Relentless 24 2015 – Haggis, neeps and Tatties!!
As our battered old van puts down the snaking road that splits Glen Coe in two I still do marvel at the mountains and skyline that is propped up in god’s masterpiece. Of the million eyeballs that have taken a mental and personal picture and slotted it away in the “wow & cherished “department I now mark this stretch of Scotland’s finest with the cold, dark realisation that if I am travelling through the Glen Coe at this time of the year (October) then I am entering a world of pain, torment, darkness and two wheeled hell……………………..It’s Relentless time. Slightly later than expected but it’s here and the racing looks good.
So the annual October migration to Fort William has began and as the sun kissed mountain roof tops of Glen Coe disappears into a winter blue smiling sky as we arrive at the Race HQ and dig in for the weekend. I had snuck off for a cheeky wee lap of the course while the glamorous self supported race head quarters were being put up (our flimsy red Gazebo) by Lisa. As I climbed up the High Road a weird sensation was massaging my body. My back was heating up in an unexplainable way, salty tears were running down my forehead and my weak attempt at a beard had become hopelessly itchy……………….would you Adam and eve it, the sun was out and the local wildlife were wearing shorts and bikinis. I squinted through my own waterfall of excess sweat and took in the sun kissed hills and glens. Bathed in a golden glow and matched with an Azure blue. The warmth of a nation breathes down on me and ignited my passion of where I come from and who I am.
Come the morning of the race and we were both staring out of our B&B with big sad faces. The wind was blowing a hooley and the rain was dancing to a samba beat. Our window pane was a porthole to despair. An entrance to the real Scotland. Who was I trying to kid. This is October big man. Lucky it wasn’t snow! Sun kissed hill tops my a**e as we drove up to the Nevis Range. We hoped that by a miracle our Gazebo had survived the onslaught of Hurricane “bawbag” and stood loud and proud. Aye right. Crumpled in a heap like a spaced out Mike Tyson when Buster Douglas sparked him out was our Gazebo. Luckily the kind folks from Garage bikes tried to sort it out and put our scattered kit away. Again these races bring out the best in human nature. I will always be dumbfounded by the kindness of strangers and it always makes me aware that if I can, I will help out someone. Be it a big or small contribution. I know it can help. So there we are now on to plan B. Pitting from the back of the van.
As we rolled onto the start line I wished Lisa all the best and hoped to see her at some point throughout the race or back at the pits. She was riding this beast on a single Speed so I prayed to the biking gods for her safe arrival back at the finishing line. Twelve noon the next day. The course had been shortened from last year’s WEMBO . It was around a 12km trail with about 315m of climbing per lap. But the problem for me was some of the trail. It dragged and sucked the life out of the wheels eventually taking your soul too. Sometime I felt that the claggy earth was grabbing the front wheel trying to pull the bike down into the dark pit of endurance biking hell. Silently it devoured the tyres, whispering to your conscious that it’s good to give up; it’s good just to rest, a relentless pursuit of grinding you down. Like Chinese water torture or a constantly yapping dog. Just wearing you down, every crank turn, just wearing you down, every lap, just wearing you down.
As we got into it Lisa had a bad tumble and injured her wrist and backside. This also knocked her confidence and after a lot of soul searching she decided to call it a day. As for myself I kept on plugging away, trying to devour the midnight hours and keep the pain at bay. For me there were parts of the course that destroyed me. One was the Green downhill climb on the final leg of the course. The last part of the climb just broke me on the Sunday morning. As I slowly raised my eyes from staring blankly at my stem and handlebars I caught glimpses of several distant hunched riders quietly turning their cranks , silently suffering together. These were no team riders as their souls ebbed away, pulled by the gravity of the climb. A shell like creature hunched over a contraption for pain. A two wheeled nemesis that was working with nature to grind you down and deliver your darkest thoughts, through the mail and on to your mother. These were the drilled out zombie eyed solo pioneers that had started the weekend full of fight but now like myself was giving way to our darkest thoughts and demons. Silly this but it was also the small parts of this course that got too me. The little short, sharp, rocky climbs or the pointless detour through the skills section that just annoyed me when I was tired. This was all part of the game. It’s the small things that can break a man. It isn’t supposed to be easy. My 3am sickness wobble that floored me was due to the fact that I had not eaten enough on the last lap and my body had started to reject any food that it was given. I was slumped in a rickety old chair feeling shattered and sick and Lisa was spoon feeding me rice pudding. She is a lucky lady. I had to lie down for a bit as I was physically shattered but I got my groove on and ventured back onto the biking ring road that is Relentless and all the pain it dishes out. As the dawn unleashed it’s painted master class, a collage of pink, orange and blue. The air had a hint of heat running through it as this spectrum of colours wrapped itself around you and warmed your insides with a smile. I just love the dawn lap with nature stirring and bleary eyed riders smiling. If you do take the plunge and enter a 24hr race be it solo or in a team. Take the dawn lap. It will remind you of how lucky you are.
As the clock was on its final countdown to twelve I had finished my 17th lap and was contemplating getting another one in but time and logistic were my enemy. Everything had been packed away and I would have needed a lot of energy to combat this final onslaught. Finally a solution was offered that sealed the deal. The chance of a bacon roll (with brown sauce) and my bike washed. Who could refuse that!!
As I retired my dib and bike, my food was brought to me and I devoured it and my right hand. This was and imho is the hardest 24hr solo mountain bike race in the UK. I have raced it a couple of times with injuries and mechanicals getting in the way but for me it’s a great mountain bike course paired with a great attitude. With all sport you have to have the good and the bad to test your character and resilience. I know I could have done another 3-4 laps but I am still on a massive learning curve when it comes to endurance racing. My pit stops are way too long but we both are racing self supported. Always have done but we are looking into that as one of us will race the other pit. We just have to find the races that suit us. I also need to handle my early hour wobbles a lot better. Also my training and fitness needs to take another step up but it’s finding the time and getting the knowledge from someone to push me in the right direction. Still I will always be back as I love the area, I love the drive up and if we are stopping at the Clachaig Inn on the way home then it’s a no brainer. I love their beer selection!!