Racing in the Strathpuffer

We are so grateful to Lyndsey MacKay and her team Ali Clarke, Ren Keyport, Andy Latham, Andy Moles, Calum Cuthill, Henry, and Fran Scott, who raised £835.72 on Just Giving for Birchwood Highland in the Strathpuffer. This gruelling 24 hour mountain bike race in Strathpeffer is one of the toughest in the world! Here’s Lyndsey’s story!

I thought that it would only be appropriate to do something that I would not otherwise choose to do to raise money. I thought, who would want to sponsor someone to do something that they would otherwise do? I have always seen Strathpeffer as my family home and on visits I kept hearing about ‘The Strathpuffer’.

The Strathpuffer is a 24 hour mountain biking event, where you cycle an 11km mountain biking route as many times as possible. You can enter as a ‘quad’ where one of your team is cycling all the time during the 24 hours. Although I am no mountain biker I thought, that can’t be too bad – three quarters of the time I would be resting, the route isn’t too hilly and 11km isn’t that far. It shouldn’t be too hard for someone that is in reasonable shape – I ran a marathon in November.

So I asked a couple of friends if they fancied joining a quad team with me. The initial enthusiasm was so large that we had enough for two teams. Sickness, injury and perhaps some sensibility hit the original participants and I had to beg, persuade and plead to make up two teams as race day drew close! A special thanks go to Zeemon and Yuka who joined the team two days before the race and Ren, who, like me, had spent the last five weeks working on a boat off the North coast of Australia (perhaps not a perfect training ground for a mountain bike race in sub-zero conditions!).

Race day was chilly; snow was lying and I was grateful that we had all arrived at the start of the race. The race starts at 10am with a run to your bikes. I set off full of enthusiasm grabbing my bike from Fran for the first two laps for our team. I raced up to the top of the hill, the course climbs a 4×4 track and then flattens out onto ‘single track’. Here you have to navigate your bike over and around rocks, ice and other obstacles. This is when I realised that perhaps I was in over my head. Experienced racers whizzed passed me as I attempted to control my bike. Then I fell off into a snow covered gorse bush – an occurrence that I would get used to over the next 24 hours. But I picked myself up, got on my bike and continued pedalling.

I expected there to be some rest along the course, some easy bit where you can just cruse down the hill with your bike, but it didn’t arrive. The only significant descent on the route seemed to be a large mud river, where I was in my easiest gear pushing the bike through it. After two laps that took me the best of two hours, I passed the baton to my team mate Zeemon and was ready to take a rest and some hot food provided by our awesome support team. ‘There is not too much climbing and it’s not that tricky’ was my answer when everyone asked me how it was. These feelings certainly changed over night. As the dark set in and the temperatures dropped, I was about to learn why the race was included in the US Bike magazines top 10 toughest Mountain Bike events on the planet.

Zeemon completed his two laps, the Yuka and as Ren headed off I started contemplating that it was time for me to go again .. this time the plan was to do 3 laps so we could all get a good break to have a sleep. Darkness was setting in and the snow was lightly falling as I started. Lap one I was encompassed by fear of lap two and three, lap two I started wondering if number three was possible and lap three can best be described by my answer to Fran, a member of our group on the other quad, who passed me asking me how I was… ‘why why why… I hate this … why .. I hate this, ahhh’. But I kept peddling in the dark in the small world illuminated by my bike light.

But then three were finished – I had done it – The sight of Zeemon ready to take the baton was incredible. Pasta, soup, bacon sandwich in the warm support van and straight to my tent to sleep, it wasn’t over yet. As Ren left the tent for his three laps at 1am I felt very sorry that I had convinced him into this, especially as the sound of rain had just started.. my American friend who is used to -20 degrees Celsius in the winter was about to learn that you don’t get colder than 0 degrees and rain. But he battled through, even ran the half of the last lap due to a puncture. It was then time for me to go again, 4am on my bike – the only encouragement was that it was nearly over. Two more laps and done – amazing Ren and Zeemon getting two more in after.

We finished 54th out of 119 quad teams, our other team in the group finshsed 49th thanks to a heroic final last minute lap from Calum. We had done it. Looking back I realise that I could not have survived it without my friends racing with me keeping me happy, the support of all those that sponsored us, my family supporting us with more hot food than I could dream of and the kindness of two people I had not met before stepping in and racing with us. I guess a fitting reminder that we all need help and support to get through tough times – I’m glad that Birchwood Highland will use the money we raised to support people in times they really need it.