Thursday, 27 May 2010

24 (A slightly different perspective)

When I found out that the UK 24 Hour Solo Champs were going to be at Newcastleton, just 2 hours down the road from home, I knew I had to give it a bash.

My confidence has taken a bit of a beating since the Trans Portugal last year and I’ve struggled to shake off a persistent virus and to get back to the level of fitness I had before the TP. So my only objective with 24 Solo was to finish and feel like I’d really tried. I’d soloed a 24 a few years ago, so I knew it was going to be tough and that my mind and body would have to work pretty hard to go the distance. But that also meant that I’d been able to do it once, so I should be able to do it again.

Chris and I had to Newcastleton to recce the terrain in March. Riding around, it looked like it had potential to be a really interesting course with plenty of singletrack, climbs and views to keep me switched on for the 24 hours. Based on that ride, the gearing on my singlespeed was lowered to a spinny 32-20!

We arrived at Newcastleton early on Friday evening and found that Steve had already found a good trackside spot for our camping and joint support crews, just before the start/finish area. While Chris set up our camp I went off to register and see what was happening and figure out what the options were for dinner. I managed spot some familiar faces who all said encouraging things …well, actually they all said I was mad for racing singlespeed, but that’s as encouraging as it gets really.

Friday night involved the usual pre-race nervous chatter and a few beers and then off to bed early in the hope of getting some sleep. My body had decided that I really needed to stay awake for 48 hours though, because, through a combination of nerves and a sloping campsite, I hardly slept.

By 8am on Saturday morning, it was already hot. Chris came back from a ride round the course very hot looking, so a spare bottle cage was promptly put on my bike to carry a bottle of water for skooshing over myself when I got hot (I have learned something from racing in hot places!).

Before I knew it, it was rider briefing time and then time to roll down the hill to Newcastleton for the start in the town square. Each rider was called up to sign on, in front of all the other riders, supporters and the rest of the town. Then the race started with the Copshaw Common Riders (a group of local riders on cruisers of all shapes and sizes) leading us racers out of Newcastleton and back up the hill to the trails and we were off proper.

The pace was pretty quick and I could already see the lead guys charging off up the hill, but I wasn’t in any hurry, so I hung back and enjoyed the views and the chat at the back of the field and then joined the gentleman’s queue at the first section of singletrack. Once we got to the top, riders starter to thin out and we could start riding. It was blinking hot though, so I was grateful of that extra water bottle to pour water down my back whenever I got too hot. Okay, I was riding around in soggy clothes, but it stopped me from overheating.

My first few laps went quite well and I really enjoyed the course and felt pretty good. I was having a lot of fun cheering on the other riders and shouting encouragement as we passed each other. Lap three started to change a wee bit though. I’d been riding through the watersplash rather than crossing the bridge so that I could cool down in the water. Unfortunately, this made my shoes quite wet and they started to stretch a bit and then start rubbing. So I ended up with blisters on each foot, which were quite uncomfortable. I didn’t have a spare pair of shoes with me, so I just did the straps up a bit tighter and hoped for the best.

Before I knew it, it was time to get the lights on the bike and start preparing myself for the ride through the night. I knew from the last time I’d done a solo 24 that the toughest time would be around 2am, so I started preparing myself for that inner battle.

Things started to get pretty quiet out on the course and I found that I’d often ride almost half a lap without seeing anyone. Then I’d come across a couple of riders sitting by the side of the trail having a chat and admiring the moonlight, so I’d stop and have a bit of a chat with them before reminding myself that I’m meant to be riding my bike.

I carried on and pulled into the pits at around 2am for some hot food. Despite Jenn’s sage words of advice, I sat down to have a bowl of pasta and then started to feel a bit peaky. I could see concerned faces looking at me from our combined support crew when I stood up and started wobbling. I was determined to do this thing though, so I picked up my bike and started off again, only to start shaking uncontrollably. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it round the lap like that, so I pulled back into the pits to be met by Chris carrying my puffy jacket. He took me back to the tent and instructed me to get changed into fresh riding kit and get into my sleeping bag until I warmed up.

I thought that was my race over. As I lay there shivering in my sleeping bag I heard Amy and Grant come and go and started to feel pretty desperate. All I wanted to do was finish a race and prove to myself that I could still do it, but my body didn’t seem to have the same idea.

It took me just over an hour to warm back up again, but when I did, I had a sudden surge of energy and decided that I wasn’t going to be beaten by temperature again! And anyhow, I didn’t want to miss the dawn lap (that’s what 24 hour racing is all about after all!).

So, after fumbling around to get new contact lenses in, I got back on the bike and set off again. I’d dropped a couple of laps, but it didn’t really matter. I’d managed to get back out and was going to finish.

Chris writes: And praise the wee baby Jebus for that as I was mentally preparing for the brutal fight of wills necessary to get Jac out of a snug soloists sleeping bag and back on the bike…

The dawn lap was everything a dawn lap should be… peaceful, hardly anyone on the course, tweeting birds in the trees and mist rising from the valleys. Lovely.

Dawn also meant we were almost finished, so I had to start thinking about how many more laps I was going to do – this was a ‘short’ 24 hour format, we had to be finished within the 24 hours and any lap which finished after the 24 hours wouldn’t count. I really didn’t want a lap not to count, so I had to try to figure out how long my laps needed to be and how long my pit stops could be. So I decided I could do another 2 laps.

On my last lap, I rode round and thanked all the marshals – they really did a top job, sitting in the woods all night. I rolled back into the campsite at around 10am and wasn’t quite sure what to do. I should have time for another lap, but what if I didn’t make it?

It was when the support crew of one of the female vets, Anne Dickens, said that I should at least give it a go, that I thought, what the heck! My legs felt okay, so I might as well ride for a bit longer. After all, how often do I get to ride my bike for 24 hours? I didn’t want to waste the opportunity!

So I went out for another lap and had a blast! I charged through all the bits I’d been cautious on until then, singing away to myself and thanking all the marshals again.

As I was climbing up the last climb of the course, one of the quick male riders rode alongside me for a bit. As we were riding along, he turned to me and said “I think you’re awesome for doing this on a singlespeed.” then rode off in front of me. That was it. My bottom lip started to go. The combination of someone saying something nice like that and knowing that I was only minutes away from finishing was quite overwhelming, so I had a bit of a sniffle. I stopped for a moment at the top of the last descent to pull myself together and tried to make myself look vaguely presentable for crossing the finish line, then off down that descent for the last time.

I crossed the finish line with an immense sense of relief. I hadn’t known for sure that I could do it, but I made it. My legs did their stuff and kept pedalling even when my head was telling them to give up.

I rolled back down to the pits amidst calls of well done from other riders and support crews. The beer I’d asked for on the finish line was waiting for me, but all I wanted was water, so the beer waited until later.
The prize giving saw the first ever UK Solo 24 hour champions crowned, as well as a rookie and a singlespeeder. To have been a part of it really felt like something special.
The support from my pit crew and other riders as well as the marshals, organisers and, of course, Joolz were all big contributing factors to me carrying on and not stopping when things got tough (or cold in my case). I know they won’t all be there next time, but they helped me get over the hurdle and reminded me that racing for me isn’t about being the fastest or strongest, it’s about having fun, riding with new people in new places and just pushing my body to see what it’ll do.

What’s next? Well, I’ve washed the bike and I’m planning a ride tomorrow evening, just for a few hours this time though. Oh and I need to buy a new pair of riding shoes.



trio said...

Well Done! Even I think you are crazy for singlespeeding! Next time I am going for an even spinnier gear...did I just say next time?

Red Bike said...

Congratulations Jac.
That ford was my favourite bit of the course. I kept trying to make the biggest splash I could. On my last lap I even jump off the bike and dived into it.

KatieCake said...

HUGE congratulations. As I told you post race. You did a super job and were just so inspirational. I just hope one day I can achieve a fraction of what you achieved.

PS. Keep thinking of those little kittens. ;-)

Katie (VeloCake)x

grant said...

Jac, you and Amy were ace. Truly.

Same camping spot next year? :-)