For the last few years i've managed to get over to the east coast of the states in order to do some of the 100 mile races in the National Ultra Endurance series. 100 miles is quite a long way to ride off road, but once you get your head in the right place its not too tough. The difficulty comes when you try to go *fast* for 100 miles. It requires great care in order to get the right amount of calories on board and stay hydrated without carrying too much weight. Last year, SIP events promoted the first 100 mile race in the UK. It fell on the same day as a 100 mile race i did in the states, so i couldnt attend. Despite being a new event, it garnered good reviews for both course and organisation so it seemed a good idea to give it a go this year.
Having the week off before was good. It meant i could try to shake the mild sore throat that had been bugging me for a few days and get lots of rest, do some stretching and get the bike sorted. My decision to race with gears (albeit only 5 of them!) was based around the course having a high quotient of rolling fire road. I just didnt want to apply the washing machine spin for that long.
Unfortunately, two days before the event i managed to develop an arse problem that rhymes with 'smile'. Not pleasant to discuss, but this race report might act as a warning tale for others.
I got down to the race centre in good time on friday, with the race due for kick off at 6.30 am on the saturday. I signed on and had my compulsory racer equipment checked with the help of steve makin, who was due to be racing but a back injury meant he was helping out instead. Next up, cook pasta, and pack the drop bags. Whilst i was doing this, the shady, river-side and wind shielded campsite came alive with midge. The warmth after the recent rains meant a bumper crop too, so eating was performed whilst walking around as i swatted and waved maniacally. The rider briefing was more of the same: some 550 racers all frantically trying to avoid being bitten too many times. I met fellow Moulineer Deano, Phil the horse racing for Morvelo and Gareth Jones racing for Singular cycles. Biff was also there, aiming to complete not just the 100 miles on saturday, but then do a very significant triathlon on the sunday.
An early night after a glass of red wine allowed me to spring into action at 5am when the first of my 4 alarms went off. I was taking no chances on missing the start and i was hopeful that i could get a bit more prep done without midge. No such luck! they were already up and about, although sluggish in the cold morning air. Despite significant cloud cover, it was meant to burn off through the day, so i kept clothing minimal and just used a gilet and arm warmers to keep warm before the start. The queue formed early, so i was happy to be at the front end and minimise any overtaking or over zealous mid packers.
The van lead out almost ended in tears when it stopped to reduce the riders getting strung out too much, then stalled on restarting. After 2 miles it pulled off and the game was on. Five gears isnt many, but the ratios were well picked and my legs were feeling good. I kept in a bunch near the pointy end for the first couple of hours, riding through low lying cloud and on very rolling trail and fire road. For the most part we were going to be on forestry roads, so it wasnt demanding riding. There was the odd section of connector trail which was tricky due to the amount of angled, de-barked branches lining the forestry machinery's deep rutted tracks, but it wasnt for long. Due to the cloud i had removed my glasses and i nearly freaked when i got one of the trail side conifer's branches in my eye early on. Fortunately it settled quickly and i got on with the job at hand.
As we approached the border between england and scotland we hit some man made trail. At first glance this was typical trail centre stuff, but after only a brief time it was apparent that the quality of workmanship and materials used was sorely lacking. It was basically just a prolonged pile of sharp mid sized stones filled in with sandy mud. The gradients and corners were poorly done and at times 'jumps' appeared to have just been dumped with little regard for flow. Nevertheless, before long we were back on forest road and approaching the half way mark. I was still feeling strong and was dead on for 9 hours, which was my personal goal.
However, it was becoming clear that with any serious effort at pedalling or gradient, my pile was beginning to take on the qualities of a red hot poker. Often, i would have to stand up, coast and relax in order to settle things down before going tentatively back to it. There was nothing i could do: i was just going to have to grin and bear it.
By the time we got near Newcastleton and the beautiful trails around there the sun had burnt off the last of the cloud and as i stocked up on a little water and had my 'passport' stamped for getting back into england, i was enjoying the warmth. Unfortunately the long section of fire road from Newcastleton at mile 65 to the last aid at mile 80 was into a head wind and by 10 miles in my arse was so sore i could have screamed. Ironic, given the absolutely amazing Endura pro inserts comfort. I had to stop for a few minutes at one point and just lie down. Then on again and finally i dropped down to the check point, where i met phil, who had pulled earlier and was helping out instead. His encouragement was great and i knew i was still doing pretty well at that point, but stupidly failed to pick up any extra calories from my drop bag. So far i had been using my feed bag (kind of like a climber's chalk bag attached to the handlebars) filled with peanut m&m's and skittles and honey roasted nuts with a little top off of mule bars and heed perpetuum in the bottles alternated with nuun tabs from my drop bags at the aid stations.
The next climb out of the aid station brought me to my knees as all available energy drained from my legs. Cursing my stupidity i scraped the last of the food from the feed bag and nodded as gareth jones pumped the big meat past me up the fire road. By the top i had regained some composure and, despite it looking very unlikely i would break 9 hours, i tried to keep it rolling steadily.
More fire road climbs and searing arse pain followed and a further section of appalling man made trail before we started the final ascents leading to the top of the (again poorly finished) man made trail down to the finish. Pain meant i walked some of the uphills and i could feel time trickling away. Racers were coming by thick and fast and I knew i was hitting the wall as well: i had nothing with any calories and several miles to go.
It was a pretty low ebb for me at that point. My vision was gone and it took all i had to pilot the bike into the finish area at 9 hours 54minutes. Disappointing, but i was done. 50th place.
Packing with very wobbly legs whilst trying to eat hurriedly cooked hot dogs and avoid midge was the order of the day and i sped off home after dropping in my timing chip. As good as it would have been to have chilled out after the race, i just couldnt cope with the plague of midge.
The race itself was *fantastically* organised with many, many volunteers making it easy for the racers to give their best. The course had some great views and was generally good for a long distance ride, save for the horrid man made stuff. I think the forestry need to admit that trying to get more for less doesnt make for great trail.
Next year? maybe. For now i am enjoying - guilt free - a significant chunk of gorgeous Smoked Ardrahan from the Mellis's cheese emporium and taking a week or two off the bike to try and get my arse settled down. One thing is for sure, i wouldnt recommend racing any distance if you develop a pile. Really....
Pics are both from Joolze Dymond.