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They think I’m mad! The story of a 12h Time Trial

To set the scene for this year’s attempt on the Kettering CC club 12 hour record we should go back to last year’s effort.

Last season I was aiming to achieve a BBAR certificate for averaging at least 22mph over 50 miles, 100 miles and 12 hours. My plan was to hit 24mph for the 50, 22mph for the 100 and finish it off with a 20mph 12 hour. Also, as the club record for 12 hours is only 240.7 miles, a successful 12 hour for the BBAR would almost certainly be a club record too.

Having managed a 50 in 2:05:04 (23.99 mph), and a 100 in 4:32:15 (22.04 mph) it was all down to the CC Breckland 12 hours in September on the fast B12/3 course.

Then I realised that my fastest 50 was in a non-BBAR counting event so I only had a 2.09.23 (23.19 mph) which meant that I would need 250 miles in the 12 hour, which to be honest, was not very realistic.

Therefore the focus switched to the club record and 240.7 miles as the target.  To cut a long story short, after 10 hours when I was moved off the fast roads to the finish circuit I had done only 197 miles rather than the 200 I needed. 3 miles may not seem a lot but it meant that I had 43 to go. To do 21.5 mph for the next two hours was not going to be possible as I had only averaged 19.7 mph on faster roads so I lost a bit of motivation and ultimately finished with 231.752 miles.

Based on last year’s experience I set myself a schedule to reach 204 miles after 10 hours which would give me an achievable target of 18 mph for the last two hours on the slower finishing circuit.

The B12/3 course is easy to manage for supporters as both main loops have a common turn so my son Ryan, who was helping again this year, after seeing me start, drove down to the Eccles interchange on the A11 and waited for my first appearance there after 55 miles.

12 hour time trials (and 24s) are different from fixed the distance TTs in that although everyone does the same course, faster riders will do more laps of some of the circuits. This is to keep all the riders close together geographically so that you don’t actually know how many laps you will do as you will get directed from one circuit to the next based on when the fastest riders go through.

The CC Breckland event though is not too complicated as it is only “loop B” that is done a variable number of times (until you reach the finish circuit of course).

Course summary:

Event HQ to the Eccles interchange on the A11; 15 miles

Loop B, A11 towards Norwich and back; 20 miles

Loop A, A11 towards Thetford and back; 20 miles

Repeat loop A another four times; then straight on to loop B and repeat as many times as possible before being diverted to the finish circuit.

Then 9 miles of country lanes until you reach the finish circuit which is essentially an out and back 10 course with the race HQ at one end.

Once on the finish circuit there are timekeepers every mile and you just keep going until the timekeeper calls out that you have finished. Your final distance is calculated based on the times you passed the timekeepers immediately before and after your 12 hours are up so you actually ride a few minutes beyond 12 hours to the next timekeeper to maximise your distance. Of course, if you are me you will always finish as far away from the HQ as possible so you have to ride even further before you can eventually stop!

Although both loops A and B have a common turn, you didn’t come off the A11 when switching between them so you have to bear that in mind when planning your resupply stops. Each stop wasn’t an actual stop but as I approached Ryan waiting on a slight uphill section at the turn I would throw down my empty bottle and take a full one with two gels taped to it from him as he jogged alongside.

Nutrition is very important in long events. As a rule of thumb, you can only absorb about 90-100 g of carbohydrate per hour. This is as long as you use a mix of glucose and a different simple sugar such as fructose in a 2:1 ratio. So my plan was to ensure that I took on that amount every hour. Last year I found solid food hard to manage so this year it was a gel every 30 minutes and 500 ml of homemade energy drink every hour. I wouldn’t see Ryan until the 55 mile mark though so I carried seven gels from the start, and a full 750 ml of energy drink to see me through on this initial leg.

I reached the A11 after 43 minutes (21.4 mph) so was at this point up on schedule. Now 10 miles with the wind on my back before a 20 mile leg into the 15 mph headwind, if I could reach the far south west turn in good time it would give me confidence for the rest of the day. Loop B is a pig though, concrete slabs and potholes littered about like craters on a WW1 battlefield. On the plus side though we had five laps of loop A and 100 miles of smooth roads to look forward to!

Average speed at the south-west end of the course at 45 miles was 21.5 mph, so well up on schedule. A perfect bottle handover at 55 miles, 15 minutes ahead of expected time so luckily Ryan was just about ready, walking down to the planned feed station, last year we dropped just one bottle in the eight attempts, this year we missed none.

Second lap of loop A was a minute faster than the first even though there was traffic backed up for the Snetterton turn off which meant I had to ride between the two lines of traffic keeping eyes open for cars trying to move lanes at short notice. Shortly after starting lap 3 I hit an empty cat’s-eye and punctured my front wheel. Rather than replace the tube I thought it would be quicker to ring Ryan and for him to drive down with a spare wheel. The spare wheel was one I had put in the car only at the last moment as it was a training wheel rather than a race wheel so was significantly wider. That shouldn’t really have been too much of a problem because the workaround would be just not close in the brake QR. However unlike Shimano, Campag have the QR mechanism on the lever not the calliper, and since I had Aero levers on my bars they didn’t have the QR button on them. There was also not sufficient travel in the cable adjuster so it required the quick application of an allen key to loosen the cable a tad and a full 7 minutes after stopping I was back on my way with a Tour de France style push up the road. Seven minutes was worth two and a bit miles but after 95 miles I was on a 21.0 mph average so I had sufficient in hand for the record to fall. I took advantage of the enforced stop to divest myself of all the empty gel wrappers and fill my aero top tube bag with liquorice allsorts (paying homage to the great Beryl Burton). I was feeling good, although various bits were beginning to hurt, particularly in the saddle area. Heart rate was a little less than last year’s event though I was going faster.

Then disaster #2, not another puncture but far worse mentally; I was waved onto loop B instead of making the turn and another two laps of loop A. I guessed this was due to the traffic issues at Snetterton (which it was), but this meant 5 laps of purgatory rather than the 3 that I had mentally prepared for.

I had to give myself a severe talking to on that next lap as I rattled along avoiding all the holes and another potential blow out. Also the traffic was getting ridiculous, very fast and more close passes than was comfortable. (Note to self, NEVER ride this course again!) I did think of packing at this point purely on safety grounds but at the end of the lap I was on a 20.9mph average so still all to play for. As long as average speed showing on my computer didn’t drop by more than 0.1mph per lap I would hit the finish circuit with an overall average of 20.5mph which would allow me my two hours at 18mph taking into account the time lost due to the puncture. In fact, my average speed for that lap was also 20.9mph so it was looking good even though there was still over six hours to ride!

At the end of the second lap of loop B and the average had dropped to 20.7mph, a 62 minute lap which was a full 5 minutes slower than the previous one. It was around this time that I realised that my saddle sores were no longer hurting, but also I realised that that was because I had subconsciously stopped using the aero position and as soon as I got back down into the tuck it was agony again. The next lap was also 62 minutes and my average speed after 156 miles was now only 20.5mph. Almost eight hours in and I had to stop for another application of ibuprofen gel to the knees, which actually were bearing up surprisingly well. I couldn’t use the aerobars at all by this stage which would account for the slower times and I did yet another 62 minute lap so at least I was consistent.

At 176 miles it was with mixed feelings that I was directed off the A11 towards the finishing circuit. At least I wouldn’t have to do yet another lap of the Somme-like Wymondham bypass, but I would have an hour less on the faster roads. My average was now down to 20.2mph so 19.7mph required for the next three and a bit hours, although my schedule assumed 18mph for the finishing circuit maybe it would be more sheltered from the wind and I could pick up the pace and suffer the pain a bit more.

I felt reasonably good on the 11 miles up to the finish circuit but by now my average had dropped to 20.0mph and I could barely hold the bars in any configuration let alone get into a tuck. The base bars on a TT bike are not comfortable to use for hours on end and by this stage I had a lot of pain in my upper arms and shoulders and cramp in the fingers on my right hand.

With over two hours to go I reluctantly decided to call it a day and simply rolled around 2 laps of the finish circuit in order to chalk up 200 miles, which of course was at the far end of the circuit so I still had another 5 miles to go after that! My final total was a very modest 206.360 miles, and I suppose I could have carried on and put another 20-25 miles on that but neither my heart nor my head was prepared to suffer any more.

I would recommend that every time trialist should do a 12h though, they are unlike any other TT (except a 24h which are even more amazing). The applause every rider gets from all the supporters is brilliant, quite a few will take the trouble to learn the riders’ names and cheer you on by name as you pass which is very uplifting. Next year I’ll be back, better prepared and that record WILL fall!