two months from race day

The email popped into my inbox: “Woodhill 360, six hour team race.” I’d been getting a bit of grief from my road-riding buddies about never entering races, but to be honest sitting on a road bike and grovelling for four or five hours has never really appealed. This was mountain biking though, on my home turf of Woodhill Forest. I’d only have to do two 10-kilometre laps, maybe three if I was unlucky, as part of a relay team. I clicked on the four-man team category and entered with my three regular riding buddies.

I knew Heath would definitely be keen. He’s down for anything as long as you sign him up far enough in advance and remind him a few times. A couple of years back he cycled 250 miles in the USA in two days with roughly zero training; I lost a dinner on that bet. He’s around the same speed as me, so at least we wouldn’t embarrass each other.

Murray would be keen too. He’s one of those older bastards that weighs 75 kilos soaking wet and has legs like a wrinkly 12 year old, but always seems to be fit enough without training to be roughly 15 percent faster than the rest of us. As long as it fitted around taking his three kids to sports or birthday parties and fixing up his old villa he would make it.

Greg was a slightly different story. He came last in this years weight loss competition and does the least riding. He also gets quite dramatic when he’s tired and moans that he’s going to vomit, but he never actually does. I definitely needed him on the team so Heath and I wouldn’t be competing for slowest time.

I didn’t give any of them a choice, I just sent out the email to tell them we’d entered. Greg took a while to respond but eventually everyone gave a vague sort of acceptance without actually committing. Ten-kilometre single-track laps always seem a lot easier when they are a couple of months away.

One week from race day

I’d finished a four-day, 434-kilometre bike trip about a month ago where my Achilles had packed up. It was coming right but wasn’t 100 percent and the race was only a few days away. Pre-race nerves were starting to kick in and the weather forecast looked miserable. My wife thought I was an idiot for still thinking about racing when my ankle wasn’t right. I knew I could still ride but I was starting to get worried: Was I fit enough? Would I be able to hack it? What if it’s really boring sitting out there in the rain all day? What if I was really slow? What if I had to get off and walk (I would be the only one riding a single-speed after all)? Normally it’s Murray who is hopeless with decisions but I was changing my mind every couple of hours, second-guessing whether the others would still be keen. For one reason or another none of us had trained for the last month. Perhaps my dodgy ankle was my escape clause? I thought I’d put an email out and see what they say. They’ll all be doubting their own fitness, surely I could tempt them with a few beers instead?

“Fellas, my Achilles still isn’t right. Shall we flag the race and go to Hallertau and drink beer instead?” Responses from Heath and Murray were suitably sympathetic, with only thinly veiled hints of sarcasm. No doubt they were not that keen on doing a race on the back of no training but neither of them wanted to be the one to pike out. Greg came back last “Ha Ha! Nerves getting to you, eh?”

Greg couldn’t resist having a dig at me. Deep down I knew that he was likely to be the least motivated to race, having done nothing but drink home-brew and watch Game of Thrones for the last couple of months, but I also knew that he can be quite delusional about his own levels of fitness so maybe he was still keen. It could be a bluff, but now I would have to do the double bluff. “OK, it’s on then.” No reply.

Race day

What a great day. We hammered it. Heath and I busted out our best efforts, Murray not only did the fastest time but he also brought along a big pot of warm, spicy, okra-laden Gumbo to sustain us between laps. Greg rode himself into the ground without spewing—sufficient punishment for calling me out.

We had a fantastic time—it was much more fun than a serious road race or a long mountain bike event where you’re on your own for three hours chewing on the handlebar.

Each of us had two 40-minute thrashings. In between we relived all the best and worst bits of each lap, teased Greg about not being able to speak, drank a beer and bathed in our shared suffering. If you want to race with maximum fun I couldn’t recommend this type of team event enough. The weather was crap—wet enough to make it the kind of adventure that you don’t get these days with an office job, unless you go out of your way to make one.

The best news of all was that we took out first place in our team division. Who cares if our lap times were slower than some of the solo females doing the whole six hours on their own? Who cares if the people on the second step of our podium were the unicycle team? The point is that the four of us got out in the mud and had a great time. That’s not to say drinking beer at Hallertau isn’t fun too, but this was something to really remember.

Greg kept the trophy.

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