Jason English – World 24 hour MTB champion

Jason English is the current, and multiple, world and Australian, 24 hour mountain biking world champion. 7 time world champ as a matter of fact. 7 times CONSECUTIVE. He is almost unbeatable in an ultra distance race.
I was lucky enough to complete and Everesting with Jason once (read about that here), and asked him if he’d be happy to have a chat about what it can be like to go through what he does.
Interview by Dave Edwards. Photos from Jason English.
This calm face is going to destroy you.

When did you start ultra-endurance cycling?

I guess I started when 8 hour races became trendy in NSW, and followed the 8 hour series around back when I was still at uni during 2003. I did my first solo 24 hour event during 06 and I guess things went from there.

What got you into wanting to go so long?

I think it’s the low intensity, and the mates you can ride with. I also enjoy looking for a challenge.

Describe what it feels like to race hard for 24 hours.

It’s a balancing act between putting fuel in, and not going too hard, and burning fuel at a faster rate than you can put it in. It’s a sense of success if you can race consistently hard for the full 24 hours. There are some races when this happens, but more often than not, there is a low period which could be due to a lack of nutrition or sleep.

Recently you raced the world championships and the Australian national championships on back-to-back weekends. How do you prepare for that?

In 2015 there was a crazy couple of weekends. I wasn’t sure I could back up a 24 hour after another. I went into the worlds in California hoping that I could take it easier for the last couple of laps, so I could start recovering. At 1am with 11 hours to go, there are 3 of us lapping around, and I wasn’t sure I would get this luxury. I just got lucky in the last few hours where a gap started to form, and the last 1-2 hours I could back the pace off. To prepare for it I just tried to cram in a few extra kilometres, and the weekend before the worlds I actually completed a 400 kilometre ride through the night.

How do you recover in between?

I went straight for the ice and food after the event, followed by a massage. I went for a spin the day after as I was just about to jump on a plane for 24 hours. I just turned the pedals easy for 45 minutes followed by stretching. I only rode the rest of the week around Canberra with my family towing my 4-year-old in a trailer each day!

What did you learn from the experience of two big races so close together, especially in terms of what you would or wouldn’t do for next time?

I think I did everything right, perhaps I would have made a bigger effort to stay on top of my hydration, especially while on the plane. Going into a long plane trip dehydrated isn’t good. Perhaps some pain management for the flight home, as I couldn’t sleep for the whole 24 hours of flying, due to a dull, but persistent pain.

What were the things that took the highest toll on your body, and what took the longest to recover from?

It is usually my knee joints that hurt the most, but I just felt fatigued even a week later. I think it was the mental knowledge of the pain that I was about to experience again that made the second race so much harder. I was perceiving that I was a lot more fatigued that what I actually was!

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen happen in a 24 hour race?

I have seen some crazy things ranging from seeing top international riders taking short cuts, big crashes, and bears out on the course. However the scariest was when an event was held at a campsite where a bucks party was doing some very nasty things…
You are a father, husband, full-time teacher, coach and professional MTB racer. That is a huge plate to manage! What are the main challenges you face in balancing this act all together?
I guess I try to block each part of the day. The day starts at around 4am, where I ride until just after 7am. At 8am I am at work, and don’t return home usually until around 4.30pm. At home I’ll hang with the kids, help with dinner, feed the kids and try to get the kids into bed by 7.30pm. By the time I get sorted for the next day I have around 1 hour to hang out with my wife, before trying to be asleep by 9.30pm. Then I do it all again! I look forward to the weekend where I’ll try to have 1 day off the bike, and a 4-5 hour day training.
What have been your biggest mistakes you’ve made with training?
Just doing the extra 30 minutes when I’m so busted I’m barely putting any force on the pedals are really just wasting my time. Since getting power meters and using Todays Plan I can make my training far more effective.
What ‘secrets to success’ would you pass on to anyone trying to prepare for riding a bloody long way, whilst juggling a very busy life?
You will have to make sacrifices, the one that impacts everyone the least is sleep. Get in the kilometres in the dark without affecting your family. Also if you have the chance to commute, for example your family want to visit grandma, leave earlier on the bike (after packing the car) and meet them there, or a few kilometres down the road!
You can follow Jason on facebook on his website or on Strava. Get around him, great athlete, and a very humble bloke.
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