Between a clock and a far place: The golden era of long-distance record breaking

Long-distance record breaking may have declined in recent years, but epic feats of endurance such as the End-to-End continue to exert a hold on the imagination, finds James Shrubsall

Bob Maitland (CW Archive)

On a dark September night in 2001, up in the northern reaches of Scotland’s Cairngorm mountains, a persistent rain is spatting off the tarmac of the main A9. In the distance, the twin headlamps of a vehicle approach, moving at a shade over 20mph, its lights twinkling on the wet tarmac. Just ahead of it, a dark shape, its own front light now visible, can be made out. As the mini convoy gets nearer, the shape becomes a cyclist, riding on tri-bars and aero wheels.

As he passes, ticking over at a metronomic 22mph, Gethin Butler’s sunken face tells the story of the gruelling 700-mile journey to get here — one which will only finish 300 miles later after he has set new Land’s End to John o’ Groats and 1,000-mile records.

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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 behind him. But he still rides regularly, both on the road and on the gravelly stuff.