The human body is a pretty amazing thing, I pondered this thought in the pitch black in the Scottish Highlands at night during the Relentless 24hr race . The concept of mountain biking non-stop for 24hours just seems implausible but here I was still riding. I peered up at the stars for a rare smile of contentment in what was very much a universe of type 2 fun. By this time I was over halfway through the Relentless 24hr race and despite a few hours of soul searching pain around midnight, I was now revitalised, caffeinated and spinning freely. To get through endurance challenges you have to break down the whole, to smaller more manageable challenges like the next food break or the top of this climb etc. but when you know there’s still 12 hours to go at the halfway point it’s hard to do this, so I sat down with a cup of tea and asked why? Which is a bad thing to do during the race but there must be a good reason why as there’s over 130 of us solo’ists racing.
It was a dark and spooky Scottish Highlands Halloween for this my first ever 24 hour bike race – think fires roaring and pumpkins glowing in the forest, other than that I really didn’t know what to expect.
Relentless is a good name for a 24 hour mountain bike race, as to do well you just can’t stop for any length of time for an entire day. I felt pretty fit leading up to it, and tapered off the bike well for the last two weeks. Having never ridden more than 12 hours I wondered if my body would just say no at some point and I’d drop into bed for some sleep. However as an optimist I didn’t prepare a bed to drop into!
On the Friday night before the race I camped on the way up to Fort Wiliam, in a nice spot in Glencoe. Then a storm blew in and at 3am I finally abandoned tent. I had just 3 hrs sleep in the car and my back ached badly – not ideal preparation.
The next morning in the event village for the race I met up with the other Tweed valley soloists: Janey, Jamie, Gordon and Rod, Keith was going to be running our pits all night which was awesome for us!
I ate a small amount of porridge (the milk over-boiled in Gordon’s van) and 6 tattie scones for breakfast. I ate malt loaf and then some bread, oh and some fruit scones. Trying to squeeze as much white carbs in as possible.
I set out packs of tortilla wraps, bread rolls, roast chicken, ham, salad, snack bars, crisps, 5 litres of High 5 4:1 drink (highly recommend this stuff) and lots of sweets for the race. I had some caffeine drink ready too, not Red Bull I should add!
12am rolled around and I had tweaked the bike and oiled the chain well. I was starting on a Schwalbe Thunderburt slick tyre on the back despite the wet ground. I anticipated lots of fireroad and well surfaced descent and it was a good call as I hardly noticed the lack of grip on the first few laps but climbed fast.
The new 32t Absolute Black oval ring was not noticeable, so it was doing its job.
The bike was soon covered in thick gritty mud, the cassette was skipping a bit from muck. Otherwise the bike was fine and by taking the edge off my speed it meant no crashes or pinch flats like when we won Ten under the Ben as a pair here in June.
Over the afternoon the laps went quickly without much issue and soon it was getting gloomy so I decided for one more lap before dark. It was tough in the trees but just about OK to see still. Once it was properly dark the risk of slamming my skinny tyres into rocks and getting a pinch flat was higher, so in the pits I swapped wheels to my tubeless Nobby Nics, I ate a quick sandwich and got out again for my first dark lap with the lights on. It was still all going fairly effortlessly and smoothly at this point.
At about 8pm I stopped for the first time proper and ate a decent amount of food for dinner and made a call to let Marion know how I was doing. That break was enough to keep me going until midnight, but it was then I hit a wall, not literally. I needed to sit down for 15 mins while eating and Keith cleaned a lot of mud off the bike. My legs were hurting and the hills felt steep. After 15 minutes I forced myself back out wondering why? I then realised that I couldn’t use the three easiest gears, a quick cable adjust and I was spinning up the hills much easier, goodness knows when I stopped shifting into them! The fatigue in my legs was quickly gone with the better RPM. Then suddenly the chain jammed into my wheel, the gears were shifting too far the other way now!
It took ages to sort out on the trail and I was feeling tired and annoyed, but the extra gears now let me keep going. The next lap I got a slow puncture, luckily not far from the pits so I limped home knowing the sealant would hold until I swapped wheels again. Keith had already swapped the spare over so it was a quick change.
I downed a caffeine drink, and from then on I felt good and so did the bike, the track was very eerie in the wee hours as lots of people had gone for a nap it seemed, I hardly saw anyone for what felt like ages.
From 3am I had started on a stop and eat every 2 laps strategy, which got me through to 8am. During the night I noticed I had been slow on the downs as I often got caught, I put it down to fatigue on a hardtail but was a bit frustrated. The first lap at sunrise was beautiful looking over the highlands and Ben Nevis, it was also fast. I hadn’t realised just how slow I was descending all night so it must have been the lack of night riding practice or the fact I had my lights on low to save battery. I needn’t have saved my lights as I had 1.5 batteries left and one on charge, who says Chinese lights don’t last!
I ate more scones and sesame bread for breakfast which wasn’t really enough as it turned out. During the night I had glimpsed the live scores and saw I was down in 17th, I was disappointed but carried on the same, it’s a long race I thought!
In the morning I passed Janey who looked pretty fresh still. I had assumed she had gone to sleep for a while, but she hadn’t, instead she was clocking up loads of laps. She shouted at me that I was 9th overall so I was determined not to fall outside the top ten and pushed on. As the race was getting into the final phase I was getting more competitive: checking number boards to see if I was passing fellow soloists. Soon this adrenaline from first light was long gone, however the end was now in sight.
Oddly my legs felt fine, just spinning a steady rhythm, it was the rest of me that hurt; upper arms ached badly, hands blistered, back numb etc. I also felt a bit sick for the first time, too much energy drink and caffeine. I saw a soloist behind who I suspected was near my time so I spun off to lose him, it worked. I even gained a position.
Finally I told myself this was the final lap with over an hour left.
After putting in a pretty quick 53minute lap I was finished and that was it, no roar from the crowd, I limped into the pits. I was done.
The results initially showed I was 8th overall and 2nd in senior men, a decent first effort I thought and given my position in the night I was happy, however I was confused by a rogue 2hr+ lap on my print out but didn’t have the energy to think about it. I collected second place on the podium and the guy in third was super friendly, but 1st place didn’t show up.
We all cleared up and despite feeling so tired I drove home, then stopped to have a nap in a layby on the A9 as it was a struggle to keep the eyes open.
It wasn’t until Monday I realised my laps were adjusted and I was awarded the correct 25 laps in the final results, meaning I was 5th overall and British champion in the senior mens field. I was super pleased with this result, as it was exactly what I was aiming for. Winning overall was never going to happen on my first solo race but I had a feeling I could do well in the Senior Men’s field.
The lap statistics from GPS devices showed I had ridden 292km and climbed 8320m. Not a bad days work.
All pictures taken from No Fuss, the organisers page at: https://www.facebook.com/nofussevents/