Damn that water’s cold. Really cold. Gasping cold. Like some sort of monster lurching it’s lungs into life as it rises from it’s deep, dark pit, air spasms it’s way into my chest. I’m awake again. Awake in a torrent of iron heavy, ice like water being poured from a bike wash bucket unceremoniously over my head as I hunch, cross legged near the finish line.
I’m not a fan of super hot 24 hour races, I’ve pretty much always blown up, ended up desiccated, or just tried to drink too much and chucked it all back up at the side of the track when I’ve raced them before now. This time round, however, it was to be different. Clever Dave put his clever hat on and rode to his abilities rather than his desires. In it to finish it. In it to learn, relearn, rediscover, work out what effort needed to be put in, what effort I had to offer and just plain ride a bike for a day. Hot is fine this time round, hot is just something to be worked out, rather than ignore and hope for the best like before.
Clever Dave isn’t feeling quite so clever with a massive tub of water dumped on the head that clever hat was siting earlier though. Clever Dave may have forgotten about the whole “don’t forget to drink” thing for the last few laps. Oh well. I’d made it to the last few laps feeling good (comparatively), so by that point it was pretty much ‘job done’ anyway.
As the guys from Pivot (who’d kindly drenched me as I began to spontaneously combust on the start/finish straight while all the finishers were rolling across the line for the final time) wandered off, I began the long trudge back to the pits ready, when my legs were sorted, for the next one.
I’d not sprinted off at the start (the start of the riding I mean, the chances of me sprinting off during the run are slimmer than something unbelievably slim) like I wanted to. I’d taken account of the heat, pegged myself back a bit and just ridden. Ridden on feel. No information from the pits on how I was doing was needed as I wasn’t going to be acting on it. I had a bike, a course to ride it on and a day in which to do it. That was enough.
Not, you understand, that I was going to be bimbling round at the back. I had to finish tired, so I would know I’d checked out what riding through being tired felt like. But I did have to finish, and sprinting off to chase down the lead, maybe even try to eke one out myself, while it was so hot put that in too much jeopardy. I tried out a few new things drinks-wise while the sun shone and made it into the cooler evening feeling far better than at previous races.
Instead of getting my head caught up in the mess that comes from clock-watching during 24hr races, I worked my way into the night focusing on the encouragement being offered by other racers and trackside onlookers. I’ve never really taken too much notice of it before, beyond being generally grateful that people care enough to bother. This time round, however I tried to feed of it, take it on board. I barely missed checking the clock every lap, though that may have had as much to do with the sheer amount of support I was getting while just riding my bike around. I don’t think a single lap went by without someone recognising me and spurring me on. I certainly didn’t notice the night descend until I was at the pits swapping from one Joystick/Toro coombo to a slightly brighter Joystick/Six Pack combo as the clock ticked over 14hrs.
I paused in the JMC gazebo long enough to eat something at the point where I normally find my body shutting down, just to prove that I could. Then cracked on. Keeping it simple to counteract how horribly complicated everything can feel at that time of the morning. Just riding a bike.
People in the pits kept trying to cheer me up by pointing out that it would soon be getting light (at which point I usually come back to life a bit after running myself into the ground during the first part of the race), not realising that they didn’t need to. It could have stayed dark for the rest of the event for all I cared. Night riding is ace when you’re feeling alright.
Sunrise is always a nice thing to ride through and, usually, during a 24hr event it brings with it the final part of the race. Not at Mountain Mayhem though. You’ve still got 8hrs left to go here. On this occasion, you also had the returning heat to deal with again. I swapped what I was drinking to something new that, in training, had still seemed palatable after many hours in the saddle and reminded myself not to start worrying about how well I was doing.
The drink part seemed to work well, although I wasn’t drinking much out on each lap (more down to the course not offering many places to sit back and relax, more than anything else), what I did quaff was staying down nicely. I did get a bit caught up in finding out where I was in the overall standings for a while, until I realised I was separated by a lap in either direction, but hey – it is a race after all
With just a few hours left I changed bikes to give my hands a rest from the braking-bump pounding they were taking and gave speeding up a bit a go. Just ‘tickling the throttle’ a bit, of you like, to check I still could. Not intending to try and go as flat out as you’d have to if you were in a close race at that point, but aiming to push the boundaries of comfort. My lap time dropped accordingly and I rode into the final lap feeling pretty smug.
Smug until I realised I might end up crossing the line before the 24hrs were up and have to go round the course again, for no good reason. Some strategic walking was called for as I strolled up the final hill, rolled gently across the finish line, ate a cider ice lolly Angela had to run half a marathon to get for me, then promptly went light headed…
As it happened, I finished 5th – the lowest place I’ve ever finished in a 24hr race, after riding over 200 miles. Which should just about shut up anyone who thinks 24hr racing is dying a death. There are a LOT of very strong, very fast people racing.
Jase won (duh) and I was nearly in tears at points at all the good wishes I was getting from people while riding. Thank you all for having memories long enough to remember who I am. It’s good to be back.