Coach goes racing PT1: “Torq in your sleep” - solo 12 hour mountain bike race - single speed
Given that 12 hour solo is my favourite distance in mountain biking I was kinda surprised to realise I’d not done one since Torchbearer back in 2017! So far my season has been a bit up and down. I’ve still been showing up to a few races, but in-between I’ve been very thin on actually training in order to get to level I might be competitive. In 12 hour though I still have a distinct advantage against a lot of much fitter racers = I know how to pace myself better than most when it comes to a mountain bike race that lasts longer than the average working day. In addition this race course offers a very weight-friendly elevation gain per lap and is technical enough that it takes a good degree skill to ride fast, so I felt relatively optimistic of my chances.
This year I have perhaps bitten off a bit more than my current fitness, and time available to train can probably support: I’ve entered the 24 solo national championships later in the year, and so at this race I was hoping that some of the best single speed racers in the country would show up. I could do with a gauge as to how bad, how far off, I might currently be. Maybe the fear of a beating in October might help me find the time to train at least a bit more than of recent months. Sadly it was not to be at the Torq 12 with a very thin on the ground solo single speed class, and after sign on I felt confident the win in that category was mine. I decided that a new goal was needed to give me the motivation to stay “in the race” and not just cruise round for the silverware. I settled on two race goals: I’d aim to race all the other male solo categories (guys on gears basically ;-) and cover 100 miles, which I felt was possible but would stretch my current fitness.
With a race start at midday and a particularly high temperature forecast (relative to what most of us would have trained in recently) it was obvious to me that starting this too fast would end in disaster. However, with a very dry course and the potential for lots of dust in the last 3rd of the race in the darkness, it was also apparent that speeding up in the last 4 hours was also not really an option. I decided to go steady for the first 4 hours, push on in the middle 4 and then just settle down to complete the job through the dark and dusty ending. As luck would have it an old friend agreed to come along and pit for me, so for the first time in a very long time I’d actually know what was going on with lap times and those around me in the various solo categories throughout the race. I’d also have someone to mix any additional drinks, put things back together if they broke and heckle me if I slowed down or tried to stop. Perfect
I started right at the front, as I often do, simply to avoid lost time in the various bottle necks that always occur on the first lap of any mountain bike race. The start was fast and furious, but I let the very fast team and pairs riders go, whilst setting what I felt would be a decent lap pace for a soloist. From there I settled in for 4 hours of consistent effort, but not too much, keep the fuel and water coming in and generally avoid doing anything dumb. That worked particularly well and at the 4 hour mark I was sitting top 15 overall in the soloists, top 8 in V40 and leading single speed. It had started to cool down, I had all the lines on the course dialled, and it was time to move forward.
That probably makes it sound like I was going to speed up. It’s not really like that in the solo class, but I know that if I pace it well then the middle section gets harder but I just don’t need to slow down. If its paced badly then fading happens for almost everyone around hour 4 or 5. My middle section lap times tell my my first 4 hour pacing was on point:
Lap 5: 48:43
Lap 6: 48:21
Lap 7: 48:39
Lap 8: 48:59
Lap 9: 49:12
Lap 10: 48:58
…and so it was with that with another 4 hours on the clock I had moved up to 5th solo overall and 3rd V40.
Up ahead the leading senior, leading V40, and leading V50 were out of touch, whilst behind I had a healthy gap on 6th overall. I’d also started to feel the starts of cramp setting in, and so knowing it was now a gamble to maintain pace just to gain 1 place in categories I wasn’t even entered for, I decided to ease back just a touch, keep the cramp at bay and see if I could clock the last lap I needed before cut off and go over 100 miles.
The pressure was now off, I dropped to lap times a minute or two slower, and had a lot of fun riding rooty, dusty single track in the dark. The laps ticked by, the gap behind grew a bit more and I finished with 102 miles on the clock. 1st single speed, 3rd V40, 5th overall. Job done. I think I still love racing, maybe I should do some training too ;-)