The appeal of endurance cycling is strong - at least for those who enjoy long, often lonely, isolated and gruesome rides. The rewards, for those brave enough, are exclusive, plentiful and justified. We caught up with Dan Shaw, a local lad who's love of endurance cycling - or more specifically, a desire to explore roads less travelled, has become an obsession.
Where it all began
'I’ve always been fascinated by remote places and the idea of isolation. I’m not quite ready to appear on Ben Fogles ‘Lives in the Wild’ but whenever I watch that show I’ve got nothing but admiration for the people who’ve made the decision to escape the pressures of the modern world and create a space for themselves in the middle of nowhere.
Cycling briefly allows me to live out that idea by riding to places that seem almost out of reach. For those few hours I’m out on the bike it gives me a taste of what it’s like to ‘ride in the wild’ and even though I’m in my 40’s I still have an overwhelming desire to explore.
I’ve always loved bikes and from a young age I had that sense of adventure and wanting to explore new places. I was brought up in a very rural area until the age of 10 so I can remember spending the summer holidays riding down remote country lanes and across farmers’ fields, coming home covered in crap.
My love of cycling has now become a bit of an obsession and that has led me into the world of endurance riding. It stems from when I went out riding on my own and because I never plan routes I’ve always had this drive to keep going but never in a competitive environment - I don’t belong to a club, and I’ve never wanted to – I consider myself a lone wolf when it comes to cycling.
Pushing myself to both my physical and mental limits is what motivates me, stepping out of my comfort zone and experiencing your darkest moments is where I feel most alive.
When the weather is horrific, the remoteness of where you are and the isolation from other riders, it can have a real impact on you mentally. However, I’ve never once thought to myself ‘I’m going to quit’. If it gets tough I just remind myself that it will end. Besides, I might be 100 miles from home so no one can help me anyhow.
I started working with a cycling coach called Paul Watson a couple of years ago to prepare for an ultra-distance event – he quickly brought me round to a different way of thinking and the change in my performance, strength and recovery after working with him for 4 months was phenomenal – he played a massive role in what I’m able to do today.
I rarely do big distances when training now, maybe 1 or 2 about a month before an event but the key for me is consistency and riding 5-6 times a week. I commute to work most days which is roughly 18-20 miles a day, then a couple of interval sessions at the gym in the week for no more than 45 minutes. Then a 3–4-hour ride at the weekend which increases by an hour or two in the month before an event.
I know that by riding consistently and keeping my legs moving nearly every day I’ll be fine for an event. Don’t ever be fooled into thinking you need to follow a strict training schedule in order to ride a long way – for me, consistency is key. What I’ve found works are lots of short quick rides, mixed in with some more intense interval work on a turbo trainer – this will give you great platform to build from.
I honestly believe that if you can ride 100 miles, then you can ride 200 miles – providing you fuel properly - it’s just about adapting your muscles, so they get used to riding a little bit each day, even when they’re tired.
It’s like people that run a marathon, very few people will run 26 miles as part of their training. Instead, they mix it up each week with perhaps one long run, an interval sprint session and a couple of short high tempo runs over 5k.
Another fundamental part of my routine is Pilates. I had a back injury 4 years ago which was one of the worst things I’ve experienced and during my recovery I was told I needed to strengthen my core, especially given my age and severity of my injury. My physio suggested Pilates, so I started working with Steph Shilling at Shilling & Black. Who has taught me a huge amount about what Pilates can do to help me develop and maintain muscle strength in the abdominal muscles and my lower back after the injury. This has been a really crucial part in helping me to prepare myself for long rides, and also forms and an important part of my recovery.
Spending long periods of time in a saddle can take it’s toll on my back which is why it’s so important to me to maintain good core strength. It allows me to keep myself stabilised on the bike and generate more power through my legs – more power, less effort… simple. Without good core strength you will tire quicker and the idea of being 100 miles from the finish line and beginning to fatigue will start to impact you quickly, both physically and mentally.
Being hunched forwards on a bike will often result in tight hip flexors, and pain in your neck and upper/lower back so the real benefit of Pilates is that it helps to stretch and lengthen these muscle groups, which is another great way for me to avoid injury.
I still consider myself a relative new-comer to ultra-distance riding so I’m still cautious about what I sign up for but next year will see me take on the Pan Celtic - a self-supported, 1,600 mile ultra-endurance event through the Celtic Nations, and the Frontier 300 which is a 24 hour 300km ride from coast to coast through the Scottish Borders and into Northumberland.
I’ve also got 400km and 600km Audax rides pencilled in which will take me off into some of the most remote parts of Northumberland and beyond and then I’ll probably sneak in a couple of one-day events.
But for now as the nights draw in I’ll be spending more time on the turbo trainer, a 70/80 ride at the weekend and a bit of swimming during those horrible winter evenings just to mix things up a bit.
Beyond next year I have some big plans to ride some overseas events but that’s something I’ve yet to mention to the wife!
Dan can be followed on Instagram @danthenshaw