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My previous blog post about ‘dust’ was quite prophetic in that ‘dust’ was a big feature at this year’s Mountain Mayhem. After the traditional Le Mans-style run to start the race I embarked on my first lap and was immediately badly affected by the huge clouds of dust that were being thrown into the air by hundreds of wheels. I’d had a nagging cough for a couple of weeks, so my tolerance to suddenly breathing in airborne particles was pretty much nil – after every lap for the first 6 or so hours I was having to stop in the solo tent to almost cough up a lung, my chest and ribs were aching as a result, I was having trouble breathing properly and with bloodshot eyes and a concern that I was only going to get worse I was considering calling it a day right there and then.
Luckily Deb (who along with shifts from Phil, Michael and Official Ragley Pit Helper Wayne was going to be my race support for the next 24 hours) said all the right things to me at this time, including pointing out that this, despite the respiratory nightmare, was my best start to a 24 hour race ever and that I should perhaps consider a dose of MTFU.
After 20 minutes of staring at the floor of the solo tent and throwing up my most recent energy bar, I decided to crack on. I’ve not dropped out of one of these things since 2006 and I wasn’t going to do that today. Some Ibuprofen did help to reduce the swelling in my throat and I started to move up the field from 7th into 4th place. I was getting faster as a result of being able to breathe better – I was getting my rhythm back and things were slightly less difficult.
The course at this year’s Mayhem in my opinion was the best yet, undoubtedly helped by the fact that it hasn’t rained properly for ages, the mix of sticky plasticine woods (honestly), steep gravelly climbs, fast ‘pedally’ singletrack and dust-and-danger-filled plummets contrasting with the widely held belief that these races are held ‘around the edge of a field’.
I rode as consistently as I could whilst I languished in 4th, despite some irritating mechanical problems, well, not really mechanical as such – more like ‘my bloody seat pack has fallen off again’ type of problems. Finally I got pissed off with that and swapped the other seatpack off the Scandal onto the TD:1 race bike and carried on until I got a puncture. Then a torn rear tyre… I made sure though that even though I used the spare bike to full effect to keep the pit stop time down, I’d only do one lap on it before swapping back to the much more capable Ragley.
In between bouts of sleeping, looking after the kids and some even racing in the mixed team category, everyone taking turns in the pit helper role had been working together to give me unwavering support by making sure that everything was there within seconds of asking for it (a particular kind of food, a bike that needed mending, a bottle to grab as I rode through the pit) since the race had begun, had each been taking turns keeping me informed about my position in the race for the last few hours. I knew that Rob Lee, who was when I last looked about 10 minutes behind me, had dropped out entirely so the gap behind me to Mike Hall was now almost an hour (and would remain about that for the remainder of the race. I had been taking a few minutes per lap off my now-regular opponent James Leavesley for some time now too. The laps were ticked off BANG BANG BANG until I finally passed James for the first time. I didn’t realise I had until I came into pit, closely followed by James who did a super-quick bottle change and off he went, just when I’d been handed a pan of warm Ravioli. Bugger.
Oh well, no time for that then, cheerio! Off I went in pursuit, catching then passing James on the first climb – being called a bastard as I found a little bit more power just to force the bike over the brow of the hill and off into 3rd place…
The next time I saw James he had dropped out and had apparently bonked. Medical staff were involved at the time but he’s fine now. I checked.
Still in darkness, I was told that I was also gaining on Dave so I should just keep on going. The problem was, I knew I didn’t have a ‘catch Dave’ in me any more, never mind a ‘get past him and ride to 2nd place ensuring he doesn’t overtake you back’. We would have to see what happens though.
The reality was that Dave and Ant White in front of him were both likely to be hurting loads but were unlikely to slow down much. Mike back in 4th wasn’t gaining on me. 6 hours to go. You’ve got to keep things together now or it’s all going down the toilet. I’d never felt so spent in my entire life but I knew I had to run on reserve for the remainder of the race….ride every climb. Stay consistent. Leave that granny ring well alone. eat! eat! After a frantic update on the state of play and specifically how far in front of Mike Hall I still was from a fast-running Budge, I was pretty sure the podium finish was in the bag with by then just an hour of racing to go.
If you told me at the start of the race I’d finish on the podium, I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but that’s how it ended. A near-repeat of the Strathpuffer podium but without a picnic bench to stand on and a different bloke in top spot, but the same guys from Team Awesome on 2 and 3. We’d kicked ass at The Big One.
Wads of money and trophies in pockets, ice creams eaten and a feeling that this is the proper start of something bigger, more organised…