Thursday, 4 July 2013

Hanchurch Hills Hundred (turned into SixtyFive)

23rd June 2013, Midlands Marathon Champs, aka the Hanchurch Hills Hundred in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

A 100km off-road marathon turned into a 65km one after the organisers decided to cut it short and stopped the riders from starting any new laps after 5 hours of the race, when due to deteriorating conditions, rain, cold and mud, the laps were becoming longer and longer.
It was supposed to be a six 16.7km-laps race (in the end it was five laps for the fastest men, four for the fastest ladies).
I hadn't done any training for that, nor even long spins, but somehow thought it'd be alright.

The day of the race was dim, cold, with strong wind and rain, and a lot of mud.
I started strong and loved the first lap. There was approx. 400m climbing per lap, some of it in thick mud, some up short steep kickers and a few longer climbs, all spread out nicely and I wasn't suffering much, maybe thanks to climbing mostly in a small gear.
The singletracks were fantastic, with a lot of roots, some fast swoopy sections, some tight and twisty, forest and open sections, a fast descent with berms, some steep slippy parts, roots, rocks, bushes - everything as it should be. I wasn't losing much time on the climbs and was picking up some places and closing some gaps on all the muddy bits, I think I must like mud.
After the first lap I thought I could be riding like that forever!

I started changing my mind at the end of the second lap, my back was getting sore and the speed was getting significantly lower.
On the third lap, the back pain was getting unbearable, the sections which had to be walked were getting longer however I still managed to climb a steep climb which I had walked on the first two laps! 7km before the start/finish line my chain dropped and got badly stuck between the cassette and the chainstay, I was fighting it hard but to no effect and thought for a moment that it was the end of my race. That's where Verity Appleyard overtook me. She was very nice making sure I was ok but I was too tired to reply coherently, sorry! :) Eventually I took the wheel off and managed to release the chain and make the bike work again. I didn't even think about chasing after Verity, at that stage I just wanted to finish, lay down and give my back a rest, surprisingly however I started closing the gap.
I made a decision to ride one more lap and then finish, my lap times were dropping and I wasn't going to get any faster, riding there in the rain till the nightfall wasn't too appealing.
I rolled into the main area, smiled seeing Sean, and then heard him shouting: "That's you last lap!". Well, yeah, but how do you know? The race has been cut short. And then I saw Verity walking her bike with the air around her :"ok, enough is enough" ;)

I wasn't entirely sure what was going on, what did Sean mean? Was the race time really decreased? Are we all going to finish now? I started to count kms down and pushed on the pedals (slightly) harder. Not knowing who was behind me, and how far back, I was pushing hard on the muddy downhill sections, where I knew I had advantage anyway, and was focusing on riding the hills steadily. Turned out later that all the other riders in my category had withdrawn by then anyway!
I finished in the first spot, properly beaten up but happy.

The course was great to ride, there are not many singletracks where we live so it felt fantastic to ride a proper off road course again, even if my back had a different point of view on that ;)

Lesson from the day: if you want to race a 100 km off-road marathon, you better do some training before.

Thanks to everybody involved in the organisation of the event, it was really well put together (although the course marking could be improved), to the marshals for the encouragement, all the spectators standing all day in the rain and to everybody who gave it a go, regardless the numbers if the laps ridden - it was a fun thanks to you all!

And here is a great movie of the day from XTrailFilms :

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