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Half man, half machine Phil Simcock covered this years HT550 quicker than anyone else, he recorded a time of 4d 1h 45m … that’s an average speed of just over 9km per hour, every hour for 98 hours, it includes the time he was sleeping, eating or just stopped! … think about it.

I gave Phil a few days to recover from his efforts then badgered him into answering a few questions, which he very kindly agreed to … enjoy.

Clean and fresh just before the ‘off’.

1/ Did you do any specific HT 550 training or are you always in training for something?

These days, it always seems that I am training for something! If you plan to take part in the HT550, you have to train for it or it would be impossible to complete. I ride my bike a lot anyway, however I increased my mileage on the 3 months up to the race and included some overnight long distance rides. These rides help you select and test your kit, but I also used them to ride long distances without much sleep. I also threw in some long distance rides, with kit and a few hike a bike sections. You cannot underestimate the difficulty of the hike a bike sections on the HT550.

2/ What gear were you carrying with regard to shelter and sleeping?

I only carry a lightweight summer sleeping bag and a bivvy bag. If you get too comfortable, you won’t get up and back on your bike!

3/ Did you set off from Tyndrum with a plan or did you just set off?

My plans for long distance races are not too complicated. I try to ride as fast as I can, for as long as I can and hope that it is faster than the other racers. You have to temper your initial speed so you don’t go into the red, but if you have put the miles in before the race, you can have the confidence that you know you can go the distance. For the HT550, its much more than fitness that gets you round. Bike and kit have to perform well, you need to make sure you keep well fed and watered and you need to make sure you have enough rest to enable your body to recover.

4/ What were you riding?

My race bike is a 29er Titanium hardtail with front suspension. Its reasonably light and bombproof. This year I made some changes to the bike to make sure it was more robust, such as fitting a downhill mech, as the previous year my XC mech failed on me after 230 miles.

5/ Were you aware of how close any of the other riders were at any time?

After a couple of days I knew I had a lead that was somewhere between 3 and 6 hours, but you could never be too sure. I did know that my lead could be lost at any time through a mechanical or fall, so just tried to keep going as fast as I could, which became harder as the race continued.

6/ Any particular high and low points throughout the ride?

Too many high points to mention, but usually these coincided with reaching the top of a hike a bike section. Riding through Fisherfield and the descent down Coire Lair were pretty special. The low point had to be riding through the night after three days of riding. I made the decision during the morning of the third day that I would not stop again to sleep and just ride right through to the finish. I didn’t know how far second place was behind, so I couldn’t be certain that I would stay in the lead if I slept and they didn’t. In hindsight this was a bad decision. I left Fort Augustus about 10pm to do the easy miles to Fort William but because I was so tired, for me these were some of the hardest miles of the whole race. At one point I fell off the bike on a section of road, I was so tired. Even after filling up on coffee at the 24 hour garage in Fort William, I continued to struggle with tiredness and would have probably finished the race quicker if I had slept for a couple of hours.

7/ With hindsight is there anything you didn’t take you wish you had?

No. I used everything I took and didn’t need anything that I didn’t have.

8/ How did you manage your fueling … just based on experience or something more formulated?

I’m pretty happy with how I manage my eating and drinking after many years of long distance racing. One thing I didn’t anticipate however, was how much additional carbs and protein I would need to take on after a few days riding. As each day went by, I was eating more and more food every time I stopped at a cafe or hotel and all it seemed to do was minimise the deficit rather than fill me up. I was lucky that the places to pick up food along the route coincided when I needed it most. If any of those places were shut when I arrived, then it would have been very difficult.

9/ Any injuries or did you finish with a clean bill of health?

No injuries along the way. Once I finished and the adrenaline died down, everything hurt and still does! The main issue, which I think was the same for everyone, was damage to feet and ankles. I had the onset of trench foot as I hadn’t changed my socks and my shins, ankles and feet became heavily swollen once I finished. I subsequently found out I had shin splints after all the hiking up mountains with inappropriate footwear.

10/ Can the route be ridden quicker?

Yes. I definitely think a sub 4 day (this originally said 4 hours but I changed it, I can only hope he doesn’t mean 4 hours!) is achievable. Less faffing about before and after sleep and at food stops would get you below the 4 day mark. Riding faster would as well!

550 miles of Scotlands finest later.

Phil would like to thank – Team JMC, USE, Mt Zoom and Maxxi (one industries) and a very special thank you to his Wife and children “for putting up with me through all the training and providing the emotional support I needed to get through the race”.


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