Throbbing, aching legs, stiff joints and every movement an effort. That’s just sitting at my desk today!
The reason for my discomfort? Yesterday I raced the Merida Brass Monkeys 4 hour endurance race at Frith Hill near Deepcut in Surrey. It was minus 3 degrees when I left home and although the temperatures had risen slightly as the start time approached, the puddles on the opening loop were still frozen solid. I thought I’d have the normal 15 minute “warm-up” before the off. Not much warming-up took place, the result was numb fingers and shivering as I rolled towards the start.
I haven’t raced much this year, so my pre-race prep was slightly rusty. I’d got distracted chatting to a few familiar faces during my warm-up which meant I joined the grid near the back, with only a handful of riders behind me. When the race got underway I was immediately held up as the pack ahead funnelled into the trees. Once into the wood there was plenty of beautiful singletrack, but this meant there was no chance of overtaking so I cruised around picking off riders here and there when I could. We also quickly caught the slower guys at the back of the 2 hour race, adding further to the congestion.
My favourite phrase when instructing new riders is, “Speed is your friend”. Riding obstacles slowly can frequently be harder than attacking them with more momentum. Your inertia carries you over the roots and rocks in the path, which can quickly catch you off balance when tackled more cautiously. For example… Following a back marker about ¾ of the way around the first lap we had to clear a fallen tree. I lifted the front wheel which cleared the trunk fine, but misjudged our slow pace and the rear tyre bounced off the top, rebounding sideways. My saddle was pushed into me with such force it rotated to a 45degree angle. I rode the rest of the lap standing on the pedals, which is surprisingly tiring!
I stopped in the pits, grabbed an allen key and corrected the saddle. It may only have taken a minute, but so early in the race the field hadn’t strung out and dozens of riders I had just battled past came streaming through. Taking the opportunity for a swig of water and bite of banana I was underway again and once more picking my way forward through the pack. Suddenly a rider ahead fell, I dodged round the prone figure as he writhed in the mud, but my front wheel washed out and I also went down with a thump! More time lost and 3 positions handed back to those behind. I was aware my knee hurt afterwards, but it was kind of lost in the general body aches of racing. It was only the next day as I was limping around the office I realized I must have given it quite a whack!
Laps 3 and 4 were stunningly fun. Now with some free space around me I could enjoy all that glorious singletrack! Braking late and diving into the corners, accelerating away towards the next bend. There were also a couple of really sharp climbs which perfectly suited me. I powered up, weaving between people pushing their bikes or leaning against them grabbing a breather!
At this point, despite my problems, I’d been averaging 40 minutes a lap, so I was still aiming to squeeze 6 laps into the 4 hour race time. The weather however, had other plans! It started to rain towards the end of lap 4 and the course quickly became very slippery indeed. I had to abandon hope of that 6th lap as I slithered around the twisty corners battling for grip. Water flowed down some sections of the course like a stream. Riding to the left or right of the marked route was frequently faster than the gloop created where hundreds of tyres had churned the trail. Of course, where there were trees or bushes this wasn’t always possible and I even had to resort to foot on a couple of short inclines near the end of the lap such was the poor state of the course.