Wednesday, 11 May 2011

EXPOSURE 24

EUROPEAN SOLO 24 HOUR MOUNTAIN BIKE CHAMPIONSHIPS

I woke up feeling a little hung over. It was dark outside. I started to get that awkward feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

I was lying in bed with my partner Simon curled up in front of me, a concerned look on his face.  My eyes opened wide. OMG!! If Simon was in front - who the heck was spooning me from behind??! My heart began to pound. My brain started to spin with confusion and a tornado of questions. Last time I checked, surely I was racing at Exposure24, the European 24 hour solo champs in Scotland?

Signing on.
Had I finished the race? Had I got drunk? How had I ended up in bed? Who was the person in bed with us? Oh heavens!! ... Where were my clothes??!!

The hazy events of the previous 24 hours started slotting into place.


ANT KATE AND ANNE COTIC/AQR ENDURANCE TEAM
This was to be my first event racing for the Cotic / AQR holidays race team. At the start line I was nervous and excited in almost equal measures. Kate Potter had been coaching me for the past 6 months and I had stuck to her training program almost to the letter. I had been given tons of skills coaching by Ian Potter and had 2 new Cotic race bikes to play with. 

Cotic KP24 plus KCNC and Magura blingness:-)
I was determined to do my best, to show how much I valued and appreciated this personal support and to prove to myself that all that effort was worth it. I had ridden this same race the year before and had a few goals of my own too. In 2010 I hadn't liked the fast tight hairpins on the descents, so had worked really hard on balance and cornering skills. There were loads more hills in Scotland than in my local trails in Surrey, so I needed to improve on my climbing skills. And thirdly, I was determined not to stop in the pits - Call it fear of Mr Potter ;-) or the wish to waste no time – three goals - this was my plan.
Kate’s programme was amazing.  Lots of interesting and challenging exercises to improve all areas of fitness and skills - Little did I know how the balancing practice was going to be vital at the beginning of this race. We were led to the start by a piper on foot and It is clearly impossible to blow bag pipes and jog simultaneously - I was nailing this first challenge. I was staying upright as 270 mountain bike racers wobbled at bag pipe dirge pace towards the start. 
The non Jogging Piper
As the race got underway  I realised that my skills and fitness had clearly improved from last year as I found myself fairly near the front, sometimes even pulling away from able riders around the tight hairpins on the descents. Personal goal one – tick :-) I was also felt like I was climbing like a 'trail demon', well at least only being overtaken by the elite riders:-)  – goal number two – tick :-))

Pit stop
24 hours is a long race, and determined not to stop in the pits I found a steady comfortable pace. The AQR pit crew were a bit like an automated, cheerful conveyor belt. Food (pork pie with a torq energy gel chaser in Rhubarb and custard was Simons answer to main course and pudding-euk!!), water, mechanics, face clean all in under 15 seconds. I really wouldn't have been surprised if Chloe had added lipstick and mascara on exiting the pits as the final touches! Personal goal number three, tick :-D

LOVING IT!
All was going according to plan. I was loving it - absolutely nailing it. As the weather deteriorated and the bikes got clogged up with mud I was swapping bikes to let the pit crew keep the bikes running smoothly. The full suspension Cotic KP 24 was uber comfortable (this is what she was designed for – endurance racing) and the Soul was nimble and fun - it simply made me grin.

At 10 hours in I was comfortably in second place (yes!) and gaining on the leader .... 

Lying in bed I shook my head to try and make sense of the remainder of the evening. As tiredness sets in during the later hours of a 24 hour race it is common to hallucinate. I had vague and slightly disturbing recollections of a gorilla drumming in the woods. I was clearly losing the plot- was it possible that I was still out on the course and this bizzare threesome just in my imagination?

"Are you ok?" Simon spoke-oh no!- this (and possibly more worryingly, the drumming gorilla) was real!

Feeling awful in the pits
I have no memory of the hours leading up to this apart from it starting to rain heavily. I never get cold so was still happily riding in shorts and short sleeved top, I vaguely remember thinking I would change clothes on my next lap.  Unfortunately a minor mechanical with my front light meant that I had to stop on the course. Frighteningly quickly I got really cold as I tried to fix it. My hands went numb with pains shooting into my fingers. I couldn't put away my multi tool let alone grip the handlebars. I must have somehow made it back to the pit. Wet clothes were stripped off me as I shook violently with cold.... The last thing I remember is a paramedic giving me oxygen. 

Several hours later I woke up in bed. Hypothermia isn't fun.  My heart rate and breathing was still all over the place, I hurt from shivering and my blood pressure was in my boots. On a plus side, the mystery of the extra bodies in the bed were starting to make sense, Not a wild fantasy, merely 1st aid to keep me warm.  It was a major relief to know that I hadn't got drunk, or had a sudden lapse of moral character!

My race was over. I was devastated. My disappointment was overwhelming. 

At dawn I woke again. I don't know if it was the sunlight, lack of rain or the fact that my core temperature was back to normal but I suddenly wanted, more than anything to get back on my bike. Not because I wanted to get on a podium, but because I wanted to finish the race on my bike, not in bed. My legs felt fresh, I had hands again, I had a grin inducing bike to ride, the best pit crew and team mates ever and I just wanted to be out there with everyone. 

The COTIC/AQR PITS 
I crawled slowly round 2 laps- walking up all the climbs, cheering on the other tired riders and picking up discarded energy gel wrappers as I went to justify my slow pace. 

I finished upright. Not my original personal goal, but hey, given the circumstances a very important one none the less. 

Coming second in Ladies vets category was a bonus. I felt incredibly proud to be standing on the podium wearing my Cotic/AQR team top. 
2nd Ladies VETS at European Championships

Every race is a learning curve and boy do I keep learning! The first half of the race was faultless (I would have come second in the open ladies 12 hour race had I entered it) , and that is what I am going to take away from exposure 24 2011. 

I also learnt how important a good pit crew and team dynamics are to make things run well and also to react quickly if things go wrong.

Pit crew sorting every need
The cotic aqr team were outstanding, not only at looking after its own racers, (Rachel spooning me was waaay above and beyond the call of duty), but also cheering on all of the riders on course and offering support too. 
Riders bombing past Cotic AQR pits

Thanks to Kate for being an ace coach, Ian for superb mechanical skills, Simon for knowing what I need when I clearly don't have a clue myself, Rachel for being squashed with me and Si in a bed , Chloe and Carole for being the best pit Mums- keeping us all with hot tea and clean legs and James for just doing the right thing and never getting flustered. 

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