Inspirational Stories

Exclusive Interview | Jonathan Shubert Sets a New Cycling World Record!

Heather Duncan747 views
Jon world record cover

Dear Explorer,

Jonathan Shubert did the unbelievable and established a new World Record! On February 13th, just after 5am, he cycled into the Omani city of Salalah and clocked in at 47 hours and 21 minutes after completing 1,200km from the capital city, Muscat.
Rewind to this time last week and I found myself in the support vehicle as an integral team member accompanying the incredible Jonathan Shubert on his ambitious World Record attempt.
Already an amazing endurance cyclist and athlete, we had faith in his attempt to cycle the gruelling 1,200km from Muscat to Salalah. But, incorporating variables like exhaustion, dehydration, and heatstroke, this was a challenge that brought Jonathan close to his own limits and very close to the planned time of under 48 hours.
Intense highs and lows throughout that 47-hour-and-21-minute journey brought us from being work acquaintances to good friends. Today, I sit down with Jon for the exclusive interview after his massive achievement.

An exclusive with Jonathan Shubert

ub-cool: First of all congratulations! We are so incredibly proud of you! How are you feeling? Has it sunk in yet?
Jonathan Shubert: Physically I’m feeling fine now. The only pain remaining is really the wounds from a crash I had towards the end.
Mentally, it probably hasn’t sunk in yet, no. I can’t believe it has been a week already! It was strange because it wasn’t until we drove back from Salalah to Muscat in the car did I begin to comprehend just how far we had actually gone – 1,200km was the final distance. 
Jon World Record
Jonathan’s world record route across Oman and, pasted on the car, are the sponsors who supported this incredible challenge.
ub-cool: You had to put your body through an incredible feat of endurance to achieve this. Tell us a little about your highs and lows?
Jonathan Shubert: The high was certainly having the support team there which kept me in a very positive state of mind; it also gave me a lot of reassurance and removed a lot of the doubt and worry. There was far less for me to worry about when I knew that many other things were taken care of from the feeding to the watering. I even felt safe because someone was always watching me.
 
Low points – From food poisoning before we even started to the intense sunshine, we didn’t have an easy time. Possibly, the lowest point was the wind on the first night. It was demoralising peddling into the relentless wind and it really slowed me down!
 Jon World Record crew
 The support crew who assisted Jonathan on his World Record attempt
ub-coolDid everything go to plan? Sickness, heat exhaustion, routes etc.
Jonathan Shubert: As the saying goes, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” – and, I think we did prepare well for a lot of things. I was always anxious about heat and heatstroke but I certainly didn’t expect anything to that severity. And, I genuinely know now that I was very close to death from the heat. That obviously wasn’t intentional – we had planned strategies to keep me cool like placing ice cubes down my back.
The food poisoning was definitely unexpected. Perhaps the food was a bit too heavy on my stomach so we had to change that for the second day. I learned to switch more towards gels and energy through liquids so it was easy for my stomach to absorb. But, the crash wasn’t planned, the heat exhaustion wasn’t planned, and the high winds were not anticipated. But we dealt with all of them.
Jon World Record heat stroke

Jon’s health rapidly deteriorated on Day 1 due to heat stroke; a factor that hadn’t been anticipated.

ub-cool: You’ve mentioned that you crashed your bike, can you tell us a little more about that?
Jonathan Shubert: That was a result of circumstances. The police had stopped us and enforced a car to travel in front of me at all times, rather than behind like we had previously been doing. This obscured my field of view. I was trying to stay to the side of the car and unfortunately that didn’t give me much room when the hard shoulder disappeared abruptly and the road crumbled away. I could see the hazard coming but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I hit the pot hole hard at about 50 km/h and came crashing down and rolled through the gravel. The adrenaline was pumping so I couldn’t feel anything.
“I looked at myself and didn’t see any bones sticking out so I knew we had to get on with it. I didn’t realise until just now that after the crash there was still another 10 hours of riding to go!”
 Jon world record injuries
ub-cool: While on the road, what was the most enjoyable part of the challenge?
Jonathan Shubert: *Laughing* – I don’t think ‘enjoyment’ is a word that I would really associate with this. I switched my mind off to the pain, it was just a task. I was quite impressed with myself how I could do that and it was definitely not going to stop me or slow me down.
“But there were things that picked me up and that was seeing people come out to see me on the road. From Muscat to Salalah and all the remote places in between, people were following my progress and finding me on route to cheer me on.
Also my support team – there was no pressure from them and if I didn’t feel well they trusted that my decisions were the right ones. If I told them that I needed 15 minutes sleep, thats what we did. Another major highlight was just seeing Oman on a bicycle. Oman is such a beautiful country and even just watching the desert roll by, the stars in the sky, and the Milky Way galaxy at night. It was a beautiful way to see the country even if you are racing across it.
 Jon World Record friendsJon’s friends, and keen cyclists, Khalil and Tall were on hand for expert help on muscle cramps and feeding the body
ub-cool: What was the most dangerous aspect?
Jonathan Shubert: It was the penultimate road towards Salalah, just hundreds of kilometres through the Nimr oil fields. Because there was no hard shoulder for my to cycle on, I was cycling on the road with cars and trucks flashing by at incredible speeds. This route was too far for me to have reconnaissance; in hindsight, I would have taken the coastal road but had previously avoided it due to the rolling coastal hills. So this is where I had the crash – just 200km from Salalah. 
“You could argue that was dangerous but you could also argue that the heat was dangerous. The heat is what brought me closest to death!

Jonathan Shubert World Record

ub-cool: Did you ever feel you may give up? Did that moment ever creep into your mind? Did it happen more than once?
Jonathan Shubert: Someone asked me if I ever considered giving up. And, honestly, on that first night when my head and legs were willing but my stomach was in such a terrible state, I didn’t know how to get energy to my legs because I couldn’t face the thought of eating anything. So, I thought if there is no fuel going in how can I give energy to my legs? It was complete despair. I thought: “how am I going to do this?” Although my stomach was incredibly uncomfortable, it was all about just being able to consume enough to allow me to keep moving.
Jon World Record
Trying to stay cool in the desert heat was a real challenge
ub-cool: You don’t listen to music or talk when you are cycling for these long hours on end. What were you thinking of to get you through the long hours?
Jonathan Shubert: Now that would be telling! It’s quite noisy in my head! It’s nice to afford myself the opportunity to just be inside my head for a long time. For me, it’s a kind of meditation like how people thumb through rosary beads.
“It’s that motion of my legs going round and round helping me to think and it takes my mind off things – it’s like my drug.”
It makes me very creative where I can think about life and all sorts of other things. I thought about everything from Wilfred Thesiger and other early pioneers to cross the country on camel to where my life is and where it’s going. I’m thinking about distances, I’m thinking about timings, I’m doing a lot of sums in my head converting from kilometres to miles. There was a lot of time to think!
Jon World Record bike
ub-cool: Were you able to take in the scenic views or were you too focused ? If yes, what did you see that is memorable?
Jonathan Shubert: I tried my best to not focus on lengths of time because that would make it persist and drag on. So, I told myself to sit up and enjoy the scenery like a normal day out on the bike so I couldn’t enjoy what I saw. As I entered the desert region, about 12 hours later the desert really changed; it’s nothing like what we have around Muscat.
“It was beautiful to watch the camels, rocks, and sand roll past. Even by the coast at night I saw a crab scuttle across the road. It was the little things like that which kept me going.
The local people were curious what was going on with one cyclist and 3 support cars with flashing lights – many of them came to watch me pass by. That was a nice experience.
World Record attempt scenery
ub-cool: Near the end you were so confident on timings you even stopped to allow your support crew to have a coffee in the early hours of the morning. What was going through your head then?
Jonathan Shubert: What can I say? Selfless! *Laughing*
My team had been working so hard for me that I felt a great debt of gratitude and I know how long they had wanted a coffee for. It made me incredibly happy to afford them the opportunity to have something to make them happy. They were also going through the whole sleep deprivation with me and they weren’t having an easy time so that one little thing made all the difference to them.
ub-cool: What does it take to plan an ambitious World Record attempt like this?
Jonathan Shubert: This is something so time consuming that we probably didn’t force – it takes a lot of spare time! It takes someone who is very motivated. Someone said to me after: “You dreamed it, you designed it it, you planned it, and you executed it!” – and, there is such a huge sense of reward. But yes, it was a huge task. There is so much more that goes into something like that than just face value.
“It absorbed my life for at least a month, and that doesn’t even include the training I had to do on a bike!”

Jonathan Shubert World Record

ub-cool: Looking back, would you change anything? A different route, more/less training, packed more food, etc.?
Jonathan Shubert: The training was very effective. I was very happy with my level of physical fitness. My body was definitely ready for the challenge.
I should have practiced more with the foods – I changed my diet close to the event based on advice but perhaps that wasn’t ideal for me. It was difficult with this because we had a date set to achieve this; there was no chance to change anything, so getting food poisoning the night before was terrible – but, there was nothing I could do about it.
“I wonder if everything had gone to plan, how much quicker I could have achieved it. There is definitely room for improvement on that record.”
Jon World record feeding
The food was prepared and ready waiting for Jon but only after every 6 hour stint of cycling!
ub-cool: Would you ever attempt it again and improve your time or be happy for new cyclists to undertake challenge by using the coordinates you have set?
Jonathan Shubert: I think the only way I would do it again was if someone broke my record and I would fight to take it back. It’s a strong record but I would really like if someone was up for the challenge and came to give it a go.
Jon World Record with Chris
Jon with his good friend Chris who had been on his team and a huge support throughout
ub-cool: You are back to work now as a school teacher in Muscat, what did your students think of your achievement?
Jonathan Shubert: I’m lucky because my students are big fans. They are very supportive and wanted to hear more about it – possibly because they didn’t want to do any work. But, they were great and gave me a big round of applause afterwards.
Jon World Record
Finally reaching the Sultan’s Palace in Salalah, everyone is delighted yet exhausted after over 47 hours on the go. Here I am with Jonathan celebrating.
ub-coolSo what is next for you?!

Jonathan Shubert: This is the tricky one. I think it might have been something I pushed to achieve because I know my time in Oman will eventually come to an end.

“I would like to go and see what the world has to offer, perhaps cycle back through the Arab world and eventually back to England. I will probably just keep peddling until I find what I’m looking for.”

Jon world record holder

Are you planning to attempt to set a new World Record?

We’d love to hear about it – leave us a comment below!

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Heather Duncan
"Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire" A wife, mother, adventurer and outdoors addict. My passions include scaling to the highest heights, cruising the ocean on my kayak and throwing myself from cliffs. Why? Because life is too short to be boring.

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