After last years mudbath, it wasn’t the greatest surprise to see a depleted Moles entry list for this years event. In fact I thought it was to be a truly solo effort but thankfully Al also braved it out.
Almost out of frustration at not riding much this year, I entered some time back thinking it would help focus my lifestyle a bit so I could prepare properly. I knew I didn’t want to ride as a team as the memories of getting cold/wet then warm/dry then cold/wet again made me think that a solo effort would be a challenge worth tackling.
Following a 10 week training plan I found on BikeRadar, I was doing well up to week 4, then it all went belly up and were it not for a few road bike commutes to Farnham over the last two weeks, I wouldn’t have been prepared for even a couple of laps.
A wry smile crept over my face at Thurrock when the rain started and I noticed oncoming cars with headlights on, at 2pm!! Not a good sign and true to D2D form the rain set in from thereon.
Rather than just pitching up and riding, I had set myself some objectives:
- To finish in the top 100 solos
- To ride more than 70 miles
My longest ever ride is 37 miles on a mountain bike (or any bike for that matter), which I did in August and it gave me a great deal of confidence I could achieve my objectives on a flatter course.
I also tried to learn from past mistakes and plan accordingly:
- Hydration – no camlebak. Using a bottle would help me gauge fluid intake and my plan was simple at 750mls per lap of Zero hydration
- Luggage – minimalist only. Tube, chain tool, levers, chain link
- Breaks – 10 minutes per lap to refill fluid, eat a banana and stretch
- Bike prep – none really, I worked on the basis of ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’! However, I knew the chain was quite fresh and there was no way I was bothering with new brake pads
- Food – handful of jelly babies, 3 chunks of flapjack and some dates in my jersey pockets at the start of each lap
- Pace – not to go at it like a bat out of hell and just plod. Keep HR to an average of 145. Last year saw me ride my first lap like an adolescent indulging in some nocturnal activity – intending to go all night but getting carried away and it all being over before midnight!
- Entertainment – iPod loaded with a variety of songs to lift my spirits and sing along where needed. Eye of the Tiger, Green Green Grass of Home, Wonder of You, etc to name but a few!!!!
- Prayer – no sniggering at the back, but devine intervention was an essential part of the package
The missing ‘variable’ I had overlooked was the cold and the wet and I quickly realised I would pay for this…
As usual, there was a great buzz on the startline and at 8pm they took us on a very extended lead out lap (probably about 3-5 miles), to minimize the bunching under full race conditions. I felt deeply for those riders who broke chains and got flats before the proper race even started. There were also the usual scatterings of batteries and lights people hadn’t fixed properly!
I tried to remain calm and monitor the heart rate but again, the adrenalin made this more of a challenge and it was over 160 for the whole of the first lap before I pitted. However, things settled down and by about half way round lap 2, I was regulating it to the target 145. This seemed spot on with average speed for the first two laps at 10.5mph and I knew I wasn’t breaking down muscle to feed the energy bill, by keeping the HR sensible.
However, I was by now soaked through and realised that a stop of any length of time would see me lose heat and suffer. This started to play on my mind a little. At the end of lap 3, I bumped into Al in the solo tent and commented on him looking very warm and dry and not like some about to carry on riding. I left him to ponder and set off to warm up again, pulling the iPod out of my bag and getting stuck into Eye of the Tiger! The iPod was a master stroke for me and really lifted my spirits massively, so much so that when I next wondered what the time was, it turned out to be 2am – half way!
Spirits were high and I was enjoying myself. As long as I kept moving, I was warm enough so by now the stops were short to retain warmth and I prayed for no mechanicals. The rain was heavier and by now, the course was an equal of last years mudfest. Lap 4 saw me fall 3 times alone and also twist my knee which reminded me with every revolution of the pedals from thereon!
So the lap times took a dive but on the flip side, I was now thinking that I was over half way and it would be daft to quit. Lap 4 finished with me guiding someone back whose lights had failed and lap 5 started with me helping someone out with a broken chain. Then it was my turn for help as I had stupidly overlooked changing my batteries at my last stop and they both failed around the same time, thankfully near the end of the lap.
Lap 5 was the longest thanks to the tech issues but also by virtue of the conditions – it was horrendous by now and it was starting to become a serious mental battle. Body heat loss was now a major threat but I stupidly convinced myself not to get changed at the risk of not getting going again. Funny what happens to logic at 4 am when you should be in bed.
Out I headed on lap 6, shivering a little and I tried to crack on to raise my heart rate and body heat, but I couldn’t get it above 120 and remained cold for some time which worried me. I made an 80/20 decision to call it a day at the end of lap 6, reasoning 1) I had achieved my goals, 2) I’m not doing this for a living and 3) my health was more important.
So at 6am I headed back to the tent, but left the bike in the solo tent just in case. Whatever happened, I would need to push it over the line (at the very least) by 8am to register my sixth lap. I got some warm cycling clothes on, had a protein shake and lay down. However, my body didn’t want to sleep. Like an ageing rock star who still thinks they’ve got one last hit record in them, I started thinking it would be a shame not complete the full 12 hour race. Al appeared, surprised to see I had been riding and concerned at my thoughts of heading out again. But his offer of help and being there to see me home was enough and by 7:30 I was back out again. Thank you Al!
By now, the rain had abated and I was warm… However the heart muscle had stayed in the tent and this turned out to be the longest 10 miles I’ve ridden and the greatest challenge. I honestly think my legs were ok but my heart just couldn’t pump the blood round. An early puncture saw me slightly disorientated, standing there looking at the bike wondering what to do! (sound familiar Matt?).
I won’t bore you any with the rest of the trials of that lap but suffice to say, when I approached the arena and the finish line, the sense of relief was incredible. Al was thankfully on hand to provide the tea, bacon roll and to question my sanity. He has no idea how much that was appreciated and I’m grateful for him waiting, and waiting, and waiting for me!
To find I had finished 30th and complete over 80 miles was a pleasant surprise. Mission accomplished!
Other than burning 8,000 calories which I’m working hard to replenish, the other major surprise to me was the amount of climbing. You get the impression the course is quite flat, with no major drags but lots of undulation, however the gps reckons on there being approx 500 metres of climbing per lap, which is a lot over 10.5 miles compared to our usual rides.
Will I do it again? No, job done. Doing that last lap gave me ‘closure’ of starting and finishing a 12 hour race. Besides, I’d only be competing against me, which is pointless.
Should you do it solo? YES, just once at least. But don’t forget the prayers!
I’d also like to give special mention to Four4th lights, that we’re big fans of in the Moles – they performed faultlessly as you’d expect from such quality engineering.