Epic Rides: The 12 Hour Time Trial – by Matt Williams

A few months ago, just as my road racing form was coming into shape and the season was getting started I got knocked off on my way home from work. The result of which was the effective end of my road season; a few weeks off the bike; and a big knock back in form.

In the middle of my recovery the slightly madder part of my brain decided that riding a 12 hour time trial would be just the kind of challenge I’d need to find my form again –and it just so happened that this year the National Championships were being held on the Welsh course. I took some advice from a couple of friends who had ridden the 12 hour in the past (and the 24 hour!) – both recommended that I should stop minimally and eat and drink plenty.

This presents its own logistical challenge. I can carry about enough food and water for two hours but would need top ups from there on in. Luckily, a club mate was also riding, with help from her mum and a friend who both agreed to help me out – I also managed to draft in a club mate who’s ridden the event numerous times. I’d get handed a bottle of drink and three food items roughly once every hour for the duration of the event. That was a planned 12 hours of eating haribo, gels, cereal bars, the odd sandwich and pepperami – DELICIOUS!

The Big Day

On the day, I was awake at 4am to get in the car to head to the race HQ in Govilon. With the first rider off at 6am and my start number of 68, that translated to a 7.08am start time. I wanted to get there in plenty of time to sort myself out and perform the handover of food and drink and arrange where I’d be fed on the long 90 mile opening circuit. HQ was 9 miles from the start line, so not wanting to be left with an 18 mile addition to my day I decided to leave my car on the finishing circuit, hoping that I wouldn’t end up too far away from it.

Queuing up on the start line I watched all the riders head off in the pointy hats on flashy TT bikes with disc wheels, mentally preparing for what I had in store. I knew I couldn’t set off too hard or I’d be in trouble later on, but I also knew that any time lost was precious. I’d set myself what I felt was a relatively ambitious goal of 240 miles and I was determined to come close.

As I rolled away from the start line, I noticed my HR monitor wasn’t working and spent a minute or two trying to resuscitate it before realising it was completely dead. I’d been planning on pacing by trying to ride at about 140bpm for the entire duration, so now I was going to have to ride on feel and a good guess. Not ideal, but certainly old school and I have a rough idea of what I can do.

The first stretch of the ride passed relatively quickly, down the A40 from Abergavenny to Monmouth, then doubling back to Usk and back to Raglan – taking my first feed at Raglan. I managed to keep a good pace, keeping my average at about 23mph for the first few hours before hitting the slightly lumpier road to Hereford and a slight headwind. I picked up more food on the return leg towards Abergavenny and continued to make good time, although by this time some muscle soreness was setting in and my speed had drifted downward slightly, now just above 22mph.

For the middle part of the day, the course took in a circuit from Abergavenny to (nearly) Monmouth and back, looping in a figure of 8 that took about an hour to ride around. My feed station was at the intersection on the “8”, where the course turned off the dual carriageway on to a smaller back road. I found this section of the ride particularly challenging – my body was starting to ache and the mental challenge of riding down a featureless dual carriageway was pretty high, especially as the rain crept in and visibility dropped.

After four laps of the “midday circuit” the course turned onto the final stretch of the day – a final 15 mile stretch, half on dual carriageway, half on a more interesting and varied back road. By this point I was mentally quite drained and my concentration was fading, having to really focus on keeping my speed up as I rolled down the dual carriageway –-did I mention how monotonous it was?

Whist I was still on target for my 240 miles, 250 or even 260 was looking realistic at this point, as long as nothing happened and I didn’t stop for too long. By this point my right calf was beginning to feel quite tight and my neck was quite sore – though the dull ache in my lower back and quads had strangely disappeared.

At the end of my second lap of the circuit I had to stop to stretch my right leg out, but by this point had the end in sight. I was also very familiar with the stretch of road, having raced on it numerous times in the past –so despite the crushing monotony of the dual carriageway stretch I was having a bit more fun with part of the ride. After stretching for a few minutes and getting a final fill of food and drink I pressed on to finish my final two laps.

Twelve hours later…

By some twist of fate, possibly entirely subconsciously on purpose, I managed to complete 12 hours about a mile away from where I’d parked my car. A welcome relief in the pouring rain, cold and tired. As I stopped pedalling my entire body screamed in protest and my shoulders in particular gave up. Trying to get out of my kit, into clean clothes and pile my bike into the back of the car was probably the hardest part of the entire day!

After heading back to HQ, drinking two cups of coffee and struggling to get down a cheese sandwich and a bacon roll, I drove home as the results were being compiled, waiting until the next day to get my official placing and distance.

So all in all, my first ever 12 hour time trial – I rode 250.89 miles in 11:46:44, finishing 18th overall.

Room for improvement…

An easy 5 miles to be gained there! Looking back over my ride, I suspect I’ve got enough in the tank to get to around 270 miles. My suspicion is that I held a little too much back into the headwind(s) and didn’t push hard enough into the tailwinds. Over the course of 12 hours even a small amount of extra speed adds big distance!

For now, and I’m writing this two days later, my whole body aches and my stomach is still dealing with the aftermath of a liquid sugar diet – I really struggled to get solid food down during and after the ride and mostly ate gels.

So many gels. I don’t ever want another gel.

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