For those of you following our blog and social media you will already be aware of Chris Armishaw. For those of you who are new to us then here is a quick rundown.
Chris is from Billericay and is making a habit of doing exceptional challenges for exceptionally good causes, for example last year he completed every stage of the Tour De France before the race came through. This year he cycled from Washington DC to San Francisco, raising an awful lot of money for Action Medical research in the process. Chris has recently returned safely and we caught up with him for a chat about his latest mammoth effort.
So give us a few stats…
A typical day involved riding between 10-12 hours, pretty much non-stop at a constant steady pace, Zone 2 to 3, to keep a controlled heart rate. Rounding up the numbers, this was around 10,000 calories/day, fed mainly by fluid based nutrition as much as possible, easier to digest than solid food. I learnt through RAAM that the body can’t deal well with both, pushing the body hard and forcing it to digest food at the same time are polar opposites, it's really difficult to get the balance right. Every hour I would consume 2-3 energy gels, one protein bar and one to two bottles split equally between clear water and isotonic fluid, supplemented at the end of the day with real food, the best or most healthy we could find.
Can you explain how you were supported on your journey.
One crew member in an SUV packed with kit, bikes and luggage. The typical daily plan was taken from riding the Tour de France stages, agreeing points along each day's route to meet, these points were ¼, ½ and ¾ points along the route, either towns or road junctions. If our overnight stop was on or near the road and the route fairly straightforward, I would often ride around 100 miles into the course, this tended to happen more in the mid and Western stages.
What kit did you use?
North Hill bib shorts and standard Blackmore jerseys (custom TransAm design) along with my trusty Scott Foil with Zipp wheels. No mechanicals or punctures for the whole trip!!
How did you stay on top of your nutrition?
Simple, I followed the guidance given to me by the team at British Cycling, this covered sports nutrition and real food, although the mid States of the USA make it challenging to follow exactly some of the meals set out. From a riding point of view, I had an hourly plan for nutrition intake, and kept a written reminder on the bike, my crew buddy would also double check what I’d consumed, it was a simple plan that worked well. I would endorse CNP nutrition products and recommend these to anyone, the brand is used by Team SKY, I can understand why, effective, good taste and easily digestible, I’ve tried other sports nutrition products that are harder to digest or give you that sickly feeling, you have to go with whatever works for you.
Did you manage to stay healthy and how has your recovery gone?
I got bronchitis on day 1, leaving Washington in temperatures in excess of 110 degrees and humidity in the low 90’s, heading straight into the Appalachians after two days in an air conditioned hotel environment meant only one thing, bronchitis. The only real cure is complete rest, which wasn’t an option, the next four days were the worst suffering I have ever gone through on a bike, after that it eased off slightly and something that became part of each day. We called into several Pharmacies and Apothecarys but found there to be no real prescription medicine or anything other than ibuprofen and lozenges. The one thing that helped me get through each day was reasonably good sleep albeit quality over quantity. Strangely, the worst night's sleep, or lack of sleep was probably in the best , most comfortable motel; it was day 3, I remember sweating so profusely that the bed sheets and pillows were soaked, this was the worst night. Reaching San Francisco and being off the bike was also fine, I tend not to carry any real aches and pains, always waking up the next day feeling reasonably fine. I’ve learnt (sometimes the hard way) that getting your nutrition and hydration wrong is the sure fire way to compromise your recovery. I remember riding the Fred Whitton challenge, not drinking enough fluids and having a couple of beers after the finish, I felt awful almost jet-lagged for two to three days after, I learnt a lot that day. Every night in the US I would keep one or two bottles of water by the bed, quite often I would drink at least one large bottle.
Did you have any problems with the route?
The route was planned in detail before heading out to the US and reviewed by Neil Hanson (Colorado) who has a fantastic knowledge of the US highway and road network. I knew each day the exact route, in the mid States this was incredibly straightforward, often just one Highway East to West with very few towns or junctions en route. The daily routes were loaded into Garmin Connect and on the device on the bike, but like I say, in the mid States you just followed the Highway. Crossing such a vast distance always means that you’re going to come across the unexpected, road closures, road works, Interstate sections that you’re not allowed to ride on. The worst closure was in the Rockies, a pass that we headed for late afternoon and the only route east to west, it meant driving south for around 40 miles, heading west on an Interstate for around 20 miles and then back on the bike to ride a different climb back into the mountains to the nearest point on the western side of the closed pass, it worked ok but just took time out of a day that was already short of time.
There must have been some testing times…
Leaving the bronchitis aside, there were low points and dark moments, to start with the first three days were tough, feeling unwell and faced with riding tough climbs or rolling (and I mean big rolling) profiles, it was debilitating. It wasn’t until Ohio that the riding moved to a flatter profile, something that probably saved me from quitting if I’m honest. After that, the second day in Colorado was tough, after beautiful roads and landscape for around 90 miles out of Hot Sulphur Springs it was back to rolling roads, very high temperatures and the only real headwind throughout the whole challenge, I swore at everything, insects, trucks, broken white lines on the road, once bad moments get into your head its difficult to shake them. Overall, the most testing thing was the vast, empty, open barren spaces - long straight roads that disappear to a pin point on the horizon, you ride 50 or 60 miles and the whole thing repeats itself, it is mentally debilitating, probably the biggest thing I had to deal with, the loneliness of riding a bike with no one and nothing around, I mean nothing. You can only really understand or visualize this when you’re there doing it, the vast spaces of the deserts on the Western side are like nothing we have in Europe, nothing at all, nothing that comes anywhere near.
What were the particularly memorable parts of the trip? There must have been so many…
Crossing the Mississippi river bridge at virtually the 1000 mile mark, I remember writing in the blog that I rode ‘full gas’ over the bridge, more in the heart than in the legs, to flick dirt into the face of the first few days and all the suffering, poor health, heat and humidity, it was like riding away from a force that had been grabbing you and pulling you back, it sounds odd but this is how it is, your mind exaggerates situations into a bigger thing, it pulls your emotions to pieces. Strange as it may seem, the high point was not riding into San Francisco or to the Golden Gate bridge, this was obviously an incredibly special and emotional moment but reaching the end point and such an iconic landmark combined the feeling of achievement and also the end of what had been an amazing journey, you struggle to deal with both sets of emotions and thoughts. So, the high point was Yosemite, riding on from the state line between Nevada and California towards the Tioga Pass that rises like and Alpine ascent to the entry gates into the main park, riding the 50 miles through the park to the gates on the western side was the most atmospheric, uplifting beautiful 50 miles I have ever ridden, not without pain and fatigue but for that long moment riding with wings, I mean this, it was beautiful, something that I will remember forever. Reaching the gates on the western side brings you to the first road sign for San Francisco, still around 170 miles away, but it was at that moment I knew I would make it, I sat down under a tree outside the small general store and just sat there thinking through every day that had passed, it was quite special.
Any other thank you’s
Simple, to everyone, individuals or companies that have supported, sponsored , followed or shared more publicly the challenge, in this way everyone is part of TransAm, this is what makes it special.
Well we think it’s a great effort and we are looking forward to the next thing, which I am sure you are secretly planning!
I have three or four ideas, all much closer to home, one in a very cold place and another that I think could be a very long, mountainous and beautiful route, all self-planned, watch this space…..