I remember being in the bike shop a year ago telling Andy I was going to do something a bit different next year, I was going to compete in the World 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championships. He just said “Wow, ok” and continued to ask some details. I like to exceed expectations and challenge myself all the time. I’m never happy just doing the same thing and I get quite demotivated. So what better way to challenge myself than that!
I had a massive disappointment at this year’s Strathpuffer, feeling extremely deflated afterwards and now regretting my decision to travel to Italy for WEMBO 2017. Time went by and my motivation just wasn’t there like normal. I trained some days and other days just struggled to do anything other than work. Graeme and I had our Wedding Reception in February which was brilliant; having all our friends and family celebrate with us was such a great feeling!
Soon after, the twelve week count down began for Wembo and I started to follow the training regime I had set myself. Some sessions were a massive struggle and the usual fitting it in around work was hard with the extra pressure. Recovery is not quite what it used to be, so I found myself missing one or two sessions a week which wasn’t so bad. Motivation began to come back and tiredness subsided slightly and I began to train better, enjoying it. I was so committed to going to Italy now, there was no looking back and I began to look forward to the trip. My holiday to Majorca with my cycling friends and team mates was such a great experience; it gave me a real boost for my forthcoming trip to Italy. Spending time away from the day to day stresses of life, and not having to worry about being back in time from training to make tea or go shopping, plus cycling in nice heat with great people, is just what the doctor ordered J I did miss my cat Roxy, but she was fine at home with Graeme!
The clock was ticking for Italy and I needed to squeeze in a nine hour ride which, with work, was hard to fit in. I managed to rope in a few friends, Jamsie, Ernie and the unaware Gordon T to ride out late at night to the Kelpies and back. This was a massive confidence boost, as I got on really well and biking at a random time of the night demonstrated to me that I could stay awake.
Wembo was nearly upon us now and time was going in fast. I collected a box of goodies, nutrition, bike bits & kit from my wonderful sponsors Leslie Bike Shop… @AndyHain. This was kindly delivered to my Yorkshire friends who were driving to Italy from the UK. This was a great help, as flying over with everything is not easy with the weight limits.
With slight panic and a last minute change of plan, meant Graeme was now coming to Italy. Doesn’t he look happy!!
Glentress7 was only five days before WEMBO, but I entered again with my team mate John in the over 80’s pair category (we should have been in the over 100’s but they wiped out our category). Leading up to the race I began to wonder if I’d made the right decision what with going away in less than a week. There’s always the worry of a crash or an injury, but other than getting my hand trapped between mine and another ladies handle bars, oh and descending in the forest when a thunder and lightning storm arrived(!) it all went to plan. I had a great chance to ride my awesome Bianchi Methanol, spent a nice time with my team mates, had plenty laughs and banter, and experienced 30 degree heat, so I was pretty much set. We finished 2nd place, with an outstanding effort from John! Gary & Gary were on the top step in their category, and Graham B teamed up last minute with Willie, who both enjoyed a great race. Graham, who’s not so familiar with the technical trails, did a brilliant job getting quicker & quicker each lap!
Well the day had arrived and we were off! We arrived in Nice at 10pm, collected our hire car, loaded it up with all our things and the bike box, and drove to Italy to find the hotel. Graeme hadn’t driven abroad before so I think he was just as nervous about this as I was about my race! He did a grand job and we arrived in good time at the hotel. We had a satisfactory night’s sleep and met up with Donna, Nigel & Dean for breakfast… by coincidence we’d booked the same hotel! This was nice and Dean helped Graeme build up my Bianchi for going to the course for a practice lap.
My recce of the course went really well, enjoying the lap whilst discovering there were no bits I couldn’t ride. The only section that worried me slightly was where there was quite a big cliff drop to the right hand side. I had previously seen photos of said drop, telling myself it would be okay as it was just a small part of the course and the rest was completely ride-able. Lots of climbing and a few tricky technical up’s were sure testing come race day. It was great to see the set up however and we were given our pits area which was all included in the entry fee. Donna, Nigel & I were side by side with fellow Scot’s, Keith Forsyth & Mike Hancock just along from us.
I became more and more nervous throughout the day and was telling Graeme about the cliff side section that I was scared of. He said to just walk it if it was so bad, and not to worry.
I didn’t sleep too well that night and we were up mega early to get up to the course to find somewhere to park and unload all the bikes and gear, and walk it all over to the pits. Dean has everything you can imagine for the pits, he’s awesome and so well prepared! Loved being beside the guys, great for moral and keeping us busy.
#The body achieves what the mind believes
The Italians put on such a good show, there was a big stage with a band and lots of spectators and support crews lining the start. There was a 500 metre Le Mans start too. Doesn’t sound much, but running along the course wearing your cycling shoes made it seem like it went on forever! Steady paced, I eventually collected my bike from the grid and I was off! The biggest race of my life had started.
I settled into a rhythm, not pushing myself too much so I could sustain a steady momentum, and soon after the first lap was in. Things were going to plan, drinking plenty of fluids, whilst getting harassed by Graeme to drink more! I was trying to eat as much as I could too. It was so hot though and hard to think about eating, but I knew I had to. Quick bottle change stops only, and a dust down of the glasses, and we were soon 6 hours in. It was so bizarre with people coming up to pass you, with so many different languages speaking to you, most of which I struggled to understand!
I was feeling good and positive and the race was going well.
And then my biggest fear. A guy lost it on the right hander with the cliff drop, collided with me, and I then found myself dangling off the cliff! I let out a scream, but was still attached to my bike whilst holding on to his bike. Thankfully the traffic stopped behind me and three, what sounded like Italian men, came running to my aid pulling me back to my feet. I couldn’t believe I’d had a fall right at the scary bit! I thanked the men so much and eventually got back on my way to discover the saddle was squint and I’d torn my grip.
I was still a bit shaky afterwards and was so glad to stop at the pits while G taped up the grip and re-adjusted the seat. I sat for 5 minutes just to compose myself and then I was off again with my newly repaired bike J Sorry Bianchi! Luckily nothing more serious occurred, and after seeing my life flash before my eyes I knew there and then that I would do this race, the demons that had me once at a previous 24hour race would not beat me this time!
The course was pretty tough going, with plenty of technical climbs and descents. There was a lot of single track which was great fun, however it was still trying with the dust flying up and around you. I’m not used to cycling in such heat and as the time went on I was feeling a bit queasy. I wondered about the possibility of heat stroke or something, but the feeling remained and I just had to keep trying to force food down.
During the course of the 24 hours, I broke the race down into sections. The first 6 hours, then focussing on the next few laps when the temperature would start to cool down, then by another couple of laps the lights would need to be fitted (lights had to be installed on your bike by 7pm), then by another couple of laps darkness would descend and the lights would be on. With only around 8 hours of darkness to get through, it was a fraction of the time of the likes of the Puffer or Relentless, and I was excited by the thought of this as I’m not so keen on night riding.
The party had begun on the Toboga, with crowds lining the side of the course cheering, dancing, drinking beer and partying! This was such a surreal experience, never before have I seen anything quite like it. Descending down to this section was so bizarre, as you got closer you began to hear the cheers, but my concern was about staying on my bike and I was quite oblivious to the fact there was a DJ, a bar, and people dressed up! I saw all this on the videos afterward. I think the party lasted until around 2am!
My first dark lap was interesting though, as one massive epic fail by myself and G came to fruition in that we hadn’t checked the charge in my light! Oops! I had to return to the pits and went out on my first lap with just a head torch. This was so difficult; It was incredibly dusty, a bit like cycling in fog with the light reflecting off all the thick dust in the air. Thinking about my light and worrying how I would manage, or where I could borrow a light from did help occupy my mind on my first dark lap though, and on returning to the pits Dean saved the day once again and I got a shot of his spare light while mine was on charge. Phew what a guy!
I stopped a couple of times to try and eat decent food which was very difficult, but Graeme was good at making me eat “Just one more forkful!”. I always struggle with eating, so I really have to stop and make sure I do force it down! As the night went on my hands began to ache, Ibuprofen gel was helping and I just kept telling myself only a few more laps. My legs and everything else felt all good (except for my lady parts lol). The darkness didn’t bring much coldness however, and I found myself still wearing short sleeves. Shock for a lot of you I bet!! Later on it began to drizzle and I thought it would be a good idea to wear my long sleeve top, only to have my sleeves rolled up!! My head was in it this time, I knew I was not going to have a break down and want to stop. I was going to make everyone proud! I thought about so many people as I was cycling round, what I would tell them and who would be happy that I had done it. So many happy thoughts to keep me going! Graeme has put up with some crap at my other 24 hour events but not this time, I was going to make him proud!
Then the focus was once again on the daylight and I love this time! The feeling you get when the suns comes up, there are no words to describe it. With everything waking up, I decided to put in a couple of quicker laps. Still at this time I had no idea where I was placed in the race. I got chatting to a nice couple of guys from the Isle of Man on the Thursday whom I passed going through the campsite on every lap. At one point I heard them say “Well done you’ve smashed it!” but I wasn’t sure if that meant I was winning!!
I said to Graeme around 7am that I was going to do 2 more laps. That’s really all my hands could take… by this time I was struggling to hold on and scared I might crash. On the fhe first lap in, Graeme was out on the front of the stage to take my photo. By the time he came running back to the pits, Dean had already told me “You don’t need to go back out again, you’ve won!” Graeme assured me that Dean was right, so when I said about doing just one more lap, he said there was no point and told me how much I’d won by! I said “Can I cry now?!” I dismounted off the bike and sat down, I just couldn’t believe it. Not only had I completed the race, I had won my category. And done without any melt downs, achieving it through dealing with my health condition and battling my demons, and I made Graeme proud .
Graeme took great delight in pouring cold water on my legs to clean me up. The one and only time I’ve had a tan line!!
It was done, the race was over and the nerves had gone! Stepping up on stage in front of so many people was an amazing feeling. I couldn’t have predicted that this would be my second visit on the podium in the space of a week! These memories will last forever. We didn’t go home to bed this time, instead we went out to celebrate with our friends and talk about the events of the race, the ups and the downs. The new friendships I made will last a life time J
There was a massive showing of Brits over in Italy for the event, many of whom made it onto the podium. I’m looking forward now to meeting up with fab new friends over there in the future and going on new adventures with them. Well done to everyone for taking part, and congratulations to the other 4 British Gold Winners – Peter Nadin, Steve Day, Max Suttie & Carwyn Davies. Got to mention Nigel Smiler, I mean Smith, my Yorkshire wanna be Scot for an outstanding effort and coming 2nd in his category. Mike Hancock for finishing 3rd in his category and our flight buddy Andrew Howett also coming 3rd in the single speed category. Congratulations to Donna for coming 4th (40-44), small chats and pee stops together, all helped see us both through. I’m never going to a porta loo again!!!
Then there’s my bike - the amazing Bianchi Methanol 29er Hard tail. I rode the whole race on this bike, with no problems whatsoever (accept my near death experience!!) and I’ll be forever grateful to Bianchi & Leslie Bike Shop for supplying me with such a reliable gem for the race. What better bike to ride in Italy J J
I’m very fortunate to surround myself with amazing cycling friends and team mates and sponsors, and without their help and encouragement I wouldn’t have managed to get where I am today. From messages asking me if I’m going to training tonight, emails asking how I’m doing, my team mates encouraging me to go on a cycling holiday in Majorca, and to be getting them out their beds at 5am to go biking for 6 hours, or a late shift staying out until 3am. I will always & forever be grateful.
Special mention to Granny Rache for looking after what she calls ‘The Zoo’! Roxy was a good little girl for Granny and was pleased to see me for about a day when I got home! Well if you can call sleeping on me with her ass in face, pleased to see me J
I wonder what I’ll do next !!
Article By Gillian Pratt
Special Thanks -
Team Leslie Bike Shop/Bikers Boutique
Leslie Bike Shop – Andy Hain & All the boys
Bikers Boutique – Fiona Hain
Andrew Allan Architecture
W Simpson Butchers
U Pull It
Graeme (Husband J)
Mama Rache (Zoo Keeper)
Dean Temptest-Mitchell (Pit Boss, total Legend)
Dennis Stanyer-Hunter (The English Teacher)
Each and every one of you whom has text, messaged or commented
Hashimotos – I will maybe be beaten some days, but not that day!