Well, it’s been a few days now for the dust to settle since we came back from Scotland on a mission to see how our future X-Man would cope with the rigours of a real test of his endurance on the bike.
I went along as a one-stop-shop for support duties, providing nutrition, coaching and mechanic’ing as well as some hands on therapy for Tom as he attempted his first really long race situation, the 12/24Hrs of Exposure at Newcastleton in the Scottish borders (http://www.sip-events.co.uk/solo-home.html) . It is now the established British and European Solo 12 and 24hr endurance Mountain bike event on the calendar. This year it rolled round a little earlier than in previous years, this added to the suspense a little in the run-up to the race as the area had been covered in snow during the week before the race.
When we arrived at event HQ, we made our way to our cabin (this was a real bonus since it negated the need for us to have to erect a tent/gazebo and gave us somewhere warm and dry to ensure a good nights sleep before the event and especially for me as ‘pit-bitch’ to have somewhere comfortable to sit while the riders were out on their laps.
We headed for the rider briefing at 10am and were given the lo-down on course changes, lap counting and race etiquette. It’s a bit like those safety briefings on an aircraft, you’ve heard it all a million times before, but you keep listening just incase they come up with something new which could safe your life. Once we were all assured that we didn’t need to worry about our stilettos ripping the inflatable ramp we headed back to our pit cabin for final preparation.
As all-round Pit Bitch and 1-Man team Manager for the weekend, we had one last chat about the pre-arranged targets, nutrition and drills for certain eventualities, before it was time for the off. Just enough time for a good luck handshake and Tom headed out to the village centre, where the race gets off to a Bagpipe based fanfare and a roll out along the road behind a pace van to spread the field out a little bit before they all hit the trails.
Tom came round from his first lap, positive about the course and more relaxed now that he had a lap under his belt. And so things settled down for the rest of the day…..
The next few hours were spent getting the next drinks bottles ready, cleaning one bike while Tom was out on another and making sure that each lap he was sent out with enough food and motivation to keep going.
Things went really well and as Tom came round for lap after lap, he remained positive and even though the fatigue began to set in after 6 or so hours, a quick stretch and rub down of the legs was enough to flush out the toxins in the legs and get his head straight for the next lap.
After Lap 5, the decision was made to send him out with his iPod, Hip Hop playlist was selected in order to keep spirits up but not encourage him to push too hard (as would have been the case with the Metal playlist we feared).
As darkness fell, we attached lights to bikes and helmets and pushed into the unknown. This was the first time Tom had ridden competitively for such a long time and he was finding it hard to compute that he needed to take it easier than his usual “wheelie and jump off everything and sprint up the climbs” mentality would allow for. The night laps were also harder for me to administer as I didn’t have the visibility of being able to recognise Tom in the distance as he re-entered the event arena, which during daylight had given me a good 30secs of forewarning that he was coming. In an effort to combat this, it meant my time standing outside clutching an energy bar and bottle got longer as I had to guestimate more as to when he would be arriving and it wouldn’t be until one of the bright 1000lumen lights dipped in front of me and I head the boy shout ‘hello’ (with varying degrees of happiness), that I knew he’d completed another lap.
As the 12Hour version of the race came to an end, Tom was still going strong. The music was helping and he looked really strong as he came round for another sub 1 minute break before heading out again.
And then The Wall reared its ugly head. Tom’s last lap time dropped right off as unbeknown to me, he had had to walk a large portion of his post Midnight lap. What came round to the pits after that lap was a broken man. I could see the dissapointment in his face, and I knew it was all over. If he’d just been going through a bad phase I would have been tempted to push him back out there, but in this case that would have meant sending him out on a long walk, in the dark, for hours, by himself, and there didn’t seem to be any point in him breaking himself further.
In the end, we had come into this race in the knowledge that it had been a training exercise, to help him see how his body holds up over the distance that he will need to cover on the X-Man. With that in mind, it was mission accomplished, and in hindsight, we felt that perhaps this should always have been the target and we should have entered the 12Hr category from the start. As is was, Tom was tinged with dissappointment, but I was tinged with nothing but pride. He now knows what he needs to do to pace himself for 12Hrs on the bike and how is likely to feel during the race when the X-Man arrives for real. Perhaps the next training mission will be to actually go down and ride the South Downs way in advance to get a real feel for the event. Stand by for that!
Oh, and one final footnote, we witnessed another great race that weekend. On the Friday afternoon, there was a 12minute race for kids around a lap of the event arena. A hotly contested challenge with some serious riding skills on display…..this young rider we felt is going to be a future Pro, well done fella!