When is a race not a race? When you don’t want to think of it because it freaks you out so you keep calling it a training ride. That’s when.
It’s fair to say I wasn’t particularly comfortable with the idea of my first race of the year being a 12hour solo. But that is how it worked out. Sure I could have raced some XC races, I could maybe have done a marathon race or two, but the simple point is – I didn’t. I haven’t really wanted to race since WEMBO and on Friday before heading down to Bristol it is safe to say I was bricking myself.
The past few weeks have been good. Training was going well, I was riding strong on all my local trails up and down. The problem was the lack of a race bike. My Spearfish broke a few months ago and the rear swingarm was getting sorted out by warranty – no problems there, it was just taking a while. Two weeks before the race I got the new frame and shock back from Keep Pedalling and built it up. Not a huge time to get used to a bike again, but it was what it was. A few short bedding in rides and one longer 6hour ride and that was that. It’d have to do.
After leaving Manchester with the packed Berlingo the drive down was less than awesome. Rain, torrents of it, the whole way down. We managed to get a 30min window of dry weather and get the tent up when we arrived before retiring to the Surly tent with the guys from Ison Distribution and Shona and Rich. A beer, some chatting, some excellent rum, before heading off to bed with an early start.
It rained all night. Pauline slept like a log. I mostly dozed and fretted. Not a great start, but in some ways, good training for racing while sleep deprived I suppose. 7.30am I got up, pushed some food at my face and got the bike sorted. It was raining still. We had a brief spell of dry before the Le Mans run at the start to our bikes, with the inevitable crashes on the road into the first piece of trail.
The first lap was a bit of a blur – trees, slippy rocks, mud, puddles and the pains in my chest from working hard on a trail I’d never ridden before. I was starting to notice that the riders around me, the front runners, were not that smooth on the technical sections and I was braking a lot, wasting speed. Looks like a winter working on my tech riding has helped. I was keeping pace over all the terrain and had zero issues with the course technically, despite running summer tyres on a course that was definitely going to deteriorate with the amount of water that was dumping from the sky.
The first few laps passed without incident as I worked my way round the groups began to thin out and I realised that I was somewhere near the sharper end of the field. Four hours or so in I started to think a bit more about asking where I was. After another lap I asked, found out I was in second and wandered out again wondering how that’d happened. Six ish hours in and a rider comes past with a number plate in my group, RAF kit, looking strong. I try to go with him, realise quickly it’s not possible. My legs were already on fire and as I hit the pits calling for caffeine and ibuprofen for my now aching Achilles I had an idea that I may have lost second place – turned out I had but I was pretty solid on third if I kept moving well.
The next few hours were just about that, managing my deteriorating body. I’d gone out hard on purpose to see what was in my tank. I didn’t intend to end up in the top three, but no way was I going to lose it. Not unless I binned myself into a tree. So I worked, rode the trail, stayed safe and managed the gap back to fourth at a nice gap. With ten and a half hours gone we knew I’d two laps left to do so I agreed that backing off, going into safety mode was they way forward. I had a margin, I could afford to.
Eleven hours forty minutes after I started I was done. Third place in the Mens Solo 12 category, a sore arse and a a bike that was utterly destroyed with the mud. Beer me then put me to bed, I’m done for a while. And no, I don’t want another caffeine gel.