The 12 Hour – Hour by Hour

Here’s a repost of something I wrote a while back: a club magazine article about the 2012 national 12 hour TT champs, where we (Clifton CC) fielded three riders. Tough conditions, bad pacing and some keen intra-club competition made this into the most painful day of my life – and I’ve been in the backs of enough ambulances that I don’t say that lightly! Read on to find out whether I managed to retain the club trophy …

The 2012 national 12 hour time trial - pic 1

After only four 12 hour rides in the preceding decade, Clifton were fielding three riders in one go! The national championship was on the local course this year: five laps of a 40 mile circuit near Pocklington, then a 14 mile finishing circuit until the clock ran out, at which point Tim Richardson, Gill Crane and I would have raced for a total of 36 hours and covered nearly 700 miles. Here’s a taste of what it feels like to ride a 12 hour, hour by hour.

Hour -1
After getting to bed eleven I was up at half four, cramming myself with as many carbs as possible before Gill collected me to drive to the start. She was off early so I kicked around the paddock for a bit; cheering people off, waving at familiar faces, quelling Tim’s pre-race nerves and locking my cap and gloves in his car (oops).

Hour 00
“Go on Greg!” The course started with a 7 mile dogleg and Tim passed me at the precise moment I was pushed off. This was useful: the point where we met on each lap would tell us both who was in the lead. Then again, it could also make for a nerve-racking race. I wasn’t sure I could sustain that sort of adrenaline for 12 hours.

Hour 01
All the advice says not to go off too fast. I’d started cautiously and my minute-man soon passed me. “Fool” I thought, “I wonder how soon I’ll catch him?” Now I was riding the first southerly stretch, where the wind was slowing me down to a depressing, painful crawl. If I was going to do anything today, this had better improve at the turn! Surely enough it did, and I clicked up the gears to an effortless 25mph as soon as I turned west. The wind was to be a major feature throughout the day, with each lap holding its cycle of head then tailwind, pain then rest.

Hour 02
I’d not seen Tim anywhere as I approached the HQ. If he was well in the lead, he may already have made the Rossmoor turn and disappeared from view, but that could mean he’d set off too fast and was about to blow up. I’d been rather quick myself and I was now four minutes up on the schedule I’d taped to my top tube – and I’d written that for a good day with no wind. Had I gone off too fast? Would I pay for it later? Only time would tell; right now I had to concentrate on finding club chairman Paul to pick up a bottle and some food.

Hour 03
Tim had shown up a mile or so after the HQ, and Gill a couple of miles after him. That meant I had the lead! It also meant I now had to hold it for ten hours. Gulp.

Hour 04
I needed to stop for some chamois cream [gory details redacted]. Still, it was a real lift to see Paul and his daughter out supporting us. Staying focussed to push yourself for 12 hours is a tough game, and seeing their familiar faces was a welcome break in the day. I’d held my slim lead so far, and had also held my four minutes, which meant I was slower than on the previous lap. How much would I continue to slow?

RTTC National 12 Hour 2012

Hour 05
Back into the headwind again. This was hellish, I was dying into this stupid wind. I needed a break, badly. My neck was also beginning to go: I’d erred on the side of aggression when setting up my position on the bike and now I was seriously worried whether my head would stay up for the next seven hours.

Hour 06
I was stopping. Not for long, but I needed a break. I couldn’t stop on my first pass though: that would be halfway through the race, and the prospect of riding all that again would crush me. Instead, I took the proffered marmalade sandwiches, called for tea on the return and ground out the extra seven miles. My dad was there when I got back, taking over for the afternoon support shift. I handed my bike to Paul, asked him to put another spacer under the stem, and sunk onto the grass for a few blissful minutes before wearily climbing back on and heading off for another six hours’ purgatory. I was now bang on schedule, which meant I’d lost time on the last lap. I shuddered to think how much I’d lose next time round – or maybe I was just shuddering anyway.

Hour 07
Back into the wind, for what would be the penultimate drag down to the A163. I hated this stretch, hated it with a passion, and had been mentally ticking it off for several hours. I fantasised as I battled the headwind across the featureless landscape: were I to design a course, it would have lots of trees on all the southerly and westerly stretches but be bare on the rest. This course, perversely, seemed to do things the other way round. Accident of fate, or a cruel joke?

RTTC National 12 Hour 2012

Hour 08
Amazingly, my lead over Tim had been preserved despite my stop. He had been feeling equally bad – they say that everyone has a bad patch somewhere on a 12 – and had chosen the same time to stop for his own R&R break. I discovered this when I met him at our now customary place, a mile after the HQ. Four more hours – could I hold on? Could he?

Hour 09
My neck was really starting to worry me now. I was spending less time on the tribars, more on the drops or even the tops. The three quarter mark was welcome, but a quarter of 12 hours is still a long way and what’s more, this would be the most painful part.

Hour 10
Onto the finishing circuit. I was half an hour behind schedule and due to the layout of the course, I hadn’t seen Tim this time. I wouldn’t see him until the end now, and the race was wide open. Perhaps it was better not to know: I could ride my own race at last.

Hour 11
Someone handed me a sponge. It’s amazing how fresh you feel when you get rid of a day’s accumulated sweat salt, road grime and energy goo from your face and arms. One hour to go: I could do this, even if I had to hold my head up to look where I was going – which I might just have to do, as my neck was well and truly killing me. The wind was as bad as ever and staying low for the headwind sections was vital, so I made a point of sitting up on the downwind sections, trying to preserve my poor, sore muscles for when they were most necessary.

Hour 12
“It’s yours, Greg!” That was another Clifton rider heading back the other way. If that was Tim, how could he look so fresh, so soon after finishing? Was this just another cruel joke – was he engaging in psychological warfare, trying to make me slow up? (You can guess what sort of state my mind was in right now.) I passed a timekeeper with a minute to go and four miles to the next TK; I was tempted to stop but I couldn’t afford to do that when Tim and I were only disarrayed by such a narrow margin. I ploughed on into the pain, staring out of the tops of my eyes to see where I was going. When the timekeeper loomed out of the woods, it was all I could do to wheeze out my number, point my bike at the nearest grass bank and collapse for several minutes before stiffly raising my head to look around. Surprise surprise, my minute-man (remember him?) was there, and he was not one but two laps ahead of me, having just set a new record for his age group. After such an amazing performance, it was the least I could do to beg a lift back to the HQ in his car!

The RTTC National 12 Hour 2012

Hour 13
Back at the HQ a selection of riders were tottering around, finally stretching backs that hadn’t left their aerodynamic crouches for 12 long hours. The results board showed that Tim and I had been incredibly close: the difference between his 233.92 miles and my 235.49 was less than five minutes of riding time. Gill had done amazingly well: her 218.42 mile distance marked a new women’s club record. Somehow she had also looked bright and sunny every time I’d seen her during the race. I’ve no idea how she managed that one!

Nik Bowdler won the 2012 national 12 hour championship with 301.71 miles, a distance that until a short time before would have been a record – and all this despite the wind. More was soon to come though: Andy Wilkinson, who had been supporting his wife Jill, was bobbing around at the end, looking sanguine about his own race the next week. Nonetheless, he’d go on to smash all records with an astonishing 317.97 miles. How on earth does he manage it?

At the end of last year’s 12, my main thought was “How the ****** **** did I manage to do a 24?! My overwhelming thought this time was remarkably similar. The 12 is a cruel, vicious beast and I have no idea how anyone manages to ride two of them back to back. My current [in 2012 – Ed.] plan is to find out next year, which means I won’t be riding the 12 itself. If you want to do it, drop me line and I’ll hand you up your bottles. The club record’s only 281.87 miles, surely someone fancies having a crack at it?
[Nobody took me up on the offer but I did ride the 24 – See here fit my account of that event.]

Thanks to the people who supported us: Phil, Paul and Paul’s daughter. Thanks also to the Clifton riders who helped marshal the event; we couldn’t do it without you