and how hard I can push myself when I want to achieve something.

How has Strava changed or impacted your training?

Strava has been awesome for my training. I would say that without it, I would be nowhere near the shape I am in now. I recommend it to every athlete I know.

If you could share one piece of advice with your peers, what would it be?

I’m just an average guy, I’m not supremely fit or fast. If I can do it anyone can. Set your goals a little higher, push yourself to your limits and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.

What will you prove in 2014?

I want to improve my running times this year. It’s also maybe time to get those swimming lessons and start thinking triathlons.