Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Brighton Big Dog 2013

A 6 hrs race, that's all I knew about it. No idea about the course type, length, elevation, expected lap times, ground (tyres?). I googled the names of other ladies riding it solo and a lot of them looked serious.
I came to Brighton on Saturday morning, having spent the preceding weeks organising the wedding and hopping around on crutches with a twisted foot. Being well rested is important before long races, right? ;) I felt completely completely relaxed.

And on the start line all things may be left behind. It's race time!

(I don't remember where I found this photo!)
We start at midday. Final counting down, shouts of encouragment, spectators and team riders waiting for their turn cheering! I'm somewhere in the middle of the crowd, riding at my own pace and letting a lot of the people go by. I have a lot of time...
After a short loop around the field, we hit a climb, it's not particularly steep but slows people down visibly. Then a short, twisty, rooty singletrack, where I realise I'm actually not that far down and manage to get a relatively clear run without many stops. And then there's a wall. A white chalky wall with a rain gutter running through its middle. And we climb that wall. Gears clinging, people getting off their bikes, Garmin showing up to 30-40%. Ouch! Luckily soon it flattens, i.e. gets down to 20% gradient. I like you, my granny ring :)
Then there's more roots and twists and soon we're flying down a tarmac path towards a bridge over the carriageway - make sure you take that corner clear, you don't want to fly off the bridge! After that it's a singletrack again, this time it's all off-camber, with a few tricky twists where you can skid and all that finishes with a very short and a very steep climb (most people walk it), then some milder climb, some flattish sections and onto another bridge back up to the other side of the road where after another climb we fly down a long rooty path getting the maximum speeds of the day. The fast section finishes with a sharp left corner up - at almost every lap I would see riders fixing their broken chains there.
And then more fireroads up, a singletrack that looked flat but in fact was a 10-20% climb. More roots and corners. Another long off-camber section when the bike slides around happily. Some logs to jump over. More sharp corners, more places where the ground suddenly goes up chatching the rider and the chain by surprise. More climbing. Then some very very tight and twisty singletrack winding its way between small trees, I struggled to squeeze between them, even with my narrow handlebars, how the people on big bikes did it, I have no idea.
Finally there's a sharp corner right, where the marshall girl shouts at every rider for 6 hours "sharp right!" - and that shout was really needed, there was something about that corner that surprised me on every lap. And after that a long grassy descent into the arena, with spectators, shouts and other riders, and Sean waiting in the pit zone. The lap has taken me less than 40mins, which means I'm gonna cross the field many times today...

Sean points out another solo female rider several metres in front of me but I know too well that she is there, she's been there for the whole lap, teasing me to chase her. But as tempting as it is, I'm not gonna do that, there's still over 5 hours race before us, no need to blow up at the beginning, there'll be time for racing. For now, keep it steady, just keep going, easy... I have no idea how many other riders from my category are in front or behind me but it doesn't really matter, it wouldn't impact my pace anyway. The only way I can do it, is to ride at my own speed, and then hope that speed is good wnough. And just have fun!

Lap no. 2, roots, the chalky climb (hurts more!), corners, roots, bridge, off-camber, steep kicker, sun, bridge, fireroad, shadow, trees, holes, roots, corners, logs, grass and the field. And the same rider still at the same distance in front of me.
Lap no. 3.... you know how it goes by now?

It’s getting harder, my back starts to ache, I start riding automatically and lose focus a few times. Not having ridden the bike in a long time makes me pay. The back hurts so much that I can’t get off the saddle and ride a big part of the course sited, and that’s not gonna work. I ask Sean to get me some pain killers and clean water as my stomach doesn’t want to take more energy drinks.
At the beginning of the climb I see my ghost-rider walking up the chalky climb. She may have just lost a grip and may make up for that loss immediately but she may also be getting tired. I push on the pedals harder and look behind my shoulder a few times.
There is that guy in a yellow T-shirt at the top of climb, shouting the most ingenuous encouragement at the riders. You can hardly push the pedals but you have to smile when you hear him :)
The painkiller Sean got me help ease the pain a bit, it still hurts but is bearable.
I wonder how many laps I will actually make… I always do a lot of maths when I race!
I finish the 6th lap in just under 4 hours, which gives the average lap time slightly below 40 mins. Theoretically I should be able to do 3 laps more but will I be able to keep the pace up?
I have eaten very little but feel fine in spite of that. The back is sore, the climbs feel longer. We’ll see…
I do the 7th lap in 41 mins, 1h 22 mins left before the cut-off, I’ll try to squeeze in 2 laps more…
On the 8th lap I get stomach cramps, it’s extremely unpleasant but I know from the experience that, surprisingly, it doesn’t have much impact on the speed, so I just try to breath steadily and not to slow down, I try to make as much time as possible, I won’t give up! Hmm, some flat coke would probably be good but I know I have only energy drink and water in the pit and it doesn’t feel like I’m able to take any of those. Will I make it? I know I’m at the edge, a few seconds too long and I won’t make it. The good side of that is that the riders slower than me won’t start another lap at the same time, which means that the course will be almost empty and the only riders will be faster than me. With no hold ups in the singletracks I should be able to ride it in time. Theoretically.

I roll through the pit zone one last time, painfully, and see Sean holding a bottle with coke. Wow, really? :) And then he shouts to me “You’re third, you won’t lose it even if you don’t finish that lap!” Really?? third??!!
Ok, let’s try to clock the 9th lap in! The chalk climb hurts like never, I just about make it, and I feel like calling it a day and rolling back to the arena, but then, I’ve already done 10 minutes of the lap, only half an hour left. I use that argumentation a few more times until I’m too far to get back, I can just as well move forward. My climbing is slow but I try to give it all I have in the singletracks, I don’t need to save the energy, it’s the last push, go!
Marshalls along the course are giving the times “only half an hour left”, “20 minutes left, keep going”, “you’re nearly there”. I know one spot from which it takes me 14-15 minutes to get to the field, I hit it at 5:44 – theoretically with time to spare. But I’ve been riding for nearly 6 hours, will I keep the speed up? “10 minutes left guys, keep it going!” heard at the bottom of a climb sounded like “10 minutes is not enough”. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon!!! Nearly there, you can make it! 5 minutes left, where am I? How far is it from the end? I think there’s so much more trail left! 3 minutes!.... And the field! Downhill! Last corners (don’t crash now) and the finish line!!!
2 minutes to spare.
3rd in the Brighton Big Dog solo.

The Big Dog is a fantastic event. The organization was spotless, marshals brilliant, course marking clear, prizes great. The atmosphere was fantastic, with some people just having fun, others taking it seriously, but everybody staying nice and friendly. I’ve heard it was great in the field too, with free tea and delicious food.
Definitely the race to do.

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