Essential Journeys is delighted to have on board renowned Exercise Physiologist, Tom Cowan, from the Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP). Tom’s aim is to introduce you to different exercise-based adventures, offer guidance on how to trainand how to prepare for the day.
The first article of my Adventure Challenge series for Essential Journeys introduced the London to Paris by bike 24-hour challenge. Having thrown down the gauntlet, I thought that it was only right to attempt the challenge myself and tick it off from my own bucket list. So I began organising the ride for the Centre for Health and Human Performance (CHHP), recruiting colleagues, friends and family, and it soon gained momentum.
Our team quickly grew to 18 cyclists and a six-person strong support team. Working with some of the world-leading experts in the field of sport, exercise and medicine meant that our team conveniently included physiotherapists, dieticians and physiologists, as well as friends and family, including my brother, Ben, and cousin, Laurence.
Our team had a wide variety of fitness levels and cycling experience, with several of the team buying a bike (or three in my case – don’t ask! Several unsuccessful second-hand bike purchases from eBay earned me the nickname Del Boy for the trip… Wheeling and dealing, literally….) especially for the challenge.
We then contacted the charity Male Cancer Awareness Campaign to ride the challenge in aid of their Near Naked Man project. Cardio-pulmonary exercise tests (CPETs) were performed in the CHHP lab to calculate training zones (see chhp.com for CPET bookings) and everyone set about training for the event. In my case, this involved shorter training sessions during the week, mostly 10km commutes to and from the clinic with gentle inclines and plenty of traffic lights, which encouraged me to have bursts of higher intensity cycling interspersed by slower recovery periods, essentially mimicking interval training.
I was also sure to include a longer, steady-state ride on a Sunday, which lasted several hours and involved some elevation to prepare me for the demands of the London to Paris ride. Some of my training rides can be found on my Strava.
I would also like to pay a particular thank you to Dan Guillemette, Physiotherapist at CHHP and for professional cycling team Mitchelton-SCOTT, for providing bike-fit consultations for the team, to make sure that our bikes were optimally set up using his expert knowledge and 3D camera analysis (see chhp.com for bike-fit bookings).
Organising the ride ourselves, rather than joining an existing event, such as those run by Skyline Events, mentioned in my previous article, meant that we needed to source all of our support ourselves. I would like to thank our support team, including staff from CHHP and my mum, who kept us fuelled, hydrated and our bikes in working order all of the way to Paris and made the challenge possible.
Very generous donations were also made to our team from a number of companies: LeCol kitted our team out with custom-fit Near Naked Man cycling kit,; Bullet and Bone provided anti-chafing cream; Toyota supplied a support vehicle; Huel fuelled our team with ready-made meal drinks and bars; The Turmeric Co. provided beetroot juice shots; Hardnutz designed and manufactured our own personalised commemorative helmets; Options Boxlogix ensured we were fully stocked up with boxes upon boxes of flapjacks, Lucozade, sports drinks and water.
The days leading up to the ride consisted of the advised taper in training, limiting myself to a short commute into work and back, only on a few of the days beforehand.
We gathered as a team at CHHP in Harley Street, Central London, got kitted out in Near Naked Man bike suits and loaded our two support vehicles with the wealth of food, drinks and supplements that had been donated to us. I gave a quick briefing to the team about the route (which can be found on my Strava and which I have also shared on my Twitter @thomasjcowan). Patrick Cox, CEO of Male Cancer Awareness Campaign, gave a quick pep talk about the dangers of cycling through London and some wise words of advice, “Do not die”, to spur the team on before our departure at 2pm. Our challenge was to reach the Eiffel Tower in Paris, 24 hours later, following the Newhaven-Dieppe route which I mentioned in my last article.
Getting out of London was nothing short of a nightmare, battling through the Friday afternoon traffic and countless traffic lights. Every single one that we approached seemed to turn to red. It was worse for some in our group than others… spare a thought (or inner tube) for my cousin Laurence, who suffered three punctures in the first 2km, before he had even reached Trafalgar Square! From there things were starting to look up, literally, with a gradual climb out of London before reaching the first real incline at Farthing Downs, where we said goodbye to London, flew over the M25 and into Bletchingley for our first stop, 32km into the ride.
The rain was now starting to come down more heavily, but undeterred we headed towards our next stop at Ardingly College. The college had very kindly put on a carbohydrate-filled dinner for our team at the 60km mark. We were met by school representatives, staff and pupils and a visit from my dad, all keen to see the Team Near Naked suits. Plenty of pasta was consumed before we headed off for the final segment of leg 1: Ardingly to Newhaven Port, the final 40km.
Darkness fell and so too did the temperature. Thermals and fluorescent clothing came out, as did some fog, but we all completed the 100km from London to Newhaven Port in time for the ferry check-in at 9:30pm. With the turbulent weather, I had been expecting an email from DFDS Ferries cancelling the ferry crossing, but luckily not even Hurricane Lorenzo could stop us now. We boarded the ferry and retired to our cabins to try to get some sleep on the very rocky (thanks again to Hurricane Lorenzo!) four-hour crossing to Dieppe, arriving at 4am local time.
More rain and fog welcomed us to Dieppe, but spirits were high (sort of!) now that we were in France and fuelled by a breakfast, kindly provided by Huel. We quickly got on to the Avenue Verte – an old railway line, now a well-trodden cycle path, which took us all of the way to the small town of Forges-les-Eaux, where we had our first stop after 52km. Ensure that you are stocked with food and fluids for this first part of day two, since there really are no shops or even petrol stations open between Dieppe and Forges-les-Eaux at this time of the morning.
Puncture after puncture along Avenue Verte led to us arriving in Forges-les-Eaux well behind schedule and in hindsight, given the conditions, we may have been better to have followed the D1 instead, a quiet road which runs alongside Avenue Verte as far as Neufchâtel-en-Bray. We needed to make up time and having left Forges-les-Eaux, said goodbye to Avenue Verte and took to the French roads for the next 75km, namely the D915, passing through kilometre after kilometre of rolling French countryside and the towns of Gournay-en-Bray and Gisors.
We had a good run all of the way to our next stop at the very welcoming Café de la Poste in sleepy La Gaudière, where, it is fair to say, the locals were completely bemused by our outfits. We were greeted by the owner with baguette and pâté on the house for one last boost, before heading off for the final 45km stretch to the Eiffel Tower. We were still slightly behind time and so we picked up the pace, maybe slightly too much, as I came off my bike at a roundabout and skidded across it on my side, badly ripping my Near Naked Man suit and skin from my leg… I was now a bit more Near Naked Man than I had bargained for!
Quickly back on my bike, we were nearing Paris and tackled a few more hills on the outskirts before reaching the Bois de Boulogne, which made for a scenic last few kilometres towards the Eiffel Tower. Paris had kept one last obstacle in store for us…cobbled streets, slowing our final approach to the Eiffel Tower, but despite the weather conditions and no less than 35 punctures across the team!, we made it and headed to the Champ de Mars for photographic evidence.
The challenge may have been over, but we weren’t finished in Paris just yet. Dropping off our bikes at Eurostar involved cycling 6km across Paris to Gare du Nord, before heading back to the Champ de Mars for a well-deserved team dinner and medal presentation. Our CHHP to Paris 24-hour Adventure Challenge raised over £13,000 so far for Male Cancer Awareness Campaign’s Near Naked Man project – www.justgiving.com/fundraising/teamchhp.
A short video of our CHHP to Paris 24-hour Adventure Challenge can be viewed at www.bencowan.co.uk . Remember to share your Adventure Challenge training and event stories with me on Twitter and Instagram (@thomasjcowan #essentialjourneys #adventurechallenge). I will be introducing another Adventure Challenge soon. À la prochaine.
Clinical Exercise Physiologist Tom Cowan holds clinics
•The adventure described is intended only for individuals fit and able to partake in such exercise. The bike ride involves physically demanding exercise and it is always advised that you check with your doctor before attempting any training or the event itself. Tom Cowan studied Sport and Exercise Science at Loughborough University, attaining First-Class Honours. He then worked as an Exercise Physiologist and Sports Scientist, initially as First Team Sports Scientist for Chelsea Football Club, before moving to Harley Street six years ago, where today he is recognised as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist, specialising in exercise prescription for cancer and cardiac patients. Tom’s work has been recognised by The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine and also Public Health England, who selected him to become a member of their expert panel for their Cancer and Exercise Moving Medicine project. He has presented research into preventing cardiovascular disease at international conferences, and holds regular clinics at the world-leading Harley Street clinic, The Centre for Health and Human Performance (chhp.com). Tom works with international sports stars, amateur athletes and those individuals entering a physical challenge for the first time, advising and coaching them to improve their fitness levels and train them specifically for their own challenge.