Anyway it was a nice night and it wasn't raining for once so I headed over to Hawkshaw with Dave Billi, George T and our Will (as photographer) on board. The usual registration bit and then the ridiculously long walk up the lane to the start. I could tell that I wasn't really 'feeling it' at that point, I was walking rather than warming up. I had a few chats with people I knew on the line - Stanners ex of Rossy Harriers and Budge and Phil from JMC doing their first ever fell race.
Finally we were off and the climb up towards the Horseshoe path was steep and pretty wet and muddy. Not pleasant. Jonathan B and Des were in sight but a way ahead. I wasn't too concerned as I thought I might be able to reel them in later. We gained the main path and headed down. This felt pretty hard. I was huffing and puffing and the first seeds of doubt began to be sown. After a while the course veers off the path and climbs onto the moorland. I spotted Stanners who had obviously pulled out and looked to be in some pain. Not a lot you can say in the circumstances so I kept schtum and carried on. The next section, although not massively steep is quite a continuous slog. Relentless really. I knuckled down and passed a couple of people but JB and Des were becoming dots on the horizon.
My usual crap performance on the descents meant a reasonable stream of people thundered by. Eventually we reached the return leg of the Horseshoe path. I was goosed. Nowt in the tank. Also, more worryingly, there were some ominous rumblings from my guts. As I got to the stone steps that I love belting down on the mountain bike I bacame seriously concerned that I was going to have to get off the course for an unplanned 'comfort break'. Jeez, I've often needed a pee during a race but I've never come close to sh*tting myself before. A new low.
I struggled on and after an age I came to the turn into the finish field. It was rough as owt with plenty of opportunity to go A over T. Fortunately I got away with it. I could hear somebody right on my shoulder and my old ally. foolish pride, kicked in and helped me hold him off on a sprint to the line. I felt awful and, after hanging around for the others to finish I started to get really cold. I lost circulation in my fingers and was going a bit shivery. Absolutely rubbish. I didn't start coming round until I'd had a chip butty and a pint in the pub after. A perusal of the results later yeilded no surprises, it just confirmed how crap I'd done - a good 4 minutes off the time of my great battle with Mark a few years ago.
Ah well, on the plus side it wasn't a championship race and everybody has a dip at some point. Onwards and upwards.
Chain Reaction mountain bike marathon Marshbrook, Shropshire
Luckily I'd finished by the time she got in as she was way ahead of her predicted time - 4:20 as opposed to 5 hours. Not bad for a very hilly 50 miler on some very sketchy sounding roads.
Soon I'd shrugged this off and was concentrating on the ride. It has to be said that it was pretty bloody good. Some lovely singletrack and plenty of mahoosive climbs. We went up one and were surrounded by paragliders and gliders floating by at pretty much head level. There didn't seem to be anyone else stupid enough to do the event on a SS and my ego was boosted a few times as I heard folk I'd overtaken muttering '... singlespeed...' and 'Bloody hell!'. Heh, heh!
I was using the event as a starter for the Strava - Rapha Rising Challenge. Basically you had to do 6881m of ascent in a week - the same amount of climb as the TdF riders were doing while they were in the 'Circle of Death' in the Alps and Pyrenees. It was going to be hard for me to complete this so I needed all the ascent I could get. This came back to haunt me later.
I'd settled in and was feeling pretty good. My misgivings about the event had long gone and I was setting about motoring on. With about 2/3 of the course done I could start thinking about heading home. I was hydrated and was managing to get a gel an hour down plus the biscuits etc I'd grabbed at the food stop. There was a long back lane over the tops of the hills which snaked sinuously up and down meaning you could see a long way ahead. I could see a couple of riders in the distance and began to chase them down. I was in my aero tuck and winding it up. I rounded a bend and the guy ahead had disappeared from sight at the top of a steep road descent. I was 'on it' here so charged into it and started flying down. part way a car pulled over to let me overtake. I guessed (correctly as it turned out) that I was doing nearly 45 mph here. It got a bit sketchy as the bends were gravelly and wet but on I flew. it was only when I reached the bottom and hit a cross roads that I realised I'd not seen any directional arrows for a long time. The car I'd overtaken caught me up. 'You've missed it. There was a turn at the gate at the top of the hill.' 'What, that bloody big hill that I've just ridden all the way down?' 'Yes.' Smashing.
It really was a big hill. It really was a big steep hill. It was so steep that I had to get off and walk some of it. 'Ah well,' I thought 'think of the Strava.' I got to the top and rejoined the course. There was a group of 3 riders ahead. I was fired up so set off after them. It was a long steep offroad descent and they weren't hanging about. I caught them at the bottom where they had all stopped. They were looking around whilst looking puzzled. 'I don't f***ing believe this' I thought. Back up the bloody hill again. I was so steamed by this point that I just blew the others away. Again I got back on track and raced after riders ahead, this time keeping an eye out for markers too.
I caught one guy up and he was keeping pace with me so I engaged him in conversation. He had quite a distinctive foreign accent so I asked where he was from. 'London' he replied. A bit of tutting and eye rolling from me and he revealed that he was origianlly fromTurin. We kept pace for quite a while and really enjoyed flying along the tops, eventually getting onto another back road where we were easily keeping pace with the traffic. Soon we reached a point where the different courses split and we pluged down. This must have been the highly trumpeted long singletrack descent that I'd heard so much about. Great! Well, it was great until everybody slowed to a halt and realied that we'd gone wrong and the proper route was waaaay below us. This one turned out to be due to somebody taking a marker pole down. Nice one. I went off piste down a proper arse on the back wheel steep descent.
Now I was on the tRack proper I could motor a bit. It was fun, in a very wet way! More back lanes and I was catching and passing more riders here. One guy I couldn't catch was on a free ride style full susser with flats on. Just couldn't catch him. Eventually the course reached the campsite and the muddy techy descent to the finish. He jibbed on a bend and I shot past. Get in!
Big thanks to Chain Reaction for the free places and to John Lloyd and his team for putting on a cracking event.