By Gabbi Armstrong
Communications Project Manager for the North Coast 500
Published: 8th May 2018

Mark Beaumont’s Record: Beaten!

Edinburgh Pro Cyclist James McCallum broke the cycling record held by Mark Beaumont for the North Coast 500 route.

Cyclist James McCallum beats Mark Beaumont’s North Coast 500 Record

The 37 year old had embarked on the daunting 517 mile challenge on 18th and 19th June 2016 to raise money for the Thrombosis UK charity in memory of his sister-in-law Charlene Doolan who died in 2015.

McCallum set off from Inverness on Saturday 18th June in the morning and, benefiting from a tailwind in the early part of the ride, covered almost 50 miles in the opening two hours. Driven on by the cause for which he was riding, he continued his progress through the night, and after taking breaks of only a few minutes at a time, he reached his destination 31 hours after his departure, having actually spent 28 hours 57 minutes in the saddle.

James starts his epic journey

McCallum’s time was a massive seven hours faster than adventurer Beaumont had managed in 2015. The new record holder, a former British champion, who represented Scotland at four Commonwealth Games and won a track medal in 2006, was met at the finishing line by a group of supporters that included his wife and daughter. McCallum’s record was the reward for months of intensive training which he fitted around his work with the professional cycling team One Pro Cycling.

His fund raising effort had an initial target of £10,000 and, with almost £8,000 pledged by the time he completed his epic challenge on the North Coast 500.

Q& A with James McCallum

Here we put our most popular questions from potential NC500 cyclists to James McCallum to get his thoughts!

Q1: What has inspired you to cycle the North Coast 500 route and break Mark Beaumont’s record?

I never really set out to beat Mark’s record. That just came about from the combination of the preparation and emotional energy that built up over the 7 months before. I am a huge believer that when you have a good enough “why” you can accomplish more that you imagine. Real reason for doing the whole campaign was that it had to be epic and slightly stupid to raise awareness, as well as hit out a huge fund raising target. The NC500 non-stop ticked all the boxes. Ha ha.

Q2: How did the North Coast 500 compare to other cycling routes you have tackled?

It was like nothing I had ever taken in before and a million miles away from what I did as a professional athlete. Yes I have done many races around the world but none of them had the combination of the constant elevation changes or the beautiful scenery of the NC500.

Enjoying the view?

Q3: What were your top three view-points?

This is hard to pick. Probably the sunrise that lasted the best part of an hour around the top of the coastline around Durness and Tongue. Probably between that and the combination of the beautiful beaches on the west coast and the epic climb of the Bealach na Bà really stand out.

Q4: The North Coast 500 features a variety of different road surfaces – would you say the road is suitable for cyclists of all abilities?

Yes, but you always have to be prepared. So proper clothing for all weathers (it is Scotland after all), food as well as a well maintained bike are fundamental to both completing the NC500 and enjoying it.

Q5. How did you prepare and train for the NC500?

Working full time and trying to prepare was not an easy task. Most of the week I would be up at 4am and trying to fit in 4-5 hours training before I started work. Then I would ride late at night for a similar duration once our little one was in bed. This was repeated for 3 days at a time to accumulate as much stress as possible. Then I would take 2 days off and repeat.

Riding into the sunset

Q6. What are the essentials you took for the NC500?

My Garmin and my battery packs.

Q7. Which stretch of the route did you find most challenging?

I have two stretches that I still have nightmares about, haha. The small road that leads from Lochinver to Unapool with its constant short sharp and very steep climbs and the A9 from John o’Groats to Helmsdale. Once you get to the most northern part of Scotland you tend to think it is all downhill, but the combination of the big open rolling terrain and the wind really take their toll. Especially when you have been hard at it for 20+ hours already.

The journey was a test of human endurance!

Q8. Are there any particular challenges cyclists should be aware of on the route?

Yes a couple of things in particular. Firstly the wind can come from nowhere so really pay attention to the forecast and plan accordingly. Secondly the west coast from Applecross has some very steep climbs. I would recommend using semi compact gearing on your bike. If you don’t have that I used Standard race gearing with a 28 at the rear for the really steep stuff.

Cycling a lonely road in the NC500

Q9. Did the weather affect you?

No I was pretty lucky. Yes there was always wind from all directions but the rain stayed away.

Q10. If you were going to ride the route at a leisurely pace, how long would you take?

I would probably spend between 3-5 days so you can really enjoy the unbelievable scenery and get adequate rest.

Q11. Will you be coming back to do it at a more leisurely pace?

Maybe ask me in a couple of months….haha

Q12. And finally, do you have any tips for cyclists looking to do the North Coast 500?

Plan for every eventuality both mechanically and from a weather perspective. Scotland can be both very beautiful and brutal at the same time.

Journey’s end!

For more info on James performance and his charity…

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