As Strength and Conditioning Coach for the All Blacks, Nic Gill isn’t the type to shy away from a physical challenge. Having completed numerous Ironmans, in December last year Nic decided to embark on his toughest challenge so far. On returning to New Zealand from the All Blacks Northern Tour, Nic and the team had to spend 1 week in a hotel quarantine. Instead of watching Netflix, Nic roped in All Blacks Captain, Sam Whitelock and Assistant Coach, Brad Mooar to complete a 24 hour Wattbike challenge for charity. Nic rode a total of 781km in 24 hours, unofficially beating the previous known record set by Mark Beaumont in 2015 of 750km on a Wattbike. Here’s how he did it.
When did you first start thinking about doing an epic challenge for charity?
In a previous quarantine in 2020 myself and Sam [Whitelock, All Blacks captain] rode the length of New Zealand (2089 km) on Wattbikes across 14 days. We did that just to entertain ourselves really. I then did an Ironman fundraising for Chalky Carr Trust which went well, so I thought, well what can I do next. I found out we’d be in quarantine again after the Northern Tour so I decided to make it a bit harder than riding the length of New Zealand, something that’s a bit more challenging and not done everyday.
So why choose a Wattbike challenge?
While on tour with the team, we were travelling for almost 4 months and I wasn’t allowed out to go running in some countries due to Covid. We were locked in our rooms most of the time so the fact I could train on a Wattbike during the All Blacks season meant that a Wattbike challenge during quarantine was the obvious choice. Luckily a lot of the players and staff also had Wattbikes delivered to their hotel rooms for quarantine too.
Can you explain a little bit about the Chalkey Carr Trust and why it’s important to you and New Zealand Rugby?
Chalky Carr was our Logistics Manager at the All Blacks for a few years. He turned up to our winter series one year with a sore stomach, he went to the doctor and before we knew it, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and sadly died a year later. He disappeared on us pretty quickly - he was a good friend to a lot of us - a lovely man. Everything he did was for other people. While he was going through his treatment and trying to fight, typical of him, he set up a trust to help other people. He had a goal to raise $1m to help those diagnosed with cancer, raise awareness and prevent cancer. He was a dear old mate and will be laughing at us from above, watching us do all these crazy things and raising money. It’s just a great cause.
Obviously, you were going for an individual record of 755km but you also roped in Sam Whitelock and Brad Mooars. How did you convince them to take part?
Brad is one of the Trust’s board members so when he found out I was going to do this challenge, he was in straight away. Sammy Whitelock did the length of New Zealand with me last year and he loves a physical challenge too. During the season he heard I was doing this and he had a little glint in his eye. Him and I then didn’t talk about it for a while as we had a job to do for the team. Then about a month out he told me he had his bike shorts and chamois cream in his bag! I had a chuckle to myself knowing that means he’s going to give it a crack. He was a really great friend of Chalky’s as well, so like me there’s a personal connection there.
While on Tour with the All Blacks you’ve obviously got a job to do as S&C coach. How did you find time to train while also doing your day job and travelling from match to match?
Covid has challenged us all in different ways and exercise is pretty important for my mental health. When we’re travelling overseas with the team, we’re leaving our family for four months, living in bubbles and being locked in hotels, not being allowed out to run. I had to think of ways I was going to stay sane. As soon as we got on the plane I decided to ride a Wattbike everyday while we were away. We even did a 21 hour flight from Australia to America, we arrived at 8pm and I didn’t want to miss a day so I got straight on a Wattbike. I wanted to keep the consecutive days up and I didn’t stop until we flew home.
Our days off were really restrictive too. You could either play golf or you could sit on a bus and enjoy a city tour. Neither of those excited me too much, so I just sat on a Wattbike and every week added an hour onto the training. At the start of the tour my long ride was 2 hours and in Dublin it was 8 hours.
So talk us through the first few hours and your pacing strategy for the challenge?
I’ve done Ironmans the last few years so I’m aware of pacing but also nutrition. When we arrived in Auckland, I ordered a list of food that I thought I’d want for the 24 hours. I showed it to Sam and Brad and they ordered the same thing.
I then tried to figure out my pace. My plan was not to get off the bike very often, maybe once or twice. On my last training ride of 8 hours I didn’t get off the bike at all. With that plan in mind I had to ride at 31.5km to 32km/h which I thought would be quite easy. Then when it came to the ride within the first hour it all went out the window.
I was fuelling and drinking, then the next minute I was having to go to the toilet. The pace I had to hold was lower than my training sessions so I wasn’t sweating or burning the energy at the same rate, but I was eating and drinking similar amounts. I therefore ended up going to the toilet lots and every time I got off the bike it was affecting my distance and pace. Over the 24 hours I was off the bike for 45 mins for toilet breaks which drastically affects the pace you have to hold and I ended up riding at 34 km/h while I was on the bike.
During the ride how did you cope mentally and physically? Did you hit any really dark patches?
The hardest part was at 1am, we’d been going for 6 hours but then everyone in New Zealand went to sleep. All of a sudden it was just us three on Zoom. I suggested I was going to watch a series on Netflix and the other guys had things they wanted to watch so we all put our headphones in to watch. Then I felt my eyes shutting and I was really struggling, like my head was rocking. I decided to put something on with a bit more action, so I put a Jason Bourne film on thinking that would help but no. Bang, the head nodding started again.
I asked the boys if they were feeling the same and they both were, so we went back on Zoom and just started talking to get through the bad patch. Luckily my Ironman coach and Hannah Wells, New Zealand Ironman champion, were training for a race in Florida. They dialled in at 2am and we just had these yarns about stuff - all of a sudden two hours went by. By then people in New Zealand were waking up. We had coaches and players joining because they were jetlagged. So from 2am onwards we had people on Zoom from all over the world. Chalky’s brothers, Sam’s Nan, people from Wattbike and others who we didn’t know, it was so cool. So we were speaking to people for 23 hours and the hardest hour was the one hour where we didn’t have anyone.
Honestly, if it wasn’t for Zoom I think we’d all have gotten off after 4 hours!
You’ve done Ironmans so you know what it’s like to exercise for a long period. How does riding for 24 hours compare to the demands of an Ironman?
There’s no rest bite on the Wattbike, you can’t free wheel down a hill, there’s no change in terrain. It really is one movement for 24 hours, your body is doing the same thing. The only things you can really do is change your cadence or the resistance. I found a higher cadence was harder as I got more tired. Taking resistance down didn’t really make it any easier either. So all I could do was vary between those two things.
In terms of pain. I started to get a sore foot really early on. Then my knee started to hurt and obviously your butt gets worse and worse. With about 6 hours to go, my legs started to feel like they do at the end of an Ironman. The last 30 minutes of an Ironman your legs are completely destroyed and every footstrike is painful. That’s what it was like 6 hours from the finish.
What was your nutrition strategy and what sort of things were you eating and drinking?
I made ham and cheese sandwiches, I had creamed rice, gels, electrolyte drinks. I had lots of chocolate, crisps, and salted peanuts. But when it came to it I didn’t touch any sandwiches. I couldn’t fathom chewing it was just too hard work. The creamed rice worked well though, it was a little bit solid, really tasty and easy to take down. Gels were no problem either. I struggled with chocolate because of the chewing.
I tried to eat something every 15 minutes. Just like the pacing, I had a plan but after an hour it went out the window because things weren’t sitting well in my stomach. So I had to adjust to how I was feeling and eat whatever I fancied at that time.
Do you have some stats from the challenge?
I burned about 18,000 calories and completed over 100,000 pedal revolutions!
How did you recover after the challenge?
We finished at 7pm sharp. I’d ordered a burger through Uber Eats at 5pm. The burger turns up at 7:15pm. It took me about 5 minutes to get off the bike, I then ran a bath and ate my burger in the bath. Once I got off the bike I started to get really cold and shivery, like freezing cold. I get that cold feeling after an Ironman, it’s like the body going into a state of shock. Anyway, I jumped into bed and literally passed out at about 7:30pm - I slept for a full 12 hours - I don’t think I even moved, it was awesome! When I got out of bed, I was so sore and found it hard to walk. Four days on and my quads were still tender.
You can still donate to the Chalky Carr Trust and to Nic’s huge effort here.