Steven Abraham set off on his bike on 1st January this year and rode 223 miles (358km). But his ride won’t really finish until 31st December, when he hopes to be the new holder of the record for the furthest distance ever cycled in one year. And you can follow him on Strava.
The current record was set by an Englishman called Tommy Godwin in 1939. He cycled through rain and shine to clock 75,065 miles (120,000km) in 365 days, before continuing to break the 100,000 mile record (in 500 days). Then, after a few weeks learning how to walk again, he enlisted in the RAF and went to war against the Nazis.
Luckily, Steven doesn’t have a global conflict waiting for him at the end, but in taking on the 75-year-old record he has set himself an almost incomprehensible challenge. How is he finding it so far? “It’s pretty much what I thought it would be like,” he told Strava, when we called him for a chat one night after he’d finished.
My legs hurt!
The first month of the year in the UK was cold and icy, with temperatures not climbing that far above 0C; nevertheless, he begins riding before 6am, seven days a week, and covered 5743miles (9,244km) in January. He is currently at 6,501miles (10,463km) for the year to date and is comfortably above Tommy Godwin’s figure for the same period.
What’s his biggest challenge so far? “It’s probably getting out on the road, with all the stuff that’s got to get done,” he said. “It takes me about 20 minutes to get dressed! I thought I’d be out every day in about an hour, but it’s taking an hour and a half or two hours some days, with everything I have to put on. I think that’ll continue to be a challenge – I need to try to get myself out quicker.”
Steven is not the only person attempting the record this year. Check the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association’s Highest Annual Mileage Record Strava Club and you’ll see that he has, in Kurt Searvogel, at least one extremely serious contender. Searvogel is, aided by the Floridian weather, currently riding further and faster than Steven.
Steven’s strategy is to start the year riding (relatively) smaller distances and then to ramp up the miles when the summer sun shines. In a year-long race only time will tell whose strategy — and luck — are better. “It’s a lot harder in the winter than it is in the summer,” Steven said.
If you try to do the big distances in the winter, you’ll tire yourself out for the summer. I’m getting fitter at the moment: I’m nowhere near the speed I can do in the summer.
When he says “I’ve been winter riding before,” he’s not joking. Your writer once rode with him awhile on a 200km Audax event one February, and considered it an accomplishment to do the 200km. But Steven rode over 100km from his house to the start, did the 200km, had a lasagne in the pub and then set off for home again, sleeping en route in a church doorway – making it a just-your-average 400km round trip.
“I could be sitting indoors all weekend, but instead I choose to go out and do an Audax, and sleep in the freezing cold for a couple of hours,“ he said. „At that event I stopped because I was just too sleepy. If I could have stayed awake I would have kept going. At least doing this year record I’m sleeping in a bed overnight. It’s a lot easier!”
Steven is a celebrated member of the UK’s Audax long-distance cycling association. He rode his first 100 miles at the age of 13 and is now a veteran of multiple 24-hour time trials and PBPs – the aficionado’s name for the 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris event that takes place in France every four years. He often rides these extreme distances on his fixed-wheel bike, and sometimes accompanies these challenges with a 600km or 400km ride just a day or two before or after.
Now, for the rest of the year, he is looking at a 5am start every day, and riding both familiar and unfamiliar routes before returning home in the evening. Recovery consists, Steven said, of “eating protein. Anything with protein in, just shoving it down! And then get as good a sleep as you can, that’s all you can do. Most of the time I do [come back home]. So far I’ve spent about two nights in somebody else’s house. That’s it.”
He added that he appreciated the supportive comments and Kudos he receives on Strava, which he also uses to keep track of his daily progress and average speeds. It also lets mere mortals like the rest of us wonder at his incredible stats, including his low, low heart rate. And his heart-rate is something that the UltraMarathon Cycling Association is also keeping an eye on — to make sure he really is pedalling all those miles, and not cheating. “They also said they’re going to have undercover people spying on me,” Steven said, underlining how seriously the Association takes its job of validating contenders’ efforts.
If you want to help Steven along the way, aside from following him on Strava and giving him Kudos every day, he said he’d like to “Encourage people to come out and see me, and take photos. Come and ride with me, have a bit of fun.”
Head to his website for more information, as well as how to donate towards his effort. But don’t worry that life is currently extremely harsh for him, he’s doing fine. When asked about the mental challenge of riding for a whole year, he said:
I think it’s better than going to work every day. This is like a good holiday to me.