Three vegans have completed a nine-day challenge to cycle the UK. The three – all accomplishment in sport – cycled the 970 miles from Lands End to John O’Groats, finishing successfully.
Neil Robinson is a featured athlete on our site, having played soccer in the top English national division for Everton and Swansea in 1980s. He turned vegan during that time and has since researched food and fitness.
Dean Howell is believed to be only the second vegan professional footballer in the world (after Neil). Vegan since 2006, he also owns a vegan sports supplement business, Revolution Foods
They were joined by climber Tris West, who has seen his climbing achievements improve since he adopted a high mineral approach to his diet. Tris runs Sunflower Wholefoods, a wholesale food company.
The 970 mile route gave them a total height gain of 52,500 feet and a daily average of almost 108 miles.
“I was woefully undertrained” explained Neil. “I didn't get my bike until February, which would have given me just 4 months preparation until our original scheduled start at the end of May. I sustained a foot injury after about 8 weeks which prevented me from training for nearly a month so we put back the start date until 26th June. Then 8 weeks from this revised start date, I damaged my knee ligaments which prevented me from training for another month! So in total I only trained for 12 weeks – realistically I should've trained for at least 6 months but ideally for 12 months!”
“I also didn't do anywhere near enough hill work – the most I ever did in one training session was about 3,000 feet of ascent – our first day of LEJOG was 108 miles and 8,500 feet of ascent and the average daily ascent was about 5,500 feet! Cycling around where I live in Widnes, which is relatively flat, was certainly no preparation for cycling through the Quantock Hills, Cheddar Gorge, the Lake District, and the Scottish Highlands! I had to dig deep mentally and just thought of all my wonderful family to help pull me through the physically tough moments. I'm really proud of the fact that in relatively poor fitness condition for such a challenge, I didn't stop or give up on any of the hill climbs.”
The team was supported by Neil’s brother John (who, why they were teenagers, encouraged Neil to go vegan) and Tris and Dean’s partners. During the days they fuelled on energy bars and flapjacks (including the Frank bar, which Neil invented) and fruit. Breakfasts included smoothies using foods from Revolution Food and more fruit. In the evenings they had pasta, rice, potatoes, curry sauces, tofu and beans.
“Having completed 8 tough days I was hoping that our last day would be an 'easy' day – it turned out to be my toughest day both physically and mentally. The weather had been relatively kind to us for 8 days – it rained a couple of days but we usually had tailwinds which was a great help. On Day 9 we had gale-force headwinds with another 4,700 feet of ascent ahead of us. I was really feeling tired in my legs and this was my slowest day of the challenge so far. We had a pitstop at 75 miles and then I just had to grind out the final 21 miles to John O'Groats – watching every mile clock up on my Garmin sat nav was slow torture but at 95 miles and approaching John O'Groats I just felt a great sense of achievement, pride, and relief!”
The team aimed to raise money for a number of charities and raise awareness of the effect veganism has on animals, health and environment, and are still accepting sponsorship here. They are particularly grateful for support from Dale Vince at Ecotricity and Suma Wholefoods who provided sponsorship and food.
Despite the pain Neil is planning to do it all again next year. If you’d like to join the team, email Neil at neil[at]neilrobinsonvegan[dot]com.
Neil was interviewed by his former football club Everton – see it here.