24 HOUR SOLO MOUNTAIN BIKE RACE
After failing to finish my first attempt to race the 24hours in 2015 at 19h due to injury, I decided that 2019 would be a good opportunity to make a new attempt. Planning to race for 24 hours on a mountain bike is a big commitment to undertake. Knowing I would have a higher than usual annual mileage gave me some confidence with The Tuscany Trail at the beginning of June being good preparation for the body.
Training, after Tuscany, took me a good few weeks to recover and feel like training again. I rode my single speed off-road a lot and I always feel keeping up or pushing hard with riders on gears gives me a training edge. I also rode a local 100mile charity event with my wife, this was a bit faster than I had expected it to be which was also good prep. The two weeks before the race I really backed off just doing shorter easier rides.
The day before, I had my bike all prepped with spare parts etc all set up. Van packed, pits assembled, I decided to stay at home the night before rather than camp onsite as we live 45mins away and a night in my bed would be better than the tent. Unfortunately my son was unwell in the night and I was up for an hour at 3am. When my alarm sounded I felt tired and had little enthusiasm. In the kitchen I prepared 12 soft white rolls half tuna half cheese ham and pickle - I am a rider who goes well on a mix of energy foods and real food.
Food packed and we are out the door I am about to pull away in the van and I remember my kit bag is still in the bedroom, disaster averted we are on the road. So far I have been unable to eat anything, but as I often don’t eat too early so I am not too concerned.
We arrive onsite around 8.45am for the start at 11am and there are still some things to get done before the off. I sign on and pick up my timing chip and number board and visit the Torq Energy bus and purchase my supply of bars, gels and energy powder to see me through the race. I get on well with Torq, it is one of the most palatable energy products I have used. Then a quick stop at Exposure Lights as I need a 35mm bar clamp for my front light - the guys there help me set my lights up to the right program to give me maximum light for the run time I need.
Back at the pits I sit down with a coffee and a bowl of pasta. I get the pasta down me and I am feeling happier to have eaten something. I set my food table up and add my lights etc to the mountain of stuff I have there to eat. Number board gets attached to the bike then it’s a waiting game as I just want to start now all the preparation is done, I am itching to go! I am lucky this year to have plenty of help in the pits and Mark takes my bike to the start line to get me a good position which is a big help or else I would face 35 mins standing in full sun getting more nervous. I leave putting my kit on until the last minute (a light mesh vest, shorts, jersey, favourite gloves, comfortable socks and a lightweight cap under the helmet). I am now ready and after a quick but healthy application of chamois cream I wander over near the start line. 12mins to go, I am chatting to some of the Exposure and Torq guys and I can feel my heart rate climbing. Last nervous pee and I head to find Mark and get on the bike. I have to climb over the barrier to get to my bike and am right near the front 3 rows back as I had requested. This was important as I am not a fast starter and I wanted to be clear of the really quick guys but not sit in traffic on lap one. Five mins to go and I am fretting I haven’t mounted my pump. The guys sprint back to the van and grab my road pump by mistake, then second time they find my pump. This distraction has me even more nervous.
1min to go the announcer is counting us down and I am ready to start my Garmin with my right foot clipped in ready. 10 seconds to go... All noise around me is blocked out as I am focusing on that count. When he hits one I am up on the saddle left foot clips in like it knows what to do without me even sending a message from my brain. The first few corners are slow and bottlenecks form quickly, but soon I am away free rolling on. I am careful not to press too hard as I want my legs to warm up and find that natural rhythm. The first lap goes by in a blur and I come through to the pits to change my water bottle and away I go. I cross the line in second place. Away on the second lap I start to settle down to the task at hand committing the course to memory. Every root, every rut, looking for better lines that will save me time or conserve precious energy. My second lap is over and again a quick swap of bottles and away I go and I knock down a gel as I am conscious to keep energy levels up. So, let me take you round the lap with me. It starts with a zig zag out the arena on the grass past some of the riders’ pits. Down over a bridge to cross the river, right then a quick left across the field. This part has lots of bumps left by tractor tyres small but now the ground has baked hard and they make the bike vibrate, this section is a gradual up. Then a steep loose dusty shoot drop down with a loose dusty left and a sharp right I am on tarmac -the main elevation gain starts here. A steep out the saddle heave on the bars gets me to the flatter part then it’s seated to the next steep section and again it’s out of the saddle to finish the tarmac. Time to unlock the suspension and change gear onto a tractor path along and up the field with it getting steeper at the top where eventually we pop out into some single track up to and past the motivation station where the ladies give out encouragement to riders along with sweets and blasting awesome tunes for 24hrs - their enthusiasm never waned once. Then left into the single track of Bluebell Woods. Mostly up with a few downs the wood spits me out on a fire road that takes me on towards the back end out the course. These single tracks require concentration as there are lots of ruts and roots to negotiate. Into more single track and onto another fire road then its level single track that gives way to a fast descent, several line choices here save tired arms from a bruising. Getting on or off the edge of the track is better away from all the braking bumps. At the bottom it shoots me onto the fire road that climbs steeply back up. Then left onto my least favourite part of the whole track - it’s a down that’s very loose off camber and full of holes which are not deep but spaced out to hurt the arms and calves. This also puts pressure on the feet. From here an equally annoying steep climb out. Then fast rolling climbs x 2 with fast short descents a place to enjoy and carry speed and into a really tricky section with tons of roots at slow speed which takes a concentrated effort. Then it’s up onto the fire road and into the bomb holes which are fast flowing and fun. Taking some air out of each bomb hole means minimal effort and a small mistake means an extra pedal stroke. Firing me out onto a fire road with a sharp right it’s a short gentle climb to the top of the second bomb hole section. Going in fast with a little back brake to flick the bike past the tree into a rock strewn single track leading to the second bomb hole. I take a left line that fires me out in better shape to clear the exit onto the fire road right turn. Then it’s a fast haul into the start of Cottage return. This section is rocky and fast so I am careful of my tyres and take a line over the first two rocks so as to not risk a sidewall tear. Same in the next section where a wider left line then right avoids risk and helps carry speed. A short pedalling section rises to a big roll in with the roots narrow, fast and fun so it’s light on arms and feet and off the brakes as I fire down the track, the chain slapping its stay for all it’s worth. A 180 turn under the tree requires focus especially if making a pass on another rider. Then off the brakes and a hard pedal fires me down the last shoot and out. A quick rocky turn and back to the valley floor and a left onto the fire road where there is a chance to eat and drink. With the shocks locked out I get a tempo going with the track climbing up over a peak and down to a loose gravel right turn. Some fast blasting lasts but a few moments before firing me into the river bed single track. Carrying speed here saves precious energy and requires some confidence and concentration. This single track ends with a narrow bridge back to the camping ground – carefully does it so as not to hit my bars on the railing. Onto the grass round all the campers who give cheers, offer sweets, and a water pistol blast to cool riders down. On exiting the grassy camp ground it’s a quick easy climb out to a right turn onto a short fire road. Picking up speed to carry into a 90degree left helps with the impending short but sharp climb. The climb lasts around 10-15 seconds before levelling out to a gentle rise. Two rollers lead to the fast grassy descent to the bridge over and under and down to the area where I reach my pit before the start finish line. Lap 3 done.
I am starting to get cramps all over the place, a nasty one in my abductor stops me dead on a steep climb I stretch it and remount. Finishing lap 4, I am hurting cramps are coming frequently in my arms and my legs. I am drinking a whole bottle around halfway through each lap, it’s been hot since the start and I am just not getting enough fluids. With two riders alongside me in my category I make the toughest choice and ease back and let them ride away from me. End of lap 5 I eat some solid food and take some ibuprofen for my knees. Rolling on at a lesser tempo and drinking as much as I can, I roll on for the next few laps fuelling my body and nursing the camps. Around 8.30 the lights get fitted and I am not feeling confident of achieving my goal of a top 3. Adding to this mental anguish the timings for the race are not accurate and my team can’t give me any reliable info. All I want to know is what place I am in and how far away are the riders in front and behind me. Once the lights are switched on my lap times slow and I regularly stop to eat. Having had 6 bananas some Torq bars and a good number of my sandwiches I feel like I have plenty of energy left. The cramps have also gone and I am back on top of my hydration. After 12pm I pit and eat adding my headphones to give me some company in the darkness. I settle down to the job in hand laying down metronomic lap times.
Just before the sun comes up my music runs out so I lose the headphones, eat, and push on. It’s 5am and I have 6 hours left to make this race count. I am feeling ok and with daylight my lap times drop dramatically. Feeling well fed and without the cramps of the previous day I set several strong laps. My team are suggesting I am in second place, my strength to keep food stops short through the night has seen me gain an advantage over many of my competition. I begin to plan how many laps I can fit in, in the remaining time. As long as a lap is started before the 24hrs is up you can finish it and it counts. With that in mind I have worked out I have 4 more laps to go. I have completed 24 laps so I grab a bottle and take two gels and squeeze them down at the pits not wanting to waste time on track. I go out on lap 25 with real intent. It’s a strong lap and I am confident I can hold this pace for at least two more laps. Into the pits again and it’s 2 gels straight down, swap the bottle and away. I am pitting in under a minute and riding hard.
Onto lap 26 and I am full of riding my legs, arms, feet, hands and wrists all hurt. My focus is razor sharp and I know this is my opportunity for all that work staying in the hunt has led to this. Lap 26 flies by and I repeat the same 2 gels and a bottle change I get the call from my team I am 10 mins behind the lead and I am faster than the guy in front. I sprint out the pits determined to catch whoever it is. I had no idea what the guy looked like. All I knew was no one had passed me for a long time and I was passing riders regularly. When I thought I saw the guy I decided it was him and passed on the road climb out the saddle riding strong I pushed as hard as I dare all the way to the woods at the top hoping to break his spirit as I disappeared from view. If it was him it worked as his 27th lap was his last taking him 1h58m whereas mine was 49m giving me ample time to get in one more lap. I grabbed my now customary 2 gels and stuffed them down. My wife and son had joined the pit crew and it raised my spirits to see them. Confident I had taken the lead I wanted to seal the deal. One last lap, I was gone from the pits pressing hard on the pedals. Every part of my body was screaming out in pain but my mind was winning the battle. I could see on the faces of the other pit crews their riders must be struggling. My team were buoyant and our collective display of confidence paired with my pace over the last few laps must have got to them. All the way out the arena came cheers of come on solo. I was away up the road climb which was hard as ever but no loss of pace as I held the same gear as the previous lap with the same cadence. The top woods felt hard and my hands were struggling to hold the bars. I loosened my grip when it got rough and pushed on in and out the saddle, I was fighting my body for everything it had left. Through the bomb holes at good speed with no mistakes, down Cottage Return as fast as I dared. That fire road lump felt like a mountain but I bullied my legs into pushing on one last time. The end was near. I pushed along the single track by the river every root hurting my hands and wrists. Onto the camp ground I received more cheers than ever. I pushed again asking my body for more. Reluctantly my legs accepted my request. Rounding onto the fire road and left to that sharp steep climb that had earlier in the race left me crippled at the side of the track with cramp, I attacked it with all my energy and focus. Just the two rollers to go then it was down. I rode the descent like a man possessed. Dropping into the pits this time no need to stop I flew past to the cheers of my family and team. I was going fast enough they had to sprint across to meet me at the line. Jersey zipped up I rounded the last corner to cheers, I was emotional I had done it. I set out to race a full 24 hours to replicate the effort of many riders I have long admired. Now here I was crossing the line in first place after 24h30m and I dismounted to a hug from the announcer Matt Carr (a man with many a 24hr race and wins to his name). I lifted my bike above my head and walked across the finish line. I was done in, my body was beaten to a pulp but I was satisfied with my race both in terms of completing a 24 hour race, let alone taking the win.
A few things of note:
- 24h30m56seconds raced.
- Had heart burn for around 8-10 hours.
- The first 6h hurt the most.
- Just over 200miles covered.
- 8 savoury rolls
- 3 Torq bars
- 2 litres flat Coca Cola
- 20 bottles of Torq energy
- 18 Torq gels
- 5 bananas
- 1 Veloforte Bar
I would like to dedicate the win to my Uncle Mark Ridge, an incredible man who is missed by many. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/luke-humphreys-riding-for-mark
Special thanks to Matt Wiessler my Pit Chief he was there every time I needed him even when I was rude during the night.
Mark (statto) Payne for recording my laps and working out my race position when the race timing was failing to deliver.
Gary Symons for falling off the day before just so he could join my pit crew instead of racing.
My wife and son for inspiring me to push myself and supporting my training this year.
My team mate Pippa Mildon for being awesome and getting third in her first 12hr race.
So, I still can’t say if I will race another 24hr anytime soon it’s too early and my body is still battered and bruised.
To be continued........