Relentless - Living Up to It's Name

I had a score to settle with the course at Aonach Mor near Fort William. Last year Relentless had hosted the 24hr World Championships where I had done spectacularly badly. I had been suffering from tonsillitis and had limped round in 77th place, pushing the bike more than I was riding it. I had only managed to get as high as 77th by virtue of the rather high rate of DNFs. It was certainly the hardest course of the ten 24hr races I had done, and by some considerable margin, and even those without throat infections had said as much. This year Relentless was hosting the British 24hr Championships and I had decided, for reasons now lost in the mists of time, that it would be a good idea to do it on a singlespeed. How hard could it be?

I have ridden a singlespeed quite a bit, the lack of gears isn't really a problem back home in south Lincolnshire, somewhere so flat that the locals have been known to get altitude sickness if they ever venture into their lofts. In contrast there would be well over 1,000ft of climbing on each and every lap at Relentless. I had however only raced an SS on three previous occasions, the most recent and longest of those races being the Keilder 101 where I had finished second behind Saul Muldoon. I had changed my gear specially for that race, from my usual 32-14 (yes, Lincolnshire really is that flat!) to a more suitable 32-17 but was worried that even this may be too big a gear for the 24hrs, which would be over four times as long…

The advice I received on the subject ranged from 'fit a much bigger sprocket, you'll get much less fatigued if you just spin a low gear' to 'fit a high gear, you'll be pushing up the climbs anyway so you might as well go quickly on the bits where you can actually pedal'. Hmm.

I kept the familiar 32-17 on my main bike but removed the gears from my hardtail to use as a spare bike and fitted that with a 32-19, just in case. That already had bouncy forks but in a small concession to sanity I also fitted some to the main bike. I had also heard of singlespeeders suffering with their backs due to the endless gear grinding so I had one bike with riser bars and one with flat bars and bar-ends so there was plenty of opportunity for me to change position when things got too painful. As well as never having ridden a singlespeed for that length of time I had also never ridden a hardtail for longer than 12hrs. What could possibly go wrong?

The first thing which went wrong was the van refusing to start again after we had filled up at the petrol station in Edinburgh at about 1130 on Friday morning. There wasn't nearly enough electricity in it to turn the starter motor and there was a big red warning light on the dashboard, although the light had actually been there ever since we set off that morning, a picture of a battery illuminated against the black of the instrument panel. After spending a lot of time uttering some very rude words and checking that it wasn't something quick to fix, like a snapped alternator belt, we found that it started fine with a jump start, having been towed off the forecourt by a very helpful chap in another white van. In the extremely unlikely event that you are reading this, thanks again.

We decided to press on to Fort William, this was the National Championships after all, we weren't going to let something like a poorly van put us off. We had broken down next door to a shop which sold car batteries, and even better, sold them fully-charged. I left the engine running and went in to buy a spare. Being very careful not to stall it we left the car-park and headed for the motorway.

We had passed Perth before the next warning light came on, the one for the ABS. Convincing myself it was only the sensor lacking power I ignored it. The next one came on just after Dalwhinnie, the airbag one this time, and I ignored that too. How much power does illuminating all the warning lights use?

We were wondering whether we would be able to get there before dark, there was no way we would be able to use the lights, that would kill it pretty quickly. We were being hampered in our efforts to do this by the very large lorry with the very large digger on the back which was doing 35mph all the way along the A82. The engine was starting to splutter but kept recovering, although we now had yet another warning light on the dash, a big red exclamation mark. How close would we have to get before we could reasonably call someone there and ask for a tow? Would the lorry ever pull over and let the queue of traffic passed? It was dusk  and we were running out of time.

There was a very big splutter in Spean Bridge, the van almost stopped, that really didn't sound good, so we dived into a layby and got the new battery out. We would have been there already if it wasn't for that lorry. The brackets holding it in are a bit of a faff and so it was pretty dark when we finished. It started on the button, which was a relief. We limped along for the last few miles using only the sidelights, not daring to put the headlights on despite the conditions. I was also trying not to brake unless I really, really had too, the brake lights were another electrical thing over which I had very little control, short of removing the bulbs, and I didn’t think would be a great plan.

We made it eventually, arriving well after dark, and set up our pits across the course from Nigel and Guy, our hosts from the Manx 100 It was too late to go for a practice lap so we had some dinner and generally faffed about before heading to bed for an early night, listening to the wind howling and the rain battering on the roof of the van.


It was still raining when we got up on Saturday morning but the forecast was for it to stop at about midday, just as the race would be starting. It actually eased off a little before then but didn’t stop completely. I had two breakfasts, one of porridge and a fried egg sandwich and then another of scrambled egg about half an hour before the race began.

I did a quick lap of the car park to make sure that the bike was working properly and then headed over to the start line. There was no gridding, or if there was I had missed it, but as I only had one gear I was quite happy starting further back, I wasn’t expecting to be troubling the front-runners.
We were lead away from the start by a motorbike or a quad-bike or something, I could hear it but was too far back to be able to see it. The first lap was a little different to all the others in that it missed out the first singletrack climb, instead taking us straight up the fireroad climb to the tunnel at the top.

The start line, just before noon.

I was feeling good in my one gear and was passing more people than I was being passed by. Whether I would be able to keep that pace up for the remaining 23¾hrs was another question entirely.

I overtook Richard Rothwell about half a mile in, which was most unexpected. I knew that he had been injured a few weeks before and had been playing down his chances but even so… It turns out that he had unintentionally joined us singlespeeders, almost as soon as the race began his rear shifter had decided that it wanted to play no further part in the event and had called it a day. He was using some very rude words in an effort to coax it back into life but none of them helped much. I resisted the temptation to be all smug and extol the virtues of intentionally starting the race with only one gear and left him to it, he had a spare bike in the pits so would only have to do the first lap stuck in one gear, although he could at least change it by fiddling with the limit screws on his rear mech.

The next person who I found myself riding next to was Saul Muldoon, who came up very fast behind me and then slowed for a quick chat. Oddly enough he wanted to apologise for beating me at Keilder, which was lovely but unnecessary, it was a race after all. I think he just felt a bit guilty because I thought I’d won until I found out that he had already finished. He had taken second place in the singlespeeds on this course at the World Championships last year., and had spent a lot of that race causing concern in the Belchambers camp, so he was definitely the favourite for this race. Nice guy and bloody quick (actually that applies to both Brett and Saul). He didn’t stay long before he disappeared off into the distance at a speed I just couldn’t match.

This must be the first lap, I'm still (just!) ahead of Saul. That didn't last.

The course deviated from the Worlds course at the top, after the tunnel we immediately turned right and down the first singletrack descent, missing out the final bit of the climb and the huge berms, which was a shame, I quite like that bit. The majority of the course was familiar to me and so I wasn’t having too many problems as a result of missing the Friday practice, I could remember where the tricky bits were and most of the lines.

The lap was a little shorter that it had been for the Worlds but seemed to be more fun, maybe just because I was feeling much better and able to enjoy it more. The rain had also stopped by the time we finished the first lap which helped a lot. I grabbed another bottle of Torq and headed out again.

By lap two I was already starting to struggle with the gear. I had the other wheel with a sprocket two teeth larger but hadn’t been planning to use this until the wee small hours. I was reluctant to swap so soon, worried that if I went for it two laps in I would have nothing left to fall back on when things began to get really hard in a few hours time.

By lap three I knew that I had to give in and make the swap, climbing in the bigger gear was really taking it out of me. While singlespeeds are of course bikes with only one gear the rules of the race do permit gear changes, as long as only one is on the bike at any given moment. Changing gear is quite a manual process and took me nearly a minute, somewhat longer than pressing a button on the bars. Neither of my bikes were designed as singlespeeds with things like sliding dropouts or EBBs, they both have vertical dropouts and had been converted by fitting a tensioner in place of the rear mech. This gives me the advantage of being to fit different ratios without having to adjust anything, so it could have been worse.

The shorter gear helped a lot, I was going much better after the change but just had that nagging concern that less than three hours in I already used my plan B. There was nothing I could do other than press on. There was no plan C.

I had set myself the rather ambitious target of getting on the podium in the singlespeed race. Although it was a small field what it lacked in quantity it more than made up for in quality, along with Saul I had the likes of Dave Glover, Ed Holstenholme, Simon Halsam, Thomas Howarth, Neil Scott and Andrew Beever to contend with, it was not going to be easy. The singlespeeders tend to be a fairly self-selecting bunch, anyone who is contemplating 24hrs in one gear probably knows what they are doing, they can’t all have just been muddling though like I was. I got the first update on my position from Gina at the end of the fourth lap, I was 21st overall. I was really pleased with that, much better than I was expecting. I was however 5th in the singlespeeds, that was much less satisfactory but I think just emphasises the quality of the field and made me realise the scale of the challenge I faced, there were four singlespeeders quick enough to be in the top twenty. Saul was flying and was second overall at this point.

Saul Muldoon going very quickly.
I had no idea that the rules permitted singlespeeders to race without beards.
The next lap didn’t go at all well for me. I wasn’t doing anything unusual in terms of my eating strategy (lots and often) but my stomach was all over the place, gurgling away to itself and leaving me feeling rather queezy. The final descent was interesting, I was paying far more attention to clenching my buttocks to prevent any ‘accidents’ than I was to the lines I was riding and was in danger of having a more conventional accident. I dropped my bike at our pits and ran to the portaloos, it was a huge relief but I was cursing the time it was costing me, time I could not afford to waste.

The relief was short-lived and the feeling returned on the following lap, my tummy making all kinds of odd noises and threatening to expel it’s contents at the most inopportune moment, and so I was forced to return to the portaloos, loosing yet more time.

I’ve had a dodgy stomach a few times in races, but it usually feels like things are about to come out at the top, rather than at the bottom (yes, terrible pun intended) Eating some crystallised ginger would normally settle things but there were two problems with this, the first was that it was untried for this particular sort of problem, the second was that in all the confusion of just getting to the race we had forgotten to get some.

We did however have some ginger and pineapple Torq bars so I ate a couple of those, and also some ginger oatcakes, dipped in milk to make them less dry and quicker to eat, and they seemed to help. While I was swallowing them Gina was busy with my bike, clipping the Exposure MaxxD into place and giving my chain a quick lube before sending me on my way again.

The race was a couple of weeks later than usual in order to avoid clashing with the World Championships at Weaverville in California, which meant that it took place after the clocks had changed and so it got dark even earlier, about 5pm out in the open, before that in the trees.

Despite the darkness it stayed relatively mild and I was able to keep my speed up and my lap times down, until about 10pm when I had to have yet another trip to the toilet. The battery on the MaxxD was getting quite low by this stage and so while I was doing that Gina removed it and attached my spare light.

This spare light was not an Exposure but was a slightly more complicated affair with the head unit on the bars and the battery at the back of the top-tube near the seat-post, joined by a cable. I still had my Exposure Joystick on my helmet as a back up, I don’t like to go out with only one light, just in case something happens, as it did half way through that next lap.

The course was a wiggly figure of eight and passed the pits a couple of times, going passed the timing section twice but each person’s pit only once. The course skirted the edge of the arena when we first came into it after the logging road next to the river. I made a slight error and hit my front wheel on a rock, bringing me to a sudden halt, obviously tiredness starting to show. The impact caused my front light to go out, plunging me into darkness. That was strange, why would that happen? I turned it on again, it seemed fine so I carried on but it went out again as I went into the dip by the tractor. I reached up and clicked the Joystick on but couldn’t see anything wrong with the big light, it came back on when I pressed the switch. I left the Joystick illuminated and carried on, up the little rise, across the fireroad and up the rocky section, where it went out again.

I removed the cable to have a look, the plug at the battery end came apart as I took it out, there was a funny noise and a bright blue spark. That at least answered the question about what was wrong, but then raised another as to what I could do about it. The Joystick is good, but I would probably struggle with it as my main, or even only, light. I don’t think it would last anyway, not turned up bright enough for the singletrack, there was still 9hrs of darkness left. My MaxxD had only been on to charge for less than an hour, that wouldn’t yet be ready to go again.

I set off up the climb wondering what I was going to do, missing the obvious before my addled brain finally remembered that Exposure were actually sponsoring this event and had a wee tent with charging sockets for everyone to use over by the start/finish line, maybe they could help. I came down the 4X track, the 800 lumen Joystick coping surprisingly well with that, not bad for something so tiny. As I came into the arena I dumped my bike and leapt over the barrier, running over to the Exposure stall.

John was there and saw me coming. He asked the obvious question, ‘Is everything OK?’ to which I gave the equally obvious answer of ‘No’. He already had one of the distinctive red and black boxes in his hand and was undoing it as I was starting to explain that my main light had gone out. He thrust a Toro at me, asking what modes I wanted programming into it. ‘Erm, very bright and medium?’ I needed it bright enough for the techy stuff and a lower setting to allow me to save the battery a little on the fireroads. It took him about three seconds to program it. ‘That’s it set for 4hrs and 12, the gauge on the back is hours and minutes left.’ I said a very brief thank-you and ran back to the bike, clipping the light into the bracket vacated by my MaxxD. That’s what I like about the  Exposure stuff, no faffing, it just works. The whole process had taken about a minute and a half.

The big climb on the second loop would normally be a descent but as the trails were closed for the event they could be mean to us and make us go up it. Last year I had really, really struggled there but this time I was flying up it, despite the fact that I only had the one gear, I overtook loads of people there during the race, I have no idea how. A quick splash through the mud at the top, a reminder of Friday night’s rain, and then down the swoopy descent back into the arena and passed my pit. Gina had some hot soup waiting for me, I got as much of it down me as I could while she removed the dead light from the bike and lubed the chain. I was still 5th but the race was less than halfway through (don’t worry, this write-up isn’t!) I can just about fit a whole Torq bar in my mouth so I crammed one in as I headed out of the pits and back onto the course, the phrase ‘Bitten off more than I can chew’ probably being applicable there.

I added a couple of layers of clothing as the night wore on but was still feeling good, apart from one more emergency trip to the portaloos at about 1am. There are some conversations which would only be appropriate in a race and I remember having a discussion with someone in front of me about the relative length of our toilet stops and the consistancy of the products thereof. I had a slightly more savoury chat with Simon Bullock when I passed him on the logging road at about 2am, a quick reminisce about the last time we had been at Fort William together, the West Highland Way Race last year and how lucky we were that the weather was so different this time.

The flip side of the clocks changing and giving us a very early nightfall is that dawn comes that bit earlier. Sunrise is a huge psychological boost, even though there is still over five hours still to go there is a sense of being nearly there. I had spoken to a few first time 24hr racers during the night and had told them all the same thing, something someone had told me before my first 24hr many years ago, just concentrate on getting through to day-break, everything else will take care of itself after that.

I kept my light on for a lap longer than necessary, I had the chance to remove it in the pits but it was still a bit dark in the denser bits of the forest. I had the MaxxD back, having been recharged by the Exposure guys. These lights do come with a USB-charger which can be used in my van but this does rather rely on the vehicle having some electricity in it and mine was sadly lacking in this respect. There still appeared to be enough juice in the Toro but I had changed anyway, better safe than sorry. I had been yo-yoing between 21st and 18th overall during the night but by this stage of the race was up to 4th in the singlespeeds. So close to the podium, and yet so far. Contrary to my expectations I was still feeling fine though, and was still able to push hard, surely I should feel worse than this, regardless of the number of gears? I wasn’t complaining though, the sun was back and I was going to make the proverbial hay while I still could.

The track was coming alive again, I’m not sure how many people had stopped and grabbed an hour or two of sleep but there certainly seemed to be more circulating now than there had been in the middle of the night.  Listening to the radio later on Sunday night I found out that this had been the warmest November day on record, I could see the clear blue skies and the sunshine, perfect conditions for racing.

At 9am I was up to 3rd but it was close. Saul was miles ahead in first but the next three or four of us weren’t far apart. The trouble was that the positions and time gaps I was getting were as they were at the end of the previous lap, over an hour ago, and so were at best a rough guide and could be completely wrong by the time I got them.

Next time round I was 2nd and things were a bit more spread out, I was still way behind Saul but at least had a comfy-ish gap over 3rd. Second at the National Championship would be great, better than I had dared hope for. The next lap was one of those ones where because I am doing quite well I start to get paranoid, thinking can I keep this up, every little noise is the bike about to grind to a halt, every slip of the tyre a puncture. It’s probably just because I’m not used to it but being at the front is quite stressful.

This wasn’t helped when someone on a singlespeed came passed me on the trail by the river going, very, very quickly and just disappeared off into the distance. I knew the numbers of the guys I had to beat but he came passed so fast that I couldn’t even see it. I tried in vain to catch back up but he was gone, barely seeming to slow as he dived off the road and into the trees ahead. Who was he? What was going on? I was thinking of my last race at Keilder where I thought I had won, only to find out that I hadn’t. That was annoying but not a big deal, this was the nationals, I didn’t want a podium snatched from under my nose here of all places.

I came round again just after 11am, time for one more lap. I was too far behind Saul, I knew I couldn’t win. I wasn’t sure how safe my second place was though, or even if I still had it, Gina had no idea who the unknown singlespeeder was either. I had however noticed that both he and his bike were much too clean, he could have been a team rider out on a spare bike I suppose. I hope that’s what he was!

I spent the final lap wondering just how safe my podium place was. Had we missed the mysterious singlespeeder in the standings? If we had missed him who else had we missed? Had he simply overtaken me? Was anyone else about to do that? Had someone already passed me and I just hadn’t seen them?

I kept my speed up as best I could, even on that last lap I felt fine and was climbing well, overtaking people where I really shouldn’t have been able to do so. That was really bizarre. I’m certainly no fitter than I have been in recent years, quite the opposite in fact, having moved house recently I have been spending far too much time on various aspects of building work and no not nearly enough time riding bikes. The only explanation I can think of is that riding a singlespeed forces me to pace myself better, there are no mad charges up the fireroad climbs, no hunting down the rider in front just to see if I can, only a steady, consistent effort and I think it works. I was expecting a course like Relentless to be hell on an ss but it wasn’t, it was brilliant, huge fun.


Even better, I managed to hold on to my 2nd place, the best result I have ever had at a National Championship, and had even moved up to 14th overall be the end. I am really, really pleased with that and, more importantly, had thoroughly enjoyed it. Saul Muldoon had taken the win, by quite a long way, and an even more impressive 4th overall, with Thomas Howarth 3rd in the singlespeeds and 28th overall.

Lisa Scott won the women's singlespeed race, Peter Nadin was first overall and Rachel Sokal was the winner of the women's event. Rachel was so quick that she was 11th overall, no shame for me in being beaten by a girl, she was absolutely flying.

Saul and I on the podium. I have no idea where Thomas was.

 I would like to say a big thank-you to a few people – Spook, Fraser and all of their team, XCRacer/Scimitar, Mt Zoom and Torq obviously, John from Exposure for being very helpful and in the right place at the right time, the man who jump started us in Edinburgh, but most of all to Gina for everything she did all weekend. They call it solo 24hr racing but it really isn’t solo, it’s one person riding but it’s still a real team effort.

The pictures are from Sportograph and Gina.

A Winter Training Run (A Run In The Winter Which I Really Should Have Trained For...)

Another late one for you, this is from last November. It’s coming up to winter training time again, just Relentless left for me now, unless I do something really, really stupid, like enter the Stathpuffer.

Anyway, here it is:

Winter is generally rather cold and wet so if I’m going to be racing in the winter I might just as well embrace cold and wet and go for it.

My former house-mate Pete had decided that it would be a good idea to try one of those running/obstacle course races which seem to be getting increasingly popular and had selected The Suffering at Rockingham Castle for us to try.

I had done a couple of these before, The Hellrunner at the end of 2011 where I came twenty-somethingth and then The Legends of Sherwood, which was similar but in the dark, in early 2012 where I had been really pleased to come third.

However, since then I had fractured my kneecap and had barely run at all in the following two years, it would be interesting to see how I would get on.

One thing I had remembered is how important it was to get a good start and miss the crowds which would form at the first few obstacles. As I had entered us, Gina and I found ourselves in with the ‘Elite’ runners , with Pete and Will starting in the second waves 15 minutes later.
(Left to right) Pete's friend who's name I have forgotten, Will, Pete, me, Gina

There was a short sprint from the start before we dived under the first obstacle, crawling under the netting through the mud, Pete and Will shouting encouragement at Gina and abuse at me.

This served to spread the runners out before we sent of across the field and through the woods. We were soon into a selection of what looked like horse-jumps to go either over, under or through.

One thing which sets this race apart from the many similar ones is that the marshals are all army people of one sort or another and can pounce on any runner at any time and demand various numbers of press-ups, sit-ups, squats, burpees or whatever else takes their fancy. Those of us near the front were immediately singled out, I think to stop us getting too far ahead. I was somewhere at the back end of the top-20 at this point and so had to do my fair share of press-ups before I was allowed to cross through the pond and set off back into the woods.

It was rather difficult to keep any sort of speed up while running along a deep, narrow ditch and dragging myself out of various deep pits on the ropes, pausing only to complete a dozen press-ups, but I managed to maintain my position.

I lost a few places at the jerry-cans at the top of the hill. Bike racers aren’t renowned for our upper-body strength and so trying to run while carrying a jerry-can full of water and then heaving it over a wall before scrambling up and following it over wasn’t going to go well for me.

Pete and Will making the jerry-cans look easy(ish), certainly
struggling less than I did

From there we launched ourselves down a properly steep hillside, made extremely slippery by some wet plastic sheeting. I hit the straw bales at the bottom in a tangle of limbs with my fellow competitors and, after the required number of sit ups, set off back up the hill.

Pete and Will missed this section, which was one of the most fun, by the time they got there it had been closed to allow the medics to extract a broken body from the straw at the bottom.

The part of the event which I found the hardest was at the bottom of the next hill. After the required number of burpees I collected another jerry-can and dragged it down to the pond at the bottom, through the water and then up the steep bank under the netting. With loud and vociferous voices shouting at me to “Get it over your head!” “Higher” “HIGHER!” I struggled back up the hill with it to the far side, put it down and then launched back into the pond and out the other side, my arms and shoulders stinging, before emerging through the nets on the other side to complete yet more burpees.

I can’t recall every obstacle in detail, and I’m pretty sure that you wouldn’t want me to go through them all one by one, I probably go on a bit too much as it is.

I have no idea what Pete has just seen, but it can't be good...

Probably the hardest mentally was the zigzagging up and down the very, very steep hill for what seemed like hours and hours and hours. Basically this was a really steep embankment which we made our way along by running up and down, up and down, up and down. It was nice to be able to see the leaders again until I realised despite how close I was as the crows flies just how far away I was as the pig walks. I am trying to introduce a new phrase to the language to express something which travels much less directly than airborne members of the corvidae family, I wonder if it will catch on?

I could actually do the running bits reasonably well, far better than anything where any strength was required, and made up quite a few places here. By the time we eventually finished zigzagging and climbed the fence into the nettles I was at the back of the top-ten.

The nettles and the following bog (I have no idea what was in there, and hate to think, it stank to high heaven) were followed by yet more opportunities for me to display my total lack of any upper body strength, running yet more zig-zags up and down a hill, this time with the castle wall at the top and a pair of old car tyres to carry. They can get quite heavy after the first few hundred yards. There were also the monkey bars, something with which I struggle at the best of times, never mind over an hour into a race. The marshal there informed me that the penalty for failure was 50 press-ups. I knew I wasn’t going to make it and so rather than waste any effort trying I just got down and paid the penalty straight away.

More ditches, more mud, more water and many, many more press-ups, sit-ups, star-jumps and burpees later the finish line eventually came into sight. This was most welcome, having not run for ages I was knackered and my arms and shoulders were really aching, they certainly weren’t used to that effort. I was also soaked and freezing cold.

I ran passed the finish line, tantalisingly close on my right, following the course for another mile or so, more tyres to carry, more sit-ups to do, more ditches, more mud, before finally looping back and heading towards the line, only separated from it by half a dozen 10ft high wooden walls. Rather annoyingly they were about 6inches too tall for me to be able to reach the top by running and jumping at them, and both they and I were covered in far too much mud to allow me to get any grip on the front face

This posed a bit of a problem. I was in 9th place, and quite keen to hang on to it. The guy in front was long gone but the guy behind was only about a minute back. I tried the first wall in vain again. And again. I had no choice but to just stand and wait for the man behind to catch me up.

He didn’t take long, and could immediately see the problem. We worked together, he lifted me up, I climbed onto the top of the wall, reached down and helped him up, then we both jumped down and ran to the next one, repeating the process again and again.

The thought had occurred to me that on the final wall I could just leap straight down and run for the line, abandoning him on the far side and taking the place, but I didn’t quite have the heart to do that and so I helped him up for the last time, we jumped down together and ran for the line, finishing just after the netting where we had started.

I might have been slightly quicker had this not happened to my shoe.
The fact that I didn't notice until after the race probably indicates that it
wasn't slowing me down that much and so I can't really use it as an excuse.

That was without doubt the slowest 10k I have ever done, and not only because it was actually a lot longer than the 10k they had promised us, probably nearer to 10 miles. 1hr46min might look quite slow, but I was really pleased to cross the line in 9th, although this then became 17th once they had counted the times from the other groups, 300 runners in total. Will was 22nd, Pete 57th and Gina a very impressive 8th in the girls. Despite everything it had been surprisingly good fun.


I had brought a change of warm clothes, all kinds of lovely warm things, and a flask of hot chocolate which were waiting for me in the back of my van. The only problem was that Faye, Pete’s wife, had the keys for safe keeping and was nowhere to be found, she was somewhere out there on the course cheering him on. It is amazing just how cold you can get when you stop racing. I had thought I was cold before but this had definitely moved up a level or two, the biting wind now really hitting home. I searched hopelessly for Faye before deciding to head back to the finish to take shelter in the marquee which, with it’s two open sides, just served to funnel the wind through it at an ever increasing speed. The others had finished, had a shower, got dressed and warmed up before they eventually found me huddled in a corner under a space-blanket which someone had given me, blue with cold, shivering uncontrollably and not really able to talk. I was still shivering when we got the pub.
This photograph was taken while I was still wandering around looking
for everyone and slowing but surely freezing to death. 

Stories From Ages Ago - My First Ever 24

Here’s a very old one for you; the race in question took place in May 2010, over five years ago now. This was way before I started writing about things so I never did a proper race report for it. However, not only was it my first ever 24 it was also the first British 24hr Championships and is the only one of my 24s I’ve not written about, so just to fill in the gaps here it is:

How young do I look here?

Since I had first heard of Solo 24hr Racing, probably way back in about 1998 when reading about the Red Bull 24 as it then was, I had always vowed that I would never, ever, do anything quite so silly as enter one.

As I got older and less wise the idea began to appeal to me, just the one, just to see if I could do it. I did a 12hr time-trial in 2008 and then a 24hr time-trial the following year, which at the time was by far the hardest thing I had ever done, and during which I even fell asleep on the bike for a (very!) brief moment at about 4am. I had never gone longer than 6hrs on the mountain-bike though and so the original plan was to do a 12hr race in 2010 and see how I got on, and then maybe try a 24hr in 2011 if I was still feeling brave.

However, at the beginning of 2010 it was announced that there would be the first ever British 24hr Championships at Newcastleton in May and so I got my entry in before I had really had time to think through what I was about to do and wimp out.

It was also the only 24hr in the UK which was exclusively for solos, so there would be no team riders hurtling passed at Mach 3 in the middle of the night, ideal for a novice. There was even a special category for Rookies.

I was expecting that most of my fellow competitors would also be complete newbies like me, just seeing if they could get around in one piece. I was slightly concerned when I arrived at the venue at Rock UK to find the place filled with veterans of, and even previous winners of, Mountain Mayhem, Relentless, Sleepless, 24/12, the Strathpuffer and various other events I had never even heard of, I had no idea the 24hr scene was so big.

I hadn’t really been sure how to prepare for a race like this so I had brought 3 bikes, all of my tools, as much food of various kinds as I could fit into the van and a big tent to put it all in. That was about as far as planning went.
Being lead out at the start
There were nearly 90 of us assembled in the spring sunshine, an unusually warm day for Scotland, probably one of it’s warmest weekends ever. This was good, I go well in the heat.

The start was at noon down in the centre of Newcastleton village where we were part of the local Tub festival (I’m not quite sure what that was either, but it seemed very popular.) We were lead out of the town by the Copshaw Common Riders on a variety of interesting contraptions, all behind the piper. The truck led us from the road up the hill to the track itself and then peeled off and the race was on.

I had been near the front while we were behind the van and so I found myself in amongst the main contenders as they shot off like the proverbial from the shovel. I had no idea how to pace myself during such races so I assumed that the fast guys knew what they were doing and so I went with them, trying to keep up as best I could for as long as I could.
At the front as we head up the hill towards the track
I think this actually worked quite well, I was able to put in a few quick laps early on while there was still plenty of daylight. The course itself had been really well thought out, Newcastleton is an excellent venue for this kind of event. It was reasonably good fun to ride in the daytime while we were still wide-awake, but nicely challenging in the middle of the night while we were half asleep. It was also mostly hard surfaced, gravel and rocks, which meant that had the weather not been as fantastic as it turned out to be it would all still have been rideable without chewing up and becoming one big bog.

The only bad thing I have to say about it isn’t really something anyone could do anything about, and enough people have tried over the years – the midges. They weren’t too bad for us competitors, they seem to struggle to latch onto a moving target. The marshals out on the open, and therefore slightly breezy, moorland sections got off lightly too but those poor marshals in the trees were eaten alive. Every time I passed them after the sun had started to go down they were wearing more and more clothes. Long sleeves first, then gloves, midge-nets, buffs, scarves, hats, anything they could get their hands on, they all looked like they were wearing bhurkas by the time darkness actually fell. All that clothing must have been really uncomfortable, the temperatures stayed surprisingly high all night, they must have been sweating like crazy under all those layers, and of course the sweat just attracts even more midges.

I started to struggle a bit as darkness fell too, although for different reasons. Much against my own expectations I felt fine, I was still putting in sensible lap times and keeping my speed up until dusk.

My problem was with seeing where I was going. My total previous experience of night racing was one team race at Mayhem four years previously and the 24hr time trial the year before. I had not realised just how much artificial light is needed to be able to go rapidly through the forest at night and my 4xAA battery-powered single LED was proving to be much less suitable for this than it had been for the time-trial with all it’s street-lights and cat’s eyes. The more experienced riders were charging around with what could easily function as a high-powered search-light strapped to fronts of their bikes and seemed to have no difficulty at all in seeing where the lines through the rocks were.

I elected to cut my speed right down and just make certain of staying upright, rather than risk going too fast into the unknown and hurting myself.

It was an enormous relief to see the sun starting to reappear, and not only because it meant that I could actually see the rocks, roots and ravines again, and therefore not ride into them. Talking to people before the race they had all said that if I could make it through until dawn I would be fine, that’s the hard part over and mentally it would be a huge boost. It was, and I found myself thinking ‘Nearly there.’ Erm, not quite, there was still over 8hrs of racing to go.

The pits were starting to come alive again too as the sun came back out, Team Chadwick in particular was getting noisy but this was great, it really does help to have people shouting you on.

Although the individual pits had been quiet overnight there had been a constant buzz in the main arena. There was a marquee there especially for ‘Super-Solos’ of which I was one. It’s not quite as grand as it sounds, it’s those of us not only riding solo (which was everyone at this race) but who are also doing it without any supporters or pit crew looking after them.

There was a unlimited supply of hot tea and pasta there all night long and the guys from Juice Lubes were ready to wield their spanners if the need arose. More important was the constant cheering and encouragement from everyone there, although not quite as loud and raucous as Mr C and Co.

There was also a trade stand operated by Exposure Lights who were not only providing charging facilities for anyone to use but were also hiring out proper, decent lights to those like me who lacked such things. Had I realised just how inadequate mine would prove to be I would certainly have paid them a visit before the race.

With the coming of the dawn the temperatures began to rise again. It had stayed pretty warm all night so it didn’t take long to get back up to about 30 degrees, perfect for me, I love the heat, although even I found myself riding in the shade of the trees on a few of the climbs

In the closing stages of the race I was starting to concentrate more on my position, rather than merely getting to the end, and I was involved in two battles. As I mentioned earlier there was the Rookie’s Championship, for those who had never done a solo 24hr MTB race before. I had thought that my 24hr time trial and team race at Mayhem would make me the most experienced Rookie, if that’s not a bit of a contradiction, but this turned out not to be the case. John Fettis was the leading Rookie early on, although I hadn’t been too far behind. However, I had spoken to him earlier in the race and knew that he had once done a 36hr road race, from the Severn Bridge to the Menai Bridge. And back. The hilly way. He did beat me in the end, but Rory Hitchins also snuck in under the radar by being a vet as well, leaving me in third at the finish.

The other battle I was involved in was for a position in the Seniors race, down at the lower reaches of the top-10. I was in 11th as the end approached, with Ant Jordan just ahead in 10th and Ian Scally not far in front of him. I had a vague memory of hearing someone say that the top-10 would be able to go to the World Championships in Australia later that year. The thought of doing that had never even crossed my mind until about 8am when someone told me what position I was in.

I knew who Ant was, on his distinctive pink bike not far ahead, but had no idea who Ian was. With four hours to go I gave it everything I possibly could. I was absolutely flat out, this lap was like an XC race, on the limit everywhere, pushing, pushing, pushing.

I caught Ant near the end of that lap but he must have realised who I was and what was going on and he responded in kind.
He picked his pace up on the next lap and we charged around together, really close, tight racing. I was amazed that we could do this sort of thing well over 20hrs in but I wasn’t going to question it, I was just hanging on as best I could. In the 10 miles of the lap we were never more than 20 seconds apart, sometimes him in front, sometimes me. Even his pit crew, Carole, Simon and co were cheering me on, they were enjoying this as much as we were. Despite everything else I have done on a bike over the subsequent years I can still say that those last couple of laps were some of the most fun I have ever had, fighting for every second and that vital 10th place. It was a shame we couldn’t both have it, but we couldn’t, and I was determined that it was going to be me.

The next lap I kept the pressure on and managed to open a gap over him, nearly 8 minutes, I have no idea how I did that but it was crucial.

This race was a ‘short’ 24 which means that only laps completed within 24hrs count, rather than the ‘long’ 24 format where laps started within 24hrs count. It was touch and go whether I would be able to complete my final lap in the allotted time but for Ant the fight was over. He had given everything and with nothing left in the tank he knew he wouldn’t make it round in time for one more to count and so he finished his race then.

That last lap was torture for me. I too had given everything I had trying to beat him, there was nothing left in my legs, but limp round I must. The final lap seemed to take forever, just keeping the bike moving

Coming back down the final hill was one of the best feelings ever, I had made it around my first 24hr intact, and done far, far better than I ever expected to. Down from the summit, picking up speed to the corner at the edge of the woods, leaning in as I turned left, feeling the bike start to slide, letting it run wide as I looked for the grip, over to the right for the next corner, staying wide, down the last part of the hill to the tight right-hander at the bottom and up the hill into the pits and the finish line. The whole section was lined with people cheering us all on, it really was fantastic.

I just had to confirm the results now, had I done it? Last time I had heard Ant and I were 10th and 11th, I must have done it, surely? It would be a shame to knock him out of the top 10 but I could live with that.

I found the results. Anthony Jordan 10th. Hang on a minute, what’s happened there?! Andrew Howett 9th. Wow, that was brilliant. Somehow we had both passed Ian during our battle but had been concentrating so hard on beating each other that we hadn’t even noticed! We were both going to the Worlds. Australia here we come.



  1. Matt Page
  2. Ant White
  3. Josh Ibbett
  4. Rich Rothwell
  5. James Leavesley
  6. Jason Miles
  7. Luke Morris
  8. Mike Hall
  9. Andrew Howett
  10. Anthony Jordan

  1. Ricci Cotter
  2. Nicola McLeod
  3. Jane Chadwick
  4. Nicola Duggan
  5. Amy Baron-Hall
Footnote: I’m not quite sure how accurate the thing about the top-10 going to the Worlds was, I think was just for entry to the Elite category with anyone else being able to do the age group races. Now WEMBO have taken over running it from 24HOA anyone is allowed to take part. The nature of the event does mean that we tend to be a fairly self-selecting bunch so the standard of competition is just as high with the new guys in charge but it really is possible for anyone to turn up and enter the World Championship. Being able to finish it is another matter entirely but have a go, you might surprise yourself…

One Big Lap In One Little Gear

You know those races where you actually do rather well and yet somehow still come away feeling slightly disappointed? This was one of those.
The Keilder race made it’s return recently and is now a 101km event which attracted about 350 riders. This was helped by the fact that as it now September spring had finally arrived up in the borders and everyone was keen for a bit of racing in the sunshine, having not seen any for months.

I headed down on the Friday night, had a bit of dinner and then signed-on at the castle. I had to persuade the organisers to let me start at the front with the Elite group, which it turns out has to be done by telling them some recent race results rather than bribing them with beer. I was successful, 11th at the Manx 100 sounds much better than last, as does 3rd at the West Highland Way, which is the last place with which I have been most pleased.
The start line before the race. Note the lovely colour of the sky.
Anyway, the race itself.

I had decided to have a go at racing singlespeed. I hadn’t raced one for a while and quite fancied a change. I also didn’t fancy completely wrecking a bike as happened at the 2011 event and I thought that the singlespeed would be a little more robust. I did put some bouncy forks on specially though. As it turns out a fancy geared full-suss would have been ideal and would have been fine in the dry but I had had to commit a few days before when I packed the van.
We set off from the castle at 7:30am, I hate early mornings, with the first couple of miles being neutralised behind the truck before the course turned to the left up the first climb and the race really began. Despite only having one gear I was fifth as we crested the hill, the added lightness, to misquote Colin Chapman, of the singlespeed helping a lot. I could see Richard Rothwell at the front and for a change I was having no difficulty in keeping up. I knew that he had been ill recently and assume that he had gone straight to the front to try to control the pace rather than letting the other fast boys charge off into the distance. It suited me and I felt good in the chasing pack, not far behind the leading group of four.

Last minute tweaks in front of the castle.
Too many gears, he should have gone for the low-maintainence singlespeed.

I lost a couple of places on the level fireroad section at the top. I had a 32/17 gear on a 26” bike and so getting above about 18mph on the flat was pretty much impossible. Any attempt to do so would leave me looking Scooby Doo in that brief moment whenever he spots a ghost but before he starts to run, legs spinning furiously but not actually moving.
I continued, head down and spinning like crazy. I heard a noise in front and looked up, a rider was cartwheeling along the trail, his bike bouncing off in the other direction. It was a wide, flat fireroad, what on earth had he hit? He had picked himself up and grabbed his bike by the time I passed him, his front wheel pringled (pringle: vb. To make a wheel the shape of a popular potato-based snack, my favourite of which are the sour cream and onion flavour) Race over in less than five miles.

I asked the guy next to me what had happened. Apparently he had caught the end of his handlebar in the deer fence to our left and come to a very abrupt stop against it. Quite how he had done this when it was a good two feet from the edge of the track I don’t know.
The course turned to the left and headed downhill, which was where I had to relinquish my spot amongst the leaders and watch as what felt like hundreds of riders, but was probably only a couple of dozen, cruised passed me in their big rings while I was spinning out, tucking my head down to allow gravity to take me up to the dizzy heights of 25mph.

The race continued in pretty much the same vein for miles, I would manage to get passed some people on the climbs and then they and a load more would just stroll passed on the downhills without even looking like they were trying, I would get a couple back on the next climb and then another herd would swamp me on the following descent.
One thing which had occurred to me was that I was leading the singlespeed race. I had started at the front and had been looking at everyone’s bike when they came passed, checking for the presence of gears and had seen no-one else daft enough to only have the one. This was unusual, I’m not used to leading races, even just a race within a race, and certainly not this far in. I had sprinted off the line at a couple of 24hr World Championships (Italy and Australia) just so that I could say that I had, very briefly,  lead a World Champs, but to still be at the front of something after an hour and half was a little odd.

I'm not sure how he's managed to get into his own picture, I
suspect magic.

About five miles from the border I saw someone coming up the singletrack behind me doing that special kind of gear-grinding that only singlespeeders do, being in the wrong gear for pretty much the entire race. He did eventually catch me and so we had a bit of a chat as we rode.
Jim Tipp had finished about twentieth overall and first singlespeed at the infamous 2011 event, the only DNF I have ever had in over 16 year of racing my bike. Well over 75% of the field had DNF’ed that day, if you weren’t there it would be nigh on impossible to describe the conditions, bikes were just disintegrating as we rode along, the endless grinding grit destroying chains, cassettes, chainrings and every single bearing in the entire bike.

He had made it to the end of this, so was clearly not to be underestimated, but I was determined that he was not going to beat me. I saw my chance to get away from him when the course turned a sharp left and headed very steeply up some singletrack, a succession of really tight switchbacks which seemed to go forever. My gear eventually got the better of me, or my legs weren’t strong enough, one of the two, I’ll blame the gear, and so I leapt off and ran the last few hundred yards. I even managed to run passed someone on a geared bike who, although going very slowly, was clearly not going to let the hill defeat him.
Over the summit and there was no sign of my adversary behind me, I had lost him. I kept the pressure on as we headed for the border, making up a few more places on the very slippery boardwalk section, I think it was just fear of braking and locking a wheel on it which made me quicker around it than the others.

The trail on the shores of Keilder Water

Down the next singletrack descent with the border in sight, quite narrow and very rocky, lots of pointy stones, trying to pick my way through the biggest ones to avoid pinch-flatting and oh bugger I have.
I stopped and flipped the bike over, pulling my glove off. These rims are ridiculously tight, it’s a nightmare changing tyres on them. this wasn’t going to be fun. Riders were streaming passed as I got out my tyres levers, and much to my surprise, took the tyre straight off, it is never that easy! Jim came passed as I was putting the new tube in, followed less than a minute later by David Glover who was third singlespeed. The tyre went back on as easily as it had come off. I don’t know how that happened but I wasn’t complaining. I put my gas cartridge on and turned it. Nothing. I did it again. Still nothing.

I looked at the end, it had been pierced OK. Was this a dud or had a picked up a used one by mistake? The sense of relief as my second cartridge worked as enormous. I put the wheel back in, tied the old tube to my frame and set off in pursuit of the two in front of me. The whole episode had cost me 5½ minutes, that was a big gap to close but the pause had given me a chance to get my breath back and I was flying, giving it everything I had, pausing only to dib at the checkpoint as I crossed the border into Scotland.
On the very next fireroad section was an upside-down bike with a rider pumping furiously at the tyre - Jim. That had been easier than I was expecting, and we were now all square at one puncture each, just David to go.

He was a mile further on, sticking a new tube into his tyre.
I only saw four people with punctures all day, it was odd that three of them should have been us singlespeeders, I wonder why?

I pressed on, the feeling of being in the lead again was a huge psychological boost and I was enjoying racing the geared bikes, especially the guy with the bright orange helmet who I must have passed, and been passed by, about a dozen times in the second half of the race and Steven Deas on the monster-cross bike. I think I was having an easier time of it than he was, I only had to contend with my heart going from 3,500bpm while spinning like crazy on the downhills down to about 6bpm as I ground up the climbs. He had rigid forks and had lost all feeling below the elbow, which meant that when he did get to a fireroad where he should have had the advantage he was in too much pain to be able to exploit it as much as he would have liked.
I recognised much of the Scottish part of the race, using the trails at Newcastleton which had played host both the British and European 24hr Championships over the years. The feed stop and bag drop was at the half way point at the Rock UK venue, I refilled my bottles, grabbed a new tube and spare gas and swallowed a couple of Torq bars. Less than 2 minutes later I was underway again, pushing hard along familiar trails. I had no idea whether Jim was just out of sight around the last corner or was dropping back. I didn’t even know if he had got bike working again but I was having a huge amount of fun going as fast as I could. Why don’t I race singlespeeds more often?

Stuart Goodwin

We left the familiar tracks at the Border Stane and pressed on back towards England, me, Steven on the monster-cross bike and the guy in the bright orange helmet. About four miles from the border we were joined by, you’ve guessed it, Jim. The two of us pulled away from the others, despite their many gears, and the bridge was soon in sight.
A sharp right, foot down as I paused to dab my dibber on the timing device, then back on it and sharp left. This was my chance, the course went very, very steeply uphill. It was only a short climb and would have been doable in a bigger sprocket but looked impossible on an SS. I knew from the earlier very steep hill that I could run faster than him.

I leapt off and went for it, jumping back on at the top and sprinting like crazy. There was 18 miles to go and I was not going to let him beat me, this race was mine for the taking and I was going to have it if it killed me.
I kept the Scooby-Doo impressions up for as long as I could but it does take it’s toll eventually, and I had slowed a little by the time we approached the third and final feed stop. The track climbed uphill and then doubled back on itself, from where I could see Jim less than 100 yards behind me. He looked like he was really trying too. Was this good, did it mean this was as fast as he could go? Was this bad news, did it mean he was going to give it everything he had to attempt to catch me and take the victory? I suspect the latter…

Round the corner and dib at the final timing chip, the marshal there saying “food and water to the right, course to the left”. I desperately needed another bottle refill but didn’t want to waste any time. I headed left and up the hill.
One of the many views which I didn't have time to stop and admire.
Rounding the corner at the top I could see someone down at the bottom, pedalling hard, they were definitely in a dark top but that was as much as could tell from that distance. Was it Jim? Had he stopped for food or was he chasing me?

Sprinting on a singlespeed isn’t easy, or at least going rapidly on one isn’t. With my legs going like crazy I was going as quickly as I could, trying not to look over my shoulder too much but finding it hard not to. I was flat out, passing more riders on geared bikes. We were nearly there, the last 10 miles, I was not going to lose this so close to the end.
The last few miles were huge fun but couldn’t come soon enough. The course was twisty and the trees were dense, I had no idea if Jim was 50 yards or 3 miles behind me so I had no option but to keep pushing, pushing, pushing.

From the final singletrack section I could see the castle below me. Plunging down through the trees there was still no sign of Jim, I was going to do this, I was going to win.
Out of the woods, the finish line in sight, still sprinting, across the line and dib my timing chip, I had done it!

The marshal there handed me a bottle of beer. “Well done mate, good effort. Second singlespeed.”
Hang on a wee moment…

“Second singlespeed, first finished ages ago.”

Jim was the next person across the line, just under four minutes later with David the next singlespeeder, six places and nine minutes behind him.
What must have happened was that Saul Muldoon had sneaked passed me unobserved at some point and disappeared off into the distance, winning the singlespeed category and finishing an impressive 16th overall. I was second, in 41st overall, one place ahead of Jim in both results. I had also just failed to beat the 6hr mark, 6hr00mins33secs.

Still, at least I would get my moment of glory on the podium. I had missed this the last time I had raced at Keilder, I had finished third in the British Endurance Series but they had changed the time of the podiums without telling anyone and I was enjoying a lovely hot shower as they were giving out the trophies. This time I was paying attention, I had a long drive ahead of me but I sat around for four hours, tinkering with my bike and having a chat, listening to Stuart’s tales from the Transcontinental and watching the others, who were staying over to go riding the following day, drink their beers.
Eventually 6:30 came and we all headed up to the castle for the podiums. Tom Wragg, Eddie Addis and Ed Wolstenholme took the top spots in the elite men with Helen Jackson, Sally Ozanne and Hannah Sinclair making up the girl’s podium, Jon Roberts and Dave Hayward taking the wins in their age-groups.

They then called up the winners of the singlespeed, monster-cross and fat-bike categories and that was that.

Still no podium for me then. No-one expects a big prize at an MTB race but a round of applause and maybe a little trophy would have been nice. Oh well, time to head home.
I had a bit of a chat with Jon as I was leaving, it had been an impressive ride from him to beat the 5hrs. It was also nice to find out that someone actually reads these things I write, cheers Jon.

This was supposed to be the picture of Saul, Jim and I on the podium
but obviously that didn't happen, so here's one of Gordon in a cupboard.

Big thank-yous to the usual people, XCRacer/Scimitar,Torq and Mt Zoom. The Exposure lights weren’t needed at this one but their time will come, it’s Relentless next for me.


The pictures are all, apart from the one of Gordon, by Ian Harvey-Read of The Chronicles of Gnarlia, who’s claim to fame is that he was 177th and the last finisher of the 800+ starters at the infamous 2011 event, no shame in that, it was a huge effort just to survive it.