So, last weekend was my first attempt at 24 hour mountain bike racing. Now, most sensible people do a team race as their first event, where four riders relay throughout the duration. Me? I have to stick my neck out and sign up to do the full time on my own. Prior to this, my longest time on the bike was a double century in New Jersey that took eleven hours, so going on all night and into the next day was going to be a whole new experience. My third place finish at the Gorrick Enduro was encouraging, even though that was only six hours. Now, I had planned to do lots more mountain biking and some big mileage in the preceding three weeks, but what with some very wet weather and general lack of wanting to train, that didn't really happen. The only big rides I actually did were over the weekend prior to the 24 - on the Friday I rode from Bracknell to Leicester, 110 miles in 6:20, then Saturday on from there to Pontefract, a further 95 miles in 5:40 (in order to arrive for my godson's christening as the eccentric godfather....). Into a headwind all the way of course, and rain on Saturday morning, but nice to be riding over new roads. Then I just had an easy week of riding to work and eating as much as possible. Fortunately my prays were answered with regard to the weather - the weekend had clear skies, sunshine and temperatures in the 20s, lovely. On the Saturday morning, my mum drove us down to Blagdon, on the Mendip hills south of Bristol, and the venue for the third running of CLIC24. We arrived, found a spot in the soloists area and pitched the gazebo to provide some shelter for my long suffering mother as she had kindly agreed to act as support crew for the duration. I was feeling very dozy and really not ready for what was about to happen, but by then it was too late to do anything else but head off when we started at 3pm. We had been warned that the course would be hard, but I wasn't quite prepared for just how hard - all my preconceived ideas of riding to heartrate went straight out as soon as I saw the hill: No track, just a grassy field stretching up to the horizon. The organizer had suggested that we could choose our own lines - for the vast majority this meant assuming shank's pony mode and trudging up. I rode, but took three large traverses to get up. I wasn't sure how long I would be able to ride it for, but knew that if I was reduced to walking I would be stuffed - I am trained for riding the bike, not to push it! The first lap went past in 19 minutes - only about 2.5 miles round, so pretty short. I was trying to ignore everyone else and ride my own race, which was helped by puncturing on the second lap. Once I had fixed it and got going again, I had no idea where I was compared to the other soloists. Then it was just a case of getting on with it. As evening came on, I was really enjoying myself, joking with the marshalls every time I came round. I figured I could just squeeze one more lap in before stopping to put the lights on.... but then I punctured again. I wasn't far from the pits, so walked back with the flat wheel and swapped it for my spare one before carrying on. I couldn't really see in the wooded section, but made it round in one piece to complete 17 laps before stopping for the first time.
I rigged the lights, had a bowl of cereal, put some dry, warmer kit on for the night, then headed back out again. I had purchased some new lights just for this event, not cheap, but very very good; I could ride just as quick as in the daylight, and with two batteries burning for three and a half hours each, could have that much light all night. I rattled out another seven laps before coming in for a break and more food. At 12:40am this was the lowest point for me. The dowhill was causing me the most trouble: it was so steep and fast and rough that I was being shaken so badly that I felt I could no longer hold onto the handlebars, and I really didn't want to keep riding anymore. I really needed to have done more mountain biking in the weeks before this..... But after forty minutes off, I headed out again to see how I felt - and was amazed to discover it was actually pretty good, all things considered. I managed another six laps, (at some point during which I snapped my chain, and had to mend it with a marshall holding the torch for me) before having another half hour break, then heading out into the dawn. Seeing the sun come up over the valley was amazing - the views had been cracking the day before anyway, this put a new perspective on it. Though the dew on the course also gave a new challenge.
Another five laps, and I came in once more for a quick change of clothes again - fresh shorts and a dry jersey and helmet was a great lift, and with the day warming up again I was feeling pretty good. Now, they were having some problems with the timing, but it appeared that the 15 minute lead I had had at 20 laps was probably more now. I knew who was in second place, and with good legs appearing from somewhere, set about increasing my lead by a couple of laps over the next eight - it felt great to turn out a 21 minute lap after riding for 16 hours! Incredibly I was still riding the hill every lap - and during the whole event I had only seen three other people ride it at all! But now, at 43 laps completed, I was starting to feel the effects. But I knew I had a bit of a buffer, and just had to keep lapping with second place to keep the win safe. Fortunately for me, John cracked and gave up with a couple of hours to go. I carried on, but my last three laps were very ssssslllooooowwww, and at just one lap short of the magic 50, I had nothing left to give, and quit with 1:20 left to run on the clock.
Sitting half comatose against the back of the car, it was hard to enjoy the fact that I had won; that would come later. At that moment it was just great to have stopped, as my body started to shut down - I just had to get up and pack the car before I could finally sleep on the drive home! Huge thanks to my mum - couldn't have done it without her sterling support (she stayed awake the whole time, except for grabbing a couple of hours of kip in the night). It was a good experience, very surreal in places, especially at night. But riding through to the dawn was pretty special, as was the camaraderie with the other competitors and marshalls. I might even do another one some time......