Ger Jackson“In 2015 I said “This was the toughest race ever, it was the best race ever” which was true until 2016!

Read how Ger Jackson got on at this years Longest Day Longest Ride event:

“It all started with the usual pre event trip to the Giant Store Dublin to get the bike serviced and get nutrition and hydration essentials.  Then on Friday morning I went to the airport where I boarded the smallest plane I had ever been on for the short flight to the Isle of Man.  I was met at Ronaldsway airport by Simon and Rachel Cooper who were my hosts for the weekend, before I go any further I have to give a massive thanks to Simon and Rachel for their Manx hospitality which was second to none!  On Friday evening we went to register which involved much handshakes and pecks on the cheeks as I met a lot of good friends(the hanshakes for the men and kisses for the ladies before anyone asks!)  On the way we had to stop briefly at a retirement do where the Okells ale was very tempting but I stayed strong.


Saturday morning and we arrived at Conrhenny Plantation which was the venue for the event. I found my spot in the pits which was next to banana bread baker extraordinaire Mr Johnny Galbraith.  As midday approached I made my way to the start line and shoved in at the front beside Gary Kirby and Stephen Kelly, both were previous winners and contenders, Adrian Beale was another contender somewhere in the crowd as was Julian Corlett but he seems to be full time in the mixed pairs with Collette Skillen these days!  

The race started and Gary took off at a blistering speed, I could not let him get away so I kept him in sight, he continued at that pace.Approaching sunset I had caught Gary and we were six minutes ahead of Stephen.  I looked over my shoulder at one stage and Gary had fallen a bit behind so I thought turn the screw NOW and took off at full speed.  A couple of laps later when I came through the pits Gary was stopped, I kept going at speed and when I came through the pits again Gary was still there so I was now in first position and I had to keep going to hold my advantage over Stephen.


Around 1am when I thought I was flying along Stephen Kelly shot past me as if I was standing still, I could hardly believe he could bring that much power so far into the race.  He continued with the same power and by 6am he was three laps ahead of me.  The timing for the event was live online so I had a remote management team updating me via Facebook messenger (any 24hour event organisers not using live online timing are really missing a trick!), my team consisted of my wife, Stephen Timmons, Conor and Aine Conneff and my man in Bermuda Mr Ciaran “Kevo” Keaveny.  I had to pull back a lap before 8am to have any chance of winning but at 7:30am I was lapped again which meant it was highly unlikely I could win but I could not stop or I would lose second place.  I kept going and after 11am Aine Conneff had made the calculation that second place was safe if I did one more lap.  Shortly after I had started that lap I met Stephen Kelly and shook his hand and congratulated him on his win.

Several weeks before the event photos of the trophies were posted on social media, there was a trophy for best overseas rider and when I saw it I said that this one was mine and I was not leaving the island without it, every season I spend the price of a new bike on flights, ferries and hotels just to compete in a handful of events so I really appreciated getting some recognition for that.  Another trophy was “Spirit of the Event” which quite deservingly went to Leah Clegg who at age 11 is the youngest 24hour solo rider I have encountered and is definitely one to watch in the future.  A special mention for Dave Newsham who did a fantastic job of making the trophies and also brought it to my attention that zip ties are vastly more dangerous than chain saws (thats another story for another day!)

As soon as the prize giving was done we headed down the road to tick another item off my bucket list which was drinking pints in the Creg Ny Baa public house.  All in all it was a fantastic event with fantastic people and I will be back.”
‪#‎GiantDublinOffRoadTeam‬
Giant Store Dublin

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Ger Jackson  This was the toughest race ever, it was the best race ever!  And I’ll be back!

Read how our team rider Ger Jackson took 2nd place at the 24hr mountain bike race in the Isle of Man: 

“The trip started with the usual visit to the Giant Store Dublin, nutrition and hydration essentials for me, a service for the Giant Anthem 29er and a loan of the demo XTC 29er. Hats off to Brian Monaghan, the main man mechanic, in no time at all he had the bike like new.

Saturday morning I arrived at Conrhenny Plantation and got everything set up in my gazebo.  Stephen Kelly and his mum, who were in the next gazebo doing pits for a number of riders, very kindly offered to “adopt”me for the race, thank you both very much as this made things a whole lot easier for me .

Just before midday I made my way to the start line, quite a few riders were already there and as I approached I saw a solo rider shoving in at the front so I made a bee line for him and shoved in beside Gary Kirby, little did I realise I would spend most of the race beside him.

When the race started four riders took off ahead of the rest, Gary was one so I went with them.  I spent the next four laps sitting in and getting familiar with the course and lines.   The lap was shorter than most 24hour races at 5K.  There were two great north shore sections, single tracks with tight technical switchbacks along with double track and fire road sections.  This was a great lap for racing, really well balanced with no advantage for any discipline, a course for an all rounder as a 24 hour course should be.  The shorter lap helped with pits as you could tell the pit crew on one lap what you wanted on the next.

I was using the XTC from the start as most of the solo riders were on hard tails, the weather was hot and sunny, Gary and I were riding together at a fairly fast pace and chatting about everything and nothing, sometimes I went ahead before he caught up and sometimes he went ahead but we seemed fairly evenly matched.  While chatting he told that in his day job with the fire service his crew hold world records for ascending ladders (Neil Kennedy and Dave oToole I’ll leave that with you!!).  Before I know I’m being told lights on for the next lap.  Sometime nearing dark I am on my own and leading.  I know this because Aine and Conor Connef are updating me on my position, they could do this because the timing is streamed live online (pay attention 24hour race organisers!).  I also have Richie Byrne texting me some “inspiration”.  The remote management dream team!

Around 10pm it started raining and fog descended, I couldn’t use the headlight on full beam with the fog and the wind was howling.  Every rider on the course was wrapped up for the weather but I wasn’t stopping to change I kept going.  Sometime in the early hours Gary was getting the better of me and was now ahead, when he lapped me I saw he was the only other rider still in shorts and short sleeves.  The weather was terrible at this stage, it was raining heavily and it was very cold (like Dingle in December), Bontrager 2012 was nothing in comparison!

Sometime around 6am I had to stop and change clothes, Gary was a lap ahead according to the timing screen but I knew he was due to finish another soon, I went to change and Stephen Kelly’s mum brought me into their gazebo, wrapped me in a blanket and gave me hot tea and porridge, I was so cold I seriously considered calling it a day.  After quite some time I went and checked the timing screen again, my 9 lap lead over third was now 6, I may be losing but I will be the best loser today I tell myself as I go back out to hold position.  I wrapped up well and got on the Anthem and off I went.

Around 9am on a fireroad where two sections of the course ran parallel separated by barriers I met Gary, I reached my hand across to his and conceded defeat, he had made a superb effort overnight considering the conditions (maybe it was that Manx third leg !!), also worth mentioning the outstanding job Paul Renshaw did for him in pits.  The rain had stopped now and the daylight was warming things up a bit.
I soldiered on until minutes before midday as I approached the line Gary was waiting for me, there were handshakes, smiles and congratulations before we crossed the line together, this was very much the spirit of the event, there was no animosity between us rather friendship and mutual respect, we’re Facebook friends now!

Before the start I was conscious of being the only non Manx man who had travelled to the event but the welcome I got was unreal, the Manx people were fantastic, not least Clare Cooper with her constant encouragement.  Well done to Gary Cooper and Loaghtan Loaded for a top class event, also thanks to Conister Bank for sponsorship.  I can see this race becoming more popular in the coming years, I’m really surprised a lot more people do not travel to this.

 

Ellie Ross  But do you even know how to put your chain back on if it falls off?

Despite signing myself up for a 24-hour bike race, I admit that this scenario hadn’t crossed my mind.

That is, until the morning of the event when I called my brother for a last-minute pep talk and he raised the possibility of my bike malfunctioning.

“Well, good luck,” he said, after briefly running through how to fix it. “And remember, slow and steady wins the race.”

What is LDLR?

This ‘race’ was Longest Day, Longest Ride, a 24-hour endurance mountain bike ride on the Isle of Man.

Competitors cycle for as long as they possibly can from noon until noon the following day, clocking up laps of the 5km course, with the winner pedalling the furthest. 

You can enter either as a team of up to six (passing over a wristband like a relay baton), or solo, braving the entire day of saddle sore alone.

My Facebook status begging for teammates had gone unanswered – so lone racing it would have to be.

Set in Conrhenny Plantation, a 15-minute drive north of the capital Douglas, the course features everything from fire roads to singletrack and man-made obstacles.

As well as downhills riddled with hairpin bends and loose stones, there’s also a steep ascent, worryingly nicknamed ‘Heart Attack Hill’.

A race that’s not just for pros

As scary as an entire day of extreme mountain biking sounds, the race is actually designed for all abilities.  

“As long as you can sit on a bike, turn the pedals and ride in a relatively straight line, you can enter,” said Gary Cooper, the event’s organiser, who ran the first race in 2010.

“Everyone has their own goal, from the elites who are out to win, to amateurs who just want to complete a couple of laps.”

I enjoy cycling, but for me it usually involves a potter along smooth tarmac, never too far from a repair shop. 

A nervous start

Nerves kicked in the moment I wheeled my way through the start-line mob, the air filled with Deep Heat and high-spirited chatter.

I was surrounded by muscular men with Ironman tattoos, wearing clip-in shoes and swapping stories of mountain biking achievements and injuries.

Of the 272 competitors, I was one of 38 female entrants, including a woman called Sarah, who was also riding her first race.

“I only started cycling two months ago,” she said, clipping up her helmet as we waited anxiously for the final countdown. 

“My friend suggested riding as a team and I thought it would be a fun challenge. Not everyone can say they have ridden a 24 hour bike race.”

The klaxon blared and we were away – bright, Lycra-clad bodies pedalling furiously along the bumpy track, the first of many laps to come.

Within minutes my chain had come off. My brother’s words rang in my ears as I grappled with the oily parts on the side of the road as my competition powered past.

Riding the boardwalk 

Getting it back on felt like a small triumph, but I was soon faced with another challenge when I reached dense woodland.

Ahead of me was a 2ft-high boardwalk through the trees with jumps, hairpin bends, and no barriers. 

Dodgy steering would result in plunging off the side and – in the case of one unlucky competitor – lead to a broken collarbone.

I later learned that these technical sections have ‘chicken runs’, so less confident and fatigued riders can dodge them using an easier route.

I watched others race along the narrow ledge, leaping into the air and landing back on the track with a satisfying squash of suspension.

My own attempt was less pretty – but I made it, and with 24 hours to go, at least I had plenty of time to practice.

Slow and steady progress

To pass the hours, I started counting laps, aiming for five before I allowed myself a break to scoff biscuits and check the results screen. 

Round and round the course we went, and each time I would spot something new, chat to someone different, and gradually grow more confident on those tricky boardwalks.

I was also getting pretty proficient at replacing my chain by the third detachment.

Faster riders overtook me countless times – but by dusk I was starting to creep up the rankings.  

Unlike the teams that rode full pelt and switched over, I was in it for the long haul, competing against the little voice inside me that wanted me to quit. 

“Well done, keep going!” called Sarah, cheering me on from the sidelines after swapping out with a teammate. The encouragement got me through an extra lap.

Mountain biking at night 

Day turned to night, and with it came rain and howling winds. Despite circling the same route 15 times by now, I was suddenly disorientated – and slower than ever.

With a torch strapped to my handlebars, I peered into the darkness, bumping along as other competitors’ bike lights darted eerily about the forest like fairies. 

As well as my legs, parts of my body I didn’t know were used in cycling began to ache – from my neck and shoulders to my wrists and thumbs.

Slathered in wet mud and mentally and physically knackered, at midnight I called it a day, bedding down in the back of a van for a few hours’ respite.

The final leg

Pewter skies and drizzle loomed the following dawn – but with just seven hours to go, the end was finally in sight.

I put my head down and pedalled, my inner beast roused from its slumber and prepared to attack.

My tyres skidded through the churned-up mud, splattering my face with thick globules that dribbled towards my mouth. 

At last, I was on the final lap with just 20 minutes to go. 

I cursed and spat away the pain of pushing myself to the max as I climbed the last hill, rose out of the saddle and sped triumphantly over the finish line.

After 24 hours, 29 laps and 87 miles, I had accomplished my hardest physical test so far.

Running a bath at my nearby base for the trip, Groudle Cottages, I caught sight of a mirror and was shocked at the vision blinking back at me.

Sweat clung to my hair and congealed mud and blood stuck to my legs. But the reflection was deceptive – I felt brilliant. 

I had completed Longest Day, Longest Ride intact, the sun was shining and the thought of fixing bike chains was replaced with the question of what to eat for lunch.

FACT BOX:

Next year’s Longest Day, Longest Ride will take place on June 25-26 (noon until noon) 2016. See ldlr.im or call 07624453016. 

For accommodation on the island, try groudlecottages.com and for more information on the Isle of Man, see visitisleofman.com.