LEE CRAIGIE RIDES TO SOLO SUCCESS
Why ride for 24 hours?
Deciding to enter a 24 hour mountain bike race will only ever happen a couple of days beforehand for me. If I had the time to plan and consider the logistics and discomfort of it all, I would instinctively put that time to better use and talk myself out of it. At this time of year, though, resolve is weakened. By the end of October, the Highlands of Scotland have started a phased retirement of daylight hours and at exactly the same time startlingly beautiful autumnal colours emerge.
No Fuss Events set off at midday on 29th October; as many laps of a 10.5km loop in the shadow of Ben Nevis within 24 hours, oh and the clocks changed too so an extra hour was added. To begin, it was sociable. I don’t usually race these events myself and so I enjoyed the luxury of riding the first few laps at a steadier pace than I might have in a team of two or four. With lung capacity to spare, I caught up with friends and made new ones of strangers.
The human chat dried up though with the daylight and night imposed an austere code of silence on the forest. Ashen-faced riders now willed their legs around while self destructively calculating the hours they still had to ride before daybreak.
I thought it prudent to at least try and get all the disasters out of the way in the daylight and so I snapped my bottle cage, lost a water bottle, pulled my hamstring, tore off my mud guard and developed a stomach upset all on the same lap. Our efficient pit crew sorted it out, including providing me with a plastic bucket and a roll of toilet paper of which I would make constant use throughout the 24 hours.
At 3am with 15 hours of riding in my tired body and with 8 still to go, I staggered off my bike and lay on the ground in the team tent with instructions to wake me up in 20 minutes time. Punctuating this rest with a mini pork pie, some coke and the reapplication of Happy Bottom Bum Butter (using a different hand) and I hoped to start a fresh, however I never really found my groove on this ride. Stopping every lap to commune with the toilet bucket broke any rhythm I might have established. There were glimmers of flow and I felt bouts of energy but my stomach upset was wearing me down emotionally and physically. Then, half way through the race and halfway round a lap, my lights broke. Complete darkness. Not funny. I nursed my way round the remaining lap and into the welcome glow of the transition area. Luckily, spare lights and some encouragement gave me the motivation to continue on.
Out on course and the marshals were keeping us going. They kept fires burning whilst huddled in bivvy bags, or in one case, adorned with fairy lights and dancing to the radio! At the timing stage, the No Fuss organisers were often personally standing by the timing post to help tired, fumbling fingers find the unit carried on a lanyard round rider’s necks.
Dawn took forever to break. When the grey dawn did finally arrive, it was washed out and accompanied with rain, which turned the course into a muddy mess. With 4 hours remaining, I was losing my grip both metaphorically and physically. My skin hurt from having been shaken so much and my hands were cramped into tight fists. I stopped to slur this information to my support crew, paused to eat a bowl of soup and balance on my bucket again – glamorous!
Lee Cragie wearing her FINDRA Marin Cowl Neck on the podium
Soon after, it was over. I’d ridden 23 laps in 24 hours. Approximately 245km and 8350m of climbing, 15 toilet stops, 2 packets of jelly babies, one pair of shorts, 20 litres of Ribena, 4 pork pies, the equivalent weight of a small child in banana flapjack, half a tub of Happy Bottom Bum Butter, one new favourite word (houfin’), countless new friends and title of UK 24 hour Mountain Bike Champion 2016.
Thanks to No Fuss and Exposure for another fantastic event and thank you to everyone, especially Ferga and Rachel, who offered their support to allow us to ride our bikes in circles.