My love / hate relationship with Mountain Mayhem

UK’s first 24 hour Mountain bike event: 

I am exhausted, I also, quite frankly, smell…… really bad – if I don’t head for the showers soon my clothes will walk themselves!  On the other hand though, I am smiling, probably the biggest and widest smile that my face can pull.  I have just completed Mountain Mayhem a 24hr MTB endurance event and our team of 5 have managed a very respectable 28 laps between us.

To put this into perspective we have managed to get around a 7 mile loop climbing and descending on a combination of rocky, grassy and sometimes wet terrain 28 times – that is a total 196 miles between us and I contributed to 35 of those miles.  I am beyond proud of myself and the team.

It all started 4 years ago…. My first attempt at Mountain Mayhem was a disaster, with gail force winds and torrential rain the event was all but abandoned.  The route was so muddy that most riders, even the pro’s were carrying their bikes through the mire.  The photo of my bike below gives you some idea of the conditions.  My next attempt was not much better – this time a new venue, a new course and I thought a good chance to really experience Mayhem.  However this time my body did not stand up – I took a tumble on my lap at dusk on the Red Bull run and damaged my shoulder.  I had completed the two required laps but was very disappointed that I could not carry on.

Mayhem 2012 - How will I get this clean!
Mayhem 2012 – How will I get this clean!

I left it the next year. I was so fed up and willed the whole experience to just go away.  However watching and supporting my husband in 2014 gave me the push to give it another go.  I would not be beaten by this event, I wanted to experience Mayhem properly.  I know some would say that I have, twice…. but they were just warm ups to getting this done.

 

2015 WOULD BE MY YEAR:

I am fitter than I have been in a very long time. Having left work in February and changed my pace of life. I have been out riding most days either road or off-road.

We arrive at Gatcombe Park on a sunny Friday afternoon. I have spent most of the day packing the camper and it is full of cycling equipment and food……. I am feeling both excited and nervous all at the same time ready for weekend to begin. The campsite is filing up quickly and all the trackside pitches have all been taken, but we manage to get a good spot and close to some friends from the local bike shop. I think that will come in handy if we need a bit of bike maintenance!

 

 

Mountain Mayhem is a 24 hour endurance event

The principles of the race is to complete as many laps of the 7 mile course in 24 hours. There are a number of categories you can enter ranging from mixed teams to all male/female teams and the more impressive pairs and soloists.  Our strategy this weekend is to ride single laps during the day and then after midnight switch to double laps. We have our approximate timings mapped out and laminated on a sheet of A4 dangling from the roof of our gazebo.  All expertly organized by our team leader – an experienced Mayhem rider who has been a soloist until last year.

I am leading out the team, which means I am stood at the start line with hundreds of other riders of all shapes and sizes (mostly very tall with long legs). Everyone anticipating the start, fidgeting and just wanting to go.  We have a short run to contend with, leaving the starting line going out to the woods before coming back and picking up the bikes to start the lap.  This is the first time I will see the course for myself, the boys having had a reccie ride yesterday and imparting a few tips….

The most important is to take left line on the Kenda downhill – god what if I go right!! 

The count down starts, the cheers go up and we are off – Mayhem 2015 begins…… The run is thankfully short but its great to see my team mates and my two little cheerleaders shouting me to run hard / ride hard as I pass them.   Then I enter the woods. Finally away from the crowd, it’s just me and the trail.  I smile despite myself as I watch every turn and work every line – knowing that I will get to ride this again in just a few short hours. Wanting to do my best for the team.  I also took the right line on the Kenda downhill you will be pleased to hear.

 

My support crew
My support crew

You Learn Quickly……

I was so hungry after my first lap (mainly because I was so nervous I didn’t really eat properly before it). I came off the course and ate so much and too quickly.  This was a big mistake, 4 miles in on my second lap I got such bad stomach cramp that I thought I would have to give up.  It took tremendous effort to climb the last grassy slope and thankfully the cheers from the trackside campers with their megaphones and cow bells spurred me on.

Support is really important, you have to keep yourself going when your head and your body are telling you to give up. The mind games you play especially in the middle of the night are really tricky.  The riders on the course with you are also a great inspiration. The Pro riders, who are constantly overtaking you, are one of your best supporters – with a quick ‘keep going rider’ or ‘good climbing rider’ as they fly past, it sure gives you a boost.  As a team you work together, giving a quick fist pump as you pass over the baton or making sure you give each other space/food/hug in whatever quantity that is needed in between circuit. I also have my two girls with me. Both experienced supporters at Mayhem this being their 5th event.  They know just what to do to keep you grounded and forget about the last ride. They just want you to spend time with them.

On the third lap of the day my gears start to ‘ghost shift’ yes a technical term!  I can’t seem to stay in gear as I am climbing, gears moving into both easy and hard when I don’t want them too.  It is making for a frustrating lap and I will need to look at them when I get back to the campsite.  I am learning about the technical aspects of my bike. I am quite confident with changing tyres, checking a bike over and given time I can index my gears, but this is very different matter. It is getting dark, I am in the middle of a field and I don’t have my handy ‘Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair’ to lean on.  I do what I can and it will have to do.

 

To sleep of not to sleep?

It’s gone 10 oclock, the phone buzzes, our leader has a puncture so that’s another 10 mins before my husband goes out. He was just on his way so I make a mental calculation in my head to move my ride time. That means I will be out about 12.20 if all else goes to plan.  I can hear my girls deep breaths as they slumber in the camper bunks above me and I am snatching a few restful moments before my night ride NOT SLEEPING, DO NOT SLEEP, NOT [YAWN] SLEEPING ZZZZZZ.

Not sleeping was the right idea. I had a few restful nods of the head but I was ready to get going when it was my time.  Waiting for the youngster in the team to hand over to me it was getting a little chilly and of course it is pitch black.  I have a good set of lights – Hope for the bike and a brand new Lezyne torch for my helmet.  It is surprising how much you can actually see and how far ahead.  Although I have to say I rode lines during the night that I probably would not have taken in the day!!  Still riding strong I was pleased with my night lap even if I wanted to throw my bike into the lake because of the problems with my gears.

After this lap I was able to get my head down I was not out until 6 am as we had chosen a strategy that meant two riders doubled up overnight and then in the early hours of Sunday we would do the same so they could sleep.  However I still needed to fix the gears. Riding in the night with only 3 workable gears was not great. I didn’t want to go through that again.  This is where a friendly bike shop comes in handy…. Remember earlier I said our campsite was spot on – Lance from Eastgate Cycles was an absolute star and pinpointed my problem and replaced said dodgy (bent) cable.  I am so glad of their help as it meant my last ride was a joy not a trial. So really that is how the 24 hours went, riding, eating, reading Harry Potter to my 9 year old and inthe middle of the night trying to catch just enough sleep to give me strength to get out on the dawn patrol.

Having completed 5 laps, I feel that I really have done Mayhem now.  Pleased as punch and because of our efforts and despite saying I just wanted to do it properly once I think we are all eager to be signed up again for next year.

 

 

I have now completed 4 Mountain Mayhem events (2012, 2013, 2015 & 2016) and our team ‘The Jammy Dodgers’ are signed up yet again for 2017!