120 miles into the 300-odd mile journey north to Fort William, I had one of those ‘OH SHITSHITSHITSHIT!!!’ moments.
Having meticulously packed everything I needed for a 24 hour race in the last few days, like I always do, then carefully placing everything in the van a few hours earlier, I was immediately shocked into a state of confusion and panic when I realised that I’D LEFT ALL OF MY SODDING CLOTHES IN A BAG ON THE BED AT HOME.
Eventually I gained enough composure to ring Dave who confirmed that he had two team jerseys with him and that if I was short of anything else (which I was), he had 3 of everything else. I was heading up to Scotland in October with nothing to wear apart from the shorts and t shirt I was sat in. Fantastic. What a great start.
Eventually arriving at the race campsite (which was a car park at the Fort William gondola station) at 10pm-ish, I ate some more food and got my head down for what turned out to be a brilliant night’s sleep in my floral-print pop-up tent. Luckily for Dave I was able to buy a new pair of bib shorts at a stall the next morning. A quick visit to the lovely 2Pure folks at the Niterider stand for another 24 hour race-worth cardboard box of CLIF energy fuel, then new shorts and borrowed jersey donned, I got ready for the start.
The run at the start of the race was thankfully very short but unfortunately didn’t have either the length or the Hit the North-style hilarity to properly break up the field so immediately a queue developed as everyone tried to ride through the first constriction (a tunnel!). It’s a long race. It won’t matter. The course had lots of climbing and a fair share of technical, rocky, slow speed bits to keep things fun early in the race and to also keep things dangerous later on when everyone’s knackered.
The course really was superb. I was tapping out laps with a kind of rhythm that I’ve not had for a long time…since perhaps CLIC24 a while back in fact. Until I got a puncture. I knew that I was in 3rd or 4th place at this point and I wasn’t too keen on dropping back 6 hours into the race but The Incident Pit started to open and I couldn’t get the tyre back on the rim. Eventually Dave arrived and dug out a tyre lever to replace the one I’d just snapped…then a marshal who was riding a trails motorbike turned up and handed me a foot-long metal tyre lever. My Stans rim won’t like it but here goes….
35 minutes of buggering about later and I’m on my way again, now chasing the places I’d lost.
I got back into the beat of the race again and rode into the night still feeling good. Still gaining time on those in front. A bit of big-ring action on a downhill here…pass a group of riders on a climb there…keep your eyes open for the bloke in 3rd cos you’re gaining on him, that’s a fact. It’s true, Angela said so.
Angela, Dave’s girlfriend, was here to support us and had been awake for the entire race. Using two alarm clocks so that she could keep track of mine and Dave’s approximate lap times, there wasn’t a single lap where I didn’t see her next to our pit, arms full of energy drink bottles, food, gels and would immediately run and get whatever I needed as soon as I’d mumbled my ‘order’. In between looking after 2 needy soloists she’d be examining the leaderboard, writing down names, positions and lap times so that we’d know when we were doing ok and when we’d need to pull our fingers out. You just can’t ‘race’ a 24 hour race without support like that.
Eventually my tempo dropped and I started to hit the wall. This doesn’t happen to me that often; waves of nausea washed over me and I felt very. very cold. No matter how hard I rode, I was shivering. I wasn’t shivering due to cold though, I was starting to switch off – my effort not being matched by either my preparation in the weeks before the race or my consumption of food during it. Sat on The Chair Of Hurt for 20 minutes with a blanket around me, I contemplated ending the 24 hour race season like this- broken and shivering. As I shivered a second cup of tea all over my legs I decided that this wasn’t how we were going to end this race. I’d driven for 6 hours to get here. I’ve recovered from bigger setbacks than this in races in the past. It’s been a long, hard season with almost continual endurance racing but surely this would have made me stronger? Yes? YES?
I got up and rode away. Almost immediately I fell off, got back on and hit the steep climb out of the main arena….
5am. I passed the guy in 3rd place. He didn’t attack, but I’d have ridden away from anyone right then in any case. I kept going. Tapping out the laps. bang. bang. bang. bang. Sunrise, a second wind, lap times tell me I’m dropping 4th place…
The finish. 26 laps later, 3rd place overall. The overall winner is a vet, which means that I’m in second place in the ‘Senior Mens Solo’ – Dave’s finished in 1st place in the seniors. We’ve owned that podium again ;0)
…and due to my forgetfulness on the clothing front, there were no clean jerseys to wear on the podium. So we accepted our trophies still wearing the stinking, filthy threads we’d raced in for the last day. Living the dream…
(pics courtesy of Mike Hulme)