I spent 2010 recovering from parathyroidism and racing World Cups, so threw myself into a 24hr solo race. Who wouldn’t? Fortunately I have raced 24hr solo events in the past so had some idea of what I was in store for, but as always no two 24hr solo events have ever been the same. At least I knew to be over-prepared for every racing eventuality, especially in the weather department..
I had all-weather clothing, all-weather bike components and all-weather thoughts as the forecast was predicting hail at one point (gulp). BUT on the plus side, knowing I didn’t have to over-prepare in the fuelling department was a huge relief, because I always keep to the same nutritional strategy that has worked for me come rain or shine, XC or 24hrs on a bike. I drink one bottle of natural orange flavour TORQ energy drink, followed by a bottle of TORQ natural (unflavoured), with my favourite yoghurt flavour gels every 20-30min depending where I am on the course. The strawberry and black cherry are delish and what I look forward to hour after hour on the bike. Then I have a secret weapon to combat nausea which is my curse – TORQ pineapple & ginger energy bar which always saves me from hitting rock bottom (ginger is a great natural remedy for nausea).
The race started really well for me and I took a comfortable lead, enjoying the swooping single track and rocky berms that brought plenty of buzzy smiles until about 3am when the weather and lack of sleep started to take its toll. I seemed to have one challenging moment after another, from a broken chain that was not repairable that meant a long run back to camp, to crashing and breaking my lights, then I started feeling really cold, started shaking and feeling hyperthermic. Fortunately my amazing pit crew were always one step ahead of me, so all I had to do was keep pedalling to make it across that finish line on Sunday. Every time I finished a lap I had the TORQ team cheering me on which always helps when the low moments set in because it’s so easy to quit when the going gets tough.
When asked to summarise this race or any biking experience, I am not known for my conciseness, but how can you summarise an event like a 24hr solo race when you go through so many different experiences, emotions, thoughts, feelings, and levels of pain. One minute you are on top of the world loving the bike and the next you could be swearing that you will never start another 24hr solo race, let alone ride your bike again. So I have tried to give you an insight into what the Exposure 24hr solo Championships were like for me, especially when my passport stops me from being competitive for a European title of any kind. What the heck was I doing out there on the weekend of 7-8th May when I could have been snug home in bed and saving my strength for a little ride somewhere warm? But I needed the self-inflicting challenge as this race was all about me beating mysef on the weekend and no one else, because all the doubts rolling around my mind were my biggest competition, not the other riders, because I had no idea whether I could finish a 24hr solo race again after a few years away from it.
ACT 1 – RACE DAY.on your marks!
Saturday morning and the COTIC/AQR HOLIDAYS RACE TEAM were all in great spirits. Anne, Anth and I were kitted up and ready to roll down to the start line. At 11:30am we signed on and were presented to the local crowds and supporters who were lining the streets to wave us all off on our 24hr solo mountain bike adventure. It was a fabulous atmosphere and my spirits lifted, especially when I noticed a little Aussie flag had been included in the line up of national flags representing athletes who were taking part in the event. I may not be European, but I was certainly made to feel very welcome which meant alot to me!
ACT 2 – MIDDAY-MIDNIGHT.and we’re off!
Lap 1,2,3,4,5,6,7..and feeling alot more comfortable than I expected to on what was quite a hilly course. There were long sections of twisty single track beneath the trees and switchbacks a-plenty. I started on my 2011 Cotic Soda, but after a few laps decided I needed to look after my back which had been playing up the week leading into this race. The twinges reminded me there was no way I would last on a hard tail for 24hrs this weekend, as much as I love my Cotic Soda. Now I was on board the Cotic KP24 for it’s first 24hr outing.
WOW, I was grinning from ear to ear. Not only did the extra suspension help my back when I needed it to most, but it still felt super fast and XC racey on the fast sections of the course as I don’t like slothful feeling full suspension bikes, especially up hills. I’m such a hard tail girl. My number 1 team mate and hubby Ian had changed the gearing on the KP24 to a double 40-26 with a ten speed XTR 11-36 (yes I know that sounds very technical bike jargon for me, especially for all those who know me. I had to ask Ian those numbers as I never remember digit combinations, but I thought it worth mentioning as it was a perfect range of gears for the course and my legs), those climbs were so much easier even in big ring and I didn’t notice any weight difference between the Cotic KP24 and the Soda. Usually I like to stand up and change position on the bike, but I was so comfortable I had to remind myself to do just that.
All was feeling good in the body and brain department, I was eating TORQ bars and gels at the appropriate times, drinking plenty of TORQ drink every fire road to ensure I finished a 750ml bottle each lap, and had fun playing on my bike whilst not wasting too much energy, and of course taking in the gorgeous Newcastleton scenery – what a beautiful area for riding a bike! Then darkness descended and it was time for some night riding action. I was using an Exposure Max D bar mounted light and joystick head torch. There was no change really from light to night except suddenly I could see frogs everywhere on the fire road sections, so I wasn’t always riding in a straight line as I tried not to bump into the little fellas, they were so cute!
ACT 3 – MIDNIGHT TO MORNING BLUES.and now I’m feeling off!
In the past I never used to go into 24hr solo races with the same mental approach as how I would start an XC or marathon race. It was more about how many laps could I complete without stopping? The 24hr test has always been about ME vs ME as I try to beat my brain so that I would cross that finish line at the very end no matter what the outcome. As this race went on I faced several challenges that obviously I could have done without, but every challenge was good training and I learnt alot about myself along the way.
Firstly – The weather was closing in. No shock here as storms were forecast all weekend, as was hail, but I noticed the temperature dropping which was not to be expected.
Secondly – I decided to do a stupid unnecessary gear change when I knew to be cautious as mud was starting to play havoc to riders out on course. I was half way round when my chain got stuck, and it took all my KP might and brain power to sort it out. All good so I thought, before I heard ‘click’ ‘click’ ‘click’, and was unable to put any power down, something was wrong, but I decided to keep plodding on as I would much rather Ian sort it out in the team pit area than me (as much as I try I’m never going to be a world class mechanic).
Thirdly – I was forced to do a mechanical repair and those who know me understand what that means? I started that lovely last climb back to base when my chain snapped. Not a problem, I was cool, calm and collected as I tried to fix it, whilst dropping the link and searching for it in the muddy grass. Why am I so clumbsy? I finally repaired my chain (big pat on the back KP), hopped on my bike and very gracefully fell off the other side as the cranks weren’t spinning. Oh dear? I discovered there was a huge twist in the chain that I failed to notice, but I was still cool, calm and collected even when I had to run up the last grassy hill, because I knew it was just a long descent back to base camp as soon as I reached the top. Well so I thought? All the rain had turned the grassy bumpy straight into a mud pit. I tried to ride down it in an aerotuck position, but only sunk further and was forced to run!
Fourthly – I decided that who needs a bright light when one has Jedi force. Again a KP clumbsy moment left me with a broken light, but I spent so long wondering how on earth I broke it that I didn’t really notice how much darker the trails had become. I think after 14hrs on the same loop you get to know them well enough.
Fifthly – Although prepared for the worst weather, when it hit at full force, I was in my little space cadet world when Ian usually takes over in the KP thinking department. I suddenly realised at one point how wet I was in my jersey and shorts, but didn’t change into wet weather gear when I needed to, thinking I would over heat on the climbs. Suddenly extreme cold hit home. I was half way around, and I couldn’t warm up. I had no water proof or thermal layers on as they were waiting for me at the end of the lap. I was starting to lose feeling in my fingers and the shakes signified early signs of hyperthermia. Fortunately when I returned to base camp I had an amazing team who took over and layered me up appropriately. To give you some idea of how cold it was, I was wearing my Keela Mountain water proof that is only used in severe cold and wet weather conditions at 1800m plus when I’m guiding in the Pyrenees.PLUS thermal layers beneath and I never overheated once on the climbs like I usually do, in fact at one point I was still cold.
Lastly – Possibly my most challenging moment out on course when I was truly tested by ME. At 3am motion sickness set in. I’m a terrible traveller, always have been, but never have I experienced such nausea on the bike like I did in the early hours of Sunday morning. I struggled to eat and drink the correct amounts of nutrition even though I knew I had to if I wanted to finish this race. I had to stop more often than I like to for hurling purposes 🙂 Oh I can laugh about it now, but from 3am until the finish I was in a right state.
There were only a few hours to go and I was battling my brain on every pedal stroke, which was suggesting I should stop every now and then, while the other part of my brain growled back and told the other side to quit. I worked out there were 3 laps to go until I could finish, but it felt like a life time away as I felt awful. Then Ian told me second place and UK 2010 24hr solo champion Rickie Cotter was making time up on me. It was the first time I actually thought about racing other people out on course because as I said before, I always treat these races as a battle between ‘ME, MYSELF & I’. Suddenly another little KP voice came into play ‘Right, let’s bring it on!’ I’m not sure what happened, but I attacked and the faster I went, the better I felt. Another caffeinated gel (forest fruits another favourite) and I was buzzing, well as buzzed up as you are ever going to be after 20 plus hours on the bike! My legs were fine and the nausea calmed down until I reached the pit area where I saw Ian and James running over to the tent. Apparently I was 15min quicker than they expected as they had gone off to the TORQ Tent to be social, but as soon as I slowed down the nausea came back again.
So now another ‘Right, let’s bring it on’ moment. I had 2 laps within me and I wanted them over with. Apparently I completed another fast lap and with one more lap now I truly wanted to push the pace, but Ian stopped me and gave me the biggest hug. ”What are you doing?” I said. There was no time for Mr Potter to get all soppy on me now, what was he thinking? Ian then revealed that I had a big enough lead now to take first place. You would think I would be overjoyed upon hearing this news, but I still had to complete one final lap. ‘BLAH’ was the best way to describe how I felt because the race wasn’t over yet!
ACT 3 – ONE MORE LAP.
You would think I could sit back, relax, make the most of these awesome trails I had the pleasure to ride for 24hrs, but suddenly with another lap to go the whole experience caught up with me. My back went into spasm and for the first time I felt every bump and every bruise. The nausea was now at it’s worst, and I suddenly felt weak. It was the strangest feeling, because I knew I still had to finish, but part of me already felt finished and this is where it really became Mrs Potter vs Mrs Potter – the battle to keep pottering on. I finally made it to the top of the final descent and I would like to say in celebration I stuffed a TORQ black cherry gel down my throat, but the shakes came on and I was simply going nowhere until I got some TORQ fuel down me.
When I crossed the finish line my team, the Cotic/AQR Holidays Race Team were all waiting for me with open arms, and boy did I need them. I was overjoyed that we got through this together. It was a tough race for everybody out there and in the pits, and definitely no solo effort by me, but a proper team effort by all of us, plus there was no way I would have completed this adventure without TORQ to keep me fuelled!
So thankyou everyone. I certainly wouldn’t have won the 24hr Exposure Championships without your endless support.