No Fuss 24 Hour Solo Mountain Bike Championships
I have a serious condition; it’s called FOMO. Known to many of my friends that I find myself with at the weekends or am stood alongside with at the start line. It’s an inability to say no, over ruled by the voice inside your head that says, “I don’t want to miss out!” As of this moment, there seems to be little cure.
So suffering such a condition, I sat on a platform of a London train station, counting the hours to feel fresh air again in my lungs and got to searching the next adventure. Having taken on stage racing and non-stop multisport, my findings leaned towards a 24-hour mountain bike race – Relentless 24 – at the foot of the famous Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain at 1344m. This would be a 10-mile course, taking in various reds, blue and newly carved trails to be ridden until the clock stops. I’d competed with a good friend in 2014 at the 10 Under the Ben, another of the No Fuss event line ups and one of the best lap courses I’d done to date. Checking on the start list, my friends Jo and Zara, Elaine and Yvonne would be racing, so it seemed a legitimate excuse for a slightly warped sense of social occasion.
I mulled over it for a while, considered teams with a number of my close friends, but then decided I’d wait until closer to the date to late fate decide. Too many times had I planned in a race, booked and paid for it, then my evil tonsils would take a turn for the worse and rendered me sickly and useless. On the week of the race, I took off north to go see family, a happy occasion whether racing or not. I procrastinated until the Friday night, deciding I’d get up and take a shot at it. FOMO had won the day and regret is never a fun thing to feel. Kindly, my family agreed to make the drive to the Nevis Range and pick up the pieces and me on Sunday midday.
Lashing rain set the scene, but of all the drives in this world that I know of, Glencoe still makes my eyes grow wide. Like something from a Tolken movie set, the mountains stand great and the long open road lets you take it all in, even whilst the wipers are on full speed, thrashing away the pouring rain.
Getting into race base, I found Jo and her team, pulled up next to them and got my simple race prep laid out in the van. Their support crew was incredible, the Pedal Power boys checking my bike for last minute glitches (turns out my brakes were loose from changing positions earlier in the month) and offered words of support to us all. Midday came around quickly and we stood nervously, quietly in anticipation of the dark hours to come ahead. Stood next to me was a father and son, teamed together to ride an awesome bright orange tandem and inwardly I thanked them – if that little guy can keep turning the cranks till the next day, then I’d better buck up and crack on.
The first lap was a long fire road climb, breaking up the teams and varying paces. I rode steady, knowing it takes me a while to warm and also to respect my body enough to know the hours on that saddle would begin to show. The lap was less technical than 10 Under the Ben, a few testy sections that within the daylight and the first few laps seemed less daunting, but come the witching hour, I had a feeling they could inauspiciously take me down. Despite the lashings of water from the skies above that morning, the trails were holding well. As the fourth lap took on life, I was rolling. That was until I scrubbed out on the blue section, not paying attention but caught in the rhythm. Tumbling to the ground, I smashed my poor little hands against the ground. That super painful moment you hold your hand and wait to feel the direction of the pain. Stupid girl! After yet another kind soul stopping to check I was still alive, I got back on my bike like a whimpering animal on my bike and tentatively rode the rest of the lap, not too far from transition.
Back at base, I decided not to take the gloves off, assessing rapidly that surely I don’t need my hands from much more than braking and changing gear. Not too much then.
After food and water, I took off and continued on the laps. Keeping score was Team Pedal Power, the guys cleaning off my mud-laden bike by the time the daylight fell. Being Halloween, the sun was against us and darkness was falling by early evening so lights came to life not before too long.
Tapping out the laps, I debated stopping, but sit down and you’ll fall asleep. By lap 10 my body was aching for a rest, and on seeing Jo waiting excitedly for her next go, I joined her and David for some tasty delights from their well stock camper van. Jo’s chirpy banter was a cure for an agony hand and a fading brain! An hour later, some instant coffee and a sneaky lot of painkillers, I set off into the night to go and complete my mission.
Riding in the dark lets you focus. Like being drawn to a tractor beam, once you’ve ridden a course so many times consecutively you are so tuned in that the darkness seems to create stillness and a calming silence. My favourite sound was the crackling of the fires the supporters had made within the base camp, giving a cosy sense of community. I’ve become addicted to Mountain bike endurance racing for that very reason.
Tiredness kicked me in the teeth on my 13th or so lap, almost literally as I came around the transition, following the track that skirted the side, which then led to a nasty, sharp climb followed by a brilliant steep, albeit swampy mud bank. The offending trail was a narrow singletrack with some sneaky rocks waiting to grab the wheels. I flew over the side of the tapped edge and sadly still clipped in, tumbled into two old dears, rushing to pick me up and unaware I was still attached. When you’re getting that fatigued, your rate of response slows and it’s almost like being drunk, albeit an altogether different form of intoxication for a Saturday night in Scotland.
Getting back on my feet, I made a few grouchy sounds, thanked the couple and pedaled on up the hill. Once we’d hit the darkest hours of the day, I stopped every two and then three laps for a faff of my bike, a cup of tea and a homemade energy ball or two, my magic weapon to keep me chia charged for the last few hours. My mother’s homemade chilli was the answer to a moment of ravenous hunger too. Real food is the answer to keep the legs ticking nicely.
The last few laps were like waking up with a hangover, feeling a little groggy and sore. On seeing the sunshine, I felt alive again and kept the pedaling going. The thought of being close to the end kept me smiling as was the hopes of seeing my family catch me for the last lap. I seem to be making a habit of making them wait. On my 18th lap, I came in – hoping that would be time to put the bike aside and head for the coffee bar. Jo was waiting, phone snapping some shots as I asked the officials the lap count of the girl ahead. This was a race for myself, but when it comes to the last lap of a 24-hour race, I wasn’t going to give up a place if I was close.
Of course, she’d gone out too, so off I rode, another 10 miles to pedal round and a mixed moment of sadness it was over, but joy to get some sleep and give my poor backside a break! Into the finish line at last, Pedal Power were waiting to cheer me in and my Mum and Stepdad with the, ‘You’re crackers but we’re proud of you.’ look to their faces.
The hours of effort paid off, we’d all made podium – Jo and Zara taking first female pairs, Yvonne and Elaine in second and I’d made it to third senior solo female, just a bonus to the experience and satisfaction of completing my first 24 hour. The best feeling is to know you did it, no pressure, for fun and with friends around to keep the dark hours light with laughing and a kind family ready to take you home for a good feed and the deepest sleep you can imagine.