I had been riding mountain bikes for around two months when my sister asked me to join her in a 24-hour race – the infamous Strathpuffer. She was looking to enter a team of four of her friends and was one nutter short.
24-hour race, in the middle of winter, through Baltic temperatures across the mountainous Scottish Highlands – with a couple of months to get ready – why not?!
A couple of weeks after agreeing to join her team; I was putting in 4-5-hour days in the saddle, so I decided challenged a friend to enter as a pair. He agreed, I pulled out of the quad and got myself ready for a gruelling 12-hours. Then, as part of some karmic retribution, on the day of registration my friend bails. Naturally, I decide to solo it and immediately sign-up without a clue on what I am getting myself in for!
A couple of months later and the day of the race draws near. We travel up to Strathpeffer with my entry-level 2012 Specialised Rockhopper crash in a hostel for one last night in the warm before taking on the ‘Puffer. Getting to the site just after day-break of race day, we didn’t have long before the riders brief at 0945. We find a good spot, just off the main track, pitch a couple of tents and we’re pretty much set – all winter gear, camping stuff, spare parts and tools are still in the car, but my sisters team will get this after the race start… or so I thought!
The race started at 1000, I rode the first lap in a big bunch and had no idea what the track had in store (always ride a practice lap the day before if you can!). Strathpuffer is a thorough-bred technical-XC course. It has a ton of climbing, rock gardens, steep, fast descents with a couple of drops thrown in for good measure – it was a million miles away from the flowing singletrack I had been training on.
Strathpuffer was a million miles away from the flowing singletrack I had been training on.
A couple of hours after midnight, I have done more riding than ever before – and there is still 10 hours left on the clock. I am freezing, soaked to the bone, tired and have hardly eaten – I decide to take a little rest and get changed. When I get to my tent, however, there is nothing besides my clothes and tools. No sleeping bag, no roll matt, no thick coat, nothing. They had left all my camping gear in the car!
My sister (who is asleep, spooning her friend, under a duvet and in a sleeping bag), sleepily hands me a picnic blanket and falls back asleep.
20-sleepless-minutes later, I decide I must get out riding or else I am could be in a little trouble…
My overshoes weren’t doing anything by this point, so when my hands were so numb I couldn’t work the zip, I cut them off and change into my waterproof socks. In a warm, dry set of clothes, I head back out into the freezing night and ride hard to get the body generating heat and the blood flowing back into my hands. Thankfully, the first 3km is uphill over a fire-track – perfect for warming up before things get a more technical.
I ended up putting in 16-laps within 18-hours of ride-time in some of the worst conditions I have ever ridden in! Crashed into the same thorn bush three times (on three consecutive laps), picked up some insane saddle-sores, lost sensation in a few fingers and toes that stayed numb for weeks… and with that, I was hooked! I have ridden the ‘Puffer a couple more times, Mountain Mayhem and the Kielder chiller and I am just getting started!
Not even a severely dislocated shoulder has turned me off 24-hour racing – they are that good!
Thinking about taking on your first? Head to our training section for hints and tips.