“They’re chatting ! My lungs are hanging out and they’re bloody chatting !”
That’s what’s being muttered under my breath as i desperately try and cling onto the coat tails of Rich Rothwell and Tim Dunford up another snowy climb at the Whinlatter trail, just outside Keswick in the lake district. This is the home of March’s Whinlatter Challenge. A 600 strong, early season mtb race / challenge around some of Cumbria’s best man made trails. I’m currently sitting 3rd, some 50 yards behind the lead two. This is a situation I’d normally be ecstatic about. Battling heroically at the front of a race with two of the best endurance racers out there. The problem is, the event was postponed yesterday due to the weather and there’s only 3 of us here ! When we heard the event was postponed, having already packed the car, got cover in the shop and booked a hotel for Saturday night, Michelle and I thought, what the hell and drove all the way up here with the kids anyway. A quick phone call to Rich and a “lets go out anyway” Sunday morning ride was arranged. I feared holding Rich up but when i saw he’d brought along a mate, i knew i was in trouble.
How did i get in this position? I blame Rich entirely. Not for anything that happened this last weekend, but for getting me hooked on wanting to do well back in late 2011, when i approached him to help me with some training tips, after i decided to enter my very 1st 12 hour solo race. I went from just wanting to survive a 12 hour to really wanting to compete at the best level i could. Just a few months after that i was trekking up to Keswick to do the 2012 edition of the Whinlatter challenge. My 1st ever proper race where i came a humble 104th overall and 31st vet. What i really remember about that race though (other than the cramp), was being overtaken on a climb by a twenty-something on a multi-linked full susser, wearing skinny jean cutoffs and trainers. To a forty-something, lycra-clad wannabe racer that’s not only depressing but downright embarrassing. This year i thought i’d return and try to iron out some niggles – i wanted to break the top 100 . . . . Oh, and hunt down skinny jeans and trainers.
The early seeds of doing, what seemed at the time, something near impossible like a 12 or 24 hour solo were first sown when Rob (Lee) worked for us back in 2007. Somehow the thought of riding for that long felt like a massive challenge alone. Nevermind actually trying to race. I always said that if i was to do one, i wanted to do it as the good guys did, not stop for a nap or a meal half way through, but actually ride, and push for the full duration. There was no way an average rider like me was going to do that without some help. Hence the call to Rich, who i already new through Rob’s old team. Rich coached me through my first season as a newbie racer. After Whinlatter i did the 6 hour solo at The Erlestoke 12. A local event to us. A fantastic course and a great, friendly event. Then came my target race, Bontrager Twentyfour12. All i was aiming for was to finish in the top 20% in the vets category. Some spectacular mud, a few no shows and a fair amount of bloody mindedness saw me pull off a podium place in my first ever 12. A result i still find hard to comprehend now. Michelle’s always tutting at me when i try to explain it away as a “freak result” . . . . ” but none of the big boys were there” etc etc.
A conversation with Rob over some bike building, led to a invitation for me to join The Bike Picture and here i am. Although i’ve always suspected Rob’s invite may have been a text meant for somebody else, and he’s too polite to tell me !
And that’s it really. Call it a midlife crisis, an excuse to get me out on my bike, what you will. That’s how a fairly average rider with a fairly normal lifestyle found himself getting up at 4am for training rides in the middle of winter, joining a team and getting beasted around a snowy trail centre by two guys in a whole other league to me. To be fair to both Rich and Tim they were great people to ride with and never once looked miffed at my comparative lack of pace. It was alot of fun and I hope to do it again someday. I can only dream of being that quick, but it’s not gonna stop me trying.
As for the guy in the skinny jeans and trainers – you can bet i’ll be back again next year at Whinlatter trying to reek my revenge. I may have missed out this year but i’ve not forgotten.