Sleepless in the Saddle. Some hard lessons

I’ve deliberately left writing this blog post for a few days. I have had a lot to think about, a lot to work out in my own head. When things don’t go right it is easy to beat oneself up. But it is equally easy to brush things under the carpet and not learn from mistakes. Not take responsibility.

I wasn’t even going to do SITS until about a month beforehand. But, in an otherwise empty month, it felt like a perfect mini-target. The fact that a big group of friends would be racing in various categories was enough for me to get an entry in quickly.

I arrived at Catton Park to beautiful sunshine, which rapidly turned to torrential rain, then blue skies again over the course of the next hour. A sign of things to come. I have never felt so relaxed before a 24 hour race. Our camp was nicely placed, next to the track, and we all sat around chatting and laughing until slightly later than I might normally have chosen to, given the exertions ahead. It was just all so lovely.

12 midday, and I jostled my way through the pack during a short Le Mans style run to the bikes. Legs felt great. I got to the bike and away cleanly enough, and well up, leaving me with loads of free space to avoid the usual first lap traffic jams. I rode fast, but within myself… and increasingly cautiously as my front tyre began to deflate. Hmm… thanks tubeless. Fortunately, I got back round to my pits ok, and got the tyre reinflated with minimal fuss and time wasted. I settled down to a quick, but comfortable pace and got on with business. But, I was bored. I didn’t dislike the course. I just didn’t love it. There were no sections that I particularly was looking forward to. No sections that I really didn’t like. No awful climbs, no technical descents.

I actually went through a period of deep self-doubt. Why was I out there? Why did I feel the need to do this? How could I have the temerity to ask friends to give up their weekend to support me? To ask companies to sponsor me? I wasn’t cut out for this. It was my first race for 2 years without being under the influence of any anti-depressants. Maybe my brain was taking the opportunity to explore the areas the drugs blocked up. It still remembered how to pull the strings. I felt mentally weak. It took a good few laps for me to battle myself, to accept the fact I would have to deal with this for the next 20+ hours.

By the time I had settled in for the challenge, something new happened. It rained. Hard. Spectacularly. Distant thunder had turned into a storm overhead, and boy did it rain. Big fat blobs of the stuff. The track almost instantly transformed. My Racing Ralph/Rocket Ron combination struggled to cope with slippy clay, and my pace took a dive. But, it woke me up. Reignited some fight, and brought a smile to my face.

A quick bike swap in the pits, and back out again, with renewed determination. Singlespeeding this time, and enjoying the more playful feel of 26in wheels. Until, inexplicably, I ploughed off the track, straight into a tree. Headfirst. Oops. Back on the bike, and I refocused again. The rain was already beginning to ease, and there were patches of blue sky visible all around. The course had so much variety, although mainly in the type of mud on offer. All the way from dirty puddles, to slithery layers, to deep plasticine trenches, and “build me a mud hut” grass/mud combination fun. There were points I had to stop and clear out the wheels, as they blocked entirely, and descending often became an exercise in blind faith, waiting for my front wheel to select which of the many ruts it wanted to follow, then hanging on.

***Gordon, my pit helper for the weekend, is a lovely, lovely man. With a lovely, lovely wife, and a lovely, lovely dog. He drove to the event in his new lovely, lovely T5 van, and looked after my every need for the race. Gordon is a bit of a foodie. He loves to cook, loves to make delicious things, and is a master baker (watch out for auto-correct) of lovely, lovely sourdough bread. This weekend, I introduced him to many new things:
-How to fit tubeless mud tyres (with help from Jenn)
-The “joys” of cheap peanut butter on cheap rubbery white bread
-How to make a Pot Noodle. It has a line that tells you how much hot water to use!

Gordon. Thank you. For everything. You were brilliant***

Back at the pits. Gordon handed me my Pot Noodle. I took out the Dirty Harry with nice skinny Mud Xs. I rode. I laughed, I slid, I gripped, I looked forward to the dark. I loved it. I probably burned a little more energy than I should.

I got back to the pits. I had a few mouthfuls of peanut butter sandwich. I fitted my lights. I declined the offer of a gilet, despite being drenched. I headed out into the dark, ready for action. I rode through the first wooded section, and I collected mud. And more mud. I cleared it out, and carried on riding. The bike clogged again. I didn’t feel too great. The entire lap continued this theme. After consistently hitting 50min laps, I drifted out to over two hours for a single loop. I was pedalling in granny gear, downhill. I could hardly lift my bike, it weighed so much. I ended up walking sections that I could have ridden, as I didn’t have the will to clear the wheels again and swing my leg over the bike. I forgot to eat my gel, and my drink was making me queasy. This isn’t what it was meant to be like.

My memory of what happened in the pits is hazy. I got off the bike and laid down. I tried not to throw up. Gordon and Jenn were lovely and looked after me. I was sat down in a camping chair, being fed crisps and tea. I was in my tent and eating a few mouthfuls of jacket potato. I fell asleep.

7.30am. My race was done. The sun shone. It was getting warm already. I climbed out of my tent. I didn’t want to be there. I couldn’t escape my thoughts. I was trapped in a loop of worrying about letting people down, not being good enough, being thoroughly stupid and naive. There is only one cure that always works when I feel like that. I swung my leg over the bike, and headed back out onto the course. I was still oh so empty. Weak. But it was fun again. I was stupid. I was naive. I have let people down. But, it would be ok. It was mistakes, and I would learn, then come back better and stronger.

12pm. I crossed the finish line, beer in hand, thanks to the Singletrack lurkers’ bar. It wasn’t meant to be like this. But, it was really quite fun in the end.

A huge, huge thank you to:
“Evil” Gordon.
Tim K
Everyone else at our pits…

Big congratulations to:
Singletrack Gritty Kitties for getting 1st in their category
Singletrack girlies for all doing 3 laps, with smiles on their faces, despite a baptism of fire (mud?) for their 1st 24hr race.

24 hours of Exposure

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved”.*

Enough of the eulogising though. I’m off to ride my bike as fast as I dare and have fun for 24 hours.

*Quote courtesy of Helen Keller, with thanks to Rob Lee who included it in his book “Endurance Within”

One week to go…

This time next week, I’ll be a nearing the end of 24 hours of Exposure.

I’m experiencing my usual pre-big-race mixture of emotions.

  • Feeling unprepared
  • Feeling unfit
  • I’m scared. Scared of embarrassing myself, scared of the pain, scared of the mental torture
  • Worried about putting my brother, sister and two friends through 24 hours of looking after my every need, watching me self-harm
  • Worried I won’t do as well as I should
  • Excited that I’ll be testing myself
  • Excited about riding a fast bike along lovely trails
  • Excited for every single moment of clarity, where it is just me, a bike, a trail. The ultimate escapism.
  • Looking forward to meeting old friends, and making new ones
  • Feeling fit
  • Feeling prepared
  • And repeat

Bring it on.