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I’ve never really set the world alight at any of the previous 24 or 12 Hours of Exposure races – I’ve been there-or-thereabouts in the top few but I’ve never reached the podium. Various reasons – but mainly because it’s a bloody fast race where the field is normally stacked with talent and there’s normally only a very limited number of steps on a podium….
That didn’t seem to prevent me from being ‘gridded’ again this year. Its always nice to start right at the sharp end .
I was taking up a fair amount of room on the front row aboard the Surly Moonlander – one of just four fat bikes in the 12 hour race. My plan, if you read my previous blog post, was to finish reasonably high up but realistically I wasn’t going to be breathing down the necks of the usual podium botherers. A fatbike category win (yes, a fatbike category at our national championships, folks) and a top ten overall place would be good, I decided. There aren’t enough fat bikes in the race to make it a proper scrap, so I’d have to turn my attention to everyone else.
Whatever happens, the plan was to have a good laugh, admittedly look a bit weird but do a nice job of things.
In the minutes before the start, several confused and sometimes pitying glances were thrown in my direction. One or two semi-sarcastic “good luck with that” comments were uttered. Riding this thing for 12 hours looked like it was going to be a slow, arduous ordeal rather than “fast” or even “fun”.
I knew differently, of course. I knew that despite my bike weighing twice as much as those I was racing against (a lot of that mass in the wheels and tyres too so I was always going to lose out in a drag race), I knew that I wasn’t going to be terribly bothered about picking lines across root-infested singletrack and I could stay off the brakes for a long, long time on bumpy descents. I’d need to be throwing my bodyweight around a fair bit because the course was very twisty and narrow in places and I had no idea at all how the tyres were going to perform if the course became wet but I was looking forward to cracking on and seeing how fast I could go.
In time-honoured fashion the race got underway at a ridiculous speed. I was leading the entire race for all of 20 seconds when I started to be overtaken by what seemed like dozens of other riders while I patiently increased the speed of my rolling behemoth. You can see my GoPro “seatpost cam” footage of the start here (the battery in the camera soon ran out though)
It wasn’t long though before I started to catch people up again and within a couple of laps I’d moved back into a more favourable position.
I was loving it. The course was rapidly drying out following the rain of the previous evening and as my familiarity with the course increased, so did my confidence in the bike and more specifically, the benefits that the massive tyres were giving me.
Out of the saddle climbs on steep, loose surfaces were no problem at all. I was tearing up slopes while others had to sit and spin – my rear tyre providing insane amounts of traction. I was able to lean the bike over and corner more quickly than I imagined I would be able to and the amount of cushioning on offer was just phenomenal. Riding downhill was also silly-fast - once I’d got the hang of popping the front wheel up into the air to clear roots and small obstacles and I also started to ignore the brakes more and more, I was tearing downhill and started to record some quite startling lap times. It was almost too easy. I was invincible. I was squashing and crushing and annihilating my way up the field and nobody I went past was going to catch me…..
Cheers rang out as I rumbled through the pit lane, mostly having too much fun to bother stopping. I was actually looking forward to every new lap, knowing for certain that I’d probably be able to knock a few seconds off here and there for taking an even sillier line across some roots or by staying in the air for a bit longer on a bumpy downhill bit.
In actual fact the uphill bits were (somewhat inevitably) starting to get a bit painful after seven hours or so – the weight of the bike was starting to slow me down a little bit but who isn’t a bit sore after riding any bike like a nutter for 7 hours?
“Do you want to put on another layer of clothing?” asked Rachael when I finally came in to pit. “nah, I’m quite warm as I am, thanks” I replied and rode off, leaving my glasses on the table.
Within 2 minutes of starting that lap the heavens opened and pelted everyone with freezing-cold rain and hail. The temperature dropped by a few degrees and the course got very, very wet and slippery as my massive tyres threw gallons of water onto every inch of my body. A few minutes later, mud in both eyes, I stopped having fun and started shivering. The slipperiness of the course, especially the off-camber sections were showing me the limitations of my tyres – fatbike tyres are after all designed to ‘float’ rather than ‘cut through’ which meant that steering and riding forwards was occasionally a challenge - as a result I was having to get off the bike quite a bit so I was getting quite cold.
One slow lap later and a arrived back at the pit where I spent 20 minutes changing my clothes, pulling on waterproofs and shivering over a cup of something warm while the whole pit lane was a furious mass of riders getting changed, drinking warm beverages and helpers running around and digging in various bags of clothes. Dave and Phil separately arrived at the Team JMC pit, both of them in similar states of hypothermia as everyone else.
Suddenly this was a different race. I rode the for the next few hours maintaining my position but often pushing the bike across slippery mud. I knew that I was at this point the 3rd-placed veteran rider (and I was winning the fat bike category) but for how long? My lap times were almost double what they were and despite the deteriorating course conditions affecting everyone it was surely only a matter of time before I was caught by other riders on bikes more suited to mud….
Sure enough, on the final lap of the race, the vet in 4th place caught and overtook me. I recognised him as he took off and tried to increase the gap. Hurrah – a last-lap high-speed dogfight for the final podium position on a muddy course with a bloke on a bike that weighs a fraction of mine. Just what I needed. Ace!
To anyone watching, the next 20 minutes would have been hilarious. Both of us were riding out of our skins – one of us would crash and the other would wobble past until they crashed and then the other wobbled past…and so it continued until the final few hundred metres of the course that went along a gravel track, through the pit lane and into the start/finish area. Yep, the 3rd-place vets spot would be decided in a sprint.
As soon as we got to the gravel track we were off and immediately a gap appeared with me lagging behind slightly as I put as much power as I could through the cranks to get the Moonlander to accelerate. Gravel was spat from the rear wheel as I gradually started to gain on him, the rumble from my tyres getting louder and louder until the noise of heavy breathing was drowned out and I was back on his wheel. Halfway through the pit lane the speed increased again and I moved over and somehow managed to get past – only by a couple of bike lengths – before having to lean the bike over hard to the right into the start/finish….
I was terrified. I expected the front wheel to do precisely what it’s designed to do and float on top of the waterlogged grass and wash out immediately, dumping me out of the podium places in front of the gathered crowd. But it gripped. I made it around the bend and I crossed the line with about 5 seconds to spare.
You want your racing to be exhilarating, but that was ridiculous.
I’d aimed to win the fat bike category and finish as high up the ‘normal’ field as I could. As it turned out I’d ridden the Moonlander to not only the category win but also 3rd place vet and 6th place overall. So yeah, pretty chuffed with that.
(does this mean I’m the European and UK 12 Hour Fat Bike Champion?)
Thanks to Roy for talking the race organisers into having a fat bike category at their race, Judy at Beerbabe.co.uk for making the brilliant trophy, Rachael and Angela for keeping me fed and watered with a never-ending supply of Clif drinks and Shot Bloks and to Keep Pedalling in Manchester for loaning me perhaps the coolest bike I’ve ever ridden.
In other words, I properly enjoyed that
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It’s 12/24 Hours of Exposure this weekend. It’s moved from a trail centre in Scotland to a woodland park down near Reading, so I’m keeping my eye on the weather more than usual because if it rains it’s going to get muddy.
I’m in the 12 hour event again, I’m preparing for Mountain Mayhem in a few weeks so a 24 hour solo race right now would wipe me out a bit. All standard stuff. Done it loads of times before.
Apart from the fact that there’s a “fat bike” category in the 12 hour race this year, and I love a good long ride on a fat bike, me. So, I’ll be riding a Surly Moonlander, kindly lent to me by Rich and Shona at Keep Pedalling in Manchester.
I honestly wouldn’t contemplate riding for 12 hours straight on a steel framed, rigid bike with 4 inch tyres if it wasn’t such a massive load of fun. Ever since I rode Mountain Mayhem last year on the On-One prototype fat bike I’ve loved the idea of doing Big Stuff on them, so when the opportunity came to ride a 12 Hour race – the UK and European 12 Hour Championship in fact – on a shiny new Moonlander with purple rims, I jumped at it.
I’ve been riding it for the past week or so, making adjustments to it – wider bars, longer stem, carbon seatpost for saving weight and I’ve loved every ridiculously grippy, drifty, boingy minute of it. It’s fast too – the riding position, now I’ve made some adjustments, is fairly racy and the 45Nth Husker Du tyres are quick to accelerate. I’ve no idea yet if they’re any good in slippery mud, but hopefully there won’t be too much of that.
You need a bit more weight-shifting and “body English” to manoeuvre the bike at speed – it’s pretty heavy at “somewhere above 36 Ibs” – but it rides very light and doesn’t feel as heavy as it really is. If that makes sense.
Oh and it’s got one of the coolest paintjobs ever, called “Space”.
I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing not only how many other fat bikes there are to race against (I hope there’s at least a few) but also seeing if I can surprise a few people when they see how fast a fatty can go…
This isn’t the first time I’ve borrowed the Moonlander. A few weeks ago Warren and I took the bike up into the hills and around the back of some local satanic mills and took some photos that will appear on the front cover and as part of a feature in the next issue of Privateer Magazine.
You’ll soon be able to buy some of the artwork from Warren via hit Twisted Head Press website, if you fancy a picture of me on your wall. And why the hell wouldn’t you?
(yes, I was wearing a cowboy hat)
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I have to admit I was worried about the 3 Peaks. I knew that even though I’d put the running miles in during the past few weeks, the week before the event wasn’t ideal in that I’m in the middle of training for a 24 hour MTB race (well, two or three 24 hour races) and I’d justifiably spent a fair number of hours on the bike.
I kind of assumed (or hoped) that it’d be fine. It was going to have to be. It’s not as though I’d be trying to win the 3 Peaks or anything – nope, I’d start off steady and just get round. I’d also never run anything like 25-ish miles in one go before, let alone 25-ish miles that included three mountains, 1600 metres of climbing and some of the toughest terrain in the country, so I really didn’t know how I was going to do or what to expect. My bread-and-butter running is usually local woods stuff, about 10 miles at a time, quite a high pace and “hilly” rather than “mountainous”.
So yeah, I was a bit worried.
I lined up at the start with fellow worriers (Hi Jenn) and once we started up the long, first climb of the day along the familiar trail to the top of Pen Y Ghent, I realised just how far from the front I’d started. Very far back. Oh well, I was feeling ok so I upped my pace a bit and started to move up the field.
The climb to the summit of Pen Y Ghent went really well and I reached the checkpoint well ahead of my uneducated estimate. I was thinking “hey, this is so much easier without a bike on my shoulder”, inevitably comparing the experience so far with my five rides in the 3 Peaks Cyclocross race.
Once the descending started, I started to make some mistakes. Buoyed by the relative ease of the ascent, I started to bomb down the hill. I made it down in a few minutes and started the long undulating slog over towards Ribblehead and Whernside. The fast descent had battered my thighs and by the time I reached the Ribblehead checkpoint (where Dave was waiting, offering me a Clif gel like he could read my mind) I was already feeling some discomfort.
I pressed on and felt marginally better when climbing, in spite of the silly-steep wall of scree that had to be climbed to reach the summit of Whernside. It was when the terrain went downhill that the shenanigans started. My thighs were pretty ruined and I was finding it difficult to stay light on my feet – instead of hopping and skipping down the broken, steep and rocky hillside I was clump, clump, clumping my way down, every step making me wince as my legs grew stiffer and stiffer. I stopped and stretched.
The ascent of Ingleborough was ok, some of the pressure and impact removed from my now lactate-filled quads and I settled once again into a much-needed rhythm. I reached the top and instead of looking forward to the remaining six miles of descent to the finish line, I was dreading it.
It was torture. I should have stopped. But I didn’t. “two miles to go” said the marshal. I glanced at my watch and saw that I had 20 minutes to run this last bit before reaching 4 hours. I tried to lengthen my stride. Went past a couple of lads who were also suffering but I lost count of the number of other runners who were running past me. 40, maybe 50 others went past.
“just this last little climb lad, you can still do the 4 hour from here” said the marshal with about half a mile to go. It felt like 10 miles…nay, 100 miles. I could have stopped right there and given up, the pain in my legs was now almost unbearable. I put in one final effort and ran across the line in 3 hours 58 minutes.
I’d sort of aimed for anything less than 4 and a half hours, so I was well chuffed. I was in a world of pain though, my lack of experience at this distance and running in terrain such as that taught me a few lessons, but I’ll be back next year.
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I’m going to talk about my bottom. Sorry. If you’re a bit squeamish, I suggest you stop reading now, but if you want to know how I manage to ride for hour after hour, day after day without making my backside fall off, read on….
One of the things that can make or break a ride or cause someone to drop out of a long endurance cycling event is soreness “down there”. I’ve had pretty bad experiences over the past few years myself (including large pieces of skin falling off my arse in the shower after a 24 hour race) and I know others who have had equally horrendous things happen to their butt cheeks. If not worse. In fact I do know of a couple of people who have put their derrieres through much worse than I have and have suffered long time as a result. We’re not talking a bit of chafing here.
Over time, one’s bum gets used to sitting on a saddle for extended periods of time so the whole issue isn’t quite as prominent for me as it would be for someone who rides less or a beginner or whatever, but during a long ride the threat is always there so I always make sure I’ve slapped on a good dollop of cream. You know, a good handful right down my shorts.
There are loads of products on the market that can protect your buns from a battering. Some of them are cheap, some are expensive, some are minty, some pretend to smell like a mountain in the Alps, some work, some simply don’t. I’ve tried loads with varying results. You might not be surprised to hear that the most expensive ones aren’t always the most effective.
So I’m here to tell you that I smother my tush in Chamois Butt’r before I spend more than a couple of hours in the saddle. Of all the various products that I’ve used over the years, this is the one brand that lasts long enough and pretty much prevents any saddle soreness. There’s two varieties – regular and ‘Euro Style’, which basically means it’s minty fresh and packs a fresh breeze tingle on your posterior that’s sure to wake you up on a cold morning. Take it from me – this stuff will keep your rump happy for hours on end.
Compared with other brands it’s pretty good value but if you’re not convinced you can get ‘trial’ sizes for about a fiver.
(Just don’t ask if you can borrow mine, ok?)
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Phil’s been preparing for the Highland Trail race, a great big monster of a thing up in Scotland. I won’t be doing it, mainly because I’d get lost almost immediately and I’d need to live like a vagrant for a few days. Sleeping rough isn’t really my thing (which is why I bought a caravan to take to races as an upgrade to a tent) but seeing as Phil was going to try out his new fancy lightweight bivvy bag and sleeping bag, I agreed to go with him for a laugh.
I’ve not got any bike-mounted luggage apart from a small saddle bag to put a spare tube in, so while Phil had all of his kit neatly strapped to his bike, all my stuff – a ‘regular-and-not-very-light’ sleeping bag I bought from Winfields, a borrowed army-surplus bivvy bag, spare clothes, food, water, etc – had to be packed into a large rucksack with a large drybag strapped to it. It was heavy and stuck out a couple of feet so it moved around quite a bit if I didn’t tighten the straps but then if I did that the pack tried to sever my arms at the shoulders.
The plan was to ride from our house, take the numerous “behind the garages and up past B&Q” trails towards Rochdale, up through the council estate and meet up with the Mary Townley Loop. We’d ride along that for a couple of hours before heading south on the Pennine Bridleway and then camp out on Lantern Pike, a nice grassy hill near Hayfield. That’d be a few hours and 50-odd miles of very hilly offroad riding followed by a couple of hours’ kip and then we’d both set off home.
We set off around 8pm and while things early on were fine, the weight and lack of stability of my rucksack was soon becoming an annoyance. We rode on regardless and while the weather had been dry for a few days, the trails on the moors around Calderdale, Oldham and later on the Peak District still had quite a lot of melting snow on them, so at times progress was slow and/or very soggy. After 4 hours I was hitting the Ibuprofen to alleviate the pain in my lower back caused by the rucksack – by now I was considering slinging the damn thing over a wall and then riding home along the road….but if I did that and Phil was subsequently eaten by wild dogs I’d never forgive myself
Eventually we made it to Lantern Pike in the small hours of the morning and started to figure out how the hell to get ready for bed. I decided to just leave everything on and got into my bag(s) while wearing an insulated jacket and broke out the hip flask and a pair of Tesco Ultimate Pork Pies™.
I didn’t sleep. At all. I was constantly adjusting the bivvy bag so that I was either breathing in the cold air outside, or closing the flap and almost suffocating. Maybe I should have taken a snorkel.
In spite of the desperately uncomfortable luggage carrying and sleep deprivation and also putting to one side the obvious “Two 40-something lads sharing a brilliant mini-adventure like a pair of kids” side to it, morning arrived and with it came a realisation of why people do this. It’s not every day that the first thing you see is a magnificent sunrise over a dramatic Peak District landscape, after all.
Sleeping outdoors in the cold and damp in a glorified binbag suddenly made perfect sense and with some practice (and with more suitable kit) I reckon I could have another go at bivvying. Perhaps I’d even get a bit of sleep….
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I think I’m right in thinking that this winter (yes, the one that still seems to be hanging around) is one of the longest-ever. As someone that spends more time than most outdoors, the wait for the sunshine and nicer weather this time is starting to wear a bit thin – today is the 9th of April and this morning I had to run my fingers under warm water to warm them up after a relatively short training ride. Just like I was doing in November.
It also seems that up and down the country races have been cancelled because of massive snowdrifts or floods or whatever. My own debut into the world of marathon running was postponed because it snowed and to cap it all I’ve caught a cold. Twice.
The funny thing is, the Strathpuffer back in January was relatively snow-free. (Admittedly this is perhaps more funny to those that have some prior experience of the Strathpuffer and the Highlands in winter).
My motivation to get out and get into shape for the bumper summer schedule of 24 hour races and Big Stuff has been pretty low, so a well-timed holiday with my family was just the ticket. A week in Scotland – on the bit that sticks out into the Irish Sea just south of Stranraer – also coincided with a windy but beautifully bright and sunny spell of weather, so the change of scenery and conditions was a complete contrast to the murk of Manchester.
We had an action-packed few days – loads of sightseeing, playing on the beach, flying a kite, walking around a botanical garden (trying to pronounce the names of weird plants from South America) and properly getting away from it all, so I was unusually happy that my opportunities for doing long bike rides were limited.
I did however go for a few short-ish early morning rides and a long run and loved the fact that the roads were almost completely devoid of any traffic and were bursting at the seams with nice hills and eye-popping views.
Clearly the break was just what I needed as I’m now looking forward to getting stuck into training and big rides again (instead of having to force myself to do things like that) and I quite honestly can’t wait for the 3 Peaks Fell Race in a couple of weeks… even if it’s still cold and wintery…
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It’s years since I took part in a duathlon so when a friend of a friend mentioned a new event – the Derwent Duathlon – held at the famous Derwent Reservoir, I thought I’d make my multisport comeback…
Travelling over the Snake Pass in the car to the start of the race I was half-expecting the race to be cancelled due to snow, in fact when I saw the forecast I left the ‘fast’ road bike at home and opted to bring the sensible (and heavier) bike with full mudguards, but as we descended down the road things cleared up and the sun came out.
Stood on the line, near the front, I looked around at the crowd of experienced triathletes and wondered how far from the front I’d be after the first 7 kilometre run. As things turned out, by the time I got 2k down the road I was quite a long way back….
As usual, after 15 minutes or so of running I started to warm up a bit, felt a bit more comfortable and started to pick up the pace and lengthen my stride. I wasn’t overtaking anyone but the earlier slide backwards through the field of runners didn’t get any worse and I arrived at the transition area in 30-something’th place.
No problem I thought, I’ve got a bike to ride now for the next 18 miles. I tore off in pursuit of the riders in front of me along the narrow road by the side of the reservoir. It was an out-and-back route that had to be ridden twice and the terrain was somewhere in between “nicely undulating” and “a bit hilly”. So not too difficult to bomb along like a nutter.
I arrived back into transition a bit later on in 10th place, or thereabouts.
Now I had to bugger about with my shoes again, taking my helmet and gloves off, racking my bike….thinking about it, I might have lost a couple of places in transition. “Getting changed at high speed” isn’t something I’ve ever rehearsed.
The last leg was a 5k fell run.
To be perfectly honest I wasn’t expecting a full-on fell race to finish a duathlon. I thought it would be a relatively tame trail run in fact. Don’t know why. Anyway, I was wrong. Very wrong.
The final run headed out of transition, along the road for a little bit and then went BAM straight up the hill next to the dam. And I mean STRAIGHT UP.
I joined the line of tired people, pushing down on their thighs with their hands, towards the top of the fell where things levelled off a bit and I was able to stuff my lungs back down my throat.
Shortly afterwards the trail headed down. It was very rocky, loose and STEEP. Many other runners dropped back at this point so I took advantage of it and was only overtaken by one runner, his descending technique/insanity a bit better than mine.
I arrived at the finish line by the iconic Derwent Dam in 11th place (3rd in the 40-something category) and received a brilliant mug with a Lancaster Bomber on it.
What a great event! Hopefully the organisers will do it again next year.