Not content with being a semi-pro cyclist, and biking across Europe wild camping, Stratford Gymbox sales guru James Hayden will be taking on the Transcontinental, an adventure race from Flanders to Istanbul this summer. We meet him before he rides off on another mega training session. "You've got to push yourself or you'll never really be alive" he says. Interview: Lara Hayward.
Hi James! First things first. Why work at Gymbox?
I love the people. The job. The attitude of the company. It's a cool job with cool people in a cool place. Plus you get to work out in a sweet gym all the time!
The Transcontinental sounds really hard. What part of the event are you most looking forward to?
The finish! But seriously, the entire journey. From the start in Belgium to the first checkpoint at Mont Ventoux. All the way meandering across to Istanbul, through a lot of places I've never been. Mont Ventoux is a special place for me and I can't wait to get back there. It's pretty sweet that the first checkpoint is a place I have huge memories of. I also can't wait to get to Albania and Macedonia, apparently they are beautiful!
What are you feeling most nervous about?
Wild dogs. And the route. I've got pepper spray for the dogs, but the key to winning is a good route. It's all in the preparation. I haven't started yet as I'm too busy training, but I'll be spending hours on Google maps, paper maps and plotting a route on my GPS device. Then I can just turn the Garmin on at the start and ride, knowing and trusting my planning. It'll be a stress off my shoulders.
What's the scariest thing that's ever happened to you? And what did you learn from it?
I had a pretty good crash once. When I came too there was blood everywhere. My eye was glued shut. I thought I'd lost my right eye and was bleeding out. Thankfully some very kind people looked after me, and stopped me bleeding out. I kept my eye. But I broke nearly everything on the right side of my face, including my skull. I learnt that I'm not immortal. But I also learnt that we're tough. You've got to push yourself or you'll never really be alive.
Is how you're training for this event any different from previous pro cycling events?
Not that much different. I love to train, a little too much I've found in the past. I've made myself sick a few times pushing my body too far, so this year I'm being more careful. The main difference will be some big weeks of steady miles. So that'll be 8-12 hour days, back-to-back, for five days. Then a day off easy, then repeat. Also some back- to- back 17 hour days, not so much for the training benefit but more to prepare me for the psychological effort needed. Right now, I can't do big weeks, so I'm limited to long rides on my days off and then daily turbo sessions on work days. That leads to 20 plus hours a week, so still good training!
Do you have any sporting heroes?
That's a tough one. Chris, my stepdad, got me cycling and gave me my first bike. Although I've never been one for heroes, I also admire a few cyclists. The classics riders. Those guys powering tired riders off their wheels to ride solo to the finish. The classics races are six hours long, 150 miles or more through the rain, the snow, the cold and the cobbles. Only strong riders can get to the finish. Only champions, with nicknames like Spartacus, win.
As Cancellara has already nabbed Spartacus, what would your rider nickname be?
One should never give themselves a nickname, it's a title earned. An honour placed on one's shoulders. That said, I guess mine would be 'Lone Wolf', or more likely just 'Loner'! I tend to train alone and ride alone, with my favourite races being time trials. I'm at my best when I'm shut off and it's just me and the bike against the road.
Lastly, as the Transcontinental is unsupported, what will you be taking with you to get you through the crunch points?
My iPod. Good music can get you through anything in life. When it's tough I'll just put on some music and pedal on. What else can you do? There isn't a choice to stop.
Follow James' progress at