Monday, 17 January 2011

race day!

so, as the weekend rolled into view a brief recap of strathpuffer race history -

race one (the quad) - i have the flu. i will do two laps. t will want to take me to hospital. of the rest one bonks, one gets a concussion and the last man standing retires with hypothermia.

race two (solo) - a gale threatens to blow us away. it is very icy. a certain tv presenter claims to do a number of laps that is at odds with the time he spends in his motorhome. i blow out my knee. this will become a recurring problem.

race three (solo) - i suffer a broken bottom and then a seatpost insult. i try not to remember any of it. the recounting of this event provides some people with much amusement.

and we arrive in strathpeffer. while not exactly perthshire there's still a lot of ice lying about. foolishly, i assert it's do-able on mud tyres. i'll reconsider this later and do all my laps on spikes. our first indication of the comedy to come is when i forget which hotel it is that we've booked into. i could have done this while we were in the van but no, that would be too easy. i ask at the bike shop. they look at me like some sort of idiot.

eventually we find it and we arrive with a couple of other teams. they tell us there is no food. but we booked with food we assert. that was with the other guy we are told. and he's in france. oh, we say, so that'll change the price? no. and off into the hotel and up the oddly cambered staircase, a staircase covered in what can only be described as hallucinogenic tartan. there are no half measures in this place. to be honest to get the best out of it a person would really need to be shitfaced on a variety of substances for it to make any sense. there are mannequins of victorian scottish servicemen, oddly decayed oriental dolls, the breakfast cereal is served on a table supporting a grinning porcelain chimpanzee. it's very odd. and cold. colder than the van. except at about two in the morning when we wake up broiled. in the morning we go for breakfast. the others look at us, tired and vaguely shell shocked. then the earsplitting easy listening hits us. like sitting in the bass bin of the worst wedding band you've ever heard. we meet kate. is it the long drive from bristolia that's tired her so or the effects of the strathpeffer hospitality? whatever, we apologised (really, sorry kate!) and took off.

i have to say i was proud of t when i saw the uphill from the start again and made a mental note that for her yearly cycles i should do better than sit her on her summer tyred bike and expect her to go up and down an ice covered slope. she complained (a lot) but as ever did herself proud despite her protestations to the contrary. and really, we both knew it was going to me who would be doing the falling off.

and so it proved as i got knocked off within sight of the start by a grumpy fellow who did not take kindly to my suggestion that perhaps he'd get more traction at the side of the fire road. ho hum. i was super glad that i had ice and snow tyres on. low gears and low cadence saw me grind up the initial fire road without much in the way of mishap even if i could still occasionally manage a slow speed lowside into a bush with the best of them. i have to say i was surprised by the amount of ice but even at the start it was warm enough that i was confident it would get better as the event went on.

my head was right , my cadence was right, my legs felt okayish. everything was going to be well i thought. and then my bike broke. not completely broke but just didn't want to go uphill. gradual uphill was okay but anything steep and it chainsucked into immediate halt. not happy. tho not as unhappy as i was going to get when i was changing the tyres back at the van. bending over a wheel in the wet with cold fingers and a back done no favours by the night before's accommodation. fortunately a guy from the team next door, a brother soul who i can only surmise, recognised the plight behind my wheel related tourettes. two minutes later and everything was right as rain, the scott was left behind and off i went on the newly repaired specialised.

in my initial conception of the race the plan was to do four laps on each of the three bikes. the specialised has never made it past two laps so i was in uncharted territory. i had the rohloff bike, true, but i'd never used it in its current form, plus i'd have to do another tyre change. so i figured i'd push the spesh to see how far it would go. and go it did. until i got thru the deer fence and had a mystery over the bars incident after the second set of duck boards. i am as mystified as everyone else as to how i managed this. people did stop. are you okay they asked. i've just had a bike in the nads i gasped in reply. sympathetic oohs and aahs ensued and everyone moved swiftly on. i gingerly checked the chaps were where they should be  and did the same. it wasn't pretty.

unlike the downhill which, when it came, was. i may have been pacing myself on the uphill but i was fierce quick on the downs, the quickest i've ever been on the gloop from view rock and stupidly fast back to the transition (one of the nevis boys would lose his brakes on this section and hit a tree. end of race for him but okay as far as i know). by the end of lap three i was feeling confident. a bit of an achey knee but my technique was dialled and, most importantly, my head was just in the right spot.

and then to lap four. i was aware it was warm for me and it's true that i most likely should've taken on a wee bit more fluid but i was planning on a hiatus after lap four, fuelling and hydrating up, before my first stint in darkness. still, i should've been drinking more and it showed itself in a tiny niggle in my legs over the course of the lap. i'd expected as much. strength was never going to be an issue but, given i hadn't been out on the bike for any distance since november i had concerns over endurance. still i'd met one of the square wheels guys the lap before walking off some cramp. walking is the singlespeeders bottom gear he had sagely reminded me, as he has before, and that it is a twenty four hour race. take it easy i told myself and keep those head weasels at bay.

all fine until the section after the deer fence again. this time coming off the slabs prior to the drop in to the bridge of thighs i caught a wheel in a hole, flew over the bars and landed in a puddle. cold and wet but remarkably uninjured one of the other guys stopped to make sure i was okay given the magnitude of stack he'd just witnessed. but i felt good, maybe a wee bit of a dead leg on the right side after that dunt, but good.

well okay, maybe not that good. i've a feeling there may be a connection between crashing and cramping. maybe it's the standing about, maybe a bit of adrenalin. whatever as i came of the descent from view rock and onto the uphill i felt a wee niggle in my right leg. no worries i told myself, take it easy, i'll soon be back. and i wanted to be not least because t was waiting on the last descent and i'd forgotten that it gets dark quicker up north so had no lights. all of this was in my head as i made my way over the icy track back to the start of the forest. i had a blether with a guy, had a slide then started over a wee drainage trench, so small and insignificant i'd barely noticed it in the dozens of times i've been over it. not this time tho. as i accelerated up the track my wheel rather than bumping in and out, jammed right in the hole and i catapulted belly first onto the headset. as usual there was a handy wee somersault to finish but before i'd even hit the ground i knew something wasn't right.

the bars had hit me right in the liver. the last one of these i saw the guy had all manner of bleeding and a nasty haematoma and drainage as a result. split livers, burst gall bladders = no fun. i wanted off the course and no mistake. and my tumble had done me no favours in the darkness stakes. the initial downhill was entertaining to say the least. after the that it was all instinct. i couldn't see the water barriers just jumped them onto what i hoped wasn't ice. i was hurting but all my focus was on getting back. on the last section i was majestic. i overtook two people in the rooty, muddy section before the final run into transition. a group of guys standing at the side cheered me on 'no lights, man. top skills!' - whoever you were, thank you, thank you, you made my race. i came past t in a blur. the next she saw me i was off to the ambulance.

where it was better than expected. i had a palpable egg in my belly, couldn't lie down and was a bit slow on my feet but otherwise no signs of significant bleeding. the first aid people were great. they listened to me and that, coupled with the fact the team next door were all doctors, meant that i got to stay in lieu of any other symptoms. anyone else they said, and it'd be raigmore. wobbling back to the van was unpleasant. my race was done and i knew it. i was cold and defeated. again. getting my gear off was and exercise in soreness. and then back down to the main tent, it was warm, there were people and, if i was going to have a wobble, i wanted to do it there. which might sound a bit dire but in fact it was warm, i could fill up on food and, courtesy of the fact steve had fancied a band this year, got to listen to the rather excellent mystic shoes. it was all rather cheering.

we spotted kate briefly. she'd had a freewheel moment followed by a long walk but the squarewheels repair squad had sorted her right out. 12 laps at the finish kate? i'd have been happy with that. as it was we eventually meandered back to the van, sat under the remarkably mild light of the moon until retiring to our sleeping bags.

so, another strathpuffer, another tale of racing woe. was it worth it? absolutely. there's something about this race in particular that sets me up for the whole year and being back after a year off made it even better. a big thanks to everyone, organisers, marshalls (a stalwart and supportive presence as ever), first aid guys, caterers, musicians, the folk doing the unenviable job of sorting out the parking, everyone (a special mention too to the red poppy restaurant who filled us full of top quality food the night before and gave t the 'best vegetarian meal in scotland' she's had in years).

and not forgetting the competitors. we were parked beside a team on their first outing who would go on to get fourth, a sterling effort on a first go and a great group of guys. this year as well there seemed to be far more women doing it than previous. and not just giving a go but giving it a serious compete. it was great to catch up with some of the square wheels youth squad who have grown sufficiently since the last time i saw them to make me feel old! and still a credit to youth development in cycling in the strathpeffer area.

am i jinxed? is there some sort of strange strathpuffer curse upon me? i don't know. in the end i said that maybe next year i might have a go as part of a team. i'd like more rest, the opportunity to go faster on the laps that i do but then if i did that it wouldn't be the me and t team and somehow that just doesn't feel right. so knees, liver and strangely bruised nethers aside, i've a feeling we've a few more solo efforts in us yet...


kate said...

brilliant reading! i was trying to explain the hotel to jane but you've done it much better!! i ended up sleeping in tracksters and hoddie! i've just realised that it was you who came to speak to me in the timing tent. sorry i didn't recognsie you and was being a bit pre-occupied and self absorbed-as is the way with these solo endeavors. hope you're recovering well. are you able to lie down now? you certainly know how to have epics!! good riding swiss.

...see you next year :)

swiss said...

hahaha! when i spoke to t about how you were doing in the timing tent i said i was too sore for chat and you were too in the zone!

the hotel is certainly a talking point! the perth guys, who were the big group as you came in, are all equally bemused by it.

did you do it all on your own? we should've been a bit more together inwhich case. we had a brilliant wee camping bit and could've done pit duties in which case!

i have a nice star shaped bruise but it's healing nicely. am wanting out on the road bike but currently barred from bikes for another day! apparently i wasn;t the onyl one caught out by that particular water bar.

are you still up north? if you fancy a break on the way back down stop in and see us. we're about every day until the end of the week.

Marion McCready said...

still at this annual madness I see!!

swiss said...

i'd rather this than napowrimo! lol

kate said...

i'd certianly love to meet up for a drink/cake and i promise not be so rude next time. we've got plenty of trips north planned but if not then 'puffer 2012 is a date :)
...great news on the bike front but hope you've not had to go and see and actual doctor. take care!

swiss said...

given the genral awfulness of the drive from where you are feel free to come in for a pit stop any time!

no doctor just yet. i think it's just a blobby haematoma and i'm hating it!