Sleepless in the Saddle 2007
Our first attempt at an endurance race had ended ignominiously in retirement after 70 miles, when our target had been 120. So having failed to complete a 12 hour race, obviously the logical thing to do is enter a 24 hour event and see how that goes. Working in our favour was a comprehensive upgrading of bikes and lights for all of us, and the experience of D2D which taught us to get to the venue more than two hours before the start of the race.
We left London on a Friday morning in August. The team was the three of us who had done D2D, plus Steve who had cycled across Costa Rica with Eldrik the previous year. The race was in Derbyshire, and after an easy drive up there we found the venue and set up camp. An early mishap was the back of deckchair falling apart, pitching Steve unexpectedly out the back of it. A second mishap was that Eldrik had drastically over-estimated the size of his tent. If it was genuinely a two-man tent, it was for two very small men. I slept in the back of the van.
Race morning saw us up early, and out on the course for a pre-ride. Here, Steve’s bad luck continued with his crank unexpectedly and very unhelpfully falling off after only a couple of miles. Someone with a set of Allen keys soon passed by, so Steve put the crank back on and carried on. Mechanicals aside we were feeling good, and as 2pm and the start of the race approached, I hardly felt terrified at all.
The race started with a Le Mans-style run to the bikes. Eldrik took it on, and got us underway a few minutes after 2pm. Andrew took the second stint and I went out third. We were each doing two laps, and I did mine in just under two hours. I had a fun ride, overtaking a few people and managing not to fall off in the single-track. There was one steep descent that gave me the fear on both laps, but I made it down unscathed. By the time I got back for Steve to go out it was about 7pm.
As Eldrik went out for his second pair of laps it was getting dark. The day had been beautiful and sunny and it looked like in the middle of the worst summer for years we might actually avoid rain. Andrew got his two laps out the way, and it was my turn to get out on course again at about 12.30am. It was a whole different atmosphere now – the friendly banter of the early hours had been replaced by short and to the point on-your-rights, and the occasional “alright?” when passing fallen riders. About twenty minutes into my first lap, to my horror, I felt some spots of rain. I couldn’t believe it – it had been such a nice day. I hoped it would pass, and it was still dry in the forest sections, but by the time I was in the open air again it was noticeably heavier. By the end of the lap it was a steady drizzle.
The second lap saw the rain get heavier and heavier, and parts of the course were pretty treacherous. In a set of S-bends swinging into and out of a small depression I misjudged my gears, ran out of momentum, fell off and slid muddily back into the bottom of the depression. But other than that I made it around again with no problems. Steve looked perhaps not as enthusiastic to start his stint as he had the first time, and it turned out he had a nightmare when his lights failed half way around. After a lap of frequent offs he decided he wasn’t up for another one, and Eldrik went out again, having hurriedly got ready after being woken half an hour earlier than he’d expected.
By the time Eldrik got back from his third stint, the rain had stopped and dawn had broken. We’d made it through the night, and we had just over eight hours to go. But Andrew hadn’t slept well and said he couldn’t ride again without a bit more sleep. None of the rest of us were fit to ride again, so we ended up having a two hour break with no-one out on track. This was a bit disappointing, but we’d always thought it was possible – in a 24 hour race, problems are inevitable.
After the two hour break, it was my turn again. This lap would prove to be my last – I was starting to get major knee pains, and a cramped sleep in the back of the van probably hadn’t helped. By the end of the lap I knew I couldn’t do another, so I handed over to Steve a lap early. He did his two laps with no problems, relieved that it wasn’t dark and he didn’t need a light any more. When he got back Andrew was fit to go, and by the time he got back from his stint, there were just 45 minutes left until the end of the 24 hours.
Eldrik went out for a fourth stint, and he was a man on a mission. Somehow he managed to put in a 40 minute lap – the fastest of any of us and even faster than his very first lap, 23 hours previously. He got around with two minutes to spare before the 24 hours elapsed, and set off for another. After 24 hours and 48 minutes, he was back and our race was done. We’d done 24 laps. Had it not been for the time with no-one on track, we would have done at least another two and might have squeezed a third in. We were pretty pleased with the result of our first 24 hour race.