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.


24 Hours Solo

Guest blogger Amy decided that her first ever 24 hour solo race should be the national championships. Well there's nothing like aiming high to make you achieve more than you ever thought you could....

It was my first attempt at a 24hour race and I chose the inaugural national championships, to say I was nervous was an understatement. My bike had been checked over in the shop and Shaun and Chris shared their horror stories from previous races. I still had a last minute rush to get things sorted but we arrived at Newcastleton with plenty of daylight to set up our tent and I tried to get some sleep. Morning came quickly and I got the bike ready and my box of stuff for my pit crew and wandered over to briefing, there were a lot of very fit looking people there. I wondered if it was too late to change my mind. But no I had to get down to the Town for the official sign-on and then a neutral start; it was almost like being a pro!

Up the hill and round the first lap, the sun was out and I was chatting. Second lap and things were fine, third lap and the wheels came off, how could it happen so early? I dragged myself out for a fourth but I'd had enough, I announced I was retiring and on finding out a lot of the elite men had as well I felt justified, it was just too hot. I had forgotten all about my instructions to Ali and although she let me stop, once it cooled down she sent me out again, I really didn't want to. But I started working out how many laps I could do, I came up with a figure of 10 - double figures sounded good! So I had to keep going. Through the night was actually quite enjoyable although I could tell I was getting tired the previous flowing singletrack now seemed like a bunch of sharp corners I could barely get round.

The dawn lap was stunning and I was thinking of eleven laps, maybe even twelve. Coming in for the last longish stop after a faster lap I realised that thirteen might just be a possibility if I pushed. So change of clothes and out I went. Back with 1hr 50mins left for the last lap, should be fine, but I was slowing again with the heat. In the end I finished with at least 15minutes to spare. I was now a 24hour soloist.

I finished 34th overall, 5th Open Female, 6th Singlespeeder and 1st Female Singlespeeder. Oh and yes I want to do another one!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

a mixed bag

Fi writes:

I was sick last week. In bed proper-ill with hallucinations and sweats. But soon kicked that before the weekend and went swimming in the local lake to 'see how I felt'. Bit dizzy but the cool water and banter with the other seals was amazing. Pootling there on my shopper, wetsuit folded into my pannier, I thought 'I love this city'. The lake is amazingly serene, surrounded by grass. It is clean and peaceful and dedicated for swimmers. Perfect Sunday morning.

Then the trails were crying out to be ridden. So I thought I'd test my wellness with a short 2 and a half hour ride with The Boy. Just One More Trail. Everything dusty and perfect. Then bbq and wine-drunkenness.

This week has been a mixed bag of marking in the garden with the dog sitting on my feet (yay), coughing and tight chestedness after-glow of The Bug (boo), two great swim sessions (yay), blisters from kayaking on the ergo in the garden (to the amusement of the neighbours) (boo), an awesome 20mile tt with one of the Roadie Chicks (yay) and Not Enough Running (boo).

Summer Is Glorious.

PS. Anyone coming to Bristol Bikefest?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010



the worst crashes are the stupid ones.

standing still, bike feels odd, maybe i have a flat, look down at rear tyre, lose balance, no time to get clipped out, plenty of time to stick arm out, tears, swearing, horrid sicky feeling.

going fast, middle moor, why am i trying to follow matt's line, why hasn't mike come by yet, this is fun but possibly too fast, slow for the bridge, where's the front wheel going, bite lip, swearing, horrid sicky feeling.

bruises on bruises. i think i might take up knitting.


Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Learning to Love Hills

I don’t like hills… mostly because I’m not much good at them.

When I’m racing, any time that I make up on the techy sections I lose threefold on the climbs. When I’m out riding with friends, by the time I get to the top of the hills, a red, puffing mess, everyone else is champing at the bit and ready to go again.

The people I know who are good at climbing tell me that they actually enjoy hills. There must be some sort of correlation.

So, my challenge is to make myself start liking hills. How do I plan to do this? Well, I’ve changed my commute home so that instead of riding straight home, I take the long route that involves lots of hills. When I’m out riding with friends, I’m going all out on the hills.

I don’t know if it’ll work or if I’ll ever like hills any more than I do just now, but I’m ravenous by the time I get home from work and my thighs are starting to look a bit different!



Last week I had one of those moments when you want to just take off... I was thinking about hopping over to Europe and pedalling my way through olive groves and lemon trees for a week.

But I settled on Exmoor for a day and a half. That's all I could squeeze in.

My friend Kat and I set off in the blustery cold wind and pedalling clear of Bristol before most people were scraping their bacon rinds in the bin. We spun round the airport and laughed at the plane spotters, roared down the steep hill to the Mendips and quickly shot out to the Quantock hills. A sweaty, backbreaking climb later and we were drinking our first pot of tea and scouring the map for the best route.

Another few tens of miles later and we were pedalling beneath the tall mottled beach hedges of Exmoor, glimpsing the sea to our right, then plunging down towards Wimbelball Reservoir and up again to Bampton for doughnuts and coffee on the pavement. 5 hours done. Lovely.

A quick check of the phone reminded me we had been invited to stop by a friend's house for a paddle in the hot tub if we had time. Only 20 miles away and en route. Did we have time?

A final 9 miles and we were at our destination for wine, casserole, cats and an open fire. Thanks Mum and Dad!

9hours sleep later we were up and the sky had cleared ready for our 50 mile spin back home and to work. The roads were busy and the peace of Exmoor had disappeared as we ploughed into a bright windy morning, taking it in turn to pull on the front. A little less conversation, a little more concentration but a decent pace and Bristol was soon just around the corner.

Home. Food. Work. Conference papers. Marking. Deadlines. Normality returns. Bah!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

gorrick enduro - rain of some distinction.


at lorraine's on saturday night there is an unhealthy amount of talk about tyres over dinner. we reason that because racing is now our normal mode of operation, we have nothing more important to worry about and it's simply a sign of spare operational capacity. we go to bed hoping it will rain hard overnight as predicted and when it's still dry in the morning there are grumbles and some last-minute switching of rubber.

lap one: too fast, as always. a retrospective look back at timelaps shows it was the fastest girls' lap of the entire race and that is not big or clever when there are another six to go. still, i have new kit to christen and it needs to be done in style. halfway in it starts to rain. i rejoice and give thanks to my wtb raijin which will now get its chance to shine rather than simply battering me about the arse for six hours.

lap two: properly raining by now, all four layers of clothing are soaked. it is brutally cold and i can't stop shivering. i can see my hands and feet are still attached to my arms and legs but they're not connected to my brain anymore. shifting requires me to mash the levers with the heel of my hand and braking is accomplished by unclenching two fingers from the bar, fastening them carefully around the lever and locking the fist again with a visual check to make sure everything's in the right place. i have not been this miserable whilst racing in a long time and at the end of the lap there are already lots of withdrawals. i figure i stand more chance of getting warm again if i keep riding, so don't stop.

lap three: the rain is easing but it's not getting any warmer. it's not particularly muddy by uk standards but when i dab the front brake coming into the steepest part of the labyrinth absolutely nothing happens. woah! i gain a instant refresher in the importance of commitment and berms. ride on carefully getting colder and colder and slower and slower, using bushes and softer mud to slow progress whilst wondering what to do. at the end of lap three i borrow a jersey from a friend and head out again with renewed vigour. i will finish this, i just have to preserve what's left of my brake pads and try to remember not to brake.

lap four: i forget not to brake on the first descent of the lap. the wail of metal on metal doesn't cease when i let go of the lever and suddenly control is no longer a problem as something unseen is impeding my progress. one piston is jammed half-out of the caliper and the brake is now permanantly on. this is going to be expensive. it is also incredibly hard work to pedal against and this is the longest lap in the world. i dither about by the pit for a bit but once the fluffy jacket of comfort is on and i get a proper look at the brakes it's clear i am going nowhere. lorraine is the next to appear and also has no brakes left, despite having fitted a second pair of pads on lap three. we agree that although we have the inclination, continuing in these conditions is just silly.

we leave a cheerful rory preparing to head out for his sixth and final winning lap and make an unceremonious dash for the comforts of home, collecting silverware and prizes from a rueful ben as we go, and spend the rest of the afternoon waiting with increasing impatience for the curry house to open its doors.

lessons: be careful what you wish for and take winter gloves to every race, even in may. showers and central heating are simply fantastic. curry houses don't open at 4pm on sundays.


Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Road Racing

Fi writes:

I have large blisters on the palms of both hands. Ouch! These appeared on lap 3 of a 9.5 lap closed circuit race at Millbrook Circuit, yesterday. The hills were fierce, the decents fast and fun and the wind brutal. I have been racing for the Fred Baker Women's RR team this year and the Bedford 2 day stage race was my second outing for them - part of the national women's team series. Two weeks ago I raced at Maidenhead with two team mates and managed to stay with the bunch. I love the exhilaration of the bunch - grappling for position, holding your line and your nerve round the corners with adrenaline-fuelled ladies twitching their handlebars milimeters from yours. I love the energy, the excitement, the total unBritishness of of it all. Suits me.

So I was looking forward to Bedford. There were 6 of us in our team from Bristol for this race plus our Directeur Sportif and a couple of WAGS (or should I say HABS). The first day was a 50 mile road race on the open road, after a team tt. The Team tt was great fun and we ditched two of our riders (who sacrificed themselves for the greater good) and the four who remained saw the team finish in a respectable time half way down the list. Good effort girls... since we only do once of these in a blue moon!

The road race was fiercely windy. How is it possible to have a head wind on all four sides of a square? The first lap had me wondering what on earth I was doing there. It was seriously fast and I was burning matches fast. There was a short steep climb after some undulations where the prime was (and finish) and I just about hung on for lap one but on lap two (of 5) I didn't have the oomph to stay with the bunch as they disappeared into the distance and battled on for a lap on my own.

This was a terrible mistake. Eventually two of my team mates in a chasing bunch of 15 caught me but I was so battered from my lone lap that I couldn't cling to them after the climb and got shelled at the same point. I didn't know what to do and being inexperienced thought it was sensible to pull out and save myself for day 2.

I stopped, faffed, tried to find our DS. Failed, turned around, pedalled on, turned back again. Then I asked directions to the race HQ and started to pedal slowly towards it... at which point our last remaining team mate, in a group of about 8, caught me up and I started to ride with them. I decided, as they were moving pretty steadily, to do one final lap with them and then pull. Well, as it happened we all got pulled because of the time gap on the leaders, but becuase we were pulled and didn't retire we were allowed to race day 2 - which I wouldn't have been allowed to had I stopped! Thank goodness I faffed for so long before deciding what to do! I never normally retire from races but thought it was the 'done thing' in rr. Obviously not.

Valuable lessons learnt (about having a contingency plan if/when you don't stay with the bunch), we moved on to the second day.

Day 2 arrived and I had the bit between my teeth to prove myself (to myself - my team were lovely about my mishap) after a disappointing day 1. My individual tt was respectable given my legs were screaming and my bike is rubbish compared with most. One of our team who had retired lent me her pimpy wheels so I had a bit of help. Thank you Kat!

Millbrook Circuit is hilly, quite technical and the wind was fierce. Ruth, Gillian and I stayed in the bunch for the first 3 climbs but then the bunch was stretched and smashed to smitherines by the Maxgear and Horizon girls who weigh 6 stone and are supreme climbers. Gillian and I got caught in a chasing bunch and Ruth cramped (after her supreme tt effort earlier) and was in the bunch a few minutes down.

Gillian and I stuck in and worked with the group, who luckily were a very experienced group of girls. We rode hard and fast and mopped up more riders as we stormed through. Each climb was exhausting and as I said, I have rubbed big holes in the palms of my hands from turning over the hoods. But each time I made it with the group and caught some time and some breathe on the descent before plunging back into the head wind and around the 'speed bowl' (in the photo).

Gillian and I supported each other with breathless words of encouragement as we rode past during our through and off. It was the hardest 50 miles I have ever ridden and when we hugged at the finish I knew we were both desperately grateful to have survived it without being pulled and very pleased with our performance.

The whole team had a great weekend full of ups and downs and amazing performances. Although the scenery isn't exactly what I'm used to when mountain biking, road racing is purely exhilarating and leaves you with a deep fatigue from hours putting in max effort chasing lycra-clad pairs of legs into a head wind.

Time to recover now, and prepare myself for my first big Adventure Race of the year. Nothing if not varied! I need to get some running and kayaking in!