An Interview with Dominic Irvine
LEJOG Tandem World Record Holder
Tuesday 18th April 2017
LEJOG. On a tandem. Do we need to say anything else?! We caught up with Dominic Irvine who partnered up with Simon Jobson to break the world record for this much respected challenge on these shores.
Hi Dominic, thank you for taking the time to having a chat with us. First and foremost, a late well done for your world record smash of the LEJOG. 842 miles in 45 hours is a crazy statistic to read and to do it on a tandem deserves a whole different kind of respect. What sort of logistical issues did you have to consider in taking on LEJOG on a tandem compared to a standard one seater road bike?
Thanks, riding a tandem is all about teamwork. You'd think all you needed to do was put two great cyclists on a tandem and that would be it, but actually it's a lot more about how you work together on the bike. For example, how you apply the power at the same time, finding the right gear and cadence for each rider and so on.
Was there ever a point during the challenge where either one of you had the feeling of quitting and how did you overcome this? Did having a partner motivate you to push on or did you feel under pressure at times to match his performance?
This was my third attempt at breaking the record, and I knew it would be my last. The only reason I planned on quitting was if we were so far off the schedule that to continue would be just to waste everyone's time. Charlie shared my perspective. In training we came close to having to abandon following an injury Charlie sustained to his knee, but fortunately he was able to rehabilitate it enough to survive the record attempt. Charlie was brilliant to train with. It was an incredibly positive, supportive and engaging experience. Our motivation was boosted by knowing the other was training hard because neither of us wanted to let the other one down. It was a rare and special relationship I have never experienced in sport before or since.
Were there any parts of the UK which made you think I need to return to visit there and which parts made you ride on faster to get out of there?
It reminded me of how much I love riding in the North of the UK and how stunning Scotland is. We live in a beautiful country with epic landscapes, varied terrain and a wide range of architecture. I've ridden in many places outside the UK, but I love riding in the UK the most. If there was one part of the route I liked least it was the never ending conurbation from Warrington to Preston. It's a relentless series of traffic lights, junctions and vehicles. I much prefer riding in open countryside.
We assume you and your riding partner, Charlie Mitchell, took it in turns to act as the ‘lead rider’, not the most flattering question to ask but being behind someone for that amount of time, how did you cope with the change in ‘wind’ or was there any embarrassing moments you could share?
Fortunately, by sheer chance, Charlie and I have identical setups on our bikes so swapping places was as simple as stepping off the bike, changing place and continuing. So we played to our strengths. Charlie is superb at riding aero on rolling terrain whereas I am better piloting the bike through towns and on very hilly terrain, so we took advantage of these differences and swapped accordingly. However, as I have done a lot more tandem riding than Charlie, I ended up spending a bit more time on the front, the split was probably 65:35.
Whether we stopped, how we went to the toilet, breaking wind are all the questions people seem to start with. On a record breaking attempt your focus is on the record, everything else doesn't matter. The aim is stop as little as possible, and if you do have to stop, keep it as short as possible. Clearly, timing is everything. If the bike is moving at 25mph then it's the equivalent of standing still in a 25mph wind, which is a stiff breeze. So any malodour is dissipated instantly by the draft. Climbing a steep hill will reduce the bike speed and therefore the wind speed passing over the riders to single digits, i.e. there is a time and place for everything!
You are releasing a book this year called Ultra-Distance Cycling: An Expert Guide to Endurance Cycling, what is the best tip you offer in the book to those looking to getting into competitive ultra-endurance sport?
You need to think about endurance cycling from a whole system perspective. It's more than being fit enough, it requires you to understand nutrition, mental fatigue, bike setup, weather, kit, navigation and so on. It's putting all these pieces together that makes endurance racing such an interesting and rewarding challenge.
Do you have any ultra-challenges planned this year or any other world records you have your eye on?
Yes, I'm going to take part in the Club 12 hour TT challenge this year and the Tour Divide next year which is a 2750 mile off-road event from Banff in Canada to New Mexico along the line of the Continental Divide. We are thinking about another tandem record but I'm not saying more at this stage.
We assume for an ultra cyclist or athlete, the level of training and commitment can be life changing, how do you find to keep the balance between training and homelife? For example, do you commit one day a week for non sport/family life?
That's a great question. On average I train about 19 - 20 hours a week. I get up at 4am to fit the sessions in before work and sometimes train in the evening as well. I have one or two rest days a week. The compromise is I don't watch any television, I either train, work or do stuff with the family. My wife is incredibly tolerant, if we are going somewhere for the weekend, she will drive and I will ride there. My friends and colleagues all understand and are supportive of my sporting ambitions and understand when I turn up in cycling kit.
We have never ridden a tandem before which is why your tandem challenge is something we can not visualise ourselves doing anytime soon. What would we need to prepare ourselves for if we ever did try to ride a tandem at any distance?
Prepare to have a huge amount of fun. It's the best form of cycling I know. It's incredibly sociable, you never get dropped and other road users are much nicer to you than when riding a single bike. The one bit of advice is to talk to each other. Never go faster than the other person feels comfortable going and always explain what's about to happen. After a while you develop a sixth sense and you can just get on the bike and ride, but at first it helps to simple relax, enjoy it and have fun.
Thank you for your time and we look forward to the release of your book. We would like to wish you all the best with your future challenges and we know who to come to if we need tandem riding advice!
Thanks. See you on the road.
Ultra-Distance Cycling: An Expert Guide to Endurance Cycling by Simon Jobson and Dominic Irvine is published 6 April (Bloomsbury, £18.99/ £14.99 eBook). To order a copy, click here.