Sometimes, in spite of months of planning and training, things just don’t work out the way you planned. I’d put a lot into Mountain Mayhem this time. I put a lot into it every time, but this time I’d trained HARD. I’d even flown south to foreign climes to train hard and in the days before the event I felt great. I’d probably have been able to bend steel if I could have been bothered or if there was a group of ladies I was trying to impress.
But anyway. The start of the race eventually arrived and I started just as well as I’d done in Italy last year – maybe even a bit better than that – and completed the first 7 or so mile long, very hilly lap at the front of the solo field. “First soloist!” people were shouting. So far so good, only 23 and a bit hours to go. The course was dry and in spite of the climbs, it was very, very fast and entirely rideable.
The Niner Air 9 was also hugely impressive. I’d not had much chance to get impressed by it as all I’d done was ride to work on it, but I was properly shifting.
It rained during lap 2 and the course got very slippery and immediately long sections of the course, especially the climbs, were covered in riders pushing bikes (this was in spite of claims that the course would cope with rain better than the previous venue, but we’ll not go too much into that here).
Bike now caked in heavy clumps of mud, I swapped to my second bike at the end of that lap.
The course was now very muddy and there were many people walking with mud-clogged bikes. I swapped once again to my emergency (third!) bike, a rigid singlespeed and as you can see in the pic, it didn’t have a race number on the (very wide) bars, so I spent the lap being shouted at by marshals and a British Cycling official….
It had proper mud tyres on it as though, so I enjoyed lap three because I could steer, brake and go faster without being catapulted into the bushes.
That was until I was catapulted into the bushes.
I didn’t see the small tree stump hidden in the grass at the side of the course, I’ve also no idea why I strayed onto the grass. But I hit the stump at full speed with my front wheel. The bike immediately came to a halt and I carried on in a spectacular over-the-bars manoeuvre, landing awkwardly on my shoulder and left ear.
I got going again after I’d picked the mud out of my ear and I’d let out a couple of girly whines. My shoulder was now pretty sore but I was still enjoying the fact that I was getting quicker despite only having one gear that wouldn’t allow me to ride up all of the steep, muddy climbs (the bike was running a 34:17 on 29er wheels, gear nerds) so I rode through the pit without stopping. This was to save time and to signal to the guys and gals in the Team JMC pit that I was feeling good again. Back on it. Rarrrrrrrr……
…..aaaaarrrrrrrrggggh. I crashed again about 30 seconds after I’d gone through the pit. The first mildly interesting part of the course was a steep, downhill slope through some trees that had multiple lines down it. Some rutted by the dragging rear tyres of novices, other lines were neater but steeper – the territory of rad and super-skilled riders like me*. There was also a large group of spectators here, no doubt the bloodthirsty types that love to see people getting hurt (and who doesn’t?).
*The reality though is that I’m not super skilled and just to illustrate this, I fell off.
Not only did I fall off but I fell off quite spectacularly, leaving the bike to bounce down the trail in one direction while I rag-dolled in another. I landed with my back bent the wrong way with another tree stump jabbing into my arse. My multitool was jabbing my spine from my jersey pocket.
All I could hear was the gathered throng of thrill-seeking spectators laughing and cheering at my misfortune while one of them attempted to release my leg from the course marking tape.
Covered in mud, I stood up and got back on the bike and cursed at the pain in my lower back.
Eventually I arrived back at the pit without even wanting to know what my last lap time was. It wasn’t brilliant and Deb knew that there had been a problem. I got off the bike, painfully sat down and took some ibuprofen.
As my next lap progressed the pain in my lower back reached the stage where it was getting more and more difficult to put down any meaningful amount of power and I watched as a couple of other soloists that I recognised caught me up and rode away.
I thought about how I’d planned and looked forward to this race and compared it to the reality of what was actually happening right then. I can’t remember speaking to anyone during my fifth lap, I don’t think I even noticed anyone else on the course once it was clear that I was going to have to retire after just a few hours. It was like a nightmare. I just wanted to be somewhere else.
In a few days’ time I’ll have forgotten about the disappointment, feelings that I’ve let a load of people down will have disappeared, I’ll pull my shit together and I will have moved on from Mountain Mayhem. Instead, my plans for the next race will occupy my thoughts. I’ll appreciate the fact that I’m not going to spend the next few weeks recovering, that I can take my hard-earned fitness to 10 Under the Ben in two weeks and in five weeks I’ll be 24 hour solo racing again at Bontrager 24/12.
For now though, I’m still thinking about what might have been.