Stories From The Summer - National 24hr Time Trial

Another late one I’m afraid, this race took place way back in June. There’s enough races I haven’t yet written about to keep me going all winter, the Manx 100 and the 24hr World Championships being the two biggies.  So anyway, National 24hr Time Trial Championship race report coming up:

This is yet another story of me succumbing to peer pressure and doing something a bit silly because it seemed like a good idea in the pub.

As well as the lovely folks at XCRacer/Scimitar I also ride for a local road club, Sleaford Wheelers. I get the feeling that most of them think I’m a little bit mad doing long distance time trials but I keep nagging them all to come along and join in, safe in the knowledge that none of them ever will. However, at the end of last year Richard Horton called my bluff and decided that he would like to do a 24hr time trial in 2014.

He had prepared very well for it, plenty of long rides, two 12hr time trials the previous year and a 15hr night ride earlier in 2014. I had also done these things, and had won the Lincolnshire Road Racing Associations 12hr trophy in 2013 and, with Richard and Kath’s help, the Team 12hr trophy.

There were only two 24hr TTs to choose from this year, one of which clashed with the Megavalanche and the other was a fortnight after the European 24hr. Neither of them were ideal for me but I certainly wasn’t about to let Richard win the club trophy by default so I found myself heading down to Sussex two weeks after my last 24 wondering just how much this one was going to hurt and whether I would actually manage to keep going. It also turned out that the one Richard had picked for us was the National Championships, not bad for his first attempt.

Richard had managed to acquire some helpers for us, his fiancé Liz and friend Joe. The pit arrangements are very different to those in a 24hr MTB race, where you have a static pit which you pass every hour or so. The course for a long TT will generally consist of several different laps, usually a daytime lap which you will go around a few times, then a night-time lap which you will move onto at dusk before moving on to another daytime lap at dawn and then a ‘finishing circuit’, a much shorter lap which you will be moved onto as the 24hrs approaches so that the timekeepers can keep an eye on you and work out exactly how far you have gone.

All these different laps, which can be quite some distance apart, makes life very difficult for the pit crew, they have to know which lap you are on when and find a suitable meeting point on each. And of course because they will have to move around they must have at least one van and putting up tents and suchlike to make things more comfortable for them isn’t really an option. Feeding two or more riders can be a nightmare if they end up on different circuits

We had arrived in plenty of time and loaded all of the food, tools and spare bikes into Liz’s car. I was unsure as to my choice of bike for the race, my TT bike would undoubtedly be faster but it was unlikely that my back would be able to withstand 24hrs in that position. I had therefore brought along my drop-bar road bike as a back-up and was intending to use this at night, both to ease my back and also because the lights would fit those bars much better than the fancy aero bars of the TT bike. However, I discovered yet another useful adjustment for my Exposure MaxxD and managed to get it onto the aero bars and pointing in the right direction. I would put that on at dusk and see how I went, no need to swap to the other bike unless I had to.

As a back-up I had an Exposure Joystick as a helmet light, plenty bright enough for use on it’s own but not quite the battery life of the impressive MaxxD. I was wearing a conventional helmet, the aero one is fine for anything up to about 50 miles but it does get very warm in there and the visor makes it both very difficult to wipe one’s eyes and also to eat. Similarly I wasn’t wearing the skinsuit favoured by time trialists as I would need pockets for carrying around large amounts of food, and ease of access for pee-breaks.

Richard waiting his turn to start

The start looked pretty normal for a TT, half a dozen people milling about, along with the time keeper and pusher-offer, none of the crowds and noise and excitement I’m used to at a 24, all very calm and collected. With a ‘good luck’ from the time keeper I was away.

24s are very similar to all other time trials in that we all set off at one minute intervals so that there can be no slipstreaming, no helping each other along, we would all be on our own against the clock. I have said it before and I will probably say it again but I find that the longer the race the less I can remember about it. This is especially true of time trials where one piece of tarmac looks very much like another. The battle isn’t against your opponents, the course or even the tiredness in your legs, it is all in your head, being able to push against a target average speed for hour after hour after hour after hour, just the briefest pause to refuel and take on yet more food.

I was number 39 and Richard number 50 so we had set off 11 minutes apart and the gap had been pretty constant in the early part of the race, after about 6hrs we were still within about 10-15 minutes of each other on the road, it was going to be a very close race for our club championship..

We had a little bit of excitement in the evening of the first day. At about 7pm there was a fairly big car crash, a three car pile-up which blocked most of the A26. I was one of the last to pass the site before the accident and so continued round for another lap, Richard arrived shortly after it and was sent off somewhere else entirely, the organisers having to make it up as they went along.

I arrived back at the scene about 45 minutes later and lost a bit of time as I picked my way through the maze of ambulances, fire engines, wrecked cars and, of more immediate concern to me, the broken glass strewn across the carriageway before following Richard and the others onto the new circuit.

Liz and Joe coped admirably with having us 20-odd miles apart for a couple of hours, but it must have been a nightmare for the organisers. They obviously knew the exact length of every circuit and had the marshals positioned at exactly the right spots on them but they had do a bit of ad-hoc marshal-shuffling and then a lot of recalculating to work out exactly how far everyone had travelled on the new diversion.

More annoying for me was that I had lost my point of reference, Liz and Joe had no idea had far either Richard or I had gone and which of us was leading the other. This was important as he was the man I really wanted to beat, my road club had introduced a 24hr trophy for the first time and we were both keen to be the first name on it. The Lincolnshire Road Racing Association don’t currently have an official trophy for 24hrs but there is growing enthusiasm for the introduction of one and it would be nice to be first on that too. Richard had been doing some research into performances in this event by LRRA members and the best one he had found was someone from Bourne, who’s name I have forgotten, who rode a distance I can’t quite recall (three hundred and ninety something miles maybe?) in a year which has temporarily slipped my mind. There was an unofficial record there to be beaten and we both wanted that too. 400 miles was therefore my target.

As darkness fell and we moved onto the night circuit things started to look like they were going my way. I was still making good progress, my speed was good and my refuelling stops reasonably short. I had one slightly longer than normal pause at about midnight to change to some warmer clothes as the temperature really was starting to drop then. Richard was starting to struggle a bit, he appeared to be going more slowly and was certainly taking longer stops but thanks to the diversion we still didn’t know exactly how we were getting on.

Despite the obvious discomfort he was in he nevertheless kept going. Everyone will have a rubbish period at some point in a 24 and one just has to keep going through it before it gets better.

The sun coming up is always the best bit in one of these races, not just because it is really pretty, but because it is an enormous boost to morale. I do start to think in slightly odd ways though, “5am, nearly there”. No, not really there’s still 7 hours of riding to do!

I had my own slow patch about 7am which lasted an hour or so before I was able to pick up the pace again, hoping it hadn’t cost me too much time.
I spend a lot of my time in long time trials doing mental arithmetic, working out what speeds I need to be averaging in order to be able to hit my target distance in the remaining time available. There isn’t nearly as much on the course to pay attention to as there is in an MTB race and it keeps my brain busy during the endless hours of pedalling, gives me something to think about. The maths would be a lot easier if I was properly awake, rather than twenty-odd hours worth of tired, but I think the thing which would do the most to simplify the process would be the decimalisation of time. Anyway, I had managed to work out that it was going to be very close as to whether I would hit my 400 mile target or not, it was possible but not guaranteed.

I had managed to beat my previous best after about 20hrs. I had only ever done one 24hr time-trail before, way back in 2009. That race was my first ever 24 of any kind and I was completely unprepared for it, I had done one 12hr the previous year and nothing else over 6hrs, ever. I really struggled and even fell asleep on the bike at one point, on the main A road into Telford at about 4am. That was quite scary so I had stopped for a proper sleep (ie. Curled up on a car seat rather than on a bike while still in motion) which lasted about 20 minutes. I also remember the relentless rain that day and the general unpleasantness of the whole thing. It didn’t put me off though.

This time things were going a lot more smoothly, for me anyway, Richard was still suffering but was still going, determined to make it to the end. The final stages of a 24 are usually surprisingly fast, the psychological boost one gets as the end approaches does wonders and in the last couple of hours I was back over 20mph again. It may not sound fast to the 10 mile racers amongst you but I was really pleased with that. I had even worked out that it might be enough to get me passed the magic 400 mile mark.

Something else always surprises me about a 24; In the later stages I can be flying, pushing as hard as I would in a short XC race, the last couple of hours absolutely flat out. It really is one of the best feelings, to be that far into a race and still going at that speed, the penultimate lap at Finale earlier in the year for example. However, as soon as I cross the line my brain just decides that it has had enough and shuts everything down, I can’t stand, never mind walk, I just curl up into a heap and don’t move for ages, completely unable to do anything.

Something very similar happened this time, but before the race had even finished. I was hurtling along at about 20mph, and had been for some time, watching the distance on my GPS. At about 23h50m the 400 mile mark ticked over and my brain just said “that’s that done” and stopped.

I knew it was just in the brain but I could not get anything to work properly again, my leg were dead, no power, no strength, no speed, nothing. Staying upright was nearly as much of a challenge as was moving forwards. I limped around, doing single figure speeds until my time was up.

I pulled over and collapsed in a heap at the roadside. I had no idea where I was or how to get back to the venue, my van and some food. Some lovely kind people from Guernsey Road Club found me curled up in the hedge bottom trying to remember who I was and how to stand up. They bundled me into the back of a car and took me back to the headquarters. I then resumed laying a heap for the next hour or so while I tried to work out why my left leg would no longer bend.

Because of the confusion caused by the change of route the official results took a lot longer than usual to be published, it must have been a nightmare for the organisers to work out who had gone which way and how far each route was.

Anyway, Richard had covered 336.22 miles despite the obvious pain he was in, which is pretty impressive for a first attempt. I had just beaten the 400 mile mark with 401.27 miles, which is certainly a new PB and club record and, as far as Richard and I can tell, a new Lincolnshire record. I wait to be corrected by Brian on the latter. I had finished 21st in the National Championship and Richard 38th Also, a quick mention to the other Lincolnshire rider in this event, Pete Holland from Lincoln Wheelers who rode a very impressive 320.71 miles on a trike!


I would like to say a huge thank-you to the usual suspects; Accelerade for keeping me fed and watered, USE/Exposure for lighting the way and Mt Zoom for their assistance in turning a fairly light bike into a very light bike.
However, the biggest thank-yous must go to Liz and Joe for keeping me going through the whole thing and always being in the right place at the right time.

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