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RIDING THE UK NATIONAL 24 HOUR TIME TRIAL

After abandoning his first 24h time trial last year, Chris Hall wanted revenge. This year he based his summer around training for the ultimate race of truth. Here he tells us what it’s like to race a bike for 24 hours.

There are so many things to think about in a race like this. Battling fatigue and lack of sleep to try and rack up as many miles as possible in a single day. It's no easy feat. 

Last year I tackled the National 24s in biblically bad weather, which eventually led to me pulling out of the race. You can watch a bit of the aftermath here: 

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Sometimes it's hard to accept failure but ultimately it can make you stronger. 

That failure was like a monkey on my back over winter. Into the start of 2018 I knew I needed to go back, settle some scores and give it another crack. There were a lot of changes that needed to be made, in my own fitness, my mind set and also importantly my bike.

Fitness

I already train hard with my coach, Ken Buckley but to help support Ken, I met Will Girling, the nutritionalist for One Pro racing team who helped me drop 12kg in weight. Essentially being lighter meant that I could be faster.

Mindset

I'm known to be an emotional guy. I cycle massively with my heart on my sleeve and I can find it hard to deal with demons in life. But with such an introspective race I spent a lot of time last year focusing on doing what is right for my body, with a lot of useful advice from my support team..

The lead up to the race definitely was not ideal with illnesses and injuries, and for some time I wasn't sure I would make the start line, but I knew my head was in a much better place.

Bike

This was a biggie. I decided to sell my car and use the funds to build up something pretty special. 

It’s a Giant Trinity Advance TT frame with Dura-Ace Di2 shifters and derailleurs for easy shifting, and a PRO Aerofuel Carbon Saddle for a tucked power position. It’s frighteningly fast bike and absolutely love it.

I complemented it with a skinsuit and some new Shimano S-PHYRE RC9 race shoes with BOA dials for easy adjustment on the bike.

The Race

I was pretty nervous on the drive up to Wrexham, North Wales, especially after last year’s failure. Somewhere along the way though a ‘what will be will be’ attitude kicked in. There was very little I could change so I just had to get down to the serious business of 24h racing.

You don't really warm up for a race like this, you just warm into it. It's 24 hours and survival is pretty much key. 

I set off at 13:01 on a pleasantly warm Saturday at the end of July. Many people were going about their regular weekend activities. I was getting my head down for the upcoming 700+km.

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In the race itself you ride on a series of different routes, starting at the clubhouse in Wrexham. A short distance from there is a central roundabout where several different routes connect. During different hours of the day, marshals move you onto the appropriate routes. Some are out and back routes (Prees to Battlefield) whilst others are circles (Quina Brook Circuit) that all pass through this central roundabout. This roundabout is where your support teams are based. Conveniently there is a very useful cafe, fish and chip shop, convenience store and petrol station in the area.

Fuelling

With the help of Will, I'd been practising my fuel strategy for the race in preparation for the big day. It really is mad when you start to understand how much work and effort goes on behind the scene to keep someone’s body functioning and performing over 24 hours.

During a four hour window I would consume 1x Veloforte Bar, 2x flapjacks, 2x gels (one caffeine, one hydro), 2x large water bottles full of electrolyte and carbohydrate mix, a can of Red Bull for a little extra lift

When every 4 hours I would stop for some proper food. The meals were: Bruschetta, Mashed Potato, Peanut Butter & Jam Sandwich (with Soreen snacks), Granola, honey and yoghurt, Bruschetta and Watermelon. All simple to digest, easy to prepare and most importantly, something that I could look forward to in the race. 

The Rough Parts

There is always a low point in a race of this magnitude. I'd been struggling with a knee injury leading up to the race and it was not certain I would be fit to race. I stubbornly decided to go into the race somewhat not at 100%. As a team we all knew that if my knee held out I could do relatively well, even with my lost training days in the lead up to the race. In the early hours of the morning though there was a snap. 

I was pushing hard to make some good distance in the race. My aim was to ride the whole thing in my Z2 and make sure I stayed on the rails as much as possible. It was pitch black, in the hours I struggle the most (3-4:30am). That’s where the pain started. It slowed me right down, so much so that I reached for painkillers at the next stop to try and keep my hopes of finishing alive. I'm stubborn and above all my aim was to finish the race. After a few arguments with myself and a firm word from defending champion and recent LEJOG record breaker, Michael Broadwith, it gave me the kick up the arse I needed to push through it. Mike said to me: “Everyone is hurting now. Make them hurt more and push through it. You've got this.” 

Watch Part 2 of Francis Cade's Vlog here:

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The Finish

We were through the night time, the sun was coming up and, after my little battle in my head, I was feeling good, so to speak. 

At 9am you are moved to what is called the finishers’ circuit. I came in for my last refill of supplies, eager to get on the road as quick as possible. It was 8:55 and I was just in time to plug on for one more lap of the early morning Quina Brook circuit before being sent up to the finishers’ circuit. 

The ride to the finishing circuit is challenging enough on a normal day. It's surprisingly hilly, continually rolling up and down until you join the circuit. It’s especially tough after riding all night. 

For me the finishers’ circuit was about gritting my teeth, digging deep and going all out. Time was limited. The faster I could go the more places I could make up. Leading up to the finishers’ circuit I was sitting around 12th place. As each lap ticked by and I kept trying to push a little more. Francis, Jimmi and Will were surprised by how I was flying past the start/finish line. Most other riders by this point were pretty broken but I know I'm good at emptying myself, so my plan was to do that for the remaining hours and deal with the consequences if they came. 

On the circuit itself there are four commissaires based on the corners. As you pass the commissaires they record your number. Once your 24 hours has run out (which for me was 13:01) you ride onto the next commissaire and your end distance is taken from that point. After one of the commissaire points there is a climb followed by a very fast descent along an A-road until the next commissaire point. I got to the commissaire before the climb with 5 minutes to spare and basically knew I needed to be at the next one before 13:01. People at the side of the road know your time is running out so going up the climb I was greeted with cheers and people shouting 'SPRINT'. I got over the climb and down the descent with 1 minute to spare. There was no way to make it to the next point before 13:01 so that was that, my race was over. No finish line, no arms in the air, just exhaustion and relief as I cruised to the next commissaire and back to the clubhouse. 

I was truly spent. It was about 30 degrees and suddenly, out of the wind, I could really feel the heat. 

When I say I gave it my all, how can I explain that to you? I came in, had something to eat and drink and tried to chill out in the shade of the van. I was dizzy, dehydrated but relatively ok. I very much wanted to get back to London and most importantly sleep. 

I needed to get changed into some normal clothes so I headed to the changing rooms where I took my kit off and promptly fainted, completely naked in the changing cubicle. About 15 minutes later I came round, dripping in sweat and needed to be escorted back to the support van. As I said, truly spent!

Watch the last part of Francis Cade's Video here:

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For me this race was massively about battling some demons from 2017 and conquering something I previously hadn't been able to, which gave me a huge confidence boost. I came away with 8th place, riding 733.84km, and as one of the youngest in the race it feels like a huge success. Bring on 2019!

Thank you so much to the organisers, my supporters and most importantly my support crew Jimmi Nicholls, Francis Cade & Will Girling.

For more from Chris Hall check him out on Instagram