The last year has felt like holding my breath to keep motivated to get out of the bike in the hope that goals would present themselves. Obviously this is a challenge with the lack of events so I’ve been holding out and ticking over until I could breath out again once reaching the first events of the year on route to the bigger goals.
So it was a relief to see that the Gorrick crew were putting on some events in April that I could aim for. I’ve managed to keeping plugging away during winter and under Lee at Transition MTB coaching have really been focusing on getting some deep efficiency levels by keeping things very easy on most rides. I’ve been amazed to see how controlled my heart rate has become on climbs now so something great to build on. April isn’t a time when we had planned to be working on any higher intensity so turning up to some flat out races was clearly going to be a shock to the system.
Race 1. The gorrick team has set things up pretty well at Frimley limiting numbers and separating age cats out to avoid mass start groups. The grid was alphabetical which I guess you can’t really complain about for a 3 hour race as it’s not like there is a 3 hour official rankings or anything. I’d had a bit of the child lurgy the week before but was just about over it bar a few snivels. I had a good blast around and was surprised that I could keep the effort levels high. The course was relentless as it near constant twists and turns. I’m generally crap on this sort of course preferring the wide open blasty stuff but I made the most of the occasional jump and drop to max the enjoyment factor. I’ve been testing some Scrub Carbon Wheels over the last year for a mate of mine. He’s looking at putting together a UK built carbon wheel at a reasonable price and these ones come in at a racey 1500g for a strong 25mm internal with hubs that seem to have a really quick pickup (even better than my dt240’s) which I really felt the benefit from on the stop start twisty singletrack. I must admit I’ve abused these a bit as well over winter when I’ve failed to clean my bike and left in a muddy heap for a few weeks to return to smooth spinning freehub and bearings which is a good sign for those who don’t polish their bike after every ride! So give Andy at Scrub a shout if you’re after some xc/down country hoops.
It was great just to be racing again and I rolled in 8th in cat so within the top 10 points which was pretty decent as there seemed to be some fast chaps out there. It was interesting to compare myself to others that I had raced against in previous years and was surprised to have been there abouts or beating some of them which is a great sign given the lack of intensity in the training plan to date. I had forgotten how good it feels after a race after doing everything as well as you could on the day. I had a little dad boogie on the way home in the car to some dance anthems.
Back at Frimley again and a similar course and certainly as many twists and turns! By some ungodly doom I had yet again come in to the race with child snots this time affecting me way more than I thought. A dodgy stomach the night before added to the woes.
I can conclude that the biggest threat the race performance is your children… don’t worry though I’ll have my revenge in the vet 50’s making them pit for me whilst I bark orders for more porridge at 3am…
In the end I managed an hour at some reasonable gas in around 5th before my body told me to piss off and go home. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, there’s always other races right. Well this year and these days I definitely want to make the most of the opportunities so it was massively frustrating. I wasn’t going to collapse in a heap or anything though and given I’d driven 2 hours to get there I tried to change the goal for the day, character building, time to not throw the towel which I thought would make me feel better if I at least finished. However it was utter misery seeing the glee on pursuers faces as I slid to second last. I even had a stop for a flask of tea at one point to cheers me up and had to put a gilet on as I was feeling cold. I knew I should stay backed off though as the body was empty so I wasn’t going to do anything other than make things worse. I tried to think of it as just time riding my bike which I should be grateful for but I was instantly in a grump which continued for a few days.
Having adjusted to life of 5am starts and managed to keep life balanced it felt like a kick in the teeth. Of course my reaction is disproportionate to the importance of the event but I couldn’t help it! This has coincided with struggling with some body mechanics around running that has been an old niggle I had tried to work around, now unsuccessfully.
I’m having to go get physio support and work on some mobility stuff which is going to take a bit of time to sort. So the off road iron man plans are going to be put on the back burner until later in the year which means a 100% focus on the UK 24 champs at Exposure 24/12. Lee has already planned out our attack on the event with some stepping stone goals along the way which is helping me focus on knuckling down.
Am I a roadie? My mates have questioned this over the years to the point of being a statement of fact even though I haven’t actually owned a ‘road bike’ the whole time! Lycra, lightweight kit check check, enjoys long rides on roads, check. I used to ride cycle paths and roads on a santa cruz chameleon with an alfine 8 speed hub many years ago such was my objection to owning something with skinny tyres and steep head angle! More on my history of biking covered in Cycle Stations Podcast here.
After moving down south I had to get something more road like for long commutes for 6 months of Bristol – Swindon mileage. This was a Trek ‘Cross Rip’ with marathon tyres and heavy setup. I then upgraded to a 1x cheapy planet x thing as I started to enjoy the road miles a bit more but wanted to equally enjoy cycle paths. This was labelled a ‘gravel bike’. I think I got down to a 28c minimum tyre and even rode it around the whole south west coast of England.
As I slid dangerously towards, by my own definition of a ‘roadie’, and even sampled a couple of group road rides (being told what speed to ride at in a group wasn’t my thing though). I was invited by a mate to do a big old 1000km road ride round the perimeter of Wales (read about The ‘Welsh 1000’). I felt this was pretty new territory for me doing this sort of mileage on road over three days and in panic fashion wondered how I could speed my journey and aid my comfort! Step in Upgrade bikes and Rory with a loan of a long distance comfort giving machine the RTD (Race The Distance). Here are my thoughts on my first ‘road bike’.
Full disclosure first, Upgrade loaned me the frame and wheels and gave me some other bits to test, I’m not writing this as a review as I don’t imagine people give much heed to that kind of spiel.
From reading up on this bike in advance the Kinesis RTD is designed for long distance road adventures at an affordable price. The scadium frame had influences from the late great Mike Hall with an eye on events such as the Transcontinental. Scandium is a material not as familiar to many but originally made an appearance on xc bikes as a lighter alternative to aluminium amongst other features.
My immediate comparator for this bike was what I expect a lot of people end up buying if they want a bit of a do it all starter do it all road/gravel bike, a Planet X full monty £1k wonder. Solid enough and decent componentary for the money but a bit lacking in the frame quality. Certainly the immediate difference I was surprised to note so quickly was the ride comfort improvement over the Planet X which may have been a factor in having given myself ulnar nerve damage previously! Part of my surprise was that I had gone from 28c all weather tyres on the PX to a much racier 25c continental gp 5000 on the RTD. So on tyres alone this should have been a harsher ride but not what I found.
The RTD frame has clearance almost of gravel noteworthiness taking a 30c tyre with mudguards or depending on brand probably up to a 34. You could easily go bigger on the front with the Columbus carbon fork which has plenty of clearance. So fine for cx I imagine or for all but the gnarliest of gravel duties. But this is a bike built for long road miles and whilst sat aboard for 16 hours at a time round Wales I can safely say it’s a comfy perch for that time. It’s pretty light but not carbon light as you’d expect. I’m not going to pretend I can tell all the differences in terms of ride response etc but all round it was a really solid improvement on the Planet X and didn’t give me ulnar nerve damage!
Some Reynolds AR29 wheels were a nice touch and noticeably stiffer and just faster than the ally ones they replaced. I run perfectly fine Stans Grail but they just aren’t as fast (or nice looking).
I run a 1x sram setup with a 42 oval front ring and 10-42 cassette. I really can’t see why you’d want a higher gear unless in a mass peleton and I never seem to spin out. I’m used to the big jumps in a wide range cassette from riding exactly the same setup on my mountain bikes but you really do just adapt anyway I reckon. Some nice light bits and pieces from Ultimate USE made for a respectable build weight of 8.5kg.
After successfully riding around Wales I’ve been amazed by how much I’ve ridden this bike over winter. Chucking on some Kinesis sturdy metal mud fenders that hold up way better than plastic alternatives has been a big factor in some pretty awful winter conditions. I’m ashamed to say I hardly rode my mountain bike over the winter as I enjoyed exploring the miles on the RTD with so much less faff on mountain biking!
It got to the point of bike return to HQ and I have actually ended up buying it as I couldn’t bare to go back to the planet x. So for someone with my frugalness that’s probably a decent indictment! Unfortunately the carbon wheels were a bit out of budget 😦 . I haven’t yet done another group road ride but I’ve definitely enjoyed exploring my local roads more sat aboard the RTD.
Are you a mountain biker thinking of becoming a roadie?
I think this bike would be a great weapon for mountain bikers that want a road bike but don’t really want a road bike… By that I mean something that isn’t too flash or harsh ride, can do a bit of everything and ultimately isn’t going to break the bank.
If you need support during this difficult transition time, check out Kinesis Bikes
It’s all just riding bikes after all isn’t it?
Roadie over and out.
Thanks again to all my sponsors and supporters and especially Upgrade Bikes for the enlightenment
First off, not much to review last year! 2020 contained four races for me, one an actual race at Gorrick and a couple of virtual endurance zwift jobs amongst a make your own course Trust event (the latter I randomly won). With a lack of races like anyone I was struggling to motivate myself but overall I’m chuffed that I didn’t fall off the wagon gazza style, particularly after the arrival of William the mega baby.
Will 1 hour old
The routine and focus training and riding created was just what was needed to keep some normality during the unnormal times (Thanks Lee @ transition). Plus training with power gives so much clearer indication of progress where the rest of life seemed to be wading through treacle at times. I’d had to reduce riding things down significantly at times particularly in first lockdown with home childcare carnage but I’d still managed to tick over and more importantly want to do so.
Economising on time ‘parenting’ and training
A lovely jaunt around Wales was a tough challenge but that alongside helping buddy Alan to break a world record were a couple of highlights amongst the lack of any races.
Momento of Alan’s world record
One epiphany for me within the process of figuring out how to be a good dad, husband, diy bodger and endurance rider extraordinaire was that I have to now think differently about motivations to get do the ‘numbers’ training around the normal riding stuff. I felt like with everything going on that if I stuck to the mostly head down training focus based riding I’d done in the past at times then it was likely that I wouldn’t keep this up. So I thought about how to find motivation amidst the carnage and time pressures that worked for me. For the first time in my riding life I entertained the idea of stopping for a coffee and cake mid ride! I know this is a staple requirement for most but it’s just never really been in my mindset as I wanted to just focus on enjoying the riding and do the cake stop afterwards or whatever. So rides started to include looking at where to get a good slice, well at least when stuff was open anyway!
mates and stopping for joyous food=new motivators
Another part of finding motivation in different ways was to go on more rides with others. The general lack of human contact in the last year where I’ve previously been in a team office environment has been a hard change and I’ve definitely not enjoyed working at home like others have. Home is home, work is work as far my views on it go and the cycle between the two is the time to switch off. Not having that divide has left me in no mans land in my head at time with the break of what otherwise has been a 15 year routine riding to work most days. I’ve not only been missing the human interaction but also the meditation a regular cycle commute can provide.
Wanting to find the time?
My issue was that with increased pressures on family time and home time, by choice I might add, I had to figure out how to find the time and if I had the motivation to work with the variables involved. I’ve thought for a while that people who say they don’t have the time haven’t really thought about what they mean when they say it. I think in many cases it’s more of just the fact that they don’t WANT to find the time. Maybe that long bike ride isn’t as attractive as staying in bed or having a few beers the night before or staying up late to watch some crap on netflix. The time is there if you want to find it, so for me this was readjusting sleeping patterns to hit the hay super early but get up at 5 and on the bike often by 5.20am. I’ve seen others do this in the past and thought them bonkers, now I get it though. After a 3 hour mid week ride and still enough time to help sort the kids out for the day I feel like a totally different person. This compared to the journey from kitchen to home office (aka the spare bedroom misery). Fortunately I know a couple of other endurance nutters so have managed to drag a few people out on early ones via the now necessary cake stop (challenging to find cake at 8am though!). I’ve massively enjoyed these rides and although at times the pace might not have been training ‘ideal’ (sorry Lee) they have kept my motivation in check for the more focused numbers sessions that I think would have just killed off my enthusiasm otherwise. All this said perhaps doing this stuff is so ingrained in habit I’d probably feel lost without it so the fear of lost in space is perhaps what drives me?!
‘Finding the time’
Ok so brain download complete about the new differently motivated me.
So we’ve managed to more or less keep our shit together in the last year and not worried about the weighing scales what next?
Well to keep a nice number of three things (mates and cake number 1 and 2) the third has been setting a new goal for 2021. I always like a bit of a challenge to keep me motivated and increasingly they are outside of racing, on my own terms and what I’m interested in.
Nice work Alan on the logo!
So enter the IRONSHAM. The idea to do a Self Supported, Self Designed, Off Road, Iron Man distance triathlon. The SHAM being a bit of a play with the fact that from the outside looking in, Iron Man looks a bit wanky for want of a better description! The whole tattoo on legs thing, mahusive corporate machine side of thing doesn’t really float my boat but I do like the concept, and well it’s there so… So despite a serious lack of swimming and/or running ability I thought I’d give it a go. I did a bit of googling and to my surprise this doesn’t really seem to be a thing. Sure people have done self made iron man distance stuff but pretty much on road from what I could see and with support crews. I for one love a good support crew setup as much as anyone but in the current climate and in some ways to simplify it, I’m going to rock it solo. I’ve probably used up a fair few supporter cards in the past as well so will let them have some down time in the hope of some future pitting support at some stage again!
The reason for throwing swimming/ running in to the mix is driven by wanting to challenge myself in a different way but also to learn those life skills I’ve never really cracked as such. I’ve never swam for more than say 30 minutes and although having run two marathons and one half these were done slowly and entirely reliant on cycling fitness rather than any actual running form or conditioning (and nearly 10 years ago!). Another reason is that these things for me are quick and easy to fit in compared to the at times faff of cycling. Running is a dream from where we live, endless footpaths to explore whilst the local pool is 10 minutes up the road. I think the bang for buck of swimming/ running is much higher than cycling and also provides some more all round conditioning cycling alone can lack.
So where am I at now?
Well it’s not exactly been easy to start the IRONSHAM journey with pools closing etc but I’ve just been starting very slowly on both and trying to learn how to do them properly. I’ve always had tight calves when running so keen to overcome that with improved posture and flexibility whilst swimming has never been something comfortable with me and I’m even planning on getting some lessons! Swimming is a super foil for cycling as well as it stretches you out in all the opposite directions that cycling lacks so I’m hoping it will in fact keep me from being crippled later in life. Indeed my grandad swam well in to his 80’s and was really mobile late in life so that’s a good incentive.
So if I can manage to figure how to run without injury, swim efficiently and keep the bike fitness at the same time, I’ll be giving this concept a crack over the summer.
If you’ve made it this far down the read then you are already an endurance athlete so if you fancy giving it a go as well then holla? Maybe it could become ‘a thing?!’
It’s 5.00am, 43 hours into pit crew duties to support a cycle elevation gain world record and I’m sat slumped in a camp chair on a Welsh hillside. This is savage. My mental state in tatters after only 90 mins sleep since waking up 47 hours ago. Head in hands wondering how I’m going to function for the remaining crucial 5 hours to help my mate Alan Colville. I can’t even do the basics of remembering to write numbers on a board. And I haven’t even been cycling up and down the same hillside for that same time! Here’s the story of an utterly bonkers journey to break a cycling world record that began years ago to help a buddy realise a childhood dream.
Getting to the start line
Before the actual story there’s a story before the story. Although it’s slightly painful territory to cover this crazy challenge to help my mate Alan break the world record for cycle elevation gain in 48 hours began a few years previously. Alan, and my then coach Jon, had the ambition to set a different world record, for the highest anyone has ever cycled (nearly the height of Everest)! This involved an ambitious plan to do the training, get the gear and crucially the finance to take on this mega task. To help them in their goal I spoke to a few friends to see what we might be able to do to help fundraise towards their costs and fundraise for mental health charities. From this ‘Lap of My Mind’ was born. We intended to cycle 4800 miles around the coast of the UK with 10 riders in relay each doing on average 480 miles, in the middle of winter, on crappy coastal roads. The finish would be on the darkest day of the year so fitting with our goals of raising awareness of the benefits of cycling for our mental health. Cutting a long story short, the whole event had both short-term and long-term implications for me with my ride causing ulnar nerve damage that only 18 months later was fully fixed with surgery. The whole thing was seriously stressful and I just wasn’t ‘right’ for weeks afterwards, mentally and physically exhausted. I won’t go into all the details but eventually this led to some difficult times and broken friendships and I have to admit I hadn’t really moved on fully since. What should have been a massively positive experience raising funds and awareness of mental health, and for my mates Alan and Jon’s record attempt ironically ended up affecting my mental wellbeing for quite some time afterwards as their record attempt never materialised and I never felt I had closure for various reasons.
One lasting positive thing that did come out of the whole experience was strengthening my friendship with Alan. I guess you get to know someone a lot better when dealing with difficult things. I think the bike world is super for lots of people hanging out and getting together and even more so with mountain bike racing. But I think we could probably question how well we know people outside of this bubble as we rarely build friendships in the ‘real world’ outside of racing. On reflection myself and Al have a lot in common in terms of outlook and morals but also the fact that he has literally half an arse due to a horrid accident with a truck years ago that took him from top end XC racer to being laid up for months, in a difficult mental and physical state for a long time (before I knew him). By chance I also have some of my arse missing from surgery to remove a cancerous tumour a few years ago which also laid me up for a time albeit much shorter and far less severe. So maybe between us we have a whole set of buttocks at least!
After the disappointment of the first world record attempt it was clear Alan still had ambitions to realise his boyhood dream of becoming a world record holder. After the Lap of My Mind dust had settled I said to Alan lets just go and plan a challenge just for us over the following winter as a positive target. No faff, no bollocks, just smashing out something and feeling good about it.
In between this I’d also had some disappointments having had to pull out of the UK 24-hour MTB Championships due to my dodgy ulnar nerve, so it was good for me to have a goal as well. So just for shits and giggles we decided to have a go at an ‘Everest’ where we would cycle non-stop up and down a hill until we reached the height of the famed mountain. Further bad luck ensued and I missed the first Everest that Alan and friend Ian Walker did due to illness so eventually we set a date to take on Draycott Hill in Somerset, a hill known for its steepness. Completing this together felt like a first step on the road to recovery for me in many senses. But it also struck me how easily Alan had done the Everest whilst I was relatively blowing out of my arse. I can’t remember the exact sequence but Alan then ended up doing multiple Everests over a period of time (absolute nutter) both indoors and out (I joined for half of his indoor double Everest, ugh!). Around this time we realised Alan had a raw talent for riding up hills and I found there was a Guinness World Record for the most climbing on a bicycle in 48-hours. It sounded bonkers but potentially achievable for Alan. So the record attempt was born. We knew we had a team built on trust and friendship, the rest would fall into place.
Although Alan was doing all the hard work in training for this thing I really enjoyed helping him with elements that could help him realise his ambitions, nutrition, bike setup, hill section etc. It was a mammoth task to take on particularly if you want to break a World Record that’s been held for over 5 years and, apparently, one there had been hundreds of attempts at. Alan had an insatiable thirst for knowledge being relatively new to ultra events and was able to draw on a wide range of people’s expertise. People who were only too willing to give it to Alan as he is basically a bloody nice chap.
After a few months of Alan putting in the miles we were set for 48-hour record attempt one and I was part of the second pit crew team due to head out for the second 24 hour stint. However due to ridiculous heat, this attempt at the end of August was halted during day one. Lots of lessons learnt and Alan was quickly set another date to go again. This time I committed to be there for the whole time as our newborn was a bit older by that point so a whole weekend away was slightly more acceptable.
Two weeks out and the weather wasn’t looking favourable for the planned dates at the end of September so some rushed discussions resulted in a last minute change of date for the attempt. Bringing it forward a week to a period where the wind direction would be much more favourable and the skies clearer. Unfortunately this then halved the availability of the pit crew from four to two. This was a massive risk as crewing for 48 hours with all the requirements of capturing evidence, keeping an eye on nutrition etc was a big burden for just two people. However we decided to go for it as it would have been the last chance we had this year with decent weather. Thanks to mine and Budge’s super-supportive other halves we were given passes for a few days of pit crewing on a hillside in Wales! Game on.
Myself and Alan travelled to site in the motorhome he had hired the night before, with Budge making the long drive down from the North West on the morning of the challenge. The hillside was near Builth Wells, right next to a military firing test area, and the hill had an average gradient of 10%. The wind was also blowing in the right direction, a massive boost on the exposed road. Our pit area in a roadside layby just before the top was pretty exposed to the strong wind gusting up the road so we were well wrapped up.
To break an official world record there is a massive amount of faff, bureaucracy and expense involved. Once you start the process you soon realise that Guinness is just a commercial organisation that has to raise funds to keep going. It’s sort of like when you realise Father’s and Mother’s Days are created by card companies to make money. This meant lots of evidence capturing requirements and timing equipment which Alan had spent a lot of time organising, and relied on pit crew to keep on top of as well as everything else involved in keeping someone going up and down a hill for 48-hours. Over evidencing we all agreed was the way to go.
At the 10am start time I went down the hill to film the start and the first couple of reps on my bike with Alan. Halfway up the first climb I noticed a wobble in his tyre and before I could insist he stop to check it, BANG!, the inner tube blew as the tube had been caught in the tyre. So we fixed it then restarted the challenge at 10:21am. Luckily we didn’t have any further tyre trouble after that.
Alan got into the rhythm of pushing out hill repeats and pit crew in the routine of logging activity and handing up endless food and bottles. We had people appear to either photograph or ride with Al at times which was great to break up the time. Darkness came surprisingly quickly and Al was still going well and to plan. We gave him the planned 20 minutes sleep on night one and worked through the hours without any major dramas. I had a brief lie down but didn’t sleep, whilst Budge managed a short nap after being up for longer. Al’s first wobble came overnight as lap times started to drop right off around the middle of the night, pleasingly some sleep sorted him out and he eventually drew back on the schedule.
There had been a number of rushed efforts in the days before the attempt to produce a spreadsheet that we could use to track pace and basically tell Al whether he needed to speed up or slow down. Budge valiantly tried to work with other people’s workings but ended up doing a modified version himself which eventually became somewhat of an obsession as we were both nervous about giving Al inaccurate information. We constantly checked our calcs back and forward thousands of times – it felt like!
I was glad Budge took up spreadsheet duties as numbers aren’t my forte. I focused on nutrition and performance but I was equally nervous ensuring Al had the right nutrition to keep the legs turning, especially given he had had issues with vomiting on the failed previous attempt. I’ve been on the other side of the tape many times and although it sounds ridiculous to complain if someone hasn’t got the right thing ready for you in the pits, it can be disproportionately frustrating. I tried to then put myself in Al’s head space and think what he might need at any point.
Me and Budge made a decent team, by that I mean he didn’t kill me after 48 hours working so closely together. Budge started Team JMC and has created a club that contains a super group of people that go and enjoy events at all levels, supporting each other along the way. This was probably one of the most extreme shows of support for our teammate Alan.
All seemed to be going well though and we mixed in some real food amongst the packaged stuff and he stayed off gels for as long as possible. His digestive system seemed to be amazingly on song which is a massive factor in ultra efforts like this.
[Skip to next paragraph if easily offended] We also took time management to the next level by taking Ian Walker’s tip to eat whilst on the toilet. This really did save time in pit stops which we were generally keeping right on point and to plan. I managed a short nap on the first morning which helped reset me for the day.
Al had spent a long time doing an hour by hour plan for everything. A plan we broadly followed but the reality is that everything is going to go tits up at some point when riding for so long and it’s critical you react and adapt the plan appropriately. It was pretty stressful constantly trying to think what Al would need and also what needed doing at any one point. There wasn’t as much sitting around as you’d think! Every minute he stopped was losing 12 meters of climbing, so the pressure was on unlike any other race I’ve witnessed or been part of.
Although a relief to make it through night one after some serious pacing doubts, it was sobering to think that we would have to go through another night to get to another morning!
Visiting riders helped break things up for us all and messages of support via WhatsApp kept us motivated. Al’s family arrived during day two and ended up staying later after a trip for some lockets and burgers to keep rider and pit crew respectively going. Once they had departed, showing how great minds think alike, myself and Budge had individually given Al a gee up to say right you’ve had the nice family time, now it’s race time again. Hoping to give him a boost for the monstrous night to come. Our evening was brought to light literally by military flares booming over the adjacent hillside and we just hoped that our countdown timing clocks weren’t targeted!
Myself and Budge made the decision that we would both be just sucking it up and staying awake for the whole time of the second night. As both of our bodies and minds started catching up with Al’s levels of fatigue we figured two half minds and bodies were better than one! We could see this could be possible, we just had to throw everything at it as a pit team to support Al.
We continued to be about on schedule to break the record but on the rare occasion when an unplanned stop happened, no matter how short, it quickly became apparent how detrimental this could be for the record. Al had planned for his rep times to slow but as we neared the hardest hours of the night, Al really started to slow and we became really worried as times slipped from 18 mins to 21 and he pulled in to tell us he was really struggling before setting off again. I jumped on my bike to ride behind him to see what was happening and Al down was very slow on the descent and more wobbly than we would have liked. Especially given the winding hillside, speeds of 30+mph, the ever-present risk of sheep wandering onto the roads and a cattle grid to cross. Reports of hallucinations were very worrying, was this the end?
At the turnaround it was clear Al needed some sort of intervention. We didn’t have another stop planned for 2 hours so anything at this crucial time would undoubtedly set us back. Added to the fun was at the bottom of the hill I had pinged my achilles that had been recently injured and it was properly painful. I had to pedal one legged up the climb whilst trying to plan and agree a course of action with Al, whilst calling up the hill on the phone to Budge.
This was all really concerning and whilst pedalling up a 10% slope in my trainers and down jacket I had to quickly think about what to do. So I made a quick instinctive decision to let Al have a stop and try and get him to close his eyes for a few minutes and hope he could then make up the time afterwards. This was a really concerning time as when he came in we had to direct him to bed with care. Myself and Budge talked outside about what to do whilst Alan was sleeping. I was on the side of get him up and running as soon as possible whereas Budge was (rightly so) extremely concerned for his safety. It was obvious that IF he did go back out he would have to be accompanied but I had just given myself a sick note and could barely walk and Budge hadn’t brought any cycling clothes or bike with him.
Once Al had been given a 5 minute nap and a hot bowl of food he fortunately started to show regain some colour in his cheeks, enough that Budge was convinced to jump on my bike to ride alongside him. Thankfully the rest did the trick and Al started to crank up the pace again whilst I hobbled round the pits in pain and feeling pretty useless. Budge quickly pulled in as he wasn’t enjoying riding full speed downhill, not clipped in, over cattle grids, on someone else’s bike, but he reported life signs from Al which was a massive relief. Fortunately we didn’t have to get to the point of forcing him to stop but this step wasn’t far away. This was a super hard situation to deal with but one where I felt strongly that Al could continue if he had a nap. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised it wasn’t just a hunch that suggested that course of action but from something I had recently read about ultra runners doing two overnights back to back with no sleep and solutions to exactly the same problems. A short eye close could work wonders. Either way it worked and Al began to fly again making up time quickly and agreeing we would completely cut out unnecessary stops. During the ‘intervention’ in total he had been in the pits for about 18 minutes, amazing what the body can achieve. In hindsight we never really considered what Al wanted to do and we didn’t ask. It seems very odd but in that situation we felt a huge sense of guardianship for his well-being. Al also never made one single comment you often hear in these situations, ‘can’t’ or ‘don’t want to’ were not in his vocabulary such was his focus on the challenge and ambition.
Just as things had started to settle back into a rhythm again I stood up and ping it felt like someone had stabbed me in the achilles again. I slumped back down into my chair and the sleep deprivation along with the stress of the situation just became too much and I had a short uncontrollable sob. Partly in helplessness and partly a bit of relief that this thing was now possible again. The emotional rollercoaster was a brutal one. Either way my head was all over the place and Budge had to take on the main duties whilst I tried to pull myself together. I couldn’t even remember to note down the basic things Budge had asked me to do. I madly texted a few local riders in the off chance they fancied standing in at 5am on a Monday morning as I didn’t want to be the weak link in Al’s support chain. I resorted to taking some of Al’s caffeine tablets and multiple cups of tea but I think that just made me feel even worse. It wasn’t until the golden sunrise that my brain adjusted and I was able to think straight again by which time the pain in my achilles had eased, helped with a handful of painkiller drugs that were now being rationed between me and Al!
Al had somehow pulled out a blinder since his nap and was heading towards equalling the record with 45 minutes of riding still left (well what we thought at the time anyway). This was incredible considering where we were only a few hours ago. Myself and Budge were now totally exhausted but jubilant and we allowed ourselves a mini celebration when he broke the existing record. Amidst jubilant and hoarse screams filled with expletives, water was sprayed on Alan and Ant Pease (riding with Alan to video the moment the record was broken), disappointingly not champagne. However we knew he had to beat it by a margin so we pushed him on until the end supported by photographer come super support rider Ant Pease. We were still nervous as to whether or not to believe the numbers but with the time left we felt he would definitely be over the record even allowing for a margin of error.
As the clock ticked over hour 48 we couldn’t believe he’d done it and it was certainly one of the highlights of anything I’ve ever done in cycling. To have that moment together at the end to celebrate was very special. Even Budge appeared to have something in his eye. Truly shivers down the spine stuff and a monumental effort by Alan which just blows my mind having witnessed it first hand. The feat is made even more impressive when compared to the previous record that was set on a very straight hill in California compared to this Welsh hill littered with sheep, corners, cattle grids and blustery autumn weather, with 10 hours of darkness TWICE.
It was tear jerking stuff and on a selfish personal level it brought the whole Lap of My Mind thing to a close, finally helping a mate break a world record. Although I wanted to help Al in the back of my mind I also wanted to learn more about myself from the other side of the tape. Moreover to apply what I had learnt in ultra stuff over the years but to someone else’s benefit and ultimately close a period of my life with parts I’d really rather forget.
Top tips from the other side of the tape:
Make sure you have enough people to allow for sleep amongst the team if possible.
Talk and agree responses to predicted situations in advance of them happening.
Take EVERYTHING, doesn’t matter if you don’t use it.
Put yourself in the shoes of the rider throughout, what might they be needing, food, moral support etc. Have multiple options of things to hand just in case.
Be prepared for an endurance event mentally, imagine you are in a competitive situation as much as the rider.
In the last year some of the most satisfying things I’ve done in biking and life in general have been helping others to do stuff, whether that was doing a virtual cycling Everest to help fundraise for my now deceased mate’s family, starting a community energy group in my village and now Al’s ride. This is quite a change from the selfish lifestyle of a 24-hour solo mountain bike racer and all that it entails. But perhaps it’s shown me how important it is to get outside of your own headspace particularly in the current diabolical times we face and how that can enrich your own mindset whilst ultimately gaining the satisfaction of helping others. We could probably all benefit from occasionally being domestiques.
Day 40 of #lockdownlife and at least another 63 to go for our pregnant household until we can emerge to the outside world (if of course we are capable at that point)!
What has this meant for training and bike racing?! Well the latter is obviously off the cards for the time being but it’s been a period where I’ve strangely had more opportunity for some focused quality training.
This is where having a coach comes into its own. They can keep you motivated within your limitations, which lets face it, for non professionals we all have at the best of times let alone in the current situation.
To give you an insight, a lot of my weekly on bike hours are commuting for 90 mins 4 days a week. This also involves hauling a 13kg weight on the back for the first/last 20 minutes each way via childcare. Lee at Transition MTB coaching sets my weekly training plan the Thursday before the week ahead to accommodate my week plans including the commuting by bike. We figure out what’s possible on the commute to make the most of it whether it be a high cadence recovery spin or some hard gear efforts (easy with the extra weight!). Equally important are rest days but when I still need to go in to work and the only easy choice is bike enter the e-bike! It’s been an incredible training tool for making rest days actually resting.
Commuting wrapped around other sessions makes my training week. Although I get a reasonable amount of volume it can be hard to get quality sessions in as part of the commute given traffic and other limitations.
Now throw in the current context where a successful day looks like achieving enough work to keep me in employment, avoiding getting slapped around the face by your offspring and balancing panic imminent baby 2 DIY with some riding/ training time. Fortunately Rory is a pretty decent weight to do squats and kettle bell swings with and is also partial for a bit of peppa pig whilst sat on the turbo so it’s not all incompatible if you get creative!
Periodised strength training
Making the most of it
So what’s changed now then? Well since lockdown I’ve been working from home balancing childcare like many. So although I have slightly less time we have been using the turbo a lot more to get some focused quality sessions in the bag. For me personally I don’t feel comfortable going out on 4-5 hour big rides at the moment (we won’t go in to that), but I’ve been combining my ‘not far’ outdoor time with indoor top ups and the odd run as well to mix it up. So combined I can get a decent overall TSS in the bank without the guilt of riding miles from home. I’ve also topped up with a few micro missions with Rory to various local locations to get him out and about which is nice so long as you don’t under-clothe him and it gets cold (ooops). Those missions alongside regular chocolate intake and occasional beer zooms have helped keep our household sane.
Lee has been super adaptable to the week on week changes and having some structure to something has been a good consistent base to otherwise challenging times. Just having one less thing to think about at the moment is really welcome. I can imagine feeling extremely lost given the inevitable lack of focus otherwise .
The weather has been good when outdoors
I’ve had a chunk of time off the bike after hand surgery in February but some specific turbo sessions have helped build the fitness back up relatively quickly. So what better way to test it with a LONG session on the turbo. My mate Alan was doing a double virtual everest so I said I’d join him to support on the second half of his effort which happened to be overnight on a friday. I guessed at about 12-13 hours so finishing by breakfast the next day with Alan who was raising funds for Mind Charity.
middle of the night!
After some horrible news recently that a riding buddy of mine had been diagnosed with terminal cancer with only a few months to live, his mates had organised ‘le tour de fran’ involving loads of people clocking miles indoor and out over a weekend to raise funds to support his family in this difficult time. I therefore did the ride for Fran which spurred me on to tackle the inevitable pain cave not the friday night rave cave I would have preferred in years past!
Massive thanks to everyone who has donated if I haven’t sent you an individual message sorry I missed you.
So I rode non stop overnight to complete the challenge which after a busy day was quite tough! Plus I’m not exactly a mountain goat at the best of times. I made it unintentionally a bit harder by choosing a virtual mountain bike for the first few hours thinking it was the cool thing to do until I noticed I was putting out more watts for the comparative speed of others! So it’s fair to say I burned some matches early doors! I really didn’t know what I was doing in this virtual world and made a few errors to add to the agony.
It was a pretty gruelling mental and physical challenge but I just had in mind my buddy which encouraged me on. I was having to change hand position quite a lot which may have been in part to my still recovering post hand op. Even setting up a time trial type position with towels at one point! This was a hard effort and I was sweating A LOT going through pretty much every head band I own and changing tops regularly and applying lots of Squirt chamois cream.
On the downhill bits it was very odd being able to wander round the house at 3am whilst the virtual me rolled to the bottom of the hill to start it all again! It was surreal waiting for the kettle to boil hoping I wouldn’t miss the turnaround at the bottom of the hill. The virtuall cycling software Zwift shat itself after a few hours so I didn’t get the full effort in one go but ended up over 9000m of climbing in 14 hours on the bike. I recorded on my gps unit as a backup anyway.
Done! Look at the joy!
14 gels (1 caffeine), 3 bananas, 3 rice pudding, 13 litres torq energy drink, 4 cups of tea
13 hour 51 riding (including the descents), can’t be arsed to work out the actual exact everest time.
Average heart rate 148
Rory was quite confused when reappearing in the morning to see daddy still on his bike! I challenged Alan to race up the final climb and amazingly he had more beans in the tank than me due to his climbing goat skills! Big things to come from that boy watch this space!
So we’ve got many more weeks of lockdown before the baby is due where I’ll be chipping away at the fitness in hope that some events may be on again this year but at worst having some focus in at least one part of life is something I’d recommend. Hit up Transition Endurance Group for all your MTB, Road and Triathlon needs, they are very approachable and happy to have a chat about supporting you during this time.
For those of us who don’t have the luxury of being full time ‘athletes’ there are always going to be lots of barriers to overcome to even get to the start line of endurance bike races let alone actually do well in them. As life has become increasingly busy I wonder what I ever used to do with my time?! Bike racing is still an important thing for me but expectations have to be tempered with everything else going on with my time these days. In the last year I’ve probably learned to still enjoy racing but knowing that getting to the start line fit and healthy is the most important thing not necessarily how I actually do. I’ve had to be even more smart with my training time.
Play time/ training time
Always there to help!
Racing has always been a self satisfaction thing for me rather than chasing podiums. I’ve been lucky enough to stand on a couple but that’s not usually the greatest sense of achievement for me. It’s more about having done everything I could have before the event to race well and some of my ‘best’ performances I can remember are when I’ve not got anywhere near the podium.
So after some elongated period of illness over winter I’ve been working hard with Lee at Transition Cycle Coaching to re-focus and get some good solid training in.
Winter miles and smiles
I had entered Kielder 24 as an unusually early season goal for me after the exciting news that we’re going to be having another baby in the household in the summer (i.e. when all my usual races happen). I think the best training for racing is well, racing. So the Gorrick winter series was a good opportunity to get some short hard intensity endurance efforts in the bank during January. Race one was a bit of a shock to the system after new year especially after our boy Rory had gone on a running streak of 4.30am wakes ups the week before and topped off with a 5am wake up race morning. This did at least mean me getting out of the door on time and to the race venue early. Early enough to take a 20 minute power nap in the car park to recharge.
It was a super fun and dry course at Porridgepot Hill and the race went ok though I couldn’t quite hold on to the tails of the podium boys who were charging hard and battling for overall series points. I stayed consistent throughout though and finished 5th in senior males.
Goodbye my lover…
This was to be the last ride out on my custom build china Pro Mance frame (sad face). A couple of weeks later we were burgled and bikes taken. It made me realise how much time and effort goes in to a race bike in terms of researching frames, individual components, searching for weights of different top tube bags etc (yes I’m sad like that). So it’s not so much the financial loss but the hours that have gone in to getting the setup just right. Needless to say the garage now has fort knox fortification levels so someone’s going to have a hard and noisy time trying to get back in! In the same week the car broke down and we got defrauded for £950, you couldn’t write this stuff!
So scrambling around to beg, borrow and steal kit for upcoming races I’ve managed to get sorted and just in time to race the last of the Gorrick Winter series at Minley. Massive thanks to Ross at Taylored Cycles for all the last minute help getting things sorted and Ultimate USE/ Mudhugger for some bits and pieces.
My winning streak continued in the car park where I broke my racing shoe which meant a less than secure fit for the race! Just for good measure I threw myself off in to the shrubbery on the first lap trying to get past some slower starters. At that point I wondered whether or not I should bother getting back up!
Despite my head being all over the place with a hellish week I managed to hold it together and had a much stronger ride. I deployed some anger I think. I’ve been using Vittoria tyres for the last year and can report good findings as the Barzo’s gripped well in some slightly more slidey conditions. I was clinging on hard to Chris Nobles coat tails for longer in the race before having to sit back in to a more sustainable pace. I finished 5th senior again but much quicker pace overall. This by chance got me 5th overall in the series from just a couple of rounds so not a bad little smash and grab couple of prep races before Kielder. Thanks to the Gorrick team for putting on a couple of great courses and events, long may they continue.
Only anecdote for shite week is to go racing….
So now to Kielder Chiller 24 and we’re currently balls deep in prep week from hell. Mates Vince (UK MTB Epics) and the legendary Andy Howett have stepped in to help in the pits and Team JMC will have a strong presence up north. It’s where I began racing when I lived up there many years ago now so I’m familiar with the conditions and setup. I’m expecting the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in but compared to recent events all I’ve got to think about is riding my bike so it will be a welcome relief!
Counting up over the years it appears that somehow I’ve ridden at total of 13 24 hour races before this years UK champs at Fort William. Unbelievably I’ve managed to finish every one of those. 24 hour races are like jenga, things can fall apart very quickly! As everyone knows there are massive highs and lows associated with these things but I’ve been very lucky indeed to have had the chance to avoid major injury, mechanicals or total what the fuck am I doing syndrome preventing me from finishing. So sooner or later by the law of 24 hour racing averages I was probably overdue a DNF. So spoiler alert…. at the UK Champs this year I was a big fat DNF.
If you care to read on this is what happened…
Thanks to new coach Lee at Transition Cycle Coaching I’d managed to build a good recovery from some hospitalising illness in the summer to start to feel on point again before the UK Champs.
Family lurgy central
Given some time off the bike earlier this year with nerve damaged hand I was pretty pleased coming in thinking I could do alright.
Fortunately I managed to book our accommodation for the right weekend this time and the JMC pit row setup and pre race day prep was incredibly smooth. No panicking like normal. Long suffering pit bitch Rich had even gone to the effort of obtaining a driving licence to ferry himself north which further reduced logistical faff to a breeze with mate Dai commandeering a work van to load us in to for the long trip north. We made sure the apple pie was securely down properly this year…
The teamsheet was missing a couple of fast boys but there were still around 6 people more than capable of winning this thing. The gun went and those said people shot up off the hill with enthusiasm only matched by the fastest team riders. Young gun Kyle disappeared like a bolt perhaps temporarily forgetting he wasn’t on a hill climb race! The rest of us then more or less maneuvered for a couple of laps before gradually Max slowly pulled ahead in pursuit of Kyle. It was all fairly tight for the next few hours and I managed to settle in nice and quickly whilst finding time for the odd chat with the likes of Keith who would normally be up the road by this point smashing it out full blast. The usual pattern of yo-yoing with Michael was in full flow as well, all familiar territory. Pit stops were fast, legs were feeling very good and nutrition was on point. Darkness fell quickly and the night riding fun began. The new bike was lapping it up! The weather was a bit rainy occasionally but nothing that caused too much bother. Caffeine time was about the commence.
After about 10 hours I started to feel an ache in my right hand. The same one that had been subject to 7 months of hospital appointments for ulnar nerve damage earlier in the year. At first I was just hoping it was something in my head that might fade but compared with my left hand that was feeling absolutely fine it was definitely not feeling quite right. At this point I had a massive decision to make, carry on and hope it didn’t get any worse or stop and pull the plug at the risk of flaring up past injuries. Loads of questions were going through my head at this point and I didn’t say anything to the pit guys for a couple of laps, ‘is this just a weakened hand and normal from past injury, is this caused by a slightly sticky shifter, what would happen if I carried on, if it was the same thing how long would it take to recover if I carried on, how would I feel if I stopped, what would I feel like if I stopped but it turned out not to be the nerve damage just a weakened hand’. I think one motivation for not having DNF’d in 312 hours of 24 hours riding has been fear of letting down those who stand in some awful conditions handing up bottles to a one syllable grumpy zombie for hours on end. Also the lead up to these events are stressful and the recovery afterwards takes a lot out of family time. So in short stopping just because you don’t fancy it or without making sure you’ve done everything to carry on isn’t really an option.
The final decision to stop was based on that even if I continued I would have the horrible prospect in my head that with each hour I was perhaps damaging temporarily or even permanently my hand. So this just wouldn’t be a fun way to ride for another 12 hours. I felt really disappointed at this point. After a shower and chocolate feel better scoff fest as partly a way to distract myself from self pity and partly because I was still buzzing and full of energy I decided to help out fellow JMC riders and buddy Oli for as long as I could stay awake. As it turned out I really enjoyed doing this and it was a real insight from the other side of the tape. I clearly owe some pitting hours kudos to the cycling community so it was good to be of use at least.
Me pit bitching for once!
I did also have a little chance of revenge on the infamous painful course creator Barry of Cold Brew Events as he rolled in towards the latter stages asking whether he needed to do another lap to hold position. I quickly opened my phone and pretended to open the timing website to say with affirmation, yes you definitely do. Fair play he probably knew I was blagging but off he popped on his silly pain creating fully rigid singlespeed! I think that one might come back to bite me! Seeing others finish and missing out on that feeling of relief and joy was a bit hard but its only a bike race after all.
I’ll also take some positivity that I was feeling comfortable and running 4th on stopping and had ridden really consistently so had a good chance of cracking on to a decent result all things considered. #shouldawouldacudda etc
I nervously awaited any change in feeling in my hand around the nerve damage for the following week but nothing really appeared. Not sure if I’m relieved or more annoyed now that I might have been able to carry on. Hey ho, it was just perhaps just my turn to dnf.
The course was it’s usual banging goodness that No Fuss events put on although we didn’t get to go right to the top. My new full susser prepped by Taylored Cycles was definitely a massive bonus for the rough stuff as well making laps even more of a joy. So it was 12 hours of great riding either way. The biggest disappointment is not having another 12 hours of calories burnt to replace!
Thanks to my buddy Rich and JMC gang for all the support once again. Mega special mention to Budge who not only helped in the pits after riding for a long stretch himself but also loaded in all my gear and housed it for a week as I was flying directly off on holiday the next day! Mrs Budge even washed my gear, bloody amazing!
And as ever to all my sponsors this year for the mega support I get and especially Taylored Cycles for the bike prep support, they worked sweet as anything.
Unforuntately the sick note theme this year continued with a missed everesting attempt early December due to lurgy but mate Alan smashed it anyway to keep the Lap of My Mind baton lit in the darkest month of the year.
I’ve definitely got a 24 hour race left in my legs still so I’m booking in the Kielder Chiller 24 early 2020 to get back in the saddle.
It’s been a hectic few weeks that I hadn’t gotten round to sharing a couple of words about returning north to Kielder for the Deadwater 100. Also some thoughts on this weekends UK Champs…..
A return to the calendar of the Kielder 100 now in a slightly different format by Cold Brew Events was a good excuse to return to where mountain bike racing began for me. Some great memories from this part of the world as we stayed a couple of miles away from where we got married back in 2014.
I’ve been gradually getting back to fitness working towards the Uk 24 champs. 100 miles on a hilly route was another stepping stone towards that goal.
I rode in a group of six including a couple of JMCers for the first 25 miles or so before feeling like it was a bit too hot pace for where my fitness was at so I backed off and settled in to my own pace for the rest of the race. The mix of groomed trail centre stuff to essentially hacking through unbuilt and dense muddy jungle was somewhat interesting, I’m glad it wasn’t raining as I had a couple of silly tumbles in the murk even in relative dry. Rolling through the 50 mile mark at the start finish was a head screw having to set off for the same again (but slower). On the second lap I managed to add on a fair chunk of time with my head down missing a junction but this meant that I was probably the only one to ride 100 miles as my garmin said 100.4 whilst 98.6 seemed to be the non bonus route. The man in front towards the back end managed to keep there as I didn’t really have the desire to bury myself to catch him even if I could. The new bike worked well and good body and kit test for bigger goals to come.
Speaking of which this weekend is the Exposure Lights UK 24 Champs. Unbelievably looking back I’ve had a 1,2,3 finish at the last three UK Champs. Pretty lucky to have been able to attend those ones and we’re back at Fort Bill again where I won in 2016 in a memorable battle royale race. It marks a return for many of us to last year where the World’s saw some epically bad conditions. For me it was a really weird race with my head entirely elsewhere for the first 18 hours. The fog lifted and I managed to smash out a few laps towards the end and get in the top 10 overall. This year has been a bit of a funny one with some sick noting meaning I haven’t done as much as usual. This should keep the legs and enthusiasm fresh though and aboard a full susser I’m looking forward to the added comfort and enhanced fun/reduced pain on the descents. The forecast is ‘mixed’ and I’ve got a bit of a history of enjoying the shite conditions, I don’t seek them out but once in them I sort of just laugh to myself how ridiculous the whole thing is really. The adversity spurs me on I think somehow.
A strong JMC contingent are getting involved this year so expect a mass assault on a few of the podiums! It really does make for a great atmosphere when you have a great gang of people all together like that.
It looks like the start list contains a few familiar faces but also some newer ones with recent good results in endurance stuff so I predict a bit of a shake up from the usual suspects. I’m looking forward to what Brett Bellchambers labelled the ‘best 24 course he’s done’ as I seem to go well up there even when I’m not going so well like last year. I’ve got a bit of an incentive with a next day last minute holiday booked, shipping off to Croatia where I hear beer, ice cream and pizza are aplenty, watch out!
Post Lap of My Mind exertions has been a bit of a tricky time as far as riding/training. With some unnerving (ha) nerve damage in my hand I’ve been confined to light road duties and the turbo trainer. Apparently nerves are not something to just MTFU and crack on with business as usual. The roughness of the roads and the clinging on hard down Devon and Cornwall’s steepest roads are what did it and I foolishly didn’t think to move to the drops more when descending as my hydro road brakes are so powerful you normally don’t need to. Ah well lesson learned. I also got really ill after LOMM basically collapsing in a heap of exhaustion. A couple of bouts of child minder induced plague pass on haven’t helped matters enormously.
Lap of My Mind dicking around
This all at a time of year when I’d normally be just going out and doing no numbers riding on my mountain bikes so it’s been a bit of a bummer to say the least. I haven’t ridden off road now for two months. I’ve been in the NHS system and some private stuff as well to try and speed hand recovery alongside but it’s still unclear whether this is a months or years thing, terrifyingly it can be the later.
The household DIY has fared slightly better notwithstanding gammy hand limitations. Forays in to mass garden clearance with digger, late night plumbing and the biggest bitch of all stripping super glued on wall paper off whilst taking most of the lime plaster with it. Household repair works continue alongside my own recovery but we have fitted in a nice little week in the alps seeing friends and family, I even tried snow shoeing!
It’s normally the time of year to look at some goals which are pretty tricky to set right now. Coach Jon has asked me a few times ‘so what we training for’, as yet I don’t really know. I have a few things in mind based around family caravanning weekends and seeing mates but until my hand is sorted I don’t want to set my hopes up too high. Unusually these certainly won’t include the Euro or World 24 champs due to fear of crap courses/ cost accordingly.
The motivation is slowly coming back, it does take me some time. I’m not one of those 100% year round kind of riders and I’ve no idea how people can be arsed to drag themselves up to the near arctic circle to do ultra endurance events in the depths of winter, fair play to them.
So no goals set for yet, no point really. I’ve always been a bit yin and yang so maybe later in the year I’ll be back and rise from the reparation ashes!
Normally I like to get a good old bloggage out of my head and in to some sort of media form ASAP after an event. It’s sort of like a post race evaluation and head clearer for me. I’ve been holding off writing up this one for a while as I wasn’t quite sure how to play it. For those few readers out there you may have noticed a bit of a theme this year about hard times, hard luck blah blah etc. So I wondered whether or not to give this one the full shake down sob story. You’ll be glad to hear that I’m not going to go there in detail, sometimes I think it’s best to just focus on moving on and onwards upwards to 2019 I think.
I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a few WEMBO events since my first in 2014 where as a relative newby to 24 hour racing I managed to come away with a ‘world champion’ jersey. To date I think it’s still possibly my best performance ever as I was perhaps looking for top 30 say overall and hoping to challenge for the podium in the everyone gets a prize small age cat we have in WEMBO. I certainly didn’t expect to be coming home with a jersey or equally my best WEMBO performance to date until this year back at the same venue four years later.
No Fuss Events set the benchmark for endurance events and this year was no exception. Fraser, Spook and the rest of the team had really opened up this year to take on rider feedback and ideas to make this the best and toughest WEMBO to date. Simple things that seem to elude some other WEMBO events like having the course marked out properly, pits marked up and generally just being good race organisers, No Fuss seem to hit the nail on the head with the basics. This means they can focus on the harder stuff like safely getting hundreds of riders through 24 hours of the worst that Scottish conditions can throw at them.
I drove up with Dai Bowkett in a van he had conveniently borrowed from work via a stopover with friends for the night in Glasgow. It always amazes me no matter what size vehicle you take to these things you always fill them to the brim with mountains of crap. I had somehow managed to avoid the family lurgy that had been floating round for weeks so was pretty pleased to have even made it to the start line. We made good travel progress and were setup in decent time on site in the Team JMC heartland. We were truly blessed with a whole host of JMCers being around and not one but two mechanics available to sort any issues thanks to the guys at bikeshak! Also fellow racer Neil had kindly offered to form one half of my pit crew with long suffering mate Rich (who should know better by now what’s involved in these sorts of things at Fort William) for some reason agreeing to make the journey for the third time! They were standing in for family Sarah and now Rory who I felt (before they said no anyway) that an eight hour drive to Scotland with baby to then stand in the cold wasn’t the best use of family happiness credits.
Team JMC top bunch of supporers
The practice lap was a bit of an eye opener to what was to come. Having ridden here in 2014 I had vivid memories of how tough it was then but the course only went and got tougher for 2018. A new loop was added which meant some seriously steep kicks to finish riders off before probably the only flat bit on course, a lap of the pit straight.
Rich, Neil, bike, mud protection
Practice done, pit set up. Time to swing by and pick up Rich from the train station before a supermarket sweep and off to our accommodation for the night. I’d booked a little peaceful retreat in a quiet spot via airbnb. After an initial wrong turn involving traversing a sketchy bridge and a direction check with some slightly suspect looking foreign speaker residents we got to the accommodation. Whilst Rich and Dai unloaded the van i knocked on the door to be greeted with confused looks, “our guests for the night are already here”. Turns out this numpty had booked the wrong weekend. It was 6:30pm on a night you wanted to be stress free and we had nowhere to stay.
The arse end…
Thankfully modern technology enabled me to source, book and apple pay for a hotel in central Fort Bill with enough time to drive down the road to our new destination for the night. Needless to say Dai and Rich saw the funny side and proceeded to take the piss solidly for the rest of the evening as we carb loaded at a local pub after we couldn’t find the Italian that Dai was 100% certain was “just round this corner”.
We made it to bed at some sensible time which was a bit of a relief after a far from ideal start to proceedings. Making it up to the venue there were some nervous looking faces around as some fairly big weather was due to head in later on that day. Some chose to hideaway, others to chat nervously about what to wear. What was certain was that most people were scrambling around fitting full mudguards and if you weren’t, well you were very silly. Front and rear Mudhuggers for me, no messing about, 24 hours with grit rubbing in your arse, no thanks. Others followed suit.
The lineup this year most agreed was the strongest a 24 hour race has seen probably ever, in the world. I counted about 14 ‘elite’ male riders who were extremely strong and that was even before looking at those who had wedged themselves in to age group despite having results that would have placed them well in elite previously. To get in the top 20 overall here you were going to have to be going some. It was equally good to see a strong female field with a handful of riders in contention compared to the usual 2 or 3 outright favourites.
For me personally I had come in to this thing feeling somewhat nonchalont. I’d just had too much other stuff going on and had the aim just to survive and not muller myself before an overdue family holiday and a pretty hectic time at work that was scheduled the week following the event. I know everyone says that before a race not wanting to reveal their true aims but that was honestly it. I felt a bit guilty saying this having dragged two buddies up to the start line, they no doubt wanted to hear things like yeah I’m going to smash it etc, but I just wasn’t in the mood for that level of optimism. One thing I did have at Fort bill is a good track record, from 2013 I’d been on a podium there every year I’ve raced. This year #dadbod was going to find the climbing hard going and I don’t quite have the same descending advantage I might have had in years gone by. Daddy preservation mode kicks in a bit more these days, but I knew I could go as well as anyone on my day there.
A very slow walking man with those annoying pipes led us out from the start, so slow that we were doing track stands just to not overtake him. Those things must indeed suck all your lung capacity to blare out the terrible din. It was pretty amazing being around such world class riders and although we’re a pretty niche sport it’s a cool feeling to be mixing it up with the best in the world at any sport.
Man carrying bags, walking slowly
The first lap was a bit chaotic as our travelling friends from around the world struggled with the slippery conditions in places meaning dodging fallen bodies left right and center. At some points later in the race it looked like landmines had been placed amongst the rocks and roots with riders scattered all over the place. It was getting hard to just hang on to the bars at times with the rough carnage that the mountain offered up lap after lap. Some special lower arm exercises helped there though as I felt pretty strong all the way through even on a hardtail.
Immediately I sort of felt a bit hollow, not like my aerobic capacity was lacking or my legs were aching, my pre race feelings were indeed being played out and I really just didn’t want to be there. A pretty big off soon followed a couple of hours in, twisted bars, blood from a few places etc and at that point I really just thought “I can’t be arsed with this”. I then spent pretty much the next 18 hours in the biggest in race battle I’ve ever fought, not with my competitors, but with my own head. To be honest the only thing that kept me going was guilt, guilt of having dragged a couple of mates all the way to Scotland to stand in the now pissing cold and rain for me and that I’d taken the best part of £600 out of the family finances to ride round in circles then have the audacity to be able miserable about it, what a twat. It can’t have been particularly fun for Rich and Neil hearing me lap after lap not really saying much other than looking grumpy, particularly as the relatively clement weather during the earlier part of the race turned in to proper windy mucky stuff overnight.
Head somewhere else, leaking knee
As the wind and rain drove against my face at the top of the course in the darkest middle of the night I like many thought “what am I doing here?” But, having done a few of these things now I have gotten to know my own mind pretty well. I can recognise a bit what’s going on and accept, rationalise and move on. The moving on bit is the challenge but knowing that you will at some point gives you hope. I was still going though and the course was getting mighty quiet.
Fortunately bikes and equipment were all on point thanks to last minute prepping by Taylored Cycles. A fairly risky decision to try out some new Vitoria tyres paid off as there was no hint of a dreaded puncture all the way through.
Rich and Neil doing a sterling job of keeping me going
I hadn’t asked for any info on position from my pit crew as I assumed (correctly) I was doing a bit shit. However, I was still doing and it became increasingly evident that others weren’t any more as I saw gazebo’s being packed up in the night. If I could just force myself to keep going then who knows what will be left of the now decimated field come daylight. I focused on keeping fed and warm as those were the things I knew would be cutting short people’s race. I haven’t changed clothes as much as this in many years with some laps requiring a completely fresh waterproof after an hour of riding as it became completely saturated. Fresh glove changes and headwear were also way more regular than normally just to keep everything ticking over. I even deviated away from my normally strict eating regime to experiment with a bacon sandwich to boost morale which did help a bit.
Not a bacon buttie but a bike swap and Torq bar in the space of seconds
Riders out on course as ever were encouraging each other along, something I note a lot more amongst the English speakers as you don’t seem to get much out of the more serious faced continental bunch. I tried to keep talking to other people as I know that’s something that as stoked freeriders would say they ‘feed off’ but I do and it helped me keep going. As always the pit crew supporters gave great cheers all the way through even from competing pits. Hearing your name being shouted at 3am is a great boost I can tell you.
24 hours is a long time to have a lot of thoughts and I also forget most of what has happened but usually there are pivotal moments in these things that always stick out. Whilst having a piss at the side of the pit gazebo sometime when daylight was just around the corner I at last uttered the words to Rich, “go on then tell me where I am”. 13th Elite and somewhere in the 20’s overall. Blimey I thought that’s not quite as far back as I thought, what the hell had everyone else been up to whilst I’d been effectively limited to soft pedaling by my lack of head game. The 18 hour cloud lifted and I think I said something along the lines of “oh bollocks I better put some effort in then, I need drugs (for my back which was killing at that stage) and caffeine, lots of caffeine). As the cloud lifted my head allowed my legs to do what coach Jon knew was in there when his pre-race pep talk told me “you have the fitness” he also knew that this one would be about my head game which up until this point had, as expected, had been somewhat lacking. I won’t say what other advice Jon gave me as that’s for me and him but it’s amazing how some things come through when you most need them. “Right let’s get on with it, stop messing about”, I thought (at last).
Remembering it’s only just riding bikes after all
Fortunately, due to lots of messing about in the preceding hours as a result I had a lot left in the tank so proceeded to unload this in the last few hours. It would be interesting to see a line with a track of progress overall as I went from nowhere to 10th overall in the space of a few hours (the drugs were just ibuprofen I promise). I was overtaking a lot of people, unlapping myself, lapping others and catching people. I had no idea who was who but it felt good. Young Carwyn came up behind me to what I had assumed was him lapping me but coming through the pits I was told he was just behind me. Sod it, might as well try and drop the hammer and try and drop him. To my surprise I didn’t see him again as I had expected from a speedy xc fast finisher. So it was fun catching people, apart from when I caught my buddy and fellow Team JMC rider Jason on the second to last lap, he looked like absolute death and I did pause briefly to offer some words along the lines “oh bloody hell get yourself warm mate” to which he thankfully did minutes later in the car with whisky I’m told. Such was my progress that 24 hour flyer Max Suttie was sent out for a safety lap from 5th elite rider in case I continued at my current rate of progress and caught him (sorry pal). So yes that meant I was unbelievably up to 6th Elite and 10th overall which I’m not quite sure I believed until checking the actual results at the end for myself.
Rolling over the line I was pretty happy and smiled at long last. I’m still a bit in disbelief. I’m not sure whether I should be happy with 6th Elite or frustrated that I hadn’t had the focus needed to train and race hard from mid summer this year. The following week at work my project hosted an EU commission visit so looking rather unwell all week wasn’t the best impression! I inevitably succumbed to the family plague so have been a bit ropey ever since.
It’s been a year when I was pretty ready to become a mid-pack rider if Rory had turned out to be a sleep depriver but thankfully he’s been golden for the most part. I could have trained harder this year but quite simply I haven’t wanted to. I need to spend some time thinking now about next year and if I give 24 hour racing a wee sabbatical. The world champs are in the depths Brazil so I can’t imagine being able to get to that whilst the European champs are in Portugal. Nothing from the past three euro champs inspires me with confidence of a good course and well organised event that I would want to justify the cash to go to despite of course wanting these events to be successful.
Massive thanks as ever to my supporters and sponsors Taylored Cycles, USE/Exposure, FUNN, Granite Design, ESI Grips, E3coach, Torq, Team JMC.
On to the end of the year now where I’ve been helping to organise the Lap of My Mind event where I’ll be doing the last leg covering about 440 miles and 10,000 meters of climbing in 48 hours on the darkest day of the year all for charities Mind and Calm and in support of Mind Over Mountain world cycle height record attempt.
For now though it’s time to clear my head and have a bloody good rest on holiday with my besties.