So, this month saw my race debut. In short, it was awesome. In long…
Things didn’t start out too well. I’d managed to miss the important travel news on the Mountain Mayhem website concerning the M50, so we set off blissfully oblivious, guided by the GPS. We were supposed t0 get off at junction 2, but junction 2 was closed. Instead we had a 15 mile diversion as we headed to junction 3, then had to loop back down the M50. This, combined with the grim skies ,made me somewhat cranky.
We found the Chase Trails camp, waited for the rain to stop, and set up our home away from home.
Confession time: I’m not a huge fan of camping. And as we settled down in our freezing tent (yes, it was freezing in June), my slight apathy towards camping turned into full blown loathing. I didn’t actually sleep that night. That’s not an exaggeration – I literally couldn’t sleep as I was so cold. Fortunately I managed to get a couple of hours of sleep on the Saturday morning once the sun had risen and Toast gave me his sleeping bag to go over my own. I woke up still sleep deprived, aching, and soon added ‘screaming’ to that as I found an earwig in my sportsbra. No, camping wasn’t growing on me.
It was hard to be too grumpy though – the atmosphere at Mountain Mayhem is fantastic, and anybody complaining about the toilets or the catering really needs to go to a music festival. I once paid £4.80 for an ice-cream at Donington one year… and not recently either. We pottered about for a bit, then went to cheer on Andrew, who would be starting the 24 hour race for our team. Rather cruelly, Mountain Mayhem starts with a rather long run before the competitors can get on their bikes. Fortunately it’s just the first riders in the teams that have to do this, so once Andrew had finished his (rather respectable) lap, it was Petra’s turn. The weather turned a bit iffy, and she was treated to a few downpours. Meanwhile, I grabbed something to eat and waited for my turn.
I started to feel faintly nauseous. I had that weird, cold hollow feeling you get from not having slept properly, but more concerning were the PA announcements. Apparently Oliver wouldn’t be returning to the course, because he’d been hospitalised.. People were going too fast and having accidents, so could people please slow down… There’d been a broken collarbone and a broken ankle.
This was less than four hours into the race!
Petra came in slightly worse for wear, and I was off like a speeding gudgeon! To celebrate my race debut, the heavens promptly opened and started pissing it down. I was in the timed Kenda Climb, where I did a mighty 1 minute 24 seconds – not the slowest, I checked. And I would have been at least a second faster if I hadn’t have slowed down to high five those meddling kids! By this point I was soaked through, with my sodden 3/4 clinging to my knees and making movement even harder.
The course was… awkward. 10.3 miles long, with 1400ft of climbing. What made it hard was a combination of the mud and other riders. The first bit of singletrack was fairly short and easy, and I smugly dropped over a rooty step with ease as other riders dismounted or tried ridiculously convoluted lines around it. It was still fairly hairy though just for the sheer pressure of other riders shouting that they were passing. The next singletrack section had a particularly slimey descent – I’d say the majority of riders I saw here dismounted. A few rode it, one not entirely successfully, but, I along with the majority, gingerly minced our way down, slipping and sliding, holding the trees for support.
So it carried on – the subsequent sections of singletrack were quite a bit easier, and it was here I felt most comfortable and confident. I still got overtaken on occasion, but generally could keep up with people. Unfortunately that left the rest of the course – long climbs and straight, rutted descents. Some of the climbs were an absolute nightmare – again, because of the mud. It was like walking the wrong way up a escalator – soft, sludgy and plasticine-like mud took away a lot of grip and sapped my energy. And the descents… let’s just say I walked a couple, went down one dabbing my foot on the side, and rode 90% before practicing some ‘EXTREME RESTING’ on the side of the track, accompanied by my now obligatory yelp. It’s kind of a cross between a Wilhelm Scream and the cry of a startled guinea pig. I’ve gotten quite good at falling off, however, and my first reaction was to pull the Professor off the track before checking to see if we were both OK. One rider asked me if I was OK, and sped onwards after he surmised that I wasn’t dead. The next rider, seeing myself in the popular EXTREME RESTING pose of ‘upside down in some ferns and brambles’ said, “Get up, love” – which may have been cheery encouragement, but sounded like sneering condescension. Admittedly, it’s a bit hard to tell when you’ve got a face full of bracken.
I stood up, located a source of bleeding (one small scratch on my elbow), decided that it had been a splendid adventure and it was now time to continue. As I checked the Professor, I heard and saw two more riders fall on the same descent (not near my, I was totally off the course at that point!). Looking through Rob Crayton’s photographs revealed more comedy dismounts on the same hill. In hindsight, it made me feel a lot better.
At the time though, I was starting to feel decidedly stroppy. I was soaked through, my back wheel was sliding through mud like a crazed weasel (note to self: when husband says, “We should put a mud tyre on the back”, listen to him), I’d fallen off, I’d run out of water, and to add insult to injury, I thought I’d unexpectedly finished far sooner than I’d thought, when in fact the major climb was still to come.
As I passed through the arena again I passed some of my teammates, who shouted encouragement at me. This spurred me on, and I decided I wouldn’t have a breather… where they could see me. I carried on up the hill, went around the corner and prepared to stop… and a random spectator shouted more cheery encouragement at me. Bugger! Will have to carry on!
The climb up to the obelisk has some amazing views, and by this point the sun had finally decided to make an appearance. I promptly stopped along with the other people faking mechanicals to take a breather.
“My saddle! Yes, it’s a saddle. It’s got a quick release lever… yes, it still works. Oooh, I can make my saddle go up and down. If I look really intense, people will never know that I’m skiving!”
“I’ll turn my bike upside down, no-one will question me!”
My fake mechanical was poking the small island’s worth of mud and grass that had accumulated around my mechs. I mastered the art of looking stern and professional whilst discreetly admiring the view and waiting for my legs to stop screaming. I feel this might be an important lesson to learn.
My lap was nearly over. I’d been overtaken by singlespeeding charity racers in sumo suits and, the ultimate insult… by a unicyclist.
As I rode through the stadium again, random strangers shouting encouragment and asking for high fives (hello again, kids!), I suddenly switched from “Gah, this is the worst idea ever, I’m never doing this again!” to “THIS IS AWESOME LOOK AT MY RIDE TO GLOOOORRRRY!” I spotted Mr Toast and Jez, who were cheering me on (I think, they could have been saying anything at this point), so I sped up, overtook a couple of riders and handed the baton onto Julien. My lap was done, and it was time for water, flapjacks and rocky roads.
I’m not entirely sure what I did at that point, but I know I was there to cheer Julien in and cheer Mr Toast out. Well, I say ‘cheer Julien in’, what I actually mean is he shouted, “I’m never riding a bike again”, to which I yelled, “LE PETIT ESCARGOT!”, which I learned from Charlotte and Jessica. Toast went out, and I escorted Julien back to the camp.
I think I managed to get a shower during Mr Toast’s lap. Mountain Mayhem has many fine points, including the abundant supply of free shower gel:
The showers, however, were rubbish. Allow me to demonstrate the showers with this handy timeline and the use of emoticons.
0 seconds: Button pressed. Dribble of water falls out of the showerhead -_-
4 seconds: Dribble of water turns into a full strength blast of water. Cold water. O_O
7 seconds: The water is still cold. Q_Q
9 seconds: Wait… is it getting warmer? :/
13 seconds: It’s warm! 😀
15 seconds: It’s stopped. Press the button again. Repeat. -_-
It was remarkably like being in a Skinner Box, as I tried to uncover what behaviour would give me access to more than 2 seconds of hot water. Press the button repeatedly? No, that just leaves it in the dribble state. Leave it for a bit before pressing it? No. No wonder the showers had sizable queues! 😛
It was now pretty much dark as Jez and I made our way to the arena to cheer in Mr Toast. Unfortunately Mr Toast had got in ten minutes earlier and was grumpily waiting as he was heckled by fellow riders for being a billy-no-mates. Jez yelled, “I’M COMING, AL!”, and the passover was completed, with Al taking comfort that at least the ten minutes had been added onto the start of Jez’s time rather than the end of his own. Not that he’s competitive or owt, you understand.
It was now the turn of the mentalist night riding contingent, and time for me to get some sleep. I’d learned some lessons from the previous night – before we had been lying directly on the groundsheet, but we did actually have a sleeping mat. That came out, and the spare towels were used as a pillow. I also wore an Iron Maiden t-shirt and hoodie in addition to my thermal baselayer, socks and tracksuit bottoms combo. I slept like a rock, and when I awoke to a sunny Sunday morning I decided camping really wasn’t that bad after all. In fact, I think I could do a second lap!
Toast woke up bleary eyed and de-hydrated, and was nominated to do the next lap after Liam. After riding up to the arena in my jeans and feeling decidedly creaky, I surmised that perhaps that second lap of mine wasn’t such a good idea. Eating rocky roads and a bacon sandwich though… that’s a GREAT idea!
After Mr Toast plucky youngster Mini-Bave(TM) went out and rode our fastest laptime – 1 hour 8 minutes. Yes, he did it in less than half the time it took me to get around. D’oh. Ian was nearly our last rider, but after it was communicated to him that Dave wanted to do another lap, he raced over the line and passed the baton with 3 minutes to spare. And off Dave went!
There was unintentional hilarity after the announcer started the end of race countdown a minute early, with many racers speeding up, thinking that they’d be passing the line just after the 24. The mistake was realised and the announcer was yelling at the racers that he’d cocked up, and they slowed t0 a snail’s pace (or in some cases stopped completely). Once the clock hit 24 hours, Pat Adams started shaking the hands of each finishing racer as they passed the line.
We watched the time and tried to calculate when Dave would be passing certain spots to offer him encouragement. We missed him going up through the arena, but got him on the way down. As he passed by, he shouted, “I CAN’T STRAIGHTEN MY LEGS, CRAMP!” and continued speeding down the hill.
All there was left to do was to collect our medals and watch Jessica as she ‘acquired’ some Mountain Mayhem banners.
I’m very pleased with my medal. As a child, I loved the Olympics. OK, I mainly loved it because they’d show the Animalympics cartoon, but I loved the idea of people doing well and getting medals. Sadly I was a spectacularly inept child when it came to sports – timid, lacking in confidence, and never really getting involved. I never even got participation medals, although I did get merit points for being the only girl in Clive house in my year who would a) do the 15oom run, and b) the front crawl in the Swimming Medley. But it’s not the same as having a medal. It’s made of metal and everything!
Fortunately I managed to resist the urge to wear it constantly for the following week.
So, a very memorable and enjoyable weekend (not the bit with the earwig though). I raced the same course as Liam Killeen and Guy Martin (“By ‘eck, chief!”), I didn’t break anything, and I wasn’t the slowest. I decided that I would definitely do Mountain Mayhem next year.
And Sleepless in the Saddle this August.