“Mountain Mayhem” is the jewel in the British 24hour racing crown. It’s had many sponsors over the years and was originally known as the “RedBull”, and then the “Saab Salomon Mountain Mayhem” when I first raced it seven years ago. Basically the deal is that the race starts at 2pm on the Saturday with the first member of each team running a LeMans style mile long run to the bikes which you then grab and ride the first full lap. After that you can swap over to any other rider in your four man/five person mixed team each time you come back to the start/finish corral. Teams ride through the night with ultra powerful lamps and finish at 2pm on the Sunday. If you’re really hardcore/mental/doing it for a bet/stupid then you can race solo – you can see where this is going…
If you’re going to ride solo for 24 hours then its considered bad form if you don’t do any training. So I set out with a week to go to test my legs and my lights. Actually I’ve been putting in a fair few hours for the last two weeks now, the longest of these would take place with one week to go, when I headed up to Bedgebury for my final training and light testing. It’s important to make sure all of your lights are doing what they should be, so I bolted them all on and rode out doing my best impression of a Christmas tree! Whilst the lamps were burning I put in lap after lap in an effort to gauge the exact pace that I would be comfortable running at Mayhem. I was also doing a little bit of ground work for the night race which will take place here in September and so tried several different tyre and suspension set ups. All went well and after several hours in the dark I went to bed content that my legs, lamps and my bikes were ready.
When I normally go XC racing I have everything packed up and ready to go, but with 24 hour racing you need tons more kit, so part of your preparation becomes packing all the extra essentials. You need twice the amount of bikes, four times the amount of clothes and about ten times the amount of food! There is a bike designed with the day in mind along with a 90 litre bag of clothes again for daylight hours. Then there is a second bike for the night, with its own 90 litre bag of clothes, as well as all of the associated lighting. Next are a third 90 litre bag of Camping equipment and a 40 litre bag of cooking kit. There is another 40 litre bag of food, an Easy-Up, a Tool Box, a Spare Parts Box, a Track Pump and a couple of Jerry Cans of water. All of this is loaded up into the Land Rover and then unloaded into a wet, muddy field at the other end.
The next morning I blearily open one eye and I realise where I am. I can’t hear any rain on the flysheet, but the miles and miles of tape that mark out the course (and the spectator/camping areas) are clapping in the wind making it sound like I’m perched on to top of a Himalayan mountain top with only prayer flags for company. In actual fact there are around a thousand eager mountain bikers dotted around the campsite already and that figure is expected to increase by six or seven times by this evening – company isn’t something I’ll have to worry about (well, lack of it at least)!
“Mountain Mayhem” attracts a vast and varied amount of riders – Everyone from the lone solo singlespeeder through to the ten man teams, from the elite four man squads through to the unicyclists, virtually everyone is made welcome. There are lots of races dedicated to solo racing or team or pairs racing, but Mayhem is different – It’s more of a festival and riders come from as far away as America and Australia to partake in its universal atmosphere. One of those riders will be my friend Deb, who I rode the TransRockies race in Canada with last summer. Deb’s flown in from Portland, Oregon for the weekend to ride the solo 24hour race like me. To put this in perspective Deb has paid the £65 entry fee to the event, will need about £100 worth of food for the three days, she’ll have spent about £250 on servicing her £4000 bike before and after the race, will have paid about £800 for a return flight and will have to take the time off work as holiday. All of that to ride your bike around a field for a day!
But it’s not just any old field. Mayhem takes place in the heart of the Malverns in a valley that is overlooked by Eastnor Castle, just down the road from Ledbury and the river Wye. There is some cracking climbing around for lovers of trad and also some beautiful walking, horse riding and mountain biking. The race even takes in part of the old Land Rover Experience course before it moved over the road. As I write this I’m sitting in the shelter of my tent looking across the course to a lake full of mirror carp and beyond that the deer park starts. Last night a massive Fallow buck stood silhouetted against the sunset as I sipped my hot chocolate – Life could be worse!
…and so it begins! I awoke at nine and immediately focused on the two most important things in my world for the next 27 hours – tyres and food! It had rained for most of Friday and we’d decided a practice lap would therefore be more trouble than it was worth. So after an hour of swapping tyres around I was happy about the right trade off between grip, rolling resistance and pressure. Luckily Schwalbe has me fully stocked up with the best tyres in the world and I would be able to fine tune this through the race as the conditions changed. That’s one of the major differences between XC racing and 24 hour racing – Everything becomes a compromise and you have to be able to deal with the constant changes that occur as the race goes on. At the beginning the course may be wet and the conditions dry, an hour or two later the course may dry out and it might be drizzling. This can be followed by rain, gales, snow or occasionally sun and so the perfect bike set-up is a constant state of flux. This is when a decent helper in your pit can make all the difference. It’s important to have someone who understands the bike, the conditions and how they affect the bike and the rider. They must also be good at cooking, making tea, washing bottles, washing and fixing bikes, getting your next change of clothes ready and general moral boosting.
At 11:30 as we headed to the start, the course was still damp, but the sun was nestled in white puffy clouds that looked over the Malvern Hills and we were all happy in short sleeve jerseys. The race starts with a mile long run – I’m going to make no apologies for say this categorically sucks! I love running, I run two or three times a week, but running in carbon soled race shoes on bumpy ground at the beginning of a 24 hour long ride is… well you get the point! Once the run (and the grumbling) is out the way and loads of fast runners are in front, you can start making your way through the pack. I always try and pace myself at the beginning, but usually fail and get drawn into racing the guys in teams who are obviously going a lot harder. At Mayhem there are around 4’500 riders and about 800 of them will be on course at any one time so the first lap is busy! I went well on the first lap and was happy that there were no surprises so I rode straight past my pit and onto the second lap which I nailed in an hour and a quarter (my fastest lap).
The first four laps were pretty similar and the earlier 12 o’clock start time this year proved to be a good shout. We had a couple of light showers, but in general the conditions remained the same. I added a bit of pressure to the tyres as the ground dried up and softened up the suspension, but pretty much all was good. My fifth lap would be the last on before the night and therefore the last on my hardtail which had ridden beautifully.
After a quick break for some food and a clothing change I saddled up on the Full Suspension bike for the night. I prefer Full Sus for the night as it’s a bit more forgiving – Even with great lamps from Hope you will inevitably make mistakes as you battle with the dark and with fatigue. My first two laps in the dark went well and I managed to maintain a good pace which would be rewarded by a quick 30 minutes sleep and some more food.
The next lap would see me into the dawn, but it was still dark in the wooded sections so I burned up what was left of the batteries. I felt pretty bad at this point – every 24 has a low point and this was it. I couldn’t raise my body temperature or my heart rate and I’d started to hallucinate (which is common in 24 racing), so after this lap I stopped for a proper breakfast. I’d been downing protein drinks and carb drinks since the start, but this time I upped the carbs with more drink and a big bowl of rice pudding followed by one of pasta. A couple of gels and a quick bike wash later I was feeling much better and ready for the last four hours.
I desperately wanted to push for 11 laps, but was struggling with pace. I had also found out that if I couldn’t get the last lap finished before 25 hours was up it wouldn’t count and so the maths didn’t really work. Therefore I focused upon double figures – 10 would have to do – and elected to come in at exactly 24 hours plus a second or two.
Deb, who was racing solo 24 too, had decided with an hour or two to go that she had a large enough gap on the girls she was racing and was able to relax. She managed eight laps, which was good enough for sixth place in the women’s race. An excellent result, seen as she’d flown in from the states a day or so before and was still jet lagged! Her friend Emily who was racing with us had also put in a great effort in her first ever 24 hour race and together with our helper, Alaric it was a pretty happy post race dinner! We were granted the luck of being able to snooze in the summer sun before second dinner back at the pit.
Which is when Deb and Alaric suggest that being only an hour away from Cwm Carn was too good an opportunity to miss tomorrow morning before the drive home! I couldn’t really believe that they were serious until I realised that Deb only had one day left before going home and wanted to make the most of it and Alaric had been cleaning and cooking for most of his weekend! So early to bed we went and then we got up at six thirty and broke camp. It proved to be a fine choice. I’ve never ridden at Cwm Carn before and even though I was knackered I loved every minute of it. Plus it was sunny, which is rare for Wales, so grinning like an idiot I blasted the trails as hard as I could before the long drive home and a few days of recovery.
A massive Thank-you must go to COTSWOLD OUTDOOR. Without the support of the Marketing Department and the Tunbridge Wells Store I would not be able to race as much as I do. Also thanks very much to Alaric for his pit work, Emily for the encouragement, Deb for the swooshy trainers and all three of them for the support and company.
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Would you like to try 24 hour racing? THEÆIGHTBICYCLECØMPANY is looking for one rider to race the pairs race at this year’s Bontrager TwentyFour12 mountain bike race on the 23rd and 24th of July 2011 which takes place at Newnham Park near Plymouth. It’s a great opportunity to get to grips with bike racing with a relaxed atmosphere and lots of support from COTSWOLD OUTDOOR and THEÆIGHTBICYCLECØMPANY. There will be no pressure for a specific result – the aim is to gain racing experience and have fun. For more information feel free to email me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also get in touch with me on the Tunbridge Wells Cotswold telephone number, 01892 539 402 or on my mobile, 07541 725 606.