(pic courtesy of epicyclo)
Looking at the photo above, you would be forgiven for thinking that I was my usual grumpy self during this race, but you would be wrong. At the time the photo was taken it was getting close to the end of the inaugural UK 24 (AKA 24 Hours of Exposure) and I was in a world of hurt. Not my legs, although they were weary, not my wrists either. I was suffering from the most horrible, agonising backache. Pain that was up there with the time half of my tooth fell out and the time I had appendicitis – Ibuprofen wasn’t working at all and the only way I could find relief was to keep stopping, getting off the bike and doing a ‘praying to Mecca’ stretching manoeuvre at the side of the trail.
My final 4 or 5 laps were taking 20 or so minutes longer than they should have been because of this and my plans to catch James Leavesley and gain at least one place in the final standings evaporated. I was hanging on until the end, resisting the sometimes overwhelming urge to quit, (remembering that others had travelled up here to support and to help me compete) but despite all this, I was at all times resisting the urge to get grumpy.
I was giving The Power Of Positive Thought a go. It was working.
The course was like this; 12 miles of woodland ‘stuff’, long fireroad climbs and sections of the ace red route at Newcastleton that consists of typical Scottish trail centre rocky singletrack with more flow than you would think possible and loads of berms. Climbing-wise it was a scary 550 metres of climbing per lap. This was a hard course. A man’s course. I loved it, despite before the race working out in my head that four laps was slightly more horizontal and vertical distance than a whole Mary Townley Loop. Ouchy.
It all started without a run, thankfully, just a ride from the square in the centre of Newcastleton behind some guy on a cruiser in wellies then a 3 Peaks Cyclocross-alike neutralised rolling start behind a van where 12 or so of us dropped the rest of the field after half a mile or so…then BAM we’re off and racing proper. Duelling for a couple of laps with James, passing other riders, coping with the heat and picking up a fresh bottle of energy drink every lap, it was going well. It continued to go well for hours and hours. I was staying consistent. Phil was utterly immense in the pit – pulling the empty gel wrappers from my jersey pockets (don’t drop litter lids) and bunging new ones in, swapping my bottle, sorting the bike when it needed fettling/a torn tyre replacing and always having the spare bike ready to go – our pit strategy in fact meant that I think I spent at the most 25 minutes of the entire race not on the course.
Not much went wrong for the first 18 hours; I ripped my rear tyre about a mile from the end of a lap and had to complete that lap by running to the end to get the spare bike, I felt down when I saw Dave drop out of the race with sickness, but apart from that all was tip-top-tickety-boo. Until the back pain started….
I wanted a top ten finish in this race. The start list was a who’s who in UK endurance racing and up against that lot, top 10 would have been a big achievement. I finished in 6th place, which I’m obviously very, very happy about and I’m in a great frame of mind now for Mountain Mayhem in just less than a month.
Things that worked well: Staying positive. Not getting grumpy. Having a few days holiday before the race to properly relax with Deb and the kids and force me to pack a week early. Having utterly flawless support from Phil who stayed up all night and made sure that our pit stops were absolutely dialled (even giving me a bollocking when he thought I wasn’t eating enough). The bikes were spot on – a bit more time the week before to prepare them properly paid off.
I think I’m starting to get the hang of this lark…