SIMPLY staying awake for 24 hours would be difficult enough for most people.
But Ewan Gronkowski not only managed that earlier this month, he also spent the whole time cycling across the Scottish Highlands to claim third place in a legendary bike race.
The annual Strathpuffer 24 hour attracts competitors from all over the world and was featured in US Bike magazine’s top 10 toughest mountain bike challenges on the planet.
And Markinch man Ewan, despite competing in his first ever endurance race, finished third among 50 top riders by completing 25 laps – around 200 miles – in a single day.
“It’s definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I needed a wee push to keep going at some of the lowest points,” Ewan said.
“The idea is to do as many laps as possible in 24 hours, but nearer the end I was stopping for five minutes every lap and just trying to eat as much as I could in that time.
“My team did an amazing job keeping me going, and I got a lot of advice from Alex Slaven, who has won a couple of 24 hour races in the past. It meant a lot to finish third. It’s my best ever result in cycling.
“It was my first time in that kind of event so I didn’t know how I would compete because I was up against really good riders who had done it before and had lots of experience.
“I hoped to do quite well, but never thought I would do as well as that.”
His success at Strathpuffer came after a disappointing start to the cycling season, which saw him withdraw from the Scottish Cross-Country Championships.
“I had a bad start to the season, breaking my collarbone two weeks before the first race, and that put a dampener on the start of the season,” he said.
“Then in the next race a wheel broke on my bike so I was two races down on most of the other competitors, and there’s only six races in the calendar.
“I decided to look for a different challenge and thought the Strathpuffer would be a good challenge to focus on so I started training more for endurance. I’m glad I did now!”
Ewan started cycling four years ago after enrolling in a cycle-to-work scheme operated by his employers, Shell. He has been cycling from his home in Markinch to his work, at Mossmorran Ethelyne Plant near Cowdenbeath, ever since.
“I really got the bug for cycling from there,” he said. “I’ve gradually built it up to a stage that I’m now cycling the 15 miles to and from work for the majority of the year.”
The 29-year-old has been picked up by the Leslie Bike Shop racing team for the coming season, after spending the last few years representing the club’s feeder team, Muky Riderz.
“I joined the Muky Riderz because the idea of competing in the cross-country races looked appealing,” he said. “I was keen to see how I would compare to the other guys. I started taking part in open races three years ago, and every year I’ve improved, moving up a few categories, and I’ve ended up being one of the leading racers in Muky Riderz.
“Now I’m moving up to Leslie Bike Shop and it’s great that I’m now a sponsored rider, racing for one of the top mountain biking teams in Scotland.”
Muky Riderz team official Alan James, who travelled to Strathpuffer to support Ewan’s cause, is delighted to see a team mate progressing.
“The club is really excited to see one of our riders doing so well,” he said.
“He was up against professional riders and only one of them, the winner, finished ahead of him. That just shows you what a super-human effort this was.”