Cycling helped Pav Bryan combat mental health issues. Now he's riding 2,500 miles to raise awareness and help more people ride their way to good mental health

By Dave Colley | 4 Minute Read

In August 2009, after a lifetime of issues with my mental health, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder. This kick-started me on a journey back to good health, which focused on the sport I loved as a child, cycling.

Seven years passed. I tried the medicated route, which worked for a while, before settling on a holistic routine which has kept me far more stable. However, in all that time I had kept the fact I suffered with a mental health disability largely hidden.

One of my closest friends and I were walking on Santa Monica pier, talking about whether or not I should start talking more openly about it. I was hesitant. But he - knowing me as both the ‘lost cause’ I used to be, then as someone who's built a multi-national business whilst becoming BikesEtc magazine's Cycling Guru - was adamant that the story would inspire others to take action to improve their mental health.

I eventually agreed and thought that, in order to get my message out to more people, my story should be tied to an epic event. It just so happened that in that moment we walked by a sign marking the end of the historic Route 66. And so the Route 66 World Record Attempt was born.

If you’ve ever suffered, you’ll know exactly how much more positive you feel after finishing a ride. Encouraging more people to experience that feeling is something that really appeals to me.


So, what exactly does riding Route 66 involve?

Route 66 spans almost the width of the U.S., from Chicago to Los Angeles. It covers around 2,500 miles of - mainly flat - terrain, passing through a few major U.S. cities. The old route was decommissioned a few decades ago and replaced by the Interstate, posing the first problem for us to overcome.

Thankfully, I came across the Adventure Cycling Association who've put together a bicycle route that almost perfectly follows the original. We also found someone who had ridden it in around 23 days and, after some careful estimations on what I could do, my team and I set the target of riding all 2,500 miles in 11 days or less.

The next biggest issue to overcome was what time of year to ride. There's only a small window you can ride in where potentially life threatening weather events are unlikely. It's too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer, and tornado season in the spring, leaving us a small window in May or September. I didn’t think it was possible to train enough to ride in May, so opted for September 2018 as the target date.


 Pav Bryan


How have I adapted my training for the challenge? 

I’ve always been strong in long distance time trials. I've entered three twelve hour TTs and was the fastest from a Kent Cycling Association affiliated team in each one, with a personal best of just short of 280 miles, or 23.3 mph average for the entire ride.

In order that I'm kept accountable, I've built a team of people around me to prescribe my training. I have Gavin, The Beardy PT, taking charge of my strength and conditioning. Plus, Ian, one of the coaches from my company Direct Power Coaching, taking on the cycling element. The biggest change for me is going from training to do long steady efforts in one ride, to repeating that day-in-day-out for almost two weeks.

Astonishingly, despite some early health setbacks and a relapse of a virus that had kept me off the bike for almost a year prior to starting up with training again, I recently managed the longest duration I’ve sat on my road bike and personal bests across one and twenty-minute power efforts.


How will I fuel my ride and training? 

Real food is the way to see real results (for more of my thoughts on this see my Nutritionally Fit programme. Getting nutrition right is something that I’ve always been passionate about and something I'll have to take very seriously on this journey.

I’ve always had a few allergies, intolerances and sensitivities to certain food types, but since being struck down with the aforementioned virus I've had to reduce or eliminate nuts, dairy, gluten, vinegars, aloe, refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol from my diet.

As you can imagine, this really limits what I can eat and a lot of the food I consume has to be home cooked from scratch. This has helped me fine-tune exactly what works for me and what I need to fuel my body.

The biggest change I’ve been making is that I'm now getting a larger % of my daily calorie intake from fats. This helps to regulate my blood sugar levels and keeps me from eating everything in sight after a long ride!

It’s not always easy getting the calories in but, with every block of training that passes, my ability to fuel off of my fat stores improves and I become faster, more powerful and have more stamina. 

I want to be able to fuel my World Record attempt entirely with real food. I'm lucky that everything will be handmade for me by my support crew. While I can see that energy gels and products from the sports industry can be convenient, they're just not necessary for riding a bike well.


Pav Bryan Direct Coaching


And how will I stay hydrated? 

Always an easy choice. My long term hydration partner, Precision Hydration (surprise surprise), helped me understand two very crucial factors.

Firstly, how much I sweat, which in fairness I already knew was a lot - sauna’s and hot yoga confirmed this!

Secondly, and more crucially, I found out that the amount of sodium in my sweat is also very high. In fact, I was Sweat Tested alongside three of my riding friends and the quantity of the sodium in my sweat was almost equal to all three of theirs combined!

I need to ensure that I drink a lot and that my drinks contain adequate amounts of sodium. Having spent a summer in California (where temperatures are always in the 30s and sometimes the 40s) I know that the support crew following me will need to keep my bottles loaded with cool water and 1,500mg/l electrolyte drinks!


Bring it on... 

I’ve not set a target fundraising amount for charity, but anything we raise will make a big difference.

The training and the learning continues for me, each small progression bringing me closer to achieving my goal. If you're interested, you can follow my journey on Twitter and Facebook

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