Not sure how I entered the Manx 100 but it went something along the lines of I want a long tough race that doesn’t do multiple laps. The Manx 100 seemed the only show in town. I entered not quite realising the significance of over 4,800m of climbing. Some hard training later including the lumpy end of the SDW and back (only 3,800m and that nearly made me cry) and I realised what a tough ask this was.
On the ferry across were serial entrants to 24hr races and winners of stuff all sounding each other out. There was much hand weighing of bikes, talk of lightweight kit, XX1 and previous races. I took no part in this as I was suffering from a massive attack of inferiority and nerves being the only person in sight with a triple let alone a rear mudguard FFS! There were also some very racy tyres - evidence of some serious intent. I got no sleep that night despite a comfy B&B.
6.30am and a police escort away from the TT start line. I started slow and stayed slow. Rather dispiritingly I was in the granny in the first off road section. Navigation was dependant on signs and a map as the Garmin wouldn’t last. The signage was good but in the heat of things it’s easy to miss things. I went wrong for the first time but limited the damage by realising quickly. Throughout I was paranoid about having to re climb a long descent made in error so could be seen checking my map on the start of most of the descents. Time wasting but not as much as getting it wrong (some did just this). I climbed steadily interspersed with manic for just getting up stuff. The climbing was relentless, in places you could see what you had to come for the next 2km. Sometimes a short more level section before hurtling down for long periods amongst a variety of rock sizes - conservative snakeskin Rons and 34psi rear started to make sense!
A few climbs took all I had and a couple of bits had to be walked. There were a variety of ramshackle gates to be negotiated. I quickly learnt the best way was to lift the bike over and climb the gate – I’d been on my own since about 8.30am so this wasn’t as antisocial as it sounds. One contender lost a spoke from catching a shutting gate…. Time ticked away measured by food. Energy bar at half past, gel on the hour, bottle whenever. Climbs and descents interfered, energy bars piled up, gels vanished. I looked forward to the gel, the bar less so.
I disable the distance function on my garmin as on long races I find it just depresses me. The sun continued to shine, a view or two was to be had and I passed Nigel the organiser at the third checkpoint whose infectious enthusiasm cheered me up. I rode near a local for while which helped on navigation and then with Scott one of the organisers who again cheered me up. The following toughest rockiest climb took everything I had and just kept on going. Mental whipping ensued – ‘if not now, when? If not you, who?’ but losing one of my few caffeine gels made me want to cry. It was baking hot, I had finished one and a half of my two bottles, only had 2 gels left, didn’t want to eat energy bars and it was a looong way to the next bag drop. Enter ‘I’m wrecked and I’ve got the same again to endure’ state. Just as it doesn’t take much to get into these state so little things help. Grinding up a very steep tarmac climb I am greeted by a large homemade sign next to a hose – ‘MTB100 – help yourself to water if you need it – you nutters’ – almost a tear to my eye and then a little further on a local with water by his car offering encouragement. CP4 offers bottled water and I grab one to stick in my own empty bottle. The rider I’d spend 15minutes catching and passing doesn’t stop and passes me, it takes me 10minutes grinding uphill to pass back.
A more interesting wooded section suddenly (well an hour later) gives in to the most insane experience of the race. Blessedly unaware of it I drop into a steep downhill narrow gulley heralded by a couple of sharp bends and some rocky steps. There follows 1.5km of steep rutted gulley filled with rubble the size of building blocks (of which there were a few!) Point the bike approximately avoiding the largest, wrists down, heels down and arse way out back and the bike crashes down like a thing possessed. Glasses head down my nose, can’t take hand off bars, arms pump, rocks fly off the bike and the chain on the front mech sounds like a machine gun then onto concrete and it’s over. WTF was that?. Later Nigel tells me this section is removed from the End to End race as being ‘too dangerous’ – his course is made of sterner stuff……
Things go a bit missing then until it starts to rain. I am up high. I put on my gilet and keep going. It rains hard, I descend, I am cold, I am really cold, the single track on the moorland is a stream – knew I kept the mudguard on for a reason! I reach the road and realise as I try to lift the bike over the gate that I have to do something. Arm warmers – if ever there was an advert for Castelli’s nanoflex it’s this – I go from a trembling wreck to bearable in as long as it takes to put them on – about 3 minutes each on wet arms! I neck a couple of gels and feel vaguely human but the faintest issue is going to put me in a very bad place and if I get a puncture I sense I’ll jack. Snakeskin do thy work! I realise I’ve let things drift over the last hour and try harder on climbs to at least get warmer.
A short road section gives me some respite before the inevitable climb back up but this is heading to checkpoint 6 which is well on – spirits are reviving despite the lashing rain. I pass a couple of people and the sight of their mud plastered arses gives me a pathetic sense of superiority – mudguard. At the next checkpoint I am bitterly disappointed to see that the route is next to the road not on it. My riding ability, such as it was, is now severely depleted and I fall on the soft heather on the side of the rut. Checkpoint 7 brings the final bag drop with a huge stack of gels that I raid before heading into what I quickly realise is some serious wooded, rooty and rocky single track. I lack the nerve to commit and keep stalling – I walk.
More woodland – about an hour of it but it’s the home straight. Checkpoint 8 and its 10miles mainly road and I know the way ‘cos I rode it last night. The rain has stopped and I have a chance to get my average to 8mph. I ride hard, really hard, hard enough I wonder if I’ve been slacking to have this energy. I enter the last little track, hurtle down the descent, smash through the river and climb up to the last checkpoint – finished! It’s over – well just the untimed 2miles back to the grandstand.
Inside is a warm fug, some clean (fast) and some filthy riders. A great spread of homemade food and hot sweet tea. Nigel hands me the medal – a great metal thing that weighs heavy and the post-race dissection starts. 34 starters, 27 finishers but a tremendous sense of something shared as people continue to arrive. The last finisher arrives at 9.35pm – just over 15hours after the start – hardcore or what!
I wobble back to the B&B filled with food and tea but with room for Guinness. Next day on the ferry I look on the website to see results – the counter is reset to count to next year’s event. Will I be back?
The Manx 100 – mental!