An Ordinary Bloke Vs. An Extraordinary Challenge: The Big Day Came.... - Pedal Progression


28 August 2018

An Ordinary Bloke Vs. An Extraordinary Challenge: The Big Day Came….

I find it’s often the way when you plan for something far in the future, it’s hard to imagine it, what it will look like, how you will feel, and then suddenly one day you’re there and that’s it. And here I was, after all this waiting sitting in my camp the night before the race…. a bag of nerves! When I told people I was nervous almost everyone replied…’it’s just a bike race, just do your best, what’s the worst that can happened?’ I knew they were right, but there was a weight of expectation from myself on my own shoulders. The training I had done, people who had invested time and energy into me, money I had spent on kit and getting to races. It all felt like it added up to a big deal whether or not anyone else expected something, I for one wanted to do my best. I wanted the result to reflect everything that had gone into the preparation….and that felt like pressure! Turns out my best wasn’t so bad after all!

Setting up. Getting ready:

After arriving midday Friday, setting up our camp and pit area, me and Matt J headed out for a practice lap – Matt had needed a last min lift to the race and I was only too happy to help, especially as it meant he would be on hand for help and advice the whole weekend…what a bonus! I was really pleased with what I found on track. Not too much sustained climbing, just one steep section of fire road. There was lot’s of fun swoopy, natural single track, the roots would become a challenge the following night but at first ride it was a very manageable loop, almost exactly 10K, with plenty of good riding to keep the spirits up! That evening it was time for a mega chill, occasionally pacing around nervously and being reminded by Matt that I would be much better to be sat down to relax the legs. Matt introduced me to a few 24 hour old timers as I listened in to conversations about chapped arses and recovery that felt like being jet lagged for 6 weeks. It’s worth noting here that the atmosphere in camp at Pivot was A*. Super friendly, a complete mix of age and ability, kids races by Isla bike were ace, always love seeing the kids give it 110%. Loads of families, groups of friends, just a great mix of people doing the event for all sorts of different reasons – a real festival vibe. Atmosphere on track was just as good, friendly, respectful racing all round, just the thing that draws me to this type of event, where average Joe’s get to mix up with the pros.

We had hired a motor home from some friends – cheers Martha –  I was hoping the extra comfort would help me get a good nights sleep the night before the race. I ate some rice, eggs and fish and got myself into bed for 9:30. With the faint sound of partying in the background I put in my ear plugs, pulled down the blackout blinds and tried my best to relax. I am pretty shit at going to sleep…especially when I know there are people hanging out and having fun just down the way but eventually I reckon I dozed off at about 11pm only to be woken up at 2am by a storm battering the side of the van – not ideal! I was awake again till about 4am and then managed another few hours before getting up at 9. Not the best start – I had hoped for a solid 8-10 hours, but I told myself, ‘it is what it is’ and got on with the morning. There was definitely an ominous weather forecast on the horizon, and a lot of people were already saying the second 12 hours of the race were looking like they were going throw us some pretty challenging conditions. After almost 5 weeks of wall to wall sunshine it was hard to imagine that it might rain…little did we know just how wet it would get!

Getting going:

The start line was a bit nervous, but the closer I got to riding my bike the calmer I became. In the a last 5 minutes, it was hard to comprehend that I was about to ride my bike for 24 hours but in my mind I wasn’t thinking about the whole race, I just wanted to get going, knowing that getting a few laps under my belt would relax me and make me feel better. I had decided to break the race down psychologically into 6 hour chunks.  All I was focusing on was having a solid, steady afternoon mountain bike ride. I hoped the weather would hold and if it did I knew the riding would be fast and fun.

As it turned out the afternoon was indeed as lush as I could have hoped. I settled into the race after about 4 laps, was feeling good and had a nice pace that I felt I could keep up all day. The first 6 hours flew by, aside from a couple of short but heavy showers which wet the track,  the weather was perfect, trails were riding great and the mood amongst riders on the trail was high. I made sure I got into a good routine of eating my planned amount of food and drinking enough water. I was told that this was the key to maintaining good physical form and mental state throughout the race. If I didn’t have the energy my body would continue working for a while but my mental game would shut down, this would make motivation hard to sustain, and then physical shutdown would follow quickly on. Keep eating, keep drinking the mind keeps positive and the legs keep going round! I had experienced this on some of my longer training rides, as long as you continue to fuel right your body will surpass what you thought it was capable of. It was key that I kept track of calories in, fluid in and, and with the hot afternoon weather, electrolytes in. Everything was going well into the early evening.

Into the night:

The main difficulty of going into the evening was people track-side starting to chow down on their dinner at just the time I was starting get bored of energy bars and gels. I went past our camp at about 7 pm to find my brother and dad cooking up steak sandwiches and drinking cold beer. Note to pit crews… hide the tasty food. As the smells of BBQ’s drifted across the arena I was feeling Ok and looking forward to some night riding. Just before heading into the darkness I found out I was in 9th place. This gave me a massive moral boost. Everyone told me that going into the night all you had to do was keep on pedalling and you would be sure to pick up places by the morning. I was super motivated by this, finishing in the top ten was not something I had expected and although it was still early days I started to realise I had set myself up to do alright. I hooked up my lights and started to enjoy the night time trails.

Thank you to my pit crew…

No way I could have done this on my own. Things my pit crew did that made a big difference:

Showed up, helped me pack up and pack down, get to and from the race.

Fresh bottles ready to go each lap.

Gels at the ready, bars at the ready, any food I requested prepped and ready with a laps notice.

Kept track of food, water, electrolytes that went in per hour.

Tyre changes, bike cleans, brake pad changes.

Motivational words.

Getting clean dry kit ready to get on with a laps notice.

Knowing they were there just to say ‘hi’ each lap.

Making a good brew in the middle of the night in the howling wind and rain.

Smiles and positivity.

Thank you!

The 2am moral dive…

I was ready for you!…I had been told by many a 24 vet that 2-3 am was the time to watch out for. It’s the time when your body is most used to being deep in R.E.M. sleep, you have been going in the dark for a long time and riding for well over 12 hours, the chances of your body and mind going into nose dive are thus very high! So I had a plan for this. I may have mentioned that I am a bit of a caffeine addict. I had planned to cut down on coffee in the weeks running up to the event to try and maximise it’s effect during. I also had planned to just have one small coffee on the morning of the race, and then nothing until 2 am. So when 2 am came round to say I was excited for my cuppa was an understatement. My bro sorted me out a tasty warm brew, loaded up my favourite playlist on my Ipod and suddenly instead of 2am being bad times it was party times…..(well sort of). Caffeine works as a good mood booster for me and also has well proven affect of minimising your perception of pain and discomfort during physical activity. But honestly, aside from a full clothing change into some warmer dry kit at 3 ish I didn’t really need to stop or feel like I wanted to. Matt gave my bike a clean and service whilst I rode his spare for a lap at about 4 in the morning – this was above and beyond what I expected, but it certainly helped a great deal. My lap times were definitely getting slower as my body was slowing down and also the rain was having an impact on the trail conditions and so my lap times – but overall I felt good. The only real downside of the caffeine was that as a diuretic it had me stopping for wee every bloody lap!

The end came early!:

The rain poured from about 3 am, as the sun started to come up I could really start to see just how badly it was affecting the track. The single track was puddles, full of hidden roots. Some of the fire roads had unavoidable axle deep puddles. My romantic image of riding into a crisp cloudless sunrise was no where to be seen, instead it was wet murky and tough going. On the flat the mud was dragging my tyres, on the descents the water and hidden wet roots were proving a real technical challenge. The wind was blowing hard and through the woods on the hill I could hear branches swaying, cracking and at times falling! As I came down the final descent on my 24th lap at about 7:30am I was still very surprised to be told the event had been called off early due to weather conditions, however coming into the main arena for the last time the carnage that had been caused by the wind was clear.

Not quite the fanfare finish I expected! I rode around the arena for five or so minutes feeling a bit lost and disappointed, I wouldn’t disagree that it was the right decision to stop the race early but my legs and my mind had not reached braking point, in fact, they were pretty keen to keep going. The main marquee had been dismantled having almost blown away so I was unable to check my final position. Heading back to camp I found out that the last check a few hours prior had me in 6th. I was able to check the online results an hour later to find out that my final finishing position was 5th! Pretty flipping happy with that. To be honest I was actually enjoying the horrendous conditions, I had done plenty of training in the winter and as long as I wasn’t cold, I was find with a bit of discomfort. In fact the worse it got the less people were out on track and I knew the better chance I had of creeping up the leader board – bring on the shitty conditions for 2019!!


Just to readdress the whole ‘ordinary bloke’ thing. The idea of this was that, despite my job, I pretty much had the starting point of an ‘untrained’ X.C racer. Yes I ride quite a bit, but it has always been for fun, for the buzz for the smiles from going fast through flowy single track, hitting a drop, gnarly descent. As I have gotten older I have gone looking for new challenges and it was this that led me to my goal to ride a 24 hour without sleeping. I have enjoyed almost every aspect of training for this, and absolutely loved the competitions, as someone who doesn’t really think of themselves as particularly competitive rider this has been a surprise.

My mindset has so totally shifted over the last 8 months. I started with wanting to just get through. The more effort I put into it, the more support I received and the more I felt the benefits of working hard the more I wanted to give myself the best chance and try as hard as I could to not just finish but to do well. And to be honest when I rolled across the line, knowing that at worse I had come 6th, I was really pleased with myself. When people asked me what I was aiming for I said I was hoping for top half. My slightly more secret aim was top 25%, but my final result was a lot better than I could have imagined, putting me in the top top 20%. The other cool thing was, looking at the lap times of the podium finishers, I was struck but the thought that actually, with a bit more work that goal was totally achievable.

What’s next?

I’m not really sure, my feeling has always been that I would like this to be the start of something rather than an end goal. I want to use the momentum I have gained to move forward with my fitness and my riding. I may do another 24 hour this year at W.E.M.B.O, or if not I will be riding pairs at the Strathpuffer in January 2019. You can guarantee that Pivot 2019 is already in the calendar and I am looking forward to upping my training game going into this. What I am really enjoying is the knowledge that I can ride for a really long time. It opens up lots of doors and fun that I could have with this. Whether it’s long distance paths, bike packing adventures or just generally finding that causal rides and shorter are a lot easier, more fun and quicker to recover from – suddenly what would have seem like a tough, gruelling M.T.B marathon now feels easily achievable and super enjoyable.

Thanks to those who have read the blog, said hi on the trails and at events and given me encouragement. It’s been really motivating to know that people are reading and finding useful stuff and motivation in my experiences and what I have written. If you have enjoyed it keep and eye out for more blogs in the future!

Big thanks goes out to Matt J (you can find his blogs here) – loads of help, support and encouragement through out my training and the event. Matt is actually in the process of writing a book about endurance mountain biking with his coach Jon Fearne (e3coach) … It’ll definitely gonna be worth a read. Ben at Strength factory coach .. I can not stress enough how much my strength routines paid back, particularly in conditioning my body for 24 hours of fatigue and building endurance in my legs. Some mornings it was tough to get up and get stuck in to circuits but I kept going because it made me a quicker rider and actually made riding bikes more fun! Adam Fraser for nutritional consultations and lifestyle advice. I do sometimes struggle to be as he healthy as I should. I love to eat, drink and be merry and this doesn’t always go hand in hand with being a focused X.C. endurance rider. What he taught me was that with a few fairly simple changes in my day to day, done consistently, could have a big impact and it did. I felt better nourished by my food, my recovery felt quicker so I was able to get back out on the bike quicker than before. Adam is Bristol based and can be contacted on: Paul Hilliar – local rider and friend of PP,  for LOADS of great advice and the loan of some very useful kit! …your race day weather forecast was bang!

And finally….Than you to my wife Sarah and kids for always being super encouraging and putting up with my occasional training induced grumpiness!


Written by:

Ollie Cain