Donna and I set off on Friday 29th at 4am to travel the 7 hours up to Fort William. We’d been looking forward to this race as we hadn’t competed in pairs for a while after doing some solo competitions recently. It was pretty poor weather and over the first few hours’ the journey started to get worse with major road works and worsening driving conditions. But as we got into Scotland the weather improved and was better than expected although we had packed for whatever was thrown at us!
We arrived at the venue just before midday a little tired but immediately began setting up our camp in the large hard standing carpark. Michal arrived about an hour or so later as ‘Mr Support Crew’ and we finalised our camp setup. The weather was surprisingly warm at 12 degrees and the wind was non-existent!
We decided to do a recce lap before dark, which lived up to the reputation of long climbs and techy descents. The terrain was all-weather but there had been some forestry work and parts of the route were chewed up and covered with sloppy mud, not only was there this to contend with but there was an added uphill Northshore. On returning to Camp we were told a random gust of wind had flipped the gazebo and had trashed a few others in camp where many people were caught off guard! We were starting to get the impression things were not going to be that straight forward.
The night that followed was a bit of a “nightmare” with severe wind causing devastation in the camp and some people had abandoned their kit in favour of a Travelodge and not pegged owt down! At 4am the large gazebo at the side of us had flipped and was on its way towards my van so I had to get up and remove the canopy to avoid any damage. So that was my sleep ruined as I never really got back to sleep and eventually got up at 7am. The next few hours flew by with breakfast and last minute bike prep, then a briefing at 11.30am and at 12 o’clock I was on the start line chatting to Rich Rothwell when he told me Lee Cragie and Rob Friel were riding pairs. I knew that meant 1st place was gone and Donna and I were now riding for second!
The gun went off and my 2 lap stint began! The laps were no easy task, there was plenty of climbing and some serious technical sections and just to kick you in the teeth the last few miles consisted of an extra loop from transition area with uphill switchbacks.
Donna and I pushed through going one lap each for 12 or so laps but now I could see we were slightly drifting and the gaps on second and third were increasing so I put in another double which brought us into 3rd which was 2mins down on second and that’s how it played out over the next few laps with only a few minutes between 2nd, 3rd and 4th. The top spot was as I expected sealed on the start line as the only way ‘sponsors nightmare’ were going to lose was by accident or major mechanical.
Even though we had done little prep for this event the force was strong until Donna, my long term suffering partner, was hit with her reoccurring vertigo and was struggling to carry on, and I was beginning to develop severe stomach cramps…. we could see our chances of a podium spot drifting as the gap on 3rd was up to 20mins even though our lap times were quite consistent and conditions never really changed and I was still in short sleeves well gone 1am. By lap 18 our morale was at a low and my mind was telling me “what’s the point”. We decided it was over in favour of our health, Donna’s laps were becoming dangerous for her as feeling punch drunk with the vertigo and riding down fast flowing technical descents don’t mix!
When I look back I just think my mind set was all over the place and I had given into our problem instead of using my head to think about keeping moving, but on reflection it was a lost cause at this point and trying to maintain a good pace to keep in contention against such strong riders was not going to happen.
We sat in the cosy gazebo with the fire blazing and that’s all I remember until waking in a sweat thinking “What have I done! We don’t give up!” It was about 9am and I quickly jumped up and into some fresh clothes with a new lease of life! There was no real pressure on me but I managed to push out four continuous laps to leave us on a more respectable 22laps. Not too bad after falling asleep for 5 hours!
We learnt a great deal from this event, most of all don’t underestimate your competition and nutrition is king! I found it very difficult to get enough calories in with the stomach cramps. So even though I managed to get through a fair few Chia Charge bars I eventually ran low on energy and in that situation the mind then goes offline!
I do think a major factor in how we performed was the lack of sleep on the few days leading up to the event and maybe we would have been feeling better if we had stayed in the comfort of the local Travelodge the night before the event.
Relentless is definitely the toughest 24 hour race in the UK in regards to the course and the amount of climbing involved; we covered 22 laps and 24,000ft of climbing and that was nowt more than an average attempt in comparison to the ‘sponsors nightmare’ pair who managed 33 laps!
We will definitely be back but much better preparations are required… note to self: don’t underestimate 24 hour races!
Bit tired on the way home!