It’s the third time that Bedgebury has hosted Insomnia – A twelve hour night time endurance race which starts at 8pm on Saturday and ends at 8am on Sunday after as many brutal laps as you can manage. The race is run “Le Mans” style, so the most laps ultimately win the race, but if you’ve tied on laps the order is decided by the quicker time (so if rider A does 13 laps in 12 hours and 7 minutes, but rider B does 13 laps in 11 hours and 55 minutes, rider B will be the winner).
Insomnia is excellently run by Boars On Bikes in support of the British Heart Foundation. The Forestry Commission help with the logistics of the event and maintain the excellent all-weather trails at Bedgebury together with local riders. Exposure Lights sponsor the race and build the finest bike lamps in the world in their facility in Petworth, Sussex. Timelaps takes care of all of the timing and lap counting. On top of that a whole bunch of marshals make sure everyone is safe and managed to keep cheering all night long, which made a huge difference.
Unusually for an enduro race there were vastly more solo racers than teams and this meant that the competition would both be close and good quality – there would be no fluke results here and any mistakes would quickly be capitalised upon by stronger riders wisely biding their time. I’d spent the morning resting at home and was probably the most relaxed I’ve been at any race during the long 2011 season.
I got to the race site well ahead of time and set about putting up our massive gazebo and getting the tent ready for anyone who wanted some rest or shelter. The rock hard ground was proving an issue for both me and my new neighbour, Justin, who’d come all the way down from the midlands, so I lent him my hammer whilst he told me about his cousin who was racing – Luke Morris had come 6th at Mountain Mayhem, where by all accounts I’d had a tough time with a track that really beat me. With riders of this calibre I knew that Insomnia was going to be hard.
Back in the middle of the summer I raced Mountain Mayhem (24 hour solo) with Emily Orton, who was once again riding solo here. She spent the Saturday before Insomnia in A&E with an ankle problem, so big respect to her for racing. Not one to be content with just riding she battled hard to win the solo women category and also the fastest lap award – pretty sweet result! Her partner had organised a quad team and they managed to claim 6th in that category with some great consistent lap times. And last but definitely not least was our friend Simon Copping who put in a wicked performance to end up 20th in the solo category – a real achievement, not just because the field totalled 62, but also Simon has only ridden in the dark a handful of times. Anyone who can get into the top third when the field is that big has to do a lot of hard work!
With the pit set up and ready to go, I spent some time checking over the bike and decided to swap out the tyre on my spare wheels with something more mud orientated just in case. After signing on my first helper turned up and we went through all the basic things for racing. It was the first time that Ben had helped at a race so there was a lot to learn, but he took it all in and did an absolutely A1 job. Having the right food and drink ready for me in a racing situation is hard because you have to constantly stay on top of cravings, calorie intake and variety. It involves being constantly on your toes, having the sixth sense to know what I’ll want next time I come round and on top of everything you have to always be encouraging – all of which Ben took in his stride and delivered for the whole race. Stella work from my colleague at the Tunbridge Wells branch of Cotswold Outdoor.
After the safety briefing (which was both safe and brief) we all lined up at the start. I went up the trail to check out the first few corners and by the time I got back could only just squeeze onto the second row, next to the three Wildside Cycles riders and couple of other sponsored guys. In front the first of the Webb brothers stood out from the baggy short/flat pedal crew who quite simply caused chaos as the gun went and the struggled around in front. Three of us were instantly in a cross country race up the first section of gravel that led to the singletrack as Mister Webb disappeared into the night. He was off to set a 39:29 which would be the fastest lap of the night – Mark Goodman (Weldtite) set the second fastest time with myself 19 seconds down in third place on the track (second in my category). The pace was amazingly high for an enduro and with hind sight it was interesting to see that Luke Morris (Salsa) set a 45:58 on that first lap putting him in 5th place.
My Kona bike was working well and the Rohloff Speedhub was happily taking the muddy sections in its stride. I don’t have the ultimate power of some riders and so the gearing and the torque really help me stay with the stronger guys – this allows me to really take the advantage on the tricky technical sections that I love and it was on each of these bits that I’d catch Goodman on the first two laps. We were neck and neck for a long time, but I eventually made a strong break on one of the longer downhill’s making use of my full suspension to leave him 49 seconds down whilst putting myself in first place.
For laps three, four and five I was in complete control and was very comfortable. The run up to midnight saw me six and a half minutes up on Morris in third and about three minutes up on Goodman in second. Ben’s relief crew were now here so he could get some sleep, but first he had to explain everything to them. Ant and Fie had kindly agreed to help out and instantly got up to speed with what was happening, showing a real understanding of what was needed. They also had our friend Richard with them, who’s a keen rider, having attempted a record breaking end to end earlier in the year, so he knows a thing or two about endurance racing! Along with Ben I simply couldn’t have ridden like I did without the support of these guys. They were utterly incredible.
Back in the race lap six was another flyer, but it was time to stop for some food at the end. This was the plan, but it was a confusing time for me and the crew. Morris wasn’t stopping and had made up a great deal of time, I was still worried about Goodman who had stopped at the same time and seemed to be my closest rival, whilst two other riders were closing fast. Stuart Sharp of Wildside and Glenn Campbell (who may or may not have been a lineman for the county) were building strong laps and had got close to me without us noticing. At the end of a very busy lap seven all five of us were back in contention and I felt awful!
Lap eight and nine were the toughest for me, I really suffered with cramp and having to fight off so many riders after being in control of the race I was thinking that it was all slipping away. Morris had asserted his position at the head of the race and his perfectly timed attack had left me a broken man. After lap nine I stopped for food and my back was hurting – for ten minutes my crew worked hard on the bike, on feeding me and even worked on my back and I think it was this ten minutes that was the turning point of the race for me. Suddenly I realised, how could I let these guys down? They worked so hard in the freezing cold and managed to do it all with a smile and a joke.
I set out on lap ten, in the grim icy blackness, a changed man – third place wasn’t going to be good enough, I had to fight for 1st – I owed it to Fie, Ant, Richard and Ben and I wasn’t about to let them down after they’d put their faith in me! I got a cracking rhythm going again and although I wasn’t massively fast I knew I could be consistent. Goodman was out of it having stopped, but Campbell and Sharp were still right with me, so I stopped briefly for my last proper food before the final push.
This is the part of any race that I love – I begin to ride sections that I dislike and think to myself that I only have to ride them twice again – it’s a massive boost to tell yourself that now it’s just an easy three lap XC race! On top of that there was the merest sparkle of the dawn and I knew my Exposure lights had done me proud. At this point I was feeling great and didn’t know that I was only 39 seconds up on third place! I’m glad that no one told me because I was just rebuilding my confidence.
On lap twelve I wound up the pace again and was embraced by the sweet orange sunrise. Birds sang and bunnies scattered as I blasted along the freshly lit trails and I found my second wind. Campbell had put some time into Sharp who ended up having to go out for one more lap to consolidate a well earned 4th place, with Campbell on the same lap, but 47 minutes up to finish on the podium.
Luke Morris had secured his place on the top step by half past seven and didn’t need to go out again unless I got round with a fastest lap. My 52 minute lap was pretty good, but saw me roll over the line at seven minutes past the hour having completed the same 13 laps as Morris, but 34 minutes slower – just over 4 miles after 104 miles of racing! That’s pretty close after 12 hours of racing and I was elated with my position and the work that we’d put in as a team. My parents had come out to watch the last few laps and the podium was the perfect end to a hard race and a long season.
I’ve been racing XC and enduro’s since January the 2nd and this race seemed to sum up just about everything that I’ve found so hard, but ultimately rewarding in my most competitive year of racing so far. It’s time to dust off the cross bike now for the winter season, having decided that I won’t contest the final NPS race next week – too tired and too poor!* That and the fact that I’ll be spending most of this week drinking Sussex ale from the new silver cup that my mates and I won!
*Any potential sponsors looking for a rider for 2012 should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ring me on 07541 725 606. I will entertain and respond to any offers! I like riding my bike fast, I can fix my own stuff and I make great tea, so I could be the winning package for you?
THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY proudly use Kona™ Framesets, Fox™ Suspension, Rohloff™ Transmissions, Shimano™ and Ritchey™ Components, Schwalbe Tyres, Exposure lights™, adidas™ Eyewear, Clothing and torq™ Performance Nutrition. We also buy additional gear from Cotswold Outdoor to support our riders at races. We’re not sponsored by these brands, but we wouldn’t use any other equipment.
“83.R”, “THE.8.RAC3R” and “THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY” all appear courtesy of, and belong to, Glen Whittington.
We also support The British Heart Foundation and have been racing this weekend at Insomnia to raise funds for them. You can help by pledging as much or as little as you’d like here! Please give generously.