Windover ambassador Bryn is riding some incredible races this year and he's writing about his experiences to give us all a flavour of what it takes to prepare and compete in adventure races across the UK and internationally. In a previous journal he describes in vivid detail his maiden GB Duro race in which he incredibly finished 3rd and this is the second in a series of articles he's writing for us this year. What an inspiration. Over to you Bryn ......
The weeks before.
The run up to an ultra is always slightly strange (from my small experience riding these races). The few weeks run in is always a last-minute jam of equipment, set up tests and shakedown rides and the 2023 Dales Divide was no different for me. However, the build-up had a slightly different feel to my first ultra, GBDURO. This being my second ever ultra-distance race the ever-building nerves shifted from can I finish this, to can I fight for a result.
I’ve always been one to delve into the depths of my thoughts and before this race there was one pressing question on my mind. Was my result in GBDURO a fluke? Looking back on this was a rather stupid thought, to think placing third in a 2000KM race the length of a country was somehow a one off, however this was something I couldn’t shake from my mind. The pressing thought of needing to prove myself began to build in my head and along with that the haze of doubt began to lurk. I think it’s natural to feel this way before such a physical and mental test. The idea of racing for 40 hours with no sleep or rest is something that can make you question most things but, I’d been reassured I was in a good place. I guess it was time to find out.
Time to Travel.
Well, its been on the horizon for a while, but, tomorrow is good Friday, tomorrow is race day. Today however is a long day in the car, 5 hours up to Arnside, a small town on the west coast of Cumbria. I’m picking up a friend, Tom, who is also riding tomorrow. The journey was long, but we filled it with classic pre ultra chat. Who to watch, last minute panics that we have packed too much, and some predictions of how the following day would unfold. We made it to a small town outside of Arnside and raided the local Coop. These are a favourite before a race and we took the opportunity to stock up on everything we need before returning to the hotel for dinner, a big burger. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t of, I’ve got 600KM to ride tomorrow! We returned to our room to do some prep for the morning before getting to bed, tomorrow is a 6A.M. wake up.
Here we go, again.
I woke up having slept surprisingly well. Time to eat I thought, always the first thing on my mind and in races like these its hard to emphasise just how important fuelling is. Two pots of porridge and half a meal deal later and breakfast was done, knowing the more I eat now the easier later will be… a few nervous toilet trips out the way and before I know it I’m stood on Arnside pier. We will roll out in a few minutes time and the speeches have just finished. People rush to their bikes and begin to line up.
We’re off! I find myself first leading up the first climb, I like that, plenty of space to move around. I begin to settle into a pace but am surprised how hard everyone is pushing. I let a few people past. My aim is to not drift any higher than my threshold in the first six hours. The first 10 kilometres or so is pretty hectic. We quickly turn off road and I drift to 10th or so wheel. People are getting pretty excited, and a few have taken wrong turns. I take a few deep breaths and try to settle; a mistake now would be a real pain. The pace is only slowed when we reach a gate, something that would become something of a recurrence. Gates, gates, gates… about an hour in now, there’s a group of 8 of us, rolling pretty nice. The pace is still a little higher than id like. I was hoping to ease into it’s been the opposite. We have opened a decent gap already though so I’m content to stay here a little longer. Some conversation is exchanged, and everyone seems chirpy.
Well, I’m on my own now, just dropped back from the front group. I must be in 8th or so. Now is the time to ride my pace, I think. Time to settle in. its about three hours since we started, and the group had squeezed on more than I liked. The route has been quick so far and I’m feeling good. Mindset is such a big thing in these races, so I’ve been breaking the route down into chunks, six 100-kilometre chunks…
This route is stunning. We ride into the first bit of bog, and I catch and pass some of the people ahead. I’ve just done a pretty nasty climb with some hike-a-bike and am feeling it a bit. I roll down enjoying jumping and rolling through the mud, the spring of my suspension bringing me some entertainment. A huge railway bridge comes into view. No way! This was on the GBDURO route!
Another climb allows my companions to catch up. I much prefer to cruise the climbs. Each to their own! The route rolls for a while and the scenery is just immense. I turn back onto a road and roll along, time for another climb. I stop briefly to adjust my light mount. I’m caught by another guy, and we chat as we climb, up and up before flying down a wide open decent through sheep fields. A few more gates to cross before a tight decent along a very busy single-track footpath. Rolling on I pass a pub, it looks lovely, and it’s got a crowd of people waiting for their lunch. I love thinking about what id be doing if I wasn’t riding here, it helps keep me entertained. I think I’d definitely be joining the crowd on any other day!
Rolling over the top of a climb and down the other side I find myself in the courtyard of the
organiser’s family. An amazing spread of food awaits I’m just sad my encounter was so short! I quickly grab a few slices of pizza, Haribo’s, three apples and a refill of water. In and out. Sometimes this is one of the downsides of racing, loosing out a bit on the chats and exchange of stories that would of come from that little feed stop. Never mind, ill keep on pressing. The afternoon began to blend into a bit of a blur. One climb after another, each off road section looking similar to the last. The route was broken up as we hugged the shores of a large lake before returning to some more of the GBDURO route, again in reverse. One particular section of this shared route involves riding and wandering straight through a farm yard, with many gates to tackle. Through the first one and past the washing line and I'm back onto open fields for more of the same.
The time passes nicely and the route was pleasant for the remainder of the afternoon and before Iknow it the sun is setting. It's a quick section now, lots of road as I head towards York and into the night trundling towards the 200km mark. Before York however it was time for my first proper stop, until now the only time I'd been off my bike was the 3 minutes I'd spent in the organisers feed stop. 3. Minutes in 12 hours where u hadn't been pedalling. I'd been trying something new for this race.
Minimal stopping time. So far so good, great preparation for what's to come next after this race, the Highland Trial 550. I'd been relying on my very well stocked hydration vest, the bulk of which I'd been saving for the night, this would mean I'd not need to stop at all in the darkness. But anyway, back to this stop. I rode past the petrol station at first before deciding it was worth it, 4 minutes later I was back riding. A wrap stuffed up my jersey and my bottles refilled. The rest of my food? I'd had it stuffed in the hydration vest since Arnside. 9pm rolls in and York is bustling. The route goes straight through it and it's just got dark. A flat and mostly paved 30km made the run into York a smooth one. It's Friday night and there's plenty of people out and about. I'm feeling remarkably ok and very awake. A very positive sign heading into the night. So far, I've ridden consistently and kept a cool head. I must be in 7th or 8th as I head into what would be at least 8 hours of darkness.
The story for most of the night was the same. Steady riding and Slippy trails. There was a few hike-a- bike sections that stuck firmly in my mind. One involved navigating a very very steep field on foot, my calves burning all the way before turning prematurely and eventually finding the road. There were lots of these sections through the night, short field blasts joining roads together. One even resulted in forcing myself through a hedge to stay on route. What made these fields difficult to the ones we'd been riding all day was the lack of grip. It was like riding on ice, sometimes up hill, wheel spinning all the way and other times desperately trying to control my bike which was behaving more like a bull, trying to buck me off at any opportunity. Tractors had been busy all day further churning up these already treacherous paths.
The night was also very peaceful, I felt really content and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I was aware of other riders but at the same didn’t care where I was at this point. This mindset ironically often results in the best performance. As I continued to trundle on through the night I eventually coughs up with a fellow rider called Joseph. I caught him just outside Scarborough, in a foggy and mystical field. We both struggled to find the route eventually skirting behind a cow shed and popping out in the middle of a housing estate along side a huge factory. In this early morning gloom we took on a particularly different part of the route to follow, traversing a steep hill side and being forced to back track once realising we were on the wrong side of a stream. Cue dodgy stream crossing using a floating slab of polystyrene, this poor stream was pretty damn polluted. Upon summiting the hill I found myself somewhere I’d been before! Oliver’s mount racing circuit, a nasty motor racing course I’d raced on a few times as a youth in various national series. Never in a million years would 15 year old me think 6 years down the line I’d be coming through here at 03:30 AM, just
under 340 kilometres into a ride. I enjoyed blasting down the decent of the course thinking back to all the nerves I’d had last time I’d come down here, this time, none. Scarborough was a weird place at night, a bit of a ghost town. By this point I was still riding with Joseph, who stopped just as we left Scarborough to grab some water. I pushed on and after some
bike path found myself on what would turn out to be a very long section of bridleway, all slightly up hill and all pretty slow. I was caught again by my previous riding buddy and we rode this section for the best part of an hour before I eventually found myself alone again. The morning haze began to burn off to reveal the day. After some panicking I’d gone the wrong way for some reason (sometimes in the fatigue it’s easy for a small thing to become a bit overwhelming) I settled into the day. It began with a big old climb just as the sun fully rose, this would be the beginning of a pretty rough, lumpy and slow chunk of the second day.
The bogs. Why oh why. What proceeded me was a lengthy section, around 2km down a small stream Through a thriving peat bog. Incredibly slow, sketchy and lots deep, deep holes. Being the crazy dude I am a choice this point to fill up my bottles from the crisp, cold stream reaching into one of the deep wells of water, shortly before getting catapulted over the bars after riding into one of these… eventually and thankfully that section came to an end. What followed was a reasonably long section of very undulating road which took me down to a river crossing. A pretty deep one at that. The GPX route at this point was on holiday or something as I couldn’t for the life of me find the route around the river. Bugger it, I’m going through. Wading knee deep into this river I was hit with the force of strong currant and also incredibly skippy footing. Nevertheless I made it across just in time to swap out my rear mech battery (SRAM) and get back to trundling along. The next 5 hours or so blended into one, a lot of riding high up on bridleways and double track through the morning and into the afternoon. Plenty of climbing but on the whole it was all good. A few steep and challenging descents kept me alert and I kept on pushing over the climbs. A few guys came past me and I past a few too, I think I was up to fifth by this point.
Then, the low point. It always comes and this one was no different. Wading through shin deep mud was already pretty testing but when I slammed a gate in anger and managed to crush my finger in the process I was pushed over the edge. A good cry usually helps and this time was no different. I rang my parents who gave me a quick reality check and it was time to keep trudging. It’s strange on these sort of events when you’re pushing yourself so far, once you give up on trying to stay tough and let the emotions out the problems almost always evaporate, at least in my case anyway. I wanted to do this and I’m here to do just that, now get up and crack on. Time to get it done.
Hunger was starting to creep in now and I knew a town must be closing in. On the hunt and in a bit of a rush I blasted down a hill passing a good friend Chris who had done the 450km route. Eventually the town appeared and a beautifully placed Greggs made for a perfect snack. In and out like a flash and I was back on the trail stuffing down a baguette and some pasties. About 150km lay ahead of me now, still a long way but always getting closer. Over some more beefy climbs and the final 100 kilometres were in sight. Golden hour was just coming in and I really enjoyed this section. Rolling up and down along gravel double track was only stopped by the urge to desperately go to the toilet. Up and over a wall for probably my most exposed toilet excursion ever before bibs up and getting over the last two climbs. Or at least I thought that. It was ok. I’d paced for these climbs all would be fine, and after a brief stint in 3rd I was into 4th place heading into the last 40 kilometres. I blasted the decent before what? Another climb? I remembered this one from GBDURO. A long section of hike a bike leading onto a beautifully tarmaced decent. Lovely. I flew down there and into a village to see, to my surprise, a group of dot watchers. From here to the finish was only 30 kilometres, that’s nothing right?
Oh how wrong I could be, up down left and right I went as darkness fell. Relentless wouldn’t quite cover it. I was really getting tired now. Head dropping and starting to loose a bit of sanity when a single track footpath into a field finished me off. I completely lost my mind. It’s weird looking back on it but I was so completely disoriented and paranoid. I couldn’t get out. I was stuck in this field. I desperately ran back and forth, shouting in frustration. I jumped over one wall to land in s pig sty, straight back over and still just as lost. I was so disorientated. Finally the exit. I cursed in my delirious state. I couldn’t see properly and had no perception of time or distance. I was struggling so much to work out if the line on my head unit was the route or just the road. I kept calling Mari making sure I was on course. Finally 10 kilometres to go. I was so broken by this point. I felt like I was constantly
going the left corner. I muttered under my breath, ‘come on, come on, come on.’ Over and over. 5k to go, just one road away. It took forever. 250 metres. Wtf? Why is this taking so long?
I made it back to the pier, round the flag pole and finally stopping next to Ollie snd Liam (2nd and 3rd ) along with Steve and Tom who came out to watch, Steve providing beers (One was enough!). So, I’d done it. I proved to myself I could do these things and go the distance.
Time: 38hours 58minutes
Distance: 604 kilometres
Average speed: 15.5kph
Elevation: 9287 metres
Calories burnt: 14,110
Average heart rate: 126 bpm