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This cyclist rode 24 consecutive hours on Zwift — on a whim

Callum Townsend was already several hours into a training ride when he decided to test himself with 24 consecutive hours of riding.

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Some of the best (and worst) ideas come at the spur of a moment.

Just ask Callum Townsend.

Over last weekend Townsend rode 24 consecutive hours on Zwift, logging 750 kilometers (466 miles) and circling Watopia Island’s volcano circuit 126 times. His arms became so sore during the ride that he placed sofa cushions on the aero extensions of his time trial bicycle. Throughout his ordeal he also raised £1,700 for the National Health Services, the United Kingdom’s public healthcare system.

And he never left the 6-foot by 6-foot brick shed in his back yard.

Here’s the thing: Townsend had no intention to ride that long — or to raise any cash — when he stepped onto his bicycle at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.

“I got on my bike not knowing I would do it and at some point was like ‘I feel good today, maybe I’ll do something like that,'” Townsend told VeloNews. “After about 90 minutes I’m like, ‘right, I’m going to do this.’ And at two hours I fully committed to it.”

Townsend, a direct support professional who works with people with disabilities, said he got the idea from watching an episode of the Global Cycling Network in which a presenter logged 24 consecutive miles inside.

At the two-hour mark of his ride, Townsend sent WhatsApp messages to his friends saying he was riding 24 hours to raise money for charity. He built a donation page and then chose the local East Lancashire Hospitals as the target of his giving. His mother created a post on Facebook, and donations began to arrive from friends and family. Once cash began to come in, Townsend knew he was committed.

Townsend recently turned his shed into a training locker. Photo: Callum Townsend

“Part of the reason I did the charity was that if everyone around me knew I was trying to do it, then I had to do it,” Townsend said. “I can hide from myself but I can’t hide from other people.”

Townsend, like many riders in the UK, is a recent recruit to Zwift, and his indoor training has gone up during the coronavirus shutdown. The UK still allows its residents to pursue outdoor activity by themselves. But Townsend said the socially acceptable practice is to ride or run for no more than one hour a day. He often rides for one hour outside and then completes the rest of his training online.

“After that a lot of people would see it as excessive,” Townsend said. “It’s a densely populated place, and in small villages you can’t nip out for a four-hour ride and expect nobody to notice. The next thing the neighbors will be posting about you on the community Facebook chat.”

In fact, just days before his Zwift ride, Townsend transformed his backyard shed into a space for indoor riding.

Townsend felt great for the first 10 or so hours of his ride, pushing a stout 220 or so watts at endurance pace. Townsend is a triathlete, and he pushed his normal tempo pace that he holds during long training rides for Ironman. He listened to his Spotify playlists and played YouTube clips and ate lots of food.

“I was eating whatever I could stomach: chocolate chip brioche buns, pepperoni pizza, wraps, bagels, jelly babies, and Snickers,” Townsend said.

And then, the ride got hard. From 10-12 hours Townsend’s back and neck began to ache. He felt tired and drank coffee to stay awake. And then, at 12 hours, the reality of his challenge hit him.

“At 12 hours it became quite scary because it’s like, ‘Oh no, I’ve got to do this all over again,'” Townsend said. “I started out a bit too hot.”

The challenge became progressively more uncomfortable as the hours ticked by. Townsend counted them down in two-hour segments. He struggled to stay awake from hours 16-18. His legs burned with every pedal stroke from hours 18-20. And hours 20-22 were the hardest.

“I was feeling sick trying to keep my eyes open,” he said.

And then, hour 24 came and went, and Townsend climbed off his bicycle.

Now, nearly a week after his challenge, Townsend’s body is still sore, and he just regained feeling in his fingertips. He doesn’t plan to attempt anything like that anytime soon, but the memory will last.

“The first 12 hours were some of the most enjoyable I’ve ever had on the bike,” he said. “I had so many people donating and supporting me. I was buzzing.”

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