The reasons why.....
So, where do I start with this one?! The Bare Bones 200 (BB200) is a brutal bike-packing event like no other. Covering challenging terrain and featuring over 200km riding with 5000m elevation gain – all un-supported. All for the chance to earn the BB200 sew on badge gained for either sub 24hrs or sub 36hrs (which is the cut-off point). The organiser has earned themselves a bit of a reputation for developing epic and gruelling routes, some may say even a little sadistic in nature.
Before we move forwards perhaps, it would be easier if I back pedalled a year? No pun intended. As you are aware, 2020-21 saw most triathlon events being cancelled, postponed, or adapted due to the pandemic. As a result, in the last two seasons, I have had only one event go ahead as planned, all the others postponed, and the one big event that did go ahead, was adapted to have no crowds, or the infamous climb it is well known for, so I opted to defer it to 2022 along with the others.
This obviously left me with not much to aim or train for. I am a highly driven, and motivated individual. It’s even my job to motivate people as a triathlon and NHS health and wellbeing coach, but I will be honest, I just could not be arsed to train and I started to develop some unhealthy habits. I soon realised I needed something to fill the triathlon training-gap, something a little different to not only challenge me, but also to frighten the hell out of me too.
So, I went and entered the Bare Bones 200.
Now is a good point to introduce my mate Andy, who took part in the event too.
I have known Andy for over 20 years. We met when working in the same building and discovered we both frequently visited techno gigs in the ‘90s and ‘00s. We hung around for quite a few years, but as we got older, had families, stopped going to raves, and drifted in differing directions - losing contact for a number of years. Then around 3 years ago, we bumped into each other at a family restaurant, exchanged numbers, followed each other on social media, and have kept in touch since. A touching story of reunion, I know!
As you are aware I am a triathlete. Andy is a keen mountain biker/bike packer, who has done some crazy events over the last few years. We kept meaning to meet up for a ride, but due to the difference in cycling disciplines, we really didn’t get chance until I purchased a gravel bike. Since then, we have been having the odd ride here and there. Andy casually mentioned he’d be taking part in the Bare Bones 200 and asked me if I fancied having a crack at it too. That’s how I came to be doing the event. Long-winded way of getting to the point, but a point I felt made the story a lot better to include detail of our re-kindled friendship.
So, with my new race planned in the calendar, (although apparently, we can’t call it a race because that would require official support), my adventure training plan started. Realistically I had 3 months to build my endurance for what was eventually 20 hours in the saddle with no sleep. What I decided from the offset, was that I wasn’t going to take this event seriously (some may be thinking, Yeah, right!). It was off-season I was going to continue to relax my diet, and I was going to have a few drinks on a Friday. The reason for this? Because I have spent the last 9 years training with structure, and doing it with strict regimes, and quite frankly, this Covid malarkey has just beaten me mentally and I felt it would do me good to approach it this way.
Moving forward to the main event…
This cycling challenge was based in Wales, roughly in the area of the Cambrian mountains, slipping into Shropshire and back. It starts from a small village community centre; you are issued a GPX-File to follow and away you go. You are fully self-supported with no outside assistance. If you veer off course for any reason, you must re-join at the point at which you left. If you have an injury, it’s up to yourself to get medical assistance, if you have a mechanical it’s up to you to sort it out. All participants must carry a sleeping bag, a waterproof shelter, and whatever else you think you need. In a nutshell, here is the route, hopefully see you back here within 36 hours, if not, the community centre will be shut and you won’t even get your sew on patch, harsh right?!
The night before we stopped in a pub hotel. The sun was out, and it was t-shirt weather in Wales in October. We obviously had a few beers, got the bikes ready, and set about eating a large pub meal before trying to get an early night. Unfortunately for Andy, in the early hours of the morning, he started with diarrhoea and vomiting, which we think was from his meal, not a good start I know. However, he decided he would start no matter what, and then revaluate the situation as he went on.
In terms of bikes and equipment, Andy had the proper bike for the job with massive tyres and suspension and with all the kit. I used a gravel bike with some beefed up tyres, no suspension, and the best kit on a budget I could buy, (as I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this adventure bike-packing malarkey). Off we set, just before 8am. Starting with undulating roads, which was a bonus for me, but not so much for Andy’s set up. I knew I just needed to keep in my own tempo, and knowing Andy may pull out with his sickness, I started to pull away thinking he may catch me up as we hit the off-road sections.
We pulled off-road after an hour onto a long steady climb through a forest, on what was quite a nice hardpacked gravel road and descended at speed onto some more undulating roads. I was thinking if the whole ride was like this, then it wouldn’t be too bad after-all. But oh, how wrong was I?! The next section was on a new farm road laid with chunks of slate, that had just been freshly laid, and not impacted down to even drive over. The only vehicle that would have got up this, was the tracked excavator that was parked up at the top as we hit the descent. How the hell I didn’t get a puncture at this point is beyond me.
The first 30km seemed quite easy, with a mix of gravel, tarmac, grass, and climbs that didn’t even challenge the legs. I decided from the start, I was going to decompartmentalise the ride into 8ths, which basically meant ticking off 25km sections as we went. I was buzzing, thinking I would get to the 50km marker before midday, and I was starting to wonder why the organiser had been labelled with such a sadistic reputation after all. Then we hit a dirt road climb that I kid you not, wasn’t far off a 1 in 3 climb! It was 2 minutes into pushing a fully loaded bike up the hill, that my calves started to burn so much, I was already starting to hate the person who would organise such an event, and unrelenting this type of terrain went on for the next 100km.
To be honest, from 50km to the 100km point, it was all a bit of a blur. I was either riding, pushing, dragging, or holding on for dear life. What I do remember though is a small community cafe had opened up especially, and for £13 you got two sandwiches, a piece of cake, a piece of flap jack, a banana, and as much hot and cold drinks as you wanted, which is good because I had just emptied my last bottle. This type of terrain went on, and I was pretty much on my own from the café. It was just before the 100km marker when we left Wales and entered into Shropshire. It was around 5pm and after pushing my bike uphill for what seemed like an eternity. I decided to celebrate at the top by taking a break, watching the sun go down, and poking down the piece of delicious carrot cake from the cafe.
As the sun disappeared over a hill, I decided to gear-up and put some warmer kit on, turned my lights on, and planned in my mind to stop at the pub at approx. 111km to top up on fluids. It was within the next 11km that I met some fellow riders, another Andy and Tom who were also planning a stop at the pub to replenish their stocks. I tried to keep with these guys, but jeez they were experienced and seasoned riders across this type of terrain, to put this into perspective, they had set off 2 hours after me and caught me up.
I arrived at the pub for 7pm to a very welcome warm cup of tea. I bought some salty nuts, topped up with water, made further acquaintances with more riders, and set off with the idea of just keeping going until midnight and try find somewhere reasonable to sleep. Just after the pub, was a clonker-McGee of a climb, following a single-track route through ferns. It was so steep; we pushed our bikes for 10 minutes and covered 350m of
climbing within just 2 km.
I lost touch with the other two riders and seemed to be on my own for what seemed an eternity. Again, things where just a blur, I was just ticking off the kilometres in my mind and sticking to my plan of eating every 30 minutes and drinking every 15. The body was holding up quite well to be fair, I thought I would have blown up at least once before now. My training over the last three months had led me to hiring a strength and conditioning coach, and incorporating regular yoga classes for 15 weeks straight. So, I can only thank Matt for making me so robust, and because of this, I was also feeling mentally resilient and had not yet lost my sense of humour.
From conversation with a rider earlier in the day, who had completed his homework in observation of the gpx route, I recollected he’d mentioned that once 160km was completed, the route only had one big climb left, then it was practically downhill on good roads for the rest of the way to the finish. I knew rain was forecast for around 3am, with that in mind, around 2am at 140km, I made the decision I wouldn’t be stopping for sleep. I would just push on through, get the last 60km smashed in, and then try and get some sleep in the car later. I took two caffeine gels, snaffled a whole flapjack and half a Kendal mint cake bar, drank a whole bottle of water and set about pushing on. The last time I pulled an all-nighter with Andy was nearly 18 years ago at a grubby underground techno rave in Hull.
At 160km, true to word, things did become easier. However, here on in I was battling a mechanical. The right hood on my bike had rattled itself loose. The hood was only hanging on by the cables and bar tape. This being far beyond my basic mechanical knowledge of consisting mainly of changing a puncture or putting applying some chain lube, I just persevered the best I could until I got back to the car. The main problem being was that the hood held not only my brake, but also changed gears for the rear cassette, for this to continue working I had to place my thumb around the bar and my fore and index fingers pulled towards the bar and had to change gear and brake with the pinkie, literally feeling like hell in itself.
I eventually completed the course in a respectable total elapsed time of 20 hours and 26 minutes, with total riding time of 17 hours. However, pushing my bike up hills so steep, was not actually accounted for, as the gps went into auto-pause as I was moving too slow for it to register. If I could put the ride into percentages, I would say I rode for 70% of the time, stopped to refuel and refreshments 10% of the time, and resorted to pushing the bike uphill for 10%, with the remaining 10% opening and closing bloody cattle gates.
Having reached the end of my arduous journey, I stripped off, got wrapped in my sleeping bag in my car and trying to get a few hours kip. Meanwhile, Andy the total legend had managed to push through his sickness bug, and finished strong coming in just a couple of hours after me meaning we both joined the sub 24 hour club for this race
Food for thought…
Throughout my travels in total I consumed x5 Mountain Fuel Orange gels, x4 Mountain Fuel Caffeine Cola gels, X3 Mountain Fuel Flapjacks, x6 Scoops of Mountain Fuel energy powder in drinks, x10 SIS electrolyte tabs, x5 Aldi paleo bars, x3 bags of salted peanuts, x5 Soreen pack lunch minis, x2 Belgium sugar waffles, x1 banana, x2 egg mayonnaise sandwiches, x1 piece of carrot cake, x1 homemade flapjack, 3 cups of coffee, 1 cup of tea, 4 litres of water, and staggeringly by my calculations still remained 1600 calories in deficit?
Thanking my good pal Andy for the laughs along the way, the support in training and the event itself for providing such an awesome alternate challenge to triathlon. Thanks also go out to Matt my strength coach for getting me in tip top condition, and finally to Vive Le Velo for sorting me an awesome bike, and some amazing tyres that did not puncture once.
Now for two weeks rest, then back to my beloved triathlon.
Will I do another event like this? Yet to be decided.