Q&A with Jas Muller: Attempting the LEJOG World Record
This September, Le Col ambassador Jasmijn Muller will be setting out from Lands End in Cornwall in a bid to break three endurance cycling records. The most prestigious of all being an attempt to cycle from Lands End to John O'Groats in less than 52 hours and 45 minutes.
Despite being a National 12 hour champion and 24 hour Time Trial Champion, Jas is under no illusion as the scale of the challenge that lies ahead. We caught up with her a few weeks back to find out what motivates her, where she gets her confidence from, and whether there's anything she's afraid of in life.
You can follow Jas' journey via our social media feeds and at: www.lejogrecord.co.uk
Q&A WITH JAS
We’re here tonight with one Miss Jasmijn Muller. Hi Jas, how you feeling today?
Jas: I’m feeling pretty good. Thanks for inviting me.
You’re very welcome. Today we're going to be talking to Jas about just a few casual world records that she's going to be breaking. So Jas, what are you planning to do in T-minus three weeks time?
Jas: Any time from the 1st of September, I'm hoping to break three records.
World records, is that right?!
Jas: Yes, three world records, Guinness Book of Records. One is a 24 hour record on the road bike, which currently stands at 467.3 miles.
Then I'm going to keep going because I'm hoping to break that 24 hour record whilst riding from Land's End to John O Groats (LEJOG for short).
Fab, you’re keeping it British.
Jas: Yes! That LEJOG record is 52 hours, 45 minutes, and 11 seconds.
So you have to make it from Land's End to John O Groats in 52 hours, pretty much?
Jas: Yes. That's total time. So any time I take to stop for traffic light or go to the toilet, whatever. Time keeps ticking.
Then once I reach John O Groats, I'm going to keep going for the 1,000 mile record, because the distance to John O Groats is about 840 miles, so you may as well take another 160 to get up to 1,000. The current record for the 1,000 miler is 64 hours and 38 minutes.
So you are aiming to break three world records in one fell swoop. That's pretty efficient! How did the idea for your challenge start? Did it start with just one record or did you know all three were going to be up for grabs?
Jas: It started with Land's End and John O Groats. Back in 2013, it was. I went to a local event in Isleworth. And Eileen Sheridan was speaking there. She's in her mid-90s now, but when she was a lot younger in the 40s and the 50s, she was the queen of long distance cycling. She basically made a career out of cycling records point to point. So she did Land's End, John O Groats, she also did London to York, and any destination in the UK you can think of.
And is she British?
Jas: She's British. In her book ‘Wonder Wheels’, she describes her journey starting with joining a local cycling club and then discovering her talent for long distance cycling and keeping going. She's tiny, she's like 5'4 or something.
Jas: But she's super strong and she set all these phenomenal records. In that evening she spoke about her Land's End John O Groats record in really fascinating and funny and inspiring way, and that was just after I had done my first 24 hour race at Le Mans that year. I thought, if I can keep going for 24 hours, maybe I can keep going for twice as long and maybe I can do the mad things that she's done. So a seed was planted back then and then it took me a few more years to actually find the courage and learn a bit more about myself and long distance riding to go and do it.
I'm interested to know… were you always this athletic? Were you always this strong? Did you grow up pumping iron? How are your legs so like rocks?
Jas: Well the secret behind my strong legs is… ballet.
Jas: I was not athletic at all growing up. I never did anything that people actually consider sports. I did ride my bike, but like all Dutch people you ride your bike to school and to the shops, and I rode my bike to ballet and music classes, and that was about it.
Ballet gives you very strong legs, it gives you very strong core. It gives you good posture, good flexibility, and importantly it also gives you discipline. But mentality that can help with the sort of things that I do now.
You have got very good posture, actually, I have to say.
Jas: For a cyclist...
Yes, very good posture for a cyclist!
Jas: Most cyclists are hunched over. My posture's a little bit more upright.
So where did the taking up cycling come in, where did that all begin?
Jas: Well it begun when I after doing my PhD and I started working in London. We ended up in Strawberry Hill, a lovely place, and I started cycling to workin the West End. Then in September, 2010 a client at work, organised a charity ride from Penrith to Warrington. It's 100 mile ride, and he invited various people through work who wanted to ride it with him.
I said, "Well, I've got this lovely old vintage bike. It's got about six gears, but let's see if it can do 100 miles." So I joined. I'd never ridden with the clipless system yet, so I put that on for that ride and practised a little bit up and down the road, I was terrified. It worked. I still remember, we were riding up Shap Hill, that was quite difficult with just six gears.
I was just terrified. Everyone else was so much stronger than me. But I just managed to tack along the back of that ride. That moment was quite defining for me, because it was doing something completely out of my comfort zone, but at the same time discovering that I could easily last the duration of the ride, that wasn't the problem. It was just that they were all a lot faster than me. So it was discovering a talent for endurance.
So when did you discover your passion for endurance, specifically?
Jas: That was in 2013 when I'd done the Le Mans 24 hours, that's when I discovered that I really had a talent for endurance. Then for 2014, I thought, look, I can try to focus on this crit racing and this road racing and focus on my weaknesses and how to improve, or I can just exploit my strengths.
There's nothing wrong in exploiting your strengths, you know, and doing the things you enjoy. If they come together, why not? So I treated myself to a time trial bike for 2014, and I’m still paying off!
Do first, pay later. Love it!
Jas: Yeah. It's a lot more expensive than my car. I started working with the coach, and in 2015, then I achieved my 2014 goal. That's when I won the national 12 hour time trial. I was really chuffed with that because that was really tight. Between me and the girl who came 2nd.
I'm really intrigued, what do you think about on the bike?
Jas: It's really strange, but when I race for that duration, nothing goes through my head. All there is, is the race. So it's just focusing on my position on the bike, to make sure that I'm comfortable. It's focusing on my power data, which not good enough, to be honest. I always overdo it early on.
So, you're watching the bike computer and it’s telling you, "Slow down, Jas, calm down," or, "Speed up."
Jas: Yeah. Usually the first few hours I know I should slow down but it all feels so easy so you think you're like super woman and you keep powering away, and then later on you slowly see the power tailing off. You're like, "Oops."
But yeah, it's like power and speed and focus on the road and your position. That's really all I think about. Occasionally I may think about food or drink, but because they're supported races, handing me bottles and things.
As long as that happens regularly enough. I think occasionally there's like, there's been races where they've given me a banana and then it was another hour before I got a drink, and then for that hour all I could think about was drink, drink, drink.
But it tends to be just the race, and blocking out everything else. And I find that the body follows the mind, it's not that you can completely think yourself capable of everything, but you can send some pretty strong signals to your body if it is protesting to tell them you can bloody well do this.
It all seems to come easily to you, this self-belief and this confidence, but is that right, and where does your belief that you can go out and do these things come from? Where do you get that from?
Jas: I don't know where it comes from. I think partially it comes from being lucky. I've never experienced people who said, "Oh, but you can't do this, because you are a girl, or because you are whatever.
I think a lot of those qualities actually come from my mum, as much as she always tries to calm me down in what I do, we've got a Dutch saying like, "Just be normal, that's good enough." Whereas I always want to take it into the extreme.
Second to last question - What is it that scares you? I don't mean like tarantula spiders or anything, but is there something in your life that makes you fearful or do you have any fears?
Jas: That's a very difficult question. I do have a lot of fears, even little fears like the other day I was cycling from London to Edinburgh back to London and you need to pull into these local schools that they use as controls to prove that you've done the route. Then there's the volunteers who are giving you food there and things like that.
But approaching these schools, quite often there were little curbs, and the guys would always just ride up the curbs, and I can't. Because I don't want my ... Like I said, I'm a strong cyclist, but I'm not a very skilled one.
Then I think, but if I crash on that curb, then that ruins my whole ride. They just found it really, really funny that a girl would just become 24 hour time trial national champion in the pissing rain and in conditions where a lot of guys gave up, that I can be defeated by something as little as a curb.
You know what, Jas, you're like a real superhero. They have an Achilles's heel. Superman had kryptonite, you've got a curb.
Jas: Exactly! So I am afraid of little things like that, which are really, really silly, but when it comes to the bigger things, I've ridden Land's End to John O Groats all on my own twice now, first time I did it in five days, second time in three days. A roads the whole length of the country. I'm not scared to do that. I'll ride through the night on my own. I think the only bit where I got scared is when I got on the A9, which is just another A road you think.
Yes, I've heard about the A9... it sounds scary.
Jas: But when you come to it, and particularly the part between Perth and Inverness, they actually treat it as a motorway, because there is no motorway in that area. It's single carriage A road, treated as a motorway, the cars are beeping their horns at you, and it makes you think, "Maybe I'm not allowed to be here." But you are.
That was a proper scary experience the first time I did it during the day, and I had to pull into every lay by almost, not because I was tired, but because I was mentally tired of being brave and being strong.
So the final question, and I always ask everyone this question, is what advice would you give to your younger self?
Jas: I would say ‘do it now’. Don't wait until later because life becomes a little bit more complicated. Also, now, I'm quite confident and strong and believe in myself, but I wasn't like that when I was a teenager. I still had a lot more hang ups about what other people would think of me. And actually, one thing that is really liberating is just ... I'm not sure if I can say this, but-
Just say it.
Jas: Is just don't give a sh*t!
You can say that!
Jas: That really, really is liberating. If you just don't give a sh*t about what anyone else does or what anyone else thinks, and it's not to say that you don't have any empathy.
So yeah. Just go for it would be my advice.
Jas, you are awesome, and we're all very behind you every step of the way.