Having first straddled a unicycle 13 months ago, I figured I was enough of a veteran to enter a 24 hour race (as part of a team of 4). I had arranged to borrow a campervan which happened to be the width of a mini and about 5 metres long, with a tasteful 1970’s brown awning. chugging along a traffic-stopping maximum of 60 miles an hour (downhill, slip-streamming a juggernaut) was a relaxing way to (eventually) reach Eastnor Deer Park. Onsite the yellow, 12-foot high unicycle flags were clear and taking a straight line towards then meant sliding sideways through the mud, and going back again to find the correct, circular route. Once settled in, nerves took over. Would I let the others down? Would I cause a crash? Would I obstruct the serious racers? With over 2,000 other riders, I was sure to see most of them overtaking me!
The mass start at 2 was an impressive sight, and I was glad I wasn’t in it. after a long, frustrating & nervous wait, It was my turn. Setting off at a murky dusk, heavily laden with batteries and drink. in the first 500 yards I must have had 5 UPDs (none on the start-finish straight though!) and one faceplant immediately in front of the last tent. I started walking. and walking. with the helmet-mounted lights I had the visual depth perception of a one-eyed mole with cateracts. there were some short rideable stretches, where if I did UPD I was less likely to take out riders. there was some really nice singletrack too, but the constant stream of riders put paid to the nicest bits. the mud varied from sticky like fly paper, to boggy, but was not all-encompassing.
Of that 10 1/4 mile lap I probably rode 1 mile at most. At times I was incredibly demoralised. just trudging along, constantly looking over my shoulder, standing out of the way. However, banter with other riders and marshalls, as well as the occassional view of lights tracking around the other side of the valley was very encouraging.
The best part of the lap was the ride-in. at the 10-mile marker the campsite starts, and the route is wide and smooth. I arrived at around 1 a.m. to a quiet arena and handed over to Sam Wakeling (who I had warned that I thought I would be slow), and told him to take it easy! after a wonderful night’s sleep I woke to discover my 2nd lap would probably be the last for the team, so, to my relative delight, I would have to take it easy. I set off again at 10:30 a.m., with a larger audience and come cheers, which was good. being able to see improved matters hugely. 1 gentle UPD with a small audience was fun, and then off and away. much more riding, some nice treacle tart from a marshall and much more banter.
The pleasantness of it all off-set by the hills, the much higher speeds of the riders and pain. My knee problems were returning, so it was starting to hurt when I rode. However, my shoes were not good enough for all the walking I was doing, so my feet were very very sore. most of the hills were taken anti-clockwise, and the difference in foot pain showed the camber. So it hurt if I rode, and hurt if I walked. Riding was less painful but less possible.
Around 1/2 way I was caught up by a bloke on a fully suspended, disc-braked, 26"/10" wheeled Penny Farthing. it cost him £50 off Ebay, and he was there to do a slow last lap he thought he may as well try it out. On some downhills he was overtaking expert riders! his rear wheel wasn’t turning properly, and as he left me the front brake fell apart (but he got it back together) I was not as impressed when I discovered it was a 3-speed freewheeling hub!
In daylight the bikes speeds were much faster, verging on lunacy. After the race the air ambulance arrived for one rider who had probably broken their neck. I was brushed by another who decided to pass me on the narrow, bumpy side of the route as I was dismounting. if he was 1/2 a second later he would have hit the uni, and the following 6 riders berated him & checked up on me.
Just before the arena I stopped for 15 minutes to compose myself & recover, and then headed in. just before the nice bit was a short singletrack downhill that riders were hurtling down at ridiculous speeds. As I saw a photographer at the bottom, I was determined to ride down (I had walked past 5 out of 6 photographers so far), but had to wait 3 minutes for a clear enough track. around, through the campsite to cheers & praise and up through the timing tent. Immediately after that is the handover area, and a sharp turn onto the gentle downhill start/finish straight. at the handover area, instead of going out the back way as before, you had to go down the straight, past the crowds. I was feeling a bit reluctant, but used a marshall’s shoulder to remount, and rode down to the end, physically and emotionally drained.
I only said I would never do that sort of thing again during the low points of the lap. by the end of both laps, if asked to come back next year, the answer would have been yes, and still is. the other uni riders,the supporters and most of the bike riders, were all really helpful and encouraging.
I doff my hat to anyone who’s ever done anything similar, and I encourage everyone to do it, even if it’s only once!