The Columbia Hellrider returned to West Wycombe Park on saturday 2nd June. After a successful inaugural running last year, the 8 hour off road duathlon was back and ready to push physical and mental strengths to their limit. The Teeth of Cerberus and the infamous Bath of Beelzebub returned, along with almost 600 competitors competing in teams of three or five. There was even a handful of hardy soloists, aiming on take on the 8 hours alone.
Team Magnetic Junction were back too. And were nervous. A bout of whooping cough, two sets of final exams and a spell of unseasonable warmth that spurred one too many barbecues meant that our form was an unknown quantity. We had moved up to the threes category this year and the competition looked tough, a couple of teams warming up furiously on their turbo-trainers. It looked like last year’s podium finish was going to be difficult to compete.
Fortunately, our nerves were calmed by those lovely folks at Columbia at ClifBar who issued us with some secret weapons. Our footwear for the day was to be Columbia’s all new trail shoe, the Ravenous Omni-Tech, which looked even smarter than last year’s edition. ClifBar filled our pockets with the Original Energy Bar and we headed off to warm up feeling significantly better about our chances.
The 10 o’clock start was fast rolling around and the start pen soon began to fill with those who had volunteered (or had been sacrificed) to take on the opening run for their team. The devil himself had made the trip this year and was doing his utmost to remind competitors of the difficulties that lay ahead. His black magic seemed to be working too, the lead-out quad-bike stalling as the gun finally went off. Runners were forced to take evasive action as they jostled for position into the opening hill. The quad’s engine finally came to life and it sped off in pursuit. The eight hours of action were underway.
In truth, the quad did well to catch-up given the strong pace set on the opening lap. Team Nectarfuel.com were the first to emerge from the trees and pass the specially designed Hellrider Buff to their first cyclist, who set an equally relentless pace off up the hill. Team MJ arrived in a solid 8th position thanks to some strong leg work by Charlie Stainforth. He handed over to Ross Mcewen and we were off in search of the leaders.
Meanwhile, a party atmosphere was beginning to develop at the start area. The devil had turned DJ and was blasting motivational music to help spur tired competitors through the Bath of Beelzebub. In soaking up all that was going on, the first 40 minutes passed in a blur and soon it was time to prepare for my opening run. I warmed up, stretched off and headed to the runners enclosure to wait for Ross. Ten minutes soon passed and there was still no sign of him. Eventually, he came into view, running like a man possessed down the final hill, his bike slung over one shoulder. Not a good sign. His front tyre had exploded half way round the lap forcing him to run 5km in his cleats. It was a strong run but Magnetic Junction had slipped from 8th to 108th inside the first hour. It was shaping up to be a long afternoon!
The next six hours passed in a blur. Runs and cycles seemed to merge together and, as both the sun and the competition grew hotter, each lap became a constant battle against heavy legs and burning lungs. There was plenty of camaraderie out on the course as runners and cyclists encouraged each other up the long climbs on the end of each loop. It was good to see; the team spirit was one of the reasons that the inaugural Hellrider had been such a memorable event. Having a wheel to follow or a running-mate shouting encouragement helped to keep the pace high into the final hour.
Magnetic Junction started their final lap about ten to six, Charlie heading off for one last run. It was a valiant effort and we cheered him home as he emerged from the trees about twenty minutes later. We had climbed to 15th place, a significant improvement on the morning’s 108th. There were to be no medals but once again, it had been an excellent day out. And that, in many ways, is the joy of the Hellrider. Whether you’re finishing 1st or 101st, it guarantees a truly epic day out.