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Deep down, I knew I’d made a big mistake. I didn’t dare tell anyone at first, fearing that I’d be ridiculed. But I knew they were upset. I’d first been told what to do on a school trip many, many years ago and I’d been reminded by locals on every trip to this island since.
But this time, I forgot to wave or say hello at the fairies at the Fairy Bridge on the Isle of Man. If you’re not familiar with the Manx superstition, you can read about it here, and I urge you to take heed. If you’re in anyway unconvinced, then this tale of woe will surely change your mind….
I was staying with friends in Port Erin, 15 or so miles from the start of the Manx100 race in Douglas. My plan was to arrive on Saturday afternoon, have my tea, go to bed and then ride to the start in the morning.
From the description of the route, it was clear that this was going to be no easy task – just over 100 offroad miles and somewhere around 16,000 feet of climbing awaited – so I made certain that I got to bed on time before a 4am start, some half-asleep shovelling of breakfast cereal and an easy ride to Douglas. On the way, I pretty much ignored the fairies until it was too late.
The start of the race was ok. I found myself in the leading group and while we were moving at a good pace it wasn’t unfriendly. Somewhere between 5 and 10 miles, on the first of many loose rock-strewn trails, the sidewall of my rear tyre split. I stuffed a gel wrapper and a tube in there and got going again, hands covered in tubeless sealant.
Once at the next section of road I had trouble getting the chain onto the large chainring. Four or five of the teeth were bent, presumably an impact with another rock. I spent a few minutes searching for a suitable rock and then beating the worst of the bent teeth off the chainring in the hope I’d be able to use it and get my average speed up. I’d dropped loads of places now but I was content to spend the next 90 miles trying to catch people up…
I caught up with Ian Leitch, who’d also had some rear wheel-related woe. We exchanged pleasantries and as I rode off down the hill, I got a puncture on a sharp rock.
I fixed the puncture.
I carried on and passed some riders who I’d already passed once before.
Some time later, I got a puncture on a sharp rock.
I fixed the puncture.
I carried on and passed some riders who I’d already passed twice before – “hello again” I said. Things were getting a bit awkward now.
Then I went the wrong way at Ballough and ended up far, far away down the road in Sulby. Checked the map, turned around and carried on.
Then I went the wrong way at Kirk Michael and ended up even further away this time. Checked the map, swore, turned around and carried on.
I passed some riders who I’d already passed thrice before. “Ermm. Hello. Me again.” I said, trying to get away as quickly as possible.
Then I got a puncture. My bike was spending more time upside down than it was the right way up.
Then I remembered the fairies and got all irrational, ignoring the fact that my rear tyre was the same rear tyre that I’d ridden Mayhem on. It was ideal for the grass and woodland of Gatcombe Park and I’d not had time to change it for something tougher so here I was, lacking finesse, smacking it into large, pointy Manx boulders and blaming the whole fiasco on some imaginary, mischievous little people. Idiot.
That last tube, as it turned out, already had a puncture. I muddled through for a bit and eventually it go so soft that a reasonably-small rock finished it off. So I started walking, sort of giggling.
A kind man gave me a tube. I was only a few miles from the checkpoint where the route split – there was a 100 kilometre version of the race so I’d decided to take that instead of trying to grind out 40-odd more miles without any more tubes and a 7pm ferry to catch. If I missed the ferry home I was in a world of grief so the decision to bail out was a very easy one indeed.
74 miles (I know! It’s not 100k is it?) and over 4000 metres of climbing later I arrived back in Douglas where the organisers had laid on pizzas and cake and it started to rain. The 100 mile winner arrived sometime later and some simple maths proved that I’d made the right call to bail out.
I caught the ferry home, trying not to worry about the shenanigans of those fairies…
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Regular readers of this blog will probably be a bit bored of me claiming that I’m not very good at short races. It’s not like I’ve got absolutely zero top-end (I’m learning how to get a bit faster) but I’m much more suited to the longer races.
That said, I do love a good fast-as-buggery, turn-your-lungs-inside-out thrash on a short lap. I love the fact that you don’t need to take a vanload of supplies, spares and people to even think about finishing the race – in fact it’s practically game over if you so much as get a puncture so there’s not even any point in taking a spare tube or a pump….just put the number board on the bike, climb aboard and get in the proverbial paincave. For an hour. AN HOUR! ALL DONE AND DUSTED! Brilliant.
I’ve done two short XC races last week, so probably 50% of my yearly quota of these things in 4 days.
The first one was a very local race – the Bolton round of the midweek XC races. I enjoyed this race last year and last week’s was no different. I think I might have had a similar result to last year but as a return to racing after a 24 hour solo and 2 or 3 weeks of eating The Wrong Things, 10th place wasn’t too bad. I was able to ride to the race and ride home again through the woods afterwards which was an added bonus.
The second of the two was the National Points race at Sherwood Pines, however the ‘proper’ races were all on Sunday. I was doing the Open (AKA the everyone welcome, run wot yer brung) race on the Saturday because:
1) I had a big ride planned on Sunday
2) You need a full (expensive) British Cycling race licence for the Sunday proper ‘points’ races and I’m a tightwad
3) All my mates are tightwads so they were all racing on Saturday too
4) We were going to Rachael’s 30th birthday party on Saturday night so it was going to be a late night
The race was harder than I was perhaps expecting. It would seem that there are more fast tightwads out there than I thought, but I managed to finish in second place, having ‘only’ crashed twice on the bone-dry but incredibly narrow and twisty course.
It rained before the Sunday races too, so another bullet dodged ;0)
photo: Mark Dawson
After a barbecue and some birthday cake (thanks Lee and Rachael!) and a few hours’ sleep in the local Premier Inn, me and Guy set off from Matlock, joined the Pennine Bridleway at its southernmost point and followed it north until we got to Rochdale, some 100 or so miles later.
After a sometimes-rainy, always-windy and quite often very tough and hilly 11 hours of offroad riding we dropped down to the mean streets of Rochdale and nipped down 15 miles of backstreets back to our house, arriving just as a roast chicken dinner emerged from the oven (thanks Deb).
To round things off, I continued my “special project” training last night and rode the recumbent again on the UCLAN track. This time though it rained. Hard. As new experiences go, it was one of the more unpleasant ones…
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One of the things that pushes me on in a 24 hour race is the thought of the extended recovery period that I’ll soon be enjoying. As a regular bloke in his 40s, depriving myself of pies, curry and beer for weeks on end before a big race is really quite a difficult thing to maintain so as the end of the race draws near my thoughts often turn to “the menu for the week ahead”.
Since Mayhem almost a couple of weeks ago, I’ve ridden my bike a bit, but I’ve been mostly taking it easy. I’ve eaten curries, pizzas and pastry. I’ve drank beer and brandy. I’ve eaten lots of chocolate and cake. Now though, it’s time for this period of almost-out-of-control eating to draw to a close as my shopping habits change back to the usual vegetables, fruit and stuff that won’t give me a heart attack within 3 months.
I also look forward to recovery as it’s a time when I make more of an effort to catch up with friends that I don’t see anywhere near often enough. Riding bikes with other people isn’t hard to organise or to do but when you’ve got a set of hill reps or some other kind of weird shit to do in the name of a training plan then it starts to get awkward and you look like a weirdo.
Combining riding bikes for a laugh, eating “wrong” food and drinking beer, therefore, is ideal. Which is what happened last weekend at Simon’s “real ale wobble”. Not to be confused with the inferior Welsh event of the same name where you ride with hundreds of complete strangers and drink beer, this one involves riding with a large group of mates and drink beer.
The route is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OFF-ROAD, OFFICER as the amount of ale consumed (I managed 7 pints but I’m nowhere near the lead with that particular stat) could be considered dangerous when you’re riding a mountain bike until 2am. With a bellyful of processed ham butties and pork scratchings from the final pub (that we entered without dismounting our bikes) that threatened to make a reappearance halfway up anything resembling a hill, I somehow managed to arrive home in one piece.
Right now I’m working off my excess lard that seems to have rapidly accumulated around my midriff, preparing for the hard training to come. Over the next few weeks I’ve got a couple of short XC races in the diary, the Manx 100, a couple of Very Big Rides and an attempt at a certain record that requires me to train on one of these (thanks to the lovely people at UCLAN for the use of their track). Back to riding on my own then….
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I’d sort of sleepwalked my way to the start line of this year’s Mountain Mayhem. This isn’t one of those “I did good even without training” bullshit claims but I have to say that I wasn’t 100% physically before the race; I’d done some training but not loads and no properly long training rides (a lack of time meant I was getting by on short, intense workouts). While I wasn’t ‘fat’ I wasn’t as lean as I’d normally be before one of these things so I tried to make up for my various actual and perceived shortcomings by spending the week before the race methodically preparing my bikes, lights, food and other equipment.
The Niner Air9 Carbon and the Santa Cruz Highball Carbon, kitted out with Mount Zoom kit, are the best bikes I’ve ever ridden, bar none, in any endurance or XC race and Exposure have sorted me out with enough lighting firepower to make the darkness of the night laps completely insignificant. I knew I had the right kit, I just needed to make sure I made the most of it.
I ate all the right things and got a good 10 hours sleep most nights in the preceding couple of weeks. I might have been setting a slightly less-than-perfect example when it came to training but I was avoiding making matters worse by avoiding any last-minute stress. Getting my head in the right place.
I also knew that with Deb, Angela, Wayne and the rest of the Team JMC extended family (we had two mixed teams racing and Dave was also in the solo category) that the level of support and encouragement I’d have available would be the very best any 24 hour racer could wish for.
The weather, unusually for Mountain Mayhem in recent times, was also going to be good. Sunny. Dry. Not muddy. Fantastic!
The weather was the defining factor of my race and not all of that turned out to be positive.
The start came and went as usual with its almost-chaotic run and frantic grabbing of bikes as everyone tries as hard as possible not to get caught up in the inevitable queues that build up at narrow or tricky parts of the course. Thankfully, this time, I got away cleanly and wasn’t held up.
Photo: Beerbiker Roy
I had to take it fairly steady as the sun was very hot and I was quite soon feeling quite wobbly. I don’t perform brilliantly in very warm conditions but I knew that as long as I didn’t push too hard and I remembered to drink plenty, I should be ok.
The lap was just short of 7 miles long and while the total ascent was a not-too-scary 300 metres, it all seemed to be in the final couple of miles. The last couple of climbs were particularly steep and in places quite slippery so I reckoned that the race would be won or lost in this small section of the course.
I knew I’d be up near the front somewhere after the first few laps, but I wasn’t completely certain and neither was Deb. Not that it mattered – there was hours and hours left yet. I kept drinking fluids and kept tapping out the laps, self-perpetuating feelings of satisfaction at ‘keeping things neat and tidy’ pushing me forward.
Around six hours in, I was told I was in second place but not too far from Richard Dunnett in 1st. I was told that I was gaining ground on him, slowly but surely. I figured I’d probably be able to go a bit faster once the sun set anyway and decided that taking the lead by midnight would be a good plan.
The sun set and I started to feel better – the course started to get slippery in places but the infernal heat soon disappeared. I eventually caught Richard at about 10pm, we exchanged pleasantries and off I went. Then, almost immediately, he caught me again. More effort needed. I had to try to build up a gap before the sun reappeared as I knew that once it did, it was going to start to batter me again and there was a chance that I’d slow down…or worse.
I think I managed to build up a gap of 37 minutes by the time the sun reappeared, which was about three-quarters of a lap. While the dawn always brings brief feelings of being energised after hours of riding in darkness, any optimism was soon vapourised by the ever-increasing and renewed intensity of the sun. Looking back, my lap times weren’t that badly affected in the sunlight, I just had to put more effort in to stay consistent and that in itself creates extra stress. I didn’t know for certain if I had enough in the tank to increase my effort for the remainder of the race but I knew I absolutely had to do something because Richard was going to be closing in if I slowed down.
25 laps ridden and I was still hours from the end. I started to do the maths and concluded that I could be caught if I had a mishap or a couple of ‘bad laps’. I know how positivity gives way to slight feelings of impending failure, leading to despair. I continued to resist the urge to stop and chat at the Team JMC pit and instead I accepted handed-up bottles from Deb without stopping (my estimate is that my total stopped time in the whole race must have only been 10 or so minutes). Ride positive, think positive. One leads to the other and negativity is kept to a minimum. I’m not going to be caught…ignore the pain until the end….do you want to win this or not? Of course you do. Get on with it.
The temperature continued to rise and with it, so did the effort needed just to maintain the same pace. I made sure I rode the whole lap, politely picking my way through exhausted riders pushing bikes up the steep climbs.
4 hours left…the gap was down to 19 minutes. This wasn’t an ideal situation and it’s debateable whether I actually had the upper hand at this point – even though 19 minutes is a significant lead the thought of having to ride faster after 20 hours of racing is somehow worse than actually doing it. I had to defend my lead though, but my perception was that it was getting smaller….
With 90 minutes or so of the race left, I started to regain my belief. I knew that a puncture or a snapped chain would be game over but hoped that all that bad luck would have been used up in Bristol a couple of weeks ago. My lead was about 14 minutes by this point and I seriously didn’t know if I could take any more of the intense heat of the sun. The hotter it got though, the harder I rode. By now I was covered from head to toe in a thick layer of brown dust. The last 3 laps were the ones that would empty the tank. Ride everything. Big ring as much as you can. I was having this. I knew Richard would be thinking the same.
I stopped at the end of my 33rd and final lap at the top of the last climb, knowing that if Richard didn’t appear in 5 or 6 minutes, I could cruise to the finish line with the win.
Photo: Lee Eaton
To say that I’m chuffed about winning Mountain Mayhem would be one of my biggest-ever understatements, especially after being chased, Benny Hill-style all the way to the end by a very strong and consistent Richard Dunnett. To receive my winner’s trophy from Princess Anne herself really was the icing on the cake (I’m no royal fan or owt but BLIMMIN’ PRINCESS ANNE for crying out loud!).
Royal Photo Correspondent: Wayne
The victory though, wasn’t just down to me. It was down to the army of people who look after me, put up with me and give me things to make this happen. Not that massive long list again – you know who you are ;)
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“Goin’ on up to the spirit in the sky (spirrritinthskiiieeee)….what’s where I wanna go when I die (whennIdieee)….”
Grr. I’ve always hated that bloody Doctor and the Medics thing. They were playing at an 80s music festival at the other end of Ashton Court estate while the Bristol Bikefest was on. I could hear The Doctor and his by-now-presumably-very-old medics belting out their one and only hit while I was trying to mend my snapped chain, halfway around a lap in the 12 hour pairs race.
Dave and I had been going well after a pretty slow first lap which followed my chaotic start in a melee of bodies and bicycles, which followed a Le-Mans-style run up a gravelly hill. We’d clawed our way back from 9th or something to 4th and were now on a charge, tapping out quick and consistent lap times with smooth handovers.
We dropped, like we’d landed in the wrong square in a game of snakes and ladders, right back to 8th due to the amount of time we lost while I made a pig’s ear of mending a broken chain.
No big deal, we’d crack on and climb right back again. Which we did. Within a handful of laps we were back to 4th again and were on our way to the podium places.
Next thing I know I’m stood at the changeover area, waiting for Dave…
5 minutes. Maybe he’s been caught in a load of traffic.
10 minutes. Hmmm. Hope he’s ok…
15 minutes. Bloody hell…
20 minutes…there he is. Dave breathlessly explains, as I’m turning around to run to my bike, that he’s had two punctures and has had to run over half of the 6 mile lap.
No big deal, we’d crack on and climb right back again. Which we did.
We were soon climbing back up the leaderboard, Phil doing a sterling job of giving us updates and treating our bikes with tickle of a jetwash and a loving, lubricated caress.
Back up to 4th. 15 minutes behind 3rd place and pulling back time on each lap. It was a tall order, we only had 3 or so hours of the race left.
We ran out of time and finished in 4th place.
Sometimes winning nothing can be satisfying too. A lot of guys would have decided earlier on that it just wasn’t their day, packed up and saved their legs for another battle but I’m proud that we showed what we’re made of, didn’t slow down and kept our chins up.
I can’t get that song out of my head though.
The Sunday had a more relaxed vibe, for me at least. I was supposed to be “racing” on a tandem with Guy, but something happened between the end of the TT and Saturday afternoon which meant that he couldn’t get to Bristol in time. No matter, Chipps bravely stepped up to the plate and rode the 6 hour race, on the front. Chipps knows how to ride a tandem so I was in safe hands (2 crashes notwithstanding). The TV cameraman filmed us anyway….
We rode carefully for a couple of laps, listened to Johnny Hates Jazz (I think) playing their set at the 80s festival and gradually got the hang of things. Apart from a couple of chainring-threatening rocks, we rode the lot. The Ashton Court course is VERY narrow and twisty in a lot of places so I’m nothing but impressed with Chipps’ skills as I sat at the back, leaning into turns as best I could.
From the third lap (and the crucial second cup of tea stop) onwards, we were properly flowing and I was getting the hang of the pedalling. Our lap times were only a few minutes slower than my lap times in the Saturday 12 hour race where I had fresh legs and a carbon race bike (and I wasn’t stopping mid-lap for a cuppa) and our efforts earned us 2nd place on the podium! We were very chuffed as you can imagine :)