THE PROLOGUE – tick, tick, tick, tick.....
Four days before the race started and there I was STILL packing, packing not just for the race, but the Potters annual May trip back to the UK, plus a family holiday to Italy part way through our visit. Then there was Marley....yes for those of you who don’t know I’m now a very proud ‘puppy-mother’ J So 5 hrs before our 20hr plus drive back to the UK we were introducing Ian’s mum and step dad to Marley as they were puppy sitting. So there I was anxiously running about making sure they had all the puppy necessities for my little pooch as I hated leaving him especially on his 4 month old birthday. Then just as I thought I had finished I realised something was missing....my puppy. Where’s Marley? So instead of conserving energy there I was running up and down the stairs, checking outside and on the verge of a teary breakdown....MARLEY??? Ian calmed me down and we checked my bags...and there he was packing himself into my race bag and hiding amongst the black helmet cases hoping he wouldn’t be found....next year Marley you will be at the races too as our little team mascot :)
Before I knew it I was waking up at 1am Tuesday morning leaving Luchon’s Pyrenean mountains behind me and heading for the Nottinghamshire Alps.....as I like to call them J. All went very smoothly until I decided to fall asleep in a twisted position and woke up with incredible back pain. It’s an old issue that was fixed and mended by AQR’s Physio Anne Dickins back in December. I spoke to Anne and it was too close to the race to manipulate my back as she did last winter. So I had a massage to try and reduce the knots and inflammation, a proper hard core massage for an hour that left me aching all over, hobbling around and looking in no state to ride a bike for 24hrs (oops), but at least I had more flexibility in my spine which was a plus.
On Friday morning we Potters, plus Cotic-AQR Team racers and support crew James Dymond and Rachel Sokal boarded Mini Blue (AQR Holidays hard core mini bus) bound for the Scottish boarders. The mini bus was pretty full, but we had all the necessities for every 24hr occasion...including the weather as the forecast was looking grim and there was the possibility of hail on Sunday morning. When we arrived at the venue we met up with the rest of the team who were taking part either as racer or support crew and everyone found their place or main job within the team straight away...although I had to keep an eye out on 24hr soloists Miss Dickins and Mr Jordan who were instructed to SIT.....I will add ‘PRE RACE SIT DOWN TIME’ to your next block of training J
Friday night and Ian and I retired to a lovely little B&B on the outskirts of Newcastleton. We always treat ourselves to a little pre-race relaxation, but that was not going to be. I found myself suffering endless back spasms and cramps throughout the night and had virtually no sleep from around 2am. At 8am I was already looking and feeling a state and the race hadn’t even started (double gulp). Ian wasn’t sure if I should race, but I couldn’t stand the thought of quitting a race after last year when I was forced to take some time off due to illness. Ian and I decided to think tactics....usually I just race and see what happens as it's such a long event, but I wasn’t sure how my back would cope with 24hrs on the bike so Mr Potter and I talked tactics to ensure I would finish the race as that is always number one goal.
ACT 1 – RACE DAY...on your marks!!!
Saturday morning and the COTIC/AQR HOLIDAYS RACE TEAM were all in great spirits. Anne, Anth and I, along with guest racer from Cannondale Hannah Bowers were kitted up and ready to roll down to the start line. Our support crew Ian, Simon, James, Rachel, Carole and Chloe had decorated the pit area with Cotic, AQR, Magura, KCNC flags and TORQ energy products, plus British colours too as it was the European Champs after all. At 11:30am we signed on and were presented to the local crowds and supporters who were lining the streets to wave us all off on our 24hr solo mountain bike adventure. It was a fabulous atmosphere and my spirits lifted, especially when I noticed a little Aussie flag had been included in the line up of national flags representing athletes who were taking part in the event....I may not be European, but I was certainly made to feel very welcome which meant alot to me J
Then it was time to roll....and roll out very slowly we did. It was never going to be a fast start as we had 24hrs of riding ahead of us all, but we started behind a Scottish local playing the bag pipes and were almost track standing as we followed him 100m down the road. I always practice my balance and have encouraged those I have been coaching to do so too, and there we were all four of us track standing and looking very relaxed....BRING IT ON TEAM!!!
ACT 2 – MIDDAY-MIDNIGHT...and we’re off!!!
Lap 1,2,3,4,5,6,7....and then I lost count, but I was feeling alot more comfortable than I expected to on what was quite a hilly course. There were long sections of twisty single track beneath the trees and switchbacks a-plenty. I started on my 2011 Cotic Soda, but after a few laps decided I needed to look after my back when the twinges reminded me there was no way I would last on a hard tail for 24hrs this weekend, as much as I love my Cotic Soda. Now I was on board the Cotic KP24 for it’s first 24hr outing, this is the second prototype that I’m testing this year so it’s all very exciting to be on a different bike, but due to a last minute build up I had not spent much time on it......
.....WOW, I was grinning from ear to ear. Not only did the extra suspension help my back when I needed it to most, but it still felt super fast and XC racey on the fast sections of the course as I don’t like slothful feeling full suspension bikes, especially up hills.....I’m such a hard tail girl J Ian had changed the gearing on the KP24 to a double 40-26 with a ten speed XTR 11-36 (yes I know that sounds very technical bike jargon for me, especially for all those who know me....I had to ask Ian those numbers as I never remember digit combinations, but I thought it worth mentioning as it was a perfect range of gears for the course and my legs), those climbs were so much easier even in big ring and I didn’t notice any weight difference between the Cotic KP24 and the Soda. Usually I like to stand up and change position on the bike, but I was so comfortable I had to remind myself to do just that.
All was feeling good in the body and brain department, I was eating at the appropriate times, drinking plenty, playing on my bike whilst not wasting too much energy, and of course taking in the gorgeous Newcastleton scenery....what a beautiful area for riding a bike! Then darkness descended and it was time for some night riding action. I was using an Exposure Max D bar mounted light and joystick head torch. There was no change really from light to night except suddenly I could see frogs everywhere on the fire road sections....so I wasn’t always riding in a straight line as I tried not to bump into the little fellas.....they were so cute!!!!
ACT 3 – MIDNIGHT TO MORNING BLUES...and now I’m feeling off!!!
In the past I never used to go into 24hr solo races with the same mental approach as how I would start an XC or marathon race. It was more about how many laps could I complete without stopping? The 24hr test has always been about ME vs ME as I try to beat my brain so that I would cross that finish line at the very end no matter what the outcome. As this race went on I faced several challenges that obviously I could have done without, but every challenge was good training and I learnt alot about myself along the way.....
Firstly - The weather was closing in....no shock here as storms were forecast all weekend as was hail....but I noticed the temperature dropping which was not to be expected.
Secondly - I decided to do a stupid unnecessary gear change when I knew to be cautious as mud was starting to play havoc to riders out on course. I was half way round when my chain got stuck, and it took all my KP might and brain power to sort it out. All good so I thought, before I heard ‘click’ ‘click’ ‘click’, and was unable to put any power down, something was wrong, but I decided to keep plodding on as I would much rather Mr Potter sort it out in the team pit area than me....as much as I try I’m never going to be a world class mechanic J
Thirdly - I was forced to do a mechanical repair and you know what that means J I started that lovely last climb back to base when my chain snapped. Not a problem, I was cool, calm and collected as I tried to fix it, whilst dropping the link and searching for it in the muddy grass....why am I so clumbsy???? I finally repaired my chain (big pat on the back KP), hopped on my bike and very gracefully fell off the other side as the cranks weren’t spinning....OH DEAR!?!? I discovered there was a huge twist in the chain that I failed to notice...but I was still cool, calm and collected even when I had to run up the last grassy hill because I knew it was just a long descent back to base camp as soon as I reached the top....well so I thought...all the rain had turned the grassy bumpy straight into a mud pit. I tried to ride down it in an aerotuck position, but only sunk further and was forced to run...DOH!
Fourthly - I decided that who needs a bright light when one has Jedi force....again a KP clumbsy moment left me with a broken light, but I spent so long wondering how on earth I broke it that I didn’t really notice how much darker the trails had become. I think after 14hrs on the same loop you get to know them well enough J
Fifthly - Although prepared for the worst weather, when it hit at full force I was in my little space cadet world when Ian usually takes over in the KP thinking department. I suddenly realised at one point how wet I was in just my jersey and shorts, but didn’t change into wet weather gear when I needed to thinking I would over heat on the climbs. Suddenly extreme cold hit home. I was half way around, and I couldn’t warm up....I had no water proof or thermal layers as they were waiting for me at the end of the lap. I was starting to lose feeling in my fingers and the shakes meant early signs of hyperthermia. Fortunately when I returned to base camp I had an amazing team who took over and layered me up appropriately. To give you some idea of how cold it was I was wearing my Keela Mountain water proof that is only used in severe cold and wet weather conditions at 1800m plus in the Pyrenees...PLUS thermal layers beneath and I never overheated once on the climbs like I usually do, in fact at one point I was still cold.
Lastly - Possibly my most challenging moment out on course when I was truly tested by ME....at 3am motion sickness set in. I’m a terrible traveller, always have been, but never have I experienced such nausea on the bike like I did in the early hours of Sunday morning. I struggled to eat and drink the correct amounts of nutrition and had to stop more often than I like to for hurling purposes J Oh I can laugh about it now, but from 3am until the finish I was in a right state.
There were only a few hours to go and I was battling my brain on every pedal stroke which was suggesting I stop every now and then. I worked out there were 3 laps to go until I could finish, but it felt like a life time away as I felt awful. Then Ian told me second place and 2010 UK champ Rickie Cotter was making time up on me. It was the first time I actually thought about racing other people out on course because as I said before I always treat these races as a battle between ‘ME, MYSELF & I’. Suddenly another little KP voice came into play....’RIGHT, let’s bring it on!!!’ I’m not sure what happened, but I attacked and the faster I went the better I felt. My legs were fine and the nausea calmed down until I reached the pit area where I saw Mr Potter and James running over to the tent....apparently I was 15min quicker than they expected and they had gone off to be social, but as soon as I slowed down the nausea came back again.
So now another ‘RIGHT, let’s bring it on moment!!! I had 2 laps within me and I wanted them over with. I completed another fast lap considering it was 20 plus hrs into the race. One more lap and I truly wanted to push the pace now....but Ian stopped me and gave me the biggest hug.....but there was no time for Mr Potter to get all soppy on me now, what was he thinking?????? I forget that Ian finds it hard watching me do this type of racing. Mr P then revealed that I had a big enough lead now to take first place....you would think I would be overjoyed hearing this news, but I still had to complete one final lap.....BLAH....best way to describe how I felt J
ACT 3 – ONE MORE LAP......
You would think I could sit up, relax, make the most of these awesome trails I had the pleasure to ride for 24hrs, but suddenly with another lap to go the whole experience caught up with me. My back went into spasm and for the first time I felt every bump and every bruise. The nausea was now at it’s worst, and I suddenly felt weak. It was the strangest feeling because I knew I still had to finish, but part of me already felt finished and this is where it became MRS POTTER vs MRS POTTER, the battle to keep pottering on. I finally made it to the top of the final descent and I would like to say in celebration I stuffed a Torq black cherry gel down me, but the shakes came on and I was going nowhere until I got some carbs down me.
When I crossed the finish line my team including Mr P were all there waiting for me with open arms, and boy did I need them. I was overjoyed that we got through this together. It was a tough race for everybody out there and in the pits, and definitely no solo effort by me, but a proper team effort by all of us....YAY TEAM!!!
EPILOGUE – ALOT OF THANKYOUS....
I’m so grateful to be part of a wonderful team of racers and support crew. I would like to thank everyone involved in the COTIC-AQR HOLIDAYS RACING CAMP who came along to the 24 Exposure 24hr UK and EUROPEAN CHAMPS...So in alphabetical order...including their main role...as everyone supported each other in a variety of different ways, but we always ensured every racer had their special person to turn to...even if it just meant a big hug when the going got tough... J
COTIC-AQR HOLIDAYS PIT CREW
CAROLE ARMSTONG – COTIC-AQR CATERING MANAGER, as well as Anthony Jordan’s special person.
JAMES DYMOND – COTIC-AQR TEAM MANAGER and overall support.
IAN POTTER – COTIC- AQR BIKE MECHANIC and my special person (obviously there are alot of job descriptions I could add here, but there are too many to list!)
RACHEL SOKAL – COTIC-AQR TEAM SUPPORT and future endurance racer.... your turn next year Rach!
SIMON USHER – COTIC-AQR TEAM SUPPORT, again in soooooo many ways, but also Anne Dickins’ special person!
CHLOE THOMAS – COTIC-AQR ‘glam’ COFFEE MAKER.....full marks from Mr Potter and also Hannah’s special person.
24 EXPOSURE TEAM RACERS - WELL DONE!!!!
ANNE DICKINS - 2nd place Vet Female
ANTHONY JORDAN - 15th place Open Male
KATE POTTER - 1st place Open Female
HANNAH BOWERS - 3rd place Open Female (although officially racing for Cannondale, Hannah will always be welcome as a guest team racer for Cotic-AQR as she is an asset to any racing team!)
THE COTIC/AQR HOLIDAYS RACE TEAM....although a new team, consists of three teams joining forces under a new team name. A huge thankyou to all our sponsors....
COTIC BIKES – Always the Potters bike of choice, but now our team racers too.
AQR HOLIDAYS & COACHING – Mountain bike Holidays, Coaching weeks, Skills coaching clinics, Bike related help, work and advice are only a small part of what we offer the team and YOU.
MAGURA BRAKES & FORKS
INDUSTRY 9 WHEELS
TORQ ENERGY PRODUCTS
CRANK BROTHERS PEDALS
PURPLE EXTREME LUBRICATION
FENWICKS BIKE CLEANER
*Also huge thankyou to Katie Collins and Kevin for supporting the team and helping out in the pit area, it was great to see your cheery faces!
*Plus as always thankyou to all the cheers and support from everyone out there who braved the elements whether by bike or by simply staying up and cheering us riders on.
*Plus thankyou to Sara and Paul from SIP events for inviting me to be part of the USE UK and EUROPEAN 12/24hr Solo CHAMPS. It was a fabulous event which the Cotic/AQR Holidays team will be part of again in 2012.
Tel: 0845 1304824http://www.aquickrelease.com
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