Jenny Graham: Taking on the Around-the-World Record
In June 2018, Adventure Syndicate member Jenny Graham embarked on an attempt at one of cycling’s greatest challenges: the ‘Around the World’ record. We caught up with Jenny to learn more about how the attempt came about, and get an idea of the challenge ahead.
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Can you give us a bit of background about yourself?
I’m a 37-year-old female endurance cyclist from the Scottish Highlands, and was a young adult by the time I was introduced to outdoor sports. Having had my son, Lachlan, when I was 18, the outdoor life was a million miles away from the world I knew, but as Lachlan grew, so did our passion for the hills, and we headed for them at any opportunity – by foot, bike or on skis.
It was five years ago, when planning a bike trip to Romania, that I was introduced to ultra-distance racing by coming across the Highland Trail 550, and life has never been the same since. I began to merge my passion for travelling through harsh mountainous environments with my interests in cycling, self-sufficiency, and limit-pushing, doing events such as the Arizona Trail Race, The Strathpuffer, and LEJOG.
I began to wonder: How far could I actually go? But every time I’ve felt like I’ve been close to finding out, I’ve felt spurred on to do more. It’s like a bottomless pit of discovery!
How is the record defined?
The record I’m going for is ‘Fastest Female to Circumnavigate the World by Bike, Unsupported’. According to Guinness, the journey should be continuous and in one direction (east to west or west to east). The minimum distance ridden should be 18,000 miles (29,000 km), and the total distance travelled by the bicycle and rider should exceed the Equator’s length. The clock does not stop for any waiting time for transit flights, ferries, or for the duration of the transit. The official Guinness World Record doesn’t differentiate between supported and unsupported attempts, but I hope to break the record for both anyway.
What is the history of the record?
Only two other women have taken on this challenge. The first was Juliana Buhring, who set off in 2012, and finished with a total time of 152 days including flight transfers, and 144 days of pedaling. She rode unsupported, and also solo for the vast majority of her journey [company on the road is allowed, but for an ‘unsupported’ attempt, the rider must not receive any support, or benefit from any draft, from anybody who accompanies them].
The second was Paola Gianotti, who set an official time of 144 days in 2014. She was fully supported throughout her attempt, and it is slightly controversial due to an accident she had mid-attempt that forced her to take three months off. This is currently the official record though.
I plan to take a month off of that time, and complete the record-breaking round-the-world cycle completely unsupported. Excitingly, I am also going to be attempting it at the same time as someone else. Vedangi Kulkarni is going to be setting off from Perth, Australia, on the exact same day as me, which is going to add a really exciting element to both of our attempts. There’s chat of an Irish lassy going for it as well, but I’ve not seen anything officially announced yet.
How did your imminent attempt come about?
The seed was planted at a training camp run by The Adventure Syndicate in Spain last year. I had never been on a training camp before, and was fairly new to road riding, but I had the most incredible week with the most incredible people, and off the back of it I was offered a year’s free coaching from John Hampshire. He told me it would be a social experiment to see what people could achieve given the right coaching.
It was a golden opportunity, and I knew I had to make the most of it. Inspired, I took on the Arizona Trail Race and the Highland Trail 550 last year, but I needed something more, which would push me to my limits.
I knew that I wanted to do something solo, and that I could take a maximum of four months to do it (due to Mum and work duties). It was then that I bumped into an old colleague, Mike Webster, who is a film maker. He’d been following my adventures, asked if I would like to collaborate on a project, and soon enough the ‘Around the World’ record was being talked about. Before I knew it I was mentally in, and once that happens there’s no going back.
How did you make sure your dream went from an idea, to a reality?
I just kept saying it out loud until it became a thing. I’m not sure even I believed I’d get this far when I started thinking about it last year, but I’ve just chipped away at all of the planning and prep work to get to the stage where we’re at now.
What have been the key considerations in preparation?
To ensure my body is in shape physically for the challenge, I’ve been working with my coach, John Hampshire, who has been amazing. My training at the moment consists of back-to-back weekend stints of six to eight hours on the bike, combined with three shorter weekday sessions, and a core and stretching routine. It can be a lot to cram in on top of a full time job and family life, but I make sure to include some down time as well.
I’m working with Apidura, Endura, Hunt, Shand and some other awesome brands on the equipment side of things. I have a good idea of the type of kit that works for me on the bike, so most of the work here has just been a case of establishing the right balance of kit.
As for logistics, I’ve been mapping my route using Komoot, and will use this as my main navigation tool on the road. On top of this I’ve had to consider safety issues such as wild camping, traffic and wildlife. Then there’s the weather to consider, and things like airport transfers, resupply points, bike shops – not to mention the funding for the entire thing.
At home, my sitting room has become a walk-in globe, with maps, routes and notes to help me get my head around the logistics of the whole thing.
Just how unsupported is ‘unsupported’?
I obviously have to ride the route myself, under my own power, with no drafting. I must carry all of my gear too, and I cannot receive any outside support – which means everything from not accepting help or support from riders I meet along the way, to only having packages sent out to public addresses.
However, sharing my story with others is a key part to the trip, and to enable me to do this I’ll meet other riders along the way, who will be able to capture media content to send back home. This will brake the ‘purest’ form of a self-supported ride, but sharing my journey with people on the road and at home will make it all the more special. As long as I don’t eat their Jelly Babies or sit on their wheels, I’ll be happy that it ticks all my ‘unsupported’ rules. Guinness doesn’t differentiate between supported and unsupported, so they really are my own rules.
What are the key stats?
I’ll be riding for 15 or 16 hours a day, averaging about 180 miles a day, for a ride time of 100 days. I plan on taking 5 days for travel between riding stretches, and have built in a 5-day emergency contingency for a total of 110 days. This would knock 34 days off the current female record, 13 days off the current official male unsupported record, and would sit me within 3 days of Mike Hall’s unofficial unsupported record of 107 days, which would be such a privilege.
The planned route for Jenny’s record-breaking ride