19th October 2013, Leanachan Forest, Fort William, Scotland: Relentless 24 (24h solo)
In October 2014 the World Endurance Mountainbike Organisation (WEMBO) will bring the world 24h solo MTB championships to Fort William. It’s the first time the world 24 solo will be in the UK and No Fuss will be the event organisers. To be honest, since the announcement 18 months ago it’s been my plan to be there. The 10 Under the Ben event in June was a tough course and a good test event. I expected more of the same at this year’s Relentless, but darker, colder and wetter. At least the midgies would be gone. So this was another test event and after Newcastleton last year, only my 2nd 24h solo. Small errors in shorter events can magnify when its 24 hours. I was also curious to see how I would cope with 13h continuous night riding as I become more fatigued. In the weeks running up to the event I had a few good rides getting used to a new Specialized Epic 29er. I was more at ease throwing the 29er around and looked forward to testing myself in Fort William. However, with two weeks to go my workload increased massively, this limited my ability to recover.
The week before a head cold confirmed that I had to be careful. Planning and packing required more time due to the duration and potential weather conditions. It took a week to ready, I borrowed a gazebo, spare lights and batteries from friends. Due to a planned demo 29er being delayed Bikescene made some last minute checks to my spare 26er, the 29er had mudguards added and all spare lights were charged. I bought a lot of food, not just for me, feeding pit support is essential for optimum team performance. Fortunately, Rich Wilson offered his support as the pit master. His tech ability and unflappable attention to detail was exactly what I needed.
Trackside pit table became a becon of light
On arrival it soon started pouring down, the original forecast was 24h of rain. Last minute metoffice checks provided relief that a few hours of heavy rain were forecast around 10pm. The ground was wet but at least it was not continuous rain. After looking at the entries I decided to compete in the open category rather than age group. This would allow for a larger range and closer competition, pretty much what I expect next year. Also, I would be racing TT Legend Guy Martin, who was very fast in pairs the previous year. John and Tom from Exposure lights were supporting the event and very kindly agreed to provide full support of helmet and bike lights. This meant I had a 6 pack/Joystick combo, then after 3h my own Exposure MaxxD/Diablo whilst Rich swapped for a new 6 pack/Joystick combo.
At 12pm after some fettling it was time to go. It’s best not to look too far ahead as my friend Kev says “anything can happen at any time”. I started well and got into a rhythm without any problems. In a figure of 8 course there were 3 granny ring 24/36 steep climbs and another 6 tough grinds taking me to the top of the world cup course. All previous races this year had lots of climbing, but with the heavy wet ground this was the toughest, never mind the longest. The descents were excellent with lots of berms and rocky drops. At the 6h mark I was leading the open category by over 15min with Jason Miles not too far ahead.
At this point things were going well
Then disaster, my 6 week old 29er 240s freehub packed in on a steep climb around 15min from the pit. A combination of freewheeling and running got me back but not without using vital energy. I passed Matthew Jones going the other way and estimated he had a 5 min lead. Once on the 26er it was more effort, I was chasing to regain what had been built over the initial 6h. Within 2h and into the dark I was leading again but feeling tired. Rich had tried valiantly but not sourced a 142 spare wheel or freehub ratchet despite asking everyone. Then around 9pm it started pouring down. I got cold and wet quickly and was passed by Matt, we had a quick chat, and arrived at our pits at the same time, he looked comfortable. I decided to eat have a hot drink and change into winter kit. After all, there was around 14h to go. This also gave Rich the time to switch my 26er freehub to the 29er under torchlight in the pouring rain. The mountain café was open 24h at the start finish area, with lots of comforting food and coffees. Some were tempted and never came back out, it was a bit grim. We decided that running the one bike and cleaning it every 3h due to the mud would be best.
Fast pits turned to slow ones as I needed hot tea or porridge which Rich always had ready. As were the lights, he even had time to share a tipple with race organisers and the Exposure lads. More time at the pits allowed some shorts conversations with neighbouring endurance racers Craig Bowles and Rich Rothwell riding pairs. They would eventually complete 26 laps, easily winning the pairs category. At one point I was asked if I was ok, I had suffered for so long that I didn’t know how to answer, so just stared and kept eating. At 3am I was offered a hot chicken and bacon sandwich, it was devoured in seconds seasoned with dirt and gravel. It tasted good, but the next 2h of heartburn certainly didn’t.
As daylight approached I was informed that Guy Martin had edged closer and was 30 minutes behind. This played thoughts with my mind. I was in the Scottish highlands being chased through the dark into the daylight by a werewolf! I was living in Dog Soldiers, I imagined I was being chased down each descent and that Guy was just behind me. It was almost Halloween after all, and it worked, I finished with 2 consistent faster laps to increase the gap. Eventually completing 21 laps, around 215 miles, Matt paced well throughout and was a deserved winner of the open category with 22 laps. Ahead of Matt, Jason Miles completed his overall win with a 3 week strava entry of 900km ! At the end we looked and walked like zombies, apart from Guy Martin, in my mind he was still a werewolf.
No Fuss always put on great courses and events. Also, the Exposure light support makes a massive difference. Ive learned a lot about preparation and what to expect from next year’s worlds. Most of all I realised that with good friends and team support you can achieve more than you imagine. And with a good imagination you might just achieve that wee bit more.
Zombies and Werewolves
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