Seemingly unable to remember as far back as last April when I was beaten almost to a pulp after riding the Enduro 6 for six hours on the rock-hard course of Catton Park, I entered Sleepless in the Saddle just 3 weeks ago, somehow convinced that my good form this year would mean that I’d be ok squeezing in another 24 hour race into the small gap between races that I’d (for me) meticulously planned back in the winter.
The run at the start of the race went very well, I knew I was well within the top 3, perhaps the top 2 at the end of the first lap but literally from that point on things started to go wobbly. This very same course back in the spring was super-hardpacked and covered in ruts and bumps, many of which were scars from the wet conditions of 2007 and 2008. This time around the course was baked even harder due to the dry summer and each lap was pounding my wrists and lower back, every washboard descent rattling the bike to the edge of control. I was reaching for the ibuprofen just 3 hours into the race, I was feeling like I did after 16 hours at Mayhem already – how was I going to feel after 24? My back was now impeding my ability to put any power down, especially on the climbs and by the time I was halfway around lap 5 I was starting to consider a retirement.
I sat in our fantastic trackside pit gazebo grotto and podered my next move. 20 minutes and some painkillers later I swapped bikes for a change of position and cracked on with my 6th lap. By now I’d dropped down to god-knows-what position but if I could just find a smooth line through at least some of the rutted sections I might stand a chance of getting back towards the front. Granted, a rigid bike does present some obvious limitations but it rocked last weekend all the way across Wales, it was fantastic at Mountain Mayhem, Gisburn and all the other races I’ve ridden it in…the state of this course though is a different matter. I can’t say this about any other race venue I’ve been to but I’m sure the lads with full suspension (or even a suspension fork) were finding it easier. All I had to do was work out a smoother line….
I wasn’t going to happen. it was getting worse. I was having trouble gripping the bars and I was forgetting what ‘sitting down’ felt like. Painkillers were having no effect on my back pain and I knew I was just going to end up in the same agony that I experienced towards the end of UK24.
I decided to cut my losses, train hard this week instead of recovering and preserve my fitness for the Kielder 100, the 3 Peaks and Dusk Til Dawn later this year. Dejectedly, I left the course and had a shower.
Dave was having similar problems, dropping out of the race soon afterwards having been in the lead for 4 hours. So not a great weekend for Team JMC / Ragley. We had a good laugh afterwards though and nobody is a robot – no-one can be awesome all the time 😉
In other news, bloody well done to Amy who totally dominated the female solo race with a 20-lap win, 4 laps in front of second place.
The epic story of the weekend however belongs to Mike Hall – I manned his pit around midnight for a while and he was looking good in 3rd place. By the morning, he had overtaken the guy in second. With a shade over an hour to go until the end of the race he took a gamble and went for the win. He would either have remained in second place, taken the win, or completely exploded due to the extra effort needed to attack the guy in front…. heroically he attacked, blew up spectacularly and ended up a mashed-up, rolling-eyed mess in his tent, 30 minutes before then end, effectively recording a DNF. Eleven out of ten for effort. Death or glory. Now that was Awesome.