Strathpuffer 2019: Part 2. Race Report - Pedal Progression


22 January 2019

Strathpuffer 2019: Part 2. Race Report

It’s 7am on raceday at the 2019 Strathpuffer and I’ve woken up bleary eyed after a half decent nights sleep in our rented motorhome. Our friends next door have just started their generator running to get some heat into their Mazda Bongo and I’m beginning to hear voices as the competition wakes. It’s time to get up.

We’re parked up towards the end of the first fireroad climb which is lined with camper vans and easy ups. In a few hours time this will create a Tour De France esq. experience for the racers coming past. Each pit is unique, with fire barrels, disco lights and encouraging signs being popular additions. There are a selection of different bikes being race prepped – fat bikes, trail bikes, XC bikes, enduro bikes, gravel bikes with dropped bars, you name it, someone is racing it. Ollie and I are riding carbon hardtail 29ers. My bike is borrowed and other than a practice lap yesterday, I’ve not had much time on it but it’s feeling fast!

Ally (my wife) and Will (Ollies brother) are our pit crew. They get the porridge and coffee going while Ollie and I fit our race numbers and give our bikes one last shake down as the pre-game nerves build.

At 9:30am, Ollie and I head down to the start line. The race begins at 10am with a Le Mans start and it’ll be Ollie who is out first on track first. It’s my job then to hold his bike and make sure I’m easily accessible so that he can make the best possible start.

Ollie:  “There is a great atmosphere on the start line and after being serenaded by bag pipes I have to run the first 500 metres to where Matt is holding my bike, then it’s straight into the first climb. I thought I had got myself to the front for the running start but looking at subsequent video footage I was pretty far back. The first lap is a real challenge as the track conditions have deteriorated a lot since the previous days practice lap. I’m fully expecting ice but not this bad. A lot of riders seem to be taking massive risks but I decide to ride cautiously, as a crash on the first lap could leave me nursing an injury for 24 hours which would be rubbish. I thought the ice might start to melt but it became clear by lap 2 that that wasnt going to happen.”

Whilst Ollie is out, I get fuelled and ready, waiting in the warmth of the motorhome, escaping the freezing -4 air. A little under an hour later, he appears, ascending the hill towards our pit. Ally gives me the shout and out I run to my bike for the transition. I take the ‘dibber’ from Ollie (this needs to scanned each lap at the timing tent) and as he hands over he warns me about the ice. It’s now my turn to get in the mix. The lap begins with a steady fireroad climb before the first demanding piece of technical singletrack. It’s on this piece of tech trail that I catch Scott, who is racing pairs with our friend Paul. He’s had a nightmare already, snapping his chain on the first lap and whilst we’re exchanging pleasantries, he hits ice and goes down! I go for the brakes and feel the bike disappear from underneath me, narrowly missing Scott as I opt for falling into a gorse bush instead of the freezing rock where he’s laying! We pick ourselves up only to both crash a few metres down the trail in a similar fashion! This is madness! Luckily I’m able to complete the lap and get to our pit for the rider change.  Looking around, the pits are busy as spare wheels appear and ice spikes are fitted. We have one pair of ice spike tyres between us. After a brief chat, Ollie decides to go for another lap on standard rubber with the hope the ice will melt but comes back an hour later terrified! It’s still an ice rink.

Now on my second lap, I’m flying and manage to negotiate the technical icy sections but I’m really having to concentrate and I’m having trouble considering racing 24hrs at this level of intensity. I get to perhaps the fastest piece of the lap, a swoopy, smooth, double track trail and then disaster! Out of nowhere, the front wheel disappears, sending me down across the gravel and into the long grass. I’d hit an ice patch and now I was in a lot of pain with blood soaking through the knees of my thermal bib shorts. Trying to ignore what had happened, I jump back on the bike and finish what ends up being my fastest lap of the race (50 minutes 58 seconds). As it turns out, Ollie has had enough and has decided to fit an ice spike tyre to the front of his bike, leaving the other for me.

Ollie: “With fresh treads on the front wheel. I embark on lap 3 and it’s a massive relief. Having never used ice tyres before I wasn’t sure how much difference one on the front would make but it’s an absolute revelation… finally I could steer my bike again and it was fun to ride! The rest of the daytime laps were solid good times, trails were fast and fun to ride, riders out on the track were in good spirits and the support from spectators all round the lap was amazing.”

I got to take the first dark lap with helmet and bar mounted lights blazing! This is my favourite time to ride in a 24. Everything looks different at night and you have to really know your lines to get the best out of each lap. A couple of laps in to the night time I begin to cramp in my hamstrings and an old injury comes back to haunt me as I feel my left shoulder beginning to ache and weaken. Back at our pit, Ally gets out the KT tape and does a job on me. KT tape is brilliant and in this case, she used it to support my shoulder (I have had dislocation issues) and help prevent cramp in my legs. On both fronts it worked and my subsequent laps were far more comfortable.

Ollie: “Going into the night is always exciting on a 24 hour event the riding feel different and although your starting to feel fatigued I often find the change gives me a boost and renewed focus. The main thing I struggled with from here on in was refuelling my body. With endurance racing the key to keeping going and staying consistent is keeping the calories going in. If you stop digesting food efficiently, your body will stop working. From about midnight onwards, I continued to mostly use gels and energy products but was feeling sicker and sicker and it felt like my stomach was about to burst. It was a really weird feeling. When you add to this an hour of max effort followed by an hour of trying to get comfortable then warmed up I think it sent my body to a place where it hasn’t been before. By sunrise I had almost stopped eating which I knew meant bad times. I just hoped I had enough in me push through till 10 am. Feedback from our support team was that Matt was struggling in a similar way.”

This was true. By the early hours, I was really enjoying my riding and feeling strong on the bike but when it came to eating and refuelling between laps I was struggling. My body clearly thought that each time I stopped, it was going to be awarded with rest when actually I needed to take on calories in order to go again. My appetite was at rock bottom and eating a simple banana sandwich would take me 40 minutes! I felt sick, restless and even dizzy but then as soon as I was on the bike, I’d feel on point again for the next hour until the cycle would complete. Each time got worse.

Ollie: “As the sun came up the end was insight, I embarked on lap 12 on Sunday at 7:45am feeling at my worst yet. I was pretty sure it had to be my last lap. Part of me wanted to enjoy it, another part could only just limp round, I put in my slowest lap yet (1 hr 7 mins) and as I pulled into the pits I said, ‘that’s it guys, I’m done, I have got nothing left.’ This wasn’t to be the case. There is a rule that says if you complete a lap before 10am, then you can go out for another lap, so long as the rider gets round before 11am. At the time we were sitting in about 12th or 13th place and if we got a chance to go out again it could move us up into 11th and maybe even into the top 10. If I didn’t and other teams did, we could drop 4 or 5 places. So, I sat down by the fire, had a few words with myself and downed a can of flat coke, figuring I would either chuck it straight up or it would some how revive me. Fortunately, the latter happened.

Matt returned from his last lap at 9:50am and I headed out for a ‘bonus lap’. Lap 13 was awesome! I put in a solid time (58 mins 37 secs) and actually enjoyed it, knowing for sure now this was it. I went up the climbs with the knowledge that it was the last time and rode the descents as fast as I had on the previous day, enjoying every second of their icy rocky singletrack.”

With Ollie stepping up to complete a 25th lap, we finished in 11th place out of the 120 pairs that entered. Given all of the difficulties of this insane race, we were really pleased. Type 2 fun at its finest!

If you’re considering racing the Strathpuffer, we’d really recommend it, however we also recommend you train hard and pack kit and clothes for every eventuality! If it could happen, it probably will at Strathpuffer! Perhaps we’ll see you there…


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