- Published: 23 August 2015
This was my third 24 hour race. The first one, back in 2005, was a bit of an adventure just to see how far I would get. I wasn't particularly fit, didn't know what I was doing for an event of that duration, managed 354 miles and learnt an awful lot! I went back again in 2012 with the idea of trying to break the then club record of 398.25 miles. Things went wrong after about 300 miles and 17 hours at which point I quit the race. I knew I could have finished with more than my previous 354 miles, but I had wanted the record and it wasn't to be that year. This year was my chance to go back and again see how far I could ride without thinking about the club record, which had since been pushed up over 412 miles by Quentin.
The objective this time was to finish. Then to set a personal best of more than 354 miles. Then to hopefully beat 400 miles. And of course it was always feasible to ride further, but the club record was absolutely not an objective per se. There was also no time/distance schedule I was riding to, though I am well aware that most riders achieving 400 miles cover roughly 220 miles in the first 12 hours.
The 24 this year was more of a yearlong project, which started last August with the purchase of a power meter and some base readings taken in the last club 10 and the club's 100 mile tt. I wasn't attempting to be competitive in those races, just to do what I could and have a starting point. Since then all of my rides (including club rides) have been part of the preparation for last weekend. The idea was to hit last weekend with the biggest amount of firepower I could muster and see what happened. This also included a fair bit of work on being more aero than 3 years ago and having less rolling resistance, all with the aim of helping me to cover more miles. Some of you may have noticed me trying out between the arms bottle mounts and seeing me out training on my tt bike - all part of the plan!
The fly in the ointment came after Majorca on a ride up to Elsdon where I met the B group, during which I strained my lower back in the strong winds that were a feature of the early summer this year. This persisted for a few weeks until I sought the help of a local physio who has done fantastic job of getting me to the start line (Claire Butterfield - I can pass on her number to anyone who needs some help from a physio). This did however mean that I had to keep down the length of my training rides and you might be surprised to hear that most of my rides have been only 2 hours long or as my back didn't like more than about 90 minutes! In the last 2 weeks I also had problems with my neck which again were only fixed just in time.
So, to the event itself...
I had an absolutely terrible night's sleep on the Friday night. Just couldn't switch off, so barely got any sleep at all and was absolutely exhausted come the Saturday morning. Most certainly not ideal preparation for a 24 hour race, but the same had happened 3 years before and had had limited effect during the race, so I tried to stay positive. My start time was 13:53, and we arrived about 90 minutes before that, leaving just enough time to run through with the support crew the kit I had brought with me. And there was a fair sized mountain of kit - spare bike, more spare wheels, tool kit and spares, large food box, 12 water bottles, plus a kit bag with a vast amount of clothing to cover every eventuality (I was to work my way through much of it as it transpired). We had already had a planning meeting two weeks before so we had tried to cover most eventualities and everyone knew what they might need to do in various situations. That said, the crew were completely new to this game.
Worth at this point mentioning the weather. Forecast was for windy conditions throughout, with rain coming in before 4am and lasting for a few hours. Clearly not ideal, but equally the temperatures on the Saturday afternoon weren't too hot either, and you have to take what you get!
From the start the course took me down a 16 mile section of rather lumpy terrain to the roundabout at Prees Heath. I probably pushed a little hard on this section, but to some extent you have to just to make progress given the hills. With an average speed of about 19mph for that section I was nicely on pace for a good first 100 miles. The course then takes in two 39 mile laps down to Telford and back. I wasn't too concerned at missing Tan and Clive for a bottle at Prees Heath as we had already planned for such an event, and I wasn't surprised to see them 3 miles further down the road with a bottle for me (though I'm not sure how far Tan expected me to ride into the side road to be able to reach the bottle she was holding out!). The remainder of the first 95 miles went pretty much perfectly. I was riding to my power meter rather than my speed, and was consciously knocking back the power as my average speed was bordering 21mph which was way faster than needed to hit 400 miles. Fortunately the course twists and turns a fair amount so there were no long stretches into the wind and some sections were really fast.
The second lap had the first two comedy moments of the ride. I had lost track of how many bottles I had on board (I had two bottle cages) and took a third bottle without throwing off one of the empty ones! By the time I realised what I had done it was a bit late to throw one off, so I carried an empty one in my hands whilst on the tri bars. I knew that the support crew were due to pass me, so intended to wave at them and offload it... except I didn't see them and I had to carry the bottle for 13 miles until I was back at Prees Heath. This included passing the event photographer who has nicely captured the moment... I like to think I kept the extra bottle fairly aero!
This lead to the second comedy moment as I approached Tan and threw off two empty bottles. Thinking it was helpful to shout that I had thrown off two bottles, Tan thought I was asking for two bottles, and swung round towards Clive taking the banana I was just about to grab just out of my reach... essential to keep a sense of humour in a race like this!
I recalled at this point Bradley Wiggins breaking down his hour ride into 5 sections, with the first one needing to feel easy enough that is was "for free". My race had four quarters, and the first 100 miles was meant to be "for free". It was only going to get harder for the next three quarters! Onto the evening circuit called Quina Brook, a 12 mile circuit much on country roads and a circuit I enjoy riding. The race stays on this circuit until nearly 10pm - the leaders get to ride 6 circuits, others somewhat less! During the first lap I completed the first 100 miles, in a time of 4:50.
On finishing the first lap I let the team know I would stop the next lap for fitting lights and to put some extra clothing on. I was probably stopped for 10 minutes total to add knee warmers, arm warmers and have some rice pudding, then back out onto the course. I think it was lap three when I came across a group of competitors surrounding a rider who had crashed. Coming to a stop, it didn't look like he was about to get up, and riders were asking around if anyone had the organiser's phone number. I didn't, but volunteered to tell the marshals at the next corner about a mile down the road. Difficult situation - no-one wants to carry on riding and not help a fellow rider, but there were already riders stopped there and a car had stopped and I couldn't see what additional help I could give beyond what was already there. Next lap and the ambulance was leaving - I found out later that he was checked for concussion but was otherwise ok. Knowing that word gets around in an event like this I let Clive know on the next time through that any mention of a crash wasn't me.
Five laps of Quina Brook complete, it was fairly dark and I was heading back down to Telford on the night time circuit. Plan was to stop for another jersey where the rest of the support crew were based 13 miles on. Whilst no doubt chilly if standing still, it didn't feel that cold so it was just an extra short sleeve jersey added and straight back on the road. Lap 1 went well and another lap further on I was stopped for a thicker jersey and some rice pudding. Only a fairly quick stop again and I was shortly through my first 12 hours with 226 miles on the clock. So far so good, but the first 12 is easier than the second...
The trouble with rain arriving in the dark is you have no notice of when it is about to start! So I carried a light weight rain cape with me so I was ready for it. Other events preceded the rain however, when I was flagged down by Chris Hopkinson's support car who informed me I had no working back light whilst 3 miles short of Prees Heath. Somehow the batteries had drained quicker than they should, and I was stuck unable to go anywhere. I didn't know who had the spare rear light, but as I was closest to Tan I phoned her and she was with me in barely 5 minutes to get me back on the road. Back on the road the rain then started, very light at first but just as I reached Prees Heath it got heavier - perfect timing for Clive to help me get my race numbers on top of my waterproof!
13 miles on and things weren't going so well. The rain was getting heavier and I pulled in where the crew were waiting and took a longer break in the car to get some overshoes on and try to eat some food. I had done well at keeping hydrated (rule number one) but hadn't eaten enough in the last hour or two - my stomach just didn't want anything else! There wasn't much option after 10-15 minutes or so but to get back out in the rain. The front lights picked up the rain spraying forwards off my front wheel and it looked like sparks coming off an angle grinder! It was soon starting to get light and I made good progress to complete the third night time lap.
On lap four I was starting to run out of energy, and it was almost a relief when I was turned back to Prees Heath halfway down the lap, though it meant I had to stop and phone the crew to let them know - I also told them I would be stopping at Prees Heath for a cooked breakfast at the cafe there as I just needed some proper food.
Stopping at the trucker's café at about 6.50am for a mug of tea and a bacon and egg sandwich (riders get free food at the café during the event!) my current position compared to 3 years earlier wasn't lost on me. At 17 hours gone and with 298 miles on the clock I had completed the same distance in the same time at which I had quit the race in 2012 in the knowledge that I couldn't break the club record as I wasn't riding fast enough. My early gain of 25 minutes in the first 100 against my 2012 ride had (ironically) evaporated during the wet and windy conditions overnight.
This time however, I wasn't suffering the physical problems of last time and was back out on the Quina Brook circuit and riding well... until 10 miles further on when I started suffering from micro sleeps on the bike. To this point I had felt wide awake the whole time, but now my previous night's lack of sleep was catching up and I had to ride very carefully the 3 miles on to the support team. There was no option but to sit in the car and close my eyes for a few minutes – coupled with a caffeine gel and some pro plus tablets.
This was the low point of my ride. Time had ticked away and all hope of 400 miles seemed to have gone. Since about the 12 hour mark I had been suffering trying to hold my head up whilst on the tri bars, and as time had gone on I was using them less and less. The decision was made that whilst I was resting the team would switch everything on to my spare road bike for a more comfortable riding position.
I'm not sure how long I was resting, maybe nearly half an hour, but felt much better for it. Time had ticked away and all hope of 400 miles seemed to have gone. Thankfully the rain had now stopped, and with some dry clothing on I was back out on the circuit and riding strongly again.
Towards the end of the lap I had had time to contemplate the situation I was in – the sun was out, it was warming up, I felt wide awake again and my legs felt good. But time had passed whilst I had been off the bike, and with the remaining time all I could hope for was to beat my previous best of 354 miles and to add as many miles to that as I had time for. So when I came back round to the crew I stopped to make a final set of changes – with 322 miles completed and 4 hours 30 minutes left I was going to switch from energy drinks to drinking coke. I also removed the long sleeved tops that had been keeping me warm, and within minutes I was back out on the road for my final lap of Quina Brook and back up to nearly 20mph.
Last time through Prees Heath and I was feeling much better especially in the knowledge that I would now be heading back north over the lumpy road I had ridden in the first 15 miles of the race up to the finish circuit. Fortunately there was a tailwind and I made good progress, overtaking many riders along the way. So much so that the support crew were getting worried that they hadn't seen me for so long! Along the way the clocked ticked down past 3 hours to go, and with 348 miles on the clock I knew that 400 miles was beyond reach as that would require a negative split of 17mph for the last eighth of the race.
The finish circuit is about 13 miles long, and is made up of narrow twisty lanes with variable road surfaces, plus occasional stretches of main road. It is certainly not a fast circuit – think the first 5 miles of the club 10 course and you get the idea! I turned on to the circuit and was pleased to see the crew stopped at the first available spot. I stopped just long enough for Jon to find me some cookies and take a bottle of coke on board, then I was off. Resigned to riding maybe 380 miles I decided I would just ride along within myself and take whatever distance I got.
The next junction was manned by the legend that is Andy Wilkinson, 24 hour record holder, who was giving encouragement to each and every rider passing by. It seems that each junction on the circuit is "sponsored" by a local club. Reaching the event HQ for the first time there was a huge crowd of supporters cheering all the riders on, which was greatly appreciated.
All in all the first circuit went well, and after another quick stop for more cookies, the next lap also passed ok. The distance was passing quite quickly, and approaching the crew the following lap my calculations suggested I would fall agonisingly short of 400 miles. Taking on yet more cookies I suggested as much to the team. Knowing I was taking about 50 minutes per lap, I looked at my Garmin with 50 minutes to go, and adding an extra lap was going to place me on 398 miles, right outside the event HQ. I decided I couldn't let it slip away from me being so close by just riding around as I had been for the last two laps given the whole year's preparation, so pushed on faster than before.
The last lap went quickly. When I came back past the support crew for the final time I just kept going as fast as I could. With two miles to the event HQ, of all times, I got cramp in my left thigh. I had been getting slight twinges a couple of times over the last two laps, but of all times this was not the moment to be getting cramp. Fortunately, keeping riding, it went away after a minute or so!
The way the finish works is that there are timekeepers every two miles or so around the circuit. You have to keep riding until the timekeeper you reach after your 24 hours is up and they work out the average speed between the last two timekeepers and therefore where you would have been when your time ran out. Now, there was a timekeeper just before the event HQ at 399 miles and I knew I had to get past him and a fair way on towards the next timekeeper before my time was up. Worse still, the next timekeeper was at the top of a hill, so even if I had passed 400 miles when my time was up, when the average back to the previous timekeeper was applied it would take into account how slowly I climbed the hill!!
Passing the timekeeper at the event HQ I had a whole 7 minutes left to ride, having reduced my lap time from 50 minutes to 43! I couldn't really take in the supporters the last time pas the HQ as I passed through at 25mph, desperate to get as far up the hill to the next timekeepers as I could. Luck was on my side and I got to them just 20 seconds or so after my time expired. I had 401.5 miles on the clock, but no way of knowing if my measurement was accurate against the measured course. I hadn't been stopped long when Jon arrived in the car to pick me up and take me back to the HQ for a hard earned bacon sandwich.
The final distance was actually 403.46 miles. I am really pleased with the distance. As a rider I respect greatly said to me afterwards, 400 miles is the mark. It is the equivalent of beating the hour for 25 miles, and I'm very pleased to have joined the 400+ club. Placing 24th in a national championship was an added bonus.
The final word (before some links to various related media) has to go to the support crew. All were novice support team members, so didn't know what they were letting themselves in for, and they did an absolutely fantastic job for me. Through sunshine and rain for a whole 24 hours they were there for me every single time and I really couldn't have asked for as much. A huge thankyou to them all – Jon, Lesley, Tan, Clive and Charlotte.
Now for some hopefully interesting links...
The following video gives an insight into this year's event and the incredible ride by the winner: