Muc Off 8 Report

14 Apr

The Muc-Off 8 wasn’t originally part of my plan racing-wise this year as I’d not heard about it until a month or so ago and a friend and I were scheming some kind of monster 24hr road ride instead.  The thing about starting to train properly though is that quite soon you become the one who takes it more seriously than your regular riding mates and your priority becomes getting proper endurance training while theirs isn’t.  In fact they get told their priority is moving their girlfriend out of her flat.   The Muc-Off 8 looked like it filled the gap nicely then, 6 weeks ahead of the UK24 it provided me a good chance to get a race head on and test my form while there was still time to do something about it.

I was secretly hoping that it might be off the radar for many of the serious endurance racers and I’d be in with a good chance of a bit of early season glory but a check of the starting list on the Saturday soon brought me back down to earth hard.   I was more pleased than disappointed to see Ian Leitch’s name up there though, despite the fact it meant getting a sound kicking, it also meant there was someone to hang around with.   Being fairly new to the sharp end of endurance racing I didn’t recognise too many other names other than Ant White, regular 24hr Solo winner, but the name Iain Payne rang a bell too though I didn’t know for sure.   When I caught up with Ian at the registration tent later though we checked the list again “ah yep, know him, he’s good…and him…oh Szabi, he’s a big marathon racer from Poland…and see him, he’s the brother of…” and any reckoning I had of a decent result began to fade; top 10 if I’m lucky then I thought.

We met up with Olly and Phil from the Kenisis/Morvelo team and went out for a practise lap.   The course was an energy sapping mix of steep climbs, rutted bogs and lumpy grass with a few singletrack sections towards the end that just about flowed.

The good news was the Le Mans style start was mercifully short: a few hundred yards up to a flag, round and back again to grab yer bike.   My knees don’t like running at the best of times and I’d spent a pretty anxious week wondering whether my right knee would be up to riding at all after a quick run the week before brought back a recurring injury.   I started right at the front and quickly dropped back but I figured I didn’t loose much more than 30 seconds or so.   I did find myself in traffic for most of the first lap though and although I managed to get some pace together, it came at great effort and without any rhythm.

Getting out of the saddle in the first steep climb of lap 2 and already holes were starting to appear in my thin veil of strength.   Knocking it back a few gears and spinning, I finally got a Rhythm going but it was short lived as by lap 3 my back was reminding me that I had been putting too many hours in on the road bike and not enough on the mtb.   The course wasn’t just hard on the legs, it was physical too.   If I was to last the distance I would need to save some strength and already feeling fatigued so I decided to take it a bit easier and take on plenty of food and water.  Hmm did I say top 10? …Maybe more like top 20 at this rate.

For the next couple of laps my main motivation was to get past the half way mark without being lapped.   I knew from my own struggling pace that it was going to happen; the only questions were who would pass me first and when?   At the end of lap five I was starting to get the warning twinges that cramp wasn’t far away and decided to ditch the bottles in favour of the Camelbak as the feed stations had run dry.   Finally half way round lap six and thankfully over 5 hours into the race, I looked back on the longest climb to see Ian’s green IF kit chasing me up the hill.  I wasn’t really surprised but encouraged by the fact he was finding it hard work too, even if he was flying. Laps 7 and 8 just kind of got lost in the noise really.   By that time I was preparing myself for one last push on lap nine as I knew there wouldn’t be a ten.  On the last climb back to the event arena for the penultimate time I was slowed right down with my legs on the cusp of locking with cramp with every pedal stroke.   On the last lap I threw caution to the wind and just over half way into the lap I spotted a guy up ahead who was going at a similar pace and I was gradually reeling in.   He looked over his shoulder, saw me and put his head down.   I didn’t know if he was solo, in a team, on the same lap as me or anything but he was a fair target and I wasn’t going to take the chance.   I chased him with everything I had left over that half a lap and after a mistake in the last singletrack he got the hundred yards or so back that I’d fought so hard the last 20 minutes for and I thought I’d never get him.   As we came onto the last climb though he started coming back to me.  I pushed and the cramp threatened again but didn’t come so I dug deeper and pedalled harder and still it didn’t come but my legs were ablaze with lactic acid and I was nearly along side him.  Just a couple more pedal strokes and I could just sneak a look at his number board…

…It started with 2, yes! And with that I stopped pedalling.   There was no throttling back, no easing off, it was burning legs of fire or nothing and I nearly fell over.   The burning was quickly washed away by a wave of new blood hitting my legs which brought with it the promise of more energy and I upped the revs again, inching him in over the last several hundred meters and this time it was his turn to yield and I headed for the finish line.  But wait! Whats this? – A last minute attack! He got nearly a bike length on me as I hesitated, I don’t have anything left I thought and I let him go.

No not really! There’s always something left for a sprint finish, we reached the line wheel to wheel congratulated each other then wandered about in a daze in the finish area for a bit.  Good stuff!

I still didn’t know where I’d come.   I wandered over to congratulate Ian, 18 minutes he’d won solo by and come 3rd overall with Ant White second and Szabi Bandli a lap down in third.   Checking the screens I missed my name on the first few rotations, still thinking I’d done rubbish.   When I finally spotted my name it was 19th overall and 6th in Solo.  I was very happy with that all things considered.   Despite not feeling great I wasn’t a million miles off the pace but with plenty of room for improvement I’m looking forward to the summer.

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