I hadn’t had anything like the preparation that I’d have chosen for a 24 hour race, let alone the World Champs. Forget training, in between family illness and writing a PhD, there had been weeks on end this year that I had not been near a bike at all.
Home - picture Olly Townsend
But I’m not going to get many chances to ride in a World Championship race in the UK. Plus some great riding in Canada this year and training out in the French Pyrenees with AQR reminded me that I loved riding my bike and I was fitter than I feared I was. A month out, I decided there was nothing to lose, so entered and vowed to do the best I could whilst enjoying the experience.
But in amongst the concern about my physical form and post-PhD rush to sort the race logistics I’d completely neglected any mental preparation and failed to develop the self-belief I would need to get myself through – I’d stuck it in the ‘too hard’ pile and busied myself with other things.
By the time I was on the start line I’d exhausted myself with pre-race nerves. Riding the course the day before had drained my fragile confidence. I’m not a climber and lap seemed to be solely steep hills; how on earth was I going to sit and spin on this? The fact I was able to negotiate the descents smoothly and safely didn’t register with me. How was I going to manage 24 hours?
The race started and people seemed to just ride away from me. I tried to remain relaxed – there was 24 hours still to go – but I just couldn’t settle. A slipping seat post added to my woes, my tense body and mind were ganging together to make everything hurt and drain away my remaining stoicism. I came into the pits after just one lap with tear streaks down my face.
But I didn’t want to give up this easily. With immense effort from both me and my pit crew, I got back out for lap two.
And then things started to get a bit better. Once I forgot to worry about the course I realised the climbs weren’t actually as awful as I had originally thought. Plus, I was having great fun on the descents – each lap I worked to improve my line, hone my technique or time my jumps a little bit better. From the first few laps I knew the two girls in front of me were riding hard on the climbs and I had the measure of them on the descents, I just needed to keep tapping it out. And then I was lapped. I have never been lapped so early in a race. My regained confidence started to seep away. I tried to remind myself that this was about me – riding my bike – and kept pushing on.
My next lap started well and my pace was up on previous laps. And then there was a sudden grinding and crunching noise. My wheel was completely jammed by a deformed rear mech, it was so twisted it seemed to take ages to get it free. I jogged, trotted, pushed and free-wheeled the second half of the lap. I thought it would cause me to fall apart but the encouragement from other riders keeping me positive. In the pits I grabbed my spare bike, lights and some food and got back out.
As night fell it got cooler and the next time at the pits I grabbed a gilet and headed back out. But as I passed through the rest of the pits I started to shake uncontrollably from the cold. I pulled back in at the rear of the pits for a warmer jacket at which point my pit crew pulled me from the course – I have pretty rubbish temperature control at the best of times and no-one was going to risk me going back out on the exposed hills and long descents. It took me a long time and a lot of food and clothes to get warm again.
I was gutted. Not by my physical failure in the cold, but that I had never believed I could do it. QED. Physically ability and form is irrelevant when you neglect to prepare yourself mentally.
I’ll know for next time.
Big thanks for the support from those below. Sorry I couldn’t keep to my end of the deal.
- My pit crew, their jackets, woolly hats and cups of tea
- Kate and Ian at A Quick Release coaching
- The staff of Leisure Lakes Nottingham
- No Fuss Events for a fun and brutal course and an amazing event
- The other racers and crews in particular Tom and Garage Bikes, and Rickie and Sarah at 559 Bikes