How Steve Day won the 24hr Single Speed World Title just months after being diagnosed with a DVT
We knew 3x WEMBO World Solo 24hr champ Steve Day was a machine but this year he managed to take our respect for him to a new level after he managed to retain his world title only months after having his season thrown into doubt after being diagnosed with a Deep Vein Thrombosis and being advised not to race for 3 months right in the middle of the season.
Brad caught up with him recently to discuss his triumph against adversity...
First off, congrats on defending your 24hr Single Speed MTB World Championship. Being a 2x defending champion, how much pressure were you feeling going into the race?
In a normal season, I would've expected the pressure to be really high, but my issues at the start of the season probably helped me a lot on that front.
Being stopped from racing for 3 months at the start of the year, just as I had 4 events lined up, made me think long and hard about what I wanted out of the year.
Talking through my options with my coach brought us to the conclusion to focus on the WEMBO race and pick and chose other events that I’d simply be able to enjoy along the way.
Once I was off the medication for my DVT, we headed up to Fort William with the intention of lapping the World’s course for 16 hours. This was to check that I hadn’t lost too much fitness and to make sure mentally I was up for it.
At 12 hours, Jon had seen enough – I was relaxed, my pace was up and my effort down compared to the last time I was in Fort William. This clashed with a 24-hour race that was going on down in Plymouth where most of the UK guys were racing – it was a big decision to make, but was definitely the right one. It allowed us to pick through the last couple of years worth of racing to determine why my WEMBO race in NZ was so much better than anything I did in 2017.
We literally had one of those light bulb moments in the bar at the end of the day when a couple of things just came together. This formed the basis of a plan for the race and how I would approach the event.
So in terms of pressure, I had a plan to stick to and I had the support of my wife and brother who also knew the plan and how to keep me on it for 24 hours.
Still, a lot can go wrong in 24 hours, did you have any significant setbacks during the race, were there points that had you doubting your chances of winning?
I was relaxed and focused. There was a setback on the Friday when the tensioner on my spare bike packed up, and none of the bike shops in Fort William sell single speed bits (understandable I guess!). My wife was having kittens, but I still had my main race bike, so I was quite chilled. One of the shops in town ended up giving me an old derailleur off the shop bike to act as a tensioner!
The only other issue was when my brake pads gave up the ghost after about 18 hours of racing and I rode a lap with only a front brake. Again, I think my wife had the roughest time counting down the minutes for me to get back.
For me it was a good way to keep me focused as I had to be smooth and concentrate on my lines at a point where tiredness is really kicking in. At least I knew that at the end of the lap the lads from BikeShak would be there to swap my pads over.
My pit team knew that I didn’t want to know where I was in terms of position and they also knew to keep things simple and remove any excuses for stopping, so our pit space was pretty sparse, everything staying in the van until needed.
Other than a change of riding kit and the pad swap everything went smoothly, even when the weather got really rough (Scotland in late October!).
It helped that I loved the course, big climbs and technical descents – I was having a great time. I only found out my position in the single speed category at 19 hours of racing when my wife & brother really thought I should know, and then it was a matter of maintaining the gap each lap. I only found out I was third overall when I crossed the line after 24 hours!
Epic! Backing up a bit, you had a setback earlier in the year, with a diagnosis of Deep Vein Thrombosis. How did you overcome that?
It was a massive shock. I had a sore leg for a few days after getting back from holiday in Florida and I woke up one morning with all the veins in my lower leg swollen and the pain spreading into my foot and thigh.
Within 2 hours of walking into my doctors surgery, I had been referred to hospital, had blood tests and a scan and was diagnosed with DVT. It was a ‘I am mortal after-all’ moment, as previously I had only ever had injuries that fix relatively quickly. This was more complicated and a little open ended – the true cause and whether it would be something I would have to live with were not fully known.
The medication meant I had to be careful to avoid any serious knocks that could cause internal bleeding, but I was pretty determined that I would not let it get the better of me, so the faster on-bike training was swapped out for time on a turbo trainer (hellish stuff for someone who’d much rather be outside).
At the end of 3 months on meds I was gagging to be back out on the trails and fortunate that my fitness had not suffered and only my off-road skills needed a bit of a brush-up.
Nasty. What was the hardest part, the physical implications or the mental side of things with not being able to train/race the same?
Not being able to race and the mental implications were the toughest part as I was still able to ride, just not at the usual intensity. I ended up sneaking in the Scott MTB Marathon at Minehead a couple of weeks ahead of coming off the meds and had a great time, but with the potential consequences a crash could have holding me back slightly.
However, this was a great boost for me mentally as it made me realise the season wasn’t a write-off.
Has the DVT had any longer term implications on how you train?
I was given the all-clear at the end of July, and so far, so good. Given my age and health and the lack of a family history of DVT, the only suggestion is that the flight back from Florida probably triggered the DVT, maybe in combination with an injury to a muscle that I wasn’t really aware of. So, fingers crossed it doesn’t happen again!
I think it has increased the trust in my coach, not that this was a problem before, but where I have felt long rides are what I need, I now know that this isn’t the case and I'm more than happy to take his word on what works for me.
What's the biggest thing you learned about yourself during the whole ordeal?
My resilience and determination to achieve a goal. After the initial shock, and a couple of weeks of being really frustrated, I was absolutely committed to not letting the DVT get the better of me. I also learnt a lot about my mental approach to racing and the need for me to be relaxed.
The fact I couldn’t race helped me a lot as the only events I did were ones that I knew I would enjoy and there was no pressure on how well I did.
I also learnt how supportive the companies that have supported me over the last couple of seasons are. They have all stood by me during a pretty rough year, and I am so appreciative for that.
We'll always have your back Steve! So, after the 24hr Worlds you took part in "Lap of My Mind", which saw 10 riders competing a 4,500 mile lap around the UK to support the Mind Over Mountain charity to help raise awareness about mental illness.
How did this challenge come about and how did you get involved?
It was the brain-child of a couple of other mountain bikers that are coached by Jon Fearne (E3coach.com). Jon is undertaking a series of challenges under the Mind Over Mountain banner, raising funds and awareness for Mind & CALM.
Most of us, at some point in our lives will be touched by, or will be close to someone who suffers from, a mental health issue. The series of events also helps promotes the link between an active lifestyle and healthy mental well-being.
All of us come from an endurance sport background and understand the importance of good mental health for good performance. Lap of My Mind also supports these charities and helped raise some funds to support the Mind Over Mountain challenge.
The fact we were attempting this in December and finishing on the shortest day added to the challenge, with a large proportion of time spent riding in the dark for each of us. Having the mental strength and will-power to keep going during the December weather would be key.
For me, I was keen to be able to support Jon for a change, and this was an event that put me completely out of my comfort zone. I was intrigued to see what 500 miles on the road would be like, although I still had the comfort of doing it on a slick-shod single speed mountain bike!
The only road bike I have is a fixed wheel drop-bar bike, but having done the odd 100-mile ride on that I knew I wouldn’t be able to do 500 on it!
Ha, that'd be brutal! So, are you planning to head back and go after a 4th World Championship in 2019? Any other big goals?
2019 is still being planned at the moment. The World and European 24-hour races are off the cards as my son is doing his A-levels and hopefully heading to Uni, so this takes the priority for my family.
At the moment there are a few things on the cards for 2019, but 2020 looks like it might be the BIG year!
Excited to hear about that in due course then Steve! Oh and any New Year's Resolutions this year?
No, not really. Other than to keep riding and enjoying it and to spend some time riding the new motorbike when it arrives...