Each lap I was looking forward to jumping back on the bike after the second river crossing at 10 Under The Ben on the weekend at Fort William. From lap four onwards there was a 29er singlespeed parked on a tree, and every time I passed, I knew I was a bit closer to finish this slightly cruel undertaking in good spirits. In lap five or six I had folk shouting ‘he is still going’, and somebody said ‘you’re a legend’ in lap seven. It were those encouraging words that kept my spirits up in a race in unusual hot temperatures, fighting the dust and dehydration instead of the usual mud, bog and rain in Lochaber.
After keeping away from races for more than three years I felt like giving it a go again. I remembered the beers after Karapoti, the hardship of the Rainbow Rage, the great atmosphere when passing that finish line and the conversations afterwards. There was no excuse this time. I was fit, the weather looked great and I got a lift with Blair and Kerry up to Fort William (thanks so much for that). I managed to get the last bed in the Glen Nevis Hostel, to swap the wheels after discovering a broken spoke at Friday morning, to pack all useful and useless items into one bag and off I was, there was no excuse left. All a bit last minute, like all good adventures so far.
In a way I was looking forward to a race in dry conditions, but I also knew that keeping hydrated in those conditions would be difficult. I was also slightly concerned about the bike, as I had fitted new tyres, new wheels and not ridden it in this set-up yet, which is possibly not the safest thing to do for a ten-hour race. All concerns were gone when I crossed the finish line for the eighth time in 10:04:16, finishing 17th out of 124 starters and 10 in the Senior Male category. Taken into concern that the those faster had gears, it was a great start to the season and got me hooked on doing more races again.
But what was it like doing the race on a singlespeed? And why? I got asked those questions a number of times over the weekend, and the answers might be ‘hard but enjoyable’ for question number one, and ‘because I like challenges and have fun’ for question two.
It was tough going from the start on, but it was the climbing on the not so steep stuff where the bike was a real advantage, as I had no option then to go in hard and keep pushing my legs while others spent loads of valuable time on finding the right gear to climb on. There were sections like the World Champs climb I had to get off and push, but as the majority of the other riders did as well, I didn’t feel so bad. On that stretch I wished for gears, as I could have climbed up here with a lower ratio. In the steep and technical downhill sections there wasn’t that much need for pedalling anyway, only the river crossings and some short steep climbs back on the world champs would have been better and more ridable with a choice of gears. Other than that I had a cracking time on the singlespeed, no mechanicals, no flats, only my body struggled to cope with the heat.
Yes, the heat. Possibly the biggest challenge of the day, as it was tough to cope with. After lap three I felt totally exhausted, struggling to get any food into my body, and despite drinking almost 1.5 litres a lap, I still felt dehydrated. In lap three I had to stop by a river quickly to fill up the second bottle, and was thankful to get some additional and cold water at the marshalling stations to drink or simply chuck over my body to cool it down. The legs and knees were totally fine throughout the whole race, it was the stomach that needed to keep up with the conditions. The slight breeze from lap four onwards made it better, and at the end I managed to find the right balance between riding, a short break to fuel up and what to take on the course.
The race itself was well organised with plenty of interesting people to meet on and off the bike. DJ Skimbo and the dancing woman, who parked themselves near the North Face Car Park, were a welcome addition, some music in the forest did the trick for me. I didn’t expect such a technical course, but enjoyed the trickier stuff, and there were some long climbs to cool down a bit and refocus. With having survived the ten hours in good fashion, I am looking forward to ride the Strathpuffer Lite in July and then tackle the 24hr barrier in October, again with one gear.