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. Be 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.

The Right Tools For The Bodge

I’ve been spending far too much time this year moving house (twice) and changing jobs (also twice, but maybe three or possibly even four times depending on how you define it) and not enough time racing, or even riding bikes in general.
I therefore haven’t got much to write about in the way of race reports, and with my thoughts now occupied with plumbing, fireplaces and floorboards this is unlikely to change until next year. I have however entered the Keilder 101 and am threatening to have a go at Relentless.  In the meantime I’m going to have another attempt at a product review.

The Pedro’s Vicewhip is one those gadgets which is just brilliant, a really simple solution to a problem everyone has and is so obvious it just leaves me thinking ‘why didn’t I come up with that?’ The legendary Lennard Zinn did however, which probably shows that he is cleverer than I am.

I hadn’t even heard of it until a year or so ago when I needed to remove the cog on my singlespeed during a trip to Afan Argoed. I popped into the bike shop and asked to borrow a chain-whip. I was handed what I thought was a set of mole-grips. I checked to make sure he had given me the right tool and was reassured that he had. I returned to my bike, clamped it onto the sprocket and removed the lockring.

That was it. No spending hours slipping, swearing, skinning knuckles or anything like that. Just lock the tool on and undo the lockring, no faffing at all.

It has a mole-grip-like handle but where the jaws would be is instead a semi-circular adjustable clamp which goes around your cassette and holds the teeth of any sprocket up to 23t, so it is plenty big enough for any cassette and all but the biggest singlespeed sprocket. It’s a league apart from the usual ‘bit of chain on a stick’ (which did sort of work when I made my own by, no prizes for guessing, simply nailing some old chain to the end of a small block of wood). It is especially brilliant on seriously worn singlespeeds when a conventional chainwhip would slip like crazy and remove every last trace of skin from your fingers before it would allow you to undo anything. Not that my SS is that badly maintained of course…
I was so impressed that I immediately went and got myself one and I remain very impressed, the build-quality has proved equally good, I like it even better than my fancy Snap-On mole-grips.

The (very!) eagle-eyed among you may have noticed a slight modification to the cassette tool in the picture, it's slightly more obvious in close-up above. This is a conventional Park Tools FR-5 of which I have ground the top with an angle-grinder, an idea I nicked from my friend James. This means that a very big spanner will still fit around the base for lots of leverage, but the narrower bit at the top will fit a much smaller 5/8” spanner. Why? Airline baggage limits. The weight difference between my huge spanner and the little one is considerable. And I’m sure that the half an ounce I’ve taken off the tool helps too.
Pedros Vicewhip:

I like: It just works. Genius.
I don’t like: It’s how much!?

That Was Harder Than I Was Expecting...

2015 Manx 100


This was one of those races which you just know will be hard, but don’t necessarily realise quite how hard until you are at the top of a massive hill, trying desperately to get enough feeling back into your hands to be able to open a packet of food, anything to keep you going, when the gale-force winds part the sea of fog just long enough for you to glimpse another rider getting blown off his bike. This would become a battle for survival.

Saturday was a fantastic day, blue skies, warm temperatures and a gentle breeze as we made our way across to Douglas on board the catamaran. We met a few other racers on the ferry, but despite the lovely weather prevailing at the time we had all seen the forecast and there was a definite atmosphere of gallows humour. It was predicted to be light rain at the start, 6:30am, developing into heavy rain by about 10am and continuing for the rest of the race, with winds of over 45mph. This was of course the forecast for sea-level, whereas we would be crossing the largest and most exposed fells and moors the Isle of Man has to offer, and it is a surprisingly hilly island.

Here's a picture from last year, me chased by someone I don't know
and Jon Hobson. I've used one from last year as this year's won't come
out well with all the fog,and I guess the photographer's fingers would
have been too numb with cold to opperate the camera anyway.

We were met at the ferry port by Guy, a lovely friendly local who had volunteered to put us up for the weekend and who’s wife, Joan, provided an excellent curry while I made him paranoid about his front brake. Signing-on and last-minute detail checking was in the Control Tower at the Grandstand, the same place as last year, before most racers headed off early to their various resting places, keen for a good night’s sleep. I instead found myself accompanying Gina and another bunch of friendly locals on a walk around Rushen Abbey looking for bats. There are over 1,200 species of bat, 7 of which can be found on the Isle of Man. Only 3 are ‘vampires’, none of which are to found on the island. We saw quite a few and got to play with the bat detectors.

The alarm went off at 4:45am on Sunday and, upon opening the curtains, I was greeted by the most unexpected sight of blue skies and no rain. Actually, that’s not quite true, the alarm went off at 4:45 but it was 5:15 when I conceded defeat to the snooze button and emerged to open the curtains. A couple of Weetabix later and we were in Guy’s van heading back to the Grandstand.

Despite the large banner saying 'Finish' this is the start line.

It was still dry at 6:30am, with barely a cloud in view as we all gathered in the TT Pit Lane, ready for the off. The first couple of miles were the ‘wrong way’ along the TT course, lead out by a police motorbike to allow us to jump all the red lights but it was delayed by six minutes (an important detail, remember that) as we waited for the rozzers to get into place. We were all fidgeting, impatient to get off, sensing that we were definitely on borrowed time as far as the nice weather was concerned and anxious not to waste it. I used this time to take my waterproof off and put it back on thirty seven times as I tried to work out if I was just chilly because I was standing still or if it was actually cold and how many layers I would need. A waterproof but no arm-warmers was the compromise I eventually settled on.

The neutralised start followed the same route as last year, allowing most of the fast guys, and me, to get themselves to the front, poor Jon Hobson spinning like crazy on his singlespeed as he tried to keep up. He had started the 100 mile event last year but had to concede defeat and switch to the 100km, meaning that the 100 miles had still never been completed with only one gear and he was determined to be the first.

The motorbike eventually pulled over, we veered left into the first track and the race was on.

The winner of the 2013 event, Rich Rothwell, and the other likely contender Rob Friel, shot off into the distance with Julian Corlett, who was likely to be the fastest local, and me both trying to keep up as best we could. He managed considerably better than I did and I lost sight of the three of them as another little group formed behind them.

It quickly became apparent that I had made the wrong call on the waterproof and I paused to remove it for the 38th time as it was getting rather warm in there. It only took a few seconds but half a dozen riders came passed before I could set off in pursuit.
Early on, while it was still sunny
The first section of the course through Conrhenny to Laxey was easy enough, we were all making good progress, trying to keep the speed up while the sun was still shining. The first ‘proper’ climbs slowed us a little as we headed up Slieau Ruy and Slieau Lhean before dropping down into Glen Mona and the first checkpoint just south of Ramsey.

There were a number of checkpoints on the route. Marshals at each of these would tick us all off as we passed through, and they all had time-limits, if a rider hadn’t passed them by a certain time, they would be out of the event. This was to stop those who were slow but determined being out in the middle of nowhere until well after dark, trying to get to the end. Again, more on this later…

After Ramsey I caught Jon on his singlespeed, still going strongly, and someone else I didn’t recognise and we blasted through the meadows together towards the bottom of Sky Hill, it was like being in a hurdles race with all the gates we encountered. Hmm, MTB Hurdles, a sprint and bunny-hop competition, must remember that one.

I recognised quite a lot of the course, having raced here twice before, although not the tight left-hander in Ballure where the sign had blown around and I lost a bit of time faffing with the map. Jon and his legs of steel left me behind on the climb up out of Ohio and passed Slieu Managh, but I could see him again as I approached Checkpoint 2 at the Mountain Box.

Checkpoint 2 was very significant for me, mainly because this was one of the three ‘bag-drops’ and I knew that I had a load of food and a new bottle of Torq waiting for me there, along with a set of dry gloves and various other items of clothing. It was the food which I was desperate for, after all of the detailed planning and preparation before the event the one thing I had forgotten to put in my pack for the race itself was anything to eat… I had raided Gina’s supply of things before the start but at about one third distance I was already suffering. I swallowed a couple of Torq bars and a Mars bar and stuffed everything else into my pocket.
Looking  very pro, although that isn't actually my support car.
It was racing us up the hill to hand a bottle to the bloke next
to me, having missed a feed at the bottom.

It was 9:48am and much against everyone’s expectation it still wasn’t raining. There was a dampness in the air though, it wouldn’t be long and this high up it was also rather chilly. I put my waterproof on for the 39th time that morning and set off across the moors after Jon, who had very generously waited for me. His singlespeed was less than ideal on this section, but as he was pushing at about the same speed I could ride it didn’t seem to bother him at all.

The descent down to the mines at Laggan Agneash was huge fun, one of my favourite parts of the whole circuit. It was pretty steep, down through the ferns, just about rideable with my rear wheel waving about in the air as I tried to keep my speed down enough to allow myself to steer, Jon a few feet ahead shouting warnings about hidden dykes and little skinny, single plank, bridges. If I had had a dropper post I would have pressed the button, but with an ISP there was nothing else to do but hold on and hope for the best. Jon stopped for a pee break at the bottom and I took the opportunity to cram another couple of Torq bars down my neck while I waited for him.
Jon at this spot last year.
I recognised more of the course, the climb as we left Laxey for the second time was just as hard as I remembered it being. We were heading for the very appropriately named Windy Corner, another famous TT landmark, although we were of course approaching it across the moors, battling into the headwind at 3 or 4mph rather than blasting up to it at 180mph along a nice smooth road.

The rain was starting to come in by this stage, gently at first but then harder and harder, but the biggest change was in the wind, it was getting much, much stronger. After Checkpoint 3 Jon started to pull away from me. Despite the fact that he had only one gear he was flying up the climbs and I just couldn’t maintain his pace.

We fought our way up the back of Injebreck, battling into the gale. The rain was making it incredibly difficult to see where I was going, it was being driven so hard into my face that looking forwards was actually quite painful. However, the fog soon made this irrelevant, when I did manage to look up I couldn’t see anything anyway. The Manx 100 isn’t one of these well manicured race-tracks with lots of tape and things marking all the corners, it is big hills, mostly in the middle of nowhere, with the odd red and black arrow showing the way. It was an enormous relief when one of those would appear out of the fog, reassuring me that I was still going in the right direction. I have a GPS but it is purely for recording speed, distance, time and such like, it is not one of the fancy ones which show you which way to go and so I was navigating the good old fashioned way, with a map and compass. There were enough signs that It wasn‘t necessary to look at the map very often, which was good as keeping hold of it in the wind was extremely tricky and the rain was making it more and difficult to read every time I got it out, the ink on my print-out running despite the fancy sandwich-bag it was enclosed in.
Another one from last year, when the photographer could see
us through the fog.

We battled on into the wind, down to Sartfell and then into the relative shelter of Druidale, the sides of valley keeping the worst of the wind at bay. It was a short-lived relief though as soon the route began to climb again, another of those never-ending slogs up and up and up into the clouds.

Eventually Checkpoint 4 loomed out of the clag, a man in an enormous waterproof, his hood drawn tight in around his face, his hands blue with cold, while his colleague huddled in the 4x4 trying to keep warm. He asked me if wanted any water. Obviously the fact that I was soaked to the skin and looking like a drowned rat had convinced him that the thing which would make it all better was even more water…However, the second bag drop was still a very, very long way away and so I took the opportunity to refill a bottle.

I dropped down the hillside to Ballaugh, a welcome respite from the worst of the wind as I lost altitude, and then I was on to the old railway line. This is a unique section of the Manx 100 in that, for a couple of miles, I was riding on the flat. It was like being in teleporter, one moment I was in Ballaugh, and then less than six minutes later I was two miles away in Kirk Michael looking up at The Baltic. (I'm mentioing a lot of place names here as I know you are all reading this while following my progress in great detail on the map. Probably)
Another one of me last year, it rained a bit
near the end but nothing like this year!

Ah yes, The Baltic. This is the hill people talk about most of all. ‘Baltic’ is a word used in certain parts of Scotland to mean “absolutely bloody freezing”, quite appropriate as it turns out. From the village it starts innocently enough, a gentle tarmac climb winding it’s way up. One of the locals who lives on the lower slopes of the hill always leaves a hosepipe out for us, in previous years this was a most welcome spot to refill our bottles but this year it was somewhat redundant. Having battled down into Ballaugh, pedalling as hard as I could downhill to make any sort of speed into the headwind I had been looking forward to flying up The Baltic with the benefit of a similarly impressive tail wind. However, the wind on the Isle is quite bizarre, during the course of the whole day, despite wiggling around all over the place on a route which was ultimately a loop I never once felt like I had a tail wind.

Anyway, I kept plugging away up The Baltic. The short tarmac section soon ended and I was onto the LandRover track above it. Although the wind was still as strong as ever the fog had lifted, which at least made navigation a lot easier, it was now actually possible to spot some of the signs before I passed them. I could see another racer in front of me, probably half a mile ahead, way up on the hillside. I could catch him.

I dug in, looking for the lines with best grip as I picked my way up through the slippery wet rocks. The wind was getting worse the higher I got, the shape of the hills funnelling it down towards me. It was tough, but I was gaining. I looked up again, he was off his bike and pushing, I could do this. The wind was still getting stronger and stronger, I was down in my granny-ring, 24t, trying to make progress as best I could. The track turned slightly to the right and what had been a head-wind became a cross-wind. It was blowing me to my left, hard, with sudden gusts of very hard. Keeping the bike in a straight line through the rocks and ruts was getting more and more difficult, every time I was blown off line getting going again was becoming harder and harder. I realised why the rider in front had been pushing, and I was forced to concede defeat and also begin walking.

I have tried to show you a picture from this year
but it really is just fog...
The fog had closed in again by this stage and I had long since lost sight of anyone else, it was just me, alone in the middle of nowhere, head down against the wind, trudging upwards though the murk. I was starting to freeze, the relentless rain had soaked me right through and now I was moving even more slowly I wasn’t generating enough of my own heat. I eventually reached the crest and was able to get back on the bike. I plugged on, upwards, through the fog, my frozen hands curled tightly around the bars, the wind seeming to come from all directions now.

After what felt like an eternity I reached what felt like a little plateau, I was knackered, I needed food. I stopped, and reached into my pocket. I had already eaten my supply of Torq bars and gels but I did still have a packet of Shot-Blocks left, that would do nicely. The only trouble was opening it with wet gloves which don’t grip and frozen fingers which don’t bend. I tugged helplessly at the wrapper for a bit, no good. I crouched down, trying to use the heather for what little shelter it would give me, turning my back to the wind. I removed a glove.

The fog parted for an instant and I realised where I was, the course doubled back on itself and I was passing the other side of Checkpoint 4. I could see the marshal, still out there huddled in his massive waterproof, trying to use his truck for shelter, two riders plunging down the hill towards him. The rearmost rider left the ground briefly over one of the tussocks and appeared to get blown quite a way to his left before he hit the ground again. His front wheel dug in, flipping him off the front of the bike, which cartwheeled a couple of times before coming to rest, I even heard his cry over the wind. The guy at the front stopped and turned, the marshal already up and moving towards the fallen rider, who sat up, looking surprised and shouting “I’m fine, I’m fine”. The lead rider set off again and I returned to trying to open my food as they all disappeared back into the fog.

Someone passed me as I crouched there, asking if I was OK. “Everything’s fine” I lied and then he too was gone. Eventually the wrapper relented and I crammed the lot into my mouth. I stuffed the wrapper back into my pocket and attempted to pull my glove back on. It was cold, properly cold, much, much colder than it had been when I removed it a minute before. Do gloves suffer from wind-chill? My fingers still wouldn’t bend and it took a while to force them back into it. Getting the glove back on made them no warmer at all.

I had stopped at the top of the hill as, despite the extra wind there, it is always much easier to get going again when setting off onto a downhill. Well, not quite always. If there is a huge head-wind it is as just as hard as going uphill. Down the hill back to Sartfell. Last year this was where the 100 mile and 100km events separated and there had been a big gaggle of people here. Today there was nothing, no-one, just wind, fog and an abandoned truck.

It was a long, hard ride over the moors, around the appropriately named Colden Hill, nearly as appropriately named as The Baltic. I even managed to catch glimpses of it as the fog was thinning slightly. As I headed down Braaid towards Checkpoint 5, the second bag-drop, something most unexpected happened.

It stopped raining.

I arrived at the Checkpoint 5 at 1532, nearly six hours since the last bag-drop, soaked to the skin and frozen, but in good spirits, it’s amazing what the slight of a small patch of blue sky can do. I found my bag and it’s precious contents of a dry base layer, a new waterproof and, most valuable of all, new gloves. It was a huge relief. I ate most of the rest of the contents, stuffing the remaining Torq bars and gels into my pockets. The marshals there were lovely, if slightly bemused by what we were all doing. One of them even gave me her cup of tea, just being able to hold something warm for a minute was a huge boost for my poor hands.
Winner, Rob Friel, before it started raining.
The significance of Checkpoint 5 was that it was where the 100 mile and 100km routes diverged and I had to make the choice. Opting for the 100km would mean a three mile pootle back into the centre of Douglas via a nice easy route, back to the Grandstand, tea, cakes and warm showers. Opting for the 100 mile route would mean another 40 miles of what I had just been through.

I turned right.

There was a short section of the TT course heading towards St John’s before climbing 500ft up in less than a mile to Dowse. To make it all the more fun the rain was back, although mercifully without the fog this time. I remembered the descent down into the village from last year, this was where I had performed a frontal dismount and landed heavily on my knee. I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and that cowardice was the better part of discretion and so I valiantly dismounted and ran down it this time.

Riding into the village I was delighted to see Gina waiting for me on Tynwald Hill in the drizzle, the original site of what is now the world’s oldest parliament. She was carrying hot pasta, a flask of hot chocolate and some cake. I ate and drank all of this and then, feeling much warmer, set off again.

The rain returned with a vengeance as I emerged from the plantation at Slieau Whallian onto the open moors before heading back into the relative shelter of Arrasey. My front brake on the other hand seemed to have departed. I could feel, and indeed hear, the pads make contact with the disc as I pulled helplessly on the lever but this seemed to have very little effect on my speed. I had two spare sets of the Alligator pads in my pack, but really didn’t feel like stopping to change them. This was partly because this would again involve removing a glove, something I was keen to avoid at all costs after my experience at the top of The Baltic, but mainly because I knew I was cutting it very fine if I was going to make the checkpoints on time.

I had received an update from Gina when I had seen her. A lot of riders had pulled out where the route split, some just having completely lost the will to live, a greater number being pulled out as they simply wouldn’t make it round the route in time. I was now the last rider still out on the course. I had no idea how far behind I was but I knew that I had to press on to get through the cut-offs.
Another one from last year, in the sunshine.

Arrasey was interesting without a front brake, it is normally a lovely swoopy section of singletrack but can be terrifying without any way of modulating your speed. There was one more big climb and then another, even more terrifying, descent before Checkpoint 7, the third and final bag drop where two marshals were waiting for me in a van. It was time to collect yet another batch of Torq bars, and the very welcome pair of dry gloves.

It was 1850. The rules said that I had to have passed this checkpoint by 1845. However, the start had been delayed by six minutes and so the cut-off times had been put back by a similar amount. I had a little over twenty miles to go, and had just one minute in hand. This would be tight. There was no time to change brake pads and so I plunged down into Cringle Plantation hoping for the best, the two marshals shouting encouragement over the wind.

This is another one of those places which could be huge fun if I had any way of slowing down for the corners, rather than merely trusting to luck and occasionally panicking and sticking my foot out. It is also the venue for the Longest Day, Longest Ride event, a 24hr race in mid-June, on a 15 minute lap. The fast boys would get about 100 laps in during the race, which must be as much of a mental challenge as a physical one. In the odd moment of madness I keep threatening to have a go.

Anyway, as I headed down through South Barrule my braking ability returned, I have no idea why. When I finished the race I still had loads of pad left so it wasn’t anything to do with that. The Alligator pads are normally fantastic, I’ve been using them for years without any problems. I can only guess that I must have got some sort of contamination on either them or the disc, a bit of oil or something, and that it had finally worn off. I was so excited by being able to stop that I completely lost track of the route and emerged from the forest onto a road, no signs in sight and no idea where I was.

I got out what was left of my map and tried to figure it out, aware that the light was beginning to fade, and with this much cloud cover dusk would be earlier than expected. I wasn’t the only one thinking this, my telephone rang, it was Gina and Guy. He had been ill the previous week and hadn’t been going as quickly as he would normally, and so he was one of those who been sent down the 100km route and had therefore finished early and was now warm, dry and well fed.

“We’re in the van. Where are you? We’ll come and fetch you.”

“I’m at South Barrule, just heading into Stoney Mountain” I sounded like I knew what I was doing, but I had figured out where I was literally five seconds earlier. “And thanks, but I’m going to the finish.”

Gina had tried to convince him that I was very unlikely to quit, but having been there Guy knew just how cold, wet and miserable it was out on the hills and thought I might be tempted. Actually, I was very tempted, but I had come this far, I was going to do this. If I could make the checkpoints in time of course.

Another one of me from last year. Those red and black signs
were a little less obvious in the fog this time!

Through the forest, much more fun now I could make it round all the corners and then to Archallagan and the last checkpoint. There was no-one there. I got the map out again, trying to piece together the sodden rags. This was definitely the right place. I phoned in just to check. Yes, I was right, but the last marshal had called it a day and left. I was technically passed the cut-off time but with no-one there to tell me to pull out I was free to continue.

The final section of the race was at a much lower altitude and this resulted in a noticeable improvement in the weather. Hardly blue skies and sunshine but at least it was rain I could see through and wind I could stand up in.

I got lost one final time as I came out of Chibbanagh Plantation and headed down the hill into Braaid. This isn’t the same Braaid as the one near where the routes split, it is only a little island with not that many places on it which need naming but they do like to repeat the names they do use. This is far from the only example and causes much confusion among those of us from across the water.
And another one from last year. The photographers had all
long since died of hypothermia by this point this year.

I struggled back up the hill in the fading light to where I had just come from and then set off in the right direction, nearly there.

There was a few miles of tarmac and then onto another track. My telephone rang again, it was Nigel, the race organiser. “You daft bugger, where are you?”

I had no idea, so described what I could see, really just a very narrow lane lined with ferns taller than me and a little stone bridge. This really was the final section. The official finish was at Kewaigue on the outskirts of Douglas to prevent us all racing through the city centre and causing chaos. Less than half a mile to go.

Waiting for me at the end was Nigel’s wife Lisa with the car. I was 13 minutes passed the official finish time, even counting the extra six minutes I was allowed, but I had made it around the full 100 (actually 103) miles and 17,000ft of climbing in one piece. Of the 60-odd riders, some odder than others, who had set off from the Grandstand over 15 hours earlier only 11 had achieved this. I was 11th and last but had a big sense of achievement.

I was bundled into the back of the vehicle shivering uncontrollably as soon as I stopped moving, and driven back through Douglas and up to the Grandstand, where Gina, Nigel and Jon were waiting. Jon had only finished about twenty minutes in front of me but in doing so had achieved his target of becoming the first, and so far only, person ever to complete the event on a singlespeed. There was also tea and a lot of cake.

That was a properly hard event, it is probably the toughest one-day event in the British Isles at present and quite a lot harder than most 24hr events. I’ll be back again next year. San Kapil, keen to improve on his 11th place In the 100km, had entered next year’s 100 mile event by the time we got on the ferry to head home!

Rob, Ritchey and Julian on the podium with Nigel the organiser.

Entries are open for next year at



100 miles.
1       Robert Freil
2       Richard Rothwell
3       Julian Corlett
4       Mark McPhillips
5       Adam Fowkes
6       Michael Schreuder
7       Paul Whittaker
8       Gavin Linfield
9       Iain Brough
10    Jon Hobson
11    Andrew Howett


1 Les Corran
2 Darren Murphy
3 Matt Price
4 David Lawrence
5 Martin Field
6 Kevan Geling
7 Derek McNutt
8 Lloyd Goodson
9 Mark Corkish
10 Nigel Lambley

I would like to say a big thank-you to a lot of people, XCRacer/Scimitar, Mt Zoom and Torq obviously. The lights provided by my other sponsor, USE/Exposure, weren’t used this time, although I did find myself on the final trail wishing that I’d put the lightweight Joystick in my last bagdrop.

Big thank-yous also to Nigel and the gang who organised the event and to the poor marshals out there freezing to death waiting for me, to Guy and Joan of course, Mr Overshoot and the chaps at the flour mill and especially to Gina.

Pictures are all (I think) from Vincent Campbell.