The endurance specialist is back on track
There are long rides and then there are loooong rides, James MacDonald is a specialist in ultra-endurance riding. He rode Race Across America in 2016, set the record for Land’s End-John O’Groats-Land’s End in 2017 and in 2019 (left) turned his attention to the velodrome with an attempt on the 24-hour track world record.
The Scotsman is now heading back to the Geraint Thomas National Velodrome of Wales to take on that record again and so we sat down with him to ask him 24 questions about his 24-hour record attempt:
What bike are you riding?
BMC Trackmachine TR01
Any adaptations to your bike from last time?
Yes, I have been in the Silverstone wind tunnel and with the support from Simon Smart and Drag2Zero now have their much more aero skis. We changed out the fiddly Look/SRM power meter pedals for Wahoo/Speedplay aero pedals and Rotor 2InPower track chainset which is easier to setup and has less aero drag. I’m also running a Bisaddle EXT Sprint for better comfort.
How many bikes and wheels will you have with you?
I’ll have the main BMC track bike with double disk wheels and a spare pair in case of punctures plus a BMC road bike in case I need to jump on that temporarily for any mechanical reason.
What gear ratio will you be running?
Same as last time, 62/17
How many people are in your support team?
For all the supported track sessions we have five people in the team. Toby Ellis (race engineer) Tim Wade (telemetry/tech) Sean Wratten (mechanic) Chris Edwards (timing) Steve Miller (Newport track coach/timing) but for the 24 itself we will need a couple more people so that everyone will be able to take breaks to rest.
Who are your other partners?
Of course I am really lucky to have such fantastic support from Endura and it’s great to play a small part in testing and for giving feedback on some products. I also have amazing support from BMC for bikes and from Appsbroker who are a cloud tech company that will deliver a really cool analytics dashboard that we will make available for people to watch during the event. They are also working on an automated image recognition system that will detect me passing and count my laps as we need two independent lap counting systems to validate the record. Those are the main partners, but I also have Bisaddle, Veloskin, Superspaiens, Supernatural Fuels, Wahoo, Drag2Zero and support from Muscle Injury Clinic who make sure I stay on top of what I do to my body during training. To have access to these brands and the people behind them is so helpful. Being able to speak to medical experts at Supersapiens for example is crucial to understanding fuelling or being able to discuss custom padding for the Drag2Zero skis is pro level stuff, I have to pinch myself sometimes to think these people are interested in this record and are willing to help me.
Are you sharing any telemetry online?
Yes all the physiological data will be available to watch and for this attempt we will also share some of the pacing data. There was also some talk of sharing the radio comms in a speech to text format which sounds scary as well as super cool. I’ll need to watch what I say when riding this time!
What’s the single most important piece of data that your team monitor?
A very good question, of course there’s a lot of moving parts but lap time is the one the team look at constantly. From that all the averages are calculated but it’s fair to say that the most frequent data they watch and relay to me is the last lap duration.
How many calories will you burn?
Burn rate is around 400 kcals per hour.
What will you eat?
I’ll eat one item from a short list: half a banana, a baby food sachet or energy gel. One of the worst things you can do for this attempt is over fuel, it risks having an uncomfortable stomach, so we have a very strict routine that provides just enough energy for me to ride at the pace required.
How many litres of fluid will you drink?
400 ml per hour seems to balance intake with sweat rate so a total of just under 10 litres will probably be what I’ll end up drinking. That will dehydrate me but any more and I’ll be wanting to stop mid ride.
What will you drink?
Secret Training “Big Energy” drink. Possibly some plain water perhaps once but it will be very, very minimal and only if I have stomach issues.
Total time off bike during the 24 hours?
We will plan for around six minutes or so.
What tricks will you employ to minimise off bike time?
Discussing with the team what is going to happen during a stop and in which order and being organised so there is no time wasted. We can also do certain things while I am still riding but it’s fair to say that’s more limited than on the road as I’ll be riding a fixed wheel.
Will you treat yourself to fresh kit or same for the 24 hours?
There is absolutely no time to change clothing, I’ll be in the one skinsuit for the whole day.
How many kms have you ridden on road/trainer/track for the attempt?
The timeframe between attempts was severely impacted by Covid. Not only due to the venues being closed for nearly two years but also because I managed to catch Covid twice. On average I cover about 10 to 12,000 kms a year so I guess you could say I’ve done about 40,000+ kms between the attempt in 2019 and this time around.
Do you break it down into chunks?
Yes. That’s the biggest change since the last attempt. In 2019 the plan was to ride at pace from the start and keep going, that’s mentally just incredibly daunting. I’ve been working with Dr Josie Perry (Sports Psychologist) recently and after discussing the mental side we went back to the track as a team after lockdown and started tackling the shorter records with a totally different mindset. Now it’s a more flexible approach, we are now focussed on much shorter goals (100k, 200k, 6hr etc) with no discussion during these shorter goals on the longer goals. We also introduced the idea that every 15 minutes I would get a “free lap” where I could do what I liked, ride up the banking, slow down, speed up, look around, whatever. It’s just 21 to 22 seconds but it makes a huge difference both mentally and physically as it helps digestion to sit up regularly.
Any secret treats – packet of Percy Pigs?
On the track? No, the closest thing there is to a treat is probably some plain water instead of more sugary energy drink. The only treats are in the form of music tracks.
Do you have a 24 hour long playlist?
No but we have a big library of music that we can select from. Toby who I speak to most of the time on the radio relays my pace and how I am doing, but the other main subject is what I’m listening to. We have a discussion about what going to come next and whats on now. Sometimes he will surprise me when I can’t think straight and usually he gets it spot on.
What’s the big banger on it that will get you going?
Between Toby and me we have lots of huge motivational tracks to choose from, but one has emerged as the track to always finish a ride with – Sound of the Alarm by BiXX. We both love it but it’s to be used sparingly or it will lose its effect.
Ever thought about riding clockwise?
Yes, apparently it totally freaks you out, I’ve heard stories of people that are track experts try it and fall off almost immediately. I’d like to try it one day but even the thought of it makes me dizzy.
How can people keep up with your progress?
In the run-up to the event the best place is on Instagram (@jammacdo) For the event I think we will stream some sort of coverage on YouTube and there’s also www.ride24.org for a general collection of info and where we will show the telemetry etc.
What’s waiting for you at the finish – cold beer, massive cake, a nice lie down?
After the finish and once I’ve managed to get off the bike I’ll just want to stop, get my helmet off and pause for a few seconds. The simple act of not moving after such a long time on the go will be relief in itself but shortly after it’s usually plain water and a packet of crisps that I want. Salty and crunchy is the opposite of soft and sugary so it’s the perfect antidote. But an hour or so later I am sure I will be craving real food, most likely pasta and some red wine.
How long to recover afterwards?
After the first attempt I was back on my bike after about a week and that was only as long due to saddle sores needing to heal up. However, I am hoping this aspect won’t be as bad with the split nose Bisaddle I’ll be using and the special Endura chamois I will have in my skinsuit together with the Veloskin chamois creme that’s really long lasting. I’m pretty sure I will not touch my bike at all for a week anyway and then start back slowly. I can’t take too long off though as I’ll be heading to France to race La Marmotte a month later, so I need to get back on the road bike and rediscover my climbing legs. I will however eat and sleep like a pro in that recovery week!