Last week we had a brilliant write-up by the male winner of the 2013 Strathpuffer event in Scotland, Jason Miles, which was an insight into the kind of mind-set of a solo 24hour race winner. And now we have another treat for you Bike Magic readers as the female winner and 6th place overall Lisa Kamphausen tells us how she did it.
Go ahead, Lisa:
STRATHPUFFER THE 5TH
Words: Lisa Kamphausen
Photos: Jon Brooke
"Showers then heavy rain Saturday, gales, thaw" - The forecast the week before Strathpuffer was its usual cheerful self then. Ah well, suppose it wouldn't be the 'Puffer without it.
The four previous times I have done this race there have been 24 hours of rain, sheet ice, deep snow, and anything in between… So I arrived at the site Friday afternoon in the rain, walked to Contin's village hall in the rain to eat far too much pasta, went to sleep in my tent listening to the rain, and was a bit disappointed that I would not need my new deadly looking ice tyres. Saturday morning changed all though, it had been a cold night and I'd never seen so many people frantically putting spikes on their wheels. Sheet ice fire road here we go, perfect conditions. Ice is quite fast to ride on, certainly faster than mud, and you've just got to close your mind to the horrible scratching noises of ice tyres on rocks. It would be way better if they made sparks, but after 24h of checking I can say with some certainty that they don't. The geologists in 10,000 years will have a great time working out what the weird 21st century humans were up to on those rocks...
Ice is quite fast to ride on, certainly faster than mud, and you've just got to close your mind to the horrible scratching noises of ice tyres on rocks.
10 minutes to go. Some last minute scrabbling to deposit all my kit in the Ben Wyvis Cycle Club gazebo and find the misplaced race number, but I finally had everything lined up. I had been too nervous to eat more than two bites of a sandwich for breakfast but now calmed down – there was nothing I could do at this point other than ride my bike. And I was going to ride it hard. After all I had dedicated the past two years of my life to the worthy cause of riding a bike round a big circle faster, and this was crunch time. I was UBER-motivated. I wanted to win and to come top 10 overall. I wanted to win so badly I had cut out all caffeine to get the maximum benefit from taking it during the night …and I drink A LOT of coffee usually. I had got a road bike. And lycra (shock horror). I had braved the gym to grow some muscles and gone to Pilates classes with old ladies. I had got rollers to be able to do drills all winter despite icy roads. I had even stopped going away for weekends playing in the mountains to be able to fit in recovery time somewhere. I've not always loved all of it, but it's been an amazing two years.
On top of it all I was going to do this race to raise money for the fantastic Kaghan Memorial Trust (of "KMT Tour of the Himalayas" mtb stage race fame) who run a school in northern Pakistan providing free top notch education to marginalised boys and girls. More laps means more pennies to them. Time to make it count.
I had braved the gym to grow some muscles and gone to Pilates classes with old ladies.
16 hours later. Hanging out in a porta-loo does not generally cut it as a reward for riding another fast lap, but while cycling on ice through freezing rain in the middle of the night you'll be surprised at what works. I'd done a good number of laps, no idea how many or what time it was, but it had been dark for ages and I was on target to get another fast lap in.
Little rewards like dry gloves next lap or stopping by the porta-loos helped getting up the grinding fire road climb. The singletrack up top was fun and took much less effort to ride at a good pace, then a flying descent, and repeat. Just keep doing that all night. Keep forcing down freezing sugar water and chewy sugar sweets and keep pedalling. Grind up the climb, enjoy the second half. Legs felt good, and while being on the bike in general was hurting a bit after half a day in the saddle (life is full of surprises) it didn't seem to hurt any less for pedalling slower – so I might as well pedal faster.
My start had been ok, but it is at night when this race really kicks off, and the night was 17 hours long. Slowly over the course of the night I worked my way up the ranks and through the men's solo field (there were only 2 women entered! Bit of a poor show, got to improve that for next year). I wasted a little time putting on dry socks once and getting the ice-tyre tactics slightly wrong, but otherwise didn't stop and when finally the sky changed from black to inky blue, light blue, then grey overcast and rain again, I was up in 6th place. BOOM.
Great thing about soloing is you always get the dawn lap. Time for two more, just had to bring it home now, two hours to go, piece of cake. I got a real kick out of still going (reasonably) fast, flying down the descent a bit quicker every time because I was on first-name-terms with every sodding pebble of this course, and laughing to myself about the absurdity of it all: I was completely delighted because I rode my bike in a circle faster than a few years back, how's that for a goal in life. It felt brilliant.
...I was on first-name-terms with every sodding pebble of this course, and laughing to myself about the absurdity of it all...
This had definitely been the best 24h race I'd done. Twenty-four laps, very symmetrically pleasing. 1st woman, 6th solo overall. That makes five solo Strathpuffers and five podiums. For the first time I'd not had a really bad patch during the entire 24 hours – yes sure there were times when I was struggling, when the chewy sweets didn't want to stay in my stomach, when I got sparkling sharp mud down my pants and when my hands felt too weak to bend with those heavy gloves on (but hey, braking less means going faster), but nothing like as bad as it can be, no dribbling snot and tears and gloom this year. The worst moment (and no, I didn’t really see the funny side at the time) was sometime in the early morning, falling off my bike while riding up a straight bit of fire road which should have been easy, but with only one ice tyre on I kept spinning out the back wheel on the solid ice sheet. Ouch. Scrambled back to my feet only to repeat the performance while trying to get back on the bike. OUCH.
I then insisted on having the 2nd ice tyre back on the bike, whatever if it would cost me 10 minutes. Sulk. But this was the other part of what made this Strathpuffer so much better; I rode for Ben Wyvis Cycle Club and got first class support throughout the race. Not having to fill up my own bottles, being able to keep riding on a spare bike while the other was getting brake pads changed, having someone to keep track on when to swap the batteries of my shiny new Ay Up lights and to tell me to drink more and to put another ice tyre on my bike at 5 am made a massive difference.
Thank you very much to Andy and Stephen P and Ay Up lights and everyone else who made it possible for me to worry about nothing but riding. And of course to the marshals and the volunteers and rest of the Strathpuffer team who have the imagination of making a bike race in January in the north of Scotland an epic success. Here's to next year!
Lisa Kamphausen rides for Ben Wyvis Cycle Club and has done Strathpuffer five times, coming second once and 1st four times. This year she won the women's category and came 6th overall.