Thoughts and ramblings before the event
If you cast your minds back 12 months to last years event it was so warm, dry and even dusty for the most part with the water splash being there to cool you down. I think I got lucky that time because Plymouth is one of the wettest places in the UK and sounds like a dry event is few and far between, oh and I stopped at 12 last year and then later on the rain came in! With this in mind I went into this one a little too innocently expecting it to be the same. Oh, how naive I was! It couldn’t have been more wet if it tried!
As I drove down through heavy rain and wind I was pondering how wet you can get before you hit breaking point and pack it in or push on without a care in the world, because it can’t get any worse! It’s a shame because the weather was lovely at the start of the week, but the forecast was different each time I looked at it, changing from dry, sunny, windy, heavy showers, thunder, cloudy and so on, basically it could be all four seasons over the weekend minus the snow! What will be, will be, I was taking part despite what the weather was going to chuck at us.
This is now what I will say, is my first 24 hour as a solo (Mountain mayhem ended after crashing badly around the 12 hour mark, so I’m not counting that one). If you want to find out what happened there and the lead up to Pivot then check out the previous blog post. This will also be my first one with some proper British weather chucked in just to spice it all up. All the others have been in the glorious sunshine for the most part, don’t know how I have got away with it for so long! It all hangs on whether my thumb and wrist hold up, fingers crossed with enough sugar in me and concentrating on staying on the bike I will forget all about it.
I’ve got company for once!
This time, I’m not on my own, wahey! I’ve got my brother, Andy who is doing his first solo 12 hour and his lovely wife, Michelle who is on call as ‘camp mum’ or the other name she didn’t realise…‘pit bitch’ to the high amusement of my bro! This means I’m kipping in a spacious tent that you can stand up in, have some company which is always nice and someone to sort my bottles and food out for me. This was all a bit of a novelty as I’m usually a solo soloist.
I had nothing to do with our awesome pitch spot at all, it was all down to Andy and Michelle cruising round the arena for an hour or so to get what turned out to be a really sweet spot! It seemed hundreds had gone down on Thursday, so it was really full already and many squeezing into gaps where ever they could. There was nothing much to do on Friday as I missed registration, it was just get the tent up and have my first cup of tea since Mayhem (not sure why, but I took a break). There was many getting there drink on and having a good old knees up!
My plans & ideas
If I’m totally honest there was no plan, just the thought of doing as much as I could on the day. I knew I could do 12 hours, but beyond that it was all a mystery. I was aiming to have no gels (though I brought my box of goodies) and keep it all normal food and just using Skratch Labs energy drink (that has real fruit in it!) and Oompf bars (which are so naturally tasty good). This changed after speaking to Luke Humphrey of Juice Lubes (who has done one or 2 of these events). He was saying definitely eat normal food from the start and keep that throughout, wash that down with water as it helps break it down and digest it. Lastly because your body can not create the carbs you need quick enough the need for a gel and that sugar hit will give you a massive boost half way through a lap as you start to dip. This should help to maintain a steady pace and not fade (as much). It is sound advice, but I think he may be in the mindset that I was going race pace not snails pace!!!
The rain eased overnight so it was a calm and peaceful night and woke up super psyched to give it beans whatever came my way. Bring it on, mind over matter and all that. As I have said in the previous blog post, I’m racing against myself, not wanting to quit, but to do as much as I can whatever that may be as it’s all a bit of an unknown. The weather will play a major factor in this one, so it’s fair game for everyone willing to tackle it!
What have I got myself into?
It’s the calm before the storm as we woke to a dry and calm morning. A good brew and a bowl of porridge began what was going to be a very long couple of days!. Waiting until 12 to start gives you a lot of time to faff, get everything sorted, change stuff, check stuff and faff some more. I had my Specialized Epic FSR and my back up bike that I really didn’t want to use, the Orange P7. It’s a great bike, but a little heavy and slack for this type of event, but it was there if needs be, like the car that followed the Top Gear crewe round on there adventures! I had packed pretty much all my cycling clothing, not knowing if I would change regularly or stick with what I had on for the entirety. I had 3 sets of gloves and 2 sets of shoes, waterproof clobber and a couple of helmets to see me through. It should be enough right?
The other area was the food and drinks table, no we are not talking a fancy spread, but a table with bits and bobs on from Quorn sausages (yes I’m a veggie), jam sandwiches, breakfast bars, crisps and bananas. I still really have no clue on what are the best go to foods to have on one of these, but hoping that this would see me through. I would love any feedback, advice and tips on what to eat when entering a 24 hour race.
I had a chance to watch a bit of the kids racing, which was superb this year with over 100 kids entered and a few events on the Friday and the Saturday to keep them entertained. It’s so great how much they put on for them as they are the racers of the future. Whilst we watched the beginning of the rain showers began to kick in and it didn’t look like it was going to stop, ho hum.
After going for an insurance pee, it was time to get my kit on, chamois up and feel the butterflies begin and feel like I need the loo again, but it was just nerves. Before these events I seem to get a bit giddy with nervous excitement especially when it’s a new adventure. I knew with this one I would settle in pretty quick.
It’s the Final Countdown
We rocked up to the start line, just behind the guys riding in Sumo Suits (there’s always some who want all the attention!!!). We had the countdown then after a few more seconds we got going. It had begun, 12:00 and we were off. Everyone was all very jolly, clearly the front runners were all very ‘game face’ and jostling for an early lead, but I was in the mindset of, why rush I have a very long time to go and I don’t know what I am going to manage so no need to go hell for leather just now thank you very much.
The Course – 100% rideable, but changeable!
We had the short lead out loop, which got you warm and spread the field out rather well as we sped back round to the start after about 5 minutes to start the first lap. There was so many riders and supporters, it was awesome, cheers and whoops as you passed. Then you started heading off up the first and main climb and the noise faded, first up through a grass field, with a cheeky little descent followed by a right hander onto the tarmac road to make a steady spin up and up. I preferred this to last years shorter and steeper one, I’m definitely a happy spinner in the saddle as much as possible. This was to be the only bit of let up from the mud and it was nice. After this is jumped onto a wide fire road for a moment before leading you onto the first bit of single track. Over a couple of routes and rocks, rolling down a little further and then onto a short, but steep bomb hole, where you needed speed to get up the other side or you were walking. Out from this onto another wider track to take you onto what I call the rooty-tootie section, where picking your line through a maze of routes, little up and overs kept you focused. This led into Bluebell woods, which was a descent last year, but this time a steady clamber over more roots, not too bad really. It did end with a descent, which steadily turned into a controlled slide by the end before you sped down a fast fire road getting completely covered in mud spray.
This gave you a little recovery time, though no chance do anything other than hang on, it was a bit sketchy! This somehow brought you back round to the ‘Motivation Station’ where the tunes blared out, some questionable but all in high spirits, it’s nice to have the marshals out on course, just the pick me up that you needed! It was then onto what would have been a really fun section as I recalled it from last year, a couple of short downs, quick climbs and a series of 4 bomb holes that flowed lovely in the dry. Not this year though, if you were able to pedal through the quagmire you were doing well. it was thick clay that clung onto your tyres if they slowed or stopped. Then the bomb holes were more like deep water splashes, which actually were still quite fun! The rolling continued as you passed the marshals who seemed to like Heavy metal ‘music’, before heading onto the Cottage return, which was great wet or dry. A bit slower this year due to the sloppiness, but as long as a root or rock didn’t catch you it was sweet.
Then you were back down at base level, a blast along a fire track, which was now my place to take a gel (yep, I caved). some were speeding along this section, I saw it as a moments breather before heading on the single track along the riverside, which to begin with was lovely and flowing nicely…this changed! Instead of the maze through the campsite of last year we only had a couple of up and back to get cheered on, which was really nice as I got quite dizzy last year! This then led us down the other end over the grass to the now well known water splash, which was a bike saver as the waters got higher and higher. If I made it to this point still pedalling it was a great time to clear out some of the mud from the drivetrain to make it over the last section. It was another reverse of last year that worked really nicely, a gentle little climb then descending gently over a few rocks and past a few forgotten cars and vans, with a lovely roll around a couple of fire roads before a cheeky bridge crossing and burst of power up and over the roots on the other side. I thought this might be a section to walk, but once I rode it out the first time it was all good for the rest of the race!
It was then the final climb, a steep kick to start with, easy gear and spin up as walking was going to be no easier in the slop before it levelled out. You were now above the event arena about to roll speedily down a grass descent, round a couple of bends, through another bunch of lovely campers who were so encouraging then the last couple of corners with short sharp climbs before rolling round to where we were camped. What a great course it was, it had it all, nice climbs, sweet descents and some moments just to roll if you had nothing in the tank for a moments recovery. Nothing too technical, but enough that over 24 hours it would be really tough. Saying all this it was the rain and mud that kept changing the course as the hours rolled on by, which was interesting for some sections and terrible for others.
The memorable moments of the many hours
Lap 1 & 2 – went without a hitch
It was nice to get the first ones out of the way. The pace is usually just a bit quicker as everyone has fresh legs. The rain was light and it was just a little splashy in places, but nothing too bad at all and it was really fun just getting into the swing of things and settling into my rhythm, not chasing anyone. At the end of the first lap I chucked off my garmin as it was not worth it getting trashed and my glasses that were steaming up so you couldn’t see anyway so chucked them off too and risked the amount of mud that was going to infiltrate my eyes, my poor eyes. Not ideal and hoped it was ok as I did have a little mudguard on the front, which helped slightly!
The second lap, spirits were high and smiles was all I needed to keep me going. I was having a good time, but it was early days. I did start on the gels as I knew they could only help not hinder unless my stomach said otherwise, but 2 laps down it was going well with no stop just straight through to keep the pace steady whilst there still was one!
Lap 3 – Clay like mud
The rain had eased, you would usually be thinking, yeah that’s great, it’s dry. This was actually not a good thing. On sections where it was quite muddy the rain was helping to loosen it up, so when it had eased, it was bad. The section just before the 3 bomb hole swoops for me were horrendous. I lost my momentum and had to stop, this then turned into a battle of strength as the bike was picking up more and more mud, getting heavier and heavier. I was stuck in the mud and going no where fast. it wasn’t until I managed to slide my way out of this section that I could clear some of the mud away to even manage to pedal again with mud flying off everywhere. That was exhausting, staying on the bike is key, walking was not an option.
Lap 4 – 7 – Just keep pedalling
Time goes by and sometimes you just miss stuff as you’re pedalling round, but I swear there was no sheep in the field at the top of the first climb over the first couple of laps. At some point it got filled with a number of sheep with green necks, so random. Was this the first moment of madness? I think they were real, but how did they get there? There eyes were going to be scary during the night if they were going to stay!
There wasn’t much to say about the next few hours, the rain kept falling again heavily, the only time to have a swig of drink without having a mouthful of mud was on the first climb, so that’s what I did each lap and seemed to be all I drank on a whole lap, not ideal but just couldn’t face the mud bottle. These few laps with a few quick stops to get a quick munch of an oompf bar or banana as well as a bottle change was working well. I had no concept of time so relying on Michelle in the pits as to when lights were going on and where I was in the race, but I wasn’t really chasing for the win, this was all about a personal challenge of whether I could physically do it.
It was on the grassy descent that was getting sketchier and slippier with each lap where a chap who was hooning it down the track looked like he was out of control and getting a slide on. He was heading to his pits at the bottom of the hill and I’m sure he would say it was all skill, but managed to slide left and do a full 180 and stop outside of his tent. It was one of those moments that I bet he couldn’t do again if he tried!
Lap 8 – Into the darkness
I don’t like the dusk lap where you have your lights on the bike, but you don’t really need them until one section that you do because it’s gone into a darker section of trees on a descent where you really need them on, but don’t manage to turn them on quick enough before needing to be on the bars, so you have to guess the line a bit more and hope you stay on track before it leads you back out to a lighter section. I just wanted to add a bit more interest to the ride of course. I think it was on this lap that on the last climb up a chap went for an overtake. The track was wide enough, but I think he was too close to the edge and had one of those moments of almost going down, but managed to bring it back some how!
Lap 9 – Lights on
It was somewhere around 9pm or something, laps were slowing and the rain was still coming down, but apart from not really wanting to eat anything I was doing ok. When the lights go on it’s as if you have opened a new chapter and a small release of energy kicks in. Night riding is so different yet not at all when your are running Exposure lights that make it like daylight! I was running the Maxx-D on the bars and Diablo on the lid with an extra battery linked up to make it last a little longer. However whether the extra battery was charged or not after half a lap the Diablo started pulsing of an unknown reason, I need to check with the chaps what it was up to. I stopped to unplug the battery and it was fine on it’s own, so that was a waste and made me more cautious of making the Diablo last. I did luckily have a back up set from work so I wasn’t going to be caught short.
Lap 10 & 11 – Are my brakes alright?
I’m not one who goes through brake pads, usually they rarely get replaced, but the conditions here were naturally going to wear through pads like no tomorrow. I was running resin pads (first mistake) and I only had one spare set, so I wanted to make them last (second mistake) so I went for lap number 11. First part was fine…it was uphill. It was the latter stages that simply put I HAD NO BRAKES. At first it was that they were slowing me down minimally, but then just before the cottage return the back one gave up the ghost, pulled it to the bar, but got nothing and the front was gone, but not blown. I had to ride into the side to slow me down and then thankfully there was a bit more claggy mud that slowed me down! It was a relief to make it onto the fire road to breathe a sigh of relief, but knew there was a few more places where brakes were needed. I slid down the little drop to the riverside track. I then slowly rolled my way round the paintball section with my feet out slightly. Then after the climb it was the fast, grassy, slide descent. I put the dropper seat down and like a kid on a balance bike used my feet to slow me down and along with a bit of sliding, I made it, unscathed! It was then just a grassy, muddy slog back to the pits.
I was not amused, this meant that I was on the Orange P7 for the next lap at least, whilst that one got fixed. It was just a case of get it out of the van, switch the light over, have a quick munch on some pasta, run off for a pee and ride off into the night hoping that the other one would be fixable. Oh my word it was different, obviously it was heavier, being steel and all that, but it’s so much more relaxed in the geometry and smaller wheels, it just wants to have fun, not slog around an XC course for hours, but it was what I had it was what I would ride, I just really didn’t want to trash him as well.
Lap 12 – Was that real?
I was off on the P7 (Stuart) who was surprising me with how well it could tackle this course. I had a lot more grip with this one with a Specialized Butcher and Purgatory for tyres. This was fine in the rain, just moving gracefully through the streams that flowed around pretty much all of the course now. I couldn’t use the dropper due to my thumb not being quite right still, but Ibuprofen was working it’s magic and dulling the pain it usually gives me. I was getting bad neck ache now as we were now beyond the 12 hour mark where I usually stop. I was into the unknown and more pains were creeping in.
There was a moment that I won’t forget and I think it happened, but it was the early hours of the morning so I could have been hallucinating, but I watched as a deer just gracefully wandered across the track and up the hill the other side. No one was with me and the forest was all quiet. It was just a really cool moment that was totally unexpected, love it.
Getting back to the pits it was bad news for the Epic. They took out what was left of my rear brake pads, not much by all accounts. They tried fitting some, but there was not joy, just nothing. It was game over for the Epic and all because I was to set on continuing and not getting the pads changed sooner, lesson learned.
Lap 13 – It’s all gone Pete Tong (wrong)
It was on lucky lap 13 (had to be right!) that I started to go downhill. The rain had eased and actually the clouds were breaking up. Was it actually going to get dry? This should have been a good thing. The problem is the part between wet and dry son it is simply terrible to ride in especially on super grippy tyres. The amount of times the chain came off was beyond counting. I would pedal a little and then be spinning and going no where, it was getting ridiculous, so much mud. I was getting really annoyed that I wasn’t making much progress with loads of stop, start moments just unclogging the gears so that I could pedal for a little bit. Then I had a silly off on a really muddy section before the long fire break and bashed my knee.
This was the turning point in my head. I was not happy. I rolled down that track trying to loosen up my knee and thankfully it didn’t seem so bad, but then it was as if all the pains and hurts rushed to the surface. My neck was giving me shooting pains when I moved it, my fingers were aching because of my thumb being above the bar putting more pressure on my fingers. Then there was my feet. They were both throbbing on the balls of my feet, but it was my left foot that felt like I had a huge blister that was stuck onto the inside of my not so waterproof Sealskinz (I guess nothing can withstand this amount of water!). It was not pleasant in the slightest. I think this lap took about 2 hours, felt like it anyway so when I eventually got back to the pit the light was just starting to creep in, but I was not good and didn’t want to go back out. May be I had hit the wall, but whatever it was I was cold, tired, not really thinking straight and wanting to stop.
Back at the pits after walking up the last little hill slide after the chain came off for the umpteenth time I chucked the bike down and just stood blankly. Thankfully Michelle was there to sort me out. I needed to get out of the wet clothes and warm my feet up. I sat down and started to slowly take of my shoes and then peel back my socks. Phew no blisters just a very weird feeling as the sock came off. It was just cold, wet, white and prune like, not nice whatever it was. As soon as I did this I knew I wasn’t getting back on the bike straight away. The bike was completely clogged up anyway it was not going anywhere easily. The suggestion of getting a shower was like music to my ears and after getting everything handed to me I plodded over to the shower block. I think it was at this point I saw a guy chucking a large flamingo inflatable over the fence. Another sign of madness, but I hear now that he was going to slide it down the grassy descent, still awaiting the video!
The shower took a while as it wasn’t the most powerful, but it got me cleanish and warmer, so that was ok. I then wandered back and just curled up in the tent. I set no alarm, but at that point I thought I was done. I had made it to about 4:30 or something, which was ok, but there was still many hours to go.
It’s sometimes down to random events
Andy had finished at 1am or something after doing a superb 11 laps and coming 9th overall in his first 12 hour solo event raising money for the Wheelchair rugby team to go to the 2020 Olympics. Maybe it’s more motivating to ride for a good cause and not just yourself, hmm food for thought there!
It was some point around 7am I think that I was half awake, but heard someone get up. It was Andy who had an unsettled tummy. It was here that I sat up and he said, ‘shall I clean your bike and see if you want to go out again?’. I said yes, not knowing how I was really feeling, but I started to get some clean, dry kit back on and when he got back with the bike I just clambered on and began to pedal. If he had not been up then I’m not sure I would have carried on. It was dry and sunny as well, but that was not great for the drying out track it was still deep and sticky in places. That rest did me the world of good, ok if I carried on I could have got a possible 2 extra laps in, but would I have done that or crashed several times and got really grumpy. Who knows, but in the conditions the rest for me was wise. I did hear someone shout to another competitor come on, everyone is quitting and giving up. To be honest I think anyone who gave this course a good crack gained my respect and no giving up happened, just sensible decisions! Carrying on seemed stupid, but hey each to there own.
I was not sure how many laps I would squeeze in, but I was feeling ok, the legs were fine it was whether the bike was going to get me round as the chain continued to drop. I only had one major issue on what was the penultimate lap when my rear mech just jammed or something and it was going no where at all. It was then a chap came past and asked if I was ok and he could see I was struggling. He gave it a try, did some wiggling of the mech and somehow it sprung back to life. It’s the guys like him that I really appreciate. He could have happily ignored me and road off, but he chose to stop and help regardless of what that did to his position. I saw many accounts of this on the laps. There was many broken bikes out there! It’s that together spirit and being in it all together that really makes these events a huge success.
That’s a wrap!
I got round to the finish for about 1pm. I think, most had finished with only a few riders behind me slowly coming in. I crossed the line and a sense of relief came over me and then I had a beer shoved in my face which in my state of not thinking, downed it. I really don’t like beer…any chance of some cider as well on the finish line? Any who’s just like that it was done!
I didn’t know what to do with myself apart from wander around for a bit as the podiums weren’t too far away, not that I knew where I had come. It turned out that I had won my category (solo 24hr) and come 5th overall. What a result considering the lead up to this was not exactly full of training and the event itself was full of minor upsets. I was happy just to have done all I could let alone get on the podium. That was just the icing on the cake.
Here’s the details of my 16 laps and everybody else’s very respectable lap times: Pivot 2412. If you are intrigued on some stats, here’s the Strava timing of it, which my phone managed to track without dying! I have no regrets of how I did, but it has left me thinking that I need to do it again and go the distance with no big stops/sleep and do the full 24 hours. This means that I think I will be back, but that’s mainly because this event is one of the best with a great course whatever the weather, superb atmosphere, great for the whole family and just super fun. I just wish I took a couple more days off to really get into the festival style that it is like. Simply awesome and here’s the photo’s from Digi Dave (Dave Hayward) who braved the weather to get some cracking shots!
- The weather plays a massive part on the condition of your bike, so take more spares than you think you may need
- Make your back up bike a nice light 29er hardtail or something
- You may be a solo rider, but it really helps to have a pit crewe and support with you through it all!
- Stop before you trash your brakes. 10 minutes stopping to fix it and clean it is better than not getting back on the bike at all because you’ve trashed the brakes and this will also save you money in the long run!
- I need to learn what food and drink choices I should be consuming as my stomach wasn’t happy half way through – Should I have had the gels?
- The legs can keep plodding on, but it’s the mind games that will get you, oh and all the sore points on your body
- 24hour racing isn’t as bad as I thought!
You may be able to tell that despite the conditions, the bike breakages, the muddy kit, the pains, aches and stomach discomfort that I enjoyed this in a very strange way. Not all the time, but for the most part it was ace. It was a real challenge and one that I think I did rather well at tackling. I hope all that were there and may have ended it early won’t be put off, but it will spur them on to give it another go. For me it’s helped to get my mojo back a little even if I am still broken with pain under the knees from repetitive use, neck and shoulder pain from being in the one position for so long and numb fingers with occasional pins and needles/pain from being in the wrong position on the bars. When I am fully recovered, which I hope is sooner rather than later I will be back on it and keen to put a few more events on the calendar where before this was going to be my last event for a while. I may still do less, but I think I have got to come back and go the whole hog at next years Pivot Twentyfour12 – lucky number 13 right!!!
Lastly thanks you to all the event crewe, marshals and fellow competitors and encouraging pit crews, it really is an awesome event to be involved in! THANK YOU!