Having been right on the front line dealing with Covid-19 as a Renal Technologist and seeing the impact on all aspects of life, riding this event at the weekend meant a huge amount to me considering we all thought that no racing would take place in the real world. So for the organisers and marshals I am eternally grateful indeed.
I was still incredibly motivated to train, even though one by one my events disappeared under the dark cloud that was CV19, my calendar was getting smaller and smaller. Then a small ray of light re-emerged in the shape of Time Trialling. Now I was no stranger to this, but being a Triathlete I’m not a specialist but understand the merits of riding these events. Training for an Ironman means a lot of time in the saddle (as well as the pool and trainers), so I knew I was bike fit. Entered a local 10Mile TT and first time out set a 90 second course PB, then this basically turned into my season, event after event I was setting course PB’s and then an all time 10Mile PB and going under 22 minutes for the first time ever! Around this time the National 12 Hour TT organising team were confident they could put on the event under the current restrictions, so a quick chat with my coach from www.veloclinic.co.uk and I applied for a slot (not guaranteed) and waited! A few days later it was confirmed I was in, so we had 4.5 weeks to prepare, nothing like cramming for an event!
Training consisted mainly of racing TT’s in the middle of longer rides with a long ride at the weekend, culminating in riding me into the ground and a crying sweaty mess sat on a Garage forecourt completely drained just a week before the event talking to Callum on the phone who forced me back onto my bike and finishing the session, for this I cannot thank him enough, it had the desired effect the following weekend.
Teresa and I had also been working for a few months with a nutritionist in the shape of Matt Gardner from https://mattgardnernutrition.com/ . We did two sweat tests and took detailed notes of fluid and energy intake, he formulated a detailed plan and some amazing suggestions and ideas covering all eventualities, I cannot express my thanks highly enough to him, I had zero energy depletion and never once came close to blowing up and my body only starting to fail around 11 hours! I also had to eat a ton of food 2-3 days out so I had enough stores, now usually this would be a problem, but to try and consume 4,500+ calories and good ones is pretty hard and a lot of food too 🙂
Teresa and I had talked about her supporting me throughout the event and looking at the map we knew exactly where she was going to be on the course and what she would hand up to me, this was thrown in the air when the organisers were forced to make a course change due to roadworks and traffic lights on one of the legs, no matter, just a re-plan and we felt confident it was going to work.
With the change in course came more elevation, so a big lad like me meant it would affect my end result more so I re-adjusted my target and thought maybe 242-247 miles was possible, but also being this was my first attempt at anything like this, I had no idea what was going to happen at 8 hours and beyond. Callum and I had discussed a power target and settled on 210w so I could hopefully finish strong and keep pushing throughout.
We drove up Saturday with a view to meet another rider at a point to do some recon of the middle course, Teresa had agreed to support him to and he fell into place where we had planned to hand me support. We rode the middle section of the course and it was an OK road surface but as expected more rolling, but the wind was gusty so made for some interesting bike handling! We then drove some more of the course, found the hotel and headed off for some much needed food and an early night.
My start time was 7.07AM so I was awake by 4.30am and eating breakfast at 5! Bundled in the van and drove to the HQ, signed on and loaded up nutrition for the first leg, kissed Teresa goodbye and off she went to set up…….at this point I felt so alone, but oddly felt like at least one or two people may be with me as we had worked out I could run a live tracker from my Garmin and phone (carrying a phone turned out to be invaluable) so Morgan mate, you are freakin genius and thanks for the lend of your longer lasting battery in the shape of the Garmin 830 :-). I used the roll to the start to warm up the legs and make sure the bike still worked, 7.06 and I was on the start line, jesus 12 bloody hours, what was I thinking, 7.07 and its a self start (no more push offs with CV19) clipped in perfectly and start the Garmin, the first mile was uphill and so slow, numbers in my head were 20.4mph average, 210w and 140BPM, this was destroyed in the ride out to the start of the bottom end of the course, speed was 17.5mph, 240w and 150BPM, but I didn’t panic, this is the new patient, focussed model of Andy!!
I hit Prees heath roundabout and saw Teresa where she handed me a bottle for the start of the first 28 mile out and back leg, she was amazing and brilliant and just perfect, back into aero and started riding 14 miles south to the Upper Battlefield turn. I had taken the decision to come out of aero every 15-20 mins to make sure I stretched, but with the increase in climbing it sort of worked perfectly that riding the ups on the bull horns made sense, and standing on the climbs meant I kept flexibility!
Later riders were still passing me and at some effort too, fair play to them, but some would absolutely pay for it later, power meters and heart rate are two massive weapons in my arsenal of awesomeness that’s for sure. Saying this I was aware I was riding harder than I should and arrived back at Prees heath roundabout grabbing a bottle from Teresa and a very loud instruction from her via Callum to ‘Back the f*ck off’, I know, I know, I knew this totally, but also really chuffed that he was definitely watching via the tracker too, the advice was beaten into me and I definitely backed off. It was at this point I decided next time round to stop when I take nutrition off Teresa, I had grabbed the bottle but the gels dropped on the floor, we had planned for this as I was already carrying extra stock so there was no problems, this was about hour 3.
2nd ride of the leg was easier and I was starting to see my average speed start to creep up to target and power was still a little high but much lower than previously, HR was stable at around 147BPM, back to Prees heath roundabout where the heavens had opened and every single supporter and helper there was soaked, you cannot ever underestimate the power and dedication of great support crew, mine was brilliant, at every point I got to her there was no panic, no rush and she knew exactly what to say and do every time to get me back out there. Stopping was a genius idea, unloaded rubbish, loaded back up with fresh nutrition, and then back out to start the 3rd Battlefield leg, there was supposed to be 4 times on this leg but an early rider was setting such a ferocious pace that this would be my last time on this leg, so when I arrived back at Prees heath I got directed onto the middle circuit for 7 possible loops, I was still ‘only at 97 miles and 4hrs 40mins! During training I knew that the second hour seemed to take at least 3 hours, and this was no different on this day, but a change of loop meant I knew I was going to see a familiar face more often and a smaller bottle to take meaning less weight on the bike, therefore more speed! I passed 100 miles in 4hrs 47mins so the average was up to 20.9, meaning I was ahead of the game and was at least looking on for at least 250 miles, but things could happen so I wasn’t thinking that far ahead! On a side note, I rode an Ironman bike leg (112 miles) in 5hrs 22mins, which although would have been slower than target for Italy which I was training for, I assessed how I felt after this and realised I was in way better shape to run a marathon than after Vichy last year, so who knows, maybe I could have run a 3.30 marathon!
The middle section was soaking wet at the top near Prees Heath on every lap, poor buggers supporting, and bone dry and sunny at the bottom, with an incredibly fast section which saw some good speed and really helped push the average up, and it was with a tail wind meaning by the 6th loop I was at 165miles and 7hrs 50mins and saw my average jump to 21.1…..it was game on now, I was feeling good, still pushing 225w, not hugely tired and the only issue I had to deal with about an hour earlier had disappeared, my undercarriage had really started to hurt on the previous lap and I asked Teresa to get out the Sudocrem so I could put another massive dollop on downstairs, but luckily (maybe) at some point in that lap everything went numb and all pain went away!!!
At around 10 hours I was at a low point, things were hurting, I was having to try harder to keep pushing the power and at one point I lost 0.1mph average, while this doesn’t sound alot it made a massive difference to my mental state, it was the first time I had questioned if I could do this, if I could finish, how easy it would be to step off the stupid bike that was sticky, creaky, clearly on the verge of falling to pieces and trying to kill me, the slog up the huge mountain was just f*cking soul destroying and I didn’t want to do it another single time, so as I came round to ‘The van’ I pulled over, stopped and burst into tears telling my crew that I couldn’t do it and needed to stop, and just get me off the bike…..not a single person ever agreed with me, and amusingly Gemma shouted into my ear ‘YES YOU F*UCKING CAN’….this is exactly what I screamed at her during her ironman last year in Vichy as she started her final run lap as she believed she would miss her time cut off, turns out she had miscalculated and didn’t, so she did it…..they pushed me back out and told me to just get on with it, again, the power of support crew…cheers guys, you masochistic buggers :=), also…..Thanks Mags xxx
So, here I was, just over 10 hours in and just had to refocus, so my obsession with data kicked in, maths were done and checked in my head, my time, my current average speed and my body all let me point to 252miles, so 37miles to go and an average of only 19.5….so hang on, I’m doing more than that, hhmmm, maybe I can push this out to 254, come on Andy, stop being a baby, you love your bike, you bloody entered this stupid event…..GET ON WITH IT!
To say I was absolutely over the moon was a huge understatement, in fact seeing my Garmin tick over 250miles was brilliant, I almost stopped right there, what a day, what a ride and what a humbling experience. My crew found me, because quite frankly there was no way I was riding back to HQ, and one last act of awesomeness, they pretty much lifted me off my bike, I couldn’t swing my leg over.
The picture above says it all, thanks, love, relief, joy and just being you Teresa…thankyou! And Callum, mate…..you totally got me through this!
So hopefully this gives you a small insight into this type of event and maybe if you do it too then lessons can be learned, I know my Strava says I would never do one again, well I’ve already looked at next year, but on a flatter course and a nice big round number!!
Last thing, seeing as a certain youtuber kinda had some influence on the decision to do this, I thought it only fair to give him a mention and say my utter disappointment that he couldn’t ride….he does go on about it in this video and his previous ones too! 🤣. https://youtu.be/4ZFnO4MoTNA
Thanks for all your support you gave on social media groups and messages, I read them all back on the journey home and it was a great reminder. Sat here now, im still recovering but have been back on the bike already…..so who knows what 2021 will bring!