What do you do when you are a 25-year-old bloke with time on your hands before you start your dream job? Hang out with your mates down the pub? If you are Ollie Hayward, you pack your Reilly and cycle Lands’ End to John O’Groats. Ollie completed the ride in a staggering 146 hours, 20 minutes and 8 seconds and bagged himself second place at GBDuro 21, just behind the endurance legend that is Mark Beaumont.
I caught up with Ollie a few weeks after his epic ride.
Congratulations Ollie, how are you feeling?
Physically, I’m almost back to normal. My body does still feel tired, as my body clock was shocked.
Why did you want to do GBDuro 21?
I have been racing on a road bike since I was 16 in elite races in UK and Ireland. I’ve done cyclocross, mountain biking and 24-hour mountain bike events, but I wanted something longer. I’ve always wanted to do Lands’ End to John O’Groats. Once I signed up, my ambition was just to finish.
Did you have a plan for the ride?
I didn’t have a plan as such. Before I set off, I’d made a list of all the shops along the way with the opening and closing times, so I knew I could get food and water.
You are super orgainsed…
(Laughs) Not really. I only finished building the bike on Thursday, before the race started on Saturday. The list was my friend’s idea.
How does GBDuro work?
There are 4 stages. To be in the race, you had to be at the checkpoint at the start and complete the stage within 72 hours. When you got to the end of each stage, you had to stop and rest. The first checkpoint was a field in Wales with a tent serving food. The next two were village halls where I tried to get my kit dry.
As I went along, I had no idea of my progress. I think that’s better. I just saw the route and time of day. I had no other information. I didn’t want to know how long I’d been cycling for, or how far I needed to go.
How was the ride?
I think it rained for 8 out of 10 days. It felt like it was raining constantly. I’d only packed a light sleeping bag. It’s like a sleeping sock and it got soaked. My biggest regret is that my bags weren’t waterproof inside, so I had to pack up my wet sleeping bag with my dry clothes. It was like a washing machine in my bags! When I finished the race, I asked one of the helpers to go to a charity shop and buy me some dry clothes. I did look a bit odd.
On some stages, I just rode straight through. The window between 1am to 4 am is tough. At one point I nearly nodded off on the bike. Past 4am, your body clock seems to reset and once you see the dawn, it’s fine again. And I had lots of caffeine chewing gum.
How was it riding alone?
It was horrendous being on my own for all of it!
What were your low points?
I had a nightmare in the Yorkshire Dales. I think it was Stage 2. I rang home and said: “I’m broken.” I found a YHA so I could dry my stuff and get warm. I think it was Kirby Stephens which was only 40k from the end of the stage.
Why didn’t you just give up?
I thought if I give up now, I’ll have to cycle to a train station and I will be freezing cold sitting on a train home with that feeling of regret, so I might as well carry on. Generally, I find it harder to stop. Even when I was horrendously tired and crawling along, I ate something and it felt better.
Are you one of those nutters who just keeps on going?
(Laughs) Yes. Failing is not an option.
What was the best bit?
The best bit was Stage 3 - riding through Scotland. I did it in around 25 hours which is the best I ever ridden in a race and it seemed to go past in 20 minutes. I know Wales and Yorkshire, but Scotland was all-new to me and that kept me going.
How did you find the Reilly Gradient to ride?
I ordered the T47 frame in mid-June and it took me 6 months of trawling Ebay to find the bike bits. Riding the bike was the easiest bit for me, although it was rough in places like bouncing over Welsh rocks.
What advice would you give bike-packing newbies?
You don’t need to go far; it can be just as rewarding to go to spot locally. Just expand your boundaries slowly. When I first got into it, I picked a big event and didn’t know what to do which was a bit scary. I’m happy on my own, but I have done stuff in pairs and a group. There’s no right or wrong way. Try it all and find out what’s best for you.
I’m not going to do GBDuro again as I would have to do better and there are other events. I might go for The Highland Trail.
So, you start a new job on Monday, will you find some time to ride your bike?
I ride a lot of bikes. Not many days go by without me riding a bike.