This weekend Steve Day defended his Single Speed World Solo 24Hr Title out in Liguria, Italy. He beat his nearest rival by thirteen minutes. We've been working with Steve to perfect his hydration strategy over the last few months and I caught up with him a few weeks before his trip out to Italy to discuss his bike setup, training schedule and the challenges posed by 24 hour endurance riding...
So, Steve, what bike do you ride?
I picked up a new sponsor last year, Travers Bikes. They’re a small company based down in Essex who only make titanium bikes. When I started riding for them it was on a stock frame but they rang me up at Christmas and said “what do you want?”, so we had some back and forth discussion and I’ve ended up something fairly close to the stock frame but with sliding dropouts on the rear instead and so it just looks nice and tidy on the single speeds and it’s definitely the lightest bike I’ve ever had!
It’s running carbon plus sized wheels, so three inch tires, and Lauf carbon suspension forks up front which have kind of split opinion in terms of looks but they really suit my riding style! If you haven’t seen them, Laufs are all carbon, they don’t have your traditional telescopics, it’s all done with military spec S2 glassfiber springs. it just really works very well so I’m really enjoying that! I also have a USE seat post, Exposure Lights
It’s one of those things that’s taken a while to come together really. Over the last 3-4 years as my riding has picked up, my kit has got better and now I can’t think of anything on there that I’d change at the moment. It’s really everything I’ve wanted in a bike.
Why that bike/suspension?
Well, a friend of mine Wayne Elliot runs EDS Bikes in Yorkshire and I’d asked him what he thought Michael Travers might say if I just rang him up out of the blue and he said “give it a go” and so I just did and I got a really positive response. They’ve done a lot to help out, they’ve supplied the frames but also kit as well. That kind of support really takes stress out of riding, it allows me to concentrate on things like nailing hydration and nutrition.
At the end of the day, hydration and nutrition are what keeps you going and so they’re the things you want to be putting money in to. I’m also lucky to have other sponsors helping me out. Fibrax have been helping me with my race entries for example. All of this helps me focus on the Worlds, get that paid for well in advance and it’s a thing I don’t have to think about anymore.
What wheels are you on and why?
I’m on 27.5. I was riding 29s until September last year but Travers really pushed the plus size 27+. The frame will run 29 inch wheels but the extra grip in the tyres with the 27+ just really suits me down to ground. When I riding in Scotland at Relentless last year, when the sun went down I was about 4-5 minutes a lap quicker than anyone else, so it just seemed to have gelled really nicely.
Why ride single speed?
I also play astro hockey and I bust my thumb maybe 8-9 years ago and so I bought a single speed as I couldn’t shift the gears on my bike! I never looked back. So, it was very accidental really.
Where I live the ridings’ not too technical and it’s not too hilly, so riding a single speed around it makes you think a bit more about conservation of momentum and picking your lines a little bit better, which in turn makes you faster.
It’s self-perpetuating, the more you think about these things, the faster you tend to get. The faster you get, the more technical the trails become.
How does your day job (as a Lead Engineer at Triumph) help with your bike prep for races?
I’ve been at Triumph for 21 years this year, so I’ve seen the company grow and it really is my dream job. My background is on BMXs and motocross bikes, I gave up motocross when I was at uni. I’ve always been good with bikes, I’m quite mechanically minded I’ve always liked stripped bikes down and tinkering with them, I’ve been doing that since I was 13.
I’ll tell you what though, it is really nice having a titanium bike with no moving parts other than the steer and the crank on it because you can ride it and then just stick it in the garage wet, there’s nothing that’s going to corrode or go wrong! You just put a bit of Squirt Lube on the chain and that’s it you can leave it. I have 4-5 bikes at the moment. In the winter they go on rotation and on the Sunday, they all get cleaned!
Why do 24hr races?!
Because I’m crap at shorter stuff! I didn’t particularly enjoy shorter course cross country and I got into endurance stuff with what used to be the Mountain Bike Marathons they’ve been holding in Wales for years. The real turning point was Trans Scotland back in 2007 which is a 7-8 day stage race and I came home first on one of the stages and that kind of flicked a switch for me.
I’d been doing 24s since I’d started in the UK and had had my first crack at doing a solo in 2005. I got talked into it by a mate who was an Army TT instructor and it just went from there really, every year I’ve gone back and enjoyed it more! It just suits me as I’m not a particularly lightweight rider but I’m quite strong mentally which is a big part of 24hr racing.
What are the typical low points for you in 24hr races and how do you mentally prepare and cope?
It can be difficult when you get deep into the race, lets say 16 hours in and you think “oh my god, I’ve still got 8 hours to go, a third of the race!”. That’s normally about the time I usually hit a low point. It’s at those points you start to think “All I need is a puncture and I can stop riding!”. But that’s just a temporary thing, it’ll go away in a few laps and I just tell myself that. It’s just about staying focused and positive. It’s just about keeping on peddling and not taking a 5 minute break in the pits.
What’s more challenging about 24hr rides, the mental aspect or the physical challenge?
Of course you need to be fit, but you really do need to have the mental strength. I’ve seen guys racing, not even at the 24s but shorter races and there head just isn’t in the right place and they’re just not going to finish. I’ve been there myself, if your head isn’t in the right place, you won’t finish.
The mental side only comes with practice and experience, which is why you tend to see more senior riders at the front of 24 hour races than the younger lads.
I also can't stress enough the importance of family and support in 24hr racing. This would not be possible without a very supportive wife, son & friends. Both in terms of moral support and understanding the long training hours i have to put in.
How long does it take to fully recover from a 24hr solo race?
I’d say it takes about 2 weeks to really feel fully comfortable on a bike again! I mean, I’ll ride to work the next day but that’s just 3 miles across town. I’m talking about being able to go out for 2-3 hours and not feel completely drained! This year’s going to be a challenge as I have the World’s in June and then at the end of July I have the UK Championships, so that’s just 8 weeks between two big races.
It’s going to be tough to balance a decent recovery with not letting my fitness drop off too much. It’s the first time I’ve had two races so close together so we’ll see how that goes…
How did you hear about PH and why did you want to get Sweat Tested?
My brother used to be coached by Andy and he was at the Bike Show in London a few months back and was catching up with him and happened to mention my progress and we got put in touch that way.
I did the online Sweat Test and started testing the strategy and then the hour I had with Andy for the Advanced Sweat Test was a real eye-opener for me. The knowledge you guys have is incredible and for me to go out there and get that myself just isn’t feasible. The last thing I want to do of an evening is trawl the internet looking for information on hydration!
That’s actually part of the reason I have a coach, so he can do much of that research and thinking for me and I can just focus on the riding! Andy highlighted a few things I might be doing wrong in terms of my food and drink regime and that info will hopefully pay dividends over the next 8 weeks as I prep for the Worlds.
Normally at the end of a 24hr race I feel really sick and Andy’s really helped me understand why that might be. I’ve always mixed energy drinks with my electrolytes in the same bottle but now I’m going to experiment with leaving my fluids for hydration and see how I get on.
How do you normally fuel a 24hr ride?
On race day mornings I’ll have a solid breakfast. If we’re camping it’ll normally be porridge with sultanas, bananas and honey, then scrambled eggs. I’ll then have an energy drink and maybe a couple of bars in the last few hours before I start.
During the race itself it’s very much dependent on the course and laps. So, for example, when I was racing in New Zealand last Feb the laps were 45 minutes so I had a bottle of fluids with electrolytes in and then half a bar and a gel from my pocket, or a whole bar and no gel. I tend to try to stay off gels until the latter part of races to avoid being unable to stomach anything, that came from a few botched races where I stuffed my face with gels way too early.
A friend of mine lives off burgers and bacon butties, I don’t know how he can stomach that! I tend to use Jersey Pocket energy bars, which are all handmade and natural. I’ve been using them for about a year and they just work really well! If I need something different in the early hours of the morning i’ll go with muesli and cold coffee. The nice about PH is actually that it doesn’t have a strong flavour, which is ideal for long events!
How do you balance work/home life with training?
Lots of early mornings! I really don’t mind getting up early, I’ll happily do a 2-3 hour session before work. A two hour session usually means getting up at 4am and I have to ride past my office to get started so I’ll drop by bag there and come back and have a shower at the office. That’s just my routine now really.
At this time of year the riding is just lovely in the morning. The woods I ride through are covered in bluebells and riding through that at 05:30 in the morning when the sun’s still low is fantastic. As far as I can see, I’m the only person who sees it like that and every time the sun comes up like that you see something different which makes it a really nice time of day to be outside.
My routine does mean that I can’t get a lie in if if I want one because I’m so used to being up that early!
What does a typical training week look like for you?
So, at the moment I’m up to about 20 hours a week. Normally that means lengthly rides on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So, maybe a couple of hours on Friday morning and then 4-6 hours on Saturday and Sunday. The on Monday’s I’ll do a low intensity ride and have a day off on Tuesday and Thursday.
On Wednesday I ride with a club down in Coventry. If they’ve got a steady ride planned I’ll head down as that’s a great way to clock up 50 miles of an evening!
What are your main goals for 2017 and beyond?
My main focus this year is definitely the Worlds in June. Last year I won the 24hr single speed title and so I’m a man with a target on my back this year! So, that’s the main one.
Then, as I said, 8 weeks later I have the the UK Championships at the Pivot TwentyFourTwelve. That’s unfinished business for me as I had to pull out up in Scotland after picking up a knee injury after having to run down one of the hills at Fort William when I picked up a puncture I couldn’t repair. I had a twenty minute lead, which I had lost by the time I got back to the pits to change my bike and there was just not way I could continue so I jacked it in. I want to put that right this year.
Having one or two races a year just helps keep me sane and as I’ve just gotten a promotion at work I’m not really looking to take on more than that for now but I am somewhat gutted that Mountain Mayhem is having it’s 20 year anniversary this year and for the last 5 years I’ve won the single speed trophy but this year I can’t do it as it’s only 2 weeks after I get back from the Worlds. It’s the last time the current promoters are putting on the event and I’m a bit gutted I won’t be there to defend it as the trophy only has my name on it...