FOR one dedicated Swindon cyclist, the limits of endurance are always to be tested.

Dangerous roads, trench foot, exhaustion and hallucinations caused by sleep deprivation are just part of the challenge when you are an internationally successful ultra cyclist – like Ian To, from Liddington.

Taking part in HardCro in 2016, he cycled 1400km in 67 hours – sleeping for just an hour and three quarters as he rode to victory in the Croatian ultra race. The following year, Ian smashed his own record, completing the course in 59 hours, sleeping for just one hour and a quarter and seizing the victor’s laurels for a second time.

Now Ian, 37, is training hard for another intense physical and mental challenge – to break the world record for cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats – a distance of 840 miles which he will need to complete in 44 hours, four minutes and 19 seconds. No-one has broken this record in 17 years, so even an endurance cyclist as seasoned as Ian knows he will have his work cut out. As well as another test of his mental and physical limits, this world record attempt is a venture to raise funds and awareness for the National Autistic Society – as Ian and his wife Sarah have a daughter Elise, who is on the autistic spectrum.

“I want to tackle it,” he says. “It will be around May 12, depending on the weather. The world record is really tight – it was set by Gethin Butler in 2001, and he’s a legend in his own right. Many have tried since, and many have failed to break that record.”

Known in cycling circles as Le Jog (Land’s End to John O’Groats) the journey is undertaken by thousands of cyclists every year – but most take a couple of weeks to do it. He will have a support team and intends to put his competition cycling experience to good use. Training has included a recent trip to Croatia where he cycled 880 miles carrying his own gear, as well as finding food and places to sleep.

“I’m confident I can do it,” Ian says. “I want to smash it. It would be making history.”

Ian was born in Birmingham but has lived in and around Swindon since he was five years old. He went to the Ridgeway School, and showed early enthusiasm for swimming but did not take up cycling till his early twenties. He says his approach to education was damaged by having an extremely clever father who used to stand by a blackboard and shout at him, aged just five.

“I remember waiting for lunch to be called so it would be over. It was awful,” he recalls.

He says he did badly in his A levels and dropped out of university. This did not stop him joining Nationwide’s graduate tech trainee scheme, however, when he proved himself adept at the entrance tests. Ian was employed by Nationwide till 2007, and now works as a consultant, helping a host of well known business names and organisations.

“I trained in tech, but I like talking to people rather than sitting at a screen. I enjoy the interaction and learning about people, so I moved more and more into business analysis and strategy. It’s a great thing to have a vision and to come up with a good strategy.”

He was 23 when a friend at work suggested he take up cycling.

“I got a pretty rubbishy bike to cycle the mile and a half to work and back,” he says. “At first that was a big deal. There was a big hill!”

But he made it up the hill, and soon began to push himself harder.

“The first time I made it up that hill I thought it was amazing. Then I thought, I could do it faster,” he says. “Then I wanted to know how fast I could do it.”

Clearly the bug had bitten. He cycled more often, and further, with a round trip to Malmesbury and then his first century – a trip of a hundred miles – and joined Swindon Road Club. In 2006, he did his very first road race – in Bermuda.

“I was visiting my sister, and because I was very enthused with cycling I took my bike out there. I was encouraged by my new brother-in-law to do the Bermuda Citizens Criterium, a flat race around the town centre. It was quite a short race, but it was fantastic. The whole island came out to watch, and there was a beautiful blue sky and it was a sunny day.”

Ian came second in his first race, and he went on to compete in Mauritius, and then in criterium races at the Castle Combe circuit, but he took a break in 2008, after becoming disillusioned with road racing. He married Sarah in 2009, and they had two daughters. Cycling took a back seat till 2014 when he heard to the call again. A friend introduced him to the cycling app Strava. Ian got back in the saddle and began snapping up top times cycling segments of road.

“I got really fit, I started riding much more, and I lost 10 kg in two months. I was cycling 20 or 30 miles a day,” he says. “I really fell in love with cycling again.”

Ian trained to take part in the 5000km unsupported Transcontinental Race, across Europe, in 2016 but when his application was turned down, he chose three other ultra races instead: the 2200km Giro Ciclistico delle Repubbliche Marinare in Italy, Hard Cro in Croatia, and the 2200km Sverigetempot race in Sweden.

Astonishingly, he won them all.

“The race in Italy was awful,” he recalls. “It took 134 hours to complete, with was five days, and three of those days it was torrential rain, starting on the first day. It rained and rained and rained. By Genoa I was in the lead – but I was suffering from trench foot, when the skin goes all soft and white – because it’s dying. I carried on. I filled my socks full of talc. My hands were also weak from gripping. But I did not give up. I am very good at enduring, and that’s what this sport is all about.”

He carried his own gear, grabbed a little sleep at the roadside from time to time in a bivy bag, and bolted down food bought on the hop from roadside shops.

“The biggest thing I learnt was how sleep deprivation affects you. If you don’t get enough sleep you start to experience a lot of déjà vu. The second sign, for me, is hallucinations. It can be really bad to have seen bears where there are no bears. The third sign is when you realise to are taking microsleeps while cycling, which happened in Italy.”

He says he has developed techniques to counter the effects of sleep deprivation, which could otherwise be fatally dangerous – techniques he will put to use in his world record attempt.

Training and cycling take up a huge part of his life, and Ian paid credit to his wife for supporting his efforts. He has a daughter called Sophie, from a previous marriage, as well as Elise, aged seven, and Amelia, who is six.

“I have a very understanding wife, and I hope I am teaching my girls something by trying my best to achieve something. I hope I can be a positive role model, by working hard, and working smart, by demonstrating mental and physical resilience,” he said.

Ian and Sarah say they had to fight hard to get the educational help and support their daughter because she has ADHD and is on the autistic spectrum, and they hope the record attempt will help raise awareness of the condition.

“It’s a good opportunity to give back something and help other people out there,” Ian said. To sponsor Ian, visit