My 12 hour TT Race on Sunday 2nd August 2020: How deep can you dig? – 246.5 miles by Lisa Hurrell
I always wanted to complete a 12 hour time trial before reaching 40. Being married to someone who has done 14 of them in his lifetime, I have always been in awe and not being able to comprehend how someone could actually ride their bike for a whole 12 hours and achieve a distance of 238 miles. Graham would talk about experiencing every sort of emotion you could possibly imagine during a 12; anxiety, hope, happiness, strength, love, hate, despair and soul destroying pain. Quite an emotional rollercoaster. I kept saying to myself ‘Yeah one day I’ll do one’ and I’ll put it off with whatever excuse I could think of because why would anyone want to put themselves through that sort of brutality? Training for a 12 is not to be entered into lightly. It takes commitment and huge mental and physical discipline. It’s going to test how deep you can really dig and test what you’re made of.
So 2020 comes and being in my 39th year I thought I am going to do the 12 hour. It’s now or never. So to give myself the best chance I am going to get a coach to help me and I heard that this guy Paul Hart was pretty good and his coached riders were proving that his coaching methods were well up there with PB’s being smashed all over the place. Rave reviews. In 2015 I coached myself and won a lot of races but a disappointing coaching experience in 2016 put me off but I thought I would give this another chance. So my coaching journey for the 12 started in March cycling 6/7 days a week. There were some really gruelling turbo sessions and I barely missed any on top of an often demanding job. I changed roles in June and barely got off on time which worried me and so I started getting up early and doing my workouts at 6am before going into work. Covid 19 descended and put pay to a number of 50’s and 100 mile TT’s I had in mind to prep for the 12. This made me nervous as I like to prep for everything to give myself the best chance of success. As the months went on the ECCA 12 got cancelled so I looked at the Breckland one in Norfolk. I thought this was actually a good sign as I went to university in Norwich (UEA) and so I have a really strong affinity with the county and know the A11 like the back of my hand having travelled up and down it many times for 3 years. So when it was confirmed that Covid was not going to ruin this 12 I thought here we go! I had missed a couple of training sessions due to long hours at work but apart from that I was in really good shape and fitter than I had ever been. I did the Shaftsbury 50 which I was disappointed in my time for (it was still a PB) but it was not my day and I had not been training for speed, I had been training for a 12 which is a different beast. I had a number of long rides under my belt of over 100 miles and I knew I could ride for a long time. 10 years ago I rode to Germany in the pouring rain everyday whilst sitting on a saddle like a razor blade so I thought if I could do that then I know I have got the mental toughness required for the 12. Time trialling is all in the head and if you head isn’t in it then neither is your body. Part of the prep was really getting my head around the psychology and the acceptance that I was going to put my body through the extreme brutality of a 12 hour ride. As much as you train and prepare you still don’t know what’s going to happen or how your body is going to react to that kind of work until you do it. It always astonishes me how I can never replicate the effort of a 10 mile TT if I just go out on my own for a blast. But as soon as you stick a number on my back something changes.
12’s take up a lot of headspace…
Part of the anxiety of the 12 is the logistical preparation. Mine was like a military operation. I catered for every contingency. I had two bikes because so many people swap to a road bike because their back aches from the TT bike after a few hours. I had 3 sets off wheels because I race on tubs so what if I get punctures? The food! Nutrition and fluids and getting that right was crucial. I’d research everything to make sure I was getting the right carb load per hour according to my weight. And what about carb loading? Do I carb load 4 days before? It’s old school but many endurance athletes do it. I didn’t. I ate normally. I’m 60kg and I like to feel sleek on a bike and so carb loading for three days I knew would make me feel extremely bloated and uncomfortable. Tool box for mechanicals was a must. Food supplies catering for every eventuality. What if I fancied a sandwich? Graham said sometimes he would get an intense craving for something savoury like a sausage roll. I said no to this because they’re packed with salt and will dehydrate me. So my nutrition plan was carefully researched and tested on long rides so that I knew with confidence that I was fuelling properly. Bowl and sponge for a wash. This was a must! During one of my 100’s in 28 degree heat Graham handed me a sponge soaked with water and a splash of Brut and it was so nice to squeeze over your face and neck. Really refreshing after getting covered in gels and sugary energy drinks. That went in the car too. I will need a wee at some point maybe refresh chamois cream if my undercarriage was suffering. Bike prep… gut it, clean it, change or clean the chain. A clean bike is a fast bike. Tighten up every bolt. I rode a 50 to break the MADCC club record once and my head set fell apart! My machine needs to be on form. Find any annoying clicks, rubbing sounds… get rid because the smallest things grow like a cancer and can really ruin your ride. Book hotel! I am not travelling to Norfolk in the middle of the night. Get there early, check out the course. I have a bad history of going off course. I qualified for the BBAR in 2015 and I went off course on the Bournemouth 50 and the ECCA 100 – sailed onto the M11! Bed by 8 at the hotel. Up at 4am. Race time 06:18. Start fuelling 07:18.
I was constantly researching blogs about 12’s and picking little nuggets of advice. One of them was lowering your saddle a smidge. I suggested this to Graham to see what he thought. ‘Let’s have look he said’. So I put the bike on the turbo and performed a classic way of establishing if your saddle height is right… pedal backwards on your heels. Graham said ‘Oh my goodness no’. I was rocking all over the place and was finding it almost impossible to turn the pedals back without really overstretching. This made sense now because I always get excruciating hamstring pain in my left leg after riding the TT bike. The length from the top of the saddle to the bottom of the pedal should be the same as my road bike. It was over an inch higher. Literally 2 days before the event and I make a drastic change on my bike that could really ruin the ride. I took the bike out for a test. Naturally I felt scrunched up but I felt a lot more in control perched up on the skis. Hmmmm. Have faith I thought and if it hurts my knees I will stop and re-adjust.
In the run up to the event I did a club 10 and was very disappointed in my time. I wanted to put out a 25 min 10 but did a 26 which was no improvement over last year. I was having doubts about my ability. Then I had to give myself a good talking to and remind myself that I had been training for a 12 hour not a 10 mile TT. I also received some very upsetting news about my former boss who had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease and only had months to live. It really upset me and had quite a profound effect. I was in a bit of a dark mood during the week leading up to it and I wrote in my diary that I was not up for the 12.
So race weekend came after spending two days annual leave sorting things. I felt sick with nerves. Packing the car was a mission with the bike and all the kit. Graham and I discussed how we were going to work out feeds which we did with military precision. We got the hotel after checking out the course, had dinner and then was in bed by 20:30. My goodness the room was hot! 26 degrees. We couldn’t open the windows because they faced on a main road. Total hours of sleep ZERO. Alarm went off at 4am. Up and had a massive bowl of porridge for breakfast then it was off to the race. I felt sick. It’s happening. I’m riding my bike for 12 hours. The aim is to finish it. The club record is 227. If I beat it then that’s a bonus. My plan was to reach the finishing circuit and get a distance. If I needed to keel over and die for a couple of hours I could and I would still get a distance result. So the first 100 miles I aimed to finish in 4:40 hours at an av speed of 21.4mph. Fully expecting the next 100 to be slower I gave myself 5:20 hours to do that at an av speed of 18.8 mph. If I achieved 200 miles by 10 hours I would be on for breaking the ladies MADCC record which had not been broken since 1991. I stuck my plan to the bike frame. I rolled up to the start line. The sun was out and there was a slight wind. The temperature was about 14 degrees. Perfect. And off I went. I went easy and built into it. I had 12 hours to go and had to stay focussed. My heart was pounding at least 20 beats above normal because of my nerves so when I set off my heart rate was way too high. I needed to sort myself out and get into a rhythm. I took an hour for me to compose myself and get settled into the race. Going out on circuit one felt easy. I had the wind behind me and there were a few downhill bits. It was quick before the turn but the drag back was a drag! The road surface was horrid and there was a headwind. It was 10 miles to the next turn so head down and just get through it. At the next turn there were loads of spectators camped up in deck chairs clapping and shouting. It made you feel like a celeb. You never get that on a TT! About 2.5 hours in I needed the loo. I signalled to Graham the need ‘to go’ and he pulled over in a layby and in a rather undignified fashion I relieved myself in about 2 mins and got back on the bike to crack on. I went round circuit one 5 times which I was pleased with. The start of circuit two was hard because by this point the wind whipped up and so I was cycling for 20 miles into a headwind before the turn to come back. There were a few hard drags as well and I didn’t want my heart rate getting too high. This was not on the plan. So I had to keep it steady but with an effort before turning and having the wind behind me which was a nice rest. The second circuit was harder but went better than the first. I also saw Rebecca Hammond and Chris Ridley from my club! They came to watch and every time they passed me in the car Rebecca was dinging her cow bell. It was a real boost and I was really pleased to see them. Fours circuits complete for circuit 2. By 9hours 30 mins I had reached 200 miles! I was well over my target by 30mins! Blimey this is going well I thought! And I felt great. I was feeling strong! I had no blips in my mental strength and just rode the bike. I was even reeling male riders in. Tough strong men and I was sailing past. If I had a liquorice allsort I may have passed one to the riders Beryl Burton style! This is incredible! I hit the finishing circuit at 207 miles with over 2 ½ hours to go. Only 20 more miles to get to beat the record and I can definitely do that in two and a half hours! A third wee stop needed though and so off I got but I couldn’t get back on it. I was so stiff that Graham had to physically hoist my leg over the cross bar and push me off. Come on Lisa! The journey from the A11 to the finishing circuit was hard. Very gradual and energy sapping uphill climb. At the turn I was at 21.1 mph av. I got to the circuit and saw lines of spectators full of friends and loved ones cheering everyone on. It was great! Chris and Rebecca were there with a big sign that said ‘GO LISA’. I cannot tell you how good it is to hear people cheering you on. It really gives you a little boost even when you are turning your body inside out. There was a timekeeper at every mile. The headwind, again, was quite strong. I just kept going. 228 miles clicked over and I punched the air and shouted ‘Record Breaker!’ to Graham. I was so happy. I fulfilled finishing my first 12 and beating the record and still had 2 hours to go! I was smashing it! A part of me wanted it to be over at this point because I still had 2 hours of riding to get through and I had achieved both targets. I could achieve an amazing distance maybe even 250! I then reeled myself in and told myself to stick within myself and don’t blow up. Don’t ruin it now! So I carried on steady. I was now on the gels having kept off them to avoid sugar spikes. The miles ticked over 230, 235, 238 – Graham’s PB beaten! This was crazy! I was still overtaking men who were clearly in agony. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to perform this well. 240, 243, 245! KEEP GOING IT’S NEARLY OVER! The last 20-30 mins were soul destroying. The end was coming but the seconds were not moving fast enough. Everything in my body started to slowly shut down. I didn’t want drinks, gels, food. I was done. I was now suffering. My feet were feathering the pedals as the pain got more intense. My back was tightening up. I am not going to last much longer, this needs to be over. I passed a timekeeper at mile 4 and I still had two minutes to go which meant cycling another mile to the next timekeeper. Oh my God that was a long mile. Please let me stop! I passed the timekeeper at mile 5 and I said ‘Can I stop?!’ ‘Yeah you can stop now’ she replied. Hallelujah! I immediately pulled over and I did not have the strength to unclip from the pedals. I almost toppled over and then I managed to get my left foot out in time. Graham helped me off the bike I was dizzy, delirious and then I proceeded to cry my eyes out Paula Radcliffe style. The emotion of the day just poured out in streams of sobbing tears. Other riders were looking at me probably thinking they’ll be doing the same soon. What an achievement! I lay on the ground and felt the lactic flood my body with worrying immediacy. Owch this is hurting. I couldn’t get up. I could barely walk. It was hot and I started shivering like I was in shock (I probably was). Despite finishing I was physically out of breath for ages even though I was sitting still. Need a drink, get hydrating. I had finished my first 12 and everyone that I had spoken to who had done one before said ‘It hurts.’ Damn right it did! I was so broken but so immensely proud of my achievement. I called my parents first and they were thrilled and glad it was over. My Mum had been awake since 4am worrying! Graham had been updating them all day and sending videos of me pedalling with all that fast traffic on the A11. They didn’t like that. I then called my coach Paul next and he was very pleased. He was also getting regular updates during the day and Graham said he got very excited. After a couple of disappointing races he told me to dust off because the 12 could be my best race yet. He was right! Nothing was ever going to beat this. Nothing. It was nothing short of epic.
So 446.5 miles – a total of 6-7 mins off the bike. I stayed on the TT bike for the whole thing and most of the time on the skis. No road bike needed! Getting this result was way beyond what I had ever imagined or expected.
We met Chris and Rebecca at the end. I had to be undressed and dressed by Graham as I was a complete wreck. Body broken, shaking like a leaf, walking like a cripple but I felt fantastic. I thanked the organiser for putting on a safe event and said it was my first. He was really impressed with my distance and said he and many men couldn’t ride that far especially for the first one.
A cup of tea and some champagne was then had! Then the two hour drive home. I thought I would sleep in the car but I didn’t. I was buzzing. My phone wouldn’t stop ringing and pinging with people asking how I was and what I did. I was immensely proud of myself but also in utter disbelief. All of my mates could not get their head around the fact that I had ridden that far. Neither could I. I had a friend who said her trip to Devon wasn’t that far to put it into perspective!
We got home and I slept like a baby and spent the next day recovering. I still couldn’t walk well. Graham and I debriefed the day. He was nothing short of an absolute angel. He followed me (within the confines of the rules) feed me, encouraged me and kept my nearest and dearest up to date with the day. I absolutely could not have done this without him. He was like a cat on a hot tin roof all day. An absolute dream helper and worth his weight in gold. I will be forever grateful to him for helping me achieve this.
Now lets mention Paul Hart. Graham was very sceptical about the amount of hours I spent on the turbo and the lack of road miles I was doing. In the two week lead up to the event he would say an odd comment that undermined what I had been doing for months which did not help my confidence that all the hard work I was putting in was going to pay off. I tried to ignore and have faith in the programme but living with someone who had 14 of these races under their belt meant I didn’t really have the credibility to challenge much because I had never done one before and didn’t know what to expect. So I continued to trust what I was doing. Paul had me riding six times a week since March. Some of the sessions were really hard and certainly challenged me but I hit them head on because I wanted to do this 12. And it’s alright having loads of road miles if you have time, which I don’t. I am a full time detective Inspector who at the time was working on a busy child abuse and sex offence department. The work can be very emotionally draining and sometimes I didn’t want to train when I got home from a tough day but train I did because I wanted to give myself the best chance of finishing. In June I moved over to Major Crime investigating murders so I was learning a new job on top of this as well and I started training before work. Up at 5:30 and on the turbo by 6am. I like the turbo anyway because there are things you cannot replicate on the road and I respond very quickly to interval training. Paul was very encouraging despite not having done a 12 himself but he had done Ironman’s and these are just as long! One of the key things was around nutrition because you get that wrong you end up bonking which is not a pleasant experience. His plan gave me structure and consistency and above all a plan week by week of what I was going to do. This helps with mental preparation in itself. Now I have some credibility I can safely stick two fingers up at Graham’s sometimes unhelpful ‘old school’ comments! He realises that he should have kept his mouth shut because look who rode 246.5 miles! He could not believe where the ride had come from. Bloody hard work since March is where it come from! Thank you Paul, I also owe my success to you not just from the plan but also from your advice and encouragement.
Everywhere hurt on Monday and I was stiff as hell but the pain was worth it! I then went on to a set of night shifts. I did not plan that well!
When I would tell people that I am training for the 12 or putting in for the 12 I got some mixed responses. Most of them were ‘Why would you want to?’, ‘Do you need a psychiatric assessment?’ to ‘Do it. It will be one of the best achievements of your life’, ‘I’ve done one and never again!’ and ‘Be prepared because it f***ing hurts.’ I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2018 after suffering a very severe relapse in September 2017 where I had been in hospital for a week and it took me 5 months to recover. I couldn’t walk very well and certainly didn’t ride my bike. The nerves in my hands had gone and I suffered terrible electric shock sensations down my spinal cord which were very debilitating. Hearing the words that I had MS are ones that I will never forget. I was probably depressed because I lost interest in everything. I stopped riding my bike, didn’t care about my career even though I had just got through a promotion board and I didn’t talk about it. I tried to put on a brave face but inside I was always crying. What am I going to be like in 5 or 10 years time? And so whilst I am managing this terrible disease I have to live life to the full because I might not be in this position in 5 years. If I want to realise any dreams or goals whilst I can then I will try. One day I won’t able to ride my bike whether it be through MS or old age and I don’t want to have any regrets. So if I can ride a 12 hour I will ride it! And I have! Middle finger to MS. I was worried the nerve damage I have in my feet and hands would manifest during the ride like it does on a hard race but it didn’t. Figure that one out! I am fighting it all the way. I might be chronically ill but it will never define me. What it has done is teach me that nothing is a given and you don’t know what’s around the corner. I own a vintage 1972 camper van and on the back I have a sticker that says ‘One Life. Live It’ And I am. Never stop believing. Work hard, play hard, don’t bear grudges and be kind.
Would I do another one? Yeah why the hell not! As Graham said ‘It’s just a 12 hour bike ride’