Three hours’ sleep a night and the odd McDonald’s – it’s amazing what you can get away with during a record-breaking endurance feat on the bike. It worked for new seven-day mileage Guinness World Record holder Josh Quigley though. He was indeed sleep deprived and, yes, his crew even popped to the Golden Arches for him as he rode to an impressive 2,179 miles in a week last month.
Riding a 65-mile out-and-back course between Peterculter and Ballater in Aberdeenshire, Quigley averaged 311 miles a day on the bike, riding from around 4am till midnight and sometimes later, averaging around 16mph. He beat the previous record, held by Australian Jack Thomson, by 2.66 miles, also becoming the youngest rider to have held the record, at 29 years old.
After seven days and hundreds of hours of riding, it was a small margin to finish with, but after attempting the record back in April and having to pull out near the end due to a knee injury, Quigley simply wanted the record beaten – by how much was immaterial, he says.
“Going into this thing, if you’d said, ‘The record’s 2,177, I’ll offer you 2,178 right now,’ I’d have absolutely took that off you. I didn’t care if I beat it by 10 miles, 100 miles, 50 miles, I just wanted to beat it. All I wanted to do was beat it because of what happened the first time.”
As someone who was not only a non-cyclist seven years ago but had just attempted suicide after struggling with depression, Josh Quigley has come a hell of a long way (see box).
Despite his status as a relative newbie to the sport, this was just the latest in a long list of endurance endeavours – his first being cycling 1,100 miles around Scotland on a hybrid with a suspension fork. It was also the second endurance record that Quigley has set in less than a year. Last November he took six minutes off James McCallum’s record for the Scottish North Coast 500 route.
Record-breaking stats: Quigley’s week at a glance
Dates: Monday 13 Sept to Monday 20 Sept
Total miles: 2,179.6
Beat the record by: 2.66 miles
Biggest day: 352 miles
Smallest day: 273 miles
Ave. riding speed: 17mph
Ave power: Between 165-230 watts each day
Both his record-breaking rides – not to mention Quigley’s single-minded perseverance – are all the more impressive in light of the fact that he was left with 10 broken bones after being hit by a car in Texas while attempting to ride around the world in 2019.
The bad luck didn’t stop there – at the beginning of this year a 40mph training crash in Dubai left him with a fractured spine, pelvis, shoulder, elbow and four ribs, and it was lingering issues from that led to a knock-on knee injury in his April attempt at the seven-day record, forcing him to abandon on the Friday having ridden more than
“For the last four or five months since that first attempt I’ve just been worried about my knees, like what if it happens again?” Quigley admits. “We’ve got the live tracker, social media et cetera… there was a lot of pressure.”
Quigley, from Livingston near Edinburgh, began his seven-day record attempt on Monday, 13 September at four in the morning, riding until the same time on the following Monday, 20 September.
The idea, he says, was just to take it one day at a time and if he could get to Friday injury free, so much the better. Waking up on the Saturday morning ready for the big 43-hour push to the finish and less than 650 miles to ride, it dawned on him and his team that they might just be able to do it. “We were all feeling pretty good,” Quigley says. “My team put a video up on social media of me and my project leader Paul dancing round the room, we were in great spirits.”
Once saddled up and on the road, those high spirits didn’t mean Quigley floated to the finish on a cushion of speedy comfort. In many ways, the hardest part was still to come.
“It was tough,” Quigley recalls. “Because of the sleep deprivation there was a point on the Saturday afternoon I had to stop for a nap and I had another one about an hour later.”
The unplanned sleep stops were sapping his confidence and morale when he already had very little energy, and at one point he says, he was ready to accept defeat.
“I just said to my project leader as I was getting out of the van... I was just feeling so tired, I said, ‘Well, we gave it a good go at least.’”
Road to recovery: Back from the brink
The powerful healing effect that cycling can have on the mind and body is well documented, and Josh Quigley is a living embodiment of that. But five years ago, before he found cycling, living had simply become too much for the Scot.
“Depression had a grip on my soul,” he wrote in a finely crafted piece in the Scotsman in 2016. He had visited his GP, only to be put on a seven-month waiting list. It was too much.
“I wanted to be dead,” he wrote. “I took what I thought was my only option… suicide.”
Quigley drove his car into a concrete wall at 80mph. Incredibly, not only did he survive, he woke up in hospital to discover he had barely been scratched.
“That night I walked along to the hospital chapel,” he told the Head Talks mental health platform. “I thought, I don’t know what has happened, but something special has happened. I wrote a message in the book… ‘I don’t know what it was or who it was, but you’ve been kept alive by something or somebody, and it’s your job to do something about it.’”
Quigley set about raising money and awareness for mental health issues. His first cycling expedition was an 1,100 mile trip around Scotland sponsored by mental health charity See Me Scotland, and as well as the £4,000 he raised through his round-the-world trip he has worked tirelessly to promote mental health awareness through public speaking and media appearances.
But Quigley eventually emerged through the fog of tiredness into the clarity of a final day on Sunday morning, and even though the night had been “brutal” the end was in sight.
The locals, who had been supporting Quigley from the roadside throughout his attempt with words of encouragement from the side of the road, flag-waving and even bagpipes, redoubled their efforts for his final push.
In Inchmarlo the fire service turned out and gave Quigley a blue-light escort through the town, while Joss Aggregates at Netherpark Quarry, also along the route, changed its signage to ‘Josh’ for the day in honour of his endeavours.
“To execute on the plan and achieve a new world record is the greatest feeling ever. I am so happy and relieved I got it done,” he said afterwards.
There is another side to Quigley’s endeavours, which is fund-raising. Having managed to raise £4,000 for mental health charities on his round-the-world ride, and £10,000 for Arthritis Action on his first seven-day record attempt, last month’s efforts have so far raised more than £12,500 for the Thomas Franks Foundation, which provides meals to those in need. It probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that Quigley’s ambition does not end here. The next step, he says, is to start racing on the road and get signed by a pro team.
“I want to get signed by a professional team in 2022... my big dream and goal is to make it to the Tour de France. There’s never been a Scottish winner of the Tour de France, to have a crack at that would be incredible. It’s a crazy goal but if there’s anybody that can do it, it’s me.”
Said without arrogance, just exhilaration at having a second chance at a life that was once so nearly lost but is now there for the taking. Despite everything Quigley has been through – indeed, because of it – you would not bet against him.
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After cutting his teeth on local and national newspapers, James began at Cycling Weekly as a sub-editor in 2000 when the current office was literally all fields.
Eventually becoming chief sub-editor, in 2016 he switched to the job of full-time writer, and covers news, racing and features.
A lifelong cyclist and cycling fan, James's racing days (and most of his fitness) are now in the past, although that doesn't stop him banging on tirelessly about "that one time" he nearly rode a 20-minute '10', and planning the big comeback that everyone knows will never actually happen.