WEMBO 2018 has been a goal for me since racing the Fort William course back in 2014, in my first 24 Solo. This year it was hosted by No Fuss Events, who in my experience have always put on a cracker of an event and this year was no exception.

3 weeks out, absolutely knackered from too many long shifts and starting a second course of antibiotics, my chances of doing well didn’t look promising.  But after being told to man up it will pass in time, some forced positivity returned.

I work in a small team of 6 lads who have really looked after me for the last 2 weeks to try and get me ready as best as possible for the race, carrying me a bit and picking up extra work to cover me. Thank you Team 4 Notley!! I’ve been fixing my bike in my lunch breaks and packing the requisite plastic boxes of food and spares ready for the long trip up north.

This was my first WEMBO riding in a Team JMC jersey and we had 13 Solos!! We had a whole side to the pits. It was like some sort of non-hostile take-over. Or a Death Star Empire type presence if you like. It’s great to be part of a big team with so much riding knowledge and expertise on tap from all the riders and pit crew. Not to mention the guys from Bikeshak (Ben and Luke) who turned up to spanner for the whole team through the day and night. Thank you guys for the super speedy cassette change.

We got the van to the car park a day early after finishing work and making the pilgrimage up north. By my reckoning I was a good few hours down on sleep, so I was going to do my best to get as much kip before the race as I could. I love an afternoon nap, so this was music to my ears and something I wasn’t struggling to do. Falling asleep seemed to be pretty instantaneous. It was waking up without the aid of caffeine that was proving to be the difficult bit.

If you haven’t been to Fort Bill in the winter before then the key things are, the grip level is still great, but the car park is the coldest and windiest place on the planet! (second only to the Ambulance Bay at Basildon Hospital for those that know). It was dry and sunny when we got there, (something that was going to be short lived). My god was that going to change.

Heading out for a practice lap on the Friday the course had some fave bits from previous years but also had some sizeable changes and tricky little bits that hadn’t appeared on a Relentless 24 before. The course was riding really well, fast and engaging. The first time I rode here my technical ability was only just good enough to get me round and I found it ruddy tough, since then I’ve put a lot of hard work in over the last few years to try and get a bit closer to the faster boys (I’m still a way off them but I’m making ground).

Early bed for me again and the 8th meal of the day. Tucking into yet another of the Torq Fitness Snaq pack pasta meals which are great for carb loading. Admittedly it’s not a 3-course gourmet dinner but its balanced, easy to prepare and van friendly, so you can fuel really well when you’re living in a car park. The brekkies are worth a look too and now available in different carb to protein ratios. Especially if you’re a shift worker and need to eat on the go. If you haven’t tried them yet do!!

Race morning and I was feeling unusually calm. Perhaps that I had only finished my second course of antibiotics last night and not expecting much, or that I was ready and up for it? The jury was out on this one.

I had a plan to push up into zone 4 for the first climb and foolishly thought this would put me somewhere near the front to miss the traffic on the decent. OOH MY GOD!! I was wrong, the field was off like a shot! I was running at 175-180 bpm and dropped off the back of the lead group. Then into the second group. Then off the back of the second group. Anyone would have thought this was a World Champs or something. Looking around everyone had their poker faces on. Admitting defeat in an attempt to save the legs I let them go (read couldn’t stay with them without an impending cardiac arrest).

I wasn’t too far back (for a mortal) when I hit the first descent and for me I felt like I was ripping. The course has a great long descent that has you engaged and moving around on the bike trying to carry all the speed you can while avoiding the rocks that were getting displaced and changing the lines in some places lap on lap. I loved it. I felt a bit like a crap version of Danny Hart on the downs and an asthmatic Dyson vacuum cleaner on the ups. This was going to be one tough race.

After the puncture disasters of Italy last year where I was using tyres that were just too light with the thought that lighter is faster, I opted for some much heavier carcasses and a bit more volume which not only felt better on the rocky ground, but they didn’t puncture. So, does that mean heavier is actually faster? Or should I just get faster at running?

Having checked the weather, (not something I normally do) we were scheduled for the skies to open, the wind to pick up through the early hours of the morning and continue the deluge to the finish. Being a creature of the night (night shift worker) it is usually my strong suit. So, I hatched a plan prior to the race of looking after myself through the day in order to push hard, mentally prepared for the onslaught through the night. Put on a spare change of clothes around dawn, fill the stomach with a bacon sarnie then see where I was. Relentless 24 always claims a lot of casualties in the early hours. With the fast start and horrific conditions I was expecting that the night would claim a few victims. I don’t blame them to be honest and my brain was certainly saying STOP for a little while, however much like the crew room moaning at work I was able to drown it out.

Before the night I was running in 5th in my age category, which is my normal kind of position really and it is a little infuriating to have been stuck there for a few years. All efforts were to be made to change this and push through the night with as many roll throughs as I could manage while still fuelling properly. I made ground steadily and worked myself up to second! Holy crap. I was a lap down on first and being chased hard from behind by David Carr (Rotor). This man has real grit! He didn’t give up until he crossed the line. I felt like I was being hunted. Kudos sir.

The night delivered the bad weather in spades. One corner at the top of the course you could wheelie and the wind would blow you round the 90-degree corner and it was strong enough that you didn’t have to pedal for 30 metres or so. With the addition of rain, it was 2 things. 1. What I was expecting. 2. Like a fairy tale “GRIMM!”

I stuck my first set of clothes out for as long as I could thinking it would be a few changes by race end. A glove change in the early hours before a long change and waterproof trousers at dawn to combat the tired cold fatigue. My medical brain sticks to the premise of less calories are required to ride if you can stay warm when you’re tired. This may be rubbish but it seems to work for me.

I crossed the line 2nd in my age category and 21st overall.  Which with the shocking build up I had, I’m pretty proud of to be honest. Little old me had his best finish yet and his first WEMBO podium. Next year will see me take a break from WEMBO as I will be having a crack at some ultra endurance events. Although I have just checked the dates for Relentless 24 and it looks like it fits in so it’s going to be hard not to go back to my favourite 24hr course.

A big thank you to all the wonderful people that have helped me out. Thank you to my wife Sally for your endless patience. Jon at E3 Coaching for putting up with me, Team JMC, Torq Fitness, Chelmer Cycles, Trekitt Mountain Sports and PT Cycles you are all awesome! And to everyone with the snippets of advice throughout the year. I am very lucky to get the level of help that I get. Cycling has surrounded me with the most incredible people, friendly, helpful and driven. Yes and thank you to the old folks who turned up to support me and ended up pitting for a good friend.