Preparation for World Record attempt with Raptor
If you think you are a data junkie, meet your match in Scottish, James MacDonald. Not only has he ridden, and completed RAAM (Race Across America) but broke the world record for fastest time across the UK in JOG-LE-JOG (John o’Groats to Land’s End and back). Besides the natural obsession for good weather and comfort on the bike, his most significant brain space is used on data, well and passing the time with good music. Let’s back up and tell you about his background and then just how one trains for extreme endurance events including his current quest for the 24-hour record happening this June! Every ride is planned with zone targets, no fun riding at the moment, but that doesn’t mean James isn’t a cool guy, husband, and dad. Here are notable highlights of how he does it all, and he will hopefully get the new record.
Dot Dot Dash.
James has not consistently been an athlete, let alone an endurance king, but has a remarkable pattern of ride > not ride > ride, yet still is setting and seeking records. Most folks would think he’d been some sort of Olympian before he was 20, but James had been a “mere” club cyclist since 18, then stopped during University and starting his career. Now we’d be lying if we said James didn’t show promise, he was beating cyclists who went on to represent Scotland at Commonwealth Games. He didn’t get back into cycling until he was 35. THIRTY-FIVE! Yes, you still have time to find a record you’d like to beat! Enter his major sponsor and employer, Cisco. James works as a Systems Engineer at the global IT giant and has been with them since 2007.
Goals set, data used, and no rain.
What put James on the top-endurance-athlete map was finishing RAAM. He heard about the cross-country race in 2014, and looking at the event he thought, as all of us would, “I’d like to see if using technology and analytics would improve performance and results? We can use dimension data…” (director says show numbers, charts, and graphs and fade to black). 2016, his first and only RAAM attempt landed him 7th overall. 3,089 total miles, 12ish days, a gray area if you ride with no sleep and back to back. How does one really count when a day ends or begins while still riding? Okay, there are no gray areas (or “ish”) with data, but you can imagine the state of mind even an engineer would get in after 48 hours straight between 22-hour days and 2 hours of sleep. But the highlight he says for that event was, wait for it: NO RAIN! Sounds like a Blind Melon song, but it’s true, coast to coast and no rain. We’d wager that will never happen again for any US cross-country quest.
Let’s break a record!
Coming back to his homeland, he must have thought, “Why not go across the UK now? It is smaller, and hey, there’s this little event called JOG-LE-JOG of an out and back.” Nobody had broken Ben Rockett’s record of the JOG-LE-JOG for 7 years! Using careful calculations and monitoring his zones, fatigue, and power — James beat the record by 3 hours and 5 minutes in 2017!
While James was riding, Ben sent the team a message saying he wanted them to beat it! We may have portrayed James as an athletic data robot, but watching any of his Vlogs and listening to him you’d hear the charming, goofy, light-hearted warm person that isn’t all engineer all the time. Even the biggest data junkies have emotion, and James not only choked up hearing from Ben directly but later they shared a long Skype as only two endurance athletes at this level could, with empathy and commonalities, including side effects post ride. This includes that both of them have numb fingers. James recalled he still drops plates occasionally because his fingers are a bit weak. To show how much one needs a strong and unwavering team to accomplish such feats, see this video of his then daughter high-fiving him from the car window during the JOG-LE-JOG pursuit.
https://vimeo.com/234332218 (< at 5:35).
James’ record earning numbers were 2,711kms, in 5 days 18 hours 53 minutes. Let’s break another record! Before we get into the details of his present pursuit, the 24-hour distance record, let’s examine how an athlete of this caliber, in this day of and age of data, prepares.
It’s easy to nod your head at athletes that train with coaches and look at their data to improve and give them the edge. What makes this story different is not only the distance and time it takes to ride the endeavors James has completed, but how his team is using the data, and how real-time data during training, and during events, can give him the cumulative edge for his remarkable successes. He credits using the Everysight Raptor smartglasses for real-time stats so he can see exactly where he is during his long training rides, how his body fatigue and power are doing at that exact moment. Using training data is non-stop for him. Having easy access to it, by looking through the glasses Heads-Up-Display projected in front of him, is super convenient.
During an 8-hour test on the track, James and the team were able to witness in real-time, when and where the power was fluctuating through the corners. Seeking essential data without looking down and sticking to an aero position is game-changing. An unexpected benefit of using the glasses for training is the ability to stay connected. We have mentioned the mental capacity it takes to train long multi-hour, half-day training rides, right? Well, one feature James’ loves with the Raptor is the mental uplift he gets with seeing messages. James said it’s funny when you can see people commenting on Instagram while out on long training rides. Doesn’t feel as lonely when you can stay in touch and be momentarily entertained. Additionally, he records videos (Vlogs) hands-free or “voice-activated” with the glasses, while training on beautiful country roads. Experience a tiny sample of his training rides with this compilation: (https://vimeo.com/342587030).
It’s an excellent time to go over the essentials it takes to pursue an endurance world record. Check out this equipment list, which includes humans.
- 48 male rider, wears contacts
- Wonderfully supportive wife and 11 yr old daughter
- Top bike fitters, foot/shoe, physio — Phil Burt Innovations
- Coach — Espresso Cycle Coaching (doing all the research!)
- An entire, amazing team for mechanical and psychological support
- Local Bike shop — Pedal Power, Scotland
- Everysight Raptor smartglasses
- BMC bike, Mavic Wheels, Ceramic Speed bearings, cranks and chain
- Endura helmet and riding kit
- Garmin, Rotor and SRM / Look Power meters
- Have used oxygen sensors and ice vests
- SLS Audio — AV and audio comms
- Dimension Data, Cisco – data analytics
- Newport Live, Velodrome of Wales
- TrainingPeaks – fitness and fatigue calculations
- Detailed food log with calorie and protein values
- Gym training, road rides
World record — you think you’ve been going in circles, check this out.
June 22nd mid-day James will start rolling for his next world record. What exactly is this world record? It’s the furthest distance in 24 hours, attempted indoors on a velodrome. Let that sink in. Imagine, ride in circles, for a day, figure out how to stay fueled, keep your attention, do not fall over, figure out when or how to do nature breaks. For instance, he’ll be burning 800 kCalories (kilocalories) per hour, close to 20,000 kCalories for the event. This takes a special kind of training, both physically and mentally, and James is the guy to do it. The number of details that have gone into preparation, training, equipment, and tweaking it all over and over again for this event’s success, we’d write a book. We think you get the idea that it is not only complicated but a significant undertaking that has taken a team.
James will need to ride a minimum of 941kms (584.71 miles) to beat the record, making his average pace at 40kph (24.85mph) to include a few minutes of stopping time. This will take place at the Geraint Thomas National Velodrome of Wales located in Newport. The Velodrome has been incredibly generous allowing access for 4, 8,12 and 18-hour test rides. Every single ride, the team has adjusted from head to toe.
Like a record, spin round and round!
The machine (‘er machines) are ready, so now what? Well, this is where the support team is stepping in. He vulnerably shared that the chats with his crew chief are the only way these kinds of endurance events are accomplished. James recalled that one of the chats during the ride back to John o’Groats for the JOG-LE-JOG record being “life-changing, raw and honest as they come.” It’s still complicated with only 10 days left leading up to the event. Like any endurance athlete before him, it’s time to taper as well as be protected. He is currently not allowed to ride without a car behind him – no JRA (Just-riding -along) incidents allowed. You could say we have a part race car, part human, part data computer getting ready to launch. If there’s one thing we know you’ll like James, it’s that after countless hours on roads with unfavorable weather while training, you’ll be able to spend that entire day inside, safely away from mother nature challenges. We will be there virtually with you, cheering you on! You too can get inspired and support James’ team remotely by watching live updates and tuning in during the event via Cisco’s Webex. Look for coverage on BBC with their technology magazine names “Click”. Go James!