I last caught up with ultra-endurance cyclist Amanda Coker in 2018, hot on the heels of her record-breaking HAM’R (Highest Annual Mileage Record). You can read the interview here, but to summarise, Amanda rode an average of 237 miles every day for 365 days in order to smash the highest annual mileage record (male and female), clocking up an incredible 86,573.2 miles. Then, instead of taking a well-earned day off to celebrate, Amanda continued riding for an additional 58 days to break the 100,000-mile record, ticking off this immense milestone in a total of 423 days.
Fast-forward to the 23rd of October this year, and Amanda rode herself into the record books once again, this time by breaking the women’s 24-hour distance record. Riding a 28-mile out-and-back route on open roads in Florida, USA, Amanda cycled 512.5 miles, obliterating the previous women’s record by 73.5 miles, and in the process making history as the first woman to break 500 miles in 24-hours. Not only that, but despite the shorter records not being her main focus, the 29-year-old American broke the following ten records* on the way: fastest 100km, 100 miles, 200km, 200 miles, 300km, 300 miles, 500km, and 500 miles, as well as new distance records for 6 hours and 12 hours. Phew!
I caught up with Amanda to get the lowdown of how it all happened.
We last spoke in 2018. What have you been up to on the bike since then?
Life has been going very well since completing the HAM’R! In July of 2018, Nicola Cranmer, owner of Twenty20 Women’s Pro Cycling Team (now Twenty24), contacted me about racing for the team, and I’ve been a part of the amazing program ever since! Twenty24 is a wonderful team stacked with phenomenal juniors and elite pro women, ranging in disciplines from road racing to mountain biking, gravel, and esports. Thus far, my time on the team has been split between road racing and esports (Zwift), but I am soon to test the waters in gravel racing!
Since 2019, I’ve been leading a weekly group ride for my team on Zwift every Thursday at 9am ET, connecting with countless wonderful people from around the world. Last year, I started my own business as a USAC certified cycling coach, Amanda Coker Coaching, and have had great success with my athletes from all different fitness levels. Also, in February of this year, I set the Jacksonville, Florida to Key West, Florida, world record of 533 miles in 27 hours and 27 minutes!
Congratulations! Now let’s talk about your most recent challenge – in October, you became the first woman to break 500 miles in 24-hours. How did the idea for the record attempt come about?
Thank you, Katie! Since the HAM’R, I’ve had ambitions to attempt a 24-hour race. It became a goal of mine on Day 414 of the HAM’R when I rode 402 miles and still had hours to spare to continue to ride. Over the past four years, I toyed with the idea of going for the 24-hour world record and aiming to be the first woman in history to break 500 miles but put it aside as I focused on racing for Twenty24. When the global shutdown happened, in-real-life racing was halted, so my team owner (Nicola Cranmer) gave me the green light to go for some more world records.
I learned a lot about my body that day (during the Florida500 record); what I needed to work on, and the changes that needed to be made to become more efficient. Having felt as good as I did during the Florida500, I believed I could make a confident attempt at possibly being the first woman to break 500 miles in 24 hours! Once I finished the Florida500, I started planning my official 24-hour world record attempt.
You said you spent a lot of time in the pain cave in preparation. Can you share what this involved?
In preparation for my 24-hour world record attempt, I focused on quality over quantity. Rather than spending countless hours in the saddle, I would concentrate on shorter rides but with more intensity. Actually, the furthest I had ridden prior to my 24 hours was the Florida500 in February!
Since becoming a cycling coach, I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned and test out different methods in my own training, honing in on what works best for my body. As a coach, I know how important designing training plans specifically for each athlete truly is, so no cookie-cutter training plans from me! In doing this, I was able to determine what areas needed to be isolated to improve my performance.
Zwift was definitely a major factor in providing a platform for me to ride when the weather wasn’t pleasant outdoors. It saved me from having to ride in monsoon-like conditions outside during the summer months and the numbingly cold [days] during the winter!
You also said you had numbers in your head. Were these your pace targets? And did having several records to aim for during your attempt help?
Long before I got into ultracycling, I had a passion for numbers, specifically statistics. I was actually minoring in statistics in college before the 2011 accident. So my love for stats went into hyperdrive once I started doing ultra distances. During the HAM’R, I often joked that “three minutes is a mile”, referring to downtime whenever I stopped for breaks, weather interruptions, detours, etc. In reality, that phrase was always passing through my mind, crunching numbers to determine what my end mileage would be for each day.
During the 24-hour record, I was happy to have the ten additional records because it gave me mileage and time goals that kept me motivated on pace to break the record. The first 12 hours seemed to have zoomed by, actually. I wanted to set a steady pace, to begin with, leaving plenty in my tank for the following 12 hours. At some point, I’ll definitely make another go at the other ten records (100K to 12-hour records) to better my times; it will be pleasantly weird to finish the 12 hours and not have another 12 hours to go!
Tell us about the route you chose to ride?
In accordance with the WUCA (World Ultra Cycling Association), before any record attempt is made, the course must be surveyed and certified by the WUCA Records Chairman. This is done to keep the records accurate, fair, and true. The course I chose is a 28.39-mile out-and-back. It was really great to find this course since it was a convenient location for both my crew and myself.
With that said, the course had a lot of high-speed traffic on it, all day long, even in the early morning hours. Thankfully, my crew kept me safe, staying behind me during the entire 24 hours in a follow vehicle with caution lights and signage (this is another requirement from WUCA – all open road records must have a follow vehicle). It was nice being able to pass by the Start/Finish each “lap”, getting to see my crew and get a boost of motivation.
The crosswinds were constant all throughout the day, but thankfully I was riding my FELT IA, which was designed to take on Kona’s notorious crosswinds. A few times I had to slow down at the U-turns and wait for traffic to pass by before turning, and yes, the “three minutes is a mile” phrase did cross my mind during those moments!
What was your fuelling strategy?
I fuelled the entire 24 hours on Tailwind Nutrition’s Endurance Fuel. Sticking to liquids works best for me for easy digestion and less chance of gastric discomfort. A few times, I ate some gels for a quick boost, as sugar is power! The perfect balance of sugar and electrolytes is a major factor in what keeps me rolling so efficiently. I didn’t eat breakfast that morning as to avoid any gastric issues. However, I did enjoy a generous dinner of baked chicken and jasmine rice the night before!
What was going through your head whilst you were riding?
Lining up on the start line, I wasn’t at all nervous. Between my training, prep, and of course, my amazing crew (Allan, Chris, Dan, Jason, Sonya, and my dad Ricky), I was confident we would execute a great 24 hours. Knowing they were taking good care of me allowed me to stay in the zone. During the first 500K, my focus was on the individual records, using them as short-term goals, running the numbers, and watching my average speed. My mind was never racing or in hyper-speed; I remained calm the entire time, had relaxed thoughts, and honestly just enjoyed the whole experience.
Were there any particularly challenging moments?
As with any ultra-cycling record, there will be mental and physical challenges. For the entirety of the 24-hours, I had to stay alert, especially since 18-wheelers and vehicles were travelling at 60+ mph in both directions. Many times, my bike was thrashed to the side from wind turbulence! On this particular day, the crosswinds were stiff and constant throughout the day, so combined with staying focused on traffic flow and keeping the bike in a straight line from the wind gusts, I was 100% concentrated on the road. Florida may not have as many hills as other states/countries, but the wind sure makes up for it. At least with hills, you get a downhill to rest on; in Florida, you’re constantly pedalling and building fitness with the wind!
Of course, riding any amount of long distance is bound to bring some discomfort. On this particular day, I experienced hot foot (when the nerves on the bottom of your feet become compressed from constant pedalling, creating a burning/tingling sensation), so I did my best to move my feet around inside my shoes to relieve the pressure. Also, by the end, my hip flexors were quite tired, so we had to remove my seat post from my frame to slide the bike away. Much easier than trying to lean the bike to the side and lay it down to get off!
You rode with one headphone in. What did you listen to, and did the music help?
Yes, in accordance with the record rules, athletes are allowed to have one earphone in during their record attempt. During the daylight hours, I did listen to music – I actually made a six-hour playlist! My taste in music is all over the spectrum, such as EDM, progressive rock, dubstep, alternative, and punk. My teammates and my coached athletes sent me some of their favourite songs, so of course, I had to add them to the playlist. Definitely all upbeat tempo songs. Of course, I had the volume low, and by personal choice, I didn’t listen to music at night, just to be extra focused.
You achieved what you set out to do and broke 11 records in the process! How did you feel when you finished?
When I stopped my Wahoo at 8:15am Saturday morning, I was overcome with so many emotions! The first thing I wanted to do was stop and hug all of my crew; they were amazing the entire time, going nonstop, like a professional racing team. It was such a wonderful moment standing there on the side of the road with everyone. We were all, of course, extremely tired, so our emotions ranged from tears to cheers.
Once I got off the bike, I was ready to sit down in the car, take my shoes off, and get into some dry clothes. After that, I was ready to head home to wash up and enjoy some french fries!
What kit did you use/wear during your attempt?
I wore my team Twenty24 LeCol kit, SockGuy Twenty24 socks, Limar Air Speed Twenty24 helmet, and Oakley sunglasses.
How have you felt since, and what has your recovery been like?
Since completing the record I’ve taken several days off the bike to recover and replenish, which has been really relaxing! On the days I’ve gone for rides, I’ve felt refreshed and I’m actually stronger than I was before the 24 hours! Already excited for my next challenge. The most shocking result from the record was how high my metabolism was for about two weeks after. It sure was nice getting to eat a little more treats to celebrate.
What’s next – any plans, goals, or challenges in the pipeline for 2022?
I’m extremely excited for this coming year! In regards to attempting more world records, there are several that I have my sights on attempting in the near future. I’ll also be dipping my toes in gravel racing for the first time, which I’m really looking forward to.
On the non-racing side of life, I am genuinely excited about being a guest rider and speaker at events throughout the year. It is truly inspiring to be a part of powerful rides such as the WOW (Women on Wheels) Ride this coming May. Attending events is a joy, and I am always open to being invited to more. It has also been a year since I started my coaching business (Amanda Coker Coaching), which has been amazing. Having the opportunity to coach athletes from all over the world, being a part of their achievements, and watching them grow both mentally and physically has been incredibly rewarding. Coaching has definitely changed my life, and I’m always open to bringing on more athletes to work with in pursuit of achieving their goals/dreams. Inspiration is contagious!
*As this was an official record attempt, I’ve popped more details below:
-Amanda’s record attempt was verified, certified, and officiated by WUCA (World Ultra Cycling Association). Verified records are then submitted to Guinness via WUCA.
-For someone to attempt a world record that will then be verified by WUCA, they must go through the Record Process with the WUCA Records Chairman.
-Unless otherwise stated by WUCA, races cannot be used as an official record attempt for records.
-The world records Amanda broke were set by amazing women who have gone through the same Record Process instituted by the WUCA governing body, to ensure all attempts and records are fair and true.