“ Over the Christmas holidays something clicked. For a lot of cyclists Christmas holidays are an opportunity to try and complete the Rapha Festive 500, but with a slightly longer holiday than most, it meant being able to ride somewhere in the region of a Festive 2200! Waking up, having breakfast (maybe even having lunch), and being able to train when my mind had returned that final bit of focus I was missing. Now my brain felt sharp and it was just a case of hammering my body. And for 3 weeks I f**King hammered it! ”
6 months ago after scratching from the Transcontinental Race I was unsure what to do with myself. I had funnelled everything I had into the race and hadn’t even finished. I no longer felt like myself, or at least the person I had become used to. My brain was lost and my body felt broken. At some points it felt like I had tried to force a square peg into a round hole. The start of September has for over a decade meant time to start training. Previously it has meant coming back, refreshed, sharing stories of a summer with your mates. Only this year it was only me. Feeling broken. Dragging myself out of bed at 5:15am to get on the bike. Hoping that the mojo would return with practice.
A month came and went and cycling still it felt like a struggle. Winter arrived and the cold dark mornings made everything harder. More often than not, the alarm would go off and I’d be hiding in bed until the last available moment, procrastinating to avoid getting back on the bike. By the middle of December I had done a lot of practicing. Trying to rebuild a habit of precise concentrated effort to improve. But it still felt like the magic wasn’t there. As my girlfriend, Clare and I ate dinner with her parents on a Friday night, conversation turned to how training was going. I remember taking a moment of thought before despondently saying that ‘it was going OK, but it just felt like there was something missing’. When they arrived at the house on Saturday morning to find me 4 hours into a 5 and a half turbo session there was a puzzled look on her mum’s face as she asked ‘I thought you said you weren’t feeling at 100%? ‘. I was going through the motions but it still felt like I had lost something.
Over the Christmas holidays something clicked. For a lot of cyclists Christmas holidays are an opportunity to try and complete the Rapha Festive 500, but with a slightly longer holiday than most, it meant being able to ride somewhere in the region of a Festive 2200! Waking up, having breakfast (maybe even having lunch), and being able to train when my mind had returned that final bit of focus I was missing. Now my brain felt sharp and it was just a case of hammering my body. And for 3 weeks I f**King hammered it. Tuesdays and Thursdays are my hardest days, where I try to ride between 40 minutes to an hour of intervals. Warming up on Thursday mornings it felt like my body was running running on fumes. However, with long steady rides over the weekend it was ready to go again by Tuesday.
The final week before the race has been easy on the body, hard on the mind. I came back on Monday afternoon to find the rear brake, which I thought just needed a bleed, dripping fluid from the caliber. A panicked phonecall to Dom at Fairlight and a sprint to catch the last post of the day meant I was at the mercy of Royal Mail’s special delivery service. T-24 hours until departure, bike is in bits. T-12 hours bike is back together. T-9 hours bike is back in bits and in the box and ready to fly. Why Morocco? Why the Atlas Mountain Race? Clare would attest to my love of a market. But honesty it all came down to the promotional video. I was immediately sold on the red dirt, open vistas and quiet solitude it presented. The Transcontinental Race feels somewhat safe. In comparison, the Atlas Mountain Race is an unknown to me. The race and route have never been ridden, the weather is variable, from hot to cold, and resupply is scarce and unpredictable.
My kit reflects this. I try and take things that will make the race as easy as possible. In my opinion the fastest way to the finish is not stopping, rather than riding faster. So I bring kit which is maybe not the lightest but will hopefully let me ride a lot in relative comfort. I have no excuses with regards to the bike. I’m riding a Secan with Di2 grx groupset, Son dynamo and 2.2 inch tyres which I hope will keep me cycling fast until my limited mountain bike skills run out and I’ll be off walking. I’m wearing the brightest, eBay sourced, Rapha brevet kit. In the bar bag harness I have, a waterproof, leggings, and I’ve doubled down on the insulation with a PHD down jacket and synthetic cycling jacket which is comfortable to ride in when it’s wet and cole. The rear bag has my sleeping things in, which comprises of a Rab event bivi, PHD down sleeping bag which is comfortable to -5deg and a Thermarest neoair. Except for some toiletries and spares, the frame bag, top tube bag and feedbags are all empty, ready to fill with food. I have my fingers crossed the temperature will be cold enough to carry unlimited chocolate!
With 11500km in my legs, I feel fit. 7kg heavier than I would like to be (This might come in useful riding through the desert?!). Nervous of the unknown, but excited to be on my way to Morocco. On Saturday morning my hand goes into the fire, hopefully I can cross the finish line before I have to take it out.