Won a race once. AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT

Mountain Mayhem 2008 – Pure Sweet Hell

I’m staring at the lump of oatmeal held between my grubby thumb and forefinger, breathing deeply and trying to build up the courage to put it in my mouth. I glance up and notice some that I’ve almost reached the rutted corner, it’s now or never, I jam the brown chunk between my teeth and chew.

It’s no good, I instantly start to retch. My eyes start to water furiously and I spit the semi chewed piece of Clif Bar out onto the trail. A few more deep breaths and I try to settle back down into riding to help ignore the feeling of bile rising from deep in my stomach.

There’s a slower rider coming up and it looks like their head is slung low over the bars, their helmet mounted light pointing directly at the floor. I stand up as I ride past and try to offer a few encouraging words. They’re as much for my own benefit as for theirs, but it seems to do the trick; the lad looks up through bloodshot eyes and agrees with me that this lap is nearly over, with only the final fun bit of twisty stuff through the trees and one fast fireroad descent before we’re back in the campsite and the race arena.

Just knowing that I’m not far from the solo tent and friendly faces helps raise my spirits, I desperately need to eat something but decide I might as well push myself a bit to get the most fun out of the course. Round the right hander and into the narrower, tree lined track I put in a couple of pedal strokes and pick up some speed. I throw my weight onto the outside pedal and allow the wheels to slide slightly over the tree root on the entrance to the following left hander. The narrow cyclocross tyres I’ve fitted to minimise the frame clogging effects of the mud squirm as I lean further into the bend, but a gentle tweak of the bars gets me pointing in the right direction back up the slight incline. I spin out a couple more pedal strokes to get me up the slight rise and the bike fires forward underneath me as what little power I have on offer is easily transferred into the earth through the frame.

I resist touching the brakes and let the 29er carve sharply round the tree marking the boundary of the course, throwing my weight first backwards to let the front wheel skim over a couple of rocks that make what would otherwise be an easy corner a bit tricky, then lurch over as far left as I dare to dig the tyres in enough to pull the bike tight across to the right hand site of the singletrack.

The bike snaps into position as if it knew where it was supposed to be and I’m able to repeat the motion to get me round the next bend so quickly my befuddled mind can barely make out the route ahead, lit up by my helmet light and sparkling in the rain.

I’ve only ridden a couple of corners but I’m already feeling less sick and the near-death grimace I’d been wearing while contemplating the black cherry and almond energy bar has been replaced by the clenched teeth of someone entirely consumed with pushing their skill to the limits. I’m on it again and replacing the calories I’m burning off can wait until I’ve nailed the rest of this swoopy section. The bike seems to agree with me and throws up a playful little twitch over a root I’ve not noticed, demanding my full attention – more power will get me out of this situation, so I come out of the saddle and combine another pedal stroke with a slight wiggle of the hips (hey, it’s dark, no one can see me wiggle…) to get the back end into line and surging forward again. This is 24hr racing. This is what all the cold, dark winter nights out slogging over hills when every sane person is curled up on the sofa at home has been for, ignore the problems, fight through the hard times and keep going; stay positive, find something good and focus on it. Nail the singletrack like your life depends on it. Race, even though you’ve nothing left in the tank. This is 24hr racing, definitely.

Much of mountain mayhem was like this – trying to ignore how much energy I was losing without replacing while nailing the more interesting parts of the course. I’d resigned myself to having to stop inbetween most laps to eat without retching almost as soon as it became apparent my digestive system wasn’t up for the challenge, but had also decided that, for as long as I could keep a bike upright I wasn’t going to give in.

This system wasn’t going to offer me much chance of really battling for the win, but it meant I was still in with a shot of a decent finishing place and a bit of self awarded glory should I get to the end…in fact the only thing I was determined wasn’t going to happen was for me to finish 6th again…like I had last year at mayhem…and at SITS that year…and at SITS the year before that too. Last place would be fine, provided I got there and had a go whenever I felt like I could.

Sadly (and yes, it does feel slightly strange to describe it as “sadly”) I did end up 6th. It’s not a bad result; not a million miles away from the leaders and, as far as I’m concerned, quite impressive given just how little I managed to eat or drink. It feels like a bit of a vindication for the ScandAL; a bike so eager it felt like it was desperate for me to hammer harder throughout the whole race, even with the scrawny tyres fitted and has shown me that I’ve got a good enough level of base fitness to try and build up a good strong peak for the later races this season. But still, aaarg! Another 6th place in a Pat Adams organised 24hr race…I’m going to have to do a lot of food based research to find something I can stomach throughout a 24hr race, just to make sure I get further up the results list next time!