Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fifeing Eejit 4 - Strathpuffer Lite

This is the 12 hour version of the Strathpuffer24 race held in Toralchity Forest every winter.  The idea behind the 12 hour race seems to be that you get to do the trails without the ice and snow, in warmth and with a fair bit more daylight.
If that is the theory then due to the Gulf Stream not bothering to take its annual summer holiday to the space in the Atlantic between Ness and Reykjavik it failed miserably.


I can't remember exactly how I discovered there was a 12 hour version of the 'puffer, nor can I remember how I came to convince one other Dundee Mountain Club sort of member (I've still to hand over two dozen and a half pounds sterling to the membership secretary) to take part in the event.

However I seem to remember it involving me going to the trails for a recce while on holiday in Inverness and coming home thinking rather a lot of the trail, that day it was warm and dry and there hadn't been any rain for a month.

An e-mail was received from the organizers saying they needed more entries, not just this year but onwards for the event to go on, so it looked like I may have picked the last year for it, I hope not.


So we set off early on the Saturday morning from Dundee, the weather was rather manky but as we headed north and turned off for Laggan it was looking rather dry, yes I did just say "turned off for Laggan", not only did we plan for a prologue at Laggan Wolftrax put also an epilogue at Golspie Wildcat..

With legs warmed up and bikes checked out for any issues on the Laggan red the rains arrived as we left, the weather seemed to be following us, but as we crossed Slochd the weather was back to being nice and dry hopefully it would hold.
Alex approaching the dibbing station to start his 2nd lap
This of course meant that when Alex started the race the day was already 12 hours old, while others more wisely had arrived on site when it opened at 2pm and promptly gone to sleep.  As Alex was driving he took on stints 1 and 3, with me doing 2 and 4, unfortunately the catering van had a wedding during the day so the van opened around half 7, this was fine for me but Alex hadn't had a chance to eat before the start and this seemed to show in his times, with the first 2 laps around the 50 minute mark, I had actually expected him to be in, in time for a 4th lap but it wasn't to be with his rather hungry 3rd lap at 1:05

The bikes prep'ed for action
Team DMC Coal and Custard
The race leader starts his 2nd lap
With a plate of pasta and a Caffeine gel in me I set off at a disturbing rate of knots up the hill, the recce was proving useful as I knew roughly how much further I had to go so could tell the pace I was doing was fine, and words of encouragement emerged from campervans parked in the darkness helped with the climb.

I knew the top section was going to be tough, 2 marshals with a livestock van, 4x4 and blazing oil drum sat at the start of it, there's a choice of 2 narrow wooden bridges over a ditch that drops you onto a loose rocky climb and the rockiness continues, and continues, I'm not very good at rocks, and I'm on a hardtail with 85mm travel so as you can imagine I was being thrown around a fair bit.  This then eases off as you approach the gate and Bob the Skeleton.

After Bob the rough rocks are replaced with bedrock slides and rough single track as you descent to be bridge, I had heard that someone had once missed the bridge while in the lead of the 24 hour race once, it's certainly one you don't want to miss, it's also uncomfortably narrow although with the barrier at ankle height rather than bar height as long as you can keep straight lines in narrow stuff it should be fine.. I of course have a severe dislike of ruts and this proved to be the same.

There was then a rough climb, switchbacking up the hillside before a rough run to a sharp descent on narrow track and a small climb to the seat, the seat where I had stopped for a rest and viewed across the coutnry side during the recce, it's dark I can only batter on.

The seat indicates a real change in track and pace, the route plunges down the hillside from here on narrow tracks, tracks that seemed to get narrower every lap rather than wider, with no room for anyone to get past if they caught you, no one caught me here, not because I was going fast but because with the low number of entries the event attracts the pressure of passers is much rarer than on other events, and then boom you're spat out onto fire road faster faster, tape across the road ahead, a small but brutal single track bump, a short cut through the trees, out onto fire road again, the sound of a horn, a van, another oil drum ablaze, shouts of encouragement and suddenly up, sharp and loose, caught unaware, I knew this was here, but I'm in top! I manage to drop into the middle rings, a standing club, I know it's not too long, I've passed someone, they repass spinning in their granny ring as I grind it out like Jens Voight, it would be my turn to have the laugh on that climb next lap as someone else was caught out in similar manner.  The summit of the climb reached, here the fun really begins, a well surfaced track starts to lead us down, onto a well surfaced path, faster down, bounding over culverts, faster faster, another chance to get caught out in the wrong gear as the route shoots up and up again, the summit is reached, another fast descent another wee climb, I may even be imagining but then, then, the last summit is reached 140m to descent to the line, the route really plunges now, the good path surface cut up a bit by the bikes, sharp tricky loose rutted corners, culverts to cross, faster faster, steeper steeper, another sharp bend, braking from 30/35 kmh maybe more for others across the fire road path again, path narrows, foliage climbs, a sharp corner, Culvert! the path widens again, approaching a camper van more shouts of encouragement, sharp turn WOW, this was a bit I hadn't found during the Recce, a thin ribon of singletrack, still solid in dryness at this point but tough due to it's mix of roots and logs leads down between fire roads, a fast chute onto the fire road, down, round the corner and then a blast along to the line to start the next lap.

Yes the next lap, the one that crossed midnight, 55 minutes or as SI printed it 24:55:29, the one where I first encounter a walker, pushing up the fire road, "Legs gone?" I query as I pass, "Aye", "Solo?" I probe, "Aye", "Oh Dear" I reply.  It's also the one when the rain started, it's not heavy though, I carry on don't bother with the water proof, but it gets heavier, the going is still good but tiring, I'm not eating during the laps, I'm just drinking, I have juice for 3 anyway.  The 3rd lap, rain getting even heavier, too wet now to put on the jacket, I finish it on 01:06:18, slower than Alex's 3rd lap, and I had eaten, but I was tired, it's 25 to 2, I'm early, our agreement should have seen me do another lap, but I got off to find him after dibbing in considering the delay between me stopping and him setting off 1:13 was a decent time for that lap, the next was 1:10 and the next was 1:12, consistent!

By this point the rain was heavy, I was soaked, but also hungry, no point getting changed into gear for the last 3 hours yet, I stand shivering in the marque as I wait for my Venison burger, maybe I should have dried off first and put a warmer layer or two on?


Cut wooden poles burn in the early morning light, I didn't really sleep, just lay and cramped for a couple of hours after drying off, I'm waiting for Alex to hand over for the last 3, I'm cold, I'm set up for cycling not standing around, maybe I should have had a warmer jacket on and handed that over as well as swapping the van keys for the dibber?

It's 5 am, It's light, I'll see where I'm going now, the Caffeine gel is consumed early, still waiting, 5:25 here he is, 9 laps done, on target for 12, Dibber and Keys are swapped, I shoot off, another caffeine induced climb.

The same van, the same encouragement, "I've only just started!" I joke.  I'm climbing well and I know it, the daylight reveals some interesting features, For as long as I've been riding in the dark I've know the reduced visibility makes some things easer, like that steep grass slide in the field above Wormit, or various rock sections at Strathpuffer...  With the tiredness comes walking of some of the climbs, only technical climbs on the 1st and 2nd laps but on the 3rd even some of the fire road, I even put by saddle up to road height to try and keep going on that last climb. I probably should have eaten a bit more than that sole venison burger and protein shake during my rest, on the 2nd lap, at the summit the bag of Jelly Babies is devoured, questions of ability to do the 6th/12th lap fill my mind, I'm physically tired, but I managed 10 hours at 10 Under why am I struggling now? Maybe it's just mentally tired, Of course the rain is still on, It's 6am and I've been awake for 22 hours, on through the day light, the smooth descents faster, the tricky bits sometimes trickier in the light, that narrow bit feeling even narrower.

That 4th/10th lap took 1:02 the 2nd took 1:13 it didn't feel like I had been that slow, but how long has I stopped to eat those jelly babies? I really thought I was spent when I dibbed in at the end of the 5th/11th lap, but I had time, I had a whole hour and a half to get round, it was 7:30am, I've now been awake for 23.5 hours, I wish I had had a caffeine gel on me then it would have helped, I still had some juice left though, enough for the lap, that juice was 2:1 + Caffeine so.

"May as well try" I mumble to no one really as the I pause after dibbing in, I set off up the hill knowing it's the last time not as fast feeling as before, the rain has eased off too, but it's still cold, and it's very wet, the fire road defeats me, daft I know the saddle was up, the going was good but my head was gone for it, i continue walking further after the bridges also, no Jelly Babies in the bag this time, I felt slow, so slow, but as I hit that final descent, I'm fast, I know I'm fast, the speedo shows I'm going over 32kmh into the corner at the fire road, the clock on the speedo shows I'm going to make it with 15 minutes to spare, that final narrow single track is no longer solid, it's a mud surf, I hit the fire road for the last time, I can use up what energy I have left.  I cross the line and dib in.  The marshal has to remind me to hand over the Dibber, do I want a print out? Yes of course I do! 1:11:34 for that last lap. What? That's faster then the 2nd last! Did I really stop that long for Jelly Babies?

Alex demonstrates his accommodation for the rest periods
I pass the remains of the burning logs and head to my tent, Alex is sorting stuff out in the van, I've not changed or dried off yet, we discover there is a hose, so I take the bike there to clean it as best I can, and then turn the hose on myself.  Another competitior who did the race solo is there, she says she did 11 laps and was happy with that, she also says she took 5 minute rests between laps.  That means she was going at the same pace as us, but all night. The race winner did 15 though.

I can now dry off, get changed, and lie down, more cramping, I get up tank some electolytes and try again, that's better.  Alex tells me to batter on the van when I'm ready to set off.
I don't sleep, I can't sleep even with something over my eyes for a black out.

I attempt a cramp unfriendly position in Alex's accomodation

I give up, and get up, I batter on the van doors, are we still going to Golspie?

We didn't.

I get home at 2pm, I go to bed at 3, I wake up at 10, wander around for a bit and go back to bed, I wake up at 11am, just as well I booked that day off work.

I hope this event can keep going, I like that it gives a chance to try an overnight event without it being a full 24 hours and not in winter, but that it appears puts others off.

Stint Traces:
1st Stint:
2nd Stint:

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