Getting stuck in the Holiday traffic on the A303, we made our way to the Set2Rise event just north of Stonehenge. Arriving in a field with a burger van and some portaloos, we found others erecting tents and assembling bikes.
Set2Rise involved a mass start of 120 riders at 6pm. The idea was to complete as many 8 mile laps as possible before 6am the following morning. Gareth, Marcus and Matt formed a team of 3 to ride in relay style, where I tackled it as a solo rider.
The well marked out course involved many wooded sections of single-track linked together by grassy fields. In places the single-track was very twisty, weaving between the trees with some gaps barely 3 foot wide. Sometimes it was only possible to see about 15 feet in front and when travelling at 10mph, this is only 1 second ahead. There were also some steep 10-15 foot drops with one having a sharp left at the bottom. Full on concentration was essential. There were two major climbs, one of 200 feet and the other a lengthy 400 feet. During the solitary dark hours I tried to find another rider to talk to, easing the pain of the climb.
My fist lap was rather exploratory has I hadn’t pre ridden the route. I reckoned that I would see enough of the course as the night wore on. The second lap was much better as I knew a bit more on what to expect, this emotionally was my best lap. There were many riders jostling for position as they were in a team taking turns. Knowing that I would be in the saddle for 12 hours, I tried to pace myself. There was a smooth grassy section just over half way round where I grabbed the opportunity for a gel on each lap. I need to take in energy if I was to maintain riding all night.
Stopping briefly after my second lap, I set out on lap 3 where the sun was starting to set. I had to come in after lap 3 as my drink bladder ran dry, I was expecting it to last 4 laps. I swallowed some pasta and clipped the lights on the bike.
During lap 4 it was getting dark in the woods, so the lights went on. There were a couple of occasions where the trees jumped out causing me to loose my balance. A slight laps of concentration can have a disastrous effect. It was getting cold so another quick stop before lap 5 to grab an extra layer.
It was now pitch dark. There were no street lights or a glow from the clouds, just a few tiny stars to show you which way was up. I use Max Exposure lights; a Joystick on the helmet with a battery pack and the Max Daddy on the bars. They were fantastic as they illuminated the way ahead. All around the course there were trails of lights as the riders were now quite spread out.
Continuing straight onto lap 6 at 10:30pm, I start to feel the pressure. On reaching the top of a climb, Gareth caught up with me. His team were on lap 7. We had a brief chat as we raced along the single-track which lifted my spirits. Finishing the lap, I took a break where Matt and Gareth helped me to top up my supplies and lube the bike. Sipping a cup of tea, I heard that I was in 15th place out of 32 in the solo category.
During the next two laps (7 & 8) I focused on sustainability. I therefore took my time to climb the hills bringing my average heart rate down.
At 1:40am I stopped for a break. I couldn’t think what I wanted a part from going to bed. It was really difficult to eat anything as my stomach was all over the place. A cup of tea helped a bit and I topped up my drinks bladder with some extra strong energy drink. Swapping my top for a warmer, dryer coat, I forced myself out onto the course just after 2am.
On lap 9, I realised that my attempt for the South Downs Double would be a tough nut to crack. I couldn’t eat or drink anything and the course was pretty deserted. Occasionally a rider would race by as I let them past on the single-track. These riders were doing 40 minute sprints sharing the laps with their other 3 team mates.
Without stopping, I went straight into lap 10. I knew that if I did stop, I wouldn’t start again. Concentration was really hard on the single-track. I hit a tree, badly jarring my shoulder. I really felt like stopping after this lap.
Taking a break at 4:14am, Matt joined me saying that I was now in 11th place. This was a real boost. It was also just starting to get light. I therefore prepared for the final two laps. Diluting my energy drink as I could only sip small amounts of water, I hit the course.
It was official, morning was here as I saw the sunrise. I was surprised how cold it got in the valleys where mist appeared. The coldness tore through my wet clothes, but this didn’t matter as the new day had dawned. Throughout the course there were marshals keeping an eye on us and marking dangerous areas. Saying ‘Good Morning’ to them also gave me a boost.
Completing lap 11, I went straight into my 12th and final lap. I was relieved to climb each hill for the last time and counted down the wooded sections to the finish. Changing into some dry clothes was refreshing. As I hadn’t eaten since 2am, the food from the burger van was most welcome.
The 12 laps totalled 99 miles with 10,200 feet of climbing. My final position was 11th out of 32, which for my first ever race is pretty good.