Strathpuffer 24 2016

And we will go 500 miles! There’s a whopping 8 hours drive ahead of us before we land in the Travel Lodge Inverness. Things are very different this year; the weather is almost tropical at 8 degrees in late January. For the Scottish Highlands that is pretty unusual!

We know what to expect this year and the feeling is just ‘bring it on!’

Our small group have all arrived safe and we settle down to an “all you can eat ” curry night……what could possibly go wrong?

A good night’s sleep in a comfy bed and we get back in the van ready to roll by 9am.

Friday morning and the real journey begins. A quick dash over to Square Wheels in Strathpeffer to get booked on. Team Nier and the Shibden cc are first in the queue and its only 9.30 am, only 2 hours 30 mins to wait.

Time flies by as we chat about all things bike and discuss where we hope to pitch on the fire road climb. 12 o’clock looms and Donna is primed ready to dash for the van once she has signed in, pass in hand ……12.02 and we’re off on a short drive to the next village and up the fire road into the woods. We seek out the spot we were hoping for and stand guard until all our Team arrives. Next it’s a mad dash to set up camp.

team nier puffer

from left: Dean Tempest-Mitchell, Donna Waring, Richard Dobson, Michal Siemencuk, Nigel Smith

The camp takes shape – to be fair we’ve had enough practice over the past 12 months! We stand back to watch the procession of vehicles going further up the fire road- horse boxes and £80,000 motor homes – all going to prove just how far Puffer has evolved with more than double the entries at over 800 compared to just a few years back.

nier camp puffer

 

We settle down once the generator and coffee machine are set up to await the 6pm sign on.

We were very unsure of our rivals this year. The teams have crazy names but conceal some really strong riders; “2 fat ladies” translates to two really quick female riders.

We decided to stick to what we know with Nigel lined up to do two laps from the gun then sit into doing alternate laps.

We hit the sleeping bags at 7pm and as per usual Nigel was too hyper too sleep, The following morning he rolls out of the van and didn’t think he had actually had any sleep at all! The buzz around the venue was rising and quickly things got hectic as we made all our last minute tinkers, fitting mud guards and deciding what to wear because it’s already 8oc!

 

Nigel comments: ‘It’s 10am and I’m in the lineup for the start. The brief has ended and we are 2 mins to go. I realise I’m a long way back!  On the gun I try to wind my way through the masses to get a decent start, and after collecting my bike from Donna, I run about 50 yards before jumping on the bike. I knew I needed to keep ahead so I put the hammer down to get towards the front and quickly rode into the top 15 on the fire road climb then eased off. There’s a long way to go ! Each lap is around 6.7 miles of sloppy mud greasy rocks and around 900ft of climbing.

Donna adds: ‘With the dibber round my neck I set off for my first of many laps, picking through the many riders on the track. I knew once the darkness kicked in there wouldn’t be as many out, and I much prefer it that way! I tried to drink at least 750ml of fluid after each lap and tried to get food in, mainly chia charge rice cakes, bars and my favorite chia charge  peanut butter and jam sarnies (without the crust)! And with a comfort break I knew my fluid intake was ok…………. My makeshift ensuite did the trick!’

Nigel continues: ‘I was having gearing issues with the intensity of the sticky mud and the only way to keep the transmission going was to jet wash the bike down after every lap. Dean was king of the pit and dragged at least 15 barrels of water up the hill to keep the jet wash going. Without his consistent maintenance I’m unsure we would have got through trouble free!’

‘By lap 12 we had made a significant gap on 2nd by being 1 lap up. Now it was all about sustaining the lead through the dark hours into early morning. At midnight I rode a double to give Donna a longer break but after this we were on back to back laps again till dawn.’

Donna picks up the tale; ‘My darkest moment was when Nigel went out on a double lap. I sat in the van after refueling and must have had a slight doze. Dean knocked on the window and said, 10 minutes! As I got out of the van I said “don’t think I can! Not really sure why I said this as I knew I would never give up. Dean looked at me and said come on you can! And I did 🙂

‘We were well into the night and on every lap my thoughts turned to the mudfest on the final section and having to get off and run. There was no way through that sinking feeling as the mud sucked your feet in and I struggled to even push my bike. On the final down into transition I made the decision to run this on my last 4 laps as I saw one too many go over the bars trying to ride. Then it was transition and the slog back to camp with 4kg of extra mud on board!’

‘I really appreciated the chats with a number of riders, giving each other the encouragement to dig in. I also rode alongside Guy Martin on the first fire road climb, both heads down until we reached the top when he turned to me and said “are you going first lass or do you want me to go?” referring to the bridge and rocky section at the top of the climb. I said ‘Go on I’ll let you go Guy; I will follow your line……. but don’t fall off!’ He replied ‘can’t promise that lass!’ and off he went, with me following.’

Nigel adds: ‘Our exposure lights were faultless and really made a substantial difference to the cheap Chinese options we had last year.  The conditions were far harder but I was determined to do more laps, and although we could have eased off at 26 laps, we were a lap and 30mins up. As I went out with 55mins still on the clock I thought that maybe I would go out for a 28th but …on the first moorland rocky section I managed to burp my rear tyre reducing the pressure dramatically which meant either stop and put some air in or ride out of the saddle to reduce the weight at the rear. I chose the latter.’

‘This also slowed me down and I missed the cut off for another lap by a few minutes so 27 laps it is! Every lap ended with a major mudfest which meant it became almost unrideable in the later laps. I chose to run this section for maybe 8 laps, but I’m not complaining – it all adds to a 24hour race which is meant to be extremely tough.’

We both love Puffer and the people who run it are just amazing. The event’s atmosphere would definitely take some beating; it’s competitive but everyone is supportive of each other.

Our journey home on Monday was not a pleasant one as you can imagine following one night’s sleep after being awake for 36 hours. Would we do it again?….YES! Bring on 2017!

 

 

Big thanks go out to all involved in the Puffer trip. Dean Tempest Mitchell you really are a star, none of this would be possible without you, and pitting for 4 people was a huge ask and you did it without complaining, taking a nap or getting into a flap!

Michal also rode solo achieving 13 laps and Richard Dobson achieved 16 laps both on their first 24hour solo – a great one to choose as your first, mental!

Huge thanks goes to Tim at chia charge who has supported us with fantastic products to keep us going. Nutrition is a huge part of performance in a 24hr and I think we are getting there, although at times you have to force yourself to eat.

Gorrick Brass Monkeys

A little Monkey Business – Merida Brass Monkey series

 

Where do I begin with the series……. Cold, muddy, damp and lots of fun!

As with all the races in the series it started with an early night in preparation for the drive to the venue, up at 4am ready for the tiring 8 hours round trip, and yes you may think why bother but RD1 was all about Nigel receiving the trophy he deserved for 3rd place male solo at 12:12 Torq in your sleep

torq podium2

Although it looks a little awkward, what you can’t see is the 200+ riders at the start line in front of him and the strong gust of wind that nearly blew him off the box in front of the crowd, which would have made great viewing!

 

The course on RD1 had been moved to a new location…. Shorter and flatter which wasn’t ideal and didn’t mean easier. As we lined up for the 4 hour race I really didn’t know what to expect, you tend to do the glance around to try and spot your competition but it’s hard to spot your female vet competition amongst the crowds.

The course was a total mud fest and quite windy which made for an interesting race! After the second lap I rode through transition and spotted another female going through ahead and as she did the announcement came, “1st female vet closely followed by second place Donna Waring”, so not too bad but then she pulled up to the pits and I rode past her so I knew I was in first position, just need to hold onto it!

After what felt like a 4 hour cyclocross race the end was in sight, 1st female vet, quite chuffed with that;)

And round 2, well after my first win thought I may as well finish the series something to keep me going through winter in preparation for Strathpuffer in January. This course was longer as I had expected with a few more little kick ups and technical descents, after a good start I surprised myself by hanging onto first position, so all to do on the last round!

 

Round 3 brought its own problems for me, the main one being that due to the weather it had been postponed for 2 weeks which at any other time would be fine, however the week before Strathpuffer didn’t fill me with joy!

As we set off at 5am for our now regular trip south there was a common theme on the way down.. snow everywhere. In my head I wanted to win but I knew I just needed to podium to win the series and take no risks, puffer was more important….ha until I started! It was a cold start and with the combination of hail, snow and rain it wasn’t the most pleasant conditions but I plodded on, in the hope that the weather would force some to quit. I had no idea throughout which position I was in as there were no announcements through transition which was a little frustrating if not annoying to start with, but I thought no risks!

On my last lap I looked at the time and in all honesty I could have got another lap in, but I really didn’t want to. And where was Nigel? I was quite used to him passing me towards the end but he hadn’t and I couldn’t see him anywhere, a fall possibly! As I approached the last slog to transition there he was stood on the side, so I pulled up to ask what was wrong. Nigel had a fall around 3 hours in and decided not to cause further injury and pulled out……. Wise decision. What can I say I loitered around the finish until 4 hours had lapsed then rode through the finish to take the win, and the series:)

Nigel came 5th overall in the series which is a great result for us both in our first winter series

brass monkeys donna

 

 

I want to say a huge Thankyou to our sponsor Chiacharge couldn’t survive the race without them, just having the bar in my rear pocket and getting the calories/ nutrition in has made a huge improvement and weaned me off energy gels.

Also I want to give credit to the organisers of this event as they have been so supportive from dealing with the incident at Torq in a professional manner to give Nigel his podium position and also offering somewhere to camp if needed knowing the long journey we had been making, Gorrick Team you are Fab!