Hit the North 6 – the race that very nearly wasn’t.

All photographs courtesy of Paul Davy – Cycling Photographer

The sixth Hit the North (it’s more like the ninth really, we cocked up the numbering a few years ago) was the first one to be held in the middle of a storm. In the past we’ve had high winds, snow, ice and some sunshine but this time the course was partly submerged and the bits that weren’t submerged were incredibly muddy.

I think many thought that it’d be called off but there was no way I was going to let that happen – I’d had to move the date twice as it was due to poor entries. The first date clashed with the royal wedding, so I assume everyone was cheering on the happy couple. The second date was a December gamble and that yielded about 3 entries. I’d had to refund dozens of entries already, so it had to be third time lucky.

Thankfully the March 16th date, over a year after I initially opened the entry, was a big success and entries went mad in the last 2 weeks. A record number of entrants, in fact.

I was glad that people had to pre-enter because I was expecting the weather to put most riders off. The coffee woman jibbed at about 8:30am on the morning of the event so that was a kick in the nuts. No coffee. So serious I included a grovelling apology in my race briefing. There was a loud groan from the assembled throng of 143 riders. The rest of the main ‘arena’ looked sparse too – I’d booked a pair of portable toilets (at least those turned up) but other than that HtN6 was very much the Austerity Edition. Probably just as well given the weather on the day.

(If anyone wants to have a stand or any sort of Thing at the next Hit the North, get in touch!).

143 riders! An amazing turnout considering it was hammering down with rain. The course was absolutely filthy and the big downhill was a lottery. The mud was knee-deep in parts though, so while your fallen waterbottle/garmin/glasses probably sunk forever, you had a softish landing.

We had to close the stream cross that magically went from a small trickle into a super-angry, gushing torrent that was threatening to sweep riders and bikes down the Irwell.

2 hours later and the mens’ winner, Will Lewis, crossed the line. We think it was Will but to be honest it could have been anyone. Screeching to a halt just behind him was local elite racer Chris Lever who’d taken a couple of hours off work in the bike shop to do the race.

Hit the North regular and multiple winner, Ian Taylor won the vets category while Alison Kinloch and Cathy Atkinson won the female vets and seniors respectively.

That was the sharp end of the race, but quite honestly everyone who turned out and raced in those conditions deserved a medal. Most of the DNFs were caused by disintegrated brake pads (and one broken shoulder – get well soon Kai) so there’s probably a lot of unfinished business knocking about.

Thanks to everyone who helped this happen – the next one is in March 2020 so keep your eye on the website, the facebook page or Twitter.

Full results at www.hitthenorth.net

Kielder Chiller 2019

I can’t say with much certainty when I last took part in a 24 hour race as a member of a team of 4. I’ve dabbled in pairs racing from time to time but the vast majority of endurance racing has been as a solo rider. It’s nice to have regular breaks for a sit down and a cup of tea but I always find that the breaks are over far too quickly, but are just long enough for my legs to start to go stiff and for me to get far too comfortable and warm to be bothered to go out for yet another bike ride.

Drinking gallons of tea, eating tons of crisps and having a laugh in between laps is good though.

The weather forecast for the Kielder Chiller was traditionally awful, high winds and constant rain were expected. I’ve trashed countless brake pads, chains, cassettes and nice bikes just from riding around in Kielder Forest and those prior experiences, as well as the fact that I’m just plain tightfisted meant that I took a rigid singlespeed. I could be all smug while I watched the drivetrains and fork seals of others reduce to atoms in a cloud of abrasive grime.

if you took this photo get in touch so I can include a credit – ta

As things turned out, the weather wasn’t too bad. Our team of 4 (Budge, Karen Price, Phil Simcock and me) grabbed an early lead and gradually extended it as the race progressed. If I’m being honest I was finding things very tough with just one gear – the course wasn’t particularly kind to anyone stupid enough to be riding a singlespeed – it was basically a series of steep, long climbs with some really steep bits that were making my back feel like it was about to explode outwards. The end of each lap felt like I’d been squatting big weights in the gym for an hour and while we were still leading by a healthy margin, I knew I was having to make a meal of every lap.

In the end we won the mixed team category by a good margin and finished 3rd overall in all teams of 4, Karen Price bagging the fastest womens’ lap of the race obviously helping towards the result, as well as Phil demonstrating how blindingly quick you can get by training and racing an entire cyclocross season…

pic:Budge

It was all a good laugh in spite of me alternating between suffering and moaning. The Team JMC pit had about 20 people racing out of it, almost everyone won something (including Deb, Sally, Shona and Jacqui who banged in a load of laps, won the female teams cat and beat a few mens’ teams in the process), nobody got too soaked and I didn’t ruin anything expensive or smash my face in again.

So that’s 2 wins out of 2 races this year so far…I’d better find another race to do quick before my purple patch comes to an end…

Strathpuffer 2019 – Apparently hell CAN freeze over.

It doesn’t matter what the weather forecast says, or what people who are in Strathpeffer for days before the race say – the fact is, nobody can predict the weather at the Strathpuffer. You just have to think how you’re going to prepare, spend loads of cash on stuff you probably (or even hopefully) won’t need and always, always pack at least one studded ice tyre.

This year’s Strathpuffer was a case in point. All week it was rain this…mud that…I’d fitted mud tyres and had packed waterproof baggy shorts. I think most people taking part were braced for a slop-fest.

What actually happened is that almost the entire course was covered in black ice and that thick, solid type of ice that polar bears used to stand on to sell mints. Rumours quickly spread of 12 broken collarbones in the first lap.

Good job I had that ice tyre fitted to the front wheel and I was equally glad that Sofia had managed to get one too.

Sofia Christiansen was my mixed pairs team-mate and I knew she’d been training hard for this. We both had – neither of us were here to make up the numbers but once the race got underway it was clear that something wasn’t right. I couldn’t stop coughing, but put that down to the cold temperatures. I was struggling to breathe at times too, but put that down to all the cycling I was doing. Then the vomiting and the cramp started. I’m pretty good at vomiting on the move and don’t normally need to stop to do it. This time was no exception but the bike needed a good wipe down at the end of each lap.

I don’t know what was causing the puking. Perhaps I was coming down with something…

It made for an exciting race though. Sofia was super-consistent in her lap times and was as focused as I knew she was going to be. I’d then set off on either a good lap or a not-so-good lap and the lead must have changed hands between us and two other pairs repeatedly throughout the night. I wasn’t really sure how all of this was going to end up and while I wanted to put in a Big Move and create a gap, I didn’t really have the legs (or head, or guts, or lungs) for that.

Eventually though, a 2 minute gap was just enough for us to build on and that soon became 18 minutes (then a blip back to 12 minutes or something) then 18 again, then things became uncertain again…

Sofia arrived at the changeover point pedalling with one leg. Her knee was knackered. I said I’d ride my lap, if she still couldn’t pedal we’d decide what we were going to do.

It was then that I remembered what happened in Kielder a couple of years ago, when I raced in the pairs with Phil, crashed, broke my face and forced him to ride the remaining few hours of the race on his own. There was no conceivable way that I could drop out because Sof was unlucky enough to pick up a race-ending injury, so unless Sof’s knee had miraculously mended itself, I was on my own to defend our slender lead for 5 hours.

I finished the lap. There was Deb, Sofia, Ben, Sam and Ailsa. I thought I’d have a moan and a whinge for effect. “Get me gels, lights and water here for the end of this next lap”.

The rest of the race was spent mostly crashing as a patch of light rain passed over the forest and turned whatever rideable line that existed into a skating rink. My lap times were silly-slow by now but as I finished my final lap, Deb greeted me not with a bottle and a gel, but with a tell-tale bacon sandwich. We’d won the mixed pairs category with a 35-ish minute gap.

Chuffed! Relieved. And now, I have the flu! Awesome. I thought I was coming down with something.

MASSIVE thanks to…

Euan and the Forestry guys, Sam and Ben from the Breakpad bike shop for the relentless spannering and bike cleaning, Ailsa for lentil soup and motivational abuse, Deb for doing what only Deb can do behind the scenes in races like this and Sofia for being a nails-tough team mate.

 

 

Here comes the Strathpuffer again

Next week I’ll be making the journey north to the Strathpuffer for the 8th time. It’s a race that’s tricky to get to, trickier to get home from and often horrendously tricky to get right on the day. There’s a lot of luck involved. And stoic determination. And crazy winter Highlands weather. And loads of other random shit.

Everyone knows it’s cold, damp, icy, snowy, windy and dark. It’s legendary status in the world of 24 hour racing means that most mountain bikers, regardless of whether they want to or not, seem to end up doing it at least once.

Deep down I love it, while outwardly I’ll claim that every time is my last time. In fact, last time I really did think it was my last time. I’ve had a lot of success over the years in the solo race and in the singlespeed category but last time I raced in the male pairs category with Daz (I’d entered as a pair with Phil years ago but got flattened by a car while training for that one, so didn’t bother).

Me and Daz didn’t take things terribly seriously last time. We mostly hid in the van, blaming lack of fitness and repeatedly trotting out the Old ‘Wrong Bike’ Routine.

This year I’m ticking another category box by racing in the mixed pairs with my riding buddy and Newton Stewart local, the fearless Sofia Christiansen. We’ve not got any real expectations nor are we under any sort of pressure – the mixed pairs category is quite large but there are one or two male pairs we’re aiming for anyway 😉

I think half of Newton Stewart are coming with us, plus we’ll have our other halves, Debbie and Sam there to keep us fed, watered and sane. There’s also going to be a large group of Manchester-based mates there too, I think they’ve got a team together. Perhaps Daz told them all it’s a good idea to do the Strathpuffer at least once….

World Solo 24 Hour Championship 2018

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.

Motoring.

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.