24/12 at Newnham Park has an excellent reputation for it’s course, atmosphere and organisation, I can definitely add my plaudits.
We decided to head down from Bristol on the day of the race itself to maximise comfortable sleep and I was able to grab an extra hour in the car while Sarah did the driving. We didn’t need to worry about getting set up too long in advance as the boys at Exposure/USE had very kindly agreed to support me this weekend and to keep Sarah and the hound company.
The forecast was hot, super hot and even by mid morning it was baking. For someone who is only ever two colours, white or red, this was not good news despite the fine efforts of trackside water pistol wielding kids.
After finding myself on the front row of the start line thanks to an extremely professional looking bike hold from John from Exposure, I heard that there was a prize for the fastest first lap. Oh heck, that means I’m going to get swamped immediately but from the off the excellent course design kept congestion down to an absolute minimum and I was able to settle in pretty quickly.
The course was great, a long fireroad climb to start off but following that only short snappy climbs which although cramp inducing were made palatable by the excellent flowing singletrack that could be found throughout the course. Some of the descents were amazingly fast and fun, each lap I seemed to find a quicker line and never felt like I slowed up on these across the whole 24hours. Sections did get pretty chopped up with breaking bumps by the end but this just meant the game of found the smoothest line had an added incentive.
The air and my body temperature really started to ramp up around 4 hours in and thus began a bout of suffering like I’d never previously experience. Although I’m still not quite sure of the cause, a pretty grim stabbing pain developed in my stomach and spread up to my chest. This meant that I could only breathe in really short breaths, couldn’t really eat or drink much and every descent was agony. At around 5 hours I was incredibly close to throwing in the towel as not only was the pain becoming unbearable but as I wasn’t eating or drinking enough my body was going in to shut down. I had no idea what it was but I suspect it may have been some sort of trapped wind and/or heat stroke.
Not wanting to let down my excellent support crew I carried on for one more lap after one more lap, expecting at any point to totally bonk and have to call it a day. One of my main aims for this year was to loose some weight and I have spectacularly failed to do so to date but I think this meant that my body had more reserves to draw on when required. In short I managed to keep clawing myself round until the sun went down and at long last the pain eased enough for me to start eating again. A couple of stupid crashes also created pain in other areas that in some perverse way provided a distraction from the stomach/chest area woes.
You might have noticed I haven’t yet mentioned my race position. For the first 10 hours of the race I was being regularly updated but I wasn’t really listening/caring but instead just putting everything in to keeping going with the hope that if I could carry on I might be able to finish and possibly gain some places back overnight.
The turning point came at last with the first glorious caffeine gel and the donning of the mp3 player which both gave me a massive boost in different ways. At last I could actually start to focus on the race instead of self pity in my pain cave. Anyway enough of the self pity, I signed up to this!
I was consistently in the top 5 positions but was dropping some seriously inconsistent lap times but eventually settled down in to 2nd position behind Chris Noble who had lapped me by then. Chris’s lap times show some very consistent times which is what I would normally aim for but with nearly 10minutes between my fastest and slowest lap, I couldn’t match his efforts and was amazed to be in podium contention at all.
Despite my body not playing throughout, my bikes certainly weren’t holding me back and with MC Matt Carr doubling as bike prepping supremo with the Exposure boys, I was always on board fine fettled machines. Exposure had sorted me out with a nice lightweight race setup with the Toro combined with joystick providing ample brightness in a lightweight package. After the race they showed me their soon to emerge tech, touch anywhere on the back of the light to change the output setting, lush.
By first light I knew I was in with a chance of a podium and realistically I was happy to fight for 2nd with Chris showing no sign of slowing. Word came through that 3rd place was putting in a few quick laps but I had enough in the tank to respond and drop my lap times by 3-4 minutes each which seemed to have broken his resolve as the effort to bridge the gap didn’t come off.
As it turned out I had an earlier than expected finish as Tom in 3rd had realised that catching me wasn’t going to happen so I felt a massive relief when I heard those lovely words, ‘you don’t have to do another lap’.
Come the end I could barely walk, sit or do anything and was a bit of a mess in general (much more so than previous efforts at these things). I was however intrigued that I had somehow managed to tap in a very deep resilience to pain which was hopefully good mental strength building.
I can’t thank my pit crew enough for their support to keep me going, having at times 3 guys from Exposure running over to tend to me was a real bonus and as ever Sarah was there putting up with my snappy, mono-syllabic communications.
She even kindly managed to not fall asleep on the drive home 🙂
Thanks to M Steel Cycles and Exposure/USE for their continued and highly valued support.