... the last 24 hours has stretched my emotional and physical capacity to the absolute limit.
Taking part in a world championship race, standing on the start line with athletes who you would keenly search out to get their autograph, is an over whelming experience. I am wearing subtle Union Jacks on my Natterbox team top, my bike is racked at the start line, my race number has my name and country on it. Pinch me - is this a dream?
Standing waiting for the running start I glance round at the other athletes. nervous, inane chatter and steely 1000 meter stares. 400 plus athletes - One goal, one race, 24 hours in the saddle...
Bang! We sprint for our bikes. The clatter of 400 pairs of cycling shoes on concrete sounds like frantic gunfire- adrenaline is flowing.
Spot the Union Jack a mile off - jump on the bike and away I go. Only 23 hours 59 minutes to go.
But what a fantastic course! After the difficult start I began to enjoy myself. I nailed "Pork Barrel", the uber technical decent, and ultimately flew down "Skyline", the amazing, long, swoopy, bermed trail into the pits. All the time Ian Potter's voice banging round in my head "heals down - look round the bend - heals down" - Yes!!! This was brilliant!! I was so pelased we had been out to Luchon for a training week with Ian and Kate of AQR - I really couldn't have coped with this course without them and for Kate to lend me her bike...
My saddle still was not quite right, but as I got to the pits they were so efficient that before I knew it I was spat out the other side and back onto the course with clean face, energy gel, water and a massive cheer from the pit crew. They had told me that I was 7th, but not by much..that was all the motivation I needed. Pedal, pedal... Standing up as much as I could to stop the saddle from bashing me. The next few laps were brilliant, each one better than the last. The leaders had lapped me by this point and I was being overtaken constantly by these amazing riders. They all had encouraging words to say to me as they passed. As the race went on I saw the course in safe overtaking points and I was always rewarded with a keen "thank you" or a compliment on how I pulled in /over. The Australians course etiquette was without exception, amazing. I was now being overtaken by some of the elite ladies and I was tempted to up the speed but I knew I must not. Canny riding would get me to the finish line.
The Cotic KP24 was awesome to ride. Several people did a double take as I flew past them. It really came into its own on the twisty, rocky, narrow descents: the handling was superb. It was Ian's advice to use the Maxxis Crossmark tyres- they rolled fast and gripped right round every bend. Everyone else was complaining of back, shoulder and hand pain- not me! It was not a Giant, Specialized or a Yeti but I was nailing it. "C_O_T_I_C - whats that?" I would have told them if they could have kept up!
Each time I got to the pit, 6 pit crew descended on me and in double quick time they had looked after my every need. Suncream on, chopped food, tyre pressure, tight bolts, clean glasses, new camel back, quick kiss from Simon and out with a massive cheer! Their enthusiasm was infectious, and spread to the neighbouring pits. By the 4th lap the whole pit lane was cheering every rider who came or went- such a lift to us all. I thought I was hallucinating when on one pit stop the British High Commissioner and his family were standing there. What a boost to morale to see them!! Jolyon Welsh had invited us on a bike ride the day before and afternoon tea at his house. It was a fantastic surprise to see them again. Although I was more than slightly embarrassed after I stuffed an entire energy bar into my mouth in one go and then mumbled an apology for my poor manners with my mouth full to bursting.
Each lap I upped a place until I was in second. But by this time I was elated, but really suffering in the short /saddle department. No matter what I did with the saddle it kept gradually tipping back.
It was a suffering like I had never had before. My lap times started to slow because the pain was all consuming. Muscular pain I could deal with but this was a whole new experience and I wasn't sure how to handle it. I wanted to cry but I knew it would waste valuable energy. Each lap got worse but we just couldn't get the saddle to stay put. The saddle had bashed me to bits and as I struggled into the pits on lap 6 I had to be lifted off the bike. It was my dinner time stop so while I ate hot stew, mash and neurofen the pit crew tried to put the saddle at a comedy angle to try and alleviate the pressure.
I got back on the bike and had to bite my lip in an effort to distract away from pain. I had dropped back to 5th at this point and I was struggling to stay positive. I could not imagine being able to ride for another10 hours. The pit crew were absolutely fantastic. Quick pep talk, (a few twitter and facebook messages read out from back home), the biggest cheer yet lead by Andy who I think reached the entire camp, and off I went into the night. The next 2 laps were ok, the sun had set and with my startlingly bright exposure lights I was able to keep riding well on the technical terrain. My climbing had slowed as I was still having to stand up.
Amazingly my legs felt really good, so I focused on that, concentrated on the fantastic course, the great views over Canberra at night and my lovely bike (still no pain at all in my back, shoulders or arms)
At the top of the first climb my crank suddenly lost all traction. Damn! my free hub had gone. I still had Ian Potters voice in my head and the words "go forwards" Rational thought process is never going to happen 14 hours into a race at 2am. I decided it was perfectly possible to finish the lap forwards rather than go backwards. It was only 12km running with the bike and free wheeling the downs.
In a funny way this piece of bad luck was just what I needed. I wasn't going to let this stop me, it was just one of those thing that can happen in a race which is no ones fault. I had set out to finish the race - so I would! Striding out I pushed the bike, jumping out of the way of racing riders and scooting flat or downhills. Harder than it sounds as there really were not any flat bits at all and with no pedaling ability the downhills became really scary. I was so appreciative of Rory and the burntimes of his Exposure lights, without which I would have been fumbling in the dark for sure! Strangely, I really enjoyed this lap. I was able to look at the dawn views, see (and avoid) the spiders, gulp! and the walking gave my bum a much needed rest. Gradually I could feel my body waking up again.
3 hours later (ouch!) I got back to the pits knowing that my spare bike would be there ready. I did not want to know what place I had dropped to, I just wanted to ride. The quickest pit stop yet, onto the spare bike - I had some catching up to do!
Getting onto the spare bike made me appreciate The Cotic even more. The terrain was no longer smooth. My spare was a top brand race bike, but I had to fight to keep in a straight line as we attacked the bumpy course. Luckily the 3 hours off the bike had taken the edge off my saddle issues and I was flying gain. The grin returned and I took giggled overtaking rider after rider. My legs felt ok, it was my arms, back and shoulders that started feeling it now. I was back up a place or two and time for possibly 2 more laps. I wasn't sure if I could creep up any more, but I was going to have a go! Inconveniently the event's timing live feed wasn't working so the pit had no way of knowing where the other riders were. Dig deep! By this time my concentration had started to go. I was mentally exhausted from pushing myself and concentrating on riding safely on the very technical course - there really had been no let up. A crash on a relatively easy bit helped me make my decision. I would rather come 10th than come home in a box. The pace relaxed and again I had time to enjoy the course and chat to other riders. The final descent I met up with Jane and Ricky, the two other female members from team GB, perfect! we could finish our last lap together!!
A cheer to beat all cheers as we came down into the finish area! It was over!! I had finished.
Not only had I finished but I had come 4th!!
I felt fantastic! All the pit crew were cheering and waving their Union Jacks, Jolyon Welsh, in perfect, smart casual dress had also come to see us finish the race. I was acutely aware that I was standing there swaying whilst shaking his hand with my minging, oily cycling gloves on, in 24 hour old dirty, sweaty clothes, mud on my face, and barely able to talk!
This was without doubt, the hardest 24 hous of my life. The toughest race completed for the majority of the riders. I had highs and lows and a whole range of everything in the middle. I could not have done it with out my amazing pit crew who ignored my winging and made me ride further than I ever imagined I could.
As I said in my previous post its the journey, not the destination - the last 24 hours had been the most amazing journey but the destination feels pretty good too.