If you ever want to guarantee a wet weekend in July, just look up the date of TwentyFour12 and you certainly won’t be disappointed! After months of an unusually warm and dry summer across the UK, I was excited at the prospect of being able to race around Newnham Park in the dry for once. Friends that had arrived early and pre-rode the course were exclaiming how fast the laps were going to be, and it was all set to be an awesome weekend… until the forecast changed to torrential rain and gale force winds. Surely it couldn’t be as bad as last year… could it?
Last year’s attempt at the 12hr Solo category resulted in a DNF after horrendous course conditions resulted in me calling it a day after 3.5hrs. Entering the same race again this year, my aim was to be much better prepared for changing conditions and at least complete the race even if I wasn’t in a position to be that competitive. Despite plenty of road mileage, specific training for the event had been a bit non-existent, especially as I’d only had my mountain bike back for a couple of weeks after the insurance nightmare, and so my aim was to just wing it and see what I could manage.
After arriving and signing on on Saturday morning, I met up with the rest of the Complete Cycle Works crew who were competing in the 4-man team 12hr category, and headed out for a quick pre-ride of the course. Thankfully the heavy rain the night before hadn’t had too much of an impact on the rock-solid ground, and the trails were all still running extremely fast. Each lap started with the usual zig zag through the camp site, before heading into some double track, over a small bridge across the river and into the first section of rooty trail running alongside the river, the Shuttle Chute. From there it was pretty much one big climb to the top of the course – gradual at first towards the shooting grounds, before really kicking up for the Mach Attack Climb, a loose gravelly 28% gradient wall, before continuing to climb through single track into rooty woodland. Then the fun started, with a couple of fast trail descents through the woods, and then flat out fire roads into the incredible singletrack of Bluebell Woods, the Bomb Holes, and Cottage Return before returning to the camp site and back around to the start/finish line.
We made our way to the start line just before midday, to realise we’d left it far too late andwere about 50 metres back from the organised guys who’d got there earlier. To make matters worse, the start area setup was slightly different this year with awkwardly positioned barriers to form an ’S’ bend, slowing riders down for confirmation of lap timings – not an issue during the race, but as the klaxon sounded at midday it was a long minute or two before we finally got moving as everyone slowly negotiated their way around the bottleneck.
As usual, the first lap was a little bit tense whilst everyone spread out which led to me pushing a bit harder than planned to try and make up some of the lost time from being so far back on the start line. Whilst the second and third laps weren’t as bad, I knew I needed to knock it back a bit if I was going to last the full 12 hours, and settled into a more sustainable pace on the fourth lap. As I came through the arena it was announced I was in 7th place… not bad, but not really where I wanted to be.
Around 2pm a heavy rain shower hit which made the trail conditions somewhat slicker and a little muddy. Last year’s biggest problem was being unable to see as my glasses kept misting up, yet without them too much mud was flicking into my eyes. Therefore this year, I came prepared with a front crud-guard fitted and also coated my lenses with an anti-mist spray, which prevented the issue completely. Thankfully it didn’t last long before the sun re-appeared and the trails began to dry out again.
With so many riders on course competing in different categories, knowing who your direct competition is and your position is always a bit tricky, so it was a pleasant surprise as I came through on lap 8 to discover I had moved up to 4th place, increasing motivation to chase down 3rd place and try to make it onto the podium! A few laps later, things started to get rough and painful as the repetitive harshness of riding rooty descents on a hardtail began to take it’s toll on my palms, wrists, feet and ankles. Eventually, loosening off my shoes seemed to help relieve the foot pain, and some makeshift additional padding for my palms by stuffing rags under my gloves made things a bit more comfortable. With the pain eased, I was able to get back into the groove and felt reasonably good again for the remaining laps.
Nutrition is always a tricky one for events of this duration, however following TORQ’s fuelling strategy of 3 TORQ units per hour seemed to work fairly well for me. With laps taking around half an hour, I aimed to consume 250ml of TORQ Energy each lap, and alternated between a gel or an energy bar every lap. As time went on, I also resorted to a few handfuls of Haribo, mostly as a pick-me-up when things started to get tough! As darkness began to fall around 8pm, I introduced caffeine to keep my waining focus sharp, and also switched to an energy bar containing some protein, although I found these much harder to digest which resulted in a bit of discomfort for a few laps.
As night fell, so did more rain from the fast-approaching storm that would later result in the 24 hour race being called off. The roots became incredibly slippery which led to a few near-misses and unfortunately one major crash as I got thrown over the bars whilst dropping onto the bridge. Thankfully I wasn’t injured and managed to continue, but self-preservation mode kicked in, and lap times slowed slightly as I focused on completing the event in once piece! It didn’t help that my head torch had died by 10:30pm, as I unintentionally changed the runtime from 4hrs to 1hr when fumbling to turn it on, and was down to just my bar mounted light.
As I came back through the arena around 11:40pm, I had enough time to squeeze in one more lap to round the total up to 20 laps and 200km in 12h 20m. With a total moving time of 12h 12m, it meant just 8 minutes of stoppage time, which, whilst could have been reduced slightly, I’m not too unhappy about over a 12 hour period! Unfortunately despite my best efforts I wasn’t quite able to catch third place, but managed to retain fourth in the 12hr solo category – slightly disappointing to be so close to the podium, but considering I had no real expectations of doing well it was still a reasonable result.
As much as I looked forward to finally climbing off the bike, I think that was possibly the worst part as I quickly proceeded to completely seize up! Given the forecast overnight storm I decided to pass on camping, and stumbled through the door at 1am barely able to move my legs… it was probably for the best I didn’t camp, as I’d likely have had to be stretchered out the following morning!
A big thanks to the Complete Cycle Works crew for their support and pit assistance, and all the other guys from the XC racing scene for their words of encouragement and mid-lap conversations to help the time pass! TwentyFour12 took me to whole new levels of pain and discomfort… but why do I already have the urge to do the same again next year?!