I’d decided months before this race that I’d not be doing any more 24 hour solos. I’d had over a year of not really thinking about racing, then a few months of thinking about little else. By the time the day of the race arrived I was as fit as I’d been for years, I had a pair of bikes that were the best I’d ever had and I was as enthusiastic as I’d been since the first 24 hour race I did about 15 years ago.
Once the race got going I was as happy as I could be, still keeping my little secret that this was The Last One. I’d avoided being so conceited that I was going to announce my swansong before the event as I’d look like a tool and I’d probably jinx the whole weekend anyway. But in my head this was it. Finito. No more.
I found it very easy to keep my chin up, smile, laugh and even shout unkind words of Witty Bantz™ at Budge as I rode past the Team JMC pit.
We all know that a happy rider is a fast rider, so for me, even after my extended hiatus I was going pretty well. The first lap hoodoo that’s dogged me for a few years didn’t materialise, in fact the first lap was fast and spent at the sharp end and my second lap was even better. I didn’t want to ever stop riding my Blur and Debbie was so on-form in the pit that I’d stopped for about 30 seconds in the first 7 or 8 hours of the race.
I was really, really chuffed with the way things were going and I still am.
While the first half of the race was brilliant and something that I’m really quite proud of, the second half tested my faith.
Things had been going well, flawless, even, so inevitably I got really cocky. The ever-present rain that drizzled and soaked everyone and everything started to intensify and so did the wind. As darkness fell across the course, the wind started to cut through already-soaked riders on the exposed top part of the lap and gradually…surreptitiously…I started to lose my core temperature. In my over-confidence, I didn’t eat any hot food. I wanted to maintain my ridiculously short pitstop time total and unbelievably, I didn’t even change into dry clothes.
In my defence the ambient temperature wasn’t too cold but my preoccupation with consistent lap times was going to be my undoing.
The beginning of the end was in the small hours of the morning, just before I trundled into the Santa Cruz tent desperate for some dry clothes. I changed my jersey, struggled to pull some winter gloves on and even donned a jacket. All too little too late, already cold and shivering I set out on another lap.
It was almost pointless (to be fair there’s a motivational effect that prize money can have on very tired bodies) but I had to at least try to push until the end.
While I was able to warm up a little bit on the climbs, I wasn’t able to concentrate on the rough, rocky downhills and I was losing a lot of time.
Eventually riders who used to be almost an hour behind were now riding past. All I could do was shiver and stagger back to the pit. I’ve felt like shit before, but this was another level.
23 hours into the race, I stopped with what I assume was hypothermia. I looked like a zombie and was unable to speak coherently. Even Debbie, who’s normally a drill sergeant when it comes to kicking me back out for another lap unless my head is hanging off agreed that it was probably time to call it a day. As more riders went clear, I shivered under a blanket in the car, engine running and heated seat on full while Debbie struggled to pull my sodden shoes and socks off.
Then, more than ever, I maintained that this was my last 24 hour solo race and I would never do another. Who would? I was pretty wrecked and needed no more convincing that this was a pretty horrible thing to do to oneself.
Only several glasses of whisky could warm me up, which meant that I was a bit bladdered by the time I accepted my 7th place Elite (even though I was really 13th overall) envelope of cash in front of everyone….
It was a bloody brilliant weekend though, and while I’ve been kicking myself ever since for my schoolboy errors of not keeping myself properly fed and warm, I was far from the only one to have made the same mistakes and I reckon I did pretty well up until the bit where things went all chilly and wobbly. Life in the old dog yet. And I absolutely loved shattering myself again.
All that stuff about it being my last 24 hour solo? Nah, next year’s European Championship is in Portugal and I intend to be there.
Massive thanks to Deb, Dave of Velocity and Vitality Coaching, all at Santa Cruz UK and Jungle, Sam Hill at the Break Pad, Proper Cleaner for the fenders, my bros Mark and Tom of Exposure Lights, Spook and Morag for the bed, Ant for the unbelievably light Mount Zoom bike parts, the Team JMC army and most of all thanks to the men who invented alcohol, pizza and hats.