Alex Hutchinson’s book ‘Endure’ contains a harrowing story about a woman and child who were dragged out to sea from a beach swim and the mother treaded water for an unimaginable period of time before surfers eventually spotted them. On hoisting the child on to the surf board, the surfers turned around to find that the mother had slipped into the dark never to be seen again.
23 hours into the UK 24 hour champs I felt I could equally let go. Job having been done and the head told the body it could stop. Clearly a massive relational over dramatisation! But you know this might be my last blog in a while so I’ve gone BIG. However Alex’s book and lots of other content I’ve absorbed and feats I’ve personally witnessed in the last year brought me to that moment. It’s incredible what our minds can tell our bodies to do but once it knows it’s over the finish line the parachute comes out of the back and things grind to a halt aka me slumping round my last lap of many which earned me a 4th place overall at Newnham Park.
As you may have noticed this last year like for many has been a tough one. Increasingly I’ve had to be inventive to keep riding and enjoying the training. The goal of the UK 24 hour champs created a target to keep digging in for. In the years now I’ve been riding to a plan I’ve never had to have as much motivation as recently. A couple of weeks on I’m wondering how the hell I managed it to be honest.
I might have previously been doing a lot more training and riding than I do now but that’s an absolute piece of piss when you can just get home to a freshly made protein smoothie prepared by your newly wed then watch box sets all afternoon. This compared to instead being handed over two raging children for an afternoon of soft play sweaty hell when you just want to curl up in a ball on the sofa like the old times! I (hope) I’ve never allowed biking to come before family so the training hours have decreased as family has (rightly so) taken up more time plus trying to fit everything else a dilapidated house and being an unpaid labourer throws up. The biggest shock to the system has not been trying to fit everything in but being well enough and rested enough to do everything with some sort of quality. Child lurgy and lack of sleep I’ve found have become far bigger impacts on training/ racing performance than any amount of extra hours on the bike could compensate for. And that’s with having relatively good sleeping nippers!
All this said I’ve still enjoyed the racing and the training itself (even the 5am winter starts) but the frustrations have built up. More so I’ve come to the realisation of how much head space being focused in this way demands. So for example almost everything I do in one way or another relates back to how this impacts on training and racing. So always thinking about what I eat and associated guilt of doing it ‘wrong’. Now this might have been proportionate if I was in the territory of marginal gains but when you’re 5kg over what you would consider a past sensible race weight it kind of becomes disproportional to dedicate head space to these types of thoughts. Equally buying the carbon version of a tubeless repair tool because it’s 15g lighter than it’s cheaper counterpart, is well, in hindsight, ridiculous.
One final muse/rant before I get to the racing bit. Of the 4 out of 5 events that I’ve managed to squeeze in this year prior to 24/12 I’ve either been ill or had DNF mechanicals. This wouldn’t normally bother me as much but the final straw was driving 3.5 hours to sussex with family in tow for a 4 hour marathon race, the car breaking down on route, after 1 hour racing having a cataclysmic and expensive mechanical DNF to then have a £1k car repair bill and a whole weekend written off. So you might get where this is going…
About a month before 24/12 I made the decision that I just couldn’t hang on to this type of lifestyle any more. I didn’t want to, it had become too much. You can only get punched in the face so many times before you need a lie down for a while to recover. I’m going to be taking a lie down for a while now from training/ racing. ‘You’re being a bit dramatic’ Sarah would say, which I obviously am but you get the drift.
I was pretty concerned about making this decision just before my target goal event. I felt like it could affect me one way or another. Would I be likely to sack off the race really easily if it got tough as I would be thinking it was my last one for a while anyway so it doesn’t matter or could I get my head in to the space of having a sabbatical for a while but going out ‘on a high’? This made me think back to various books and podcasts I’ve listened to around sporting achievements and the power of the mind. Could I do what others have done before and go beyond just being bloody stubborn to bending my mind more powerfully? We all know some of the basics of this but going in to depth and applying this enlightenment was something I thought I could do to try and make sure I didn’t have a mindset DNF to add to the rest of the years woes.
I tried to tell myself I was up for the race and was ready to give it full gas etc but I honestly didn’t know if this was just something I was committed to or just what I thought I should be thinking or what other people expected me to say. One motivator in any of these events for me are they require commitment from friends and family. So not wanting to let anyone down as such through something I could avoid is important to me. It’s such a big ask of anyone to stand in a pit for you for 24 hours so I think it’s only fair that us riders give it everything we can. Vince of MTB Epics fame had stepped up to the pitting challenge this time after expressing an interest in bearing witness to the carnage of a 24 hour racing. We’d also done a few supported test rides around the Smoke Ring Challenge and Bristol to Liverpool and Vince is an organiser so I had faith!
So on to the racing…
Vince and I travelled down together and it was off to a good start as he had actually read my race briefing doc. I think he’s probably the first person to actually read through in full and even provided some comments/ questions, nice one. Bed and Breakfast was the accommodation choice for a good night sleep. I was feeling great after Sarah had taken the boys across to her mum’s a couple of days before meaning 3 lie ins pre race, 3 LIE INs!!!!
It wasn’t clear who was actually racing until we turned up on the start line as the organisers chose not to release a start list which seemed rather odd for a national championship. When I did get a chance to look at the start list it appeared that some people were in the wrong category, more on that later… I did pencil down about 7 riders who could potentially win this thing which was a decent turnout.
We had a good bunch of JMC riders pitting together which is always great for motivation and support so our setup was ideal. I felt good on the start line and although a bit nervous, strangely calm in a way as muscle memory came back. I get to ride my bike for 24 whole hours I told myself. A mass start with teams and shorter event riders always makes for a chaotic opening couple of laps but I settled in pretty quickly letting people go and focusing on my own pace. Bike was working well and pit hand ups were super slick. After a few hours I realised that I had gotten myself in to the magic mindset of just tapping out the laps and feeling really focused. This relaxed me even more as what I had managed to convince myself was going to happen, in fact was happening… That said I did have a few crashes early on which were of my own doing when I fitted a lighter pair of pedals that were really tricky to get your foot out of so when I’d normally occasionally dab on corners I ended up just going straight down instead!
One of which was right at the pits on a grassy switchback which was rather sore as I had only just fallen off on the exact same thigh half an hour before. I blocked it out though and carried on eventually getting Vince to change out my pedals for some heavier but working ones! This turned out to be my only bike swap the whole race. The course offered a few opportunities to put yourself on the ground as well and despite being a bit shorter than I’d normally like at just over 5 miles it was a good mix of singletrack trails to keep things interesting. Olympics course designed Paul Davis was on the case so we were lucky indeed. Fortunately the weather for once held out and was mostly pretty decent so roots weren’t polished up any more than necessary.
Incredibly things were going so smoothly that I didn’t actually stop at all through the pits for the entire first 12 hours of the race. The warm overnight temperature and the food going in well to fuel the consistent pace meant I wasn’t in need of much else other than handups. The squirt lube also meant no top up needed during this time which is pretty awesome given the damp ground conditions. Once I had put some dance anthems in to my ears and started to hit a bit of caffeine I was really feeling decent and enjoying the night time riding with the exposure lights leading the way as ever. Over time I was aware that a couple of the favourites had dropped out which if I’m honest spurred me on (sorry guys) and the ride time went really quickly as I became aware that people who I had previously pencilled as expecting to be well up the road weren’t actually that far ahead. Apart from the eventual winner Rich Penning that is who lapped most people relatively early on. I find in mind blowing how you get just get in to a zone and providing the food keeps going in, the legs keep turning.
Unfortunately the timing system was shocking with a google doc spreadsheet being offered up rather than the expected live timing system we have come to expect as standard now. Worse still the timing wasn’t updated for hours overnight for some unknown reason. This is a nightmare for pit crews and riders who put so much time, effort and expense to do these events to be let down in this way. Hopefully things can improve in future as there were lots of positives about this event in terms of course, trade area, winners jerseys etc. The timing issues didn’t however really affect me in the main as I was just cracking on doing my own race until the morning when I wanted to know where I was and no info was forthcoming. At this point you kind of really do want to be able to manage your effort to the end and knowing what you need to do helps somewhat. Eventually between asking other pit crews and guessing myself I had moved up from about 8th to 4th overall and holding 3rd comfortably in my age category. This was very unexpected as I knew I had been so limited time wise in my training compared to others. Whats more though I felt comfortable and consistent throughout which I put down entirely to my head just telling me this is what was going to happen. That said Lee at Transition must have done a bloody good job getting the most out of a half dead horse at times as although I wasn’t lightning fast I definitely had the aerobic engine to get through this which we had spent a lot of time working on. It was so good having all the trackside support many of whom were friends shouting for me which was an immense motivator.
I treated myself to a change of clothes mid morning after finding I was in a slot of having a decent gap in front and behind so the last few laps were about holding it together rather than chasing positions. I was already delighted with where I was so wanted to hold on to this without breaking. Usually I’d go for a heroic fast finish but no need this time.
After giving young gun Bill in his first 24, a kick up the arse to crack on and chase the rider in front of him I realised that I only had to do one more lap to hold position as it was a short 24 meaning you had to finish your last lap before the 24th hour. I had time for two but wouldn’t be riding for anything. At the moment of realisation that I was on my last lap the proof of the pudding that my head had held the whole performance together came to reality as literally someone put a pin in me and my head told my legs that’ll do. I crawled round the last lap satisfied but in the knowledge that once your head tells you you’re done that it’s all over. Fortunately I’d held on for 23 hours and in reality more like for the whole year before to get to this place and it was the culmination of that time not just in the event itself which was a massive relief. I’ve raced flat out in the last lap of many 24 hour races but how wrecked I felt after this one was right up there. I curled up in a ball back at the pits, body in tatters and mind too exhausted to hold a conversation for what felt like quite a while! I definitely left it all out there which is always the aim for me, results you just can’t control.
It had been quite the performance with some mega consistent laps and more so not a million miles away from the overall podium. One of the more pleasing stats is that I had stopped for a total of only 8 minutes the entire race, after a couple of on course sit downs and a change of clothes that’s got to be the lowest stoppages I’ve had. Thanks to Vince who took it upon himself to do shuttle runs up the exit to our pits to make sure everything was all gravy on many of the laps. Also to Lee Johnson for some assistance after his ride ended.
Shout out to Bil who went on to finish 5th and Eilish the female winner with a super strong ride, great mentality and some mad downhilling skills. Good to see some fresh interest in 24 hour racing.
The end and prize presentations were marred somewhat by the earlier mentioned category misplacements, meaning I wasn’t called to the age cat podium as Rich Penning had been put in our category despite being a vet (and he told organisers at registration as well). More woes were had by others like Rich Long who won our age cat but wasn’t given a jersey at first as Rich P was put on top of ours. This also meant that the vets podium was messed up with Rich P supposed to have won that category and the overall. Really gutting to see this at a national event and so easily sorted. Hopefully we might see some sort of riders association to help sort this sort of thing out in the future to guarantee the quality that riders, friends and family deserve. Anyway as one not to keep my mouth shut I helped facilitate sorting at least some of these issues out on site and we took it upon ourselves to re-do our own age cat podium. The results weren’t updated until the following day leaving people thinking they had won their categories or indeed got on the podium when they hadn’t, ugh.
Obviously there’s so many people to thank but for this one particularly Vince and Team JMC gang but most of all Sarah for giving me some much needed free time around the event. But also really effectively allowing me to swallow up all our household free time with selfish pursuits and being dragged around the place handing up bottles. Time for at least a little bit of payback now as spend some free time helping her new business venture Little British Flower Co. ~~cough plug~~ British only grown flowers so perhaps my attempts at environmentalism have paid off (another reason for not doing as many far flung events). Likewise more environmental changes are happening after we went veggie earlier this year, this was a mega change for a massive carbon intensive meat guzzling animal I once was but one I feel utterly embarrassed not to have made sooner.
So now I’m going to take a sabbatical, I’m not going to hold myself to a list of must do’s or must nots. The only thing for certain in the short term is not riding to any set plan to free up some head space. I must admit to feeling a little bit lost and have surprised myself how much of a cliff I’ve dropped off ride time wise. Probably not helped by having nerve damage in my hands again, ugh. That said I’ve got lots of amazing things to be able to apply my energies to but after lots of days off the bike following the race one thing is for sure I definitely still need the endorphins in my veins!
Total time 23hr 15
Moving time 23hr 7
Average HR 147bpm
Power (no idea I’ve broken them all)
Distance 210 miles
CIAO FOR NOW