Timothy Pulleyn on the Etape of the Pastries (the Transcontinental Race)

In Interviews by Claire

Anyone who’s looking to do the Transcontinental bike race should try and get sponsorship from a patisserie, says Timothy Pulleyn. The fixie rider is used to scaling Yorkshire hills but this summer he figured switched that for the Transcontinental bike ride from Belgium to Istanbul. He rode for 11 days and covered 2,300km. The 27 year old’s appetite destroyed half of Europe’s pastries and pizzas and still hasn’t calmed down. He’s not your typical endurance athlete and talks about his adventures with an endless sense of humour. When he talks about why he cycles it turns into a bit of a beautiful TED Talk-style moment, too.

Claire: How are your hands?

Timothy: Absolutely horrendous. They are getting better but they feel really eerie and they’re useless beyond belief. It’s really infuriating. They’re stopping two things I love: 1) riding a bike and 2) writing about riding on a bike. Because I just can’t type very fast at the minute and it hurts to try, which is pathetic!

I’m told because it’s nerve damage it could be as much as two to three months until I’m recovered. I am patient, but not with my own hands.

How many days were you cycling for in total?

I did eleven days in total and covered 2300km.

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When did it start becoming painful and when did it start becoming really quite horrible?
’My original question of what I’d thought the Transcontinental Race was going to be had changed. It had basically become an endurance of pain management.’
You describe it in two ways there; painful and horrible. The experience of pain started quite early on. On day two, I started with bad chaffing and on day three that got really bad. On day four I considered changing saddles. I got to the bottom of Mt Ventoux and I had blistered on .. both sides – I’ll try not to go into too much detail – but it was really bad. It was frustrating because I’d never had an issue with that particular saddle. I’d doubled-up on bib shorts as well.

When did it start becoming horrible? It didn’t start becoming horrible. There were aspects of it that were almost unbearable. I could tell you about moments that were horrible, but I wouldn’t say the whole thing as an entity was. It never became horrible. I would never look back on it as horrible.

But the pain started pretty much on day two and got progressively worse and worse. I guess the toils of riding long distance, and being the novice long distance rider that I am, meant I was completely oblivious as to what they would be. Things like the ankles: my ankles swelled up to twice to size of what they were and I’ve never had problems with my ankles. There were lots of other riders I heard about that had issues with their knees. I had no issues with my knees and I assume that’s down to the fact I ride fixed gear a lot in Yorkshire which is particularly hilly, but more frustrating because I’ve never had an issue with my bloody ankles. I knew my hands would go at some point. I’d been told about a lot of that nerve damage and trying to change my hand position.

It became to get quite intolerable on about day 9. Halfway through Italy I found myself on my own for three days, my ankles had swollen up something shocking, and my neck was unbearable in the sense that I had to stop practically every 50-60 minutes to stretch out my neck because of Shermer’s neck, and that’s really lonely and a really shit place.

’I’d still say the whole experience was – dare I use the word – euphoric.’
I knew I’d lost a lot of time at that point, and I knew I was going to have to make a decision about when I was going to call it quits. I hadn’t got to the point where I wanted to quit, even though my arse was in tatters. My ass was bleeding (just to give you an idea of how bad it was), my ankles were horrendously swollen, my hands had gone and my neck was not holding up. It basically got to a point where it was too dangerous. There was a point where I had to ask myself: ‘is it worth it?’

My original question of what I’d thought the Transcontinental Race was going to be had changed. It was a race of adventure, exploring, seeing new roads, trying new things, sleeping outside. It basically had become an endurance of pain management. So yeah, there were points that were kind of horrible but I’d still say the whole experience was – dare I use the word – euphoric.

That sounds traumatising. Your pain levels, jesus.

That wasn’t even the half of it. On day three I ate something called beef tartar – basically uncooked beef with a raw egg on top – which is probably the worst decision of what I could have eaten of that time. I genuinely won’t go into detail but that night I was very ill. I didn’t have any facilities and had to make do with what I had. It was probably the most Bear Grylls experience I’ve ever had. Looking back, that was beyond horrible. That was horrendous. I would not wish that on anyone.

It was late at night and I had nowhere to sleep – and I didn’t want to sleep because … I didn’t want to be ill. It was traumatic. But now, looking back, you kind of realise that in those situations you just deal with it. At the time I was panicking because I didn’t really know how to deal with it but I was already just doing it – I just had to get on with it. For future I know not to eat beef tartar. That would be a good start. There are horrible aspects but they don’t always dampen the whole thing.

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Did you make lots of terrible decisions throughout or was it just the beef tartar?

No, I think the beef tartar was one of the worst decisions. You see I’d been trying in my training to do race simulations or as close as possible, and a lot of my experiences went wrong. I had one ride close to February where I tried to ride to London. I got to Grantham, halfway, and my lights ran out and my power pack didn’t work. So I had no lights and I was in the middle of nowhere. I’d decided that I was going to ride through the night so I didn’t have a sleeping bag or mat – I was very experienced in bivying or sleeping outside – and I couldn’t go on because it’s three or four in the morning. I found a bus shelter and thought I’d try to get some sleep, without thinking that I wouldn’t be able to sleep that I wouldn’t be able to sleep because I was on a concrete floor. Anyway, in a nutshell, I nearly froze to death then got on a train at five or six in the morning after riding down a horrendously busy A-road with loads of trucks in Grantham. I’d learnt my lesson.

So that was one of my training rides that was horrendous.

The other ones: I rode up to Penrith – and met a fellow Transcontinental rider who’s a mate of mine halfway. He’s from Glasgow, [I’m from] Leeds. [Penrith is] halfway. Unfortunately the route I had plotted was a bit obscure and I ended up going down a farmer’s drive. It was obviously a farmer’s drive that led to a public footpath, but in doing so – pitch black, got my lights on, I’m in full lycra – all these dogs are barking away and I thought nothing of it. I thought I’d come down the wrong path I’ll just go down the road and go down another lane further on. So I go on my merry way, going down this little path that’s like a single lane when all of a sudden the light in front of me is getting bigger. And I’ve got my headphones in as well. I look around and there’s a farmer driving full blaze into the back of me in his Landcover. It’s half eleven at night: I practically shit myself. Panic. I had this horrible situation where half of me wanted to continue peddling out of fear and the other half was trying to stop and say ‘woah, woah, woah!’ He got out of his car and confronted me. I explained I was touring and he got in his car and drove off, but the whole thing was terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. To have someone drive at me? That was horrendous. In the middle of nowhere? That was bad.

”My hands were completely useless. The only way to get my tyre back on was to use my teeth.”
Those bad experiences all helped for if those issues cropped up – which they didn’t – I felt more prepared for them.

A lot of the decisions that you make are because you genuinely can’t make any other decision. What you would do, you can’t. For example, I got a flat tyre on Sestriere [before the Strada dell’Assietta pass which descends via Colle della Finestre], right on the bottom and I had to deal with it and my hands were completely useless. The only way to get my tyre back on was to use my teeth. In doing that I pulled the muscles in my neck, which started Shermer’s neck, which almost sped up the process. Now looking back could I have put that tyre back on without doing that? No way. No way at all could I have done that.

I think the question that would probably be more interesting for you is about what decisions I made pre-race. Some of the stuff I took – particularly with luggage – if I was to do it again I’d take next to nothing. If you look at the likes of the frontrunners or anyone who finished it, they didn’t take much at all.

How did you put together your kit list?

What led me to take more was inexperience I believe (not just inexperience in camping and bivying). I’d read up a lot on what other people had taken but the front runners took a bivy bag – they didn’t really have a sleeping bag. They might have had a small down jacket, but barring that and a couple of tools, I’d kind of doubled up on everything. The frontrunners only had one set of kit. They were racing to win, and that kind of attitude and mentality was to be on the bike as long as possible. My attitude was to be on the bike as long as possible but within reason – I knew I wasn’t going to win it! But I wanted to finish it.

But even that; the implications of taking a sleeping bag, a bevy bag and a sleeping mat – those three things putting them up take a considerable amount of time tat could be used for sleeping or for doing something else. I guess those things are purely luxury. A sleeping mat is purely luxury: I could have found a bench or slept in bus stops. I’m sure it would have been hard ground but I would have still slept. I could beat myself up about what I took, and I don’t think I ‘over-took’ – I just could have taken less. You also realise that a lot of stuff that you would take you still don’t end up using. There was so much stuff that I didn’t use but if I hadn’t have taken it, I probably would have needed it. That’s sod’s law.

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What were the most useful bits of information you read before you went?

I remember reading Ben and Gabby’s post on their experience and seeing the video and what they took. I think it soon dawned on me at that point that it was very personal. What you choose to take is what works for you. But if you don’t know that then you’re kind of going in blind because there was a blog post that I read from the London Phoenix Cycling Club and this guy went pretty much with nothing and he packed the night before. He basically just rode his soul out. He rode till the end of destruction. I don’t even know how he did it, because I say I rode myself into the ground and unfortunately I had a lot of physical issues that didn’t help me along the way. But some of the blogs I read kind of put me off a bit in terms of what they had to endure to get there. Some of it was really helpful and some of it was a hinder.

To a lot of people I’ve already said: If you are planning on doing the race, you need as much experience as physically possible. Go to France for five days and cycle as far as you can. Unfortunately for me I didn’t have a lot of time. I had weekend, really. I had to work and the time I’d taken off for the race was just holiday. I couldn’t really put myself in a race simulation as such. But having said that, the blogs were very helpful but if anything there was a lot of information to absorb. I realised a lot of it was personal and depended on how you planned to do the race. It was almost too much information to make a decision on.

How far ahead did you decide you wanted to do the race?

Timothy_Pulleyn_5It was immediately after I’d watched the Transcontinental Race last year. As soon as I’d watched the race last year I was completely absorbed with watching the dots, the experience, the photos, the highs and the lows. I knew without a doubt – I don’t know what it was that clicked – but it was something I’d never done and it was such a massive challenge. There was nothing that made me think twice about my decision in doing it, which makes me feel really good now because even though I didn’t finish it and I had a load of issues along the way, I totally stand by that first thought of: ‘Oh my god this is totally what I want to do, this is something I want to be part of.’

I’d almost say if somebody hasn’t felt that, then I’m not sure it’s for them.

I don’t know whether that’s a fair thing to say, but it’s a hefty challenge and it beat me. It beat me into the ground. So it was immediately after the race when I knew I wanted to do it.

Are you quite an all-or-nothing person in general?

I probably would say I am. Unless I’m going to give it my all, I think I wouldn’t do it. I set myself challenges and I like to smash them.

How would you describe your cycling before you say the race, got inspired, and began training?

Social! It was so sociable. I used to be a familiar member of my club albaRosa. I used to go on their B-rides, and their A-rides, and do a bit of racing. I was much more involved in the community: Leeds Fixed Gear. I used to drink beer, ride on their Thursdays. I used to enjoy cycling as a community and with people.

Whereas when I started training my riding became so different. I kind of feel like I’m a bit negative about it now because I miss riding socially. I’ve got to get myself back into it!

It’s not just a matter of turning of turning up and just riding, because my riding style has changed. I used to be pretty good at climbing hills and fairly good at sprinting. And now I can’t sprint for shit or do hills as good as I used to. But I can go for 300 or 200 kilometers.

I purposefully made myself cycle in total solitude because I knew I needed to get used to being in my own skin, and to some degree entertaining myself. I remember that coming close to the race – three or four months before the race – I started doing 300 or 400km rides, or 200km, getting used to going out in the morning at 6am and coming back at 10pm, and they were so lonely. Just riding all day and being in your own head. And it was good that I did that because it definitely, definitely, set me up in a good way for the race. And although I was lonely at points, I wouldn’t have dealt with those situations half as well as I did if I hadn’t have been a bit strict and made myself train alone. It was one aspect of the race that I realise was a hinderance almost. Maybe that’s just a bad excuse but I almost because antisocial, which was unusual because I’m a sociable person and I’m a people person. But I just didn’t have time for it. I was either in the gym after work or riding long rides at the weekend.

Nobody wants to do 200-300km rides. “Oh does anyone want to go out from 6am till 10/11 at night?” “No, no I don’t.” “Oh alright, okay.”

What was the training like?

From when I got the acknowledgement, I started doing longer rides obviously and I started to go to the gym. I tried to do weight specific, trying to build up muscles in my legs and my arms, my shoulders and my back. Eating. As I started riding longer rides, particularly riding before work. I could wake up and be out the door for 6am, ride for three hours before work, get showered at work and be sorted. So I tried to do that two or three times a week with the addition of two gym sessions, with swimming and stuff like that as well.

”The Etape of the Pastries. For anyone who’s looking to do the Transcontinental: they should try and get sponsorship from a patisserie. More than one ideally.”
But when I started doing more miles like that, coming close to 400-500k a week – if not more, if I was doing a long distance ride during the weekend – my appetite was already big and it became colossal. I lived in soreen. I started taking a protein shake in the morning but I didn’t like what they were doing to my body. So I ditched that and decided to eat more bread and sore. And my colleagues laughed at me, because at 10:30 I would just crack it open and scoff it. It would all go. It wouldn’t be a matter of save a little bit for later.

Portion size got bigger. I’m 6’1” and I already cycle a lot so even I was getting a little bit surprised as my own food intake. So that was generally it.

Basically, because my other issue was that I didn’t have my bike until maybe three months before the race and you know, it was ready but it was bespoke so I couldn’t take it. And that goes for the luggage. So I was riding on a cross bike and had some prototype luggage because I had in my head that I was always going to go front panniers. That kind if hindered aspects of the training.

So three months before I tried to do 200-300km. Some hilly rides, some flat rides. What I should have done was more bivy: going out, sleeping out, coming back. That would have benefitted me but I didn’t do as much of that I probably should have. That was just due to life. Looking back it felt very normal.

I think there’s something wonderful about squeezing it in around your every day. It makes it seem like a thing that someone normal can do.

Every week our team has a catchup and we just talk about what we’re doing, what we’re up to and working on. Every week it would get to me, and they’d say how’s the riding going? They’d ask about what I’d done and some of the stuff I’d come out with.. I’d be like ‘oh I rode to Northumberland the other day.’ They’d be like ‘what? That’s a long way away.’ I’d be like ‘yeah, I rode there and back in a day. With luggage.’ They’d say I was nuts, absolute bonkers. But it did become so normal.

And sleeping, getting up after five or six hours and going out at the crack of dawn and riding to Bolton Abbey and doing this crazy hill, and riding back. I can vividly remember starting work at half nine being so hungry and having no screen and trying to feed myself on coffee, and everyone just being like ‘you really should just lie in. You should probably just give yourself a break Tim?’ I did know what was coming but even then, that probably wasn’t even enough.

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How does your appetite change when you’re doing the race? Does it stay consistently mental?

I endlessly ate. When I came home, it was only in the last week doing the Chain Gang for the first time when I realised how odd it felt to not be eating on the bike. I’d spoken to a nutritionist about cyclist and food, and cyclists are so stubborn in terms of food. We don’t eat enough on the bike. It’s only now that I genuinely associate cycling with eating. I feel like I should be cycling every 30 minutes, if not nibbling on something more [often].

During the race I actually got completely sick of eating. Before the race, I was trying to figure out the foods I could eat – easy and accessible foods from supermarkets and foods that I would enjoy. Actually, none of that came into perspective during the race. It literally got to the point where decision-making in the supermarket was a complete overload and the time it would take to do anything with the food you could get in the supermarket would just be too much. Patisseries I lived on pastries and pizza. I love pastries and pizza anyway but I can genuinely say that between caffeine, pan au chocolate and pizzas, that’s pretty much my Transcontinental diet. Not forgetting Haribo – that was an essential.

The Etape of the Pastries. For anyone who’s looking to do the Transcontinental: they should try and get sponsorship from a patisserie. More than one ideally. Having said that pastries are quite cheap, so don’t worry about it. Luckily, during my training rides, I felt that I needed to eat more, and I’d been told to try and eat as much as possible so you never feel hungry. Which is what I tried to do during the race. Luckily I never got hungry, so I never found myself ‘chasing’. It was about day five when my mouth became quite sore. I should have taken some multivitamins because it was obvious that I had some deficiencies in vitamin C – not enough food and veg. I got so tired of eating. I’ve never had the feeling of not wanting to eat anything just because you’re tired of chewing or digesting. I love my food, so it was totally bizarre. But my appetite was big – if not bigger – and unfortunately coming home form the race it is still as colossal as it was. Which is frustrating. I can’t keep up with myself.

Do you lose weight when you do it?

No, I gained half a stone. However, I did lose 2.5% bone mass off my spine! So before I went, I had a university do a full body mass index (BMI). They were interested in doing some research in the before and after, and also because I’m not your average athlete. I don’t do it professionally. I am average Joe, who fancies a bash who and gives it his best. So they expected me to lose weight and I came home and I’d gained half a stone. But more interestingly, I’d lost a lot of bone mass: 2.5%, which is actually (it doesn’t seem a lot but it’s) a huge amount. I’m currently quite below average for the biomass on my spine. They’re basically looking into that because it’s a bit scary.

Is that something everyone goes through when they do this ride?

Well no. By all accounts that’s not what they would expected and particularly the fact I’ve gained half a stone doesn’t make any sense alongside why I’ve lost bone mass off my spine. Because if that’s the case that I’ve lost 2.5% that would mean it’s because of a mass of energy deficiency, and i’ve basically cut the supply of energy to my body – but that would also be indicated in my weight. So, they’re looking into that. But then I have grown in muscle, so it’s swings and roundabouts. They basically said ‘if you were to get hit by a car that would be really bad right now.’ Particularly at the end of the race, they said: ‘the changes of your spine snapping compared to the average human being are much greater.’ So I was like ‘ah, cheers for that. I’ll make an attempt at not getting hit by a car.’ Pretty scary. So that’s to be continued.

Are most people not ‘average Joes’ as you call yourself (which feels like a misnomer) or ‘athletes’ as such?

I would say there is a creme de la creme – the pro guys. Josh Ibbett does ride ultra endurance rides full-time almost. But generally speaking, everybody was just another rider looking for a challenge. I think that’s the beauty of the Transcontinental race. Mike’s done a fantastic job of keeping it like that. He wants to make it accessible to everyone who fancies giving it a go, and who can keep to the ethos of the race. Everybody I met had a fantastic story and had the same perspective.

I would say everybody else is ‘average Joe’. Some of the guys I met were very similar to me. There was one guy I remember – I can’t remember his race number – but his name was Carl and he wasn’t even a cyclist. He was actually a rugby player by trade. He’d fancied a challenge, and I’m sure he completed it. I mean, what a crazy guy, what a nutter. But hats off if he did – I’m sure he got further than I did.

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What were some of the amazing things you saw along the way? Did you spend much time looking at sights or does time in your head and the distractions that come with that suck you up?

I am the sort of person that will stop, absorb and take a minute. My Instagram feed says it all really. I would climb up a mountain pass with hairpins and I’ve never cycled those type of mountain before. I couldn’t help myself but to just stop and take a picture. There were points when I would take a picture and just look at it: some stuff was absolutely out of this world.

Getting to the top of Mt Ventoux.. I remember coming close to the top and seeing the mountain, and it looks nothing even close to what you’d have expected or perceive a mountain to look. It’s only when you ride and you get up it to the top that you think ‘shit, this is massive. Like that took me an hour and a half, two hours, whatever.’ It kind of puts it all in perspective.

There were even points in the race where there were longest, most monotonous roads I have ever ridden in my life, and there were just little aspects where there’d be no traffic and it’d just be this continuous road where you can’t even see where it stops. As a moment – the points where I stopped – I did think they were incredible.

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For me, the moment which stood out the most was the Strada dell’Assietta pass. I don’t know many Transcontinental riders who will tell you that they loved it. Although it was part of the downfall of me, because I got that flat tyre, it was also one of the most phenomenal parts of the race for me. I felt really good, my bike felt great, my luggage was holding in there, and the views and whole environment were just! [trails off, breathlessly] I’ve never been so far from anyone in my life in the sense that there were no roads nearby. I knew there were riders furthers up the road, whether I’d seen them or not, it was absolutely breath-taking. Phenomenal. Even the pictures don’t do it justice as to how amazing it was.

I can reference it to other moments that build up to that. I remember climbing up my first Munro with a mate. It took us like an hour and 15 minutes to climb to the top, probably longer. It got to the point where we were climbing vertically and when we got to the top the weather started changing. We stood up there for maybe two, three minutes before we started descending again, but I remember being at the top just thinking it was absolutely mesmerising. Mind blown. You can’t really appreciate what it is until you’ve gone from the bottom (a) to the top (b) – and I’m not even referencing it in terms of climbing a mountain. It could just be a trail path. It fills me with absolute joy thinking about it. I got to the top of that pass and I spent probably ten minutes just gawping. It was just phenomenal. I’m talking about moments of solace – moments I’ll only ever experience myself.

Timothy scaling the Bealach Na Bà – the 3rd highest paved road in Scotland, 2,054 ft in 6 miles – two years ago

There were other points like when I realised I had to change a flat tyre and I went to a bike shop and they were super friendly. And as stupid as it sounds, I took a photo of my bike outside this bike shop and you wouldn’t even tell it was a bike shop. There was something so quaint and beautiful about this little Italian bike shop with this – I think the owner, his wife that was there – was so passionate. They had all these photos of all the cyclists who’d come into the shop, or local teams or youth teams. Even that, as silly as that sounds in context of me just explaining the euphoric moment on top of the mountain, the bike shop was not how we would see bike shops here in the UK. There was no window display – it was just a house with a front door that people knew was a bike shop, and inside it was very much like a bike shop but there was something just so quaint, Italian and beautiful about it. So there were many moment like that, that weren’t just purely to do with what I was looking at.

Did you see many locals?

There really weren’t that many moments when I could say I had a long interaction with locals. The Italian bike shop was probably my first conversation with someone. They knew I was on the Transcontinental race, they were asking me how I was doing, how I was feeling.

Were they excited about it?

Er, yeah. They kind of just think you’re a [muffled]. The guy knew I’d be in a rush, and he knew about the race. They just think you’re a bit mad. Like when I tell a friend who is a cyclist [about the Transcontinental], if they haven’t really followed the race or know a great deal about what it entails, they don’t really appreciate the sort of the magnitude of the race. I hope that doesn’t sound too wanky. So they kind of shrug it off, think you’re a bit mental. ‘Hah, how do you cover that kind of distance in a day? How do you sleep rough? How do you do that?’ you know. But it’s all that tongue-in-cheek joke – almost like ‘why would you do that?’

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I don’t think you can start understanding it until the first time you go out and sleep in the rough or try and do that distance in the day, then it must start to dawn on you – either as a prospective rider or as a friend.

Completely. Part of it is also being naive – and we’re all naive: I remember before the race reading somebody’s post about people who were worried about sleeping rough, and there’s a guy who’s gone around the world sleeping rough. He gives you some hints and tips, but a lot of the hints and tips are just reassuring you that if you sleep in the side of a field, so long as you don’t ruin anyone’s crops, chances are nobody’s going to know you’re there anyway and nobody’s going to bother you. Providing you don’t leave a trace, nobody’s ever going to even know you were there. I remember after the first couple of nights that’s what rung true with me. Once you find a good spot, nobody’s going to really bother you because it’s the crack of dawn. I remember being really worried about that before I went but in hindsight it was just not an issue at all.

What’s it like on the first day when you all start?

Timothy_Pulleyn_12Ah! A barrel of emotions. I had all my work colleagues out to send me off which was really cool and really nice because it took my mind off things: there’s a lot of waiting around. (After reading blogs from their year, I know everybody suffered with that). Particularly having to wait until 12 at night to be let loose. Barrel of nerves, didn’t really know what to do with myself. I felt to some degree unprepared, even though I knew I was prepared – my body panicking, wondering what have I forgotten or have I taken too much? This is the last opportunity.

Then you start on the De Muur which is crazy hilly and cobbled, and then you’re on your way. You’re kind of in it! You’re riding with other people and other people are overtaking you. I was on my own that night – I didn’t ride with anybody, I didn’t stop and have a conversation with anyone. It was only during dawn when it started pissing it down, I stopped in a little town – it must have been quarter to six or quarter to seven – I stopped to seek shelter and another racer shouted at me. He’d seen me stop in this little shelter and shouted to say that there was a patisserie open. So I went and had a chat with him and ended up riding with him.

I guess the first day was lots of unknown. I feel like I was searching for the right thing to do, trying to avoid doing the wrong thing. But I also knew the first day was going to be an all-nighter and I’m not good with all-nighters as it is. So I was in fear of that, but I was totally full of adrenaline. It was only when dawn hit that I became very tired. It was odd. It was mixed emotions, and it all just sinking in. Halfway through day one I caught up with my mate Jim. We were going through the same town and he asked how I was getting on. It was about 10km away. We stopped for food, had a chat and cracked on. He’s just a machine so he bombed off on his own. I think day one was pretty much settling in. There was no pain, just settling in to what was now home.

Is there really a point when you start to relax into it, though?

I think the word ‘relax’ – you don’t relax into it but there are a few moments like that. I think it was day two when I stayed in an abandoned retail outlet when it seemed money had just stopped. It was sheltered, it had walls, and it felt remotely safe. When I got there I kind of figured this was good, and then I was like ‘wait a second, this is an abandoned retail outlet, there could be anyone here. This is a massive building. Are you safe?’ We get so caught up in being in four walls with locks on that when you don’t have those it’s a bit scary. So I think those situations definitely got easier but I don’t think I ever really relaxed. I stopped worrying about my bike or where I would get food or water because I was actually worrying about how to stop the swelling of my ankles or my hands – but I feel like I’m being really negative now!

You definitely get more complacent with the nature of the ride. Getting on the saddle and riding is all you do. You soon realise that you can waste a heck of a lot of time stopping and getting food, a coffee or ice cream, or stopping to fill up water. I mean, I have no idea how Josh managed to get three hours stop time on average a day. All in all, that’s practically impossible. Hats off, because in terms of sleeping, eating, toilet stops, and all the little things. A feat of endurance.

Despite talking about the negative parts, it doesn’t sound like they marred your overall euphoria. It also doesn’t sound at any point you questioned why you were doing it.
”If you wanted to do the race you should totally do it. No questions asked.”
No. I never questioned why I was doing it. However the aspect of what the race was changed. I knew there were parts of it that would be painful, but I didn’t think they would stop me. I guess in hindsight I was being super naive with myself.

My fear is that when I talk about the race, I’ve got to revert back to talking about the two things that stick out the most for me: I saw the race and was inspired by people doing the race and immediately I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Hands down. Even with everything they’d mentioned. All the highs and lows. I just knew I really wanted to give it a go.

The second thing. Me talking about my ankles swelling up and bleeding from the chafe on my ass is enough to put people off without a doubt. Even Shermer’s neck. All these little things. For me, if I was listening to me, I don’t know if I’d be inspired by it or fearful, or whether I would second-guess myself. Which is why I always say: if you wanted to do the race you should totally do it. No questions asked. I would hope that you would do as much research and put yourself in as many simulations so you’d get the most out of the race. But having said that, when I look back to why I was doing the race, I chose it as a challenge for me. Not to win it. I didn’t care what position I came in. I wanted to give it my best shot and I was definitely always racing – I wasn’t touring or anything – but it was a challenge for me. Me against myself, and my ability and how far I could push myself.

”People forget what they’ve got in front of them”
Hills and racing – I’d done it and it wasn’t enough. As horrible as it sounds – the suffering wasn’t enough, which sounds really odd. But cyclists are athletes and anybody who does sport, a little bit of them (regardless of whatever they say) loves the suffering. I love the suffering. I love pushing my body because it makes me feel really good and it makes me appreciate me and my ability more. Without getting too philosophical, people are lazy and people forget what they’ve got in front of them. I always use the escalator as a metaphor: you’ll always have an escalator and a stairwell. At Leeds train station there’s a centre stairwell and two stairs either side, and everyone always goes on the escalator. You just think: if people used their legs a little bit more, and appreciated where those legs could take them, and stopped making so many excuses, they would enjoy what’s in front of them so much more. People take that so much for granted. It’s so cheesy, but cycling gave me A, B, and C. Whereas before I only had A – because B and C were too far away. But they’re not. They’re really not. Cycling from Leeds to Bradford is not far. It’s 15 miles. It’s an hour. Cycling from Belgium to Croatia is 11 days. Alright, it was pretty heavy going but it was so doable. I think you get where I’m going.

I don’t want to put people off, but I want people to know that they want to do it. But that’s going deep.

ClaireTimothy Pulleyn on the Etape of the Pastries (the Transcontinental Race)