Endurance athlete James Golding had intended to compete for the solo win at Race Across America this June. Then Coronavirus intervened, throwing all his athletic ambitions into question. The two-time cancer survivor and Guinness Seven-Day Cycling World Record holder from Rugby, England, looks at his forced time away from competition as yet another in a series of challenges he's overcome throughout his life.
Santini: You were into mountain-biking as a kid?
James Golding: In the early nineties, just as the boom started, I went to this new bike shop in town one day, the first proper bike shop with high-end mountain bikes. And that was it. I was hooked from there. My first bike was a Kona Fire Mountain. I did everything I could to raise enough money to buy this bike; washing cars, mowing lawns, anything you can conceivably imagine to be able to afford this bike at eleven-years-old.
I was a cross-country rider to start with. Then I went over to downhill and raced on a national level at seventeen. When I was eighteen, I smashed my shoulder up and couldn't ride in the same way anymore. I then got told I needed to get a proper job.
The idea of getting a job probably scared me a bit at the time, but I had to do it, so I went into the property industry, and suddenly time was limited. Because I wasn't able to ride the way I wanted to, the way I'd become accustomed to riding, it was easier just to get rid of everything. So I left the scene. I sold all my bikes. I had nothing more to with riding in any way at that point.
Santini: Eight years after giving up cycling, you received a devastation cancer diagnosis. You have emergency surgery and treatment so aggressive, you had to be induced into a coma for several weeks. How did your journey through recovery lead you back to cycling?
James Golding: I was Twenty-eight. I went from fourteen stone in weight (196 lbs), to six stone (84 lbs). And there wasn't some grand master plan that I was going to recover then go on to achieve this or that. My objective was just to get better. That meant that I just wanted to be able to walk, to get from the hospital bed to the toilet, to the nurses counter, to the door, to the car so I could go home.
I went to live with my Mum and my Nan to start with. I didn't leave the house for months. There were times where I wanted my Mum just to let me go. I didn't want to fight on. It was a couple of months living back at my own house before I could do anything.
One day, I picked up a bike that was in the corner of the house and took it to the local reservoir. With very little to no hair, I rode on a five-mile road around the outside of the lake, and I'd never felt so free. I felt alive. I felt happy. All these things that I remember as a kid from riding a bike.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and I went, did it twice, and felt great. Realizing that if I could ride this far, then I actually had the ability to go to my Mum's house (about ten miles away). So I kept pushing my boundaries a little bit at a time. It was three steps forward and two back, but it was still forwards.
Santini: When did you discover that you had the engine for endurance?
James Golding: Wanting to do something to give back, I decided to cycle across America to raise money. When I did that ride, I found that I actually enjoyed the bigger days more. I wanted to raise more money for charity. To raise more money, the rides needed to get bigger. More money, bigger again. All of a sudden, I was riding with some pro riders, and they're telling me that I've got a massive engine.
Santini: That's when you decided to go after the Seven Day Guinness World Record?
James Golding: Yes. I first attempted it in 2014. I picked a course from Sant-Malo to Nice and back, but I didn't get the record. I learned that I was overcomplicating things. We started to put another attempt together for 2017, and there was a lot of plate-spinning going on. We had people who wanted to help and wanted to be involved, we had a film crew with us. We had two cars and six people. It was just too complicated. I got fed up with so much juggling, so we just used my wife's car, and I did it on the roads around home. I simplified the attempt and got the record.
Santini: Is your achievement of that record - 1,766 miles (252 miles a day for seven days with five-hours mandatory rest per day) – what made you want to compete in Race Across America?
James Golding: When I completed my first fundraising ride across America - when I went back the second time after being hit by a truck on the first attempt – I was quite proud of myself. I then discovered that there was this whole group of crazy people who were doing it twice as fast. I started to look into it, and I developed this subconscious obsession with it.
The idea of winning it was not a goal. I just wanted to do it and be good at it. It wasn't until we then did the seven-day world record that I believed going after a win might be possible. But someone in pro cycling, who I respect greatly, got a hold of my data from the seven-day record. 'You could win RAAM,' he said.
Since I could ride fifteen, sixteen hours a day at 18 miles an hour, with an average heart rate of 104, he believed that with some funding, some training, and some build-up events, I could be a genuine contender for RAAM. That took a little while to sink in, but when it did sink in, I was like, 'Why not?'
Santini: Having the natural ability and deciding to challenge for RAAM is one thing, how do you train and prepare for what has to be the toughest individual endurance race in the world?
James Golding: If you pick it all apart, Race Across America is about data. Essentially, you need to be able to ride about three thousand miles within nine days. On the seven-day world record, over the course of the week, we averaged 250 miles a day. I was riding for only fourteen hours per day. I was sleeping for four hours a day. We were wasting six hours a day. We hadn't been efficient with our stops.
If we could slow that average speed down to just shy of 18 miles an hour, and narrow that wasted time down to, say, two or three hours a day, that would have given us another 60 miles a day, which puts you on three-hundred miles a day. That's RAAM scale.
The other difference between RAAM and the seven-day record is that there are different rules for each. In the seven day, you're not allowed any hand-ups. You're not allowed to change bikes between different terrains. You have to use a UCI-approved road bike, no aero equipment.
Support is the most critical gain, though. RAAM is the biggest team solo event you're ever going to witness because there's so much that goes into it. I say to people that all I do is ride the bike and they laugh, but I'm serious. Yes, I have to ride 340-350 miles a day, but if I forget to drink, somebody pulls up alongside me and goes 'Drink!' If I forget to eat, somebody pulls up alongside in the car and goes 'Eat that!' If somebody pulls up and says, 'You're stopping in the next time station for 15 minutes.' I stop.
I've got a crew chief, I've got a coach, we've got a massage therapist, nutritionists, a medic that's a co-driver with the crew chief who drives the RV. There's probably in the region of sixteen people working on this project. All I have to is point the bike in the right direction and pedal.
Santini: You did the three-day, 860-mile Race Across the West last year? Was that a good test for RAAM?
James Golding: In Race Across The West, I did 329 miles in eighteen hours. I averaged 18 miles an hour and had an average heart rate of 107 through Monument Valley. We also learned all these other things we need to change to be efficient. It was a good test.
Santini: What does a RAAM training plan look like? Is it all volume all the time?
James Golding: Somebody said to me the other day that Race Across America is a 3,100-mile race. I see it more as a six-hundred-mile race. The first 2,500 miles is about seeing where you're at. When you get six-hundred miles from the finish, you've got the Appalachians to come, and they're kickers. If there's someone up the road, you want to put the hammer down and go for it. If somebody's coming up from behind, you want to push on a little bit. That's where it kicks in.
We know that I can sit on a bike for long periods. We knew I could sit a 260-watts, day-in/day-out. We wanted to be able to sit at 280, 290, 300 watts day in/day out. So my training at the beginning of the year, when I was locked in and ramping for Race Across America, was intervals. Most rides would be about four hours. Generally, I try to keep my normalized power around 220, then when I see a hill, its eyeballs out. I go for it and see where I can push to. And then we'd throw some long rides in there as and when we felt like it.
Santini: How disappointing was it to find out RAAM wasn't going to run on schedule this year?
James Golding: There were various different emotions, but essentially, when they banned flights from Europe, as far as I was concerned, that was it. I rang all the crew. I rang all the sponsors. I spoke to everybody and said 'It's not my decision, it's everybody's decision.' And everyone agreed the best thing was to pull the plug.
Santini: There's a mountain of things that have to go right to succeed at RAAM. How much of a role can cycling kit play in the effort?
James Golding: I've got some pretty serious OCD issues on that front. When I first came out of the hospital, the stuff I bought was Santini. I loved it. So when I decided to change kit partners for 2020, Santini was the first and only company that I contacted. I wanted to work with Santini because of their heritage, because of their understanding, but also because I wanted a brand that I could give feedback.
For RAAM, I'll mostly be wearing shorts and jerseys, purely because of the changeability - if you need to change a jersey because it's too hot or you want to go long sleeve, it's really easy to do it. But when we hit Kansas, I might go into a full speedsuit. We'll also have everything else we could possibly need; long-sleeve stuff, short-sleeve stuff, jackets, bib tights, arm coolers, arm warmers, and so on. Everything will go into Clippy bags with stuff written across the front with whatever it is.
Santini: Without RAAM, is 2020 a complete write off for you?
James Golding: No. Things will start to ramp up a little bit. There's a race in September I'd like to do if things come back together and we can get flights. I'd like to go to Dubai in November and see what we can get out of the seven-day record now. I'd like to do the Sebring 24-hour in February. I'd also like to do Race Across Italy in May. Then off to Race Across America in June.