Your year in numbers: Five mile-munching amateurs explain their staggering 2019 totals

As we challenge CW readers to ride 5,000 miles in 2020, David Bradford speaks to five amateur riders about how far they rode the year before

Reaching the end of the year has a special significance for cyclists. Not only are we just over the hurdle of the shortest day and beginning to assemble our hopes and ambitions for spring, it’s also a time to reflect on the year just passed — specifically on our total mileage.

Did you hit your target? Which rides remain most lucid in your mind? And what can you learn from your fitness progress as correlated against your training miles?

Here, we seek inspiration from five amateur riders who each had a bumper year in the saddle despite juggling the myriad responsibilities of full-time work and family life.

The committed commuter

Iain Robinson

Age: 31 | Occupation: Railway signaller | Hometown: Carlisle, Cumbria | Height: 5ft 10in | Weight: 65kg | Club: n/a

If Iain Robinson didn’t get to work on time, the consequences could be dire — he’s a railway signalman. Hats off to him, then, for putting in 14,000 commuting miles during 2019 without delaying a single train!

How would you sum up 2019?

Definitely my best year so far. It would be hard to top it. Going to work hasn’t ever felt like a chore; commuting puts you in a good frame of mind. It was my first full year in my job as a Network Rail signaller. I took a pay cut for this job because I knew it would allow me to cycle more. And it worked out: I cycled to work all year, recording my biggest ever mileage.

Proudest achievement of the year?

Nearly doubling my mileage. I’ve driven to work only six or seven times, either because the bike was broken or the roads were really icy. If I couldn’t get to work, the consequence would be cancelled trains.

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Most memorable ride?

It was a great ride home from work, taking the long way, out towards Keswick with a lap of Derwentwater before heading back to Carlisle. I also remember a good ride in the summer, after dropping the kids off to school, from Carlisle up into the Scottish borders and down past the Kagyu Samye Ling Buddhist monastery, which was 119 miles in all; that was probably the most enjoyable ride of the year.

Any other stand-out rides?

We went on a cycling holiday in Portugal, all of us on bikes, including the eight- and five-year-old — four days cycling around the Algarve; that was nice. This year, we’re planning a bikepacking trip from Carlisle to the Isle of Man.

Lessons learnt in 2019?

The biggest thing I’ve learnt is not trying to stay dry. When I first started out, I thought I needed to stay dry, layering up as much as possible, but I’ve got rid of that mentality. Now I think, if I get wet, I get wet. Keeping warm is what matters; as long as I’m warm, I’m OK. As a result, some of my nicest commutes recently have been in the rain. I’ve become very good at cleaning my bike too!

Railway signaller Iain Robinson

Plans for 2020?

The biggest thing this year will be trying to beat 2019’s mileage. If everything stayed the same, I’d probably be able to match it, but I don’t see where any extra time is coming from. I’d also like to explore a bit more out into Cumbria and the North Pennines — I’m happy to go further afield now that my fitness
has improved.

One million feet of climbing

Liam Brannon

Age: 38 | Occupation: Pensions expert | Hometown: Burnley, Lancashire | Height: 5ft 7in | Weight: 59kg | Club: n/a

Targeting the Maratona gran fondo last July led Liam Brannon to rack up a million feet of climbing and 10,000 miles over the course of the year. Little wonder, therefore, that he smashed his target time and took his fitness to new heights.

How would you sum up 2019?

It was comfortably my biggest year so far. That hadn’t been my ambition, but because I was racking up training miles for the Maratona dles Dolomites, I got to the point of realising I could go over 10,000 miles and so pushed on to achieve it. Likewise, reaching a million feet of climbing was not a target to begin with but became one as the year progressed.

Proudest achievement of the year?

The Maratona would have to be the big one, finishing in just over six hours, but I also went to Cyprus in May and rode to the top of Mount Olympus, which was a cracking day out. My year was based around the Maratona, and it was such a brilliant event and definitely my highlight.

Most memorable ride?

I remember a particular ride in late August, where I went into the Yorkshire Dales and did a lot of the famous climbs including Buttertubs Pass and Fleet Moss. The weather was really good, and it was a really lovely day on the bike — that’s the stand-out of my British rides.

A million feet of climbing — you must really like riding uphill?

I’m only a short bloke, 5ft 7in, and quite light at 9st 4lb, so I’m naturally built for climbing. Where I live, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, you can’t really go anywhere without climbing. Besides, in my training for the Maratona, I had no choice but to target the hills.

Lessons learnt in 2019?

I was fortunate in having no setbacks and no injuries at all. My main lesson came from how well I did in the Maratona. Going into it, my main aim was to break seven hours, so to do six hours 10 minutes was pretty incredible. It was beyond my own expectations, and has given me confidence to aim higher.

Plans for 2020?

I hope to ride the Fred Whitton, if I can get a place. If not, I will do the Etape du Dales or another big UK sportive. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’m going to do 10,000 miles again. I was so focused on the Maratona last year, but I’m not sure I’ll reach that sort of mileage again.

A year of reinvigoration

James Ward

James Ward

Age: 26 | Occupation: Accountant | Hometown: Leeds, West Yorkshire | Height: 6ft | Weight: 68kg | Club: n/a

Twenty-six-year-old James Ward has been riding seriously for seven years, racking up big miles every year and keeping super-fit. He decided not to race in 2019, and instead to “mix things up” by taking part in a variety of fun events to replenish his motivation before returning to racing in 2020.

How would you sum up 2019?

It was a really good year. I always do massive mileage, so the total numbers didn’t matter to me. It was about doing different things aside from racing: I did Dirty Reiver [200km gravel sportive] at the start of the year, and a three-day race to Paris with the Hot Chillee guys, as well as a random, ridiculous sportive called True Grit on the North York Moors. I sneaked in lots of things without having to think too seriously about the planning.

Proudest achievement of the year?

I wasn’t racing this year, so that’s a tough one, but I think it would be the London to Paris event: as a team, we won everything — GC, sprint and hill-climb competitions. It was a pretty sweet 500k in three days.

Most memorable ride?

RideLondon was cracking, as I was going for one of those sub-four-hour times that everyone wants. I was in a super-fast group that included some of the Wiggins-Le Col lads, so it ended up being a bit like a Nat-B race — just nuts for four hours, then everyone trying to take a dig at each other in the last 10 miles. We were finished by 10am, in three hours 53 minutes.

Any other stand-out rides?

Yeah, riding up to the lighthouse in Majorca just as a massive thunderstorm struck. It was the four of us — me, Dan and Jess Evans and [cycling chef] Alan Murchison — and we got inside the lighthouse as it absolutely bombed it down. We had to tiptoe back down to the resort while trying not to get blown off our bikes.

Lessons learnt in 2019?

Less is more. It’s not all about going out and smashing yourself to pieces. I probably got fitter this year, by doing a better mix of stuff, than always going out and hammering myself into the ground. If you’re enjoying it, you are typically faster because it’s not dragging on your head.

Plans for 2020?

I’ll be getting stuck in to racing again, aiming to earn my Cat 2 licence — Cat 1 probably wouldn’t be realistic, given I’m sitting at a desk for seven hours a day. I’d like to do some National B races and just have fun without stress — bearing in mind, I’m not trying to be a pro.

Randonneur ne plus ultra

Judith Swallow

Age: 53 | Occupation: Clinical trials practitioner | Hometown: Pinner, Middlesex | Height: 5ft 4in | Weight: 59kg | Club: VC 167

Despite being diagnosed with a serious autoimmune condition the previous year, Judith Swallow went full steam ahead into 2019 — and ended up breaking the Audax UK record for most miles ever ridden by a woman in a single year.

How would you sum up 2019?

Given that we’ve been trying to treat my vasculitis [inflammation of blood vessels, diagnosed in 2018], it was pretty incredible and unexpected. I finished the year on 22,618 miles — the most ever by a woman member of Audax UK. Because we’d had such an incredibly mild winter, I decided to give it a go, and it worked out.

How did you fit in so many miles around your job?

Mainly by riding to work via the indirect route — my commute over the summer was 100km a day. Riding brevets made a really big difference too: I rode three 1,200km and a 1,000km brevet this year — a very efficient way of collecting high miles.

There must have been sacrifices?

Yes, they became more nagging as the year progressed: the garden has become very neglected, and I haven’t made much progress with my embroidery! I began to feel a need for more balance, but you can’t have it all ways.

Proudest achievement of the year?

The Randonnee Imperator, which was a 660km brevet through Germany and Italy with a lot of dirt tracks and off-road trails. Over 100 people started but only about 50 finished within the 43-hour cut-off. On the first day, it threw it down with the most evil rain; and if you thought day one was bad, day two had worse in store: humongous wind that ripped trees apart — we had to thread bikes through trees! Goat trails, tree debris, hub-height water… I got to the finish thinking, how have I managed this?

Most memorable ride?

The Hound Dog 1,200km in Texas, just four weeks after being so sick I’d been seen as an emergency outpatient. It was another brevet with a success rate of only about 50 per cent, owing to the incredible heat — 47ºC degrees during the day. The wind was tremendous as we ploughed from Texas into Oklahoma, with manic dogs chasing us! Somehow, it all came together.

Lessons learnt in 2019?

I certainly learned how to manage the vasculitis — an autoimmune disease that has attacked my nervous system, causing drop foot and rheumatoid arthritis in my hands. It’s meant learning to cope in the heat, stopping for ice or shade, and giving myself proper breaks. A lot of people with this condition would sit on the sofa and not do anything, so for me it’s been about not being frightened to give it a go.

Plans for 2020?

I already have a few things sketched in: Paris-Brest-Paris Audax, the Great Southern randonnée in Australia, and I’ll probably do another 1,200km in Canada, as well as a 600km Audax in France.

Smashing it at 60

Keith Ainsworth

Keith Ainsworth

Age: 60 | Occupation: Freelance IT consultant | Hometown: Sheffield, South Yorkshire | Height: 6ft 2in | Weight: 80kg | Club: Sheffrec CC

Veteran racer Keith Ainsworth got into cycling in his early 50s, having been an elite runner in his younger days. Now, a decade on, he’s a fearsomely fast time triallist, thrashing competitive riders young enough to be his kids while being virtually untouchable among his peers. In 2019, he set national age records at 10, 15, 25 and 50 miles.

How would you sum up 2019?

It’s hard to sum up. Time-wise, it wasn’t the best year because of the weather. I definitely think I improved over 2018. I won the National Vets 10 in my age group and was second overall in the race. In the ‘full fat’ RTTC Nationals, I was 28th overall in the open race and won my age category.

Proudest achievement of the year?

Breaking 50 minutes three times for 25 miles in adverse conditions, that’s what I’m pleased about. When I first started racing, I used to admire the guys who raced in adverse conditions but still banged out good times. I’ve joined them now.

Any other memorable rides?

I did two 10s, both in outrageously bad conditions, on the E2 at Newmarket, and in both of them broke 20 minutes. The best one was the RTTC 10, where I won my age category as well as being quickest in the two age categories below mine.

Lessons learnt in 2019?

Generally, I developed more confidence in my ability to go into the red and sustain it. The other big one was gaining confidence that I can knock out really top-notch times even in adverse weather conditions.

Plans for 2020?

Just to progress as I have been really. My targets are National Championships — I have got my eye on those big competitions because one day I will knock racing on the head. I’d love to break 19 minutes for 10 miles, and I know I can because my PB is quite old.

NOTE: Ainsworth’s stats do not include indoor training. He also did 110 indoor sessions averaging 70min per session.

Join the #CW5000 – Sign up to the challenge

Inspired by these riders to rack up more miles in 2020? Why not join CW’s 5,000-mile challenge? By getting involved, you’ll be able to share your story with a community of riders, take part in monthly challenges, get inspired, and win prizes. Five-thousand miles breaks down into 13.7 miles a day — challenging but achievable!

This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.

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