Riding in dizzying circles and endless corners!

Round three of the Merida Brass Monkeys was originally due to be held the first Sunday after New Year. Due to several huge deluges of rain, pretty much all of the UK was flooded, and those areas that weren’t flooded were waterlogged. Rather than cancel the event, the organisers postponed the event by two weeks; fortunately it still fell within my two week visit home.

For ages I had ‘umm’ed and ah’ed’ over whether to do the two hour category, or, challenge myself and go for the four hour race. The basic principle of the events is: ride laps of a set course until the 2 or 4 hours are up, and then complete the lap you’re on.

Back in 2010 I rode the 4 hour race, with Ingrid Stengard. I went out too hard, blew up, suffered, and then stopped after 2hr 30mins. Ingrid, with her wealth of experience in long distance races, paced it well and came 5th. I was adamant I wouldn’t make the same mistake again. I did some slightly more specific training, and formed a plan for the race that not only involved nutrition and drink, but pacing too.

I had my eye on the very experienced four hour racer, Jo Munden. Jo has won virtually every MBM 4 hr race since it’s inception, so I knew I would have my work cut out, but also be able to use her to help pace my race. We raced together in a team for the Torq 12:12 in September, so I knew our lap times should be fairly similar.

Riding one of the many corners on the course, sometime around the halfway mark. Photo: Nigel Benham

Riding one of the many corners on the course, sometime around the halfway mark. Photo: Nigel Benham

From the start, I settled in just behind her. The four hour category isn’t as frantic at the beginning as the two hour, so the pace felt ‘leisurely and sustainable’. Of course, it wasn’t. I tried my hardest to not get stressed by other riders slowing down ahead, or get too competitive when they overtook. With the start less than 10 minutes after the two hour races, we caught up slower riders quickly. The first lap was a relentless, sprint, sustain, slow down, sprint to overtake lap. I know it’s hard for slower riders to be overtaken constantly, I’ve been there. I always try to be kind, and tell the rider that when they are ready, I will overtake. I know from my experience in XC skiing and SkiO that it’s all too easy for people to push past, without consideration for someone else’s level of experience or confidence. I hate to think that for something as simple as a please and thank you, that riders could be being put off of cycling. Much better to get along, and everyone has fun. Anyway …

This was the kind of course that lent itself to suffering. By and large the course was just damp, only a few sections were muddy, and even fewer were ‘scary mud’. The kind where body and bike and mud have different ideas! The thing that caught me out, were the sheer number of corners. There were hardly any straight sections, and perhaps only 90 seconds of fire road throughout the whole 6km lap. It was really unrelenting: short sharp climbs and descents with no chance to cruise and recover, corners, and mud.

Half way around lap 1, there was a sneaky line choice; Jo and I went different ways (I didn’t pre-ride the course) and just snuck ahead when they re-joined. By the end of the lap, Jo had slipped back by around 30 seconds, and that was the last I saw of her. She said later it was a bad day of the office; no power. A feeling every cyclist knows at some point.

Cheeky ditch feature, with a drop that became steeper and more abrupt as the race went on. Photo from Peter Simmonds.

Cheeky ditch feature, with a drop that became steeper and more abrupt as the race went on. Photo from Peter Simmonds.

At the end of lap two, I had a nice surprise to see Heidi Gould and Harriet Dodd slightly further ahead on the lap, at a point the course doubled back on itself. They started roughly 7 minutes ahead, so I hadn’t expected to see them. I maintained my rhythm and sure enough during lap three I was able to catch and overtake. The two of them came through the finish just a few minutes before the 2hr cut off, so both did a fourth gruelling lap. Heidi came 2nd in her category and Harriet won the juniors.

By lap four, the field of competitors had significantly thinned. Now it was only the fatbikers and 4 hr riders left, oh and the vet riders in the 3 hour race! My back was also cramping, so I had to stop in the feed zone for several minutes at the start of laps 4, 5, and 6. By lap 6, it felt like I was there for an eternity; stuffing my face with food and drink! Although my back hurt, I was chuffed that my shoulder was holding up and showed no sign of fatiguing into spasms and cramps. I was incredibly grateful my Dad had braved the ‘snowy’ conditions to come up and help me: food, drink, gels, and time gaps, as well as being chief cheerleader!! GB ‘gimmer’, Peter Simmonds was part of the organising crew, but gave me a hearty cheer each time he saw me.

I finished in just over 4hrs, both happy to have done it, but in discomfort with my lower back. Trying to walk upright back to the car was fairly comical. I was really pleased to win the race, it wasn’t something I was aiming for, nor expected, so it was certainly an added bonus. Congrats to everyone who rode, and thanks to the Gorrick and Army Cycling Union for hosting the event in a cracking area.

Finish! One handed celebration only! Photo from Nigel Benham

Finish! One handed celebration only! Photo from Nigel Benham

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