23rd September 2015
Written by Chris Hollis
Our thanks to Chris Hollis, a Revolve24 soloist, for sharing his experiences with us:
Five months after first hearing about and signing up for a 24 hour race, I found myself on the starting grid at Brands Hatch on one side of the track about to sprint, Le Mans style, across the track, to my bike and embark into the great unknown.
In the months leading up to the race, an incredible exercise in training, planning and logistics had been underway which saw me doing as many miles as possible including commuting to work twice a week and, to simulate the race conditions, getting up at 2am and doing 3 mile laps around where we live through the sunrise and into Sunday morning. Knowing that Brands wasn’t flat, with the support of Weekend Sport Cycling I was fortunate enough to experience training in Spain with Euro Pro Spanish riders. Riding up mountains with some stunning scenery along the way.
Alongside the mileage, the shopping list was slowly being ticked off and as the race weekend drew close you couldn’t move in our conservatory for plastic boxes of food, bike spares, cycle kit, lights and other accessories. We had made the decision to hire a campervan as race HQ, and parked up behind the pit lane, it proved invaluable during the long race as a base and mobile kitchen.
We travelled to the track on the night before to get a good pitch for the RV. That secured and registration dealt with I tried to get as much pre-race sleep as possible. Pre-race nerves made it difficult to snooze so I woke tired but excited and as the pit lane filled with fellow competitors the atmosphere was building all the time right up to the 3pm start.
Morning saw lots of pit lane set-up, arranging of snacks on tables, pre-race bike checks etc. The garages were shared between teams so I said hello to my fellow inhabitants of garage 17, wished them luck and got ready for the pre-race sighting laps.
The sighting laps confirmed what we all had been told – Brands isn’t flat! 213ft of climbing per lap doesn’t sound a lot but with a lap only being 2.4 miles those hills come round pretty quick!
Race start upon us, all the riders lined up. The event was open to relay teams of 2, 4, 6 or 8 plus the solo division. With 58 different teams out there it looked like it was going to be busy! At the gun, once mounted on my bike I set off with the lead group going like I was in a 20 mile road race! All my ideas of sticking to an easy heart rate had gone out the window as I battled to stay with the leaders including the odds on favourite in the solo category, Julian Rider, current World Champion for 24 hour mountain biking in his age group – I was stuffed!
Sure enough after two hours, I found it impossible to maintain that high pace without going too far into the red. Realising there was a hell of a lot of race to go, I sat up and let the leader group whizz off, taking the top two solo guys with it. Once dropped, I vowed to stick to my game plan of riding at my target heart rate so as I slowed my heart rate, my lap times went up and I relaxed into a tempo I was familiar with from all those training rides and I felt a lot calmer.
In the breakaway for the first hour
Fearing the pit lane to be crowded on the hour with lots of teams changing, we had agreed that I would do three hour sessions with stops at 15 minutes past the hour to avoid the busy times. At 6:15pm I peeled into the pit lane for my first scheduled stop.
The stops became so crucial to my race. Not only for a chance to have some food, a hot drink and a quick toilet stop, but a chance to see friendly faces and sit in comfort in a chair for 5 minutes. I don’t think I had one pit stop where there wasn’t someone I know that had come down to cheer me on! It was amazing. So sorry for those in the middle of the night, I wasn’t at my most talkative! Feeling refreshed, refuelled with my bike lights swapped over for fully charged ones I embarked back onto the track. As night fell, the laps mounted up. Even with decent front lights, the line on track took a lot of concentration to follow. The profile of the track, the endless climbs and descents plus watching out for other bikes at different speeds certainly meant boredom was never an issue.
Midnight stop done and into the small hours the track definitely got quieter. It turns out that many teams had also started off way too fast, but unlike me, they’d decided to take a snooze! Parts of the circuit would be totally dark and you wouldn’t see a sole, yet still those ever present hills kept you in and out of the saddle. I was reliant on heart rate to pace my efforts but during the midnight stop I had changed my base layer and managed to twist my chest monitor so it was no longer picking up my heart. As I didn’t change clothes at 3am either I went on feel for most of the night and my lap times got a lot slower. Attacking the steep paddock hill up to druids with the same gusto as Saturday afternoon was all but impossible from midnight onwards.
Fed watered and cheered on by yet more mates, I embarked on the 3-6am shift knowing it would be one of the hardest sessions to do. I had a dream goal of 400 miles for the event and despite being ahead of that at the start, overnight it became apparent that I was rapidly losing ground and I didn’t have the energy to change tempo. This was the hardest section as I had convinced myself that the two leaders were well gone, I’d certainly seen the leader lap me numerous times! Concentrating on the track through the beam of light was getting harder and harder and at one time the track ahead seemed to change into a castle wall with a drawbridge pulled up! That was my only hallucination, but it was a warning to keep concentrating and keep going.
Ink black night skies transformed slowly to dark blue and watching the daylight creep back over the circuit was truly the most magical part of the race. Tired legs were almost forgotten as I was transfixed by the eerie quiet of what was supposed to be a full on bike race!
Setting off after one of the night time pit stops
Eerily quite pit lane at 3am
Breakfast stop at 6am was a welcome bacon sandwich and the now familiar two cups of tea. Sick of sweet on bike snacks I had a craving for savoury food so I was following my instincts on the nutrition side. I hadn’t packed any gels, specific cycle energy products or fake stuff. Experiences on other long rides fuelled by these had not been good for my stomach so I avoid them now and don’t really think it holds me back.
Once daylight returned, the race became a lot easier as you could sense you were actually getting towards the end. A 6 hour race run in parallel to the main event kicked off at 9am which saw the track a little busier but at no stage was it crowded.
Around lunch time I made an unscheduled stop for shoes and socks change. My right foot was on fire! During this stop I was informed the gap between me in 3rd and the guy in 2nd had now reduced to nothing. His early pace hadn’t been sustained and since first light he had been going slower and slower. Armed with this news I embarked on a chase with added enthusiasm. My lap times were more consistent and I felt I was in a race again. I got the signal to come into the pits which I didn’t understand one bit! If I was in a chase, how was stopping going to help?!
Once in though, my pit team explained that it was me that was now in Second. David, the other rider was there and he explained that although he conceded the result, despite his tired legs he would like to achieve his target of 350 miles so we set off together to complete this.
Once his distance was achieved, we pulled back into the pits with about an hour of racing left and shook hands. My enthusiasm for continuing to race was all but gone so I decided to have a break then go out for the chequered flag.
My last lap was a leisurely cruise. I saw most other riders I had been racing throughout the last 24 hours and we all congratulated each other and shared experiences as we rolled towards the finish for the last time.
Going through that flag was utter relief, and emotional, I saved the biggest hugs for Karen and Kathryn in my pit garage. They had been up with me all night and although I was a solo we were definitely a team. I couldn’t have done without them! And a big thank you to Weekend Sport Cycling who have supported me for the last five months including training with them out in Spain.
Would I do it again? Not this event, no. I’ve ticked that box. I like to challenge myself and if I’ve inspired one person to go out and do something out of their comfort zone, then my race goal has been achieved.
Race position: 2 out of 15
Laps completed: 152
Total Mileage: 368 miles
Total Ascent: 29,000ft
Calories burnt: 18,000 (approx)
Gear changes: 9000 (approx.) (60 per lap)
Times little ring on chainset used: Zero
Water consumed on bike: 11 litres
Tea consumed in pits: 12 cups
Energy gels: zero
Bike problems: zero
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