The question that I keep mulling over is 'would I do it again?'.
It took a day or so to be able to even think about doing it again. And I think there’s two possible answers (both of which are yes!).
Either do it slower, and take more time to appreciate it. I did lots of appreciating, but there was also lots that I whizzed past. If I went for this approach, given I wouldn’t be racing, it would probably make more sense to do it in the summer when the daylight is longer. If anyone reading this wants to do it then I think it would be amazing trip, and I’m very happy to share my routes.
Or try to do it inside GC, which leads to the inevitable question….
Could I do it faster?
This is a long one, but I'm hoping these learnings are food for thought for anyone in a similar position of considering their first ultra race, of areas they can work on in advance.
Distance per day
For me, far, far harder than the physical side, was the self-sufficiency factor. As a self-supported race you're not allowed to pre book any accommodation, so each day you need to make a call on where you think you can get to and by when, and find somewhere to stay which will still be open when you expect to get there. And I think this is where I lost time, my biggest fear was getting to my destination, and not finding anywhere to stay.
I'd got an emergency bivvy bag, but never having bivvied before, and with temperatures regularly dipping down below 5 degrees, (and those who know me will know I'm not the best in the cold, regularly getting numb, blue fingers in the middle of summer) I wasn't keen to test it out. So I panic-booked somewhere that I knew I could definitely get to before it shut.
And for the first few days at least, I'm pretty sure that if I'd been a bit more confident to take a risk, or spent a bit longer looking for places with late check in, I could have kept going for another 50km or so each day.
Of course I don't know the impact this would have had later on in the race, yes I felt fine, but would I still have felt like that the following day, with another 50k in my legs and a good few hours less sleep (and probably nowhere open to buy food for the evening or next morning when I stopped)? And could I keep that going day after day? Or would it have been a false economy, and I'd end up slowing by the end. There were plenty of people who would ride much later into the night than me, but then they’d start later the next day. For my head, and despite how much better I’ve got at night riding, it was better to start early and know it would (eventually) get light, rather than keep riding deeper and deeper into the darkness.
Should I have bivvied? A lot of the people at the pointy end of the race bivvied a fair bit (and a lot didn't, and a lot who did scratched) and I think when you're experienced, can spot a good place, and have the right kit (and probably it's not October), it can save time. But speaking to a lot of the people I was riding with (at the less pointy end!) it was often a false economy (in terms of time, it does definitely save money!). People slept badly then ended up making poor decisions or had to sleep early/ in the day, the next day. Plus, given how much of an issue saddle sores are on this type of race, for me a chance to wash me and my shorts every day was invaluable.
Another key factor is how much time I spent on non-essential tasks, both in the hotel (where faff time could be sleep time or ride time) and during the day.
My non moving time each day was about 2-3 hours. I got better at speedy food buying as I went but could still improve. I focussed on nutrition rather than just calories and this definitely slowed me down in the short term (rather than just buying a pizza in the evening I'd try and find a supermarket and get some protein, and some sort of veg). Arguably this sped up recovery so helped maintain speed, and in the context of a daily diet which often revolved around not much more than coffee, pan au chocolate and Snickers, I could feel my body wimpering for something green, but for a 1 week race I should probably learn to just accept what there is.
I definitely faff too much during the day. There was a day where I was bunny hopping the same people. It was a hilly day and I’m light so comparatively riding faster, but they’d constantly over-take me whilst I put layers on or took them off at the side of the road. I’m not sure I could change this, I’ve experimented with a million different layer options, but I’ve got a very inefficient internal thermostat and I am usually either shivering with cold or dripping with sweat, whilst others haven’t noticed a temperature change.
For a much hotter ride, I would have followed my own advice on heat acclimation training, and sometimes I just need to push through. But heat, dehydration, and the cold, are all big determinants of performance, so some of the time that would be a false economy. I could definitely improve on studying the course profile so I know when it’s a 30 minute descent and I need to wrap up so I can still feel my hands by the bottom, or a 10 minute one where I just need to grin and bear it.
Plus because I’m pretty short and so have a small bike, there’s very little clearance between front and back wheels and the bags I was using. The lovely people from Apidura had attached an additional strap to my seat pack to help lift it up a bit more, but every time I got anything in or out of either bag, it took quite a while to get it set up properly again so it wasn’t rubbing. If I do this again, I definitely need to improve on my luggage options (it’s less about how much I was carrying, and more about the ‘girth’ of the bag), and maybe get some 650b wheels.
And I could have minimised hotel faff – I’d definitely have had more sleep if I'd spent less time doing Insta updates, but I can't quantify how much stronger I felt for all the support I was getting from friends online. Plus, as someone with a useless memory, it really helped me capture the memories. Other than in moment of weakness checking on Hector (see below), I didnt really follow the race online at the time, as I think that could have led to hours of ‘wasted’ time.
I also washed my clothes every evening, and whilst this was more pleasa