A Night With the Demons – Relentless 24hhr Race Report
And so it begins. The mad world of 24hr racing with all of its ups and downs, side stories and complications , madness and heroics , pain and suffering. It was 11am on a cold wet Saturday morning and I had just met some fabulous folk who roll with the Team JMC ethic. I have put names to faces that I had only seen and read about and met some new riders who inspired me to push myself and never give up. The pit was ready, the bike was ready and my wife Lisa was ready (to boot me where the sun doesn’t shine if I got lazy)………….. was I ready?
As the mountain side yawned and stirred the swirling sky with that grey dreich Scottish welcome that dampens even the happiest ray of sunshine. The Nevis Range car park as always is turned into a carnival of pointy gazebos and bobble hats. It’s like the starting of the drum roll as the competitor’s eye up rivals and start their own butterfly dance in the pit of their full stomachs.
As the idle chatting and murmuring quieted down, the nerves and anticipation started to kick in. The clock struck 12 and we were off. The front of the marauding pack spat forward like a lizards tongue and breathed in their first lung full of 24hr race air. The jaws of hell had opened and welcomed everyone with open arms barbed with the needles of pain and self doubt.
The first lap is always my least favourite lap due to the brawl of riders jockeying for positions leading up to the first bite of downhill singletrack. As we all snaked down the rocky trail that lead us to the small wooded rock garden I was in a line of 4 bikers. As we carved through and over the first rocky obstacles the rider who was leading decided that he did not like the line he had chosen and decided to stop in the middle of the track. That was the cue for the second rider to hit him and the third rider to swerve and miss him. This brought the situation to me in a fast forward, missing the entanglement and hitting the rocks with a force that sent me up in the air and onto the pointy hard ground. This was a sore one. As I gingerly got up and dusted myself down I noticed that I had left some of my skin on the floor below. After that I knew I had to get around the course quick time and drop the rock garden mental hoodoo like an improper fraction as that could put a black eye in the game of confidence.
As the afternoon wore into dusk this time of day complicates my riding as the grey daylight swirls and pollutes the dark swooping curtain of night that is trying to smother and reclaim the mountain side. My irises are expanding and contracting like Jock Poo Pong Mcplop’s bagpipes in a Brigadoon showdown as the bike carves out a ghostly figure in the ever decreasing light. As I poured my body and bike into a silhouette carved shadow playground of an undulating screaming rock encrusted hollow. Nature’s resilience used the surrounding tree’s natural huddle to crush the last fading light out of my eyes and drop me into pools of darkness. The night was upon us.
The hypnotic grind of my spinning cranks was making my femurs dizzy as I cocooned myself into my solo bubble and confronted my mental violence. Solo riding paints a desolate picture. An alien landscape that is silent as outer space itself. With an ever changing trail due to the deep darkness and inspired shadows I played my weary carcass into the witching hours. This being Halloween I am afraid my pumpkin head has been scalped by the mutant dark forest soldiers of the 24hr Mtb race clock and the insides have been eaten with blunt knifes.
This ungodly time is my 24hr riding nemesis. I just try and hold on and fight the demons that plague me. I was fading fast and my AM wobble was not far away. As I spun my bike around and into the team pit my body was rejecting food, my heart was rejecting motivation and my head was just rejecting. This is the time where you need your pit crew. I was ready to lie down and surrender my soul, embrace the white flag and hand in my notice but my ever strong pit suffering wife Lisa and Team JMC’s Budge had other ideas. Some hot food, a flickering fire and a couple of words gently massaged into my ears and my sorry arsed wailing (which entertained Tom) somehow lifted me to my bike and onto another lap in the dark, wet brooding forest that is Relentless.
My battle was now with my head. I could spin these cranks all night but the 24hr cycling demons had infiltrated my mind. My longing for sunrise was my only saviour. I started to hallucinate too. What was a huge big man with a long black beard and long bow was in fact a tree. A baby deer that looked like Bambi was in-fact a fern. On the last climb I noticed loads of mice scurrying around on the trail eating the food that the riders had dropped or discarded. I even noticed some dead flat ones that were obviously either too slow or they had stepped in some left over gel and it had acted like glue when they tried to run away. Anyways as the dark, deep blue of the gritty night faded slowly into a lighter friendlier sky. I could now make out the mountain and the branches of the trees. I was through the night tunnel and had made it to the next day.
As I churned out more laps I was so glad that I had a great pit. Lisa and Budge had worked tirelessly throughout the night looking after myself and Tom Hodgkinson and with their help had brought us both through the hard stuff and onto the winning straight. It would be pointless to give up now. All that hard work by myself and the pit to keep me going. Just keep eating, smiling, drinking and pedaling and I will be ok.
As I finished my 19th lap I pulled up and contemplated riding my last one. I had promised myself, Jon Entwistle and Lisa that I was going to hit the 20 mark. All that training and guidance from Jon was making a difference and I felt a surge of happiness and contentment that I had finally hit my mark. But what really got me through the dark times was my want to dedicate this race to Terri Cross. Lisa’s Mum who sadly passed away a few months ago. This one is for you Terri. I hope you are proud of me and of course Lisa for her unerring support.
For Terri X