Pivot 24/12 MTB Race 2018
It was way back in 2011 that I last headed to Newnham Park near Plymouth for the Bontrager 24/12 MTB Race. It is now sponsored by Pivot so is the Pivot 24/12 MTB race but the format is the same with a few additions. For me that was a 12 hour solo mountain bike race around the woods of Newnham Park. Also on offer were team races, solo 24 hour races, a torchbearer 12 hour race (that started at Midnight), a 10km run and lots of kids races during the day. Plenty going on, plenty to do and of course a good fun weekend of camping and bike-oriented antics.
Quite why I’d signed up to do a 12 hour MTB race I’ll never know. In fact, I do, it was all Chris’s fault. As part of our race calendar planning for the newly formed Scimitar Endurance Team that I’m racing for thanks to Scimitar Sport Clothing, I noticed that Chris was doing this race. As the date loomed, my decision to join him began to feel foolish. I’d barely ridden my mountain bike and certainly hadn’t done any longer rides. By longer I’m talking more than 2 hours. Quite how I was going to cope with a 12 hour race I wasn’t sure.
We’d planned a family holiday tagged onto the week after the race though and I knew that my brothers (Jay and Brad) and nephew (Harry) would be there too. There were racing it as part of several teams that also included amongst others Ian, Pete and Matt who I had ridden from John O’Groats to Lands End with a few years ago. I was hoping to surprise them on the start line and then try to beat their team efforts despite the fact that I was riding solo!
It’s quite a drive to Plymouth so we planned to stop off halfway at my parents house as we hadn’t seen them for a while. It was a slow drive to their house on Thursday evening after work (work for all three of us that is) thanks to the fact that it was the last day of the Royal Welsh Show so traffic was bad. It didn’t add a huge amount of time to our journey but it felt as though it did. The camper was fully charged and loaded up with all manner of toys ready for a weekend of mountain bike racing, and a week long family camping holiday. Bikes, swimming kit, snorkelling kit, running kit, camping stuff, tents, sleeping bags, tables, chairs, awnings, stoves, clothes and food were all squirrelled away in the van. Bikes were on the back, stand up paddle-board and surf-ski were on the roof. There was plenty of room for the three of us up front though.
We had dinner at my parents house, chatted and then headed off to bed before having breakfast with them on Friday and then heading off towards Plymouth. I’d been suffering with a sore foot for a few days and it was only getting worse. A corn / verruca, we weren’t sure which, had become agonisingly painful and I could barely walk. I had no idea how it would hold up on the bike but I couldn’t seem to do anything to help it. I hobbled around as best I could, but what with that and a sore back I was looking like an infirm old man rather than a hardcore mountain-biking dude!
Travelling South on the first week of the school holidays is never a good idea so we were soon in traffic. It was a slow drive to Plymouth. The weather was OK but rain was forecast. Typically, after almost 2 months of heatwave with temperatures up in the mid 20’s to low 30’s and wall to wall sunshine, the weather was forecast to break whilst we were camping. We knew is was bound to happen when we booked a camping trip but secretly hoped that it wouldn’t be quite as dramatic a change as the forecasters were predicting. (I’m giving the story away here aren’t I!)
We arrived at Newnham Park just as some drizzle was starting to fall. The camper loaded up with bikes, SUP and a 6.2m long torpedo like surf-ski on the roof scuppered my plans of stealth somewhat and Brad spotted us as soon as we drove onto the huge event field. So much for surprising them on the start line. Instead we set up camp alongside. The awning was soon up before it started raining and we were ready for a weekend of camping and mountain biking.
We waited for a few others to arrive, registered for the race and then when the course opened went for an easy reconnaissance lap. It was a really nice lap. A few twists and turns through the main arena that was lined with tents and gazebo’s of other competitors, a long grassy straight past more competitor HQ’s and then off into the woods. There was loads of single track, some rooty drops a little bridge followed by a rooty rise. Some nice flowing single track alongside the river. Some gravelly double track a nice steep climb called ‘Mach Attack Climb’ that led to ‘Motivation Corner’. More climbing and then more singletrack before we entered the coniferous woods at the top for some infested weaving in and out of the trees. From here we weaved around the woods a little had a couple of small descents and then another little climb up to Bluebell woods where yet more singletrack awaited us. The descents then took us back down to the river along some nice fast singletrack, some fun bomb holes and a few small technical areas before we emerged back into the main arena and weaved in and out of yet more tents and gazebo’s with cow bells ringing and cheers of support from the occupants.
It was a nice varied course and at just over 6 miles long would make for a good lap. Unfortunately, just putting cycling shoes on was agony for my foot. Riding even a single lap was unbearable. Once back at camp I was going to have to work something out if I was to ride tomorrow.
Bikes were prepped, dinner was eaten. Morgan sat with Harry, Charlie and Jack around a camp fire, whittling sticks and the rain started to fall. The wind picked up quite a bit too. Morgan was sleeping in a pop up tent. It was only a cheap one so we pulled it in under the awning for him so as to keep him dry.
We didn’t get a huge amount of sleep though as the wind and rain kept us awake.
Saturday dawned a little drier but there was still quite a wind blowing, even in the sheltered bowl of Newnham Park.
Our race was due to start at midday but kids races were going on all morning. Chris arrived at around 10am and set up camp next to us. This was a big race for him and something of a focus for his year. He was understandably taking it all a little more seriously than me. Anna found out what he would need in way of support but otherwise we pretty much left him to his own preparations.
I created a little doughnut of bandages that I arranged around my corn and then taped it in place with kinesio-tape. With my shoe barely tightened it felt OK. With it done up so that I could ride it was sore, but just maybe it would hold up.
As midday approached we all assembled near the start line. Chris was up towards the front ready to race. I was further back ready for a long, easy ride.
The skies were overcast but it was dry and the temperatures were just about right. We were off dead on midday.
The first lap as always was a bit of a procession for me. Being somewhere in the middle of the field it takes a while for things to string out and the amount of single-track on the lap meant that we simply followed each other around most of the way. I imagine up at the front where Chris was things were a little more hectic and quite a bit faster. As I passed our support crew going out onto lap 2 my request for the next lap was a Beet-it shot and some ibuprofen. My foot was killing me.
I therefore stopped briefly after lap 2 for painkillers and then started stopping fairly regularly after that for water bottle top ups and small snacks. As you can imagine 12 hours of racing around a lap that takes around 45 minutes to complete means that you lose track of time somewhat. As I write this a week later I can’t quite remember what happened when but I rode with Matt here and there for parts of a lap or two. I overtook Pete and Neil once or twice. Harry overtook me once before he crashed. I don’t think I actually saw Jay, Brad or Chris out on the course at all. I stopped for pasta at around 6pm and then ordered a pizza a couple of laps after that and stopped again to eat that. Chris lapped me while I was stopped.
I’m sure there must have been something in my shorts as I soon had some serious chaffing going on on my left buttock. I slapped on chamois cream at every stop but it remained pretty sore throughout. Not sore enough to distract from the pain in my foot though. More painkillers were taken as soon as the prescription instructions allowed.
There was a heavy downpour around lap 3 and things became quite slippery for a couple of laps after this. The roots were treacherous and I didn’t really enjoy these laps but it dried out afterwards and the late afternoon / early evening laps were lovely. Nice dry surfaces, good temperatures and by now I’d learnt every root and rock on the course so was able to flow along the singletrack at a decent pace. I was still taking it super easy though.
The steep climb was taken at a slow pace but was really the only point on the course that need any effort. The girls at Motivation Corner kept us going here with their shouts of encouragement and were handing out flapjacks, sweets, jelly babies and bananas as we passed. I took whatever they had on offer on every lap I think – I just can’t refuse free food!
As dusk fell I stopped to put on my lights and had one or two laps that weren’t so much fun as I couldn’t see too well. My lights aren’t great at the best of times these days. They are fine if I’m on my own but as soon as there is someone else around with lights much brighter, mine are drowned out by there’s and all I can see is my own shadow. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be either so I didn’t enjoy these laps. Things would have been a little better once it was fully dark but by then it had been raining for a while and the course was becoming less fun. I don’t like roots, wet slippery roots in the dark are worse! I was becoming too cautious and beginning to make mistakes. I was aware that I might be holding people up here and there so would pull over to let them pass only to find myself slipping off into the undergrowth or nearly crashing once I left the optimum line. I nearly crashed on the roots down to the bridge twice and had a few near misses elsewhere as well. There were fewer and fewer people out on the course though and my legs were still feeling fine without even a hint of cramping.
There was plenty left in me for more laps, but after a few more near crashes and increasing rain I decided to call it a day at around 11pm having completed 14 laps. Time-wise I had time to get another 2 laps in but as I wasn’t really racing decided that it would be more sensible to stop rather than to push on and risk a proper crash. I also thought I might manage to sneak into the showers before everyone else got there. What I hadn’t realised was that most people had already stopped so there was already a queue for the showers! I also hadn’t realised that I ended up in 20th place and now that it was fully dark had actually speeded up again. Another 2 laps, had I gone out and done them would have put me up into a much more respectable 13th place (out of 65 in our category). Chris did keep going until just before midnight and managed 17 laps which put him in 7th place. He also had time for one more lap had he wanted but had he gone out to do it it would have made no difference to his position.
The three teams that, Jay, Brad, Harry, Ian, Pete, Matt and the others were in all stopped as darkness fell I think and only managed 8-10 laps per team which put them in 25th, 26th and 27th place in their category (out of 27).
Click here for the full results.
A Wild Night
After a shower and some clearing up it was off to bed. Anna had been worried about the weather all evening and rightly so. It was now raining heavily, the wind was howling and a full-blown storm was giving us it’s all. The awning was flapping around and wrenching at it’s guy ropes. The van was being buffeted by the winds. Morgan had been moved out of his pop-up tent and was sleeping across the front of the van. Despite having just ridden a bike for 11 hours I was going to get very little sleep.
Sure enough at around 3am, the awning met its match and was ripped out of the ground by a gust. As it made a bid for freedom it took metal tent pegs with it which crashed into the van, chipping paintwork as they went and forcing us out of bed to sort it out. As wind and rain enrobed us, Anna and I took the awning down and secured it flat on the floor. Tables and chairs were secured too and some heavier items placed on top of the flattened awning to hold it in place. Other things in our camp were stowed away before we headed back to bed for more disturbed sleep.
The forecast for Sunday was wet and windy all day long so Anna had booked us into a Travel Lodge. We were supposed to be staying at Newnham Park for another night but Anna had pre-empted the weather and without consulting me had already booked the room. Probably a good idea as I would no doubt have been stubborn and tried to camp through the storm. It was easier and sensible just to book the Travel Lodge so that I couldn’t argue.
By the morning I think even I may have agreed to it though as the awning now looked more like a swimming pool as it was full with inches of water. All around the campsite gazebos and tents with bent poles and ripped canvasses were being packed up. Many were left by the bins having seen their last storm. No doubt a few of the campers that they belonged to were vowing to never camp again! We packed ours up as best we could. The 24 hour race and torchbearer race had been cancelled during the night as trees were coming down out on the course and it just wasn’t safe out there. The wind was still blowing and it was still raining so there was no chance of sorting it out properly. We only hoped it was still in one piece as we had a week of camping under it ahead of us.
The van was now full of soaking wet kit but there was little we could do with it. Our Travel Lodge in Saltash was booked for the evening and we could check in there later in the day. As the weather was still looking pretty bad all day long, we headed into McDonalds for breakfast and then into Plymouth for a day at the aquarium (at least it was indoors) and some sightseeing. I couldn’t walk far though as my foot was now worse than ever. Battered, bruised, wet and smelly… That description would be equally accurate for our camping kit or my foot!
It felt as though we had been away for ages already, but it was still only Sunday!