Endurance racing is now a well established part of the road, gravel and MTB scenes, with growing and passionate (if quiet) following. Flagship events like the Race to the Rock, Tour Divide, The Transcontinental and, closer to home, the HT550 are truly inspiration, featuring insane distances covered in infeasibly short periods of time by astonishingly yet fit yet curiously unassuming riders. For most of us, however, these big races will, in all probability, remain pipe dreams for ever. Despite that, there are those amongst us who have made the commitment to the long hours in the saddle required to get fit for slightly more accessible endurance events. They might not cross continents, but races like the Strathpuffer, 10 Under the Ben, The Dirty Reiver or the Fred Whitton Challenge would still push the fittest of us to the limit. The following pages aim to provide an insight into how one Ythanite faced up to a season of endurance racing…
Pt1: Ten Under the Ben, by Andy Scouller
For the uninitiated, 10 under the Ben is an endurance mountain bike race held in the shadow of Ben Nevis. The objective is simple – do as many laps as you can within the 10 hours of the race. If you you’ve started a lap before the 10hrs are up you have a further 60mins to complete that last lap. The race can be completed as a solo rider, as a pair or as a team of 4 in a relay race. I chose to do the race as a solo.
Each lap was around 9 miles long and had around 1400ft of climbing with gradient as high as 20%. The course followed some of the World Cup cross country route as well as some of the very technical black section.
Having just returned from an injury I wasn’t expecting to be at the sharp end of the race, but was using the race as an opportunity to test out nutrition and pacing strategies as this was my first solo endurance race.
Races like 10 Under the Ben are often referred to as an ‘eating race’ as it’s so important to have your nutrition sorted as you are burning around 1000kcal per lap so it’s very easy to “hit the wall”. I was fortunate enough to have a great support team of Abbi (my wife), Ewan & Brodie my two boys. Every lap they had new bottles and food ready for me which kept me going.
Laps were taking around 1 hour to complete and I managed 7 hrs before my body and mind decided to give up, my knee was starting to cause me issues so I decided rather than cause more damage I’d stop and ensure I could continue training.
I finished in the mid 70’s out of 120 solo entries, I think top 20 is a realistic goal for next year as long as I am fit to go the full ten hours.
The race was really well supported by businesses and very well attended with over 400 entrants. A great event to watch or take part in.
If there are data geeks out there I have attached the training peaks data from the race.
I will be competing in the Glentress 7 and the Osprey 12hr race solo this year so stay tuned for further update on how these panned out.
Pt2: Glentress Sevens
Hello everyone and welcome back to the second installment of a diary of an endurance racer.
Last weekend (May 25th/26th) saw me take on the Glentress 7s mountain bike race. Many of these races cleverly shoehorn the duration of the race into the name; so you won’t be surprised to hear that this one is a 7 hour endurance race in the daddy of UK MTB trail centres – Glentress in the Scottish Borders. If you haven’t been, it’s highly recommended!
The Glentress 7s can be contested solo, as a pair or as a trio; I competed solo. I didn’t have my pit crew with me at this race so all my food, tools and spares had to be fitted in a small box and kept in a dedicated pit area. This created its own logistical nightmares as I had to have everything prepped and set up prior to the race.
The course was roughly 7 miles long (see what they did there?!) and packs in about 720ft of climbing. For the metrically minded, that’s just over 11k and 220m of climbing – roughly double the climbing we’d do on an average club run! Very roughly, the course breaks down to one long climb followed by one long and technical downhill. The course was challenging, including some technical descents (-45deg!) which made me very glad of my dropper post which allows the saddle to drop down by 125mm improving handling.
I competed on my full suspension cross country bike, which gives me a little more comfort and speed on the descents. There is a slight trade off on the climbs but, as the bike is weighing in at a svelte 9.6kg and has full suspension lock out, it climbs nearly as well as a hard tail. As this race was ‘only’ 7 hours I knew I could ride this without worrying about stopping. However, a slight mechanical on the first lap did necessitate a stop; not carrying the right tool costing me 10 minutes lost time.
My fueling strategy was basically to cram in as much carbohydrate as I could without causing any stomach issues. I had a bottle of SIS beta fuel every other lap with active roots ginger infused energy drink and a couple of gels in between. This worked really well for me and kept my stomach happy. Overall, the race went well and I finished 26th in my category. Without my mechanical on the first lap, I may have squeezed into the top 20, but these things happen.
My next race is the Osprey 12hrs race in Kielder forest in Northumberland. Fingers crossed for a good position!
Osprey 12 Hour Race
This race, as the name suggests, is a 12 hour mountain bike race, based in the beautiful Kielder Forest on mostly man made trails. I’d targeted this as my A race, meaning that my training was leading up to this race to give me the best chance to perform well, kinda like what Chris Froome/ Gerant Thomas do for the Tour De France.
As this was my A race I had to bring my A game and therefore had my super soigneur Ed Myers; he’s helped me at 2 of my Strathpuffer 24 hour races and is THE most organised person I know! His job is to ensure I have food, drink and functioning bikes during the race. We had every eventuality covered and managed to set our camp up right at the lap start line making life so much easier. We fortunately had the Ythan Gazebo with us so Ed had a dry place to do everything he needed to do.
As this was a 12hr race the race starting at 7am, sign-on opened at 5:30am and the alarm was set for 4:30 am to allow for breakfast and set-up for the race. It made for a very long day!
We woke up to the gentle (read pounding) pitter pater of rain on our tent, which continued for the next 8 hours or so meaning the majority of the race was contested in a biblical downpour. A lot of the racers / helpers decided to base themselves out of the backs of their cars, meaning Ed was never short of company in the palatial gazebo.
As you might have guessed, the simple aim of the race is to complete as many laps as possible in the 12hr time period. I had planned to work to a modest maximum heart to make sure I didn’t go too hard right from the gun. My laps times ranged from 41 minutes to just over an hour. I had taken the decision to go for full water proof clothing and the most amazing overshoes called Spatz that come up to your knees. Full mud guards were deployed and that was one of my best decisions as it kept me (relaitively) dry and kept spray out of my face.
The majority of the race was a bit of a blur as, once in ‘the zone’, I find I become largely unaware of what’s going on around you. I had my super light weight music system with me (i.e., an old iPod Shuffle and one headphone) and that kept me going through the rain. I was quite happy with how my nutrition was going but at hour nine, I had a major wobble. Until that point, I hadn’t stopped but had a seat for 10 minutes and inhaled all the food Ed put in front of me. One bag of Snickers bites, half a tube of Pringles and a peanut butter and jam wrap and I was golden again! My race finished after 11hrs 38mins (only complete laps finished before the 12 hour limit counted). I had completed 12 laps, covering around 132km and around 4200m of climbing or 84 miles and 13000ft for the imperialist.
I had finished in 5th place, a result which I’m over the moon with! One more lap could have bumped me to 2nd place, so a very close race.
Next up is a 100mile race but not until September, so I get a bit of a rest (to write blog entries about training and nutrition.