Time trialling for 24 hours straight. Sounds grim, right?
There are so many things to think about in a race like this. Battling fatigue and lack of sleep to try and rack up as much mileage as possible in a single day. It's definitely no easy feat.
Last year I went to tackle the National 24s in what was a biblical bad turn of weather unfortunately leading to me pulling out of the race. You can watch a bit of the afterthoughts of it here:
Some of the failures of last year were:
Fitness (mental and physical)
I went into the race not fit enough, physically or mentally. It was a struggle to get the legs going and they never seemed to start. When the weather made a real turn for the worse, my head simply wasn't in the race any more.
In 2017 I used my old Planet X Exocet 2 time trial bike. This was my first ever TT bike which was great value for money and specced up with Shimano Dura Ace 10 speed. The bike, however was not fit for purpose of racing on for 24 hours. It was way too aggressive and after around 300km I started to really suffer.
Sometimes it's hard to accept failure but ultimately it can make you stronger.
It became a bug that sat on my shoulders over most of winter and into the start of 2018 and I knew, I needed to go back, settle some dust and give it another crack. I knew that there were a lot of changes that needed to be made, in my own fitness, my mind set and also importantly my bike.
I caught up with Jimmi and Emily to talk a bit about the National 24s and how I was feeling going into the race here:
For me these big changes that needed to happen, like mentioned above were:
I already train and work incredibly hard with my coach, Ken Buckley but to help support Ken, I met Will Girling, the nutritionalist for One Pro who has helped me to drop around 12kg to help with my fitness in the race. Essentially being lighter meant that I could be faster. Will has a great website which syncs up with My Fitness Pal meaning calories and macros can be tracked. I've found being strict and tracking everything has really helped.
I'm known to be an emotional guy. I cycle massively with my heart on my sleeve and I do often find it hard to tackle demons and concerns in life. Needless to say I have spent a lot of time focusing on number one over the last year and doing what is right for me. The lead up to the race has definitely not been ideal with illnesses and injuries, it did mean I wasn't sure I would make the start line but I knew my head was going into the race in a much better place and effectively what will be will be.
This was a biggie. I promptly decided to sell my car because, quite frankly I never used it and decided to use the funds to build up something pretty special.
Here is the spec below:
· Giant Trinity Advance
· Shimano Dura Ace/ Ultegra Di2 mix
· 165mm Verve InfoCrank with custom Pyramid Cycle Design 56/48 Chainrings
· Kogel Ceramic Bottom Bracket and Oversized Pulley Wheels
· Pro Aerofuel Carbon Saddle
· Parcours Tubeless Disc Wheel and 80mm Chrono front wheel
· Revolver arm pads with angled risers
· USE Aero carbon high rise extensions 50 degree bend
· Wahoo Element bike computer
I think it's well known that the legends at Attacus have been supporting me for a few years now. Emily and Jimmi obviously wanted to be part of it. With that in mind they developed a super speedy skinsuit that’s not only quick but comfortable due to the chamois pad that Attacus have been testing and using for a long time.
I was, understandably nervous going into this one, especially after last years failures but I knew what would be would be. Jimmi, Francis and myself drove up to the start on Saturday morning early and met Will there. First rider off, it's seen as quite an honour to be the first rider to start, but in reality I signed up late as it was touch and go weather I would make it to the start line due to another injury.
You don't really warm up for a race like this. You just warm up into it if that makes sense? It's 24 hours and survival is pretty key.
You can see part one of Francis Cade's videos here:
In the race itself you ride on a series of different routes, starting at the clubhouse in Wrexham. From here you ride down to a central roundabout where all of the routes connect. From here during different hours of the day, marshals move you onto the appropriate routes. Some are out and back routes (Prees to Battlefield) whilst others are circles (Quina Brook Circuit) that all pass through this central roundabout. This roundabout is where your support teams are based. Conveniently there is a cafe, fish and chip shop, convenience store and petrol station in the area, which can become very useful.
With the help of Will, I've been practising my fuel strategy for this race in preparation for the big day. It really is mad when you start to understand how much work and effort goes on behind the scene to keep the body functioning and performing over the 24 hours. What we have practised is this:
Every 4 hours consume:
· 1x Veloforte Bar
· 2x flapjacks
· 2x gels (usually one caffine one hydro)
· 2x large water bottles full of electrolyte and carbohydrate mix
· a can of Red Bull (a little extra lift)
Every 4 hours I would stop for some proper food. The meals were:
· Mashed Potato
· Peanut Butter & Jam Sandwich (with Soreen snacks)
· Granola, honey and yoghurt
· Bruschetta and Watermelon
All simple to digest, easy to prepare and most importantly, something that I could look forward to in the race.
The Rough Parts
There is always a low point in a race, especially of this magnitude. Like I have previously mentioned, I've been struggling with a knee injury leading up to the race and it was not certain I would be fit to race. I, maybe stubbornly decided to continue and go into the race somewhat not at 100%. We as a team all knew, if my knee held out, I could do relatively well even with the lost training in the lead up to the race. In the early hours of the morning, unfortunately there was a snap.
I know what happened, I was pushing hard to make sure I was making some good distance in the race. My aim was to ride the whole thing in my Z2 and make sure I stayed on the rails as much as possible. It was pitch black, in the hours I struggle the most (3-4:30am ish). That’s where the pain started. It slowed me right down and meant that the next stop we needed to get the painkillers out to try and keep my hopes of finishing alive. I'm stubborn and I knew that was the aim, to finish the race. After a few arguments with myself in my head and a firm word from defending champion and recent LEJOG record breaker, Michael Broadwith, it gave me the kick up the ass I needed to push through it. Mike said to me:
'everyone is hurting now. Make them hurt more and push through it. You've got this.'
When some one of that calibre rides next to you and says that to you. It makes a massive difference, so thank you Mike.
Watch Part 2 of Francis Cade's Vlog here:
So we were through the night time, I always struggle in the early hours of the morning but the sun was coming up and, after my little battle in my head and the kick up the arse I was feeling good (so to speak) again.
At 9am you are moved to what is called the finishers circuit. It's roughly a 45km cycle from the circuits most of the race is done on and back towards the start, the Wrexham clubhouse. I came in for my last refill of supplies, eager to get on the road as quick as possible. It was 5 minutes to 9 and I thought I could squeeze in one more lap of the early morning circuit, known as the Quina Brook circuit. I managed to plug on out for one more of these (just) before then being sent up to the finishing circuit.
The ride to the finishing circuit is challenging enough as it is. It's surprisingly hilly, with continual rolling up and down until you join onto the finishers’ circuit. Its quite tough especially after riding all night.
For me the finishers circuit was about gritting my teeth, digging in deep and going all out. Time was limited, the faster I could go now the more places I could make up. I think, leading up to the finishers circuit I was maybe sitting in 12th place. Each lap clocked past and I kept trying to push a little more. Francis, Jimmi and Will, each time surprised by how I was flying past the start finish. Most other riders by this point were pretty broken but I have always known I'm good at emptying myself, so lets do that for a few hours and deal with the consequences after.
On the circuit itself, there are fore commissaires based on the corners. (the circuit is kind of a square). As you pass them, they record your number. Once your time has run out (for me 13:01) ou roll onto the next commissaire and your distance is taken from that point. The more times you can pass them, the further you'll be going obviously. After one of the commissaire points, the circuit has one climb on it, which, once you are over the top, you descend along a very fast A road until the next commissaire point. I got to the commissaires before the climb with 5 minutes to spare and basically knew I wanted to be to the next one before 13:01. People at the side of the road obviously know your time is running out so going up the climb I was greeted with cheers and people shouting 'SPRINT' so I did. I got to the next point with 1 minute to spare. I knew there was no way I'd make it to the next one (just after the start finish) in a minute so rolled towards them.
I was spent. It was about 30 degrees and I definitely could feel the heat.
Now when I say I gave it my all, how can I explain that to you? I came in, ate something, drank something and tried to chill out a bit, out of the sun and in the shade of the van. I was dizzy, dehydrated but relatively ok. I knew I just wanted to get back to London at this point and most importantly sleep.
I opted to go and get changed into some normal clothes so headed to the changing rooms. Upon where I fainted. Stark bollock naked in the cubicle. About 15 minutes later I came round and got dressed again. I was dripping in sweat and Jimmi, obviously realising something was up came to find me and escort me back to the van.
Watch the last part of Francis Cade's Video here:
For me this race was massively about battling some demons from 2017, conquering something I previously hadn't been able to and to become a much needed confidence booster. It was a huge success. I came away with 8th and as one of the youngest in the race, a huge result not to be sniffed at.
Bring on 2019.
Photos from Attacus and Francis Cade. Thank you so much to the organisers and most importantly my support crew:
Jimmi Nicholls, Francis Cade & Will Girling. This wouldn't have happened without you