Mersey RC 24 Hour National Championship – 23 & 24 July 2016

First of all a big congratulations to Jimmy Williams for completing the Mersey RC & National 24 Hour championship this weekend.  The result and everything else are just part of the (lengthy sorry), story and we’ll get on to that, but the achievement for every rider is just getting to the finish.  Jim will create a blog of his own but right now I’m sure he is still asleep and if not he will be dozing and satisfyingly knackered!  This is my perspective as one of the helpers in the van

A few days before the event the support team met with Jim to run through logistics.  As we worked through the kit list Jim went through his extensive list of medications.  I’ll need such and such at this time, I may need such and such if this happens, it’s highly unlikely I’ll need such and such but just in case it’s here ………  Syd’s face was a picture, “should you really be doing this?”  Jim replied, “ don’t worry I’ve checked and none of these medications are on the banned list, but don’t let me have a pee until you’re sure that my number is not on the dope control board at the finish”.  Syd’s reply  – “No I mean should you really be riding this race?”

The HQ and start is in Farndon and when we arrived the conditions were pretty warm with little wind so good for sunbathing but questionable for slogging along on a bike for 24 hours, if you’re not a lover of heat.  Jim was keen to get started and was itching to get to the line about 45 minutes before his time.  We agreed that a warm up probably wouldn’t be necessary but all the same he rolled to the start lane across the road about 15 minutes before the off, probably to find some space and to sort his head out.

The crowds were big at the start as this is a very special event and one of a kind in the World.  Ann Gregory took some pics of him starting and several WVCC riders had come out to see him off.  Within 1 mile he was grappling with the hill at Barton, followed by the climb at Clutton and the roller coaster continued via Broxton and along the A41, all the way to Prees Heath Roundabout.  On a normal day this would be a challenging hilly time trial in itself but for these warriors it was simply a warm up.  The Raven Café is traditionally the focal point of the event as it’s a welcome watering hole for riders and helpers, so the course comprises of a series of circuits that centre around this point for most of the 24 hours.

In the van was Syd Rimmer (Head of Housekeeping), Graham Gregory (Head of Transport) and yours truly (Head of Statistics).  The banter was good from the off and it was a bit of a Punch and Judy show but with two Punches (me and Graham) and one Judy (Syd) as we did tend to focus our attention of Syd a little too often.  He gave as good as he got though and it kept us awake and spirits were high throughout the event.  We took turns to hand up bottles, food and sponges and put in quite a few miles of running and Jim didn’t drop a single thing even in the dead of night.

From Prees Heath the course took in one lap of the night circuit to Tern Hill and then Espley, returning to Prees Heath (20.65 miles).  Along this segment Jim hit 25 miles in 1 hour 10 minutes (21.4 MPH) so quite a good pace in view of all the hills to that point but not excessively fast.  The next leg was from Prees Heath to Battlefield and back along the A49.  This is a brute of a road to use in a 24 hour and is a new addition due to roadworks on another part of the usual course.  It’s 28 miles of short but pretty tough climbs which unfortunately were covered in the heat of the mid afternoon sun so we were keeping a close eye on fluids and Jim was sticking religiously to the feeding plan.  He claims to not like climbing but he soldiered on and kept ticking off the miles.  Once completed the night circuit plus the Battlefield leg were repeated, which I’m sure was appreciated by the riders (not)!  Despite approximately 60 miles of hilly roads within the first 100 miles Jim achieved a very impressive 50 mile time of 2:24 (20.8 mph) and 5:05 (19.7 mph) at 100 miles and this included an unscheduled 6 minute stop to apply chamois cream at 95 miles.  Excellent pace for a flat 100 mile time trial let alone on the hilly start of a 24 hour.

On the subject of chamois cream there was a question mark over who would apply the cream.  Graham and I agreed that as Syd was head of housekeeping his duties included hygiene and cleanliness and therefore he was handed the disposable glove and pot of cream, with instruction that he must watch where he placed his fingers!  Syd looked quite relieved when Jim politely refused his advances at the time of application.

At 113 miles the next section commenced on the 12.62 mile Quina Brook Circuit.  This loop takes in sections of main A roads on the A49 & A41 and a quiet back road through Tilstock & Quina Brook.  There is a challenging little climb at Prees Bank each lap just to make life a little harder.  At 8:20 PM Spanish Ged arrived to take over from Graham on the night shift.  Graham was itching to carry on so Caroline took Ann and Helen back home in our car and Graham took a few short hours kip in his car at Prees.  Jim’s plan had a scheduled stop at this point and the support team jumped into action to get him going again within  15 minutes.  I fitted the lights, pumped up the tyres and checked for cuts and Ged washed the bike off.   Caroline and Ann had pre-heated some tea and some rice pudding and fed Jim as he sat down and changed his clothing.  We re-stocked his emergency food and pushed him on his way after 17 mins so not bad.  Then Jim just carried on with business as usual, riding at metronomic pace and taking feeds exactly to plan.  He completed 4 circuits as the light started to fade and all was well as he switched to the night circuit at 164 miles.

Syd was far more relaxed when Ged took over driving duties as Graham’s foot did occasionally get a little heavy on the accelerator pedal.  Each time this happened you could hear the contents of the van sliding around in the back.  Syd would moan and groan and each time we stopped he would shake his head when he climbed in the back, muttering and sighing as he carefully restored order and put each bag and box and spare wheel, back into its allotted space (and I thought I was OCD!).  This kept me and Graham amused and kept Syd on his toes ensuring he didn’t get too sleepy, not that there was any time to sleep with all the running around handing up stuff every 20 minutes or so for a day.  In the evening Syd and I both sat out one of the laps to relax at Prees Heath for an hour before the chippy shut.  It was quite bizarre surrounded by loads of people and a small encampment of tents on the grass verge next to the roundabout.  Every so often a van would pull up and people would jump out to pick stuff up or to hand stuff up to passing riders.  Then after  a flurry of activity they would jump back in and shoot off down the road to catch up their rider a few miles later.  At this time Graham woke up and also Nigel Woods turned up and the pair of them jumped into one car to leapfrog the van and give Jim some encouragement.

IT WAS A VERY LONG NIGHT!  The support team never got drowsy as we were busy helping Jim to keep on track.  Fortunately the feed schedule coincided with the approximate 1 hour lap length on the night circuit, so we got into a good routine of bottle every time at Espley, Sponge every time at Tern Hill and food every time at Prees Heath.  Our hero just stuck to the plan and knocked off mile after mile and in great spirits.  I was particularly impressed as the night circuits were my downfall during my ride 2 years ago.  I couldn’t keep my eyes open, but Jim was alert at all times.  The feed crews met up at different points as the field continuously swapped positions throughout the event.  Bizarrely this is a great way to meet people and make new friends as there was a general feeling of “we are all in this together” and despite it being a race everybody was out to look after each other.  It was weird seeing this conveyor belt of riders with bright lights and flashing bands on heads & feet cruising up and down for seven 20.65 mile circuits all night long!!  Helpers had all sorts of illuminated bottles and banners  so the riders could find them in the dark and we had an LED illuminated “JIM” board that stood out really well.

At 300 miles and 16 hours and 30 minutes Jim stopped as per the plan to remove his lights, change clothes and have a hot brew and more rice pudding (staple diet of 24 hour riders).  Then Jim made a classic rookie error and said, “I can’t believe it as I keep expecting to hit the wall but it just hasn’t happened”.  He got back on the bike after 13 minutes (10 minutes planned) and promptly hit the proverbial wall within about 10 minutes of his departure.  He visibly aged about 20 years and his speed dropped dramatically as he made his way back to Prees Heath to complete his final night circuit lap.  I remember this point in my race as you are pleased that it’s day time again and you are also pleased to be coming of that endless circuit, but then it dawns on you that you are about to start yet more laps of the Quina Brook circuit and oh by the way you still have about 7 hours to go before you an finally stop.

Clearly this has a strong psychological effect on every rider as the Quina Brook circuit was littered with zombies on bikes.  Even the hand full of top riders competing for the National Title were looking hung over from a night of hanging around bars.  Jim was slurring his words and at this point cycling simply became a reflex action.  However after one lap maybe what was left of his reasoning mind twigged that he was still catching riders.  Whatever happened he started to look smoother and more composed and although his pace never again fully recovered, he did get back into a very respectable rhythm.

Everybody came around, including the helpers as texts started coming in and people started turning up to support Jim for the vital second day of the event.  A very relieved Kathy Williams turned up first and I’m sure that this boosted Jim significantly.  A very tired Ged made his way home and Graham jumped back into the van much to the disgust of Syd who could see more housework on the horizon! Caroline returned with Ann and Helen and Martin Whyard must have had a very early start as he was riding around the circuit also supporting Jim with his presence.  After 4 laps of Quina Brook the timekeeper opened the Finishing circuit so the riders were diverted back to Broxton via the Whitchurch by-pass and the lumpy A41 road.  The forecasted rain arrived just as Jim approached the Finish Circuit so we got out the wet weather gear and then it promptly disappeared 2 minutes later much to our relief.  Jim hit timekeeper 1 at Hatton Heath Lay-by on the A41 20 hours and 56 minutes into his ride and with 374.46 miles on the clock.

Unlike fixed distance time trials that are won by the riders recording the quickest time, the 24 hour is a fixed time and the winner covers the greatest distance.  This presents a problem as there is no fixed finish line for a timekeeper.  The solution is to create a finish circuit and spread timekeepers at  points around it, that are approximately 2 miles apart.  When  a rider gets to a timekeeper at say 23 hours and 57 minutes (as Jim did) he is told to continue to the next timekeeper (much to the despair of Jim) and the timekeeper  records his finish time at that known point.  As the distance between the two points is accurately measured they can work out from the average speed between the two points, how far the rider went at the 24 hour point (confused, you will be)!

Back to the story – Shortly after entering the finish circuit Jim stopped for 4 minutes to attend to a call of nature (seems a long time but he is getting on a bit you know).  It was his first stop since his bad patch but he was once again in great spirits and even cracking jokes, so on other words the Jim we all know and love but with the volume turned down very slightly.  The circuit was buzzing with people in every lay-bay and field entrance and in large numbers on both sides of the road at the HQ in Farndon.  This is a big boost for the riders and it shows as many speed up despite the enormous amounts of fatigue so now you know why riders always thank everybody for their support because it really does help them.  On this circuit however the boost at Farndon is rapidly squashed by the climb at Barton just 2 miles up the road!  Cruelly the course designers put a timekeeping point right at the top of the climb and some poor riders have to finish up it……….

Our Jimmy was one of the Duracell bunnies maintaining a good steady pace around 3.5 laps of the loop.  I calculated his 400 mile point and quickly made a 400 mile sign and stood at the side of the road holding it as he passed through this point at Coddington.  We cheered him through as prior to the event he set himself a main aim of finishing, with a secondary target to beat 350 miles and an optimistic but challenging target to beat the 400 mile barrier.  He smashed through it with 1 hour and 34 minutes still to go!!!  On lap 3 as we passed Jim up Barton hill I leant out of the window and said, “last time up this ***** hill Jim”.  A bit further on it dawned on us that he was maintaining such a good pace, there was a chance he would finish at the top of that dreaded climb.

At the timekeeper point in Farndon I jumped out of the van and timed him over the line in 23:57 and a very deflated looking Jim continued in his World of pain for Just another 8 minutes and 39 seconds.  A small reception committee made its way to the top of Barton Hill to see him finish and I even stood near the top to encourage him to go for the prime at the top but for some reason he didn’t respond.  A lot of hugging and kissing then ensued for a few minutes (the things some people do for attention)!

Final distance to be confirmed by the official result was a fantastic 422 miles (17.58 mph).  If you take off the 42 minutes he was off the bike his actual average speed on the road was 18.11 mph.  Just go out on your own and try that average on rolling roads for a couple of hours and then imagine staying up all night and doing that continuously for 24 hours …….. the man is a hero!

As you can imagine the process of checking all of the timekeeper check sheets and working out the final mileage for each rider takes a lot of time and effort.  A provisional result is given on the day but this is always full of errors and these are corrected later.  So on the day Jim was awarded 384 miles.  This will be corrected over the coming days.  The Winner was Michael Broadwith who recorded a provisional third highest ever distance of 535.04 miles (22.25 mph).  He led the Arctic Race Team to a new competition record as all 3 riders beat 500 miles, which is amazing as very few riders in history have done over 500.

The Veterans Time Trials Association National Championship result was announced on the day but many results including Jim’s were clearly well off the mark.  This competition is based on age related standards and I’ll say no more at this stage other than the fact that 422 miles is an excellent distance for a 58 year old man.  Watch this space………

Finally (I can hear the sigh of relief),  I’d like to pay tribute to Jim as he has put a massive effort into the preparation for this event and has executed it in spectacular fashion.  He has and will thank everybody for their support but at the end of the day it took a very determined and special person to pull this off.  Well done Jim and I know you had this on your list of things to do before you were 30, but better late than never!

As a club, we’d like to wish Andrew Simpson @simmo_on_sport all the best for the future, with a heartfelt thanks for supporting WVCC all these years....

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