I checked my watch again. I’m sure time was speeding up. I had 20 minutes to finish the lap. I needed to keep pushing hard if I was to stand a chance of getting out on another lap. 16.30 was the cut off time. 16.10, and I was still climbing. I felt tired, but not exhausted, but I just couldn’t eke out any more speed from my legs. A hastily downed gel at the wrong time didn’t help and I coughed most of it back up on “Rue de Souffrance”. Damn, this was going to be tight. Liquid crystal bars flicked off and on, counting off more minutes. I kept on riding.
Marathon or a sprint?
Seven hours is not a short race by anyone’s reckoning. It is a lot shorter than anything I have attempted this year though. The Glentress Seven was an event I really enjoyed last year, and it was one of the first I entered at the start of 2012. The sentiment was the same for last years winner, Rich Rothwell. It was a real shame then, when I bumped into him pre-race to find out he had broken a rib during the week and had taken the sensible decision not to ride. I carefully laid out my pre-prepared bottles and gels in the solo pit area. I was by myself for the weekend, and wanted to make sure my pitting would be as smooth as if I had a support team. The plan was to stop for no longer than it took to remove my old bottle and replace it with a fresh one, with gel ready elastic-banded to it.
The weather was colder than I would have liked and I was aware that I was wrapped up in virtually all my clothes before the start. I finished last year’s race with borderline hypothermia. This wasn’t an experience I wanted to repeat. At least it was dry for the time being, and the overcast sky was not particularly threatening.
I enjoyed the ceremony of pulling on brand new, fresh kit. I felt the part, and looked the part. Lou at Patisserie Cyclisme had sorted me out with their lovely new shorts and jersey, and I stopped off in Lancaster on the way up to Scotland to pick them up in person. Good news for Lou was that I got lots of compliments about it over the weekend, so I’m sure her next batch will sell like hot cakes (pun intended). I’ll keep racing in the kit until the Garage Bikes team strip is ready, later this year. Only problem is, a white jersey leads to lots of time with the Vanish, post race!
I finally managed to get my stiff legs warmed up, and it wasn’t long before I took to the start line. Near enough the front to guarantee a clean get away, far enough back to make sure I didn’t get in the way of the genuinely quick boys. The start was pretty unpleasant. Fireroad climbing all the way up to Buzzards Nest. Nearly warm legs complained. Lungs felt restricted. Not long after I was descending and dropped my chain. Grrr. I was getting flustered. Deep breath. Replace chain (it didn’t drop again for the entire race, but I’m tempted to try out a Shimano clutch rear derailleur). And settle down. Climb with composure. Descend with a smile on my face. This is more like it. I was still near enough to the front to not get held up, and no one was passing me.
In fact, the first two laps followed this pattern. I was riding almost by myself. By lap three, the fresh legs of some of the team’s third riders started catching up to my less-spritely pins, and I had more company again. One of the things I really like about endurance racing is the politeness and friendliness of people out on course. Not once did I have a problem overtaking with a quick “on your left please”, or “can I pass when it’s safe for you?”. Not once was I subjected to anything less polite myself.
And the laps kept ticking by. I was tiring, but felt comfortable. I was aware that I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be, but whenever I attempted to pick up the pace, my legs just didn’t seem to have the answers. I knew this was a likelihood. I just haven’t given my body much chance to prepare for the intensity of shorter races. For this year, I have just had to concentrate on getting a solid base fitness to make sure I can keep on going for the duration of endurance events with minimal performance drop-off. So, I settled in. I kept half an eye on my lap times, but without much seriousness. I made sure I kept pushing. Then, come the end of Lap 6, I started doing sums. It was probably going to be tight for me to get through the cut off of 16.30.
Nearing the highest point of the course (conveniently flagged up as such), I checked my watch again. My instinct told me I would struggle to make the cut off. I couldn’t ease up though. I had to at least try. I hit the downhill sections with more aggression than I had for a while. I took more risks. I ignored the painful need to pee. I took the short climbs as hard as I could. I descended again. I peed in my shorts. I knew I had no time to spare. I did not look at my watch. Just keep on going. One last time down the drop. Jink through the trees. Lock up. Mess up a corner. Crap. On to the last grassy dual-slalom descent. I know I haven’t done it. But keep on riding. Click down the gears ready for the tight turn into the start/finish. And… 16.33. Race over. 8 laps.
Disappointing, but not the end of the world. I drink a chocolate milkshake, watch others come in. Put on layers and pack away my kit. I chat to a few others and eat a burger. I feel so fresh still. I could do another few laps, but only at the pace I’d be sat at all day.
Eventually, the knowledge of a long drive home, and the desire to meet up with friends before last orders pulls me away, and I fire up the car. With plenty of time to reflect on the drive home, the disappointment magnifies. I hate not doing as well as I know my body should. Despite the logical reasons why I didn’t, despite a reasonable result (17th senior), it isn’t good enough.
Luckily a few drinks, some good friends and a whisky nightcap ease the negative thoughts, leaving determination to keep training, to train smart, to learn, to race hard. It’s all part of the journey.
I was very lucky that Jamie Hunter was in attendance, and got these great photos of me. Particularly like the “race face” one above. Why not take some time and head over to his website and flickr pages.
You have more glasses, you’re giving Piers a run aren’t you