I arrived to the start line with 40 minutes to spare and it was already busy! Everyone was in good spirits, those with nerves were hiding them well. At times before the race, I felt nervous but today, I got it into my head it was a long, adventurous ride and I should be excited. The cold started to creep in, so I donned my down jacket, posed for photos and made polite chit chat to my fellow racers. Some racers had already put their bikes on the start line, so I pushed my bike backwards to ensure I was on the front row. I was not planning on winning, but I did not want to ride over anyones’ sledge nor skis!
The horn sounded and the race went away at crazy speed. It was more like a cross-country race than a ultra-marathon! T pace stayed high and as we were riding into a slight headwind, I tried to keep pace but I could not hold on. I soon settled into my own pace and within 40 minutes, I had arrived at the first checkpoint, already down on the leaders. The faster pace made me a little tired, Oscar a Norwegian and a voice of reason, stopped to get some water and I followed suit.
We eventually finished the 11KM flat section the frozen lake and went into a short, sharp climb. It was starting to sort the men from the boys, I managed to overtake some riders on the uphills but soon lost out on the technical/powdery sections. I fell once or twice in the deep snow but with no damage, I pushed on. By now I was in-between two riders, for a long time we kept the same distance between ourselves. If you strayed ever so slightly off the path, you would sink in waist deep into the snow, something that was going to become a regular occurrence for me. With hindsight, on these more powdery sections, I should of dropped my tyre pressure more but at 5PSI, I was not sure how much lower I could go.
I continued on with my pedal, fall, push motion and noticed a rider in front of me had stopped. It was Harold, a rather large dutch chap that had become a facebook friend. I checked to see if he was ok and he confirmed positively. I refuelled and drank some water, then went on my way feeling pretty good. Turning the corner, I went into checkpoint two.
From turning off the road at checkpoint two (I signed out and out straight away), I had to carry the bike immediately. We were pre-warned about this section, it would favour the runner and not the bikers.. Anyone who has rode with me will know I love a good hike-a-bike section, so I was quite happy with this. It was the only section that I made an impact on the race, I caught up with a few riders. We stopped, posed for a few photographs and carried on pushing to the frozen lake, a lake that spans 10KM or so. Joel set the pace and we rode, chatting to each other. I followed on his wheel and then slowly drifted off the back, he checked once to see if I was ok and then the gap grew and grew. The vastness of the frozen lake can be lonely, so I was happy when I spotted a skidoo coming towards me, I waved at him like a mad man!
The skidoo stuck around for a bit, maybe they thought I was weak and were keeping an eye on me. Afterall, in the centre of the frozen lake, I looked forwards and saw no-one and I looked back, and saw no-one. I left my paranoia to its own devices and kept on my with steady pace (in hindsight, I should have pumped up my tyres for this section). We rolled through a small village and then up a longish hill, where I started caching the man up front, turns out it was Oscar again, my man of reason! We chatted, Oscar riding some sections and me pushing some, then vice-versa. Eventually, Oscar managed to stay upright for longer and pedalled away (he was using fatter tyres though!). He said it was only five minutes to the next checkpoint and I trusted him, I was low on energy and wanted to eat. Over 30 minutes later, I still had not reached the checkpoint…
Just when I gave up hope, I rounded a corner and I could smell fire, the next checkpoint was nearby.
After having a good old chin wag at the checkpoint, refilled my water bottle and consumed an all day boil-in-the-bag breakfast (less appealing than it sounds), I said my goodbyes and cycled off with Harold, a German who I met at the airport, Dan and Paul, two friends that wanted an adventure together. Dan and Harold had a knack of keeping upright on their bikes, whilst Paul and myself had a habit of falling off them, normally into waist deep snow. During the course of this tricky section, Harold and Dan went off, leaving Paul and I to follow. It was good to chat with someone, we were both in the same situation and we helped each other during this section.
After much falling and pushing, we both realised that dropping our tyre pressures would help and this made progress much easier. We carried on until the road section, where Paul stopped to pump up tyres and I left mine how they were. I reasoned that if he caught up with me, I would then pump my tyres up.
I rolled into checkpoint four, signed the paperwork and sat in the fire pit with Dan. Harold was just leaving (at the time, we were setting the same pace , at checkpoints 4, 5, 6 and 7, he was just leaving as I was just arriving) but Dan was waiting on Paul. I had a bag of mixed nuts and chocolate, it was god to sit down and chill a little. Paul arrived not long after but the chill was starting to creep in, so I parted ways. I fully expected to see the boys in the next section.
It was a push section. I probably lasted for 20 minutes or so, but it seemed longer. We had to cross a bridge of doom, an icey, wooden bridge that would result in an ended race if we slipped into the flowing stream below. I wished I stayed wit the boys now, if I did slip, at least they could help me.
The push section lead onto a road and I kept a steady pace. I kept on turning around, fully expecting to see Paul and Dan catching me up. Checkpoint five came along and another chance to refuel. Dusk had now settled in but I arrived without lights on, Dan shortly followed and we set off together, this time with lights on. We cycle into the night, I stopped for a loo break and lost sight of Dan. This section was lovely, I had no idea where I was but it was mainly all rideable. Checkpoint six I had heard was a cabin!
I rolled into checkpoint 6 and it was about 7pm. I was super happy and quite motivated. The next section was 35km of road, maybe 2-3 hours of cycling, but Dan was quick to correct me. Oscar was also in the cabin and said this section took him 8 hours last year, yes, there was a long road section but also two long push sections. Dan thought he would ‘ave it and left without eating (also, it transpires he forgot to fill his bottle up!), I decided it was tea time, so boiled up my curry. I changed my base-layer for a fresh one and set off for the night, I was glad of the pre-warning of this section.
Two hours of pushing, falling and attempted cycling
I’ve never been happier to see a road, at first I thought it was a cruel trick but a spotted a farmhouse and realised that they would only build near a road. I stopped, pumped up my tyres and set off for a mainly downhill road section. I passed through a town and felt good, using the light of the street lights, I had an energy bar and called my brother to say I felt good and to meet me at the finish line in 4 hours or so. It was now 11pm and my motivation for riding was at an all time high. I roughly calculated that I was about 110KM into the race (it was closer to 100KM).
I followed the road and turned into the forest, straight in another bastard-pushing section. I think I pushed for 2 another two hours, sometimes seeing Harold’s light and somethimes not, the carrot dangling in front of me kept me going but I was slowly feeling tired. It felt like I could sleep on the bike. I could drape my arms over the bars asleep right there. I pressed on, pushing the bike up the ever-increasing hill to checkpoint 7. I felt at my lowest and couldn’t be bothered anymore, the lady at the checkpoint offered me a drink and told me it was 1Am! I had a long debate wit myself about pushing on or stopping for a few hours. Paul came through, super happy turned on his I-pod and went on his way. In hindsight, I should of followed but Oscar was not feeling 100%, so stayed put and went to get his sleeping bag. A voice of reason yet again.
At 5Am, Oscar awoke and carried on. I pulled my sleeping bag over me and slept through until 8AM!!! There went my race time, my original plan was just to finish, but that changed during the race, I wanted a sub 24 hour race. Well, I had one hour to do 35KM…
I went straight into an uphill. I was pedalling about as slow as you could go, my tiredness put me in no mood to eat, so I was running on empty. Alex, the race organiser passed me on his skidoo and I gave him my thumbs up (we had just been chatting about me quitting the race, he suggested a sleep would help, I told him about my 7 hour kip!). I came to the road and continued on my way for about 5KM or so. I pushed on the uphill sections due to a throbbing knee (think all the falling off at 40KM into the race caused this problem) and freewheeled the downhill bits. Just before the final lake, I had had a bag of jelly beans, water and put on my snow goggles as the lake looked bleak.
I saw a runner on the lake but I just couldn’t catch up. She was setting a good pace and I could not keep up, in my tiredness, I thought I may of imagined her! The frozen lake was bitter and tough going. In my head, I had one forest section to go and then I was on the final 11KM stretch along the river to the finish. More pushing followed and I eventually got to the top of the hill to a iced road, I should of pumped up my tyres but did not. The road was slow going, even the downhill sections seemed tiring.
I approached the final rive section, called my brother to give him the news I was on my way and set off for the final section. One checkpoint to go. Two riders were behind me and I was determined it would stay that way. I left the last checkpoint and made slow progress along the river, the two riders were now catching me, I was doing a mixture of pushing and riding as my knee had swollen up and was painful to ride on. With about 8KM to go, they both passed me, both in good spirits (as was I). With 2KM to go, I overtook the woman I had saw on the lake and we had a polite chat until she suggested that I carried on cycling! I came under the final bridge and went through the finish line into the hotel to be greeted y my brother and my dad. It was a relief to have finished and great to see my support crew (as my dad said, I’m not on holiday I’m his support team!). I managed a sub 29 hour race and finished 30th of 59., not bad for a first effort!
It took me several days to realise what I had achieved and to get the feeling that, yes, I would do the race again. Maybe next year..