Tales of 12 hour racing.Well it's in my genes to want to do "longer, higher, harder". Quite why, I don't know. Only that I need to escape the melee of the everyday world, and that after I've achieved something, I feel really good - apart from the crippling, stiff legs, sore knees, neck and butt on such an event. There I was at my Glade Cycling Club in Essex, England, we had some great riders - Rene Stirling, Mike Savage, both National record holders, I'd done a few 10s, a 25 and a 50 mile race, though I just didn't seem to have the legs to get great times. I had better pecs, quite big actually and some were even a bit jealous of them, though no good for cycling when they arose from hanging around in trees and rock climbing. Still, as the topic moved onto 12 hour racing, my ears picked up! I want to enter that, I said. My Dad did the 100 in a rainstorm and only he finished. Though I was now greeted with a look of consternation from the older guys - thirty-five years old or so. "No, you need to be older to do this kind of thing." Well that clinched it. Fancy saying that to me, son of a gun!
So I set off with them by train and ended up in remote, West Suffolk, with a pretty long ride to the bed and breakfast too. Not enough food around already, and then it was time to get up. It was 3am and I wanted to stay in bed. So much for ambition. Finding myself at the start gate in some back field at 5am, I set off, hoping that the dawn light and warmth would soon come. The light did, though the warmth didn't, and I spent the next 4 hours jigging along, bitterly cold. The big guys, it seemed had all these support cars - food at hand and all worked out with arm warmers and hot water bottles up their shirts. Me, I had the shorts I wore and the statutory, meagre food handouts at all too long intervals. Arrival at each of which found me hitting the wall and sorely tempted to drop out and head for the nearest greasy cafe'. Still, I stuck at it, as my knees became sore and neck strained from supporting my big, overenthused head as the miles accumulated and my clubmates began to realise that I might make 8 hours of it. No, clear off. The full 12 or drop as I thought of my grandfather's soldiering in 3 wars, including the trenches. What me, give up! Even when my father was captured in the Sahara in WWII he never raised his hands and then started to dig in - out, literally.
The 6 to 8 hours period was the worst, so far out, so sore in the knees and still so far to go. I began to flag. Then once I got past the 8 hours, people started to believe in me, and extra rations came my way. An extra drink here, a sandwich there, some cheering. More choc. At the 10 hour mark, they were rooting for me, and then an amazing injection of pace came about me, as I got on a speed of 25 mph and began to catch so many riders. Someone must have slipped me some power juice or something. Then onto the 14 mile finishing circuit where I was blazing along, when a marshal told me I'd done the 12 and I could stop. So proud I felt, and as I looked forward to a gallon of tea and endless cakes at the village hall.
I sat for while, as who wants to do more miles when you've just hit 178 on your first effort. Though resting was a big mistake and by now the food craving was too much and I hobbled back onto the bike, and never was it so hard to get my leg over. Not even with the sexiest woman waiting for me would I have done any better. It was crippling in fact, as I'd made the mistake of letting myself seize up. Where's the Hall, I said. Then finding that I was exactly half-way round the 14 mile circuit. That last 7 was the most horrible, painful experience of my life. The consolation lay in the fine repast that I was about to gorge myself on. The grub positively floated across my delirious mind, like some comic book tea party, or was it Desperate Dan's cow pie 'fest. But only to find that my backcountry excursion and slow crawl back saw the tables practically cleared, leaving me with the odd soggy slice and a solitary cake, as I recall. And still the agony wasn't over. I got lift back in a van, which left me motionless after 3 hours and my bike and I dropped of at corner with several miles left to do and my knees seized and my toe dead.
I awoke to a fresh start of new college, though could now barely move, and struggled by bike to the train station, my legs feeling like steel girders and my knees full of glass as I hauled myself up the handrail and over bridge, when some "old guy" asked me if I needed assistance. No thanks, I'm just bit a stiff from some cycling. I politely said. "You must have cycled quite a bit then." No comment!
Well, as if that wasn't enough to deter me, and the four days it took for the stiffness to go, plus the thought of having two knee replacements, I duly did it three more times. The third, I used fixed wheel on my Hetchins chrome track bike. It was not a common choice to go fixed, but it has its advantages. All now totally prepared, supple, fit from a big climbing trip to Chamonix, altitude benefits and all, as third off the line I surged out and overtook the two lead guys within 20 minutes, and by 2 hours gone still spinning a massive pace and believing I could keep it all day. Though by now wondering where the support cars and the next marshal were. And then it dawned on me, I'd missed a turn, though in fact outpaced the marshals and I was now 20 miles from nowhere. It was a miserable crawl back as my food pockets depleted and the bottles were long empty. I ended the day finishing with an unknown mileage and a bitter taste in my mouth. I'll be back, I thought.
The best I ever did was 200. After that, I stuck to bike touring and Badminton, though a sport equally as hard on the knees and the same hobbling back into work after a big match. Don't I just love to feel good! And everyone else wondering why it's so.