Mike Ellicock took on the 'South Downs Way Double' - a 200-mile cycle challenge that includes 22,000ft of elevation and opening 20 gates, all to be completed in under 24 hours.

On 21st May 2021, Mike clocked the 2nd fastest time ever for the challenge - 15 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds. We wanted to find out how the 45-year-old manages his training volume for such an epic challenge and so we spoke to Mike about finding a work-life-training balance...

Hi Mike, let's start with your training for the 200-mile challenge. How did your training volume increase ahead of the South Downs Way Double?

It completely changes. I like to keep a moderate level of base fitness by mixing things up - bit of running just because it's so easy and time-efficient, SUP'ing, K1 paddling, SurfSki paddling, rowing, cycling, swimming, yoga, brought a bit of S&C in recently - as I'm getting old and all that - but this is super low volume. Basically, low single figure hours per week.

I like to mix it up as much as possible until I catch the bug again for something specific.

I've read 'Haywire Heart' - or at least skimmed the key bits - so I know that it's not good to just keep beasting yourself the whole time.

I started to think about the South Downs Way one-way - and then 'The Double' -early in the first lockdown in 2020 and then when I realised that it would be possible to have a decent go at them (after riding sub-8 hours one way off the back of around 6 weeks of fairly random training).

So, I started to bring some focus into getting physically and mentally ready for an attempt in summer 2021.

With that new-found focus in mind, how many hours of training per week did you do on average during the build-up?

Just looking back on Strava, and going reverse chronologically from the 2 weeks in which I did the SDW Single and then the Double, the 16-week block hours were: 12, 16, 19, 14, 11, 22, 16, 16,16, 16, 11, 15, 13, 14, 12, 15.

These generally consisted of:

  • Monday: Recovery day (maybe a short ride)
  • Tuesday: Turbo session - normally 'Turbo 2'
  • Wednesday: Easy run with mates
  • Thursday: Hill reps - low lactate threshold
  • Friday: Short, hard 15-mile ride
  • Saturday and Sunday: Long rides - normally at least 1 on the SDW route

I'd also generally include yoga and stretching most days.

You've completed epic challenges like the Bob Graham Round, the Devizes-to-Westminster Canoe race, and the London Marathon in the past, what are the biggest changes you've made to how you balance your training with work and married life as a 45-year-old with two teenage kids? 

The main thing is a very understanding wife!

Also, I've tended to only ramp the training up for a relatively short time (10-16 weeks) and not that frequently. Now that I effectively have two jobs, I won't be doing anything big for a while, just maybe try to get my 5k time down...!

With work, I could only do this challenge because I was 'between jobs' - trying to get a start-up off the ground - it now is, I'm pleased to say: https://plainnumbers.org.uk/ - and before I started a new 'proper job'. I started as Chief Executive of the Forces in Mind Trust on 25th May, so I had a window to get the training in...

What's your best advice for finding a work-life-training balance when preparing for a big endurance event? 

It's tricky - I knew that I had a unique set of circumstances for a few months so took advantage. Overall, I think you have to recognise that training hard like this takes its toll on everyone around you so it's important not to take the p!$s.

Andy has written in the past about avoiding burnout, and we'd be interested to hear your best piece of advice for fitting in training in with work and life.

I'd say that all of Andy's advice is spot on. I don't have the same burnout stories from the past as he does - maybe I've not pushed myself as hard... but as an old bloke now, I'd say do stuff that's different and that challenges you in different ways.

I'm always amazed by these people who just do the same thing - marathons or whatever - again and again, gradually getting slower. I've got future targets - the long one is a fast IRONMAN at 60 - but generally I just want to mix it up to keep burnout at bay.

Thanks Mike, keep us posted with plans for your IRONMAN at 60!