24h cycling on a home trainer… Can you imagine? Before the 18th of April, I couldn’t see myself pedaling 24h nonstop and going nowhere…but I did it! My name is Xavier Massart, and I’m an athlete and atlasGO ambassador. I cycle on a daily basis for the performance, the competition, the adventure, and the challenge but also to make an impact with atlasGO. This is the story of my latest challenge with Trakks: 24h cycling non-stop on a home trainer.
As an ultra-distance cyclist, I had already pedaled 24h in one go, but it was always to go somewhere. When racing 6,900km across the USA during the 2018 Trans America Bike Race or in summer 2019 during the mythical Transcontinental race, there was always a moment when I pedaled nonstop for 24h. Whatever the conditions of these 24h push, it was always to reach the same goal: going further! It is the real thrill of ultra-distance cycling for me, to challenge myself and see how far I can go. I remember when I realized on the fourth day of the transcontinental that I had a daily average of 350k, it was such a satisfaction for me! I’m always amazed by these numbers, thinking that most people wouldn’t even drive these distances with a car and that I’m able to cycle that distance and unsupported… That’s what motivates me to do these races.
The project was to collect money for a Brussels-based Hospital in need of funding to deal with the COVID crisis. So, when the discussion started with Christophe, the CEO of Trakks, about what we could achieve as a team of endurance athletes, I was dubious about the project of cycling 24h nonstop on a home trainer. At first, I only signed up for a 12h shift, thinking I wouldn’t be able to go for more than that. Then with the excitement of seeing other guys from the team signing up for the full 24h, I got hooked and took it as a proper sports challenge: cycling indoor for 24h to go nowhere. (and let’s be honest, seeing all my actual outdoor real challenges being canceled one after the other due to the COVID situation, I needed some sort of challenge).
The concept was easy. We would start on the 18th of April at noon and cycle as much as possible until the next day, Sunday, April 19th, at noon. All that taking place in our own living room (or basement for some of us), linked in an indoor cycling program and in a conference call to communicate with each other. It’s an important detail of the setup because it really changed the dimension of the challenge somehow. It gave a more human touch and connection between us. We were 9 to challenge ourselves to cycle nonstop for 24h, and approximately 10 other riders from the team joined us for up to 12hours. We didn’t interact all the time during the 24hours, but whenever someone would feel a bit low, he only had to look at that conference call to see other riders in the same state, also in the middle of the night, alone and still pushing.
Before the start, I felt as nervous as before a proper race. Anxious about how this will go but also with my body sending me signs of “No, I don’t want to do that,” knowing what will happen. I felt tired even before starting and struggled to keep my mind focused on my preparation. Messing around with my water bottle, getting some food and granola bars ready, changing 5 times the setup, and messing on where I should plug my laptop and tablet to be efficient and comfortable. It’s definitely some different “problems” that kept my mind busy than before an actual race, but it’s the same thrill as the starting line as a big event. And then, like for a big race, the start came in, and every problem went away to only focus on me, my bike, and the road… except that this time the road is a 20k virtual loop.
The first hours went by super quickly. It was sunny, my partner was always around if I needed anything, we were chatting with the other guys, and most importantly, my legs were feeling great! Before I realized I was already 8hours into the challenge when I thought of coming down off the bike for a few minutes. I took advantage of that time to take a shower, change clothes as I sweated a lot (one of the perks of indoor cycling). I stretched my legs a bit, and 10minutes later, I was back on the bike.
But after that first break, the time started to pass by very slowly. After 8 hours in, It’s now 8 pm, and like for an outdoor event, the conditions started to be more difficult. It’s dark, I am alone, and there’s less action going on around me. As a result, the only action I have to do is to stay focused and keep pedaling. This is definitively a difficult exercise when you need to do it for hours! Even if the program tries to simulate outdoor conditions, you obviously need to pedal constantly, not going anywhere. That’s the major difference with an outdoor ride, as in real life if you stop pedaling, you can rest for a few minutes while rolling down a hill.
Indoor, your bike is also 100% steady, and you need to be as well if you want to be efficient, making the movement so repetitive compared to outdoors where you will be standing up, low, rocking from side to side,… In the end, I found it to be a more demanding effort on the body to cycle on a home trainer.
The consequences are that after 8 hours, everything starts to hurt more than outdoors, and the best way to avoid pain in such circumstances is to use your mind! But at that moment, your mind is also struggling with the boredom of cycling and going nowhere, with not much around to keep me motivated, no changes in the roads, nothing to discover along the way. You see where I am going. I was about to start a really long night!
In the context of a charity event, at home, and with no pressure about the outcome of the challenge, I mentally transformed this long and boring ride into a proper mind practice and meditation challenge. In a real-life condition, these moments of going through dark and negative phases are critical as they can quickly lead to scratching off an event if you’re not in a good mindset. During a race, you are often in the middle of nowhere, away from home, and no comfort when you feel these low moments. That’s what can easily make the situation evolve to the worst-case scenario and to the “I don’t want to do this anymore” situation.
But here, I’m in my comfortable living room, so, at the moment, I felt like I’m in the super low zone. I just had to look at my screen, seeing the others guys in the exact same situation as me, or worst-case scenario. I jumped off my bike for a couple of minutes, sorted out my thoughts, and I was back at it. Yes, it clearly slowed down my virtual pace during the night, but I kept going and, in the end, only stopped for a few minutes. I only watched one movie to really clear my mind at one point (dropping even more drastically my pace). Otherwise, I tried to stay as focused as possible incessantly.
When the sun rose and started to illuminate my living room again, I was more than 2/3 of the time and had only a few hours left. That feeling of “ok, it’s almost over,” with the help of a few friends that came virtually cycling next to me, made the last hours flying almost as quickly as the first one. By noon when we had been cycling for 24h, I had logged 680km, cycling in total 23h08 out of the 24, meaning stopping just a little from the full effort. The number of kilometers might be virtual, but the 24h effort was real, and I felt super tired and sore afterward. As I mentioned, I consider the effort to be more demanding than a real-life bike ride, with really few stops for the legs. But the biggest challenge and lesson learned is definitively about the mental miles.
The project was a great success as we cycled all together more than 7,600kilometers and collected over 12,000 euros for the Europa Clinics based in Brussels. It was great to be connected with the team and share that virtual adventure as well, especially during this weird period of lockdown and social distancing. On top of that, I found this challenge some sort of good mental training and positive thinking for my future outdoor adventure. Whenever I would feel low during an outdoor bike ride, I’ll remember this extreme challenge of having to focus only on pedaling for 24h indoor, and probably realize how lucky I would be to be cycling outside again because I am actually going somewhere.
Since I started using atlasGO, I have a bigger motivation; knowing that every kilometer I cycle can make an impact. Just like these 24h cyclings were to collect funds for a Belgian hospital, biking for a cause with atlasGO helps me keep my motivation and focus up. Every time I’m going on a new bike adventure, or training for a new competition, it is not only about achieving a goal for myself but also making a difference to this world every kilometer at a time.
Instagram: @xavier massart