The road to World Championships 24 hour mountain bike race Fort William October 2018
When I started riding again 7 years ago I had never imagined that I could possibly make it to the start line of a World Championships racing in an elite category. When the idea had first emerged around a year ago I had initially dismissed this immediately. It was ludicrous to travel solo with 2 mountain bikes plus a toddler to the other side of the world and a remote place at that. The logistics and the cost would be enormous and not viable.
It was at this time that the local cycling club ‘Rats - South Brisbane’ came on board with some sponsorship money which would cover the entry cost plus some travel expenses. Ride Mechanic an Australian based company also offered up support which I gladly accepted. Taylor cycles my on gong local bike shop provided some much needed assistant and support as well. To cap it off my younger sister wished to come and crew for me during the 24 hour race. Support appeared from the most unexpected places and it began to look as if maybe, just maybe it may be possible. My coach Jessica Douglas believed I could compete and did not dismiss my slightly cray idea we worked together to ensure I was strong enough to compete to the best of my ability. My husband remained very supportive throughout though he was unable financially to come with me.
Some well meaning people tried to warn me that it may not go to plan and I may not get the race which I wanted to have. There was a large amount of risk attached to this endeavour and even getting to the starting line would be a miracle of sorts. I would not have my normal support crew in my husband and this would add to the unknown. I had never raced in Scotland and had no idea what the course or the weather may hold. This was a courageous move but you have to move out of your comfort zone in order to grow and learn.
I booked and paid for my airfare before I had the chance to second guess myself. I justified the trip in that i would catch up with the majority of my UK based family so even if the race did not go to plan I had not lost everything. It would be lovely to catch up with people and also gave me the mentally protective cushion if the race was a disaster - I would not return completely deflated.
The basics were put into place with the plane tickets bought, accomodation booked, method for transporting bike from Exmouth to Fort William sorted, bikes serviced and training going well. I had a last minute mountain bike lesson with Jr with a particular focus on rocks and good saddle/bike position which ensured I was confident before making the trip.
I landed in London following a nightmare through security where i found myself unable to cope with the shear amount of luggage (74kg) and a screaming toddler luckily a airport staff member came and gave me a hand. I went down to Exmouth to visit my mum for the first few days and managed a few hours riding on Woodbury common which was interesting but not technical mainly consisting of fire road which if you venture off you end up in a bog (yes I did this and yes I very nearly got stuck!). I then drove to Lincoln for 5 days to see my family. The bikes were running well and I managed to stay well through the journey and just afterwards. The build up was not ideal as I did not ride for 10 days before the race and did not spend long enough in Fort William.
I headed up to Edinburgh on the Thursday before the race and stayed with one of the Scottish competitors before collecting my sister from the airport on the Friday morning. This is the only way I could logistically manage this as I couldn’t leave my mum with Hayley for any longer than Thursday lunchtime and the transport to Fort William is virtually non existent. I had organised a bike shop in Newton Abbott to FedEx the bikes to a Fort William bike shop as I couldn’t take both on a plane or bus and I didn’t want to drive. We then headed to Fort William on the Friday.
On arriving at Fort William we met up with Keith McRae a local Scottish Bike Mechanic (normally works with Team Sky) who had volunteered to help me out. We checked into the accomodation and collected the bikes and headed for the venue. it was lucky Keith was there he checked the bikes over and discovered many of the components were loose or not attached adequately. With the bikes correctly assembled I headed out for a practice lap.
On the practice lap I discovered a few things. The uphills were very steep and the downhills steep and very technical. I had never encountered anything like it and was definitely out of my comfort zone. We don’t have any similar terrain around Brisbane which I normally ride so I tried to remember the basics of great bike position, steady approach and to break sections down into manageable chunks. The weather was mild and dry when I rode the course and prayed it would not rain as it become dangerous and unrideable. On the practice lap there was only a bit that I walked a couple of steep downhill roots. My assumption that endurance events typically have less technical riding due to having to ride it at night was obliterated. This was as hard or harder than any short course mountain biking event I had been involved with. In fact this course was the hardest course I have ever attempted to race on. I didn’t have time to go out again to practice so I would largely have to ride this unknown which is definitely not my forte.
On the Saturday we woke to fog but no rain. It was mild as the weatherman had predicted there was no sign of the predicted rain and I naively hoped for the best. I started wearing a thermal under-layer, thick fleece, long sleeved riding top (this had done me the whole winter in Australia) and a thin water proof layer and arm warmers. I was roasting but decided against forgoing any clothes apart from knee warmers. I warmed up and was feeling fine, I had briefed Keith and Rachel to what help I would require through the race. We started behind the bag pip players at a walking pace and then were off. In the first 100 meters I nearly ended up in a collision when a guy came charging up the right hand side of me shouting track which I thought was an interesting tactic in a 24 hour race before he collided with the unfortunate guy next to him. They came down hard and I narrowly avoided being bought down as well. I thought well I went to all this effort and by a tiny miracle I had managed to start this race it would be just my luck to end it in the first 100 meters!
The first few lap were great I was riding strongly on the fire roads and managing all of the single track fine even the really scary big rock sections which I was delighted with. I was nice and warm, managing my nutrition fine and feeling happy to be there. It had started a light rain but the course was still manageable. I was surprised that the wooded sections were dark by 4.30pm and we didn’t put lights on until 5.30pm so that my final lap before darkness I had to follow a guy who already had lights on down that section as I couldn’t see.
By around 5 hours in the sharp ascents which were around 40-50% gradient in some places was getting exhausting and I was struggling. I have a 1 by 11 on the race bike and a 1 by 10 on the back up bike which was well under geared many of the girls were running a 1 by 12 gearing so I was immensely jealous when they span up hills which I was having to walk. Some of the competitors had been there for a week before and had changed their gearing to an easier set up. I did not have time or the resources for this so I had to run whatever I had and make the best of it. By dark there were 4 sections which I allowed myself to get off the bike the rest I would ride. The first was the steep ascent possibly around 50% gradient, the second had very hard slippery roots, the third some of the steep rocks by the creek and the forth another very steep ascent.
A few hours after darkness my head light died a lot earlier than I had expected - I had not really practiced with it as the shipping had taken 3x longer than it should have so i was working on what the box said. I had a back up battery on my handlebar charging my main handlebar light so I literally had to chew through the zip tie and the tape to get it off, then attach this to my headlight to make it work. Doing all this in the pitch black and the cold was far from ideal. I was really disappointed as at this stage I was only 15 minutes behind 5th place which quickly lengthened as I struggled. Due to the cold and the drizzle I had to take my prescription riding glasses off I could see better without them. This meant I had limited night vision and was forced to ease back.
I was aware that I was further back in the field and I was being lapped numerous times by first and I assumed second place as well. Around midnight I was informed that 3/4 of the field had retired due to horrendous weather conditions and a dangerous track. I decided to keep pushing on as I sworn to keep going until i had to be carried off the course or my bike broke. My why was very strong and this kept me going. I had come all the way to Fort William to compete in this race and that was what I was determined to do.
I was still very warm and the temperature was fairly mild due to the ongoing rain overnight I kept my nutrition going and was feeling tired and well although I was scared. I was scared as I was well outside my comfort zone. In the daylight and light drizzle the course was on the edge of my current skill level, at night it was well past what I thought was my skill and experience level.
Around 5am the rain was becoming torrential though I paid it no heed and kept moving. The course was becoming treacherous in sections and I was walking a little more. It didn’t help when the second place female had a massive fall in front of me which could have been serious though luckily she was fine and carried on. I walked these rocks as they were slippery and if you made a mistake you could easily end up in a bad way.
was offered another coat on many occasions but had declined it as I felt warm and still dry and didn’t want to overheat. This misjudgement caused me to prematurely end my race. Just before the 8am dawn the temperature plummeted from 10 degrees to 3-4 degrees and the torrential rain came with it. I had just started another lap when this blew in. My back mudguard broke and I removed it this caused the spray to come up from the ground and saturate me. The rain at this point was torrential and horizontal it was freezing. The ground was very slippery and the rock gardens to me were unrideable there were many people now walking sections of the course. I slipped whilst walking down some roots and twisted my knee when I tried to ride the steep uphill sections I was unable to put weight through the knee which resulted with me off an walking where I wanted to be riding.
Around 3/4 of the way around that last lap I knew I was getting myself into serious danger and didn’t feel well. I spoke to a guy who came past me (it transpired he had fed ex’d my bikes for me and worked in the Newton Abbott bike shop) he offered me his jacket but I declined as I didn’t want him to get cold and I was nearly back. He warned my pit crew to be on standby as I thought I had hypothermia.
I made it back to the pits safely and stripped and put warm clothes on I was grey, confused with blue lips and extremities. My sister took me to the warm cafe and found the medic - I was taken to their warm work bay and given hot food and drinks and a duvet with warm air running through it. I had mild hypothermia which if it wasn’t treated could have worsened quickly and significantly. I was advised that my race was over just under the 20 hour mark and was advised to not go back out on track again as i would risk this recurring. I was disappointed but I could not catch 5th and 7th couldn’t catch me. It was a good a place as any to stop before I risked serious injury.
Initially it had seemed that I had let people down as I did not have the foresight to put warmer clothes on and had been caught out by the weather.
On reflection I was very happy with how I had managed to race in such difficult conditions on terrain I had never ridden before. I had managed to organise the entire escapade and had pulled off the seemingly impossible. I had continuously trained hard, shown up to work everyday and done my best, cared for our 2.5 year old daughter and stayed happily married. The training and juggling was hard on an everyday level but I had coped with the demands.
I wanted to race in Scotland and I made this happen. I had the self belief to think I could do this no matter what. I discovered that I am mentally tough and resilient and will push my body to the end. Although I made mistakes and my body finally broke down I still love the riding and endurance racing and am already planning for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. I feel I still have more to give and more to learn.
24 hour racing teaches you so much about yourself and others. It shows you the strength, courage, passion and determination of your competitors and brings about a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself. The camaraderie on track is refreshing and people generally care about each other. I look at these riders and realise I am one of them so i too must show these traits. This increases self confidence and stands me in good stead for future endeavours.
I am so grateful for all the help and support I received coming up the race, during the race and following the race.
I am 100% happy I raced a Worlds at Scotland. I am 100% I never want to race that course in those weather conditions ever again!