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I ran out of cunning plans by the time I reached lap 6. Everything I ate made me feel more ill. Every increase in effort resulted in a bit more speed but a lot more stomach cramp. To cap it all, every lap seemed to contain at least one bike-related problem. Up to this point, I had to deal with my rear quick release failing and my wheel literally falling off on lap one (dropping me back to 50th place or something). The chain on my second bike kept coming off (which has never happened before on this bike) and I was having seatpost slippage issues. Rather than my ambition for another slick, smooth and perfectly-executed 24 hour race this was rapidly turning into a farce. While I’m acutely aware that I wasn’t the only one to be unlucky with mechanicals, my worst problems weren’t bike-related at all, the biggest worries were inside me.
On the morning of the race I felt rough. Hoped that it was just nerves and cracked on with getting the pit ready. Generally all feelings of nerves disappear once I’m on the start line and I can start having a laugh. Sure enough, I felt better on the start line but as soon we got going and the effort kicked in, so did the illness.
Eventually I’m riding laps with half a toilet roll in my back pocket and occasionally I’d have to ride off the course, find a bush and use it. Things were not supposed to be like this.
When I was actually on the bike and having a go at ‘racing’ I spent several hours working my way back up from 50-somethigth place back to 17th, then 15th, then I rode with Rich Rothwell for a while and as a pacy pair we worked our way back into the top ten. Things started to look more optimistic and my guts had appeared to calm down after 14 or so hours of rebellion. It had left me pretty dehydrated though and the effort I’d put in to pull back 40-odd places was taking its toll. Deb, Phil and Lee were all working flat-out in the pit to keep my bikes rolling and to deal with my increasingly narrow and specific food requirements.
Up to 5th place. If the race ended now, I’d be happy with that under the circumstances. But even that wasn’t to be. An alarmingly-fresh Richard Dunnett, who I’d overtaken 13 hours ago, tore past me at the start of my final lap, riding from 7th place into 3rd and pushing me down into 6th in the process.
In my mind I was always thinking that “somewhere in the top ten” would be a good result in this race, when you look at the amount of experience and talent on the start line and it was genuinely a proud moment to stand up there among some of the greats of UK 24 hour solo racing. But still. You know what I mean.
I was just glad I’d made it to the finish and by the time I was riding down that final descent a few hours earlier, I was already thinking about the next race. The day after, as if to prove I hadn’t been making it all up, our kids, all of our friends’ kids and Phil were all suffering from ‘Fort Billy Belly’. Sorry guys.
Thanks, as ever, to Debbie, my mum and dad, Phil and Lee for putting up with my bad smells and grumbling. Thanks to all the well-wishers and cheerers-on. Thanks to all my amazing sponsors who’ve made this year the best yet and finally thanks to Spook, Fraser, the amazing marshals and everyone involved in No Fuss Events and WEMBO for pulling together what turned out to be the toughest and most epic 24 hour solo race I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of.
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In spite of being in North Wales, the Ruthin MTB Marathon weekend is perhaps the nearest thing to a local endurance event residents of the North West of England have. It was such a noveltly in fact, that it wasn’t too much hassle dragging the caravan and my whole family over there for a fun weekend.
The format was a night time ‘marathon’ – the Exposure Lights Big Night Out. Not really a marathon at 25 miles, but a LOT of climbing and the first 25 mile ride for a long time that had me reaching for the compression tights when I got to the finish. It was also a rather eventful evening. More of that later.
The main event was Sunday’s civilised, 10am start, 75K ‘proper’ marathon ride. Not a race, but probably a race in the heads of many of those on the start line.
The sun had been shining, we were in the middle of an Indian summer – it was going to be great.
The night time event started with a couple of hundred people on the line (after Tom from Exposure Lights saved my bacon with a rear light loan – cheers!), including me and Phil and after a mad dash through Ruthin, the ‘event’ seemed to very much turn into a ‘race’ in the biggest cloud of dust I’ve ever experienced. Trying not to breathe in, Phil and I attempted to jump towards the front. Shortly afterwards we were hanging out in a small group of four, all hurtling towards the summit of the first long climb, all trying to prevent Ant White from disappearing into the distance.
We were doing ok. Well, the other guys were. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack.
Ant had a little gap but everyone was staying in touch. On reflection, I assume everyone felt the same and were going as fast as they could and it’s sometimes surprising how far you can push yourself when there are people around you all trying to hurt each other….but I was glad when the terrain levelled off a bit and I could get in the big ring for a bit.
We rode up and down for a while. As these things do. We were pulling a gap on the riders behind us and our average speed was staying high and on the unfriendly side of social….
A big, long downhill eventually arrived and I could pack my lungs back into my chest. Phil, riding a bit faster on the descent than I was, momentarily disappeared from view. Then he reappeared…but he wasn’t moving. He’d found a patch of gravel, lost his front wheel and landed, shoulder-first, at about 25 mph. “I’ve broken it” he said. “naaah you can’t have done” was my glib reply. “carry on” Phil said. We were on a Welsh hillside, alone for the time being, in the dark and god-knows how far from the next marshal point, one of us with a suspected bone fracture. I was going nowhere.
Eventually the second pack of riders appeared and I asked 24 hour racing friend, Matt Jones, to tell the next marshal that we had a casualty. I also asked Nick Craig to do the same thing a minute or so later just in case Matt forgot ;)
Getting a bit cold by now, me and the Walking Wounded started to walk down the hill. Eventually Phil was bundled into the back of a Land Rover and was taken to hospital. At least that’s where they said they were taking him. I didn’t know for certain but I didn’t check. I’m not his dad ;-)
So, off I went. Down from top 4 to somewhere-near-the-back but it was ok. At least I wasn’t broken. I got past a few riders and finished in 13th place.
But where was Phil? In Wrexham hospital until 3am, that’s where. I managed to get some sleep until the wounded soldier rang me and I went to pick him up, conciliatory bag of sandwiches and pork pie to cheer him up.
Sunday’s marathon was fairly quiet in comparison (thankfully!). I decided to ride it on the “bit heavier with loads of suspension travel and big tyres but it’s ok cos it’s mega” Singletrack long-term test bike. A few grand’s worth of rock-smashing, saddle-dropping awesomeness, 75K of hills and 3 hours sleep. The bike’s not bad at climbing, but no whippet. I rode with Matt for a while, thought a lot about Phil’s shoulder whenever I rode downhill, I even stopped at a feed station because they had those little jelly babies. I eventually rolled over the line in 9th position – never underestimate the value of caffeine gels, kids.
What I was left with were memories of a brilliant day out with some amazing hills and top-drawer organisation. After a few years away from the marathon series, I’ll be returning to do more of them next year.
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I get through tons of protein – eggs, chicken, raw flesh (ok maybe not that) but after a ride I find that the best way to start the all-important recovery process is to get a protein shake down my neck.
I’ve ‘experienced’ most brands of protein shake that are available in the UK. I say ‘experienced’ as many of them are just that – not just a drink that might taste of chocolate or banana, but a whole rollercoaster of unpleasant shocks to the tastebuds and later on, shocks to my loved ones and work colleagues. Yep, I’m talking about farts. Anyone that’s serious about training and recovery would have encountered protein drinks at some stage and will be well aware of some of the unpleasant side effects that some brands can cause.
Some are worse than others. Some brands of protein shake produce more gas in a single day than the average farm animal could produce in a month. Some taste so horrible that you’re more likely to plough into the Rich Tea biscuits instead.
There are even protein drinks available that just don’t work very well. This might have something to do with the specific requirements of an individual’s body and loads of other factors such as how hard you’re training or even much sleep you’re getting, but I have used protein products that simply don’t seem to help you recover as well as others.
Admittedly, there are protein shakes that don’t taste horrid, seem to work really well and don’t cause cataclysmic farting and those are the brands that I use.
I’ve got a new favourite. Genuinely. It’s dead good. It’s called MyProtein Whey Protein Plus. My mate Matt reckons it’s good too and he rides his bike LOADS, so if we’re both saying it’s good stuff, it’s good stuff. Got it?
Admittedly I didn’t pay for this batch (honestly is the best policy) – I received it from ProBikeKit, but now that I’ve almost used it all I’ve ordered some more with my own money and.
The chocolate flavour tastes chocolatey. I don’t have any problems recovering from hard rides. It doesn’t make be flatulent (no more flatulent than normal anyway). You can get it other flavours and it’s not dead expensive. Try it and thank me later.
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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…