Feeling Exposed

19 May

Exposure 24, the solo 24hr National Championships is less than 3 days away now and I’m sitting here wondering where has the spring gone?

On the one hand I think I’m in as good a shape as I’ve ever been and I’m definitely getting faster but the step change from half-arsed leisure rider to being competitive hasn’t gone exactly as I imagined.  A training regime is a difficult thing to adjust to when you’re not used to it and there’s plenty of things that get in the way, equipment needing servicing, the weather, the need for sleep, employment etc, all very inconvenient and not necessarily the things you think of when you set out but that’s the reality of it.  There’s been times when training has been going great; full weeks of hard riding or multiple days of long miles but there’s also been times when I kind of fall off motivationally, sit around the house doing nothing when I meant to get out early on the bike.  Morning slips into afternoon and the plan for an all day mtb ride becomes a consessionary road bike ride before I realise that the road bike needs fettling and by the time I’ve done that it’ll be getting dark.

On the whole though over the last 3 or 4 months there has been continuous riding and training the like of which I’ve never had before and even if the mileage count won’t knock you over, its still been well over 600 hard miles a month but the main thing is that I have achieved the mindset I need to be a more competative racer and that has been a transition you perhaps couldn’t have explained to me 3 months ago, so maybe I’m being too hard on myself.

Here we are then, with possibly the most significant 24hr race the UK has ever seen ready to kick off on Saturday and I’ve been tipped as a contender.  Well that’s a bit of a turn up for the books; I am probably the most unlikely of anyone on that list and everyone there has serious credibility, so much so that I feel quite out of my depth.  With that too, I have lost the safety net of anonymity; Exposure 24 will be the first 24hr race where I will line up with the expectation of putting on a performance, rather than exploring my own abilities and enjoying a personal challenge so it will be a very new experience.  I’m not setting my ambitions any higher than aiming for a top 10 though and I’m even hesitating to type that: if I achieve top 15 or top 20 I will be very happy indeed.

Yet with all the anxiety over racing the big boys I am quietly confident that I have enough resolve and endurance to finish the race and that counts for a lot in a solo 24.  All too often big favourites go out hard with what proves to be an unsustainable pace and in the small hours when real mental hurt comes, its too much and even they can crack; that’s what happened at sleepless and that’s how I got my podium, by tapping it out and moving through the field during the night.  Could that be how I might get my place in a top 10 already over-subscribed with big names? the more of them there are to tear each other’s legs off and break each other, the more may drop out.  I just need to make sure I stick to the plan and keep tapping it out again.

Another question I have been asking myself: ‘Am I in better form that I was at Sleepless last year?’ – I honestly don’t know.  Probably, and if not then I’m not far off.  Overall this year I didn’t expect to start the season with top form: I will be looking to improve through racing and so my results should get better throughout the summer with my main targets being at Sleepless and maybe 24/12.  This means I take the pressure off myself a little in the first couple of events and I’m doing four solos this year there is a good chance of burning out by July if I’m not careful.  Exposure is a big deal though so I won’t be holding back.  It will also be the first 24hr race of the year for many others too so there’s a good chance that not everyone will be at their full potential yet either.  One can live in hope at least!

What I do know is that 24hrs is a long time and many things can happen.  For me this is a good.thing – I can go out and ride my race, discover my form and still have time to light the blue touch paper later in the race and that’s the way I like it. Whatever happens Exposure 24 is going to be epic and it’ll be the best thing to happen to UK endurance racing.  I feel very lucky to have moved to a position for it where people are starting to seeing me as a worthy competitor and where I can get a meaningful insight into what it takes to be knocking on the door to the top end of endurance mountain bike racing.  Despite big nerves building this week, my prevailing feelings are still of massive excitement.

I should also mention that my good friend Guy Kesteven will be supporting me at Exposure 24.  Guy is great to have around when I need encouragement and understands the moodswings of racing well and, like just about everyone that has anything to do with this race, he’s also very excited about it.  Before Sleepless 2009 I’d not had any support and asking friends to give up their weekend to make sure I shoveled enough cake down my throat and push me back out on course when I want to sleep seemed a bit primadonna-ish especially when I didn’t expect to be getting the results.  At Sleepless though, where I had the good fortune to be adopted by Rod Dean’s pit crew of Mr Leitch and the Exposure guys, I found out just how much difference a good ‘pit bitch’ can make so having Guy along gives me great confidence.

So then… all my gear is sitting in the lounge ready to throw in the van in the morning and after work I’m headed north. If I’m not ready now its tough luck!

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