Let's get this straight...4.45am is never a good time to wake up. Especially when you've then got to spend 8 hours riding for 100km up and down 3500m of climb and descend on some of the toughest terrain in the British Isles.
This was the reality facing me on the morning of Sunday 28th July 2013, the date which on which I had foolishly signed up for the second running of the Manx Mountain Bike Club's 'Manx 100' endurance challenge.
My personal preparations for the event had gone ok. I had come off nights a full 4 days prior to the day so had a chance to get my body clock back in kilter. My wife was away on a hen weekend and i'd managed to farm off our two year old son on to the in-laws so that I could get a full night's sleep and a relaxing evening prior.
4 Weetabix, two bananas and a very strong coffee were laid out the night before and forced down minutes after my rude awakening. I always struggle to eat that early and this morning was no different, but I knew that I had to get as much energy down my neck as possible ready for the challenge that lay ahead.
It had been the driest summer since 2006 on the Island, it had barely rained since TT and the ten foot snow drifts of March were a distant memory. The trails were in belting nick and there was barely a puddle to be seen.
I picked up fellow southerner Dave at 5.30am on the dot and we began our intrepid journey north to the Point of Ayre for a 7am start. The statutory toilet stop in Bride village taken care of, we arrived with 20 minutes to spare. As the dusk cleared we could both see that the overnight rain had cleared and what appeared to be a fine day lay in prospect.
The 100 starts in exactly the same spot as the massively popular End to End challenge but the two couldn't be more different. The E2E attracts nearly 2000 competitors and is a sprint compared to the 100. The start of the E2E is a proper bun fight with seeded riders getting a preferred start position and the rest left to fend for themselves with elbows nicely sharpened. PA systems and thumping music greet the waiting masses at the E2E whilst the 22
idiots challengers taking on the 100 were given a two minute pep talk by organiser Nigel Morris and then told to get they hell out of his sight before they changed their mind.
The pace from the Point of Ayre to Lezayre was relatively sedate. An elite group containing eventual 100 mile winner Richard Rothwell, locals Paul Renshaw and Julian Corlett and visiting rider Matt Jones gained a small gap through Bride village and were not to be seen again by the rest of us.
A ten or so strong group cruised to the bottom of Sky Hill and began the day's first climb. I stopped for a piss and the group bimbled away in to the distance. We followed the Island's Millennium Way for about twenty minutes on to the open moorland by which I'd reeled the group in and took the initiative on the first quick descent down to Sulby. I'd gained a small gap by the Ginger Hall pub on the TT course then came the horrendously steep climb through Ohio plantation. It wasn't worth scrabbling up the steep bits so I got off and walked, catching glimpse of the group a minute or so behind me as I did so. From the top of the plantation it was up and up and up to the Black Hut on the TT course.
This was the 20 mile point already, and one of the designated feed stations and bag drops organised by Nige and his band of merry men. I wasn't treating this as a race, more of a challenge to do the distance so took my time refilling my Camelbak and wolfing down a jam sandwich. By the time i'd got back on my trusty Trek Rumblefish the group had caught and passed me. A short stint on the TT circuit took us along to the Verandah. Those who have seen TT: Closer to the Edge will remember this as the site of Conor Cummins' horrendous crash in the 2010 Senior. Thankfully this morning there were no such incidents and all riders were present and correct.
A short moorland climb took us over to the exhilarating descent in to Laxey. I caught a glimpse of a couple of riders up ahead and could see I was gaining some time on them on the descent. Opening and closing gates were a hindrance though, especially for a solo rider with nobody to tag team them with.
Through Laxey village and up a steep road climb towards Glen Roy, the long drag back up to the TT course at Windy Corner lay in wait. The bottom of the track seemed more loose and rock strewn than usual and a couple of hand-plants on the stone wall at the side of the track helped maintain my momentum. I kept fellow 100km competitor Nick Stuber at arms length up here but 100 mile man Steve Kelly was pulling away steadily.
Crossing the TT course at Windy Corner I received some choice words of encouragement from Nigel Morris and was happy to see my dad having managed to catch me. Dad would follow me for the rest of the day and provide invaluable support. I managed to catch and pass Nick and Steve dropping in to the East Baldwin valley and gapped them quite quickly.
Next came the road climb over Algare hill and the ominous climb known locally as simply 'St Lukes' which also forms part of the Millennium Way. St Lukes starts steadily, mellows for a short while then really ramps up in the technical stakes. It's a challenging descent on a big hitting trail bike and a challenge to ride 'clean' in the other direction. I was passed by Steve about a third of the way up and plodded on steadily. I knew that Steve is going well this year; he won the Loaghtan Loaded 24hr race five weeks ago as a solo so I didn't see myself living with him. I couldn't see any riders behind me so was quite happy with my pace.
We'd done more climbing and miles across the ground than I would usually do on a 'long' ride by this time and upon hitting the Brandywell road the course took us back north again! We were still only a few miles from Ramsey which I found rather disconcerting. The fast descent down former E2E climb Ballacobb gained me a bit more time but I wasn't taking any unnecessary risks. I had to pick the missus up from the airport at 6 after all!
'The Baltic' climb from Kirk Michel village is steep, hot and rocky. I'd taken to walking the steep bits even on road by now as I could feel cramp setting in and didn't want to push it. A group of Enduro riders held the gate open for me as gravel road turned even rockier but I didn't have the heart to tell them that i'd have preferred the respite!
Steve Kelly was halfway up with his bike upturned and rear wheel in hand. He'd run out of tubes and canisters and had another flat so I handed him my pump, tyre boot and a tube and soldiered on. He would eventually finish the 100 mile event in 11hrs 45mins. I was also catching Les Corran who had run out of water and food and was in a really dark place further up. Thankfully the 50 mile food stop was just over the hill.
My dad met me at Brandywell and provided me with a water refill and another jam sandwich. By now we were thankfully heading along the traditional E2E course towards St Johns but in contrast to the bigger event we tackled the infamous 'Dowse' descent which popped us out on the TT course again near Ballig Bridge.
For me, tackling the shorter event, the end was now in sight. A small diversion around St Johns took us out to Peel on the Heritage Trail then the last climb of the day was up the ludicrously steep Barnell. My dad had told me in St Johns that I was leading the 100km event so I just needed to stay ahead of the next man. I walked the worst sections of Barnell and kept checking behind to make sure I wasn't going to get caught with my trousers down. The final descent took us down the famous E2E climb of Slieau Whallian. I had a last glimpse over my shoulder as I crested the last climb and could see a rider reaching the top of Barnell.
The bottom of Slieau Whallian was an utter relief as I clocked out with the marshall and received my medal. My legs were spent and I simply couldn't imagine riding another 40 miles. Steve, Les and then Nick came through with Nick taking second in the 100km event and the other pair pushing on to finish the whole thing.
In the end there were 10 finishers of the 100 miler and 6 in the 100km event. My hat goes off to everyone who completed both distances, but especially those doing the whole thing. It is one hell of an undertaking.
The event is organised by Nigel Morris of the Manx Mountain Bike Club who also organise numerous local races and the enduro format 'Legs of Mann' each May. Both deserve bigger entries for the amount of work that goes in to them so the aim of this post is to spread the word...sorry if it's been a bit arduous of a read!
Visit manxmtb.com or facebook.com/TheManx100?fref=ts for more information