‘I hate running!’ I shout to my dad as he hands me my bike I dash off to start/finish line. That’s the tough bit over and done with, now I get to sit down for the next 24hrs, well, if I so choose. I choose not too.
Taking part in a 24 solo again was a big deal for me after two miserable previous attempts and I didn’t take it lightly. I trained pretty well, got everything I required to get through the 24hrs successfully and was feeling pretty good and looking forward to the weekend. I just hoped I wasn’t getting too confident and setting myself up for a fall.
To the race itself, I set off pretty quickly not wanting to get caught up in too many bottle necks and this wasn’t a problem, it was busy but never had to stop and the pace was pretty good. Made my way around the first of many laps, which I found to be pretty good. Mountain bike paradise maybe not but it was fun enough and the hills were the way I liked them, longish and gradual or short and mega steep.
The first few laps passed without any issues, I was going at a decent pace but didn’t feel as though I was over cooking it so pressed on. This early on I wasn’t keeping an eye out for any other solos, didn’t ask for updates on my position from my Dad in the pits, I just kept going at what felt sustainable. I knew Mike Hall was racing and was probably by far and away the favourite rider to do well but on the start sheet no other rider really rung any bells so I didn’t know who I was racing against, the bikes they were on or what they were wearing but I didn’t mind, I was just enjoying the event.
Throughout the first few hours of the race the skies looked menacing but never unleashed fury, until they did that is, and wow, was it angry. Possibly the hardest, heaviest shower I’ve ever raced in. I knew SITS course turned into a mud bath at the sheer threat of water so the biblical down pour was defiantly going to have an impact. I put on some warmer gear and set out again, all seemed okay until one section in the twisting woods and it was horrific. Peanut-butter mud central. Clogging my 29er with minimal mud clearance within seconds. A thought of ‘If this is what it’s going to be like throughout the race this will suck!’ so prayed for it not to rain again and my (plus many other riders no doubt) prayers to the thunder gods were answered as the remainder of the race it was dry. The track recovered well from the down pour and was actually better in some sections taming some of the overly dry, dusty sections so it actually turned out pretty well in the end.
I used my spare bike for two laps with narrower tyres and by then it was getting dark. I put on my ghetto lights, just completed on the Thursday night and set off. The night was the part of the race I was most wary about, in part as I hadn’t really done much night riding but mainly due to my lights. They weren’t properly tested, didn’t know how well they would handle the wet, didn’t know actual run time (as opposed to calculated) and the battery mount on the top tube wasn’t ideal. In theory the lights were exactly what I needed and luckily in practice they were much the same. They actually surpassed my expectations and my helmet light was a revelation using the new XML T6 LED. Aside from the initial lack of confidence in my lights I can’t quite believe how quickly the night passed.
I felt strong throughout the night and had been told at some point I was sitting in 3rd, which shocked me a bit. I was aiming for a top10 but the way I was feeling I was pretty sure I was up there but to be sitting in 3rd and feeling strong? Ace. Little did I know however was that for most of the race up to this point I had been sitting in 2ndbut Pete Crawforth had fought back from a problem he had earlier in his race to pass me but I didn’t know and it didn’t bother me as I wasn’t asking for updates, I was happy in my own little race.
The sky was getting lighter by now and I’ve read many times that when the sun comes up you get a second wind but for me this couldn’t have been further from the truth. For the first time in the race I felt terrible. I never felt like stopping but I felt really slow and it showed in my lap times. They were getting longer and longer. For the first time doubts started to enter my mind. I wanted it to end. I was trying to work out how early I could stop and still finish 3rd or rather horrifically would I be happy to finish 4th or 5th? Luckily though the sheer fact that that even crossed my mind pissed me off so much that I had a word with myself and got back to work. I killed it on the next lap. Powering all the flat, letting go of the brakes, being brave in corners. I felt pretty damn good considering the 20hrs of riding in my legs. The lap time reflected in this being the best part of 15min quicker than the previous. The next lap was similarly quick. It was at this point where I found out I had not only put good time into 4th and 5th but was rapidly catching Pete in 2nd. I had to make this next lap count! And of course it all went wrong, ha! I had a tangle with a rider and made sure they were okay and then 5mins later I got a flat. Bugger. Ah well.
By the end of this lap I was pretty sure 2nd was gone but went out hard again. I got around, could tell my strength was going and my left knee was screaming at me (weird, as it’s usually my right). I could have gone out for another lap, there was time but it was highly unlikely I’d catch Pete and 4th had no way of catching me, had a quick natter to Petes pit crew who were next to my own and then had the most deserved 20min sit down of my life lurking until the 24hrs was up, crossed the finish line and shook Pats hand.
3rdplace. Job done.
I can’t really express how happy I am with how I rode. My main aim of riding throughout was met and I knew a result would come as a product of that but 3rd? I would have liked a podium but to get one is another story. I’m happy with how my body felt on a whole, I was lucky (well planned?) in that the best form I’ve had for 5yrs also coincided with the biggest race I’ve done in 5yrs and I felt amazing for well over half the race. I never had any issues with the rest of my body, which in itself is a massive achievement. To say from 4hrs to the end of the race I had no back discomfort is astounding for someone with a long history of back problems and similarly with my knee.
Basically put, this weekend has made me incredibly happy for a number of reasons. 🙂
Thanks to everyone who cheered me, to the organisers who put on a stellar job but mainly to my pit crew of my brother and Dad. Couldn’t have done it without any of you. Thank you.
Thanks also to Phil from mtbmonkey.com/ for allowing me to use some of his photos. Taa.