Monday, October 08, 2007

Dusk Till Dawn 2007

Went to Norfolk on Saturday and raced Dusk Till Dawn, for the first time since 2003. Rode it solo in its inaugural year (2002) on a fully rigid singlespeed, warming up for doing Sleepless in the Saddle solo. In 2003, did 6 laps on the back of a tandem, had back problems that took three months of physio to fix. And that was back when it was an 8 mile course rather than the 10.5 miler they had this year. After that, it somehow lost its appeal for a while.
So 2007: they'd banned tandems (probably a good thing really - Thetford isn't the best place for a bike that handles like a barge) and I had a bike with front suspension (although still only one gear). On the other hand, it wasn't titanium any more, only cheap steel, and the fork is a cheap Marzocchi with rebound set up so hard that after a lap or two it felt like it was rigid anyway. I also had four sets of lights: Hope LEDs, Cateye halogens, some old Vistalites that had looked like somebody had cobbled them together out of whatever they could find in the shed, and finally my trusty old Lumicycles. Attached them all to the handlebar before the start, to avoid faffing around and dropping shims on the grass at 2am, and then although the front end then weighed a lot more than it really should have, was good to go. (Plus there was some kudos for having a bike that looked like a Quadrophenia refugee.)
I also had a pit crew. In the first year I did it, Sylvain turned up, and hid in the tent after four hours of hanging around getting cold waiting to tighten a bolt on my bike. In the second year, my co-tandemee, Toby, and I had the joy of people running up to shout "the guy on the back isn't pedalling!" and other witticisms. This time round I had Toby plus his girlfriend, which turned out to be an important combination: with somebody to talk to, Toby stayed awake, and with Toby awake and waiting every lap, the temptation to pack was much lower.
Not that I didn't pack: a change to the rules meant that it was the most laps in the shortest time, and not the most laps in 12 hours plus however long you take to get back after the bell. This is more civilised, but there is a certain joy to seeing everyone emerge from the bushes just before the finish line at a minute past the time limit. (Or possibly some joker nipping up there 5 minutes beforehand, telling them it's time and then watching them get back and realise they have to do another lap after all.) As it was, I got to 7 am and, after a 2 hour lap, couldn't face another one - by then I was seeing things, and instead of that being faces in the undergrowth, it was corners in the middle of a straight trail. Not so good.
Thetford was great as ever, but tough too. Although it's flat (and even flatter this year, it felt, than previously) it's almost all singletrack, and almost all bumpy singletrack, so after half an hour your lower back is in agony, following by shoulders, neck, hands, forearms. My legs never got that sore, strangely (feet did) but after an hour or so the pain levels off and doesn't get much worse. In my third lap I was keen to chuck the bike away and go sleep, but it was clear that to do so would be the end of the race; hardly likely that you'd get up again to a freezing cold night and start racing again. Besides, with Toby + g/f around, I'd have felt too guilty to tell them I was giving up, after making them go all the way to Norfolk. So, Torq bars and apples inside me, off I went again, only to find my legs on the fourth and fifth laps, and actually enjoy myself. I was hoping to finish with 7 laps at 7.30, a respectable total, but due to our nocturnal arithmetic being a little shaky, 7 laps was actually 6.55, and realising this at the start of lap 7 broke my spirit; no chance of going for an 8th lap when all I wanted was sleep.
All the way through though, during painful times as well, you just had to keep reminding yourself that you were in rather a privileged position - there were only 800 people, after all, out there in the woods riding around in the dark, with a beautiful starry sky above them and all that prime singletrack. It was bloody cold though; in the first couple of years it was raced in August and it was hardly warm then, but the move to October puts it into 6 degrees weather (if you believe the BBC's website, at least). A bit of mist came in towards the end of the night, which you only noticed if you had big enough lights to make it show up. It was great to have the sun come up and ride a lap that started in pitch black and ended in daylight, but after that it was time to stop.
Things I've learnt:

  • Take a few friends otherwise there's not enough pressure to just pack it all in

  • Keep eating fruit especially. Previously I've taken lots of things that I thought would be comfort food, like sandwiches and yoghurt, but that doesn't feel too comforting in the middle of the night. Ended up with a banana or an apple, plus a Torq bar, every lap, and that seemed pretty much perfect (apart from bonking on my last lap, even after two bars...)

  • LED lights are brilliant. The Hopes ran for four hours without giving out, and although that was on the lowest setting, it was still sufficient for the ride. Furthermore, the white light is qualitatively better than the halogens; both the Cateyes and the Lumicycles were just far too yellow in comparison. Head torches are good too.

  • You'll get cold. Normally if you're comfortable on the start line you'll be too hot on the trail. Not in October. Long sleeved top plus base layer plus three quarter length shorts will do well, plus a Roach fully waterproof top for the last few laps when your heart rate is dropping and your body isn't so good at keeping itself warm any more. (This is probably different for non-soloists, but they're wimps.)

  • Don't pack it in too early. Some people payed 28 quid in order to ride round the forest for 4 laps and then stopped, saying that a singlespeed wasn't appropriate or their bike wasn't right. Get a decent bike then. For the last week before I went to Thetford, I spent three days on the piss in Munich (including being punched in the mouth on a giant spinning wheel) then went climbing at the Castle until my eyes were falling out of my head on the Thursday night, and finished up with two hours of shorinji kempo on Friday night. Oh, and two hours driving around Croydon in a panic on Saturday morning when I should have been in bed, trying to round up lights. Still managed 7 laps though, and I'm not sure if I would have done more with suspension or gears - thinking really there's probably more to go wrong...

  • Get some sleep the day after. Don't try to be a hero by staying up all day, going to see Fulham lose 2-0 to Portsmouth at Craven Cottage, and then take two hours to get home because there's no District or Circle line running on Sunday. Microsleeps might seem fun in retrospect, but not at the time

  • Christmas carols will always cheer you up, particularly sung at the top of your voice as you ride through the campsite at 4am.


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