As the sea mist swirled around the rusty diesel stained funnel of our ferry and the thin rain secretly hung just below the clouds thoughts of racing on the Isle of Man excited me. I enjoy racing at the UK Championships. No matter where it is situated. It does what it says on the tin. You race the best the UK has to offer in 24hr racing on that day. Who turns up? That’s not my problem. It is what it is on the start line. But perusing the start list whilst bobbin along and getting down with Captain Birdseye on the Irish Sea for three and half hours. My eyes met some heavyweight legendary names of the UK 24hr MTB scene. Locking horns with the likes of Kelly, Suttie, Smith, Beale, Forsyth, Freireich, Jones, Nadin, Holland, Waring, Cox and Kirby floats my boat. It fuels the passion for fannying about on a two-wheeled pain inducer for 24hrs.
Myself and Lisa were both racing (Lisa in the Single Speed Category) so our pit was self sufficient for the race. This is not ideal but we are used to it. Self sufficient means you become a boy scout for the duration. You cook, clean, fix, hunt, gather, swear, forage and, as delirium sets in, sing around an imaginary campfire. Kumbaya my Lord, oh Lord, Lordy, Lordy.
After arriving, signing on and receiving a fantastic goody bag we found our B&B, fed ourselves and tried to get an early night. As morning spewed a grey, wet and sorrowful picture all over the Isle I was relieved that I had packed some waterproofs and winter gear. It’s now robotic when packing for races as the UK’s weather patterns are so unpredictable that I trust no one who holds a plastic sticky cloud in one hand and a smiling sun in the other. So after a full Manx we were off to the Conrhenny Plantation to ride our bikes. The weather was brutally cold and wetter than an otter’s pocket. After setting up pits, bikes, sorting food strategies, building an ark and surviving a biblical flood through our pit area the race start was upon us. The course lap was short. 5k laps were the order of the day and to be honest I thought this would be a mind melt BUT I was wrong. The course had a lot of good singletrack that was a mix of roots, dirt and blue kitty litter trail centre asphalt. There were short climbs and one long fire road climb that crushed the knees and lungs the longer the day/night progressed. As the day wore on and transcended into night and beyond I never got bored. I passed the pits more often but I was always looking to better my lap or take a small jump or smash around a berm on my next lap.
As the race moved on I had swapped bikes from my hardtail (with rigid suspension forks!?) to my full suss. This gave me more comfort but with everything in racing there is a yin and yang of life. The rear tyre kept on losing air! I got back to the pits and tried resetting it. Back out and after a couple of laps the air houdinied out. This time I struggled to inject any air from my pump into it and rode back to the pit with a flat. Went to change bikes as it would eat into my lap times changing rear cassettes from the wheels. But my hardtail was caked in mud and the drivetrain needed cleaning so out came the pinafore and the cleaning commenced.
As the night squeezed into the sky and changed the course as the night does. Lisa had a nasty fall. She had completed 12hrs of riding, four of them in extreme pain. She decided to stop. I was disappointed for her but also secretly happy. Why? Because I was now in a good place, a groove. I knew I might be able to rattle a few cages on my way around but I needed help. For me the pit is effective in the depths of the night and when the dawn scales the darkness and breaks down the wall of subdued dreams. A helping hand can make you breathe strong and attack the morning haters. As Lisa got changed I was out regaining laps. I felt bad that I was slightly happy that she could not pedal any further but also happy that a) She would not do anymore damage to her fused ankle b) I had help in the pits. So the emotional and physical washing machine rumbled on. The night was short as the dark sky drained away and shades of denim washed blue filled the sky. The morning was here but I was hurting.
The pace of the race was fast and I was feeling it. As I sat in the pit for a quick morning feed of rice pudding and bananas, Lisa was informing me that I was in the top 10 and on the podium in the Vets’ category. She was also telling little white lies that I was being caught, that the racer behind me was putting in faster laps. I responded by cracking out two fast ones and after a quick bottle stop headed out for a third. The hardest thing for me personally is leaving the pit. Once you are out there the lap has to be done but it’s just a mental battle to get back on the bike and attack.
As the time eroded away and the isolation of an empty race course dawned on the tired mind I realised that for once I had believed in myself to deliver a good race that I could be happy of. I had knuckled down and looked deep inside myself and entertained my inner demons. In a lot of races I have lacked faith in myself and my ability to push to the front. I thought sometimes I was there just to make the numbers up. I had fed on negative social media comments or passing under breath, behind closed doors comments by people on my ability at racing. Although I have never had it face to face. I wonder why? But as I came around for my last lap I knew I had 3rd place in the Vet category and was 8th in the solo male category. I had time for another lap and I had the energy and mindset to do it but Lisa was standing at the pit with a big grin and a scotch pie. Game over. Job done. That one was for Jon.
I can’t thank Lisa enough for her pitting skills and motivation. Without her the result might have been different. Thanks to everyone involved in making the LDLR UK Championships what it is. A cracking good race. For myself there is still plenty of work to be done. Trimming the fat and shredding some timber is a must with some good quality core work thrown in.
After the dust had settled we took a couple of days touring the island. What a place. It is smaller than I thought but has everything. Check out Peel and The Creek Inn. Fantastic food and beer.