#pivot2412 – 12 Hours a Virgins View by Ian Heald

This was written when I got home and was tired, so some bits are a bit honest and about bodily functions that are not quite 100%, if you’re squeamish I wouldn’t read on. I do think on reading it today that it gives a good insight into my race and might be of benefit to anyone else thinking about doing something similar. It was originally written for a non-cycling forum which is why some things are over explained.

It’s something I wanted to do since I went to the event in 2010 as part of a 4 man “fun” team. My first solo race distance race, my first 12 hour spin.

Torchbearer at the twentyfour12, starting your race at midnight and racing for 12 hours (or more if you are able and you time your laps right as you can complete a lap you have started before the midday cut-off), half the categories are already finished, and most people are tucked up in bed whilst you race on an incredibly technical course for an endurance event.

I’ve been “training” since March when I finally pretty much got over a bad knee strain/mcl tear. Mainly roadwork, commuting 25km each way to work three times a week and a lot of road club spins/sportives that included as many bastard climbs as possible (I even did a hill time trial – badly). I’ve not done much on the mtb, once a month or so fun spins with the mtb club (MADmtb) and the occasional epic spin for trialling different set ups and ideas. No night spins, no regular hard paced spins with the lads as I didn’t want to get injured.

I’d studied previous times and results from people in the club over the years to my own times and tried to match them to my own abilities to get a feel of where I should be aiming for a result for the event which historically has been 12-14km. Roughly 8 laps (112 km) and I would be happy, 9 if I got lucky with the laps and 10 if the course was really flat (I’m 100kg, steep climbs really take it out of me).

Clubmate Conor travelled down to my house from Dublin on Wednesday evening to load up my venerable Mondeo Estate, which had a filled roofbox and 6×3 meter gazebo on the roof. Ferry was early Thursday morning from Rosslare where we met up with Ger, another Irish racer and his daughter, he was looking for 1st in 24hr solo male and has a very dry and wry wit. The ferry chugged across serenely on 3 engines to Pembroke, then the long but easy enough dual carriageway/motorway spin to Plymouth. 

Conor knew the way and we arrived at Newnham Park about 6pm and met up with a large group from (mainly) the Isle of Man, who Ger knows really well from their 24hour endurance event, The Longest Day, Longest Ride. They had picked an excellent spot to camp trackside. One of the joys of the 24/12 is that the course deliberately snakes through the campsite and as a racer you are allowed to leave the course anywhere (i.e. your tent/pits) so long as you get back onto the course at the same spot. Its ace as it saves faffing to and from the start with everything. 

The spot the Manx’ers picked gave loads of warning of an incoming racer (more for the 24hour lads who needed more support, Ger especially) and you could get to the start finish line before the rider had as they snaked through more of the campsite to check times and positions and relay them to the rider.

Thursday turned into a piss up – even Ger who never drank before events and who looked like a naughty boy swigging his Wicklow beer around the fire telling high tales and grinning like a loon. A great night that I really enjoyed.

We had agreed not to cook, 15 minutes down the road was a harvester type pub pumping out all you could eat breakfasts for £4.50 and an evening main meal for less than £6, why muck about cooking and cleaning at those prices?

Admittedly, there were a few rough heads on the Friday morning and our drunken plan to do a couple of practice laps from 11am ended up being 1 practice lap at about 3 in the afternoon. It took 55 minutes and I struggled especially on the “Cliff climb”. Named after the nutrition bar sponsor, the hardest climb in the event is usually a long relatively steep tarmac road. Hard but quite doable for a heffalump like me. This year it was an insanely steep fireroad that had a loose gravel to contend with. Oh shit, 8 laps are still on but I thought “It’s going to be a long event” and I knew that climb would wipe me out every lap.

I stayed up late reading a book and drinking a few beers, everyone else got their heads down early doors as the race started for them at midday, I wanted to grab some sleep again before my midnight start 12 hours later so a late night, late lie in and back to bed about 8 for 2-3 hours kip was my plan.

The event started and the 2 main pit crew (Claire and Sue, awesome people) were to look after/wanted to help something along the lines of: 1x12hour mixed pairs (aiming for podium), 3xsolo 24hour going for personal pride/fun, 1x24hour solo going for podium and 24hour pairs men going for podium. Oh and me a little bit too.

I helped out for the first 6-7 hours as Ger raced at the sharp end trading 1st and 2nd places, before I felt tired and went to bed after sorting out my gear. The day had been savage hot, the course dry and dusty and I actually wanted a gentle rainfall to damp down the course as some of the descents were getting tricky to see on as there was so much dust hanging in the air from all the racers. Nice… fingers crossed I might get 9 laps in.

Plan was “warm” night gear, I have a kind of neoprene set of ¾ commuter bibshorts and a thermal top if needed (it wasn’t) as I’m always pretty hot and don’t give a shit about the rain, then regular bibshorts for 6am onwards. I carried a minimum of equipment, CO2 canister, multi-tool, tyre levers and spare tube in the club jersey pockets.

I had a 500ml bottle on the bike that I didn’t use as in the dark I couldn’t get the blasted thing back into the cage and I wasn’t stopping. I ended up necking the bottle (containing carbs, electrolytes and caffeine) in the pits and throwing an energy gel down me in the later laps as I tired). I didn’t have a watch or satnav so was relying on being told the time at each stop and some maths as I went around the course,a 55 minutes practice lap fit in with my predictions and meant I was hoping for consistently just over an hour a lap for the 12ish hours then add on the pit bits (filling/making bottles, clothes change, bike maintenance) for the 8 laps.

Used an MP3 player with noise cancelling headphones to nod off as the band in the main arena were giving it socks and there was a lot of noise about the place. Occasionally I see a flash from a riders light (I was right next to the track), so in future I’ll either bring some blindfolds or change the orientation of the tent a bit. I woke up about 10 with wet and cold feet. Bollocks, the tent I had bought 6 years earlier at that previous 24/12 and that had never seen rain appears to be completely shit in a half decent rain shower. On inspection it’s only about 60% shit, most my kit was dry as I had it boxed in water tight carry boxes, my sleeping bag I wasn’t planning to use again that night so it could get dried at a laundrette after I had finished and my beer and limited food supplies were still in their packaging. I’d worry about it later.

Trying to get changed in a small tent is tricky, trying to get changed in a small tent that’s very wet is a non-starter so I went to the showers instead – full wash, contacts in and half the contents of a tub of assos lashed onto the chamois, I’d already gotten down to race weight before I went to sleep so I only had to worry about the occasional air biscuit escaping and sounding like a duck.

Racehead on, bottles prepared, fully kitted and ready to go I had a chat with the people in the pits about the deteriorating weather conditions. Phrases like “sniper roots”, “fucking demoralising” and “I’m going to bed” made me worried for my 8 lap target. Fuck it, I’m here – this will probably be the best chance I have this side of 60 to get a decent result, let’s give it a lash and worry about everything later.

Nothing exciting at the start line, a few words from the event organisers reminding us that we would be fresh and that everyone else on the course had a lot of riding under their belts, conditions had changed and maybe to take the first lap as a sighting lap rather than race flat out. We were filtered onto the course and I set off keeping my effort down and around 65-75%.

The first mile or so was a grassy field through the tents which now had a decent fast line worn through it, then onto a long track (with an optional quicker line through a river crossing,  every lap for me) with climbing to the base of the savage cliff climb. Then a series of new singletrack (read not bedded in) trails through rutted deciduous woodland linked with short fireroads, not much climbing but all seemingly uphill.

My “race” bike is a 26” Euro short travel full suss xc marathon machine from the noughties, that has been modernised with fully adjustable forks and a dropper which is perfect for this event as I could switch the accent between climbing and descending.  For these early sections I’d have the bike set up for climbing speed. The 2nd half of the course was much faster as the trails were old classics (bedded in) generally heading downhill with a few short ascents. Let the forks out to 140mm and dropped the seatdown on descents and let her rip, jump the jumps, bate through the woods and the ability to change the seatpost height was a godsend, meant the back had a nice “rest” in a different position and when I pedalled I used a different area of my leg muscles. The near the end of the course was a bit of fireroad where I reset the forks to 100mm which lead to an extra slippy, rooty trail alongside a river (people fell into it judging by some of the vegetation) and then another mile or so of grass horse eventing stuff snaking back through the tents to the start/finish line.

I took it “steady” through the misty wet night and got back to the tents in 40 minutes.

Wait a minute, forty fucking minutes, what’s up there? I’d planned for ~60 minutes after my, ah, hung over practice lap.  My whole “suck it up soldier, you’re here now” attitude fucked off and I knew I could beat 8, Christ I might even get into double figures. A quick neck of the bottle contents and re-fill from one of the 3 pre-made up and I was off again trying not to get giddy.

Maths, maths, extrapolation and some stuff I made up as I went along meant I thought 12 laps could be on here. 12 laps! So here was the fine line, had to keep pushing for the easy gains (anywhere flat where my decent power could grind me along well and muller it down the descents where I had the bike set up perfectly for it with what I would class as ok skills and a rented Exposure Reflex that lit up everything like the mighty hand of god), then eek out my stamina on climbs which meant the 40T cassette fitted for the event was an inspired decision, every climb I dropped to the bottom cog and gathered my strength for the fast bits only changing up when it was holding back on the easier climbs (bedded in or at less of an angle).
At the end of the second lap I still felt really good and my time was about 3 seconds faster, still only pushing 65-75%. This is on, flying high on caffeine, maltose (sugar) and fuckyouness and continued through the night, only wasting energy on climbs to get past people who looked like they would hold me up through the upcoming descents, constantly looking for a better line, where were the proper XC lads going? Is it too technical/sketchy for me, give it a lash the once anyways. 

Every 3 laps or so I had to make more bottles of race juice due to a lack of the right size cage bottles that I wasn’t drinking from anyhow (I actually think the short stop was good as I could have a quick stretch without cooling down with the occasional anti-inflammatory) which would take an extra 5 minutes or so and at 6am I changed out of my soaking “warm” kit (it had lashed it down between 0400 and 0530) and into fresh kit with the other half of the tub of assos (that was my slowest lap and took 57 minutes as I struggled to reach down to my shoes/socks to get them on and off in the toilets) I also had to lube the chain 3 times (I don’t remember which laps) as I could hear the chain getting rough even with wet lube that wasn’t doing its job for too long with the river crossing and general wet and muddy conditions.

I struggled in the middle of the night with cramps, in the shins on the steep climb, in the calves on the flat and in the thighs on the descents, kept pushing just under that point where I’d lose the muscle, flexing only 80% as much as I thought (wrecked myself on the Ring Of Kerry sportive over-stretching a cramping muscle). Had a big cramp just before the pits as I almost slipped on a grassy corner, but 60 seconds of touching my toes at base sorted it.

I lost track of where I was up to on the laps – I knew the times roughly but I couldn’t do the maths to work out laps and for the first time accepted help from the pit crew (I can be a stubborn idiot at times) who told me that at 10am I had managed 12 laps.

This was almost a disaster, I had gone for a pee and couldn’t tell if what came out was dehydrated treacle or urine and blood. I had smashed my target and my body wasn’t happy, my banus was hurting (bit between the balls and anus), my hands were numb (and my balls) and now I definitely wasn’t well. My last 2 lap times had been around 47 minutes so I was still consistent. What to do, what to do.

Fuck it – 3 more laps are on, I’ve numbed my hands before, we have no plans for any more kids and I thought I’d drink an extra 500ml of stuff this lap and see if what came out was paler or not at some point later on. 

High-ho silver and away we went, with another lashing of Assos and a grim stare 1000yards into the distance. The track dried and got faster, but I was struggling now with a sore back (I’d lost the bike during the night on some roots and saved myself from crashing but in the process I’d pulled my back) so the two evened each other out. The numb hands meant I daren’t take the faster lines over jumps and technical features and I started to mince down some bits of the trail. Kept pushing those pedals as hard as I could though.

More amazing assistance from the pit crew, I had only tequila (or mohito, I forget) flavour energy gels left – which idiot in marketing thought that was a good idea? Pit crew to the rescue with Torq Raspberry and Custard flavour – Mana from the gods after 10 hours or so of lime/strawberry and the like.

I got to the finish line on lap 14 with 15 minutes to go before the timer stopped. A quick check of the results told me I was in 9th, but #8 had the same number of laps as myself but had stopped riding at 10am…. 1 more lap from a now struggling me would mean I would leap up a whole place. 

I had come this far, an extra lap AND an extra place? Sign me up and send me on my way… I’ll admit to trying to put a brave face on through the campsite snake as I had on all the previous laps (there were ladies watching after all) but my head was writing checks my body couldn’t cash, so it was more of a cruise than a canter, I walked the cliff climb (I actually walked it on each of the last 3 laps, I just couldn’t get up there without destroying myself) and stopped 2/3rd of the way up for a quick neck of a cup of instant coffee at the glorious “motivation station”, 2 lovely ladies that had ran a free café there all through the event. It repeated like a bastard later on mind.

Incredibly steady on the descents and back to the Finish line in I reckon about an hour, it’s hard to know as I was cheered on by everyone in the crew (I was the last one in off the course in our group and one of the last full stop) but the lap wasn’t picked up by the timing equipment (Now sorted, it took 59 minutes).

15 laps, 153km, 8th place and way beyond my expectations. Really, really chuffed with myself. Would have gotten 8th in the bigboy 12hr race during the day too. Managed to eek myself out perfectly, only dying properly on the last lap. 24hours might take a few years to build up to….

Bored yet? The afternoon was a slow packing up job, saying goodbye to the Manx crew and Ger who went to a hotel. Conor and I stayed overnight drinking a coupla beers as the ferry was Monday afternoon (cheaper and I’d had no idea if I’d be in any state to drive on the Sunday).  An hour traffic jam at Carmarthen turned a nice 70mph saunter to a mental dash to the ferry, which we just managed to catch to find out that it had failed some safety checks and we would have to hang around for an hour before we could set sail, it still only had 3 engines so would take an hour longer to get back as the wind was against us and then we were the penultimate car off the ferry.

Feel much better than I thought I would, back is ok unless I’m bending over when I have to be quick or bend my knees, I have all my fingers back except my little finger and the tips of the finger next to it. I’m able to walk ok and I have lashing of sudocrem on and plan to cycle to and from work on Thursday and Friday.

Obviously a massive thanks to the missus for letting me nick her car and not minding too much all the long weekend spins and the regular mutterings to myself about different bits and bobs. 

Big thanks to Loaghtan Loaded MTB (manx crew) for their amazing company, Conor for being an excellent companion even when we were both knackered and fretting over the ferry connection, Expert Cycles for sorting my reverb and giving the bike a quick service/once over at late notice when I thought it was buggered and Revolve bikes for the rear wheel re-build that’s still perfect. A monster thank you to everyone involved with the Event, managed to thank all the marshals as I went around on the last few laps and bumped into Martin at the petrol station on the Monday. Want to come back again and this time not 6 years later.


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