Sitting completely still, nothing really aches.

Moving my stiff fingers to type offers the subtlest of reminders of the rough, rooty course at Minley Manor for 12:12 Torq in your Sleep. The tops of my shoulders, and lower back have similar low-level aches. Grazes on my legs and shoulder (oops) pointedly remind me that branches and the ground are harder than I am. 

Every now and then I wipe my eyes and a bit of congealed dust comes away. 

My legs. Well, considering I’ve not ridden for 12 hours for a very long time, my legs feel remarkably good. In fact, my legs would feel worse had I been out for a hard couple of hours on the road bike. They do feel used though. Warm, gently stiff, weak. Occasionally muscles twitch as if I’m still riding.

This is not a list of complaints. Far from it. I’ve missed this feeling; I’ve missed the warm, foggy-headed afterglow. I’ve missed feeling like I’ve earned my exhaustion through physical (and mental) effort. I’ve rediscovered an insatiable appetite, with the added bonus of guilt-free eating (at least for the rest of today). I settle into the Tom-shaped depression in the sofa and enjoy my rest.

The race

The only real objective for the 12 hours was to finish. Ride conservatively, and keep plodding. No thoughts on placings, no delusions based on previous fitness. I settled into a relatively high position at the start line. I hadn’t pre-ridden the full course, but of the sections that I did see there was lots of tight, twisty singletrack. Amazing for riding, but not good for passing slower riders. That nearer-the-front start allowed me to race the first lap at roughly my own pace, without the inevitable stop-start traffic jam further back. I probably went a bit too quickly on the first two laps, but it was a course that encouraged and rewarded speed and conserved momentum. It was bloody fun. Jinking between trees, manualling through hollows, bunny-hopping roots. 

Settling down and finding an enduring pace was difficult. As my body started to fatigue, I was less able to hop the roots, I carried less speed into corners, and even less out the other side. The twisting nature of the course meant that I was always trying to slow down or speed up, with very few opportunities to just sit and pedal. For the most part, even the climbs were short-sharp lung busters rather than steady drags. I also had to be careful to take on energy at specific points on the laps, making the most of a couple of hundred metres of forest tracks here and there. 

Each lap meant another visit to the pits. Garage Bikes had a huge representation, given that the race was several hours drive from Leeds. A team of four, a pair and two other soloists all sported the satsuma jerseys, and did them proud. We also had three dedicated pit helpers. It makes a world of difference for someone to do your thinking for you, swapping bottles, reminding you to eat, offering a few words of morale-boosting encouragement. Special thanks to Vikki for being utterly lovely and taking care of me, Daz for the man-hugs and Al for being Al and giving me the reassurance that if I needed any mechanical help, he’d be there. Usually, I’d go for a grab-and-go technique at the pits, aiming to spend no time there at all until lights-on time at 7pm. But, in an effort to force myself to pace my efforts, I deliberately stayed for a few minutes, took the time to eat something solid while standing still, then headed off. 

As the light started to fade, my first major mishap took place. Pumping through yet another bomb hole, I felt my bars rotate in the clamp. Presumably a symptom of the constant vibrations of the course. Disconcerting, but nothing a quick nip-up with an allen key wouldn’t fix. Unzipping my seat pack, I quickly realised that my multitool wasn’t there. In fact, I could picture it sitting in my pit-box waiting for me, five miles away. Fucksticks. Not much for it, other than to carry on, tentatively. Gradually, the bars were becoming looser and looser, and I was having to concentrate all of my mental efforts in to balancing them in a roughly sensible position. This was compounded by the now full darkness, meaning that any rotation of the bars lead to my light pointing either straight down, or in my eyes. 3 slow, frustrating, worrying miles passed until I got to the DJ under the bridge. Not only was he banging out some quality tunes, he had an allen wrench and nipped up my now comically loose stem bolts, before offering me a slice of cake. I could have hugged the man, but after 8 or so hours of dusty racing, I think it would have been a little unfair on the chap.

Onwards! Slowly… I had settled into a mellow pace, my body had become accustomed to the jolts and efforts of the course. I ceased to do anything else other than pedal, eat a gel, have a sip of water, pedal. Before long though, it was time to start doing mental calculations about how many laps I had to go, when it would all be over, when I could curl up and go to sleep. Rather worryingly it looked like I was maintaining pace well enough to do a 13th lap (not that I was counting laps, or had a clue what my position was – I deliberately didn’t want to know). The end was not yet in sight as I set off for lap number 12. 

Climbing a short, steep section I heard a loud ping from the rear of my bike and the depressing sound of air rushing out of my rear tyre. Fucksticks, again. A spoke had broken, which must have then dislodged the tubeless tape and caused an air leak that wasn’t going to seal. Quickly, I wrapped the broken spoke around its neighbours, and set about popping in a spare inner tube. All was well, until when going to inflate the tube with a CO2 cartridge, the adapter’s seal broke, sending the all important pressurised gas escaping into the cooling night air. Swear words were uttered. After replacing the rear wheel, I started a slow and depressing jog, moving out of the way for riders still rushing to make it back in time for cut-off. After a mile or so, an amazingly generous guy stopped and lent me his inflator. (If you happen to be reading this, please get in contact. At the very least, I’d like to send you a replacement cartridge). Back up and rolling – sort of. With “not many” psi in my tyre, I tentatively continued, wincing every time I passed over a root or rock. Only three miles to go. 

Then my front light died, abruptly. I haven’t ridden in the dark since the spring, so the battery had been sitting unused for a number of months. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that I should probably charge/discharge the battery once or twice before relying on it to last 4 hours or so. Oops. At least I was riding slowly enough that my helmet light sufficed for the remaining few miles.

Then, it was over. A strange finish. I was fatigued, but not exhausted – partly a symptom of having a physically less demanding final lap. Glad it was over, happy to be in the company of great friends. 

Well done to all of the Garage Bikes riders for their efforts, but especially to Ali and Sarah, who grabbed 3rd spot in the women’s pairs category. An amazing effort, especially as Sarah’s “one last lap” when she was feeling rough was enough to take them on to the podium.

Thank you again to Garage Bikes for the entry and the support, and to Kinesis Bikes for the excellent FF29 frame, which was the perfect race bike through the twists and turns of the course.