May was a very exciting time. My Winter and Spring training was all focused towards this month. The 24hr bug had bitten again after a couple of years of disinterest; I just didn’t think I could be arsed to put in the long hours required to put in a good 24 solo effort. But with Finale Ligure on the horizon at the end of a week in the Dolomites with the amazing Morpeth Road Primary, a school I work with, I once again had the focus and drive you need to target a 24 properly.
The month started with the National Marathon Championships in Selkirk. This is a fantastic race for a load of reasons. The course is brilliant and the scenery spectacular. The competition is also erm, pretty stiff. There is nowhere to hide in this field. Pretty much all the best short to middle distance racers are there. Everyone is trying really hard and it’s definitely not a training race.
The start line feels pretty intimidating. For one, it’s not very deep! Thinking I was near the front, I hadn’t accounted for riders filing in from the front and the sides and just before the start, I glanced over my shoulder to see… not many people at all between the myself and the big gap back to the non competitive riders. Yoiks.
The pacing car shot of into the distance. It felt a little like a road race and on the flat to rolling back road section the pack strung out indicative of a fast early pace. In a reasonable position before the road to first off-road climb, I was conscious of the impact of first section of double track; riders string out into two lines and crossing between the lines is virtually impossible if the ground is soft. It was saturated, as was the rest of the course. So I put in a big effort to jump as far up the group as I could, knowing that a few meters gap here would become a 30 or 40 meter gap once riders had slotted in. It worked and I got into a good position and kept pushing hard.
Perhaps too hard and this set the tone for the following 4hrs and 13 mins of cramptastic ‘hanging in there fun’. My fast (well, for me) start kept coming back to bite me and I sped up and slowed down as and when my legs weren’t turning in squares.
Sure that I was second vet (the best I could realistically achieve with Nick Craig away in the distance) I relaxed a little. Heading for Inners however a group containing Sally Bigham, Nic Smith, Dan Wells, etc. caught me. Some went past but I rode with Dan and Sally for some time. It was interesting on the traversing section of Minch Moor to see how smooth and efficient my Epic was compared to those on hardtails; I had debated the hard tail ‘v’ heavier full suss decision, and not for the last time in this race concluded I had made the right choice. Suspension allowed me to sit down and keep the power smooth across the angular energy sapping rocks.
At the bottom of the Minch Moor monster, I glanced over my shoulder to see a train of vets! Aaargh! Mark Spratt and Adrian Lawrence were right behind me. Adi didn’t quite bridge the gap but Mark did. At a rate of knotts! We spoke about climbing after the race and Mark told me he had been working on it. He has definitely done something right! It was neck and neck all the way up the monster climb and at points I was pretty much on the edge. I hope Mark was!
Approaching the final steep climb before the huge descent I felt confident. My endurance was good and I reckon that was a result of the gym work I’ve been doing. Over the top we went and again my bike choice served me will. The Epic flies downhill. I made some good / lucky line choices through the boggy lower sections, passed Sally and gapped Mark.
What a great race! Tension all the way but a fantastic atmosphere amongst everyone on the course. 18th overall and 2nd vet.
The following weekend was a big roll of the dice; was 100 miles of West Highland Way wild and rocky terrain, with the potential to destroy bike and body, a good idea two weeks before a 24hr? Maybe not, but I had organised a group ride with ten people joining in, and well, I love this route! It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but the sense of adventure, the scenery, and at times the mental technical riding, make this an amazing day out that is guaranteed to produce a few magic moments.
Long story short, after a short ‘diversion’, the group thinned out and I settled in with the great company of Keith Forsyth, intermittently joined by Niall Frost and his mate who impressed us all clearing some pretty steep and techy sections.
I thought about how many times you roll the dice on this route and the consequences that await should it go wrong. Literally hundreds of dice rolls. Thousands of angular rocks to smash a knee off. A myriad of blind drops and hidden holes. I was cautious at times. The potential for injury and mechanical failure is huge here.
The rain lashed down, the temperature dropped. I crawled up Devils Staircase with the wind blowing me sideways. It was around 5 degrees with the rest of the country basking in heatwave conditions. But I wouldn’t swap if for the world. The Kinloch descent is just superb. Huge jumbles of rocks, mental jigsaws to quickly assemble before focusing on the next challenge. Caution went out the window and I floored it; sliding corners and hopping off steps. Ace!
And then I punctured on the final corner before the fireroad! Doh! Fixing it made me realise just how cold it was and I was relieved to get moving again. I punctured again on the climb out of Kinloch but going again quickly with some timely help from Paul Hutchinson who generaously supported me and the group throughout. Thanks Paul!
The drag through to Glen Nevis was tough – howling headwind and no sign of the rain easing. 12 and a half hours after leaving Milngavie I arrived in a wind swept and deserted Fort Bill high street. A harsh but amazing day out.
We sat in the curry house and it was great to hear people’s stories of adventure and misadaventure. Everyone was smiling, even those who had experienced even more ‘challenges’. Andy Howett arrived at around 10pm after riding the last hour or so in complete darkness! Completely unrattled! The consumate endurance rider!
If anyone would like to do this again next year just shout
The following Tuesday night: I set the out of office, locked the office and headed on my final commute before flying to Italy. I felt great and incredibly confident of a good result at Finale. Out round the quiet back roads on my road bike. Going pretty quick. Right hander that I’ve ridden a thousand times. 6 inches too wide. Started to slide. Oversteered. High sided it. Head and shoulder into the ground at 20mph
I jumped up like a scalded cat. Was my bike ok? I was riding home to pack for Italy right? That didn’t just happen. It’ll be fine.
I felt sick. I sat down. It wasn’t fine. I couldn’t breath. I knew I’d broken my collar bone without looking. What else had I done? Total shock. It was a big impact. My helmet was split in two. (I cannot understand why anyone would not wear one).
After an age I got to the RVI on a neck board. Suspected neck and back injuries. What have I done? This was a nightmare but the pain was real.
Doc cleared me of spinal damage. Several broken ribs and a clavicle. I could fly. Charlotte, James and I went to Italy anyway as I had worked with the Morpeth Road kids we were touring with for a whole year leading up to this trip. I was so proud to hear their tales of ten mile climbs and 60 mile days.
I may not have been the best of company; I had underestimated the physical pain of flying and ’being on holiday’ but I wanted to be there. The disappointment was crushing; I really wanted to be part of the school trip and I was so confident about the Euro 24hr Champs in a way that I hadn’t been for a long time.
The frustration and annoyance has since subsided along with the discomfort. I’m healing well. Stoicism has morphed into happiness. Years of potentially hazardous sports; surfing, skateboarding, biking, and this is the only ‘proper’ injury I’ve had.
I landed on my head at 20mph. And I’m fine! Now that’s what I call rolling a lucky six!