Monday, 19 January 2009
This weekend saw my third attempt at the Strathpuffer 24 race. It's a really brutal race, 17 hours of darkness and almost guaranteed bad weather. In the past it's never gone to plan. The first year I rode a fixed with too big a gear, and then last year other commitments pretty much kept me off the bike for the three months in the run up to it. This year the plan was to go steady and use it as an excuse for a big ride in bad conditions.
Mel and I flew up and hired a Mazda Bongo from Highland Campervans. While this was supposed to be a cheap decision Mel was so taken with the van that, well, it might end up being very expensive in the long term. Last year the camp site got so waterlogged everyone had to get towed on to the site, as well as off! This year the camping was on hard standing just off the fire road climb that starts the course. After re-assembling the new 69er we hooked up with the Savalas boys for some beer and dinner.
Saturday morning arrived in suspiciously nice weather, everyone who had checked the weather forecast didn't expect it to last. The race kicked off with the traditional Le-mans start. I jogged to my bike and was really careful not to over exert myself this early on. Phil the Horse shot past on his fixed 69er shortly followed by Anja who was also racing solo single speed, normally I would ride at the same pace as them so, again, I had to make a conscious effort not to chase them. The first climb is several miles long so gave me plenty of opportunity to set in to a rhythm. I was wearing a lot of clothing, as I was expecting the weather to turn bad at some stage ad didn't want to waste time changing. I unzipped all the vents on my Endura Stealth jacket and that did the trick.
Half way through the second lap I stopped to pick up a rubber duck from a pond. Number 8, lucky for some. It netted me a spot prize of some lights.
I always say that a solo race is broken into two halves: the first and last half, and the middle half. The first and last quarters are all about conservation. The middle half is where the race is won. Sticking to that principle I made sure I rode well within my limits for the first six hours. I felt comfortable and just kept on trucking, no mistakes. At about 4 it started getting dark. I had plenty of juice for my Exposure Lights so I switched them on straight away rather than risk a mistake in the shadows.
Strathpeffer has a special sort of mud. It cuts through brake blocks more than anywhere else I have ever been. I've heard of people go through eight sets of pads in a day. To counteract this I had fitted the XT brakes from my old 69er, they are pretty tatty but, for some reason, for a given pad manufacturer, the blocks seem to last longer. Perhaps the pistons retract further? This year the course wasn't so muddy as there had obviously been a lot of work done on the trail. However after about 9 hours the first set were down to the metal, and on the front they had gone through the spring and one of the pistons popped out at a funny angle. I rode half a lap like that. The long fast descent was somewhat sketchy. I swapped the pads, put on a midlayer, filled my Wingnut and grabbed some more Mule bars and trail mix. Fifteen minutes wasted.
Rain turned to snow. The snow got heavier. Then the wind picked up. Good news I thought - people will be stopping. I put in a little more effort.
I had asked Mel not to let me know where I was in the rankings until after 12 hours (10pm). She told me I was leading. There had been an announcement that there were special prizes for Single speed soloists, so I assumed I was leading the sub category. I asked where I was overall... I found out later, there had been quite a race between myself and Twinky Dave from On-One, but I never saw him on the course and didn't know anything about it at the time!
The hours ticked by and I kept on on pushing the 34:18. Still no mistakes. I had a bottle of flat Coke at midnight, changed to dry gloves and grabbed my Shuffle. The tunes made a nice change from just the noise of the wind.
About 4am I had to change brake blocks again. My hands were so numb that this seemingly simple task took 20 minutes and my swearing woke Mel up.
6 am saw more Coke. 8 am someone finally told me I was still winning. After that I stepped up the effort again only to be slowed down when I smacked my light and loosened the cleat. The mud covering my saddle bag, and my numb hands made it a nightmare to get at my multi tool. I got in at at quarter to ten to find out I couldn't be caught, but opted to head out for one last lap- this is still training after all!
I got some nice prizes but the highlight is a cool tankard for winning the SS solo.
All in it was a brutal race, but that only makes it more rewarding having finally beaten it!
Photo stolen from birchwood t's Flickr. More photos to follow if I find any good ones!
PS. I just heard that I also set the record for the most laps ever! (although the course was longer last year!)