Chapeau to Tommy! One day in Godwin’s shoes was enough for me

Cycling in a train as we approach Portsdown Hill. Picture: Allan Hutchings (141548-35)

Cycling in a train as we approach Portsdown Hill. Picture: Allan Hutchings (141548-35)

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Tommy Godwin: I salute you.

Here’s a guy, a legend, who cycled a record-breaking 75,065 miles in 1939.

In perhaps the greatest-ever feat of sporting endurance, he averaged 205 miles each day, come rain or shine.

The gruelling routine – in woollen clothing and on poorly-maintained roads – tested every ounce of his physical and mental strength.

He didn’t just break the record clocked by Aussie professional Oserick Nicholson in 1937 (62,657 miles), either. He smashed it.

And then just for good measure, the Staffordshire-born vegetarian powered on to become the fastest man to 100,000 miles on May 13, 1940.

It wasn’t all hard work, though. He did have one day off. Just one!

That was for a royal reception after he had broken the year record at the tail end of October 1939.

On Sunday, I joined a dozen other cyclists to endure a day in the life of Tommy – 75 years on from his epic achievement.

And our circumnavigation of the South Downs was an exhilarating experience.

I was approached by Allan Muir, development director of the 
Droxford-based Association for Glycogen Storage Disease (AGSD-UK), way back in January.

Originally he proposed a double-century bid to raise awareness and a few extra pennies for the charity.

But when news broke of Raleigh’s drive to honour Godwin – by laying down a 205-mile challenge to cyclists – the two events naturally merged.

Fast forward to a fresh, Sunday morning in Buriton and it was game on.

The clock in my car read 4.30am when I arrived at Muir’s home.

And with just three hours of sleep behind me – the result of leaving my ride prep to the last minute – I was a touch apprehensive.

My trusty 2013 Specialized Allez Elite was my partner for the day.

It’s not top of the range. More of an entry-level steed, ideal for a complete novice such as myself.

But compared to Tommy’s bikes – initially a Ley TG Special and later a Raleigh Record Ace – it is so advanced it might as well be a hoverboard!

Those machines, while cutting edge at the time, were steel-framed numbers with just four speeds and weighed in at more than 15kg.

My bike, which I’ve had since taking up the sport little more than 18 months ago, tips the scales at 9.5kg before extras such as bottles and pedals.

It’s a world of difference. At least I was hoping it would be as we departed a little behind schedule at 5.30am.

Now it should be noted that only eight of us left Buriton at this point – although, a half-asleep Trevor Riley attempted to latch on.

Fortunately, he was sent back before his deep-rimmed wheels hit top speed.

You see Trevor was part of the second group – a five-man peloton expected to tap out a far higher tempo than we could manage.

They were to set off an hour later in the hope we would all reach the lunch stop in Eastbourne together.

Our chances of keeping our noses in front suffered an early blow, though.

We had not even left the village when there was a loud bang and Hilary Webber – the only lady on the ride – pulled up.

She had picked up a puncture – sorry, make that two – inside the first mile of our challenge.

While Tommy carried all his own spares, we were lucky enough to have a fully-equipped support car.

And as Mike Spratt of Velo Medecin – based on the outskirts of Chichester – set about replacing Hilary’s tyres, I couldn’t help thinking we were in for a very long day.

Amazingly, though, this was our only enforced stoppage and with Hilary back on two wheels, we started briskly. Very briskly. Too briskly. Or at least I thought so.

By the time we had negotiated the first 40 miles and reached the outskirts of Wickham, I had dropped off the back of the group on two or three occasions. Not because I couldn’t keep up – more because I refused to.

Those of you who read my weekly column in the build up to this challenge will know I had my blood lactate assessed by Simon Clark of Cycling Performance Science IN-MOTION.

Working with this data, Simon – who was part of the faster group on the day – prescribed me zones to better focus my training efforts.

My average heart-rate of 139bpm in the opening three hours of our journey was right on the cusp of tempo riding (140-159bpm) – not firmly entrenched in the endurance zone (115-140bpm) which would give me the best possible chance of surviving the full 205 miles.

Put simply, my body was working too hard. So as Allan Hutchings, my colleague at The News, climbed off his bike to take the pictures you see on this page, I spoke up.

Fortunately, others had similar concerns but had all been too polite or maybe embarrassed to say so.

With cards now firmly placed on the table, we relaxed the pace a little and cruised over Portsdown Hill.

My fiancee Nicola and her father Tony met us in Bosham as we paused to refill our bottles and stock up on food from the back of Mike’s car.

These regular stops were vital to sustaining the ride and allowed me to merrily plough through coconut and chocolate rice cakes, peanut butter and jam waffles and two-bite pies packed with blueberry and cream cheese – in a bid to fuel the 7,148kcal I used throughout the ride.

Once past Chichester and through Bognor, we embarked on the pan-flat seafront stretch.

Dodging sun-worshippers in the heaving resorts of Worthing and Brighton was, for me, the most frustrating part of the day. Tommy never had to deal with this!

A short natter with a triathlete in Shoreham had offered a welcome distraction before we entered the Seven Sisters Country Park for two major ascents near Beachy Head.

A total of two-and-a-half miles of climbing at an average gradient of five per cent followed.

Once again I let myself drop off the back, selecting my easiest gear and refusing to dig deep.

And when we arrived at Simply Italian on The Waterfront in Eastbourne for lunch, I was feeling positive.

Genni Venditto & Co gave us a warm welcome as each rider made the most of the skills of sports masseurs Francesca Everett and Angela Barber – obviously sparing a thought for Tommy who never had such luxuries – before tucking in to pizza breads, penne bolognese and spaghetti carbonara.

Refuelled and refreshed, we attacked the final 80 miles.

Edd and Tim Higgs once more tapped out a fine rhythm on the front as we relished the quiet, country roads of Hailsham, Laughton and Ringmer before buzzing through Lewes.

It was around this point I almost took Jez Pigden out with an errant water bottle.

But such was the camaraderie of the group, rather than give me an earful Jez eased up and helped me chase back on.

A hush came over the group as darkness fell – clearly the mental side of the challenge was taking its toll.

I still felt physically strong, my legs numbly pounding on, but there was now a longing for the finish line.

Barring disasters, we were going to make it – so it was natural to want things to hurry up.

Fortunately, the setting sun also brought Simon and Trevor, whose pace had eased clear of the remainder of their group – James Lavery, Andy Hake and Horace White.

They were a welcome addition, freshening us up as we cruised through our final stop at Wisborough Green.

As was the reappearance of Nicola, who twice pulled over on the A272 from Midhurst to cheer us on.

Much earlier, I had found a close ally in Phil Murrell.

Soon our incessant ramblings and renditions of 90s tunes were flowing again and it was here he provided one of my favourite memories.

As I chatted to Simon, Trevor cruised up to sit on Phil’s shoulder.

Phil clearly felt obliged to set a pace Trevor would find acceptable – even at this late stage.

He proceeded to bury himself on the front, just as Mark Renshaw might do to lead Mark Cavendish out to sprint glory.

We had delivered a surprisingly strong pace in the second half of the ride – which contributed to a scarcely-believable average speed of 16.3mph – but this was ferocious.

And by the time we had dropped into Petersfield’s market square shortly before 10.30pm for a celebratory photograph at the 205-mile mark, Phil was – understandably – a shell of a man.

Much to our amusement he was still able to raise a smile and laugh at his own plight before, with pictures in the can, we attacked the short, steep climb back up to Buriton.

I somehow had the energy to push 400watts up this ramp – a late surge after almost 13 hours in the saddle.

Maybe I could have pushed things harder early on but I have no regrets.

It has taken a little while to sink in but I’m now immensely proud of the achievement – not least because with your help I have raised more than £500 for AGSD-UK.

Tommy cycled 248 miles on June 8, 1939. He then backed that up with the same number on June 9 and June 10 before a measly 247 on June 11!

Apart from a little pain in my left knee and a slightly bruised behind, I felt good on Monday morning.

My legs only offered gentle reminders of our efforts, small aches akin to that of a training ride.

Could I have done it all again, though? No chance.

And that’s why, Tommy Godwin, I salute you.

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