While a lot of people spend their January working up a sweat in the gym, attempting to cling on to their newfound zest for fitness, I spent most of mine in bed. After returning from Houston, jet-lag aggressively took hold, and I battled through the first week back at work with little more than 4 hours sleep in total. I began to think I was losing my mind, and I’m pretty sure I had started hallucinating, but for some reason every afternoon I would drag my broken body home from work, collapse into bed, and then lay there, exhausted, staring at the ceiling for hours, wide awake.
Just as jet-lag relaxed its grip, I felt that ominous tickle at the back of my throat; a harbinger of some vile, mucous-ridden disease, likely picked up from one of the 100+ children I am exposed to on a daily basis. Sure enough, the next night at the gym I felt like I had no energy, and the weights that I would normally use felt like lead. I left early, and returned to my bed. I made it through the working week, but by the time Friday came I felt revolting, and remained twisted and shivering in my duvet all weekend, only leaving to use the toilet or get some water. I even phoned in sick on Monday, and slept some more.
Although an improvement, Tuesday really should have been spent in bed as well, but I went in to work and made it to the end of the week. Made it to the weekend I had been building up to for months. The 24 hour endurance mountain bike race: Strathpuffer. And I felt like shit.
The fact that I couldn’t climb half a set of stairs without keeling over and gasping for breath should have been enough of a sign for me. I ignored it. The fact that friends were telling me to just give it a miss should have had some swaying power as well. The fact that Ian’s car’s warning lights were creating a dashboard disco and the power kept cutting out during our journey to Strathpeffer should have been a very clear indication that I should just abandon the race. But I was so tired of being tired, and in bed. And what better way to shake off a lingering virus than to trudge around a 6+ mile lap of muddy trails on a mountain bike in the middle of a Scottish winter for 24 hours?
Trying to ignore the pang of heartache I felt as ‘Heroes’ blasted out of the loudspeakers as I ran past the event marquee for the start, I quickly found my bike and unenthusiastically set off uphill.
Thankfully, I didn’t last that long. Truth be told, within the first 10 minutes, pedalling up a hill on a pretty easy track, I knew it was all over. My heart rate was through the roof, I felt like I was climbing Everest in one of my easiest gears, and I had no energy left at all. Despite the sinking realisation that this race would be a massive embarrassment, the weather had transformed from lashings of rain to sunshine, blue sky, and mild temperatures (for winter)! I was determined to take it easy and enjoy being outdoors on a perfect day.
Apparently I was taking it a little too easy, as the leader (or the second rider of a storming team) lapped me about 10 minutes before I finished my first lap, which was fairly soul destroying. I finally made it to the timing marquee at the start, logged my time, and went to find Ian, who was enjoying the sunshine in a folding chair, for something to drink.
Gulping down an entire bottle of Lucozade, I was having to fight hard against the burning desire to just say, “I’ve had enough, let’s go back to the hotel.” There was a slim chance I would get a second wind (or first wind, in this case), so I tried not to let on how I was feeling, and was soon rasping towards the start of my second lap.
There would be no improvement. Lap two was even worse – and I spent a lot of time moving to one side to let the leading riders pass. It was a beautiful day, but the only place I wanted to be was in bed. I did stop for a souvenir shot, as I didn’t anticipate passing this point again, and I gave what was likely the biggest smile I could muster by this point. Shortly afterwards, I hit a wet patch on a rock going downhill and came flying off of my bike, landing on the muddy track. There was blood seeping through my leggings before I even had a chance to get back on my bike and set off again.
By the time I reached the final stretch, an unforgiving downhill section through thick, churning mud so deep you could come to a complete stop if you ceased pedaling, I was done. It was with relief that I handed in my timing dabber to the organizer and let him know I was out after two measly laps.
I found Ian, still basking in sunshine, and told him my decision before we hit up the queue for the bike wash.
Fast forward a couple of hours and I was back at the hotel, freshly showered, and trying to pack all of my muddy layers neatly into a bag to avoid cross-contamination with the abundance of ‘extra’ clothes I had brought to keep me dry throughout the event. Bruised, bloodied, and beaten, we opted to just head back to Aberdeen and try and salvage what remained of the weekend, which, for me, involved a whole lot of sleeping.
Although I would love to give this event a proper go next year when I’m not feeling under the weather, I’d like to try and convince people to make up a team (of two or four) as I think it would be a fantastic atmosphere if we were to make a weekend of it. It’s also a lot more fun taking part in events where you actually know some of the other people. For now, though, I’m focusing back on the road – and my bitchin’ indoor setup when the weather is less-than-pleasant: