Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Not the Manx 100 - again.

Last year a group of us set out to take on The Manx 100 on The Isle of Man. Unfortunately our ferry crossing was cancelled and we never made it.
This year we did actually get to the island, which was at least a step further, but our progress beyond that wasn't exactly a shining success.
At the eleventh-hour, barely a week before the race, I decided to join the lads - Mitch Bryan, Paul Moore, Johnny Smith, and Pascal "Fluffy" Lally -  for a go at this years edition.
The Manx 100 is probably the hardest 1-day race in the UK.
Sensibly I decided to enter the 100km version rather than the 100 miler; I wasn't suitably trained to tackle the long course. Sensible is not something that I do very often, it was very out of character.

On our arrival in Douglas, the capital, we were greeted with overcast but fair weather. The forecast for the following day was less forgiving; we put that temporarily to back of minds and faffed about with bikes and kit before heading off to meet my friends San Kapil and Roel Joling, and a couple of other racers (one of whom was tackling it on a singlespeed) for dinner at the excellent Paparazzi Pizzeria.
I ummed and arred over the menu. I really fancied pizza but had reservations about it for the following days racing. Several of the others decided on pizza so, buoyed by their decisions, I also tucked into one. It was lovely but with hindsight I should have followed my instincts and gone with something simpler to digest.

After dinner we headed up to The Grandstand (HQ for the Isle of Man TT races) to register and faff about with our drops bags and stuff. It was nice to bump into Nick and Sarah Craig and have a little, if all too brief, catch-up. Nick was racing in The British Marathon Championships 100km version and ended up placing third overall and 1st Grand Veteran (Over 50's) earning himself a jersey in the process. Considering the average age and quality of the field, Nick proved to anyone and everyone that age is no barrier to fitness - he absolutely crushed it (and many riders half his age).

Catching up with Nick Craig at Race Registration.
I didn't sleep particularly well, I was hot and I woke up a couple times. When I did rise in the morning I had a mild stomach ache and felt bloated. I hoped a good pre-race poo might sort the situation out but unfortunately my bowels decided to hang on to it and I barely forced out a fart.
We all met up outside the hotel and wound our way steadily uphill to The Grandstand, perhaps a ten minute cycle, which was enough to get warmed up, and convened with everyone else at the start line. The weather was looking shitty and the mood around the pit lane was that usual race mixture of excitement and trepidation.

Fluffy, Mitch, and I. Those smiles soon disappeared.

With San Kapil at the start.
We started out in a neutral group under a police escort for about a kilometre before passing through the rolling start gate to race proper. The bunch fragmented and spread out fairly quickly, with the BC (British Championships) racers forging away in a big old hurry. I took it steady knowing that it might be a long day. It was clear to me fairly quickly that things weren't right; I was lacking energy and any kind of punch.

The weather deteriorated faster than I did and the rain began to fall with ruthless impunity; and once it began it was in no mind to stop - it remained somewhere between persistent and torrential for the whole day. The trails were awash and water streamed in torrents down every available avenue, which made picking a line nearly impossible. It was a matter of persevering and ploughing on. It wasn't the most fun that I ever had. 

I loved the descents, they were fast and furious, and I picked off riders on every one. The trails were purported to be really rough and technical but I didn't think so, they were excellent fun with some nice little drops and some loose rocky sections but they weren't any different to riding most other trails; if anything I was slightly underwhelmed by them because of the pre-race hype. One of the trails was actually quite disappointing, it was section over a peaty moor and just felt pointless, in that it was almost impossible to ride; I think that even under good conditions it would have been a chore. I want races to be hard and demanding but I do actually want to enjoy the trails at the same time - In our post-race analysis nobody had enjoyed that one.

Unfortunately I suffered inordinately on the climbs and all those careful riders that I'd passed on the descents slowly creaked past me on the way back up. Eating was an issue for me. I found that I couldn't stomach solid food, at one point I was struggling with a trail bar and gagged on it, then puked it back out into the hedge bottom. I survived on just four Torq Gels for 50kms. I'd also made an error with my drink mixes. I had some sachets ready portioned from a previous race for 750mls bottles and never gave it a thought when I filled up my 500mls bottles in the morning - the overdose of Lemon & Lime was like drinking neat citric acid and I couldn't stomach those either so I managed on one 500mls bottle of plain water.
The combination of stomach cramps, mild vomiting, not being able to eat, and running out of water collectively contributed to my demise.

On my final climb I had to get off and push in a couple of places and pretty much made the decision to retire at the next check point. It wasn't a massive climb, I think about 400m over 20kms, but it was enough to make me realise that I wasn't going much further (there's actually a segment of it on Strava called Shit Hill, which still makes me laugh when I think about it).
Approaching the checkpoint at Laxey after a long and really enjoyable descent I was almost tempted to continue but I made the sensible decision to pull over (Again, what's wrong with me?). I was really surprised to see Mitch and Pascal at the checkpoint, I thought they were miles ahead. It seemed that everyone was finding it tough. Pascal had also blown a spoke and his wheel was wobbling quite badly. I offered him my bike and he continued on for a short while afterward but ended up pulling the plug halfway up the next climb.
Paul and Johnny pulled out somewhere along the route.
Mitch continued on and made it to the 100km mark before missing the cut-off and was forced to retire (he was in the 100 miler) - absolutely fantastic effort from him though, as usual.
When I saw San later in the day he told me that he'd pulled out at 20kms, he's a Manx veteran, he knew what was coming, and took the pragmatic approach that there's always another year. I think we all nodded in agreement with that sentiment.
I managed about 55kms in the end and was on the favourable side of the cut-offs but it wasn't going to get any better than that.

Will I go back to try and complete the job? Of course I will. There's a ton of strenuous and challenging climbing followed by fun descents. The cut-off times are sufficient without being in any way generous, which I like; it means that you have keep pushing on. It's an excellent event.
It is well organised, extremely well marked - I didn't need to check my GPS once - and the Marshall's did a fantastic job, and especially considering that they were stood out in the pouring rain all day - Bravo to those excellent Ladies and Gentlemen.

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