On riding for 24 hours: Discipline got us there!

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Two weekends ago I embarked on quite an adventure, even by my endurance athlete standards. A 24-hour solo bike ride around Brands Hatch race course. Before I head into the gory details, the short of it was that the result was 3rd female soloist, over 18 hours moving, 108 laps and circa 20,000 calories burnt. Mileage was 262. And let’s also get one thing straight: this was the hardest thing I have ever done. I went to places I didn’t even know existed. Full Ironmans are a walk in the park compared to this and the fact I still believe that two weeks later is a firm indicator its true.

I had already written in the days before about the enormous military mission that we were about to embark on and so when we arrived at the track, already feeling a little bedraggled, it’s easy to understand why for the first time in my life I had chills down my spine. I have never had that before in a race setting. Immediately I went to my default race philosophy, one also used by the cyclist Geraint Thomas: “Convince yourself that none of it matters, even when it matters more than anything you will ever know”.

I’d been training and looking forward to this since Janaury 2017 but at 2pm on the Saturday afternoon before the 3pm start I just could not get my head around the fact that this was the last hour before I would be getting on my bike for 24 hours. N.B. It was called something less polite than a bike after about 10 hours of riding.

So, here are the high/low lights:

At 4pm (the first hour!) it absolutely tipped it down. Wet and cold rider. First kit trashed and needed to be worn for 5 more hours.

After dry clothes at 6pm (I couldn’t wait any longer) I rode for about 3 hours which was pretty non-eventual really as there was too much further to go. In the zone.

9-10pm I could see our plan was working and I was starting to make progress up the field as others tired so I decided to keep pushing into the night.

11pm brought a big smile, as I left the paddock for my next one and a quarter hours stint my Dad put my freshly charged lights on my bike and said, “See you tomorrow”, as I wouldn’t be back until after midnight. That genuinely brought home what we were doing.

2am. Delirious. I remember going to the toilet, I didn’t need to, it was just something to do rather than ride my bike. The whole thing was all starting to feel a little odd. My eyes were blood shot and stinging, and I felt so spaced out I could barely manage to even open the door handle to the toilets, let alone hold a conversation.

Sometime during the early hours, my dad also joked that “We are going home today!” that made it feel temporarily better too.

3-4am past delirium, now into “The waking dead” shift. The coldest part of the night and pedalling without even knowing I was doing it. After the tenth jam sandwich I realised I never wanted another. I was also approaching the point of never wanting to ride my bike again. Ever.

4.58 am I couldn’t take anymore. Yes, I remember the exact minute! Because my body was spending all my calories keeping warm, I was just getting too tired and could have easily slept on my bike. It was getting really quite manic because of the fog, lack of visibility and slippery track. So I sat in the car with the intension of 20 minutes sleep. After just 5 minutes I got such bad cramp in my legs and was shivering so profusely that I called it a day. “Up you get, back on that thing”. Relentless.

8am – Breakfast! One’s sense of taste and appetite after so much food and sugar tends to go a bit crazy. So I had cold chicken noodles. Delicious and perfect to take us up until lunch.  The fog was at last lifting and so I could dispense of lights and my headlight. Good job.

At about 1.30pm my Mum had managed to work out that if I could do 10 more laps then I would secure 3rd place and that became my mission. Once done I had a brief sleep on a cold concrete floor at 2pm, before heading out for the final time at 2.20pm for 40 minutes of victory laps.

When the chequered flag came down at 3pm that was one very proud moment. In a flash all the bad bits had been forgotten and the gushing moments of pleasure from being an endurance athlete came flooding back. Pure elation and very surreal.

The recovery?

Well, that was all very fun. The legs were a bit sore but nothing in compared to my self-diagnosed “endurance-flu”. I often get it in events more than 12 hours and it goes along the lines of a sore throat, indigestion from so much sports energy stuff, dehydration, sick, headache, groggy, sleep deprived and generally feeling rotten. And Oh My God. Blood sugar crashes like never before. In the three days post riding, I ate the world. Given the calorie and sleep deficit, recovery necessitated a very managed approach with light riding but all is good now!

I won’t lie, I was disappointed with the mileage, a cyclist of my ability should be heading for at least 350 miles. Of course, there are a huge number of factors to take into account but I firmly believe in warmer and flatter conditions then I would get closer to that. I am minded to do another attempt early next summer but I can’t drag my parents through that again. The poor souls! I will be needing a hand. The job description includes (in no order of importance): stay awake for 24 hours, charge Garmin, feed and water rider, pain relief, provide and dry clothes, keep tabs on distance, sort out mechanicals, monitor and charge lights, be visible to me when riding and do the transport stuff. Contact me if interested!

Ultimately, regardless of my moaning about the mileage, this was a pretty big achievement. If there’s one thing that got us to the end, and on the podium, it was good ole fashioned discipline and consistency. I rode for 75 minutes with 5-10 minute breaks for 24 hours. Although the “breaks” were hardly rests, I don’t remember sitting down with a cup of tea chilling during any of those. I was busy shoving a little food in, changing clothes at 6 hours, keeping tabs on battery in lights and garmin, and massaging my feet. However bad I was feeling, we rarely changed anything unless absolutely essential to the performance. No big sprints or efforts, just plod all day long, literally.

I should have done this first but I owe a massive thanks to all of those who dragged me through the night in what turned out to be one of the hardest things I’ve done. You will never know how much those words and support helped me. An equal giant thanks to my parents. If my job was hard, then I feel damn sure they had it harder. I was kept awake fuelled by an inordinate amount of sugar and adrenaline and a bit between my teeth to just get the job done. They just had to drag themselves through the night working their hardest for a cyclist.

That’s almost certainly me done racing until next February/March, I’ll be back soon with something other than race reports and promise to keep developing and updating my page during the darkest months.

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