If you are a cyclist and don’t know what the Red Bull Time Laps is where have you been this weekend?
Also you aren’t following the right people on Instagram.
But just in case:
What: 25 hour relay bike race
Where: Laps of a section of Windsor Great Park
When: 28th-29th October, the night the clocks go back to make this 25 hours rather than just 24.
And yes I took part in this incredible event with 3 friends for Queen of the Mountains. Why? Why not.
We weren’t there to try and win. We were there to push ourselves, challenge ourselves and see what we were capable of. I can’t speak for all the girls but the event itself exceeded expectations and definitely pushed us.
Here’s my 36ish hour diary of the lead up and the event.
An early start
A 4:15am alarm is horrible, even if you are going on holiday. Combine that with the thought of being up for the next 36 hours and spending 25 hours of those racing! Yes, that’s how Saturday morning started. There was nothing that could be done though except suck it up and get on with it. We’d already had 2 team mechanicals the night before with 2 broken spokes being discovered, but new wheels sourced it wasn’t the end of the world.
I met 3/4 of my team at Putney station/on the train and we made our way to Sunningdale station. Nerves were in the air and we were all very quiet as we contemplated what was coming.
Soon we were at our stop and no more time to think, a short (very cold) cycle to the park followed and we arrived for registration. The first team to arrive, half an hour before it opened. The wonderful staff furnished us with chat and coffee though. Quickly joined by our fourth team member, and driver of all the “stuff”. Things started to happen quickly! Registration, bike checks, pit zone set up, tent up, greeting of various other teams we knew and then it was time for the ride briefing. All the important bits covered and then time for the sighting lap. As we explored the loop as a team the realisation that this was the only time we would ride together hit me. It was a sad moment, a stark reality that this was a very different event to anything I’d done before.
We took the opportunity to check out the course and to enjoy being together as a full team!
Time to race
Once we returned to camp the countdown was on. A few kit movements and strategy discussed and before I knew it I was lining up on the start line.
No time to get nervous, a quick countdown and we were off. As team no. 16 I was near the front. As we crossed the start line I tucked in, realising I was going to be passed by a lot of cyclists very quickly.
It’s safe to say in those first 2 laps as I found my rhythm I also found myself getting caught up in everything and pushed HARD. As I approached the end of my second lap orange/yellow flags were being waved. There was a cyclist on the ground, I slowed down, passed carefully and continued. Then as I came over the start line of my 3rd lap a red flag waved and we were brought to a stop. The crash/accident was worse than thought and the race was being stopped.
What followed was a lot of waiting as the poor cyclist was seen to by paramedics and taken to hospital. He’s ok but a few broken bones – wishing him a speedy recovery.
We restarted the race close to 2:30pm. This time because of the delay I did 1 lap and then came in, Jason (our mechanic) was there in the pits ready to take my bike and I ran to hand over the arm band to Leah.
Our strategy was an hour on each but after 18 minutes Leah reappeared, down-heartened and with a puncture. In proper Chris Froome style she’d run from Breakheart Hill to the pits.
Claire (who was up next jumped into action), took the arm band and headed out leaving Jason to sort out the puncture.
Night draws in
Luckily this was the last of our mechanicals (did I mention the night before we’d had 2 broken spokes!). The next few hours passed uneventfully. Smooth changeovers and soon it was 7pm and time for me to head out again. My first proper, undisturbed session and also my first in the dark.
It was a lonely session, I love nighttime riding, and not having to worry about cars was a lovely bonus but the field was spread out and I struggled to find anyone to ride with. I realised I hadn’t eaten much in the lead up either but I pushed hard and smashed out 5 laps with an average of 27.6km/h. As I came into the pits I felt exhausted and hungry but happy.
After some dinner, a rest and a catch up with my team mates it was time to head out again at 11pm. This session was to be the easiest nighttime ride. After a lap and a bit Rhian from Threo came alongside me and we decided to work together. We also gained a third ‘team’ member. We worked collectively for about 3 laps, the easiest laps and most enjoyable laps of the night. Night riding is much more fun with company. As I came to the end of my final lap of the stint Rhian’s rear light stopped working. We made a quick switch so she could use mine and stay on before I came in for a rest and some food.
The breaks were becoming almost as hard as the riding. Knowing that I only had 3 hours to eat and try to sleep put extra pressure on you. All of the girls in my team had got into a rhythm now of trying to make the most of their time off the bikes to refuel and rest. Not easy with only a short amount of time but necessary. During those nighttime hours few words were spoken.
The graveyard hours
At this point I tried to stay awake to see Esme out for the power hour but couldn’t. What we quickly learnt from the Dirty Wknd boys though was that the chill out marquee Red Bull had created was THE best place to nap. Giant bean bags and industrial heaters made it so. I snatched 30 minutes but then it was time to get ready for Esme’s return from power hour, as 2am came about for the second time I waited for her return. I can honestly say that I have never felt so tired and less enthusiastic about getting on the bike in my life.
Esme came in at 2:15am, absolutely buzzing and as I left the pits I made the decision to still come off at 3am. It meant I wouldn’t do a full hour but it also meant I wouldn’t mess up our “schedule”. So I did, I completed my shortest and slowest stint of the 25 hours. I returned to the pits, passed over to Leah and went off and had a good cry. The realisation of how tough this was getting was hitting me, combined with extreme sleep deprivation.
I knew at that point that if I wanted to carry on I needed to sleep. So I did, I went and settled onto a bean bag in the marquee and slept like a baby for 2 hours.
A new me
The difference I felt when I woke up was incredible. A hot shower and some clean kit rejuvenated me further and then I went back to the pits for breakfast.
I felt like a new woman, not even the rain that started to fall as I waited for my next stint could dampen my spirits. As Leah came in, soaked thru the rain stopped and the sun returned, someone was looking over me that morning.
My next stint was 1 hour 15 minutes so I set myself into a pace I knew I could maintain for 5 laps and still have some left for the final slot of the race. My new found alertness post sleep enabled me to channel my Regents Park lap sessions and I soon found myself tucked in behind some guys. The next 75 minutes passed super quickly, drafting everyone and anyone and finding a number of guys on my wheel throughout. I finished my stint happy, hungry and ready to pass the arm band onto Claire and then find breakfast. Cheesy hash browns have never tasted soooo good! A final kit change and I was ready to finish this thing.
Esme followed Claire, but our timings were a bit out now. I knew I was finishing but had to make it clear to the girls there was no way I could manage longer than 90 minutes. S we rallied together and when Esme returned Claire headed out for another lap to bring it to 10:30am.
I’d fuelled, I had fresh kit on, I’d had another good coffee thanks to the Dirty Wknd boys and their “mechanic”.
The last stint
I was ready. I headed out and set myself the target of six laps. Timing was going to be everything at this point. If you crossed the line after 12noon your lap wouldn’t count. As I left the pits my Wahoo Element told me it was 10:31am. I’d been averaging 14.5 minute laps so 6 laps in 89 mins was doable if I continued to feel strong. My worry was bonking, hitting the wall or generally feeling too tired to push out the pace required.
So I tried to bank some time but without exhausting myself. I used other cyclists as much as I could, jumping (or trying to jump) onto the wheel of literally everyone that passed me. Some I managed to hold onto comfortably for half a lap, some I clung onto for a km or so and some disappeared as quickly as they appeared.
After every lap I reassessed my position and timings and finishing pre-12 noon continued to look achievable. I counted down the laps, tried to remind myself to keep drinking and ticked off the kms. On my penultimate lap I found myself next to one of the Specialized girls I knew through my team mate Esme. We decided to work together as we were both aiming to do one more full lap before 12noon. As we climbed Breakheart Hill at the end of the penultimate lap I quickly got ahead. On the flat at the top I eased off to recover and hoped she’d re-join. She didn’t so I took the opportunity to jump onto someone else’s wheel to shelter from the head wind that came with this section.
Leaving everything on the road
I powered through the start line where more and more spectators were gathering. Cheers and shouts from my team mates and friends who’d come to watch the end spurred me on. It was about 11:43 and I knew that as long as nothing went wrong that 6th lap was in the bag pre-12. I was buzzing, the adrenaline had kicked in and I felt strong, comfortable, happy.
This lap was my chance to leave everything on the road and I did. For the next 6.5km I pushed against every headwind. My tired legs drove hard and fast until I was climbing that hill one last time.
As I approached the top the course was busier than before, so many people had timed their laps perfectly. I rolled towards the finish line in a peloton, the clock showing 11:57am. Only one thing could make that moment better, a hand on my shoulder and David from Dirty Wknd rolled over the finish line next to me. Shaking from pushing so hard, from exhaustion and happiness. My team mates met me and to say I was a blubbering mess would be an understatement.
I can’t quite explain that feeling but unless you have pushed to the max, worked as a team, left everything on the road you probably won’t get it, but there were 600 cyclists there in that moment who all got it. As emotional as I was it was the greatest feeling in the world! It didn’t matter if you were the fastest or the slowest. Every person had been through the same 25 hours, cycled the same laps, experienced the same highs and lows. I’m so proud of every single person, because I know how hard it was!
I have more thank you’s than I know what to do with: Wahoo for the Elements, Lezyne for the lights, Clif Bar for the fuel, Pat, Chloe and Jake for the quick hello’s as they flew past on the course, Ian (Jake’s dad) for the sports massage and coffees, Jason for helping us with transitions and mechanicals, David for crossing the finish line with me, Matt from Muc-off for the company while we waited for the restart, Rhian for the wheel, Laura, Adam, the BV ladies, Sarah and Jenny for coming to support at the end and their awesome signs and Alicia for the team place, the kit and the ongoing support.
The cycling community really is the greatest and I’m so lucky to be surrounded by such incredible friends on and off the bike. As I come down off the incredible high from this event all I can think is I can’t wait to do it all again next year!
Finally and most importantly though my team mates were incredible. We had lots of fun and bonds were formed that you can’t get in any other way!
Esme, Claire, Leah…you are my absolute heroines and this event was made because I was on a team with you!
Huge thanks also of course to Red Bull UK, please run this event next year!
Photo credit: Red Bull UK, Leo Francis and my various wonderful friends!