The 28h Project: going the distance
15 hours in a German pain cave and a sore arse - is the start of probably quite a few stories, however most of them don't involve a bicycle (but I bet some of them do). This is The 28h Project round 2, for those of you who read round 1 back on the 9th May (link here if you haven't...I'll wait), this is the distance element as opposed to the altitude gain 6 months ago. The clock starts at 9am on Saturday and stops at 1pm on Sunday, and during that 28h you test yourself to see how far you can ride either outside, inside, or hybrid. As it is a distance challenge, you don't want to waste energy riding up and down hills, you need to go with the "flatter the better" philosophy, of which the UK is not blessed, so I packed up my bike and headed to Friedrichshafen in Germany. I will explain.
Whilst temporarily homeless back in September (long story, needs alcohol), I went to Riccioni in Italy for a couple of weeks where I met Kurt, Phil and Charlie. It was great riding with these guys, and over a meal one evening I happen mention I had a 28h challenge coming up in a few weeks, so this was some good training for it. After being told how crazy I was (standard) they suggested coming to where they were based as it was pretty flat for long distances - where was this magical place? You guessed it, Friedrichshafen, on the edge of Lake Constance. So the plan was hatched, things were booked, and I was ready to roll - what could go wrong?
Phil collected me from Memmingen Airport, driving me the 100-odd kilometres to central Friedrichshafen which was an exceptionally kind gesture for someone I barely knew - of which I was very grateful. The weather looked good for the following weekend, light cloud, maybe some early fog, but no rain on the horizon. Well, that was the case right up until 48 hours before the start when it changed for the worse and looked like heavy rain all day. I don't mind riding in the rain, did a lot of that when I completed LEJOG, but potentially 28h is a different story, especially when you are in a foreign country with no home comforts around. The original route was going to be incredible, leaving Friedrichshafen and skirting the edge of Lake Constance to the east, would then head south up the Rhine Valley and into Lichtenstein, Switzerland and Austria (although not the countries you would initially think of to do a flat cycle challenge). I would have to complete that adventure on another visit, as the German weather had other plans.
Kurt is an amazing guy; generous with his time and home, and an integral part of the local cycling club in Friedrichshafen - RSV Seerose, a 100 year old cycling institution that nurtures and develops the next generation of German superstars across all cycling formats. Kurt is also very proud father to the current German champion and 2023 Movistar cyclist, Liane Lippert - so cycling is in the DNA around these parts. I was storing my bike in his basement aka pain cave, and as the weather became worse, i was going to be starting my 28 hour epic on Zwift...and hoping I wouldn't be there for the whole 28 hours. So 9am came around, and off I pedalled.
Ride 1 (virtual): 301km, 11h 5m, 290m ascent
The first hour of any virtual ride, I find, is the toughest and the slowest - obviously each hour is the same but the perception of the first hour is one of time standing still. I chose Tempus Fugit in the Zwifting virtual world of Watopia, at 19.6km long and only 32m of ascent, it is not the longest, but definitely the flattest. Virtual cycling does get boring after a while, to the point where I have some friends that have just stopped doing it, you have to try to keep your mind entertained and focused otherwise you are just sitting there for hours on end in your spare room (which is as sad as it sounds). If I was at home, I would have the TV on watching some documentary (cycling or nature), basically something to think about as movies and tv shows don't work (for me anyway). So out came the tablet, opened GCN+, and started watching.
I love how sometimes life imitates art, and who doesn't love a good coincidence, so cycling in Liane's parents basement watching Liane ride the Tour of Romandie, was a very surreal experience. Time passed with each pedal stroke, and thankfully the weather outside had started to abate, but not before knocking out 300km. I needed to go outside as I was starting to develop cabin fever, regardless of the weather, so time to stop ride one, have some food, and hit actual roads for a while
Ride 2 (real world): 88.5km, 3h 23m, 320m ascent
Sabrina, Wolfgang, Cornelius and Maria - my travelling companions for the evening. As outlined above, Kurt is an influential figure within RSV Seerose and after sending a few messages about some mad Aussie who lives in England and has come to Germany to ride a 28 hour challenge...I think they either felt sorry for me, or just wanted to see this lunatic in the flesh. Either way, some amazing people that unselfishly gave up nearly 4 hours of their Saturday night/early Sunday morning to come out and ride laps with me around Friedrichshafen airport - the flattest area around. As you can see from the below ride review, around and around and around...until the early hours of Sunday morning. Can't say thank you enough to these guys for sacrificing their evenings and helping me get closer to my goal.
Ride 3 (virtual): 90.2km, 4h 10m, 60m ascent
It was getting cold out...well, it was cold out, the airport team had supported me for many an hour so was time to say thank you and goodbyes and head back into the pain cave - it definitely earned it's name. By this point I think coffee was the only thing keeping my eyes from closing, the pace had dropped considerably, but at least I was still moving forward - albeit virtually. After just over 4 hours I think I must have actually dozed whilst riding, so was very lucky for me that I was on a turbo and clipped in, otherwise I could have been in a world of pain. At that point, and having racked up nearly 480km in 20 hours, it was time to get some shut eye even if it was for only a couple of hours. I can honestly say I was thinking straight, for obvious reasons, so instead of going upstairs and lying down in the warm front room on a comfy sofa...I found a yoga mat, put on my warmest cycling attire, and laid down on the cold, concrete basement floor - it wasn't comfortable, as you would expect, but I was out cold in seconds flat. 2 hours and 3 alarms later, I got up and went to get some breakfast in readiness for the last ride, the final leg of this 28 hour challenge.
Ride 4 (real world): 122km, 4h 15m, 520m ascent
With around 5 hours until the 1pm cut-off, I was met by Moritz, Gilles, Kurt, Tobias, Phil, Niazi, Nathalie, Cornelius, Julian, Alex and Michel - the RSV Seerose team who came out to ride the north side of Lake Constance...and back again. I was pretty shattered by this point, although was trying not to show it to those fresh-faced early morning risers. I think I hid it well, but my judgment was fairly compromised by that point, so probably looked like I felt - a cycling zombie.
Starting from Friedrichshafen for an out and back, aiming for a total of around 120km...on top of the 480km I had already completed. My original goal was 500km, I was going to blast that out of the water, so 600km - why not?! So on my bike I hoped (not going to lie, arse was pretty sore by this point) and off we went in a semi-orderly fashion. I hadn't previously ridden any of these roads before, so I think that actually helped me stay awake because there are some outstandingly beautiful towns and villages we rode through along the way. So taking a left out of Markdorf we headed towards the shoreline and Meersburg (one of the lovely towns), then hugging the shoreline all the way to Oberuhldingen, left, and through Uberlingen, Sipplingen and Ludwigshafen, at which point we had reached the end of the lake. From here it was out up into the hills for a bit before circling back and taking the high road back towards Friedrichshafen. We were halfway, or perhaps a little over by the time we stopped for coffee and cake (it is mandatory on a ride to do this, for any non-cyclists out there). In order to fuel for such a ride (I burnt 14,000 calories over the 28 hours), you need to continually eat, but at some points you actually get bored of the chewing motion and you have to force food down - you really don't want it. The cake disappeared, so did the coffee, and after one last pit stop, we were on the home stretch and pushing >40kmph. I don't know how my legs were turning at this point, but I can remember them being numb (perhaps they just gave up because they knew I wasn't going to stop), but finishing in a blaze of glory and managing to do the expected ride length - it was then a couple of kilometres back to base. They felt like very very long kilometres.
Perhaps my motivation was Schnapps, of which Kurt makes an incredible Quince variant, and was offered upon finalising this amazing, tiring, painful challenge. All in all 602km ridden across 23 hours of the 28, with 5 hours making up the bits in between i.e. sleeping, faffing, eating etc. Once all the results were in, I came fourth globally and incredibly proud of my achievement, but I couldn't have done it without the support of Kurt and the RSV Seerose cycling club. An absolutely incredible bunch of people that I can't thank enough for the support and company before, during and after the challenge - they will stay with me forever. It won't be my last time down that way mind you, I have a couple of challenges lined up for next year including a ride from my house to theirs - London, England the Friedrichshafen, Germany...might even find some bucket list mountains to climb along the way.
So am I going to do this again, yes, if I can hit 600km, there is no reason that with a reduction in sleep and faffing why I can't hit 700km. I haven't learnt my lesson, and with longer challenges out there, I doubt I will - at the ripe age of 46, I am too old to change and way too stubborn, so more of the same next year...but more challenging.
Sleep now, for tomorrow I ride.