Monday, 9 April 2012

24 Hours Of Exposure

24 hours is a long time. Think of all those things you can achieve in that time.  In that time most of us will achieve very little but work, eat, watch TV and sleep. For Easter Weekend, I raced in the UK and European 24hr Solo MTB Championships. This is my story.


I was cold, in pain.  Curled up in a ball in my tent, huddled in my duvet the race going on all around me.  The shouts from the pits as riders pulled up to get their food echoed around me.  My eyes heavy from tiredness, I lay their on my own, lonely and in turmoil.  My race all but over.  It was only midnight


The start of the 12 and 24 hour race takes place in the small Scottish village of Newcastleton. Up to 170 riders massed in the square to sign on and line up ready to race.  I choose to be at the back, to avoid the race rush of the 12 hour racers but stick with my plan of just taking it easy and ride consistently around the course. I was not going to be in contention of winning, I just wanted to finish mid table and above all not finish last. I was cold, I'd been cold since the day before.  The night in a tent hadn't been the best experience as I shivered through the night fighting off the cold and damp.  We all totted out of the the town led at the front by a lone bagpiper cheered on by many of the locals who came to send us off.  As the bagpiper reeled off the pace increased and we were away!  We followed the road up to the forest to start the race properly an obvious gap already forming between the Elite riders.

The course itself was a tough one.  12 miles in length and 550 metres (1800ft) of climbing per lap.  The first third of the lap was perhaps the worst.  The climbs here were steep and even the single track sections seemed testing and without flow, as they rolled down and climbed steeply up again.  The rest of the course contained some great single track descents that were fast but not technical, swooping berms, drops, bridges and loose stone.  Two very long climbs split this part of the course climbs that twisted up into the trees seemingly without end but remained consistent and allowed for a steady rhythm.  The last part was an energy sapping grassy, sticky incline followed by a bumpy decent before finally heading into the pit area.

My first two laps went well, I seemed to chat with quite a few riders who were also out there to just complete the race.  It was all very friendly and more like just going out for a ride with your mates than going for a race.  As the race went on and the riders spread out along the course this became less common and started to become more a personal battle with yourself.

First lap done and into my pit area.  My pit only included my tent which I'd left open so I could get easy access to me pre set drinks bottles, food and gels.  Where as most pit areas had helpers mine was empty, this was going to be a pure solo effort. It had taken 1h 35 minutes.  Five minutes outside my desired lap time

Second lap nearly 20 miles in and the first of my pains started to show.  My lower back was feeling the strain from the climbs, this wasn't a great feeling with the prospect of another 21 or so hours to go.  My pace wasn't dropping though and I came over the line hitting 1h 30 minutes.

The next two laps and my pace dropped of a little but my body was starting to feel battered by the course.  My back pain had eased but my arms, particularly my triceps hurt on the bumpy and twisty singletrack descents and my knees felt like they would explode on some of the climbs.  These pains would come and go through out the race, never all at once but enough to remind me that I was giving my body a hard time.  More painful was my right wrist which would twinge with shooting pain as I tried to use my brakes.  Not handy, and made the single track sections that should have been fun a grim affair.

Although, the course was full of friendly racers and there were people and marshals cheering you on as you went round, returning to an empty pit was a sad affair.  I had no one to tell of my discomforts or share my experiences with.  Completing my fifth lap I was feeling tired having only done 60miles.  I took a little time out to prep my drinks and food for the next two laps and stretch my legs and take on some food.  As I crossed over the timing gate to start my sixth lap the commentator announced my position as being 39th.  I remember feeling a tinge of disappointment at this stage, I was a long way off my goal of being in the middle of the pack, but I was still not last.  Still it was now properly dark and I was now on my first true night lap.  This I hoped would make the racing feel different and raise my spirits as night racing is quite fun.  It worked in part, my bright lights worked well in picking out the lines ahead. I wasn't quick and my lap times had seriously slowed.

By the time I got to the top of the second long climb I stopped to drink (I'd done this a few times as getting my bottle out of its cage send a twinge of pain through my right elbow.)  As I stood there I was hit by an overwhelming sense of tiredness.  I started to feel dizzy, I couldn't focus and felt unwell.  I stood there for what felt like an age, coldness taking a hold of me.  I had to get moving again to keep warm but as I rode I struggled to keep my line, nearly crashing out a few times, unable to brake properly was not helping in me picking good lines.

As I got to the off the bike in the pits, I could barely stand or walk in a straight line.  I wondered around delirious unsure of what to do.  I ate some more food but just couldn't stomach much, I got changed into some fresh warmer clothes, but it was no good.  I was done for, and as I lay there in my tent my race was over.  I lay there fighting with the sense of wanting to race on knowing I had so many supporters at home but loosing my self with despair, pain and the urge to just sleep.

I woke up after three hours sleep.  It was now 3:00am.  I lay there warm and snug, it was quieter outside now with only the 24 hour races going around still.  It took every ounce of strength and will to get out of my bed, all my mental strength to force myself out of my tent and back onto my bike.  But I did. I'd come here to race and I'd be damned if I was going to spend it lying in a tent feeling sorry for myself. Even if it meant walking up all the climbs.  I promised myself one more lap, I'd dropped only one place and now lay in 40th position.  The lap was slow but as my legs eased up the climbing became easier, I'd learned that if i braked with my index finger only I got no pains in my hand and so once again started to enjoy the night riding in all its weirdness.

I went out another two times after that.  Each lap getting faster, pains still coming and going but I was now smiling, occasionally singing to myself, I laughed at myself for what I was doing.  I was still there hanging on.  My last lap was my ninth and I was going great, climbing and racing at speed equal to the start of the race.  I felt I was getting stronger with every mile and pushed deep on the climbs and blitzed the descents, as I got to the finish line there was another 1hour and half to go, but I knew I couldn't do another lap in that time.  (any laps over 24 hours aren't counted).  I confess to crying once I got over the line.  Tears steamed down my face, and I buried my face in my hands slumped over the bike.  I was so proud of what I'd done.  I'd over come my daemons and despite myself had fought on where at one point I'd all but given up.  That was hard, really hard when I had no no one to push me on.  But there I was at the finish, tearfully happy.

I came 37th out of 49.  I had ridden 108 miles and climbed 4950m (16,200ft).

Looking back, if I'd had spent a half hour less in the pits then I could have gone out one last lap which would have put me in 31st.  But what I achieved for a first time purely on my own was something I won't ever forget, and something I can feel proud to have done.



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9 Comments:

Jez, I'll I can say is WOW! I comend you for sticking with it and fighting to the finish. I too think you would have done better if you had friends helping you out in the pits. If you ever decide to try a 24 hour race again, you'll at least know what to expect. My hat off to you sir, for a doing such a great ride.

Thanks Paul. I don't know yet if that'll be my only one, but I can at least put it down to experience.

Tell you what though. I seriously ache today. Stairs really hurt!

Wow - truly impressive! I can't imagine the mental and physical effort you must have put in over those 24 hours - it really is something you can always be proud of - congratulations!

Thank you! Can't imagine I've tempted you but it is something to be tried!

I love every bit of this! I think you did amazingly! You really should be very proud of yourself. I hope you sprung for the jersey! ;)

Thanks C.G, I really am proud. Don't know what to do with myself now. This has occupied my mind for five months, so its a case of now what? Think I'll just back to riding my bike for the fun of it for a bit.

Good Job Jez. I did a 12 hr race with a partner and it was brutal. Can't even going at it alone for 24 hrs.

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