It’s not to the standard or the entertainment value of the “Weekly Oge” but it killed a bit of time on the Condor during the journey home.
The course consisted of three circuits, the first being an out and back loop totalling a distance of 40 miles, the second a 12 mile loop and the last one being the finishing circuit which was again a loop of around 12-13 miles through some very picturesque country lanes ( not that I was able to enjoy the scenery much by the time I got onto that circuit..!).
From the start, which was right beside the race HQ, the first 16 miles took us to the 40 mile loop which was covered by all of the riders twice before we were moved onto circuit two for 5-6 laps before going back to the big loop which we stayed on throughout the hours of darkness and until around 6am on Sunday.
The centre of these two circuits was the Prees roundabout on the A41 and this is where the support teams for most of the riders were congregated. To me, this is what makes these events special because there is always a great deal of support for every rider that comes through the feed zones. People set up in different ways to help their riders but they all combine to make an amazing atmosphere, from the guys supporting from the back of a car, the teams who pitch tents and gazebos up on the roadside, to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Commando cycling team who literally set up a military base on the roundabout. Each rider gets a huge amount of motivation as they come through these zones from people shouting encouragement, ringing cow bells and generally being very “enthusiastic”. There was even one group in fancy dress this year who always raised a smile as we passed them.
The whole course was a good mixture of long stretches of wide “A” roads and narrow country lanes of varying surface quality which was just about the right balance to stop from getting bored. A few brief words of encouragement or joviality are almost always shared between passing riders which also helps.
My own race didn't go anything like to plan, my pacing strategy was a disaster and my nutrition plan fell apart very early in the race and I have to thank KB and Dave for pulling out all of the stops and keeping me going through one or two pretty bleak moments through the night, especially when the rain came down. There were a few expletives shouted at both of them at various points and I hope they’ve forgiven me now.
I covered the first 100 miles to the plan but quickly realised it was an over ambitious schedule and had to reign myself back in again as I knew I was never going to maintain the kind of pace I started at for the full 24 hours. I'm pretty disappointed with this because I should've covered this better in training. Lesson learned. Nutrition is always harder to get right because you never know for sure what you're going to feel like on the day, there are times when I can’t stomach gels after three hours and there have been times like this weekend when all I want is gels and nothing else will do. What can I say, I'm a fussy eater….!
The thing with these events is that it's as much a battle with the mind as it is with the legs and you know to expect “dark” moments but no matter how bad you feel, you just have to keep pedalling and think that it will get better, and it generally does. No matter how rough (or how good) you’re feeling, it will pass. It's also easy to draw inspiration from other people around you. As mad as this sounds I genuinely do believe that it's as tough, and there's certainly more pressure, on the support team and I can't thank them enough. I had a very small taste of what they go through when I supported KB on her 100tt a few weeks ago and it's a hell of a responsibility to know that someone is depending on you and that you could quite easily screw up months of training by not being where you're supposed to be at the right time and by not handing up bottles and food when required. I can only imagine what it's like to have to pick out your rider from 104 others, in the dark whilst being dazzled by front lights. Not easy. GPS tracking, supplied by “Inspector Gadget” Ridley, made things slightly easier and because of this, we were quite the envy of many of the other teams.
The sun made another appearance mid Sunday morning and it was a blessed relief to get out of the water proof jacket and dispense with the knee and arm warmers, there is no feeling quite like taking off cold, wet arm warmers and feeling the warm sun on your arms, these small things can feel so good…!
With around three hours left to ride we were moved to the finishing circuit which again, took us passed the race HQ. At 21 hours I was due my last scheduled stop and this is where, from my perspective, the GPS tracking came into its own and gave me the motivation for a three hour “sprint” finish. A quick call to Neil from Dave confirmed that I was getting near to my PB and that was all the motivation I needed for that final burst of effort. There were a lot of very tired bodies out there and I got a boost from everyone that I passed at this late stage in an effort to use up the last drops of energy. The eventual winner, Mike Broadwith still came passed me like I was standing still though and Stuart Birnie, the current UMCA 24 hour world champion, although looking in a whole world of pain at this stage, gave me some encouraging words as he came by me in the last few miles which was a nice touch. It was also a massive boost each time we passed the HQ because the support teams and spectators were lined up on each side of the road, flags flying, shouting and cheering encouragement and ringing bells which made for a very special atmosphere.
Timekeepers are spaced out at approximately two mile intervals on the finishing circuit and each one knows exactly what time each rider is due to finish so they can tell you how much time that you have left to ride. The chances of reaching a timekeeper after exactly 24 hours of riding is very slight and so the exact distance covered is calculated on average speed between the final two timekeepers. Unless you've done it yourself no one can imagine the feeling you get when you reach what you believe to be the end only to be told that there are 40 seconds left on the clock and you have to keep going, not just for the required 40 seconds but for another two miles until you reach the next timekeepers…! KB and Dave followed me around that last few miles with the car so that they could pick me up when I did eventually come to a stop and it was absolute bliss to fall off of the bike at the side of the road, onto the grass and in the sunshine and made even better because my eventual stopping point was amongst all the support teams outside the HQ and not out on the course somewhere. There were a couple of very spirited and fun sprint finishes at the end from several riders but I will admit to being an absolute mess when I finished it, vowing never ever to do a 24 again. I'm not smiling in the picture below, I'm fighting the tears. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I do tend to get a bit emotional at these things…!
In summary, the provisional result gave me 477.48 miles covered and although I’m happy with the distance and the result I wasn’t so pleased with the way I rode it, too many schoolboy errors for my liking but plenty of lessons learned.
Will I do it again? Not a chance….! I have blisters where no one should have blisters, my wrists still hurt and areas of my feet are still numb two days later. My quads feel like they've been beaten with a baseball bat and my eyes are bloodshot and feel like someone has thrown a handful of sand in each one. Why would anyone even contemplate it?
Unless perhaps they thought they could do better next year with the lessons that have been learned…………….?!!
We met some great people, made new friends and caught up with some old ones, I got to compete against two current UMCA world champions and met up again with one of my cycling heroes, Andy Wilkinson. An all round good weekend and one which I'll remember for a long time.
Thanks for taking the time to read this indulgence of mine and if anyone fancies entering the team event next year let me know.