‘As I crossed the line for final time some 24hr 33mins after I started, that was it I had done it, goal achieved. I was a World Solo 24 hr MTB Championship Bronze medallist in my category.’
Finale Ligure, Italia 27-28th May 2022
My journey to the World 24hr Championships…..
Ten years ago I had not ridden any sort of cycle since my teenage years and never ridden on anything other fire roads/pavements. In my early years I was a good sprinter, played some rugby and dabbled in a bit of rowing, but would never really called myself sporty or particularly competitive. Competing at, let alone medalling at, a World Mountain Bike Championships would never of even entered my head.
Roll on nearly 20 years and in 2012 as an overweight 32 year old, I bought a second hand mountain bike to ride around the fireroads of my local forest in Guisborough, North Yorkshire. I became hooked and my first ‘proper’ mountain bike purchase soon followed, a Specialized Hardrock.
Less than a year later I was struck down with serious illness, thankfully easily treatable with surgery but worrying nonetheless, although complications with my surgery took several months of recovery. Maybe this was the nudge I needed to get off my backside and get fit and healthy (after 8 years of surveillance I was given the all clear and discharged last year).
A year after my diagnosis I rode a 60 mile XC ride for charity. In 2016 I did the off-road Coast to Coast with my mates Chris Colabella and Alan Robson, which was 2 days of mainly off-road 90+miles of riding/hike-a-bike and a huge amount of climbing – by far my greatest challenge at that time.
My first dabble in 24hr racing was at Strathpuffer 2018, where I came a respectable 14th overall in the infamous snowy conditions and sub zero temperatures that year. Many solid results have followed since, 4th in category at WEMBO 24hr World Champs at Fort William 2018, 3rd in the Chiller 24hr 2019, 5th at Mountain Mayhem 24hr 2019, 6th in category at the 2019 WEMBO European 24hr Champs in Portugal and 2nd MVET in the 2019 British 24hr Champs at Fort William.
However, my last 24 hour race at the Kielder Chiller in October 2021 ended in disappointment with gut/nutrition issues about 8 hours in, I reluctantly pulled out in 3rd place. That was my first out of eight 24hr races I had not completed. At that stage logistically and physically the World 24hr Championships in Italy seemed a million miles away.
A major lifestyle change…..
After my disappointment at the Chiller I did some serious soul searching. Had I peaked at 24hr racing and now on a downwards spiral? Why did I have these stomach issues? Did I just not have the enthusiasm for it anymore and was I just finding excuses for my poor performance?
In recent years (possibly post having Covid-19?) I had increasingly had problematic stomach/IBS type symptoms, together with a general feeling of being unwell, joint pain, night sweats to name a few. I had been tested for just about everything and nothing came up other than high reactive protein which can be a sign of something not quite right, but other results could not find anything, including a coeliac test. After speaking to other JMC riders, Alan Colville and Karen Price to name a few I decided to experiment with a gluten free diet. The results were almost immediate, feeling less bloated with more energy and just an all round good feeling about myself and my riding once again. This was the game changer for me, however if also meant finding nutrition which aligned with my new diet. After trying a few I settled on Mountain Fuel (https://www.mountainfuel.co.uk) products, which I have used through my winter training.
Finale Ligure here I come…
I finally made the decision to go to the WEMBO World Solo 24hr MTB Championships (https://www.wembo.com.au) at Finale Ligure (https://www.24hfinale.com/en/) around March 2022 after much debate over how I was getting there and who was coming along with me. A late realisation that the event started Friday not Saturday meant that flying out was the only option. Everything was soon sorted and training was going to plan and I fitted in a 6 hour race at Cannock Chase at the end of March to race test my new nutrition plan. My only race since the Chiller until I rocked up in Finale Ligure.
Around two weeks out from Finale I woke with a cricked neck, this worsened to full stabbing pain down my right arm and difficulty gripping my bars. Two days before flying out I went to see my friend, former World 24hr MTB medallist and sport injury specialist Jason Hynd for some treatment at his clinic. I am not sure whether it was the treatment or just an exercise in increasing my pain threshold, but it seemed to do the trick, the next day it felt looser although tender. It continued to bother me right up the race start but I soon forget about it when I hit the start.
The trip to Finale Ligure lived up to its reputation as being chaotic and utter madness, I seemed to be constantly saying ‘this is just mental’. After a good flight with an on-time landing at Milan the chaos well and truly descended, 1.5hrs to get the hire car, the 2.5hr journey took 5 hours and we arrived at the race venue at about 5.30pm. The guys at the entrance thought I was looking for directions, eventually they understood I was here to race. We soon found the other UK racers and supporters and I was reunited with my bike and other stuff which Andrew Howett had taken 10 days or so before. A big thank you to Andrew for that!
I got a few things sorted and managed 30mins out on the course to spin the legs late into the evening. After a very long day after getting up at 4am I decided a just short ride was wise so I did the big climb and then headed back to the pit area to sort more stuff. At about 9pm we headed to our accommodation for the night, checked in and then headed out on the hunt for food. Eating only a gluten free McDonald’s (yuck) and a few snacks since breakfast was not ideal preparation, however it was a case of needs must after the journey we had. Thankfully we came across a Ristorante which did a fantastic gluten free pasta and a large bowl was duly consumed. It was about 11pm when my head hit the pillow (19 hours after I woke), again not ideal but I slept solid until 6am and woke refreshed.
More chaos descended up until the race, I was still building my spare bike 1 hour before the start, realised with 30mins to go we had no track pump in our pits and the race bike tyres needed air, and with 15mins to go I was still in my ordinary clothes. Anyway with help and the calming influence at Peter Nadin I got to the race start with 5 mins spare, pumped full of adrenalin.
Let the racing begin….
I hate running so the Le Mans start I was not looking forward to, I wore my trainers and had my bike shoes waiting next to my bike. A steady jog it was for the 500m or so and then I methodically put on my riding shoes and got on the bike. There was quite a bit of traffic on the first lap but I have learnt not to get too stressed by this, you can only loose a 24hr race on the first lap either by a crash or burn out, you cannot win it. The heat was immense and when I hit the exposed cliff face about half way around the lap it really brought it home, this was going to be a race like no other.
How was I going to complete one lap let alone 24 hrs worth? I had never I mean never ridden in heat like this, it was like riding in a sauna. I got back to the pit area only to completely miss my stop, I just rode past with my pit crew shouting at me, I was in my own world or the heat had got me? I later thought we’d miscalculated and we were not directly pitting next to the course, anyway a lap later I discovered my error and was topped up with a fresh drink and took a minute to take on a full 500ml of hydration fluid.
I literally had to change strategy on the move, to get me through I had about 800ml energy drink per lap and 300-500ml of hydration at every pit stop, I may have lost up to minute but it was well worth it to take on more fluids. This seemed to do the trick, as well as reducing my intensity down just to survive the daylight hours. The heat was pretty much relentless although there was some shade on some parts of the course which were a relief
I fuelled on a mix of Mountain Fuel (https://www.mountainfuel.co.uk) chia gels, jellies and flapjacks with other things like jelly babies, nuts, brownies etc. thrown in the mix. I also had about 15-20g of protein every 4-5 hours which really seemed to help.
The sun going down was such a welcome relief, don’t get me wrong it was till 20+C and hotter in certain sheltered parts of the course, I was still taking on in excess of 1ltr of fluid per lap.
12 hours in I got the welcome news that I was 3rd in category with 2nd and 4th about 20mins either side. My goal was there for taking, that gave me a lift and I just carried on doing the same. I had a few minor gear issues which I managed to sort (the vibrations from the course were causing the B-screw to loosed sending my derailleur into the cassette). This is where my extensive self-taught bike knowledge was paying off, with adjustments made mid-lap and in the pits too.
Other than that I had few issues, and gained several laps on 4th place, but at the same time was seeing 2nd drifting away. My main aim was not to loose third place. As dawn broke I was 3 laps ahead of 4th and barring a major occurrence it was in the bag. The heat intensified again, but my work was done at that point, my last two laps were slower, I stopped to throw water on myself at every opportunity. I could have stopped with two hours to go and still got third, but I had come here to race over 24hours and that’s what I did. As I crossed the line for the final time some 24hr 33mins after I started, that was it I had done it, goal achieved. I was a World 24hr MTB Championship Bronze medallist in my category.
I may not have looked like it at times, but I enjoyed that one, I usually have some point in the ride when then bikes are getting sold, that’s it end of, but not this time. Still though the best part is finishing and when you end up on the podium at a World Championships it so so much sweeter!
Someone who I haven’t yet mentioned in detail was my pit team. Alan Colville chatted to me on the course and told me how proud I must be to have a such a mature, helpful and well rounded young man as a son. Yes, Jacob my 15 yr old son was my pit crew. We worked out our strategy together, had the lows of the Chiller together and he was there lap after lap handing my drink, food, encouragement, he was my rock. I could not have done it without him there. Thank you son. I owe you many a late night/early morning pick up in the years to come!
And here’s to everyone else….
24 hour racing is a team effort and that’s includes support from other riders, friends, acquittances and people you bump into along the way.
Thank you to all the other UK based riders out there with me, namely Andrew Howett for taking a bike and other stuff, Peter and Tania Nadin for all your help, keeping me calm when everything was going wrong, the fabulous gluten free cakes, the dowsing in cold water through the red hot parts of the day. Alan and Eugene Colville for all the advice, help before the event in the pits etc. Maurizio for your help with hire car issues!
Jason Hynd for the advice over the years and last minute neck treatment. The MTB Guisborough guys for teaching me how ride a MTB without killing myself! AL Suspension https://alsuspensionltd.co.uk/ for sorting my leaky forks a few week out. The random eBay seller who sent a replacement brake first class for no extra cost a few days before the bike left for Italy.
Mountain Fuel https://www.mountainfuel.co.uk for providing first class nutrition. My Oddballs https://www.myoddballs.com for allowing me to wear your logo and give publicity to a cause close to my heart. Check your kit guys!
Budge at Team JMC https://www.teamjmc.uk/ for the messages of support and advice through the event.
A big thank you to Will Lewis from North Cycling Performance https://www.onlinecyclecoaching.com for all your coaching and sport science knowledge and fabulous training plans. I only have about on average 10 hours per week training time to fit in around family time, dog walks and my full time role as Director of a regional office. I have to train clever to get the best out my limited time and Will provides this for me.
And last but certainly not least my wife Fiona and daughter Hannah for putting up with my riding time and allowing me to travel to Italy to fulfil my dream. I cannot thank you enough.
22,000 ft of climbing
24 hrs 33mins total time
23 hrs 36mins moving time
Min temperature 20C
Maximum temperature 37C
Ave. Temperature 25C
2nd Place British Rider
Follow me on insta – @endurancembter