Excited, sick and battered !
They’re the main feelings I remember most from last years Erlestoke 12 race. Excited – because it was the longest race I’d attempted and for the first 2 hours I felt invincible. Sick – because at 2.5 hours the effects of pushing too hard and over-doing the energy product had me thinking I was heading for an early exit and a bush shaped toilet. And battered because the course was relentless. A course where pretty much the only bits of non singletrack are all up hill, means you’re either blowing or concentrating really hard the whole time. Add that to an abundance of tree roots and baked hard ground and i felt like I’d been kicked by a mule – a lot. I only did the 6 hour version, but last year it was the first race I’d done that i could possibly put in the endurance bracket. Slightly dubious I know, but I’m clinging to it !! Last year it was all just training towards the overall goal of doing the 12 hour solo at Bontrager, but it was still the longest I’d ridden for, by nearly double. So with all that in mind, I was slightly nervous to be doing it again this year.
The second bank holiday of the year is always a busy time for us. It’s normally about the busiest week in the shop for repairs, with everyone wanting their bike in time for the weekend. We always do a shop stall at the event, which takes a lot of time to plan and put together, let alone the lugging it all in and out of the van. This year our wedding anniversary and youngest daughters birthday fell on the same weekend too. So in the space of three days I managed to fit in an albeit low-key anniversary, a shop sta
ll, and a kid’s birthday party, all with the Saturday itself bringing a 21 hour working day with a 6 hour race stuck in the middle of it. Not what you’d call ideal prep. All the same I wouldn’t miss this event for anything. It’s a great friendly event, run by enthusiastic riders rather than an events company, with a course that for all the reasons it seems so tough, is really challenging and great fun to ride. I’ve heard alot of endurance riders, describe it as one of the best 12 hour courses they’ve ridden.
The course was yet again amazing and even tougher than last year. Mega-tight, tree lined singletrack all over the place, including a Red Bull timed section in an area known as “the rollercoaster”. One minute you’re zigg-zagging downhill through gaps so tight that it seems you’ll catch both ends of the bar at the same time, the next second you’re pinning it up a 20 foot bank you’d struggle to walk up only to turn 90 degrees at the top, dive back down and hurtle into more Return of the Jedi / Endor speeder bike type singletrack. Then throw in punishing grassy climbs, singletrack climbs with short sharp energy sapping ramps, and one steep tarmac climb which bizarrely enough I found a bit of a break, because you could at least switch your brain off for a couple of minutes. The weather, yet again was great and the atmosphere around camp was as ever pretty chilled.
My target for this years race was just to improve on last year. I had an idea of how many laps I’d hope to achieve, 8 as opposed to last years 7, but it was more about trying t o get more consistent lap times, listen to my body more and ride more sensibly, rather than start like a spaniel on amphetamines. My start was certainly more subdued and I definately bounced of less tree’s in the 1st lap this year. In fact, apart from an embarrassing mini-off in the pit, trying to grab a bottle from my table without stopping, I had no prangs at all. Which for me is pretty good. The first few laps passed without any real incident. I was lapping in a time that satisfied my overall 8 lap target. I’d previously decided not to chase that lap time but once I’d worked it out, it was impossible to get it out of my head. A bit like when someone says don’t think of a purple elephant. The only difference was my bizarrely coloured pachyderm looked more like a stopwatch ticking around to 45 minutes. As per usual I had a mini dip in form and speed just after the halfway point, but when I was told after lap 6, that according to Timeliness’s info I was heading for tenth position with 90 minutes to go, I found the imputus (and caffeine gel) to dig in and push harder than ever. My mid race steady tempo gave way to a no holds barred, blow a gasket pace in a desperate bid to get in those last two sub 45 minute laps. Either through some growing sense of familiarity, more gung ho attitude or better mental focus I seemed to be getting quicker and smoother in the tight singletrack that has always been my Achilles heel. Every time I went past someone it felt like a mini victory and spurred me on. On the flip side, everytime I slowed a little to let a faster rider come through, in my head I was screaming “for fecks sake you’re losing time you muppett”! Still what goes around, comes around.
I crossed the start line for the penultimate time with just under 45 mins til cut off. I was very aware I was going to have to pull out one of my fastest laps of the day to make it back in time. One of my fastest laps . . . . I was feeling more and more tired, the climbs were getting harder, and my pace and strength seemed to be draining out noticeably with every upward pedal stroke. I wasn’t 100% confident it would happen but what the hell, the 8th lap was what I set out to achieve so onwards and upwards etc etc. Even though every part of me was hurting by this time, I really felt good and enjoyed the last lap. The climbs hurt for sure, and my legs were well and truly pinging away in a, I’m going to cramp on you any second kinda way, but on the singletrack I felt as good as I had all day. I was taking more risks than before, cutting closer to the trees and carrying more speed into the corners than earlier, but it all paid off. I was really conscious of the time and knew that one prang or close encounter with a tree would probably rule out me getting back in time, but then I also knew that playing it steady would definitely mean all this effort had gone to waste. I came out the last bit of singletrack, into an evening sunshine and looked at garmin to see how long I might have left. About a minute and a half. A minute and a half to cover the last few hundred yards. Various slow motion swear words went through my head at that point and I got out the saddle and pedaled as hard and as fast as I could. Which by now really wasn’t very hard or very fast and it certainly wasn’t just the swear words that seemed to be in slow motion. It felt like it was going to take an eternity to get to the finish. I managed to bundle myself over the line, not knowing if I’d made it or not. It turned out I had, by 17 seconds.
Thank god that last lap wasn’t for nothing!
At the time it looked like I’d nabbed the 10th spot, and that night (after continuing the stall til the end of the event, loading up and getting home at 2am!) I went to bed feeling really chuffed with myself. A top 10 in a local event where all age groups were bundled into one category. None too shabby I thought for an old git who longed for a vets category. As it turned out, after a few timing issues were resolved, my actual position was 15th. Not quite the semi-glory of a top 10 but all things considered, I’m not too upset with that. A whole ten places better than last year.
Thanks have to go to James for helping run the stall and acting as impromptu pit monkey, Diego from Schwalbe for the kit and support, and to the guy who came over to check if I was alright after I flopped onto the grass just after the finish and led there still half clipped in for a few minutes ! And huge respect to the guys who managed a whole 12 hour solo on this course. Maybe next year….maybe.
Content, not that sick and satisfyingly battered. Not a bad way to end the day.