For as long as I can remember the Torq In Your Sleep twelve-hour endurance race has taken place every August Bank Holiday and it was in actuality the first twelve-hour race I ever took part in way back in 2005.  I’ve since then competed in it a number of times; it’s a well supported and supremely organised event over a fast and challengingly fun course. Fast forward to 2020 and for obvious reasons there was absolutely no expectations of anything happening this year when out of the blue an email dropped into my inbox explaining that this year’s event won’t be proceeding but will be replaced by a new and varied event that takes into account all the safety guidelines, rules and precautions put in place for Covid.

My initial reaction was how can this proceed and surely it’s not really going to happen?  It’s just a case of high optimism and wishful thinking. I read all the information about the event and the logistics – no longer a twelve-hour event but four timed distances to choose from, two ,four, six and eight hour and all the races taking place over three days with numbers limited to fifty riders. Social distancing measures would be in place at the venue, no spectators, no arrivals before a scheduled time and competitors placed into ‘race pods’ at the start. I thought It would be rude of me not the enter and luckily my category of over fifties still had a small number of spaces left.

So what does one think when you’re about to race an eight hour endurance event in the midst of a global pandemic? My thoughts were of gratitude not just in terms of the physical ability to undertake such a task when health is right at the forefront of everybody’s mind but the reality of this event being staged in the first place. This was mixed with the usual fears, excitement and trepidation plus the obligatory endless checks of the weather forecast.

In terms of preparation I was in pretty decent shape as I had been lucky enough to been able to ride pretty regularly during lockdown and its easing off. I live in the Chilterns with loads of trails within five minutes of my house plus I had the Ridgeway on my doorstep and had bike packed the double once lockdown was eased so the endurance engine was pretty topped up. It was just the racing element I knew was a bit lacklustre as my last event was Brighton Big Dog in 2018. I had taken a year out of racing to explore this bike packing lark after succumbing to my friend Alex Watts’ enticements as to how I would love it (I do btw).

The weather in the run up to the event had been a mixture of torrential thunderstorms with high temperatures and some sun and luckily the day of the race was forecast for no rain. The morning arrives everything is packed and the trip to the venue timed so as not to arrive before the 8am rule. The race was situated at a place named Area 51 in Surrey and was only a short distance away, a maximum of one hour drive. I had raced there before at a short XC event that the same organisers had put on. Its a technical twisting single track course with very little place to overtake or take on food and drink whilst riding. The organisers had stated in the race information that the lap was only four miles long.

So what does one think about when you’re about to race an eight hour endurance event in the midst of a global pandemic and your sat nav takes you the wrong way, then as you’re course correcting a driver of a vehicle peeps his horn violently at you from behind as you’re trying to navigate your way back. Gratitude certainly wasn’t my first thought as I turned around and headed towards the start with the sat nav saying I was only five minutes away. As I drove closer to the venue the estimated arrival time on the sat nav counted down to three minutes and I now recognised where I was, but what was that strange feeling I noticed as I was driving the van ? Something didn’t feel right, surely not a puncture ?

I climbed out and went over towards the rear passenger side wheel where I can see the tyre is totally shredded. It then dawns on me I must have driven with it like this for a number miles as far back maybe to where the driver behind me was beeping his horn frantically to tell me something!

Changing a tyre is a pretty standard procedure, wheel comes off, wheel goes on right ? But what if the spare wheel is held into place by a metal bar with a some strange fixing nut with a three hole configuration that looks like a secret Egyptian hieroglyph. Get the wrench that has the Egyptian hieroglyph adaptations to remove it of course, and this is where ?

It was at this point I started to resign myself to the fact this wasn’t going to happen, I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to remove this bolt so I had to make the call of shame “Hello RAC….”

Before I gave up I thought I would dig around everywhere in the van to find the tool to remove the bolt then bingo found it. Now it was time to go to work and quickly got the wheel sorted, spare wheel on and wrecked wheel on the passenger seat.  Then a rapid drive to the venue.

I now knew exactly where I was and proceeded to drive down the dirt road to the start, the gate to the entrance was locked so I ran into the tented area where all the riders are socially distanced in their respective pods listening to the race briefing . I explained my situation to one of the organisers and we proceeded to get me into the race venue and off on the course. There was no way I was going to be able to start with everyone so had resigned myself to just riding around and seeing what happens.

I quickly sorted some energy drinks and gels into my pit container and placed them next to the course and started my first lap. Luckily I knew what to expect on the course as it was almost identical to my previous outing. There were a number of short very tight scrambles up steep inclines followed by similar drop offs and then technical flowing single track. I settled into a rhythm and just followed that time old XC endurance rule of ‘bang out the laps and don’t stop’.

I was going well and started to pick off a number of back markers so I wasn’t last. I was soon lapped by Ant White (night follows day) and then was told I had worked my way into sixth place in my age group.

So what does one think of when you’re five hours deep into an eight hour endurance race during a global pandemic and all of your body is hurting like hell? I thought everything, how I should have chosen the six hour, its amazing this event is actually happening, stop braking so hard into into the corners, is he in my age group, ohh I think I’ve lapped you mate, here comes Ant White…again.

After seven hours I was told I was now fifth and that I had probably two laps left, there was nobody going to catch me and I was too far down on fourth place to chance charging out for a fast last lap. I came in and was honestly battered, more of a beat up feeling than a cardiovascular fatigue. Not racing for a year took its toll and the muscles hurt from the pummelling of the course but, like every race I’ve ever done, the relief and sense of achievement was flowing in abundance – it was great to be back. Upon my return home I checked the results and was pleased to see I had maintained my standing of being at the sharp end of mid pack mediocrity.

So what does one think of when you’ve finished racing an eight hour endurance race during a global pandemic…. When’s the next one of course…26th Sept four hour!