Most of what passes for adventure blogging is all about what YOU can do, the adventures YOU can have and the things YOU can experience.
Well, in this post I’m going to sing the praises NOT of getting out there and doing it, but instead helping your mates do it. Because guess what? It turns out that being a supporter – support being vital to anyone trying to achieve anything in the spheres of sports or adventure – is just as much fun, just as rewarding and just as memorable as actually doing it for yourself.
This weekend, while the Lifedge crew were racing the Mountain Mayhem 24hr MTB race, I swapped roles from participant to supporter, joining the support teams of a couple of friends who were racing in the CTT National 24hr Time Trial Championships in Sussex. The race started at lunchtime on Saturday, riders being set off at one-minute intervals, then riding non-stop for 24hrs around a convoluted series of circuits east and west of Eastbourne. Twenty four hours sitting on a bike, pedalling pedalling pedalling, through a long hot afternoon, through a short dark night (this was the weekend of the summer solstice after all) and a long Sunday morning has got to be one of the hardest things you can do, either physically or emotionally. While some riders rode unsupported, just a box of their belonging awaiting them at the end of each lap, most had support crews mixing drinks, handing up water bottles and offering encouragement.
For my friend George it was his first 24hr. In fact, it was his first bike race full-stop. Luckily, he was under the tutelage of pre-race favourite and former winner Ultan Coyle who had given him loads of advice on training, nutrition and getting through the inevitable low points unscathed. Ultan had an experienced team of four supporting him, offering splits twice per lap and even weighing his returned water bottles to make sure he was consuming enough water and fuel. George had his mate Duffy on board as water-boy-in-chief, and me as a last minute addition to the squad.
Every lap (two of the three circuits took 60-70mins to ride, the smaller finishing circuit took around 40mins) we’d prepare George a bottle of energy drink, and strap to that an energy gel and an energy bar. After eight hours, around dusk, he stopped for ten minutes at our station outside a pub (good choice, we could enjoy a pint and some hot food between our duties) to eat some proper food while we cleaned his bike, attached his lights and got him dressed for the night laps. The night lap was the longest, so once we waved him off, we could set our countdown alarms for an hour and sneak forty winks. That would have been easier if there hadn’t been a rave going on in a field a couple of hundred metres away; I listened to podcasts to drown out the repetitive beats, lying on an inflatable mattress next to the car. Duffy folded himself into the car.
At dawn George stopped again for his second sit down. We fed him, removed his lights and sent him on his way, back over to the daylight circuit. Driving over to that circuit at 5.30am was amazing – the early morning light painting the landscape in the most flattering tones. For a moment I almost understood the attraction of a 24 – the elation the riders must feel at that moment, the sun warming and inspiring them must have been immense.
By this time George was coming to the end of a full tub of energy drink powder, so I left Duffy to go in search of Ultan’s support crew to see if we could borrow some. They obliged and we were set for the rest of the day.
The riders didn’t spend long on the longer daylight circuit before being transferred onto the shorter finishing circuit. Once there, around 8am, we able to regroup, all Ultan’s supporters and us hanging out on a patch of grass on a short rise outside the Wok Inn. We sat in the sun, cheered on everyone, and kept our riders fuelled up and motivated for their final pushes.
In the end George rode 455 miles, a pretty incredible performance. Ultan rode an even more incredible 506 miles for second place, just 10 miles fewer than the winner Jon Shubert who was on an absolute flyer having just finished a huge round the world cycle tour.
The village hall post race could easily have been a scene from a zombie horror flick: dead-eyed men and women collapsed into chairs, barely in control of their exhausted limbs. The riders looked even worse.
Stories were swapped, tea was consumed and medals eventually awarded. The other group of volunteers I haven’t mentioned yet are the volunteer marshals and timekeepers who sat out all night directing riders and recording their numbers, keeping them safe and ensuring the results were fair and correct. Three cheers for them! Hip hip…
Helping out your mates, your club and your sport is a great way to give something back to the activities you love, and it’s great fun. And while I skipped a weekend of riding, running and sleeping to help, I’ve come back with more motivation to run and ride (I’ll sleep when I’m dead…). Watching your friends do something special is often better motivation than seeing the best in the world – if they can do it, so can you. Helping them achieve it is just the first step.
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