I’m freezing. Really, really freezing. I’ve got a Crimean war-style bandage thing sticking out of a huge hole in the side of my bib shorts (an expensive pair kindly given to me by a sponsor) that’s hopefully keeping the wet mud that’s flying everywhere out of a painful wound on my hip.
It’s dark – it is 3 am after all – and it’s also raining. Hard. Welcome to summer. Welcome to the 24 Hours of Exposure.
It’s ‘exposure’ alright. I think people have died of exposure in the past, in fact. I’m not going to die though. I’m not going to drop out either, despite the regular temptation as I approach my pit, manned by Wayne and Michael, holding up bottles of go-go juice and offering sympathy, flat cola, loud rock and roll, shelter and bags of sweets.
No. I’m rock hard, me. I’ve no idea where I am, position-wise in this race but I’m aware that plenty have dropped out and I’m riding consistently. I’m also acutely aware of the brutality as well as the immense fun of this course, each lap seemingly getting more and more hilly and more physical as each climb appears far too soon for me to fully recover from the last one…no matter though. This race will represent a cornerstone in my racing ‘career’. I’ve decided this just now. I’ve done too many of these things now to be surprised and deterred by anything, both mentally and physically. I’ve somehow put myself through the mill on a routine basis to become an ‘old hand’ at this and I’ll need a really bloody good reason to pack it in.
Hitting a patch of gravel at 25mph, somehow letting the front wheel wash out and immediately slamming into the ground, still clipped in, skidding along on the side of my body to an eventual halt in a cloud of stones and soil was not a good enough reason.
“Do you want me to radio in a lift back to the start, mate?” asked the clearly worried marshal, his companion already looking for a first aid kit after witnessing something that clearly looked quite bad. I didn’t answer. Not with words anyway. I got up, whimpered, swore at myself and rode off…a bit gingerly.
Conditions deteriorated. The course stood firm as most of it uses the Newcastleton ‘red’ trail centre stuff but there were one of two muddy bits. The 12 hour racers finished their shift and the course went quiet. The Team JMC/Ragley pit wasn’t quiet – Wayne and Mike were still well lively. Michael has started to really get the hang of this 24 hour race support game now and knows just what I’m going to need before I get back, so my stops were as brief as ever. A couple of bike changes for mechanicals and tyre changes and I kept tapping out laps.
Morning arrived and I had to stop for 15 minutes or so – blurred vision was starting to make things a bit dangerous and it was still raining. Back on the bike again and Steve at the timing tent told me that I was running in 4th in my category, 5th “or maybe 6th “overall…I got a big boost from this.
A good result after a week of illness and virtually no sleep is really encouraging, especially in a year that started as crazy as this one. It’s not a podium but who cares. Plenty of podiums up for grabs and it’s only May.
Cheers from the crowd and other pit crews. Keep going. Nearly there now. Just 3 more laps and you’re done. Leg wound isn’t hurting any more. Don’t know if this is good or bad. Don’t know how far behind 5th place is. Get paranoid. Look over shoulder quite a lot. Don’t back off.
Blunt-edge a root, hard with the front wheel. I felt the tyre hit the rim but due to the fact I’m running tubeless now (at last!), no puncture. A puncture on the last lap would have been a slap in the face, but thanks to my lovely tyre full of latex, I got away with it. Rocking!
Got passed by Matt Page and Ant on the way to 1st and 2nd place. Matt quite cheerful, Ant looking forward to the end like I was. Good. I was starting to think it was just me that was having to dig very deep…
Then the end arrives. Hugs from Deb and from Michael, handshakes from all the friends that are there to see me finish. This is the best bit.
4th place, 6th overall was mine. An improvement over last year when the conditions were much better and I wasn’t ill. Something to build on for the rest of the year.
From the start of the race a whole day ago in the centre of Newcastleton village, on the front row due to last year’s result, I’ve pushed through without doubt the hardest 24 hour race I’ve competed in. The combination of the course, the weather and the pace of those around me has left me in a bloodied and mud-covered heap, now eating ‘real’ food, already thinking about what must be possible in the races yet to come….