“My interest in the Manx 100 mile mountain bike event has only been by association in the past, having had friends that have attempted it, won it or just pointed it out as a future calendar event, in a moment of madness I entered it last year on the first day of entries for the 2016 event then put it to the back of my mind!!
The panic only set in after reading a few competitors blogs at the end of January, so to throw a marker in the sand for my fitness I went our for my first ride of 2016, a 100km raid from my home in Shap over the Dales and back in some typically Cumbrian weather. Humbling but glad to get a solid few hours in the saddle with a good few months to build some form.
The intervening months have seen me riding some amazing trails in the North of Scotland at Easter, dragging Em around a bit of an epic Glen Affric ride, ooops! Riding the first gravel race in the uk the Dirty Reiver 200km in April, getting around all but one of the 7 stanes mountain bike routes in order to hone skills, as well as joining the very eccentric but wonderfully welcoming world of Audax riding, getting some stunning 200km road rides in to my plan with lots of like minded cyclists, plus a coast to coast in a day ride with the Open Cycling guys.
So the riding bit was kind of done, but it never feels like enough, planning done, b&b in Douglas booked, ferry sorted from Heysham with just Me, Em and the bikes booked on, pretty liberating stuff arriving with just a rucsac full of kit, plenty of Mountain fuel and a well prepped bike.
First trip to the “Rock” and it was all shaping up nicely, good weather, super friendly people, good food, especially the ice cream, all that was left was to follow a 100 mile mountain bike route around an island that measures roughly 30 miles by 12!! Needless to say the route looked akin to a toddlers finest scribblings, but within the scrawl was an excellently thought out route, designed to ruin many a mountain bikers resolve whilst taking in as many hills and trails as the Isle of Man could offer.
Registration involved the usual signing on, and unusually picking up some special Manx 100 beer along with dropping off the bag drops that would become key to getting me round the full course, with bottles of mountain fuel, energy bars, the odd sandwich and the essential percy pigs for the final drop at 80 miles.
Meeting at the TT grandstand at dawn was a fairly surreal experience in itself, especially as i arrived uncharacteristically early, due to a mix of excitement and over zealous seagulls waking me at 4, it did allow me to see the field rolling in one by one to gather for the roll call, thousand yard stares a plenty but also a bit of chat with some fellow riders about what lay ahead.
A quick briefing from Nigel, the sadist that put the event together and then at 6:30 am we were off, following a police motorbike leading us out in a fairly tight pack (for mountain bikers) of buzzing tyres, from skinny racers tyres to a couple of fat bikes, all with the same goal of navigating round the route ahead to end up back at the grandstand at who knows when.
In a very short time we turned on to the first off road section, up the first climb of the day, lots of deep breathing, excited line swapping, gear crunching and a bit of friendly banter, it was a weird feeling, a race for some to get to the finish line first but for me and many others it was a race to reach the cut offs in time to enable us to complete the route. Early nerves subsided as i got in to a nice steady rhythm on the climbs and tried to enjoy the descents whilst still feeling fresh. Chatting to fellow competitors, sharing cheery hellos with all the friendly marshals and looking ahead for the next arrow that would take us to who knew where!
After many an hour of riding, slogging up the hills with the reward of some phenomenal if not tricky descents i hit the half way mark and the chance to stop and enjoy some “real” food, a chat with some fellow riders, but all the while overlooking the stunning scenery of the North of the Island. It was only at this point that i became acutely aware of the race i would be undertaking, to stay ahead of the dreaded cut off, at 50 miles i had nearly 2 hours leeway but fatigue and mechanicals could soon erode this buffer.
The goal now was to get to the 80 mile cut off, not least because I had more mountain fuel, a ham sandwich and some percy pigs waiting, but also if i got there in time i could be fairly certain to finish. The only thing that stood in my way was the ridiculously stubborn Manx scenery of steep rocky technical climbs, and steep technical descents, but I pressed on, driven by the thought of how good the ham sandwich was going to taste.
20 minutes to spare, that sounded tight, wolfing down my sublime tasting sandwich, i stuffed percy pigs in to my jersey pocket, exchanged the empty bottles on my bike for full mountain fuel filled bottles and pressed on.
The next 5 miles despite being excellent trails were probably the lowest point of the day for me, having been overtaken by at least 5 riders at the bag drop i felt sluggish, desperate to catch people but unable to put the effort in to get the wheels moving at pace again, but experience has taught me that this happens after taking on lots of food and just pushing on will get me through it.
And it did, after another few miles i caught and overtook two of the riders from earlier and started to feel stronger than i had for most of the day, starting to enjoy some of the final bits of natural trail, overtaking a couple of other riders, pushing hard on the tarmac sections, enjoying some stunning views over Douglas to the finish line, demolishing Percy pigs as I went.
Then it was all over, I rolled up to a painted white line on the gravel with some smiley folk congratulating me, 102 miles, 14hrs 22 minutes of riding, just shy of 5000 metres of ascent, 7 bottles of mountain fuel, numerous chia bars, sandwiches and a pack of Percy pigs got me 34th out of 43 finishers, with a large number of DNF’s or riders that cut on to the shorter route.
A truly epic day out on the bike and one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done, happy to finish, and to have been part of such a fantastic event, superbly organised and supported all the way by the locals out on the trials.
Thank you to all who contributed to getting me round this course, and an especially big thank you to Em who’s endured many a weekend of mountain biking in the name of “training”, and who timed the post-race pizza to perfection, arriving minutes after me finishing to hand me a monster pizza. I nearly cried 🙂
If your in need of a big challenge on the mountain bike it is a must do event.”