We'd run out of gas and the heater was off, I know I had slept because others had woken up as the heat faded and looked at their watches; it was 5am. It seemed like forever before the alarm went off but I knew I'd had enough sleep as I bounced out the overcab bed, grabbed breakfast and then hopped out into the cold morning light to brush the fresh snow off the bikes.
Paul, Dad and Bill eventually woke up, got ready and with Paul having the first shift of the night (why do I think a 24hr race has no day?) set off down to the start. I busied myself by getting changed, preparing the mountain of jelly babies that would be devoured by 2 hungry cyclists over the next day and set up a camera to catch riders passing on the first lap.
It seemed like forever between the first riders passing and Paul passing but he was in a good midfield position and now it was a waiting game. Due to parking issues there had been no time for an reconnaissance lap so as the 2 neighbouring quads, a bunch of guys from Stirling and the Mukyriderz/Leslie Bike Shop team who would go on to win their race carried out their first change overs I gleaned information about conditions off their tired riders.
After around 54 minutes Paul passed again, although over 10 minutes slower than my best laps the previous 2 years, this was a good pace for the conditions which comprised of snow, ice and mud, lots and lots of gooey sticky stop you dead in your tracks mud. Fantastic...
The fire road echoed to the sound of a set of rollers being used to warm up by the neeburs as they prepared their secret weapon to attack the fastest lap category, one of Scotland's best youth riders! That he did so in 36 minutes was phenomenal this year, only 2 other riders getting close.
With Paul now due I started warming up, some quick sprints in gaps on the track before simply back pedalling hanging onto the camper van to keep some heat in me, as the dibber was dropped round my neck I shot off up the snowy fire road, it felt good to finally be on the bike, and with being in a Pair I knew I didn't need to hold back, my plan was to treat the race as a series of 22Km rides, this mentally allowed me to put a bit more in, and physically I felt good. The climb to Haribo hill seemed to be over in no time my legs burning slightly from the pace, onto the rough rocky single track and my spiked tyres were scrabbling for grip on the wet rock. I kept going as hard as I could through the lap, pushing my leg capacity as far as I could tolerate especially on the zig zag above bridge of thighs and on the tough sharp climbs towards the end of the lap, the last summit of the lap normally is followed by a fantastic fast descent through the trees that can be enjoyed before crossing the line and starting the pain all over again, but this year the organisers had different ideas and sent us down a clear felled area with the muddiest, stickiest, gloopiest mud I have ever seen, it was awful! After 53 minutes I was down at transition and starting our 4th lap.
On my 2nd lap each of the previous 2 winter 'puffers I had found myself at the top of the Zig Zags after Bridge of Thighs trying to calm a cramp; strangely enough this year was no different, and so too was the size of company I had there! I still did that lap in 52 minutes though, just battering on, if I don't slow down it doesn't cramp; even though it was where my legs hurt the most I kept the power down on the last climb to get to the motorhome and hand over to Paul,
We both had mishaps, Paul returned soaking wet after a fall into a puddle on the mud slide after lap 6 and on that lap I went over the bars after losing the front wheel off the side of the track, a silly mistake to be making at 4pm but I had forgotten all about it by the time I was back in the motorhome wondering why my left knee and wrists were sore!
I decided to give a couple of laps without spikes a shot now as I felt there may be more grip on the rocky sections without them than with, but in reality the spikes have confidence on the frozen roads and paths even though my lap times were pretty much the same (allowing for tiredness) so I switched back
On Lap 9 Bill and I waited a long time for Paul, a failure in his rear hub had resulted in him running wherever he couldn't ride fixed wheel, his lap time of 1hr 40mins when he was going so well was unfortunate and knocked us back a lap from where it looked like we could have been. A Quick discussion resulted in Paul being informed of the location of the Spare 9 speed wheel and an instruction to use the Zaskar if necessary. I shot off to do another 2 laps with the pace now over an hour as things started to slow down for the night.
Paul took over again and we had a quick chat at the end of that lap about the use of a spikeless tyre; I decided to continue with spikes as if anything things were going to freeze more from now on. It was another fantastic lap from Paul as well and then I had another long wait, only 20 minutes longer than expected this time but as Paul handed over the dibber all he could say was "I don't feel to well".
I set off again at 22Km pace, but as I passed at the end of that lap I asked Bill how Paul was "hm, not great" was the answer; I carried on but dropped the pace on the expectation of doing 3 laps.
After that lap I asked again as Bill changed my bottle, and I knew I was almost certainly solo now; Paul, was Asleep!!!
After that lap I decided to stop for a rest; it was probably unnecessary but I needed to adjust, I'd still been going at a pace for 22Km blocks and now after a 33km block and with 6 hours to go I had to not only let my legs rest but also change my mentality. Both can be done on the bike but I needed to think how I was going to approach it. That lap took 2 hours but with 30mins rest that meant I did the lap itself in 1hr 30mins which isn't bad really given I was adapting to a slower pace just to get us to the end.
I went out and did another 11Km lap, and had another 30 min rest; again I probably didn't need it, but I knew the sunrise wasn't far off and seeing snow sprinkled Strathpeffer show itself for the first time in 15 hours as I took a breather at the swivel seat was fantastic, but it wasn't sunrise yet; I knew I would need another break to shovel some food in and also knew the bonus would be seeing sunrise somewhere on the hill; I took my night lid off and put on the day lid. I also removed the lights from the bars; the weight is next to nothing but putting the lighter helmet on and losing the cable slap from the bar lights is just one of the mental boosts that morning brings; I also knew that after that 15 minute break, there would be no more laps; I could get round before the end of the 24 hours I was sure of that, but doing a lap in 1 hour now was out the question; even though I took my time, savouring the sunrise, reddy orange sky rising over a white world, Marshalls offering breakfast if I did another lap, the previously mentioned secret weapon flying past me at almost double the speed I was doing and saying "Hi Niall" in the process; I did that last lap in 1hr 38mins; or 1hr 23 mins if you ignore the break; a decent lap time for me!
As I descended the mud bath for the final time; knowing there was no more, I had already decided I would be back again, when I arrived in that transition tent and handed over the dibber I simply told the operator "no more" before sauntering into the crowd amassed at the end.
|Paul spots some touristy bagpipes in "Aladdin's Cave"|
|Riders on their way to the start|
|Paul completes the first lap|
|23 hours later and I complete the race|
|Myself and Paul helping Bill stand up for a photo|
|My collection of 'puffer souvenirs; there's definitely room for more|
|Mud Splattered race number|