Mountain Mayhem 2010

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…

full results

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Mountain Mayhem Dustwatch

It seems like we’re having a proper summer this year. I’m struggling to remember the last time I rode my bike in bad weather in fact (proper bad weather that is – prolonged heavy rain, snow, hail, fireballs, etc  – not a brief shower to dampen down the dust).

This coming weekend looks like it’s going to be more of the same too. In the past Mountain Mayhem, like the Glastonbury Festival, seems to have been cursed with wet weather. Mud so bad that wheels would stop turning, components would be removed forcefully from bikes by large wads of wet grass and the human spirit would be sapped away so quickly and so completely that people would stop at the side of the course, halfway through a 3 hour lap (that should have taken 50 minutes) and would start to cry. Or kick the crap out of their bike. Or both.

This year we’re having dust, sunshine, hardpacked trails, tyre choice that can realistically include semi-slicks and genuine, infectious happiness on the faces of racers, organisers and spectators. The only downside for me is the carpal tunnel syndrome in my wrists that I’m convinced I’m developing that can only be a result of riding a rigid bike for months on bumpy trails and race courses as dry as concrete. Here I go again, ’I really need to get around to sorting out my tubeless setup’. The ability to run 25 psi up front without getting a puncture sounds comfy. But would it be fast?

Anyway, I’m loving it. My pie-in-the-sky plans to force my entire family to move to another infinitely-less-shit climate are on hold. I’m thinking of the possibility of not having to replace an entire drivetrain on two bikes this year like I normally have to do and making them last, if I’m careful, another year. Or a bit of next year at least.

I’m loving the fact that whilst I’m racing for 24 hours I’m not feeling bad about the fact that I’ve once again dragged my wife and kids away from the warmth and shelter of the house to spend a weekend in another muddy field, at times having to hold onto all of our belongings to stop it all blowing away in a gale.

I know that when you read this, most of you will immediately think ‘Oh my god, he’s done it now!’, that I’m tempting fate and the heavens will open next week and won’t close, ever…so to counteract the inevitable effects on the weather of this blog post, I will be taking copious amounts of Goretex, spare gloves, the caravan (which we bought because the weather at UK races is ‘always wet’) and mud tyres to Mountain Mayhem.

As for the race, if I have anywhere near as much fun and excitement this weekend as I had at last weekend’s race, I’ll be very happy indeed. Whatever the outcome (although a good finish would be nice, obviously).

Gisburn Dirty Dozen

A nice, maybe chilled out 12 hour race, as a pair, seemed to be the ideal preparation for Mountain Mayhem in which Dave and I will both be racing solo. Sure, we’d have to battle hard to get a good result but we were here to have fun and to just enjoy it.

After a really early start I travelled up to Gisburn with Phil, Budge and Andy (who were all racing solo) I met up with the other half of Team Ragley and we set about dumping all of our food and spares next to the Cooksons gazebo. It was still early. There was an hour to go until the 7:30 am start….

Somehow drawing the short straw to do the run (I must remember Dave’s ‘do not get changed into cycling clothing’ ploy for next time) the race started and I puffed and wheezed my way up the gravel road to the start/finish area where my bike was. I’ve not done any running since autumn last year so to only lose a handful of places at this bit was an achievement…I started my first lap with the taste of blood in my throat.

not how to ride bendy bits

Obviously we were expecting a battle as with any race but we weren’t expecting Rich Rothwell and Ant White to be racing in the pairs too. Another pairs team from Leisure Lakes were also dishing it out and early in the race we appeared to be running in 6th place. Soon afterwards and following a few more flat-out laps we were leading. We continued to lead the race until I had a disastrous lap where I had two punctures as a result of poor line choice, clumsiness and lightweight tubes. I really must get around to sorting out my tubeless setup….

That lap cost us a load of time and dropped us right back to 3rd. Gutted, but we decided at that point (with about half of the race still to go) that we were going to still go for the win. Lap after heroic lap followed in one of the most exciting 6 hours of bike racing I’ve ever experienced. First the Leisure Lakes guys were overtaken, leaving some time still to make up on Rich and Ant. The sun was beating down on us but we were remaining consistent, we were closing on first place. They were also out for the win and the transitions were getting more and more frantic, until the point where I overtook Rich on the final part of a lap and came through the timing gate a whole nanosecond in front, shouting ‘DAAAAAVVVVE!!!’ like I was his mum or something. I could see him and Ant taking off their coats ready to receive the timing chips and off they went to start their penultimate lap…..

Dave was first back but I knew that 2nd place was only a couple of minutes behind as I saw Ant riding into the transition pretty much as I was on the way out.

Big Lap. Give Dave a head start as much as possible.

Back into transition. Off Dave went. Turns out I’d given him about a 2 minute cushion.

Anxiety followed. The race would end at precisely 19:37 (the race had started seven minutes late), when no more laps could be started. I needed Dave to come back before Ant, but AFTER 19:37 (otherwise I’d be heading out for another bloody lap).

At 19:37:48 (ish), Dave crossed the line. We’d won. WE ROCKED. So much for ‘nice, maybe chilled out 12 hour race’ though.

Results here (you may notice that we were rocked so hard that we had in fact won the pairs, the teams, the solos, the whole bloody lot)

At the presentation we drank beer and feasted on the hottest chilli ever. It was so hot that most people couldn’t even finish it, there was more sweat being produced as a result of this stuff than had flowed from anyone’s pores during the race and even though the chef said he didn’t slip with the bottle of Insane Death Sauce, I think he did. Mental.

The storm before the calm before the storm

Saturday is exactly a week before Mountain Mayhem – the second 24 hour race I’m doing in the space of 4 weeks. Before this and to kick off my week-long taper (which follows a week of hard training, which itself followed 2 weeks of recovery from UK24), I’ll be racing at the Gisburn Dirty Dozen – a 12 hour lap-based race that uses the berm-tastic man made trails at Gisburn Forest. Racing for 12 hours solo a week before a 24 hour race wouldn’t be a great idea so I’m one half of the Ragley Bikes pairs team, Dave being the other half.

Despite my regular appearance at endurance events as a soloist, I must admit I fell in love with the pairs racing thing last October at Dusk til Dawn. The main reason for this is that you’re able to race your lap pretty much flat-out, safe in the knowledge that you’re going to have a period of time off the bike after each hard lap to recover, regain your composure, eat food without plastering it all over yourself, fix your makeup, that sort of thing.

You’re not waiting for ages and ages in between laps, getting stiff and frozen as you’re not waiting for 3 team mates to ride their laps and motivation to ride like a maniac comes from the fact that you’re letting your team mate down if you make a pigs ear of it or you decide to have an easy lap.

Basically it goes like this; “AAARRRGGHH….aahhh….AARRRGGGHHH….aaahhh….AAARRGGHH….aahhh”… and so on.

Dave and I have even got an unofficial fastest lap contest between us (although I’m not fully expecting to win this). Whether a 12 hour pairs race is good prep for Mayhem remains to be seen however next week is rest week, it has the chance of putting us both in a great frame of mind for the weekend after and remember this is all about having fun. And fun it’s going to be. The weather forecast even looks good.

Playground

A couple of videos that have been shot at Lee and Cragg Quarries that illustrate nicely the kind of riding that’s now available in the hills 12 or so offroad hilly miles from here. A new breed of ‘trail centre’, light on facilities but that really doesn’t matter. Motivation on tap for me to ride up there and do a couple of laps of one (or both), pretend I’ve got rad skillz (maybe even develop some rad skillz), crash, make sure nobody was looking (which is unlikely) then ride back. Sweet.

Enjoy.

I can’t seem to embed the other one so click here instead