Back from the latest UK 24hr race battered and bruised (oh, and extremely muddy)

Muddy story Part 1

Having bought myself a new light set for Mountain Mayhem back in June, I thought I’d try and justify paying heaps of cash for it by doing a couple of 24hr races a year instead of just the one.

Sleepless in the Saddle (SITS or Sleepless as its known) was to be the other. For the last 7 or so years we’ve had unicycle teams entering Mountain Mayhem, but this would be the first year unicycles were to enter the slightly tamer 24hr race at Catton Hall, Walton-on-Trent in Derbyshire, UK.

One difference with ‘Sleepless’ was the fact that you could enter as a team of 2, which was something you couldn’t do at Mountain Mayhem. After posting on these pages for riders, we soon had 6 including myself. So we had our team of 4, plus a team of 2. Sam Wakeling and I opted to enter in the pairs, while Paul Royle, Joe McLean, Tue Johansen & Rob Northcott entered as a team of 4.

Wendy, the kids and I arrived there early Friday afternoon so that we could set up camp and fence off an area large enough for all our riders. In addition, we were to be joined by Deadly Des (& Gemma) and Keith Griffiths (& kids) for the weekend. There were also a couple of other unicyclists to join us who were to try this event on 2 wheels instead of one. I’ll leave it to them if they want their names to be disclosed (the shame of it).

The camp site was a large grassed farmer’s field with portable loo’s and shower cabins at one end. I don’t think it had rained in that area for quite a while as the ground was unbelievably solid. Even with the aid of hammers and mallets many tent pegs were bent trying to erect our tents. With our boundary fence secure we waited for the others to arrive. This happened over the course of the evening and into the following morning. It seemed that our hot summer weather of a few weeks ago had deserted us, as things were rather chilly, overcast and windy that Friday evening.

As usual, these events are great socials and we sat around putting the unicycle world to rights, eating pasta and drinking beer. Joe had phoned to say that he wouldn’t be there until the following morning, while Tue & Rob were due after midnight. It was after midnight when Gemma pointed out that we were the only ones still up on the campsite – Oh! It seems that everyone else was taking this endurance thing a bit more serious than us unicyclists I guess. Most of us headed to our tents just before Tue & Rob arrived at 1.00am ish – well we did need to get some sleep, as we wouldn’t be getting much (if any) the following night.

Saturday morning’s weather wasn’t any different to where it left off the previous day, i.e. a little on the miserable side, but DRY. The last thing we wanted was it to be a scorcher - no chance of that! During the morning Sam & Des did a lap on their Cokers to see what the course was like. Reports for the first half of the course weren’t good, as they re-told how bumpy things were. I was pleased that I opted to ride my Coker for this, instead of my 29er, which I rode at Mountain Mayhem. I had brought my 29er with me, just in case things were muddy, or the course too steep. Anyway, late morning we all headed down to the registration tent where we were given our race numbers and electronic tags (to be worn on our ankles).

Basic outline of how this 24hr race works: the race runs from 2pm Saturday to 2pm Sunday and is in the form of a relay, unless you’re doing it solo (there were about 100 riders doing it solo – MAD LOT). You have teams of 1, 2 & 4 riders in each. If you have a female in your team then you can enter as a team of 5. Each lap was about 7.5 miles long and each rider has to complete at least 2 laps to qualify. The race starts with a ½ mile run without your uni/bike to separate the riders a little. The start/finish line has a timing tent over it that detects the electronic tag on your ankle. As you go through the tent the timing computer knows who you are and stops your clock for that particular lap and starts the clock for the next rider. Once that rider completes their lap and goes through the finish, the computer knows who has just completed that lap and stops their clock and so starts it again for the next rider. Once you’ve gone through the start you cannot go backwards – you have to complete your lap, even if you have a mechanical failure and can’t fix it (in some extreme cases this might mean you carrying your uni/bike). You can only receive assistance from other riders on the course if your uni/bike has problems (no outside help is allowed). So that’s it - you ride your lap, hand over to the next rider, get a little rest, then go again when your turn comes around, and again, and again, and again, etc, etc………… Just keep this going for 24hrs and you’re done. Easy!!

With a team of 4 it’s possible to get some rest, albeit short and possibly still not enough. With Sam & I doing it as a pair we were destined for even less rest and so it made more sense for us to ride 2 laps each before handing over. As long as each rider completes at least 2 laps, then it’s up to you and your team mates how you want to manage your laps.

Sam started for us on his Coker, while Tue started for the Unicycle Madness team on his 29er. Incidentally, in total there were 1450 riders at Sleepless this year, made up of 317 teams and about 100 soloists. With one member from each team, plus all the soloists on the start, it meant there were over 400 riders on the course for that first lap.

SITS2006 start.JPG

Muddy Story Part 2

On the stroke of 2pm the hooter sounded and everyone was off. For Sam & I to keep things going for 24hrs it would mean pacing ourselves slightly, instead of putting in fast laps. Sam completed his first lap in an hour and was soon followed in by Tue, who was handing over to Rob for his first lap of the day – Sam just went straight out again for his second lap. On the course there were several nice steep descents for added fun (especially for the spectators). Unfortunately for Tue he came a cropper on one of them and was sporting a rather nasty looking scrape down his forearm and leg. I thought it looked horrendous, but Tue assured us all it looked worse than it actually was. I’m still not too sure about that one!

Sam’s second lap was just under the hour mark when he came in to hand over to me. So off I went, not really knowing what to expect (apart from some bumpy ground) and wondering how fast I should be pushing myself on the Coker. I decided to take things fairly easy for that first lap and was surprised to complete it within the hour also. It was bumpy, but the Coker’s big wheel made it easier to keep things flowing and at a decent pace. I have a brake fitted on the Coker, which I was thankful of on some of the rather steep and rutted descents. There were several good single tracks through woods in addition to open tracks along the edges of farmers’ fields. All-in-all it was a good course and not much height-gain to do battle with. On that second lap of mine I noticed how dusty things were becoming with the constant stream of bikes over the dry ground. The weather was still cool due to the windy conditions. Even though it was windy, it didn’t seem to affect my riding. I came in from my second lap pleased with the pace I had settled into, which was the same as my first lap.

After handing back over to Sam I headed back to camp for a rest and some ‘more’ pasta. Back in camp Paul was nursing a poorly knee having come off on his first lap. It must have been bad as he had to go to the medical tent after completing his lap and was now sitting there with an ice pack on the injured part. Not a good start for our team of 4.

I must mention, on the quiet, that the two unicyclist’s turned mountain bikers for the weekend were doing rather well. I feel I shouldn’t say too much about them as this is a unicycle forum :smiley: .

My rest was shorter than planned as Sam phoned in with crank/pedal problems. He still did another sub hour lap, but handed back to me so he could sort things out. I did just the one lap while Sam fixed the problem. While out there I noticed things were getting even more dusty and powdery under the wheels. All sorted, Sam went out again for two more laps. The second of which was in the dark, as night time had come all too soon. It’s a requirement that all riders have at least a 10watt light, plus back up light while on the course at night time.

As before, in other enduro events, the support and encouragement we received from the other bikers while on the course was immense. The riders that passed us (yes, there were a few) were full of praise and encouragement, but were also in disbelief that we could do something like this on one wheel. There were certainly a few explanatories thrown in our direction, but never did I hear anything negative. It’s just one of those weekends we unicyclists become gods, hero’s, superhuman and the likes. Hearing all these complementary remarks certainly helps to keep you going.

Night riding was the part I was looking forward to the most, as there’s something special about riding after dark. Maybe it’s partly the novelty side of it to some extent, as it’s quite rare we go riding off road during the wee hours. Seeing all those bike lights dotted across the countryside is quite something. Riding at night just adds another dimension to my unicycling and I love the added challenge. The down side to night riding when it’s very dusty though is that your lights pick out all the fine particles in the air which then reflect the light straight back at you. This is accentuated when you’re behind a bike as their back wheel churns all that powder up for you as you follow in their wake. Prior to things getting dark, Sam & I were completing sub hour laps, which we were pleased with. We knew our lap times would now slow down a little until the sun came up the following morning. What we didn’t expect was what happened half way through my first night lap – RAIN!!!

The wind had never really eased off all day and now continued through the night. This was mainly apparent when we were out of the trees and in the open. It was just before 11pm when it started to rain :frowning: . It soon became obvious that the conditions would quickly change for the worse. With most of the course having a layering of powder on it, it was only a matter of time before things would turn into a gooey quagmire. Everyone’s times were very quickly starting to slip, including mine as I came through the finish. As I was doing a double lap, I continued through the start/finish tent, jumped on my Coker and rode off into the rain for my second night lap. Incidentally, as you go through the start/finish tent you pass the holding area called the coral. This is where the rider hand over is done, so there’s always a lot of riders waiting there for their team mates to come in. As I wasn’t handing over to Sam for this lap I just walked passed all the waiting riders. As I did they then broke into applause, as they could see I was going straight out again in those atrocious conditions.

On that second lap conditions really took a nose dive and I was seriously slipping and sliding all over the place. That was only part of the fun, as the gooey quagmire was starting to stick to absolutely anything that touched it, including feet. There was obviously different types/consistences of this gooey stuff. Some would stick like glue and some you just slipped and slid through. The slippy stuff was lethal on the Coker as I had no traction at all and then the sticky stuff just clogged the wheel up so much that it wouldn’t even turn. Sam was due to go out next so I phoned him to warn of the deteriorating conditions and advise him NOT to take the Coker out, but to switch to a smaller wheel (something with a decent off road tread). Sam had only brought the Coker with him, and in the dark of camp and in the rain there didn’t seem to be a suitable 29er, or muni that he could get the saddle low enough on, so he opted to wait until first light before riding again.

That second lap in the rain, wind, mud and now cold was a hard one, but somehow still very enjoyable – I’m like that! The number of bike riders also out there started to thin out considerably due to the conditions, possibly opting for their warm sleeping bags and dry tents instead. I still felt strong, although I was starting to feel the cold by then. Sam wasn’t going out again until dawn, so I had the option of putting in a third lap in the dark if I wanted to (even better for justifying buying my new lights), but I certainly wouldn’t be doing it on my Coker. It was 1.00am in the morning and good-old-Keith (he’s not really old) was still up and chatting to Sam, so he kindly brought my 29er down to the start for me – in the rain (thanks Keith). Now for some serious fun and at least I had some traction on this one. Last year and the year before at Mountain Mayhem we had our fair share of rain & mud, so I knew what it was like to ride the 29er in these conditions at night.

That 3rd lap straight after the other 2 was possibly my hardest one, but then again the most rewarding. The 29er certainly made a lot of difference as far as grip went and was better for balance in the slippy conditions. It couldn’t avoid being clogged up by the gooey stuff though. This was nothing compared to the bikes with all their gears, brakes and chains. The mud was so thick it was literally ripping the bikes to pieces. Chains were snapping and derailleurs being yanked off. I even saw one bike being dragged along with its front wheel missing?? What fun we were having!! At least I could carry my uni through the unrideable parts, which was something the bikers were struggling to do. There were even less riders out there on that lap, but the ones still out there were even more impressed at what I was doing on one wheel – something that they were struggling to do on two. I finished my lap in 1 hour 48 mins and at 3.00am in the morning. I had been out since 10.15pm, I was very wet, very muddy, very cold and in need of some rest. By the time I got back to camp and put on dry clothes over my muddy body and had several hot drinks left out for me by Wendy, it was 4am and time to jump in my sleeping bag for a couple of hours of rest. Just before I did this though, one of the ‘unicycle turned biker boys’ (lets call him Phil for the sake of this story) pushed his broken bike into camp. He was as muddy as I was minutes ago. Come to think of it I still was that muddy, but had dry clothes over the top of it all (I did dry the mud first). ‘Phil’ was saying that after two thirds the way round the mud had gotten too much for the gears and ripped them off, giving ‘Phil’ no option but to push it the rest of the way – no mean feat in these conditions. Its times like that that you’re pleased to have something light you can carry. Anyway, I lay in my sleeping bag thinking Sam would be going out soon for more fun, once it was light and hoped he wouldn’t be riding his Coker!

Muddy story… the end

Sam went out at 6.00am, “on his Coker”, with the intension of doing the usual double lap. When Sam phoned in, I thought it was to let me know he had completed his 2 laps and wanted me to get ready for the handover. Not quite so! He had spent most of that time walking the course, as riding the Coker wasn’t possible. On the other team Tue had switched from his 29er to a Coker yesterday and was also out there with Sam and was having exactly the same problems. Incidentally, yesterday Tue had the fastest lap time at just under 54 mins (25 secs faster than Sam), this latest lap of Tue’s was the second slowest due to the conditions. That shows you how bad things had become.

Sam handed over to me so that he could find himself something suitable to ride in this condition. As these were possibly the last laps for myself I decided to do a double one before hading back to Sam to finish the race. The morning light certainly made riding easier, although things were still hard going due to the conditions. By now the rain was intermittent, but the damage was done and everyone had to slip and slide their way to the close at 2.00pm. These 2 laps were my last of the event and also my longest lap times. Apart from it being physically draining out there, it ‘was’ great fun slipping and sliding around on the 29er. I don’t think there was a single clean spot anywhere below my chest. What an excuse to go and play in the mud!!

So all the big wheel riders ended up switching to the smaller wheel during the course of the night and early morning, but Joe & Rob had remained on their munis throughout.

Sam brought the proceeding to a close for our team while Rob was that man for the other. Oh…., and ‘Phil’ finished if off on a single speed for the………. It had stopped raining briefly when Sam crossed the finish line, but the heavens opened again just before Rob came in.

Even though the weather could have been a lot better, we all enjoyed the race and of course the weekend as a whole. Can’t wait for the next one now – or maybe I should have a rest……… Nahhh!

The results were out the following day, published by ‘Singletrack’. Not counting the soloists, Sam & I beat 65 bike teams, while the Unicycle Madness team beat 64. Both our 2 teams managed an impressive 15 laps each, which was excellent considering the conditions.

We always seem to do better against the bikes when conditions are dreadful. It also makes for a better story and gives us more to talk about in the pub and at future 24hr events.

I wish it had been dry though :wink: !


Epic write-up Steve! I know VW campers are slow, but a week to get back to Manchester? :stuck_out_tongue:

I had a good time, despite the mud. I think I was the only one in the team to come out of it without any real injuries - can’t have been riding hard enough. Have to do it again sometime.

My picture taking wasn’t too successful, especially after the rain, but there were a few good ones.


Funny guy!! I spent the first half of the week trying to catch up on lost sleep and the second half writing it up.:o

The photo of Joe is great - it looks as though he’s being towed.


Great write up! I hope that I can participate in an event like that someday.


Thanks for the mamoth write-up Steve! I seem to feature in it quite a bit, from your perspective.

It was a fantastic weekend, with loads of good riding… and some really interesting experience! Depsite the name of the event being ‘Sleepless’, I am almost ashamed to have had (shhh… ) something like five hours kip! Especially with my youthful age, Steve’s seemingly unbounded energy and determination through dark and bog made me seem quite a quitter. Well done though Steve!

I’d heard about this mud stuff from veteran Mountain Mayhemers, but it is something special to see it first hand. Note: a slick tyre is not a great plan when the track has a propensity to move sideways at any given moment. Still, playing in the mud is great fun!

I came back from my double night laps (before the mud even), and asked Wendy to remind me that I never, never want to even try Solo. Please don’t let me. I won’t want to really. I’ll say it again in public here, while I have just enough painful realism left. After this the rosey nostalga takes over and it starts seeming like a good idea again. But of course, if someone has a magic cure for cramp (yes, I was downing salt etc), and can guarentee no mud… it could be a different story.

Thanks for everyone who lent me things too! I didn’t need as many lights as I scrounged in the end, but I did hit a few trees with pedals, needing crank loans. And whole unicycle loans by then end! And thanks to Paul for changing over my seatpost in the middle of the night. I had to take it out after that.

Now going back to the usual road riding seems almost perversely simple.

Roll on next year’s 24s! :slight_smile:


Well fancy you saying that, I just heard that they’re running Strathpuffer again next January. It’s a fantastic event and one that really should be done solo by someone!

Seriously, you’re obviously fit enough to do a solo, once you’ve got that level of fitness, the hard thing is riding slow enough to not kill yourself or crash badly.

Tue is quite fast isn’t he. If he was faster than Sam, then that makes two UK riders out there who are faster than Roger, Roger’s going to need to start training again!


Thanks for taking the trouble to write it up for us Steve. Brilliant stuff, as I read it sitting in a nice chair in my warm comfortable dry, air conditioned room, sun shining through the window, I felt I could have almost been there with you on the ride. :wink:

PS. Message for you from Zyllan: “Has all the mud wrestling improved your uni-gladiators?”


You can tell Zyll that my gladiator skills don’t need improving to beat him. Do ask Zyll if he remembers how to unicycle won’t you? :smiley:


Don’t forget, Sam & I were taking things a little easier than we would have been doing if we were in a team of 4. Yes, Tue is very fast and an extremely strong rider, but Sam was holding back and pacing himself. The likes of Sam, Des and possibly Tue are possibly as fast as our super human Roger. What a team of 4 they would make.

BTW, us older ones are certainly doing our bit to hold our own against riders half our age :wink:


I really will have to enter one of these races at some point, I read the write ups and they sound great but I’m not sure if I am ready yet.

Maybe I should try racing on two wheels before I try one but I can’t afford a b*ke at the minute and I don’t have space to store one.

Maybe this time next year


Re: Back from the latest UK 24hr race battered and bruised (oh, and extremely muddy)

“steve.colligan” <>
wrote in message
> You can tell Zyll that my gladiator skills don’t need improving to beat
> him. Do ask Zyll if he remembers how to unicycle won’t you? :smiley:
> Steve

Hi Steve, cheeky so and so. I have ridden at least three times this year.
3 minutes in BJC Gladiators, 2 or 3 minutes at Crawly , and a good 10 or 15
minutes of gladiators at the EJC… And I think I played a couple of hockey
games at Scarborough BUC. That’s at least half an hour of riding this
year. Almost as much as last year and it is only August. Makes my legs
tired just listing it all.
Fancy a few scraps at Manchester convention? I’ll get mum to clean the dust
off the seat.


awesome story, thanks for writing this up, i enjoyed reading it.

Thanks for the writeup Steve- sounds like a real epic event!

That’s what I say every time…doesn’t work.

Definitely consider soloing- it’s not really much harder than riding for 12hrs. Once you’re through the 12hr barrier everything blurs and it stops hurting because everything goes numb.


Wow! Great write-up of a great event. Congrats to the uni teams.

Amazing effort!

Great write up Steve, the time you spent writing it is much appreciated, sounds like you really enjoyed it. I wish I could have been at that 24hr event, maybe the next one :wink:

First Joe, now Ken too. What kind of cruel conspiracy is this? Having tried these things, surely you should both know better. :slight_smile: And Strathpuffer? Being not a huge fan of freezing to groundsheets, or mid-day darkness it has little to tempt.

Even if keeping lungs and heart functioning is ok, don’t you get things like cramp? Is there anything more to do than stretch, warm up, and eat salt, and pink Rego protein after? Or is it simply a case of riding on with muscles of steely-solid burning torture?

So, I still haven’t forgotten the agony, the torment, the desperate dejection, the delirium, the wild exaggeration for dramatic effect. Not quite, anyway…

Sam :slight_smile:

P.S. Yes, Tue is really fast. And no, I’m afraid I didn’t deliberately ease off (on those sub-hour laps when things were working anyway). Just a good dose of not-being-fastest. :slight_smile:

Nah…just eat lot’s and keep pedalling. We found the most important thing was too have a large variety of different foods- sometimes you feel like pizza, somethings you feel like chocolate, sometimes you feel like throwing up, so it’s really nice to be able to pick and choose.

Once you get into ‘the zone’ the hours disappear pretty quickly.

Hey Strathpuffer is super-fun really. Much nicer scenery than your average 24 hour race, and much more of a small hardcore thing. Admittedly it was a bit cold and a bit muddy in parts, but it had a fantastic big climb and a fantastic uphill every lap, and you got to ride down a hill at sunset, past a beautiful loch and into a forest full of frost covered trees containing a lovely descent that went on for miles.

I think for any really long event the key thing is not riding quite so hard. I did an event involving running recently and got nasty cramp which lost me five minutes, if I’d gone slightly slower or not jumped over things so vigorously, I reckon I’d have done a bit better, but I find it pretty hard to pace myself in that kind of event. I’d guess from the times you get in events, you’re going pretty much flat out all the time?