I push on upwards, my head craned back looking around the bends for the summit. I breath in a steady rythme, my legs propelling my body up the incline, they burn but still I push on determined to reach the top. Then finally I'm there. I've made it, I've reached the top and can relax on the flat final straight to the finish. As I reach the finish I stretch up my arm twist the key in the lock and enter my room. I've made it, my room is on the third floor of the Grapes hotel in Newcastleton. 5 days ago I crossed the finish line of the Cape Epic after 8 brutal days of racing and walking up the stairs hurt, tomorrow at noon I start the 24hours of Exposure. Something tells me it's gonna be a long day!
I knew that I had to ride my own race. I was tired and certainly couldn't go with a super fast pace off the start so my race plan was to ride my own race at my own pace and see what happened. The race was set to be interesting with the usual fast protagonists opting for the 12hour race and a number of unknown riders throwing in the curve-ball.
After the usual ceremonial start in Newcastleton town center the race began at a surprisingly sedate pace. I was happy to sit in around 10th place up the first climb and settle into the race. Then at the top of the climb everyone sat up and looked at each other! 'Whats going on is this a race or a picnic?', I thought. So rode off the front at my own pace with only the leading 2 12hour riders for company.
I settled down into a nice rhythme and seemed to be gaining time each lap. I had no idea of my lap times, the gap to the other racers, time of day, anything for that matter. I was just focusing on my body and keeping moving forward. I swapped bikes after 2 laps opting for the comfort of my Santa Cruz Tallboy's over my Highball hardtail. I still love the Tallboy, the highball is probably faster and lighter in race situations but the Tallboy is still my favorite for longhaul truckin!
On about my 4th lap I punctured but quickly managed to fix it with only a few minutes delay. The 2nd place rider was just visible as I rode off. I felt pretty terrible and considered pulling out but figured that I was still riding faster even though I felt crap so pushed on. The gap increased lap by lap. I swapped between Tallboys every few laps but still couldn't decide if the blue one or the orange one was faster!
I was still leading into the night but still unaware of time gaps or the time of day. The course soon quietened as the 12h race finished so I guessed I must be over half way through. My legs were sore, they had been from the start but still seemed to be working. I sang some songs to my self and reminisced over racing in Africa to pass the time.
Soon things started to go a bit wrong. The steep climbs at the start of the lap started to be a real struggle to get up. The more gradual climbs in the second half of the lap were manageable but lap on lap my legs were getting weaker. I knew what was coming, the end was near. Soon my legs went numb. I could roll the gear but had no power what so ever but I still led so I carried on determined not to abandon if I was leading.
At some point in the night, probably around 15 hours in I was finally passed. By this point my legs had stopped working and I was pushing up a hill. Huw Thomas span past and disappeared off into the distance. I knew my race was over and I struggled around the lap. Next time I entered the pits I climbed off. My legs were numb and tingling.
I gave it my best shot but almost inevitably the risk didn't pay off. I've led that race for around 34hours over the last 3 years. One days I'll win it. It won't be next year though I think its time to have a break from my UK 24h champs obsession. Maybe I'll drink beer for a few weeks and decide if I'm going to ride long or if I'm going to ride fast for the rest of the year.