Monday, December 11, 2023

Christina Mackenzie – Land’s End to John O’Groats Record Breaker!

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HomeInterviewsChristina Mackenzie - Land's End to John O'Groats Record Breaker!

It’s been two years since Christina Mackenzie’s unsuccessful Land’s End to John O’Groats attempt, but her coach, Gary Hand of Espresso Coaching looks at those 839 unforgiving miles not as a failure but as a ‘dry run.’

That’s what we call ‘positive mental attitude,’ Mr. Hand.

But this time, congratulations are in order as Christina became the fastest-ever woman to traverse the largest of the British Isles from it’s south western to north eastern tips.

Christina, originally from the Isle of Lewis but now Stirling-based took time to speak to VeloVeritas a day or two after her epic ride.

Christina Mackenzie
Christina Mackenzie and her support team. Photo©supplied

Congratulations, Christina, why go on the day you did?

“You have to post your ‘window of opportunity’ and ours was 25th July until the 5th August that was to fit in with my own and my support team’s work and holiday situations.

“Then there’s the weather, I spent all my time looking at weather apps and forecasts to see what would be most favourable; and you have to give the RRA [the Road Records Association, which is the governing body for all place to place records in the UK, ed.] 48 hours notice so that they can have observers and time keepers in place.

“In the event the wind wasn’t the best but it wasn’t the worst, the south westerly I had for the opening part of the ride gave me a good head start, we knew that later it would get wet and the wind wouldn’t be so favourable but it meant I was ahead of schedule from the start.”

By how much did you beat the existing record?

“One hour and forty minutes, Lynne Taylor’s old record was 52 hours and 45 minutes, I lowered that to 51 hours and five minutes.”

What lessons did you carry forward from your ride of two years ago?

“So many, one simple but important thing was to have a camper van with the support team, it made the logistics so much easier for feeding and changes of clothing.

“And I totally revised my training in conjunction with my coach, Gary Hand at Espresso Coaching; as well as endurance riding I did threshold work and spent time in the gym.

“And I lost 10 kilos, which was a big help for getting up the likes of Shap Summit and Berriedale Braes.” 

‘Bad patches’?

“From the first experience I anticipated that the A9, north out of Perth would be the hardest part but in the event that wasn’t too bad; because I was up on schedule I actually started that section in daylight rather than darkness.

“The worst section was from Gretna to Abingdon, it just seemed never ending and the surface was so bad, I could feel my pace dropping and with it my morale.

“But my team encouraged me that when I got to Edinburgh the wind would change and things would be better – and I knew that would be the case.

“The A9 actually wasn’t so bad after I cleared the road works north of Perth with passing cars who had heard about my attempt tooting encouragement; I had good lights on the bike but it was hard up the Drumochter Pass when you watch your power going up but speed going down.

“Once over the top and on the long descent I got so cold that I had to stop and put on more clothing.”

Christina Mackenzie
Christina Mackenzie on her TT machine. Photo©supplied

And you rode the whole distance on the low pro time trial bike?

“One of the conditions that the Guinness book of World Records imposes is that the whole ride must be done on the same machine.

“It’s a Giant Liv, I’ve spent a lot of time on it to get used to it and I felt comfortable; we made sure I had appropriate gearing in place to get over the hills I was going to encounter.

“I had no mechanical issues at all but had a mechanic and a van full of spares following me, just in case.

“The last 10 miles to John O’Groats though the road surface is really bad with lots of potholes and obviously my concentration wasn’t the best by that stage and I was thinking; “please don’t let me hit a hole and puncture now!””

How about navigation, I believe that some of the ring roads around the big towns in England can be problematic?

“On my first attempt that caused problems but we learned from it, the roads around Exeter and Bristol have these roundabouts with five or six exits but my support team got me through and the Bristol Cycling Club had folks out to help – the worst that happened was I had to do an extra circuit of a roundabout to get the correct exit.

“As Gary said, we learned from the, ‘dry run!’”

Who drew up your schedule?

“The present men’s end to end record holder, Mike Broadwith shared his schedule with me and Gary Hand and I adapted that.

“The first five or six hours I was cruising along at 20 mph on the A30 and that really did give me a good start; I knew I had to capitalise on it because the wind wouldn’t be so favourable further north.”

Christina Mackenzie
The support team get the lights on Christina Mackenzie’s bike for the ‘night shift’. Photo©supplied

How many of a support team did you have?

“I had six, which isn’t as big a team as some might have on the attempt, I think Mike had about a dozen support staff, four of my team were from the Stirling Bicycle Club, they know me really well and how to get me through the bad patches.”

Was there a ‘tipping point’ where you realised that the record was ‘on.’

“With the good start I made due to the favourable wind I was always up on schedule and failure would only be due to a major mechanical or my body giving up on me. 

“We’d planned for an hour stop near Penrith for a feed and 20/25 minute sleep but I didn’t feel tired and didn’t feel I needed to stop so kept going; that gave me more of a buffer.

“That decision could have hit me later but the team were watchful and we agreed that I’d come in later for a sleep if necessary.

“I was always aware of the slowest pace which would get me the record as the ride went on.”

Christina Mackenzie
Christina Mackenzie celebrates getting the record! Photo©supplied

The next morning?

“It was bizarre, I opened my eyes and thought to myself; “did that really happen ?

“Then I went to stand up and my legs felt like lead and I couldn’t sit down again!

“I guess my body was practically in shock?”

The ride aroused good media attention, didn’t it?

“It did, with the BBC and STV both reporting the ride and the level of roadside attention was great with banners, cow bells and a lot of support.

“The previous record holder, Lynne Taylor phoned me in tears, after the ride to congratulate me, she was actually out on the route.

“I told her that I could see why her record had lasted 20 years, it’s just so hard; I have huge admiration for her, she broke the record twice in consecutive years, 2001 and 2002.” 

Christina Mackenzie
Christina Mackenzie enjoyed fantastic support from roadside spectators and from the media during and after her record ride. Photo©supplied

Next on the agenda – the Race Across America perhaps?

“I have a few things to ponder, first I want to rest then debrief with my coach, Gary Hand.

“The RAAM is a different proposition which requires a big training and funding commitment – and I’m still working full time…”

Here at VeloVeritas we look forward to reporting Christina’s next big adventure and would in closing mention that her ride, as well as breaking the record, raised a five figure sum for Alzheimer’s Scotland, a condition to which Christina’s mother sadly succumbed in 2014. 

CHAPEAU! Ms. Mackenzie.