RedBull Timelaps 2019

I feel like this could be a long post…

If you are intending on reading to the end I might recommend grabbing a cup of tea?

RedBull Timelaps has been running since 2017, a 25hr endurance cycling event that started purely as a team event, teams of 4 cyclists would race throughout the day and night with the aim being to ride the most possible laps within the 25hr event period.

This year they opened up a solo entry… individuals could sign up to race 25hrs on their own… Now I love an endurance challenge, but I hate laps… And these laps were only 4 miles long – that’s a lot of laps…

But hey ho! I entered anyway. Solo riders had to have proof of participation in previous 24hr cycling events and whilst it’s been quite a while since I did any 24hr cycling events I have done a few… So entry was sent and a few days later they confirmed I had been accepted – oh dear… I probably wasn’t ready for this but hey, nothing ventured nothing gained?

The Preparation… 

Solo riders had to have a pit crew – people that would support you through the event, check on your welfare and keep in contact with the organisers if there were any issues, worries etc. Sensible rule… but this means solo riders not only needed to be crazy enough to race for 25hrs… They also needed to know people mad enough to volunteer to help, these people had to forego a cosy nights sleep in order to stay out in the cold and the damp and support the crazy solo cyclist!

Luckily I have such friends! Brett and Lisa didn’t hesitate to accept, in fact, Lisa actively volunteered herself as soon as she heard I’d signed up, and then Brett agreed as well! My pit crew was complete! With Brett in charge of any bike related needs and Lisa apparently responsible for my welfare, I was set!

I feel like I packed up almost my whole house to head to Timelaps… the packing and organising took almost every evening for a week… Multiple changes of kit, all the food items I could possibly consider wanting to eat over the course of the event… Tools, chargers, lights, spare tubes and spare tyres, pump, Garmins, camp stoves borrowed from friends, camping chairs, dryrobe, towels, warm clothes, fluffy socks… the list was endless…

I also needed a gazebo and I only have the usual garden gazebo type structures… So I asked Primal if I could borrow one of theirs for the event and they kindly agreed to loan me their 3 x 3 event gazebo to use over the weekend. Here I have to say this was a blessing and perhaps the most important bit of kit (besides my actual bike)…

We set up mid morning on Saturday with warnings from the organisers that Gazebos had been taking off and blowing across the park as the weather was ridiculously windy… The gazebo was key to my pit area being set up and organised, literally everything relied on the gazebo going up and staying up, it would be my changing area, rest stop, and main base for my support crew for the duration of the event… it needed to stay put!

I needn’t have feared, the Primal Gazebo was an incredibly strong gazebo and included sides, a front, and the guys had even packed pegs and ratchets in the box for me so with Brett leading the way we got the gazebo up and ready, and Brett used the ratchets to secure it to the fencing and to be sure it wouldn’t be joining me for a lap of the course…

We added ground sheets as the forecast was horrendous and I didn’t fancy having my pit area turn into a swamp…

Quick event briefing, where I ate a tub of boiled potatoes as breakfast… then a quicker solo briefing where they checked we had our support crew etc… then it was time for a sighting lap.

I headed out on my own and rolled around the lap, it was quite straight forward, a few gentle inclines, 2 reasonably tight corners, one long descent, one short rather sharp climb then a shorter descent labelled as technical with some variations of surface and a turn as the surface changed at the bottom, one longer slower climb up then you were back at the top and on the straight towards the pit area… Seemed quite simple and I wasn’t too worried about the course, my sighting lap took me 15minutes at a fairly easy pace, if I were to keep this up this would mean 4 laps an hour. Simple right?

The event… 

11.45 and riders started lining up on the course ready for a mid day start. I settled in somewhere near the back of the pack. Most riders were in teams with strategies for swapping riders every 1-3hrs, I would be out on course for a long time I wanted to stay out of the way of the rush. There were only 15 solo riders, we were lost amongst the crowd and I never saw or spoke to another solo rider throughout the whole ride…

Mid day, and we were off… Right on cue the rain started to drizzle, nothing horrendous but definitely raining… great start…

A couple of laps in and as I cycled past the pit area Brett asked if I wanted one of my rain jackets, I declined, I was wearing a gilet and arm warmers, I felt like I was protected enough…

The wind was proving a bit of a battle on the back section of the course, I felt like I was taking quite a battering on the middle 2 miles, it was open on both sides here and the wind was not being kind, this coupled with the rain wasn’t quite how I’d hoped to start the event… The wind picked up, the rain picked up, I wasn’t managing to eat on the bike as I needed to keep my hands on the handlebars… I had found a section going into the woods where I was comfortable to take a few sips of my drink, that would have to do…

I changed my plan… I had planned to ride 6hrs before pulling in for a break and change of kit, but I was slower than I anticipated, I wasn’t eating and my only fuel was from the Torq Organic energy dissolved in my bottles, I would need to top up bottles sooner than planned and get something to eat. As I looped past the pits I told Brett and Lisa I was changing tactic and I’d see them at 3pm for a quick pit stop.

At 2.55pm as I rode up ‘Breakheart Hill’ yes it was actually called that… I got a puncture… to be fair I’d been lucky… I’d ridden the sighting lap plus 45miles of the race with no punctures so far, and there were people stopped literally all over the course fixing punctures… Luckily this was just before the pits (well about 2mins cycle but a rather long walk), I decided against fixing it on the course and walked my bike back to the pit area… Lisa was in the gazebo, she got me some food and I changed the puncture, finding 2 offending bits of flint stuck in the tyre that were the likely cause… the organisers were warning people on the tannoy that there had been an unprecedented number of punctures so far this year and they were reminding the riders to take tools and tubes with them to be able to fix punctures on course…

Meh, puncture changed, I was still cold and the rain was getting worse, I peered out of the gazebo and told Lisa I didn’t want to start my lap in that weather… Then it stepped up a gear… The wind picked up again and the rain was now quite awful… It wasn’t going to improve until 7pm, I couldn’t hide for the next 3 hours… So out I went.

The rain by this point was literally sheeting down, it was running down my face as if I had just dunked myself in a pool, I thought it was going to wash my contact lenses away. My contact lenses were not my only issue, now the hills on the course, particularly the short sharp one had actual running water pouring down them, along with the water the mud, grass, leaves and other slippery potential puncture or accident causing hazards were running down the route… The wind wasn’t letting up, it howled, the announcers on the tannoy said that any teams not with their gazebos should return to their pit spot as a number of gazebos were on the loose and at the mercy of the wind… Luckily mine had stayed put and was being supervised by Brett and Lisa…

I aimed to spend another 3 hours on course and actually pulled in at 2hrs 45minutes. From about 1hr 30 I was starting to get cold and hungry, another 15 minutes on the course would have proved nothing and could have done me more harm than good. At this point I had ridden about 85 miles but it felt like so much further, I had been battered by the weather. I was freezing, teeth chattering, body shaking frozen… Soaked through, cold hands, numb feet, lacking in energy I was feeling rather rough… Lisa had made me a cup of tea and a cup a soup, Brett headed out to get me some plain pasta from a food stall and I stripped off my soaked clothing, attempted to towel myself down and struggled my cold damp body into dry kit… This was a real struggle, think of how difficult it is to wiggle into tight wet jeans when you get out of a swimming pool and multiply this… I was cold, damp, my reactions were slow and dressing myself felt technical… Assisted by Lisa I eventually wrestled into dry kit, by this time Brett was back with the pasta and a local cyclist Leah had popped into see how I was doing (which wasn’t good).

I mixed the pasta with my cup a soup, and wrapped in a Dry Robe and my New York Marathon poncho (these things come in handy) I also had a bobble hat plus fluffy socks on and my feet on a pile of damp proof membrane sheeting… I was still bitterly cold… Brett lit a camp stove and we used it to try to warm my hands up, Lisa found some of my hand warmers and I cuddled these… I couldn’t comprehend how I would ever be able to get warm enough to be safe on the bike…

But slowly I thawed out, began to feel better, the wind and rain dropped, this made us all a bit more optimistic. I started to remove my over layers, put on some buffs, ear warmers and a waterproof over jacket and got ready to head back out on course. We decided I would now do a maximum of 2hr stints on course to be sure I could come in and warm up and eat regularly, also meant that Brett and Lisa could keep a closer eye on me. Fresh overshoes on my bike shoes, and some plastic sandwich bags over my socks inside my bike shoes added an extra layer of insulation and protection from the damp (fab idea by Brett), I was ready to go.

Brett and Lisa stood near the course for the first couple of laps to check I was ok now I was back on the course, but I was, I felt warm and refreshed, time to get the miles moving. I even got too warm and had to stop and take my jacket off! Winning! 2hrs passed quickly enough and soon I was back in for a pit stop, I was warm and dry enough that I didn’t need to change, I took off my over layers and put on a hoodie and my dry robe for whilst I was in the pit stop but I was feeling positive. They had run out of pasta so I had a tea and a cup a soup along with a peanut butter sandwich. I needed a plan for the next few sections. So we decided on another 2hr stint, then a rest and a change of kit before I would head out on the power hour at 2am.

The next 2hrs passed easily enough, another 7 laps done, I was slower than I expected but still moving and coping ok considering the previous few hours had been tough, I was now at almost 130 miles, a pretty awesome distance really.

I came in just after 1am, and needed to leave the pits just before 2am to reach the start of the Power Hour when the lap opened at 2am. I spoke to Lisa and decided that as I was struggling a bit after the power hour I would come in and have an actual break, I would never normally do this on a 24hr event, but I needed a rest and fighting on barely moving wouldn’t help me in the long run.

At 2am it was a different lap used for the power hour, a shorter loop with some interesting lighting arranged on course. We hadn’t had a chance to do a sighting lap of this section so it was an entrance into the unknown when I arrived at the start of it at about 2.01am… Laps done during the power hour counted as double laps… But your lap had to be started and completed within the hour, if you finished a lap even 1 second after 2am (because the clocks went back to 2am after this hour) then it didn’t count… This meant you needed some strategic timing. My first lap took me just over 11 minutes, each following lap took almost 12 minutes, I passed the start of the loop at 2.48am… Did I go again and try for another lap? If it took me more than 12 minutes it would be a wasted effort.. Lap 4 had taken me 11 minutes 52 seconds, It would be a big effort to get another lap done inside the time allowed. I was exhausted and running out of energy. Ah whatever – I would have regretted it if I didn’t try, so off I went, telling my legs to get a move on, and giving it far more effort than I knew I had to try and get another loop done before the time restraint. My legs responded and I was round my 5th lap in 10 minutes 57 seconds, almost a minute quicker than the 2 preceding laps… How I managed this I don’t know. I was still moving slowly but by legs gave it everything they had and I returned to the main course loop with 50 seconds to spare! Precision timing.

Then I plodded back round the loop begging my legs to make it up the hills and take me back to the pits for a rest… I did make it back at around 2.15am (this whole doing the hour 2-3am twice was a bit weird but hey!). I had now done about 155 miles, poor legs… Lisa was waiting for me, we popped my bike back in the gazebo, I put my dry robe and poncho back on and we went for a nap in the car! All 3 of us napped. I set an alarm for 4.30am, with the plan being to be back on my bike by 5am, then I could do an hour or so before the sun rose, then come in for breakfast and try to start the next day as a new ride…

Best laid plans hey? I did sleep, woke up around 4.15, and when the alarm went off at 4.30 Lisa and I headed back to the gazebo. Got myself sorted, bike shoes back on, fresh buffs to keep out the cold, I set off and rode another 5 laps before coming in for breakfast. I was now in a bit of a mess, my sleep hadn’t given me the energy i was hoping for. I was slow, and uncomfortable, I wasn’t riding correctly, I was moving about on the saddle too much, gripping the handlebars too tightly and riding from my lower back rather than my legs and my core… This wasn’t sustainable and would cause me issues in the long run. I haven’t trained for long distance this year and it was starting to be very obvious.

I came into the pits at about 6.15, just as the sun was starting to rise. It was still cold though, really cold… I had a cup of tea, a bowl of coco pops and a peanut butter sandwich… Eating this felt like a whole lot of effort, my body wasn’t responding in the way I had hoped. I had ridden 175 miles. I told Lisa how I was feeling and she asked if I would be stopping here. My response ‘no way, who stops at 175 miles, that’s an awful number, I at least need to get to 200’ – the crazy logic of cyclists and round numbers is quite amusing… So 200 miles was now my target. Not 25hrs, not tons more miles. I just wanted to get to a round number, in a good way, with no injuries.

I started my next stint well wrapped up, but tired, which makes you feel cold… A mile or so in I felt like I was going to be sick, I actually heaved, but I fought it. I needed that food, it had taken so much effort to eat it, no way was I going to be sick! I rode another 16 miles, slowly, but trying to not let my form fail too much, just ticking through the miles.

Back in the pits and Lisa had made me another tea, the sun was up now and was providing a little bit of warmth. The food stall was now selling a potato hash, Lisa went to buy me some. This was a little bit of heaven, some different food, sunshine… I was still struggling to eat but did my best, I also ate a rice krispie square, deciding that sugar this late in the event might give me a final boost. I needed to do 3 more laps to get to 200 miles. Just 3 more!

The end…

Out I went, this time intent on enjoying my last few laps. I slowed to say thank you to all the marshals who had been incredibly encouraging the whole way through. I noticed for the first time a large field of sheep to the left of one section of the course. The marshals had managed to sweep the majority of wet leaves off the technical descent and turn. The course no longer had running water and had started to dry out. It was so much more positive and if I could have mustered any extra energy this would have been the time to get the miles done. But I know my limits, and for this weekend I had reached and gone beyond them, another day, different conditions I know I could have done more. But for this weekend, I was done. I pulled into the pit lane one last time at 10.13am. With 1hr 47 minutes of event time remaining. But my race was done.

I limped back to my pit area, to big hugs from Brett and Lisa, and I was proud of my efforts but relieved it was over. Brett and Lisa had packed up our little pit stop and I only had to worry about getting changed into warm (non lycra) clothing, collecting my medal and saying my goodbyes. Brett took my bike off for a wash (it looked like I’d done a few hours of cyclo-cross – it was covered in mud, grit and grass). Lisa and I said goodbye to some friends we knew racing in other teams. I collected my medal and we headed home.

I have so many thank you’s to make.

Brett and Lisa for being the best unwavering and dedicated support crew any cyclist could ever wish for… And Lisa also took the majority of pictures seen in this post – support crew and photographer in one! Amazing!

Primal Europe for the loan of the most amazing sturdy weatherproof gazebo and the incredible kit that I am super lucky to have gifted to me as part of their ambassador programme (I got through 7 full changes of Primal’s incredible kit).

Team Alpecin/Ripcor for being fab pit lane buddies (thanks RedBull Timelaps team for accepting my request to have them set up near by) the lads in this team were super cheery, supportive, and gave well needed shouts of encouragement as they whizzed past me on course. Bethan from this team who I met about 18 months ago when I was a Ride Angel on Ride the Night – she gives the best hugs and was super supportive.

Now I just need to recover, re hydrate and plan my strategy for my next challenges…

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