Although I’d competed in 12-hour solo mountain bike enduros and plenty of other events longer than eight hours, alternating trail running and mountain biking continuously for that length of time was a complete unknown. I’d completed my own four hour “Half HellRider” in training to get a taste and that had shown me that the full eight would be a big ask.
Arriving at West Wycombe Park, I racked my bike and waited nervously for the off. All solo racers were grouped together and it was obvious spotting numerous Ironman tattoos that there’d be some stiff competition.
With the run lap beginning with a long uphill drag, I was soon glad of the training I’d done on my home Peak District trails and I was able to tap out a solid climbing pace. I resisted the temptation to open out my stride on flatter sections and tried to run any descents economically. A long rutted downhill dropped you back to transition but only after you’d negotiated two knee-deep river crossings. Already I had no idea where I was in the race, no way of finding out and it would just be a solo grind against the clock.
BURNING A MATCH
I’d reckoned on, including transitions, being able to fit a run and bike lap into each hour but, coming in off my first run, was up on this schedule. I felt happy with my pacing and headed out for my first bike loop. Again this started with a long uphill drag but I backed off, spun my legs and took fluids on board. My strategy was to have a gel in transition at the end of every lap and to take 500-750ml of liquid on during each bike. The lap was a great mix of open trails and grin inducing singletrack sections. The bike loop finished with a super fast descent back to transition and then it was back out onto the run.
I’d taken more time out of my schedule but with my legs feeling strong, I wasn’t worried and headed out for another solid run lap. The field had strung out significantly and I had a clean run at the crux climb. It was tough but just rideable. In endurance racing, you often hear talk of burning matches. This is where you push into the red, above your aerobic threshold and “burn a match”. In a long race, you only have a certain number of matches and have to use them wisely. Riding this climb was definitely burning a match but I hoped the gamble of attempting it on each bike lap would gain me significant time over the majority of racers who’d dismount and push up it.
Through four hours and I was feeling great, almost worryingly so. Fuel and fluids were going in well and, most significantly, as by now I’d run well over a half marathon, my legs felt fresh. Each bike lap felt like recovery but I seemed to be putting decent splits in, hadn’t been passed by any other soloists and was even starting to lap some.
With six hours gone, I was still having a great time. Each time coming into transition was a real lift with spectators and waiting relay team members shouting encouragement and there was a real festival atmosphere. I was still gaining time and it looked like nine run laps and eight bikes would be possible.
This would take me over marathon distance running and over 60km of biking. Still though, my legs felt good. I theorised that the continual switching from one discipline to the other was somehow fooling them but surely they’d eventually cotton on and stop being so compliant.
THE SMURF MANKINI RIDES AGAIN
It didn’t happen and, coming in from my ninth and final run, the clock was at 7:46hrs so I’d have to head out on the bike again. The rules state that you get to finish the lap you’re on and that your final placing is decided by your time for that lap if you and another racer have completed the same number of laps. With this in mind I threw caution to the wind, forgot about sensible pacing and burn any remaining matches. I hammered the lap and rode my fastest split of the race.
As I crossed the line I had no real idea where I’d come and was delighted to find out that I’d placed second. The eventual winner was a good half lap ahead of me so, although I still felt amazingly fresh and wondered if I could have pushed a bit harder, I had no regrets. The eight hours had flown by and the atmosphere and support from spectators, marshals and other racers had been amazing. In the end I’d managed nine run laps and nine bike laps in 8:10hrs. This totaled 45km of running with 1,421m of ascent, 67.5km of mountain biking with 1,684m of ascent and 17 transitions… not a bad brick session!.
Best of all it was enough to convince the BTF to let me represent GB at Zofingen, the Smurf blue mankini will ride again!
For information on next year’s HellRider and other TrailPlus events go to www.trailplus.com.