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Wiggle Enduro 6 2009

Before the race

I arrived a couple of hours before the start of the race and immediately bumped into Amanda, a willing accomplice I had recently talked into taking part in what is rapidly becoming a six hour Spring classic, the Wiggle Enduro 6. Amanda has only taken part in one other mountain bike race (the mud entrenched Whyte Winter Series, round 3) but being reasonably fit she was more than up for the challenge, so much so in fact that she went rock climbing the day before. In keeping with tradition I spent the day before doing as little as possible, having a couple of pints in the pub and eating everything in sight. I'm not saying that Amanda's approach to training was wrong, each to their own, but I'd much rather take my approach in preparing for the rigours of a 6 hour enduro by preparing my body gently through consumption and idleness, or as I like to call it "body conditioning and fortitude strengthening". It's not for everyone, but it works for me and when people get tired of eating healthily, training on road bikes and mental preparation I'll be ready and waiting with my new fad diet for you all.

As my approach to this race was to ride for the full six hours with only one or two minutes break after every second lap to refill my water bottle and quickly eat an energy bar or banana, I didn't bother doing a pre-ride. Last year there was quite a bottleneck at the start of the singletrack so if you weren't in the first fifty or so riders you'd be in a fairly quick procession around the course so I knew I'd have time to size up any obstacles and watch the other riders to see, more often than not on the first impetuious lap, what not to do.

I hung out with some of the Thetford MTB crowd who were posing for team photographs. I had no idea Salsa Factory Racing was the 'A' team for Thetford MTB Racing, or that Pork Pie Racing was also directly linked to the club. I like Salsa's ideals, "Ride & Smile" is definitely the way forward, providing it's physically and mentally possible when you're on your last lap and you're in so much pain! Kudos to George Budd, one of their riders. I don't think I've ever seen anyone ever ride a bike and smile as much as George and he's usually on or about the podium so if he can push himself as hard as he does and still smile, anyone can.

During the race

I like to start my race with at least one goal, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential. As I'm still aiming to do a 24 hour solo and I want to do it the purist way and ride for the full 24 hours (maybe even unsupported, which is the ideal way to complete it in my opinion), I've decided that the endurance races I do this year should be all ridden spending the maximum amount of time on the bike. I won't be doing what I did in 2008 and allowing myself ten or twenty minute breaks to refuel and recover, as I did at Enduro 6 and Set 2 Rise.

  • Goal 1: Ride for the full six hours, with only one or two minutes maximum to refill my bottle and refuel myself, every second lap.

On the start line I quite happily positioned myself at the back of the grid for two reasons. Firstly, my goal was a personal one, the other riders didn't come into it as it was effort related, and not position related. Secondly, Alan from Thetford MTB Racing was also at the back of the grid and he's a very good rider, certainly a lot better than me which made me think starting position isn't necessarily linked to finishing position. Start slow and get faster for endurance races, don't blow yourself out on the first few laps. Alan and I chatted to Paul (organisor of the Thetford Winter and Summer series), then suddenly we were off and into our "Le Mans" start, a nice half mile jog to the bikes to spread out the field a little before the singletrack. I hate this part but it's a good way to thin out the field.

Getting onto the bike I suddenly had serious conerns about the next six hours which stretched out before me. My approach to this has always been to break the race down into individual laps and then to break the laps down into sections which I focus on riding cleanly and quickly, whilst ensuring that I ride at a level where my body can cope with the stress it is under without becoming anaerobic or starting to cramp up as it fails to deal with the lactic acid build up. If I can find those two points and then back off slightly so my body can just about recover I know I'm in decent shape for the coming training session or race. As far as fuelling goes, I was on High 5 "4+1" and "Energy Source with caffiene", gels were a mixture of all the gels in my toolkit that I'd been given over the last twelve months of racing including some of the gels I bought whilst in West Virginia. No real food today, I wanted food I could carry on the bike rather than having to hang around and eat it out of a container.

This years race was using the exact same course as the 2008 race. Last year, due to my lack of experience and also a lack of fitness, I found the course hard work particularly the grassy climbs although the course was quite damp under foot which didn't help traction and rolling speed. This year the conditions couldn't have been better. It was a warm, sunny day and the trail was bone dry. The land owners had even resurfaced Bluebell wood which completely transformed this section from an area which was tricky and where the rider had to fight for traction into a fantastic roller coaster ride along the winding, super fast singletrack. A great idea and it held up well to hundreds of riders hammering along it for six hours with only slight wear and tear on the tightest switchbacks and the steep exit from the woods by the end of the race.

As I had my "keep riding" goal, I was clearly riding my own race and felt that if I kept the breaks to a minimum then my finishing position would take care of itself, at the end of the day, I should cross the line having ridden for over 95% of the time and with absolutely nothing left in the tank. Having set off from the back of the field I was clearly passing a good number of riders in the early laps and I felt strong, although I was a little concerned at my pace knowing I had to keep riding constantly. For the first six laps I was doing double lap stints before stopping to refill my bottle and eating a bar. Every time I crossed the line I was amazed at the time on the race clock. I remember around lap four thinking it must be around three hours in, then when I crossed the line the race clock showed two hours and twenty three minutes, which gave me a big boost and that was as good as a rest break in itself as I felt revitalised knowing how quickly I was riding and how good I felt.

When I came in on lap six the race clock had just passed the three and a half hour mark. I'd already beaten last years number of laps by around three hours! I'd already decided on earlier laps to add another two goals to the list.

  • Goal 1: Ride for the full six hours, with only one or two minutes maximum to refill my bottle and refuel myself, every second lap.
  • Goal 2: Complete eight laps
  • Goal 3: Finish in the top 40% (in 2008 I finished inside the top 50%)

Now I didn't care if anyone passed me, I told myself they were either Elite riders or were in a pair and just focused on riding smoothly and at a sustainable pace. There was great support for the riders from a large crowd of hundreds of spectators who had turned up to watch with many of them cheering on every rider, fantastic! It was good to see Harriet at the race, supporting some friends who were riding in the Male Pairs category and she gave me a cheer whenever I passed, which along with all of the other supporters certainly helped keep your chin up and your motivation high. There was great banter between the riders too. On an earlier lap I had my rear wheel spin out on a climb and the bike rapidly turned at ninety degrees and sent me careering into a tree, albeit at a relatively slow speed, which resulted in one rider (apologies I forget your number and didn't get your name but you know who you are and you were wearing the Giant top) calling me "Treehugger" as we traded places for the next three or four laps. I don't now where he ended up as he stopped with a puncture and that was the last I saw of him. Despite all of the warnings of punctures I was running tubes and not tubeless but didn't have a single puncture, although I'm not complaining as I saw dozens of riders stopped changing tubes throughout the race.

Around lap 7 Brendan from the club passed me, I assumed he was lapping me as he's usually very quick but he was on the same lap as me. I felt pretty good about this until he explained that due to work commitments his training had been minimal this year, something I can definitely relate to. Towards the end of the race the pace of the Elite riders was still unbelievable. I saw one guy (not sure who, he rather amusingly had "RAM" written across his backside) go flat out and sideways, speedway style into the bomb hole which had roughly a twenty foot drop in. I fully expected to get to the edge of the bombhole and see him lying in a broken mess at the bottom, but by the time I arrived some six seconds after he passed me he was already a couple of hundred metres away climbing out of the other side. Amazing!

Although I'd been drinking 500ml of High 5 every other lap, then on laps 7-10 500ml per lap, by the final lap I was beginning to feel the cramp setting in just above my knees and in the last mile of the course my knees were beginning to complain bitterly...the pain was far worse than I'd ever experienced before and reminded me of how painful they became in Iceland on holiday in 2007 when we spent 7 days riding into the 360 degree wind! Crossing the finish line and shaking Pat's hand (organisor), I realised I'd met my goal of riding with only 1-2 minute breaks, which I was well pleased with and the race couldn't have gone any better, my best performance to date and I couldn't have been happier!

After the race

The results showed that I had met my other goals of completing more than eight laps (I did 10) and also finishing inside the top 40%, what a result, a clean sweep! I was very tired and suffering from too many energy drinks and their weird effect. I've noticed that after driving back from events my mind is hyperactive so is constantly on the go, but because I'm so tired it's like my memory can't recall properly resulting in incessant babbling and the inability to hold a decent conversation or complete simple tasks such as unpacking, cleaning the bike, cleaning myself without much groaning and staggering around.I had sore knees during training for a few days although I was feeling fully recovered by Thursday.

Things to change

I need to keep taking supplements, particularly to look after my knees and other joints. I need to get out of the habit of taking Ibuprofien during races for the pain as it could mask doing further damage to myself when I should normally stop or at least back off a little. Take the pain killers after the race if the pain is so bad. Remember to take mouthwash to get rid of some of the sugar from my mouth following the race. Always take a recovery drink for after the race. If the weather is hot use a sachet of recovery drink with water rather than milk.

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