What’s this all about?
Simply put, this is a really long race! You decide how hard you make it really as you can do either 12 or 24 hours of racing, race as a team of 8 – 3, pairs or solo. The aim of the game is to do as many laps in the time as possible, simple really! Now there are 2 kinds of riders out there those who are going to do as much as they physically can while others will use this as a great chance to give the bike an outing and enjoy the more social side of it all, there was free beer, which went down well! Whatever the reasons it’s such a great atmosphere with even races for the kids before the big event too, so cute! All in all a great weekend away for all, whatever your age!
It’s here already…
These events do seem to creep up on you, it seems like only last month I was deliberating whether or not to give this one a go or head to the Wantage MTB Marathon. I remember being all enthusiastic at some point in the winter and got my entries in early for this and Torq In Your Sleep. Is my enthusiasm the same now it’s here? I guess the proof is in the pudding! I entered into the 12 hour solo female category as it’s the only distance I’ve done, contemplating a 24 hour some time in the future, maybe! I shall call myself ‘Solo Sally’.(not a great name, but quite factual!)..seems to be the way these events go, ah well!
Got it so good!
I have discovered that my home location in South Wales is pretty sweet to have both superb trails on my doorstep and can also get to numerous other biking locations and events typically within a couple of hours! This one was no exception even with the volume of holiday makers and caravans on the road. Unlucky for the guys going the other way up the M5, it was a whole load of jammy traffic.
I took the wise move of taking the Friday off work so I didn’t have to rush into the unknown. I did the last minute shop (largely for foodie stuff I probably won’t eat!) but I did invest in a cool box. This cool box will be my pit crew! It will hold the several bottles, gels, bars and munchies for the race, so I don’t have to faff with unlocking the van. Hopefully only when I have to pop the lights on will I need to clamber in there, so hopefully it will run smoothly.
What’s the scoop?
There was a designated area for the solo nutters, so had a few choices of locations right next to the track. To be honest I went for the first spot I saw, close to track, toilets and exit (if I have a mental breakdown or something!).
The event hub has a great mix of food stalls, shiny Pivot bikes to test ride, Exposure lights getting ready for the charging, Torq Fitness for all there nutritional goodies and a few others stands, but the unexpected highlight was a TV showing the Tour de France. I timed it well for my loop as I caught the last 10km of the race where it was all kicking off! It just goes to show that one mistake, crash or attack in any race could mean the difference between winning and losing. See I’m reflecting upon other sporting events and relating it to my experiences! I don’t know how bad Froome injured, but if he hadn’t got back on to G’s bike his tour may have been over…it’s not over until you’ve crossed the line! I also learnt that the hard way at Torq in your Sleep last year, I’m not planning for a repeat!
The night before a race for me is all about kicking back and relax, checking out other peoples bikes, say hello to a few people I recognise from other random mountain bike event arenas or fields and stuffing my face with pasta and other delightful carbs, completely guilt free! The following day will capitalise on all I have consumed, it’s after the race when I still stuff my face that it may not be as beneficial!
Race Day, dum, dum, dum!
Woke up after a good kip in the van to a sunny sky and just a little breeze, it was going to be a warm one. I seem to get into a routine:
- Pop to the loo
- Put the kettle on
- Scoff down some porridge
- Take 5 to enjoy a brew
- Faff lots with kit, provisions, bike and lights
- Head down for the riders briefing
- Discover I only have about 20 mins for final faff (small panic)
- Head to the start
I left the van with 15 minutes to go, so joined the ever increasingly long queue of riders awaiting the big off. Another comedy start, when you just about here the countdown and then no one moves. A couple of minutes and it was go time into the gorgeous sunshine (totally forgot the suncream!). To spread the field out they added a little extra loop climbing the hill the other side passed the owners of Newnham Parks’ house, swing a right onto sketchy gravel. Guy in front had a sketchy moment almost washing out, but had an exceptional recovery, before shooting off down the hill. This then linked us back into the event arena to wiggle through the wiggly marked track back round to the start. It was time to settle in for the long haul. One thing I have learnt from previous 12 hours, is not to go out to fast, for me it’s all about finding your rhythm.
A course of 3 thirds!
I would say 2 halves because it sounds better, but there was definitely 3 defining sections to this pretty nice track. Firstly you had the climb, not just the ‘Clif Bar Climb’, but a bit more before and after. This seemed to get steeper and harder each time. Then it was onto the evil undulations through the forest, completely energy sapping as I struggled to maintain speed. It was ok to start out, but then it was uncomfortable and relentless as you got battered by these dips and roots a 29’er may have faired better! Then came the best section, especially when you got a clean run (didn’t happen often!) of Bluebell descent and ‘Cottage Return’ 2 sweet descents that were fast and flowing. this then led you back along the river to weave once again through all the pit stops, about a mile of it. The course had a great mix of single track, climb and descent with the much needed fire roads to recover, take a gel or swig of drink. For others these were the times to get some speed on, I was not one of those!
It’s as much a mind game as it is a physical one
Some say that racing is just as much about your mindset as it is the actual pedalling. I went through highs and lows as I’m sure many others did. To start it was fun, It’s been a while since I had ridden my mountain bike (been a rebel roadie!) and last year since the last solo venture. It was a new track, so a lot to check out and keep you going. By 3 hours in, legs were ok, but my mind had wandered and the reality of how many more hours were ahead of me didn’t fill me with enthusiasm. The questions of whether I could get through this were creeping in. This passed thankfully and after another few loops we had hit the 6 hour mark. To me I was half way there, for others it was another 18 hours to go, just madness! At about 8 hours in when the lights were starting to get switched on, you kind of get a 2nd wind, the trail changes and there’s a lot more to keep an eye out for, love night riding. When you break it all down, it’s a lot better for the mind to handle and then you can tell the legs to just keep pushing on.
It’s a little bit Physical!
Alright so fitness, endurance and stamina do have a part to play in this as well. If you haven’t got the power you’re going to go nowhere fast! I didn’t have the greatest prep for this one, usually I would been doing some longer rides quite frequently in the lead up to it, but with injury I only managed a couple of road rides to just spin the legs. It showed too as with each ‘Clif Climb’ I was going slower and not putting the power in. My general speed on the flat was not as fast as I would have liked, but I was pretty happy with my descending. Got a few compliments off some of the guys who followed me down. Bet they were thinking ‘oh no I’m stuck behind a girl’ then I surprised them with maintaining a pretty good speed, leaving them behind or staying on there tail and taking in the rock drop every time without fail or fall! I think I need to get a bit more power into my legs, I sense some hill reps coming on!
It’s the little things that make it worthwhile
In life it’s usually the small things that make me smile and in my 12 hours on the bike there was a few moments that just made this event superb. Maybe I didn’t have my race face on, but that was partly due to having no clue how I was doing, not even when I finished. This allowed my to just have fun and ride my own race and enjoy the finer things of life like TEA! Oh yeah, there was a ‘motivation station’ at the top(ish) of ‘Clif Bar Climb’ and to start I passed by the lollies and Haribo as I felt good and didn’t want to stop, but as the laps passed by. Think it was lap 7 when they shouted ‘TEA’ and how could I resist, it’s my weakness! To have a cuppa ready and waiting was simply amazing! It gave you that warm fuzzy feeling inside, so good! Ha, ha, think my priorities were a little wrong as I ended up stopping 5 times in the end for a brew. It was just irresistible!
The other highlight was all the camps you passed that cheered you on, but largely the kids, such enthusiasm! Some were armed with water pistols and politely asked if you’d like to be squirted, others it was a big five. Best of all it was the bunch who were handing out sweets. On 3 occasions I completely failed to grab them out of the bowl as I riding past!. I think they felt my frustration as on lap 7 they spotted me early and shouted ‘We have got sweets for you!’. I made my way round and sure enough, no bowl for me, they had pre-prepared a cup full of sweets just for me! How cool is that. I may have been solo, but felt like there was a massive support team, just ace!
It’s the experience, not the result…
Ok, for a lot of riders it will be the result, some are totally out to win and man do they mean business! It’s as if they were doing a 4 lap XC race at the speed they were still going several hours into it, just incredible. The top guys did over 200 miles in the 24 hours, absolutely astounding! I on the other hand had doubts that I could go the distance, well I did! My injury didn’t flare up too badly, there were other hurts from my hands and legs to distract from other pains. I had no aims or expectations heading into this one, more about the whole experience. However, as the time went on and you have many hours to think about everything and nothing a goal was getting planted. 160km was now the goal in mind, which was 16 laps. It was a short course compared to Torq in Your Sleep about 10.2km, but I found that quite nice, apart from you get back to certain places quicker than you liked to be! I hit the target, if I had pushed and stopped for a couple less cuppa then maybe I would have had time for one more, but the way the clock kept ticking, 16 laps was suffice and got me 2nd place, to be honest better than I had expected with the lack of training! Here’s my https://www.strava.com/activities/651180916/embed/375deb59a228160694725f8d41ede9e0bee6fad2“>Strava of the event, phone just lasted out!
For those who love the numbers…
It was an unspoken race between myself and Gemma riding for Revolution Sports Physic who pipped me by 7 minutes. I say pipped me, but I don’t think either of us knew what was going on! We seemed to be on the same wave length and just had the aim of doing as much as we could as long as we had the time! We were playing cat and mouse for the entire race by the looks of it! (Highly amusing that I was oblivious to this fact!). I’d be ahead, then take a break to switch bottles, she would get ahead, then she’d break and I’d be ahead. It just ended up that she was ahead at the right time, but I had absolutely no way of knowing. It would be cool if there was a timing check that we could see as we ride, but that may be taking it too seriously! To check out my times and the impressive stats for the rest of the hundreds of riders click here.
I was quite happy that all my laps were all sub – 1 hour, quickest being 38:36 and didn’t slow down that much! The longest was when I stopped to put the lights on and decided to switch my shoes as my feet were wet and getting cold from the silly water crossing, so took 56:45. To put it into perspective the quickest lap I spotted was 27:07 in the mixed team of 4. I would have been top ten in the 12 hour solo male category and if all the solo female categories were combined I’d have come 4th, always like to see where I come if there were no other divisions! It appears that endurance comes with age as all the vets were kicking butt! Looking at the results, I could be in with a winning time if I enter 24 hour solo female, as nobody even considered it (ha, ha), it’s definitely on the cards and this is probably a great course and place to do it, especially when I could set a distance aim rather than trying to win, which may be a given.
…and I’m done!
I had a small (very small) feeling of guilt as I watched other riders continue to bash out lap after lap, such an amazing feat of what the human body can endure! The fact that I finished at just after 12, had a shower, crashed out in my van in my clothes (too tired to change again) from 1 – 5am, had a couple more brews, found something for breakfast, wandered around part of the track, chatted to the lovely ladies at the motivation station, wrote most of this article, tidied the van and they were still pedalling round!
A Race that Suits Everyone…if this is your kind of race!
This is a great family friendly event, great bunch of riders and crewe, a good course. I just think like the last 12 hour I did, it’s far more enjoyable with company. I knew a few faces, but it’s not quite the same as having someone in your corner. I also think doing these type of events as part of a team is cool too, though then you have to go much faster…that’s why I stick with the 12 hour solo, it’s a good excuse to go slow! If you want to give it a try, do it! You can do as much or as little as you like, sleep, eat, drink, chill out or race like you have nothing to lose. That’s what is so great there are people of all ages, fitness and abilities taking on there own personal challenge or just catching up with friends and having a laugh!
Recovery is good!
It surprises me how quickly the body recovers after quite an intense amount of exercise, maybe a little longer for those in the 24 hour, but still! It was a tough drive home, just to stay awake, had to stop and get the one McDonalds of the year! Been for a recovery ride on the road bike and the legs felt fine, but my hands are blistered, tight and sore and my butt is chafed (overshare, sorry!), so sitting on a saddle was not so pleasant. Apart from that, it has given me a boost I needed to step up the training for Torq in Your Sleep (27th-27th August). It’s time to get the training schedule out that Torq did for me last year as a bit of guidance, hopefully I can get a fair bit in. I now like the idea of setting a distance challenge rather than race for the win. I did 12 laps last year, so I guess my aim is do do at least one more, just means I’ve got to pick up the pace or stop less!
It’s all good fun, whatever events you get involved with just enjoy them! Until the next 12 hour…