As Autumn closed in it signalled the end of another long and tiring season. But before I could relax there was one objective to fulfil before I could hang up the wheels for the winter: my 24hour solo debut.
We loaded up the van and began the long journey up to
In the weeks before the race I was very unsure about riding 24 hours. A combination of physical and mental fatigue after a long season was gradually running me down. However in the few days leading up to the race things began to click together in my head. I had made a number of changes to my preparation including a radical nutrition change as well as working on my mental strength.
And so I lined up on the start line next to my team mate Dave feeling surprisingly calm. I knew I couldn’t be in any better shape in the circumstances and that I was ready mentally with tactics and nutrition. The plan was simple: ride my own race. I had never raced beyond 12hours so the plan was to play it safe and start conservatively and pick up the pace later on if I was still strong.
And so we started with a short run before leaping onto our bikes for the shortened first lap. I soon established my rhythm and settled in for the long haul. The first few laps I felt so slow. My body felt fine but I was riding well within my self and doing my best to resist clicking down a few gears and pushing hard. One by one the laps ticked by and I continued to drink and fuel my body. Time seemed to be passing fast and every time I entered the pits my pit crew kept asking if I wanted to know my position, the answer no, the only person I was racing was myself.
As darkness fell I still felt strong and consistent. The trails were great fun in the dark and I tried to entertain myself by making small talk with riders when ever I caught them. One thing really struck me at this event and that was how friendly and courteous the riders were. People were moving off the trail to let you past before they were even caught, sometimes even insisting you passed even though you didn’t really want to! Certainly better than the ‘professional’ club racers often found getting stroppy on English race courses.
Up until midnight the weather had held of nicely. It was warm in the woods although the wind was picking up and making the descent to the finish a bit chilly. However into the early hours there were a few short heavy showers. I was caught in one particularly heavy shower in the exposed second half of the course and then promptly froze on the wind swept descent to the finish. I pulled into the pits and made a quick change of clothes. To my surprise I was Dave sitting in the pits. He too had been soaked and was changing his kit. At this point I was still oblivious to my race position although I thought I must be doing ok if I had lapped Dave. But I carried on determined to focus on my own race until day break.
The showers began to take their toll on some of the natural sections on the course. One section had developed a wheel eating hole on the landing of a drop. I found this the hard way as ended up upside down after an over the bars ejection. Thankfully another rider untangled me and I only suffered a cut knee, to match my other knee and bruised hand from an earlier topple. The pain was soon forgotten as soon as the pedalling continued.
At day break I gave in and asked my pit crew my position. Good news Dave was second! So I carried on motivated that I only had to finish to win. If anything I let my concentration slip with this news and I had my first bad patch soon after. Suddenly I felt hungry and a bit blurry. This was bad, was I blowing? I ate all the food I had and carried on. The next half a lap was surreal. I began hallucinating and seeing things in the woods. At one point I’m sure I saw and elephant and a ghost along with rocks with smiley faces. To cope I decided to embrace the moment and play along rather than feel bad about my self. I started giggling!
At the end of the lap I stuffed my face with food and carried on. By this time the race was entering the final 4 hours or the ‘death zone’ as it is sometimes known. Luckily the hallucinations had disappeared and the legs were feeling strong again. At 22hours I began my final lap. I was informed that Dave was only 5 minutes in from of me so I pushed hard to catch him effectively winning the race with an hour to go. Dave was in a state when we met so I kept him company to the finish. He then found that he still needed to complete another lap to hold onto second position despite suffering serious stomach pain. Fair play to him he dug in and held second by 5 minutes.
All in all it was a great end to the season a team 1-2 and some great support from the rest of IronHorse extreme. Thanks to everyone who helped me in the pit including Dad, Zoe, Jo, Rob and Rich.
Now I need a rest!