End to End by Paul Jones is a wonderful, well-researched and very funny book about the Land’s End to John O’Groats cycling record, as well as Jones’s own journey along the route.
Regulated by the Road Records Association since 1881, the ~841-mile ride demands riders go to extremes of training, preparation and endurance in the pursuit of – paraphrasing Jones’s words – beating the measure by which all other cycling achievements in the UK are compared.
The book explores both the men’s and women’s records (as well as the decidedly odd and anachronistic trike records).
Below is an extract from chapter six, which details Eileen Sheridan’s life and her record-breaking end-to-end ride.
Eileen Sheridan set the End to End record in 1954, taking 2 days, 11 hours and 7 minutes. Her record stood until 1990. She went on to take the 1,000-mile record in 3 days and 1 hour. This remained unbeaten until 2002.
We also caught up with Jones to talk through researching the book, his experience of riding the route and some of the remarkable people that feature in it, and you can listen to this in the BikeRadar Podcast.
End to End extract – chapter 6, Eileen Sheridan and the row of mermaids
At Exeter, the support team began to join the entourage; first former Olympian Stan Butler, then Lilian Dredge. “You can’t look at Lilian’s time without realising that things were much more difficult for her than we ever knew. The men didn’t like women racing at all. They didn’t want them to go riding through the night, it was expected that they sleep – but the clock wouldn’t stop”.
With the shift north towards Bristol the wind was more obliging. They successfully navigated the city centre with support from Bristol club members and Boy Scouts. The shift up through the industrial heartland was marked by the onset of rain at Whitchurch.
The Shap presented no obstacle; “my speed never dropped below 10mph, even over the final stiff incline for which I used my 72- inch gear”.
She covered 432 miles in the first twenty-four hours before taking a break at Carlisle for “hot broth… a change of clothing… a blanket bath and a short nap of fifteen minutes”.
At Beattock it rained and the wind shifted around, blowing down the climb. The challenge of the long slog wore away at her reserves of mental strength.
“The editor of Cycling, H. H. England, was stood at the side of the road. He said, “I’m so sorry, Eileen” – he didn’t expect me to go on. I didn’t want to give up, but I was questioning myself: would I be strong enough?”
It was in the balance, but she pressed on through the dark, before picking up pace as she rode towards Stirling. By late Saturday afternoon, the prospect of a second night weighed on the mind, with Drumochter summit “appearing like a monstrous forbidding shadow, streaked here and there with snowdrifts”. The headlamps from the following car threw shadows against the rock “like a huge cyclist going past”.
Dawn at 1500 feet saw the temperature drop further, an intense frost causing painful feet. Frank gave her his socks, then waited barefoot for another pair to arrive with the caravan. Such are the privations – two nights without sleep and intense cold, a struggle for the helpers as well as the rider.