So early Saturday morning I made the relatively short 2 hour journey to Catton Park where after a quick phone call to Phil met him and his brother John (riding as a pair on Bikes), Tue and Rob. Spencer arrived a few minutes later.
The early comers on Friday had done a cracking job of securing a large area for the tents, 2 gazebos and the cars. I know there was going to be a lot of people there but hadn’t expected that much. There were family’s there with their children and the atmosphere was very relaxed.
After registering, putting up tents, and attending the rider briefing at 1.00pm we made our way to the starting line to cheer on Tue who had graciously offered to do the initial run before riding to spread out the riders. I was tempted but nerves got the better of me.
Tue opted for a coker on the first lap while I went back to the camp to get ready for my lap. By this time the sun was beating down and plenty of suncream was needed. Packing my camelbak I asked the guys if it was worth taking a spare tube etc in case of a puncture. We decided it would be just as quick to run than to change the tyre and besides as Phil pointed out Uni teams at these events never get any punctures.
All too soon I got the call from Tue telling me he had done about 10k but had suffered a puncture! luckily he was pretty close to the finish.
Soon it was my turn and I’m nervously waiting at the change over tent for Tue. He’s not hard to spot and after giving me the baton (wrist band) I’m finally off on my first ever 24 hour event. It feels good to finally get riding and for the first 1.5 miles it’s going well with easy farmers fields to content with. There is plenty of room for the faster bikes to pass me (my biggest worry before the event). Next is a steep short hill that I’d been told before hand would actually be quicker running but as I’m already on the Uni it seems a shame to get off. Halfway up people pushing bikes are overtaking me and I decide to get off and run.
Next is a twisty section through the forest. I’m very much aware of my speed difference compared to the bikes and as I hear bikes approach from behind I get off to let them past. This is a bad move because as I wait for a gap more and more bikes just stream pass and the clock keeps ticking. I’m torn between waiting to ride it all and also concerned with the clock. I decide to run for a few minutes to a clear section.
I ride more now and on wider sections riders pass me with a shout of ‘on your left’ but on the narrower sections I’m still not completely happy with (what I feel) holding up riders and I frequently get off and wait or in some cases throw myself into thorn bushes. The bike riders seem to appreciate it but it’s really slowing me down and checking my watch I start to get despondent. After more waiting I decide to just really go for it and it’s going well until I UPD right in front of a bike who barely misses me and shouts loudly how dangerous I am. Confidence well and truly knocked I walk up a easy long hill at which point my phone rings and I aspect it to be Rob wondering whats keeping me. No it’s my wife checking on my progress! Now is not a good time. At the top of the hill a friendly biker starts singing the circus tune. Great. Confidence gone I’m riding much slower now and walking when I really shouldn’t.
A little while later I notice that my tyre is feeling very twitchy and get off to check, it’s pretty soft. A quick pump up and I’m off again. I don’t know it’s a puncture until later on after I return to our camp and it’s completely flat.
It’s not all bad as towards the end there is a nice double arrow downhill section with a big crowd of spectators gathered at the bottom, I get a big cheer when I make it all the way down and I manage a grin. The final section goes along side the campsite and I get another round of the circus tune, this time I smile and wave – it’s all harmless fun. I round the final corner and dismount to walk through the timing tent and hand over the baton to Rob. Spencer is also there to greet me, “how was that?” he asked – crap I honestly replied.
I was annoyed with myself and feel that I’ve let the others down. The course isn’t that difficult, 98% rideable and the distance at about 7.5 miles not that far at all. I’ve always felt that I would never enter a race like this if I thought I wasn’t fast enough or wasn’t fit enough to last the 24 hours. I’d been doing 17 mile training runs to work and had averaged 8.9 mph over 8.2 miles off road so felt I was fast enough and my general fitness good. All the waiting for bikers to pass however and the knock to my confidence had taken it’s toll. I was not looking forward to my next lap.
Rob was next after me and took his 26’’ muni. He had taken the coker for a test run earlier but decided he would be safer on the 26’’ wheel. He had a good fast lap apart from the spectacular tree hugging crash he mentioned above – I really hope someone has got a photo of that! Following Rob was Spencer (another 24 hour virgin) who took the his 29’’ guni. We waited for him at the timing tent to finish his lap where he nearly took the wrong lane meaning he would have had to do another one! I’d seen a tired biker do that earlier and he looked heart broken when the marshal made him continue to do another lap. I’ll leave it to Spencer to say if he enjoyed his lap but it was another respectable time.
My next lap was half in the dark and wasn’t too bad but I was still stopping for bikers a lot. My 3w LED light was adequate but in the darkness of the forest not quite bright enough and I had some spectacular crashes as my wheel hit an unexpected tree stump or loose section. I think this lap may have been slightly quicker than my first. The encouragement from the other riders as they passed was great and it kept me going as did high-fiveing some spectators at the top of a climb. I rang Rob at my usual spot only to wake him up! He told me at the change over area after my lap that he literally swallowed a banana whole and chucked some clothes on to make it down in time. I didn’t risk the steep downhill section in the dark this time round.
While I lay waiting for the call from Tue at 2.30am in the morning in my tent it started to rain. In a tent it always sounds like a monsoon even if it’s just a little shower. Getting outside, to sort out my stuff ready for my 3rd lap, the rain was quite steady but not overly cold. By the time Tue had rung in and I met him at the change over tent it had stopped raining and was just a slight drizzle. I think Spencer got the worst of it.
I enjoyed my 3rd night lap a lot. It would seem that a lot of the bikers had given up as there were times on the course where it was just me. This meant I rode a lot more as the fear of falling in front of someone or holding up people didn’t apply. I was also pleasantly surprised how awake I was. The mad circus chanting spectators were still out in force even at this time in the morning! although it was more of a soft sing than a chant as their numbers had dwindled. When I got back to the tent after my handover to Rob everyone else was getting some sleep. The 3 bikes in our camp indicated that Phil and his brother John were both having a rest from there grueling doubles riding. Some quick jelly babies later and I also retired to my tent for a few hours.
I was up in the morning in time for Spencer who was on his 3rd lap to hear him ring Tue to let him know that the puncture fairy had struck the Uni Freaks team for a 3rd time. I went with Tue to meet him as he finished at the change over tent.
Tue ever the processor of endless energy did another fast 1 hour lap and all to soon I was out again. The sunshine had returned in force again and it was getting very hot. This was by far my best lap, I was gaining a bit more confidence and not getting off to let riders pass so much, I was still getting out the way as soon as possible but there was less of the standing and waiting of my first lap. I felt like I still had plenty of energy left and made the most of what was to be my last lap. I attempted the crowd pleasing downhill section again and got another cheer as I made it down in one. Although still slow compared to the likes of Rob and Tue I’m sure that this was my fastest lap and was pleased to end the experience not feeling like I had after my first lap.
After that lap there was Rob for his 4th then Tue for his 5th (taking Spencer’s place) then Rob again. 17 laps in total.
We all went to the finish at 2.00pm to cheer on Phil and Rob bring there respective teams home. Soon we were packing up and it was then just the matter to stay awake for the drive home.
Overall I was pleased with my fitness and the continual rides to work had paid off in terms of distance, my speed when riding was ok according to my gps but overall suffered with me stopping so frequently for bikers. That said even if I hadn’t had stopped frequently and walked some bits when there was too many bikes I still wouldn’t have been any where as near as fast as Tue and Rob who just kept pulling fast lap times out of the bag. I think the distance training paid off but on reflection I should have varied my 29er offroad training as well to make me faster and more used to twisty single tracks, etc. Rob’s 26er seemed like a nice choice with the effective size nearer my 29er and the large volume tyre soaking up some of the bumps.
Thanks to all in team Uni Freaks and Phil and John for such an enjoyable weekend and making me feel welcome.