On reflection, I should have done a bit more training for this. It turns out that I can’t rely on reasonable fitness and a few miles in September to carry me into a twenty-four hour race, even when doing it as part of a team. I discovered this at the end of my fourth lap, at about 4.15 AM, when both my mind and my body folded and I had to stage an undignified retreat to the shelter of the tent. I was disappointed with myself but I knew that if I attempted to get round the course again there was a very high chance of making a silly mistake and having to go home via A&E.
Rick did our first lap, his assessment of the course was that it was fun in places with a lot of climbing, and he put in a good time in spite of being caught in a few traffic jams on the first ascent. Heading out after Rick, my first lap was enjoyable. I just managed a sub-hour time without pushing too hard, and I felt good. The course had enough interesting bits to be entertaining, and enough tough bits to be a challenge. The most worrying parts for me were the slippery woodwork sections and the new cut-in lines between existing trails, but overall I felt optimistic about our prospects. I handed over to Ben and we worked out a plan of attack for the rest of the night. My next laps would take place some hours later, well and truly in the dark. I got some food down me, helped out Rick and Ben as they put in some decent stints, and put together my kit for the next session.
My second lap was going excellently until the pad spring in my rear brake got dragged through the calliper, locking my rear wheel up, something which made forward progress somewhat tricky. It took me about ten minutes to figure out what the problem was in the gloom, but after pulling the spring out and replacing the pads I was able to carry on. Every single person who came past me asked if I needed any help, which was very reassuring.
At the start of lap three it began to rain solidly, and I spent the next hour getting steadily wetter and colder. I was still in good spirits, but I was very glad to pull off the course and hand over to Ben, who as the team driver was going to do one lap and then leave a six hour night-time stint to me and Rick whilst getting some decent sleep. I wolfed down bananas and bread and chilli and then dozed in the tent for an hour or so, a deep tiredness creeping over me. Rick put in a couple of solid laps, and said he was feeling good. I was glad to hear him say he could manage a second turn because I was certainly not ready to go out again. I pulled some dry clothes on and tried to wind myself back up for my next effort.
Lap four was slow, even after warming up a little on the first hill. I pushed up the steeper sections of ascent, but also I found myself walking down the trickier parts of the descents. Everything felt much harder than my last lap. I was relatively happy to pedal steadily along the gentler fire road ascents and simpler bits of singletrack, but as soon as I had to call on my brain to deal with anything even slightly technical I noticed how fatigued I was. I was making silly mistakes on innocuous bits of track. I was wet and cold again, and when I arrived at the finish I stopped and sat down, feeling thoroughly broken. I knew my ride was over, I just needed to sleep. Rick was similarly tired, he had come off his double feeling good but fatigue had kicked in very soon after stopping. We both turned in after telling Ben that we’d stopped riding.
Ben went out a while later for one more lap at dawn, but after getting back from this someone (I forget who, things were a bit hazy at this point) suggested that our best option was probably to pack up and head home, hopefully getting back in time to see our respective kids before bedtime. Everyone readily agreed; it was a long drive back but we did our best not to doze too much in an effort to keep Ben company and chatted happily all the way. Even though it had been my decision that effectively stopped our race, there was no mention of this, Rick and Ben were both very good about it. If you look at the full results we actually ended up just below the middle of the table on 14 laps, so it wasn’t a complete write off: we did OK, relatively speaking, for a first attempt at a twenty-four hour race. Having had a go as part of a team of three, I am now even more in awe of the guys who ride the thing solo, they are incredible athletes.
As an event Relentless 24 was excellently organised, the course was good and the atmosphere friendly and welcoming. The only objective negative for me was how far away it is; realistically it’s at least a seven hour drive up to Fort William, so it wipes out an entire weekend and much of the Friday before, at the very least. I’m glad we had a go, and I think we did the best we could under the circumstances. I knew it was a tough event before I started, but I underestimated just how hard it was going to be, and as a result I found a limit to my abilities, which is not a bad thing.