Strathpuffer a Race Report

Mountain Biking in ScotlandIt had all started well enough. At 10am on Saturday morning, whenever that was, to the sound of bag pipes the race kicked off, with several hundred mountain bikers running 500 or so yards, skating in SPD shoes along the frozen road to our waiting bikes. From there it was a battle of wits as we thought our way up hill, trying to pick the best lines between other riders and ice… It was tough not to go off flying, racing against the guys in teams. As every rider passed me I had to check myself, remembering I was racing solo not as a pair or quad. All being said, the first lap was over relatively quick … And now I had seen the course, I know what to expect… So out I went again, and again….Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0012Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0053Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0117

It went well for at least twelve hours. At least it seemed to be… But each lap, I was eating less and less. At first I didn’t notice, by the time I did, it was to late. Eating was an effort, an effort I didn’t want. Eventually I ground to a halt. Insufficient food, meant there was no fuel to keep the engine driving my legs going.

Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0227I crumble in to a heap in the back of the van… I pull off wet, soggy clothes and crawl in to my sleeping bag… Fortunately my brother arrives and passes me a pork sandwich from his hotel… I eat what I can, is it too late..? I can’t get warm, worse I can’t get my clean clothes on, I can’t get back out, I’m not peddling, this isn’t meant to be happening… I’m alone once again. I shiver, I’m tormented by visions of hot baths, of warm beds, about being dry and warm… I know I can have these, I just need to quit. But I can not quit… I don’t know how… Eventually I dress for war again… I open the door in to the cold night, allowing it to come flooding in, as I prepare once again to peddle…

Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0187It’s 2am, I shiver uncontrollably as I fight to strive off the cold. My tyres crunch on the ice of the frozen fire road. I’m freezing, I shouldn’t have stopped, but I needed to eat. The van was warm, inviting, dry… The cold, icy fire road is anything but inviting. Yet I must defeat her, do battle and win. It had taken all my mental strength to force myself out of the warmth of the van, from sleeping, from quitting. I wanted to curl up in my sleeping bag, call the whole thing off as a stupid idea and sleep. Stop peddling and warm up. Now, as I slowly grind up this road, I pass other vans and tents… Most have team members, stoking fires and fettling bikes… I long for the warmth of a fire to thaw my bones… I ride past, head down, these are not my fires…Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0177I fight on, as gingerly I climb this frozen road, even my ice tires are slipping on the thick sheet ice, my senses are numbing, slowing, why am I here..?

Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0132 Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0135 Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0073What am I doing..? Hum, well that’s the thing… A year ago, I had been told about this small town in the North of Scotland and how in January they held this 24 hour mountain bike race called the Strathpuffer. Through the midst of winter, riders competed, not just against each other, but against the weather, themselves and all their inner demons. It happens to be the only winter 24 hour mountain bike event in the World. For some reason I was sold! It became my focus through those long summer riding days, when our backs are warm and faces brown. It became a reason to get out and ride when rain lashed the windows and friends suggested there were better things to do. So really I only have myself to blame.

Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_2308Yesterday or was it the day before, I’m losing track of the simple things, I loaded the van with bikes, warm riding clothes and loads of food and set of on the long drive from Newcastle, to this frozen remote corner of the World of Mountain Biking. Now I’m peddling, it’s all I’ve done for hours… peddle, peddle and peddle some more, occasionally I stop to eat, but not long enough to get cold or to rest.

Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0122I reach the top of the fireroad and wobble over a small log bridge. I know what’s coming… the first of the rock gardens. There isn’t a clean line through, it’s almost perfectly designed to tire you out. To beat you into submission, to grind the last of your resolve away… I dig deep and embrace the discomfort, before the trail takes a dive down in to the trees, mud and night…

Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0196I reach the top of the next climb, and stop for a quick breather, I’m knackered… I switch my lights off and stare in to the dark night… lights twinkle in the distance, the air is still again, just a little snow drifting down… I clear my head of thoughts, just allowing myself to think about the next small section, it’s fast and flows with a couple of small jumps, and then opens out in to a muddy motorway section, which will leave my face mud splattered and grinning, before the final decent to the finish, to the lights, fires and the mad crowds awake at this crazy hour to cheer us on… Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0220And then… it’s back out, back up hill, back peddling, another lap… praying for the dawn, for real light, waiting on that final lap… after which I can finally stop.

Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_0224Hours later, I slowly push my bike back up hill towards my van. I no longer need to peddle, the race is over and the clock has stopped its ticking. I’m covered in mud, in every place you can imagine… Now it’s over, I don’t want it to be… Before the engine of the van even warms, as crazy as it may seem I’m planning next year…Reuben_Tabner_Strathpuffer_2334

I would like to say a massive thank you to all who helped me get through this event, namely the people who were still out cheering riders on at 4am, my brother Thomas for acting as driver, general support and photographer, Square Wheels for putting this fabulous event on, Colin Henderson for his amazing photographs, Montane for keeping me dry and the Coul House Hotel for allowing me back in the doors looking like a swamp monster and for feeding me throughout the event. Thanks Guys…

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