Last year, Naomi Freireich was winner of the female solos at the epic Strathpuffer 24-hour mountain biking event in the Scottish Highlands. This year, “to take the pressure off”, she entered the mixed pairs category with her friend Stuart Macleod. Naomi was delighted, but surprised, to claim another victory.
Rather than it being a “less pressured” race, Naomi, of Edinburgh, discovered the mixed pair category was hotly contended. With British XC (Masters) champion and 2015 Strathpuffer winner, Gillian Stewart (née Pratt) riding with Allan James, and Wilderness Scotland’s Jenny Graham riding with Mark Edmonds, it was a competitive field and Naomi and Stuart, aka a Pair of Crazies, had their work cut out.
I have written about the record 6583 laps completed in total at Strathpuffer 2017. Here is Naomi’s Strathpuffer race in her own words.
From the off in the mixed pairs category, Gillian and Allan were flying around what was an incredibly fast course this year. Stuart and I had to bust a gut trying to stay close.
Jenny and Mark were sharing a pit with us and so I could see their times and they were chasing us fiercely, too. It was proper balls-out riding.
This can be so dangerous in a 24-hour race, to chase people and push yourself beyond your known capabilities. I knew we could so easily burn out. But with the course riding so well, and knowing I had put in the training, we just went for it.
There are a few things I think it’s worth noting. A race of 24 hours is a long time. A lot can happen and it’s best to accept that things may happen that are outwith your control, such as mechanicals or bad falls.
You also have to remember that this can happen to other people, too. And there’s A LOT of time in which it can! That’s why it’s so important to ride your own race and not get silly chasing people.
Also, and this is really important, if you’re starting to suffer, the likelihood is that your competitors are, too. As Stuart says, it’s good to imagine that they’re suffering more. So much of a 24-hour race is the head game.
So, Gillian and Allan started to slow and Stuart and I pulled ahead. The ice in the -8C night-time hours started to get to people and make them nervous. Soon it became a race of attrition and Gillian and Allan finally stopped, leaving us two laps out in front of the second mixed pair and only 30 minutes behind the first placed male pair.
Now it was game on!
Stuart came in from lap 29 all fired up and ready for a fight. We’d planned on stopping at 30 laps but I knew I’d be able to get around again to allow him out for a 31st if we wanted. So I raced like it was my first lap.
Then Stuart got out for our 31st lap with only 16 minutes separating us from the boys in 1st. Then there was a tense 40-plus minute wait to see who got in first.
The buzz at the finish line was electric. Dougie Vipond was there, updating the crowd with the standings in real time as people came in.
Keith Forsyth (male solo) was the first to get a win, beating Huw Oliver by 25 minutes to complete a massive 30 laps.
Emily Chappell rode an astounding 23 laps taking first female solo.
The male quads were close, too, with teams in 1st and 2nd only 16 minutes apart, each with 38 laps. There there was the first female quad with an incredible 3rd overall and 36 laps in total.
But I couldn’t see Stuart, not anyone from team 261 either, the pair winning overall.
I went to check in with the timing desk. There was some confusion but it looked like maybe the top pair hadn’t gone out again. Could we possibly be one dib from winning not just the mixed pairs but the pairs over all?
Dougie Vipond got wind of this (ok, I told him!) and it was all over the loud speaker. That made things tense.
And then it was over. Coming down the last rocky drop on to the fire road to bring it home was Stuart. I couldn’t hold it in. I was jumping and shouting. We’d done it!
We’d taken overall pairs in one of the toughest 24-hour races. And this was the first time in the history of the Strathpuffer!
Now for my thanks.
Firstly, I started racing for a team mid last year and their support has been incredible. James, the mechanic, worked tirelessly through the night, chipping ice off mechs and keeping everyone running. He is the unsung hero of our success. Thanks James!
Secondly, as my last post alluded, I have the pleasure of being an ambassador for Gore Bike Apparel, a brand I really admire. I wore their bib-longs for the whole race, as I did last year, and they didn’t let me down. Incredible comfort and an absolute essential when you’re in the saddle for so long. So, massive thanks to Gore!
And finally, the people who have made me stronger and fitter. Donnie Campbell, from Get Active Running, for helping me recover from major surgery and Jon Fearne, from E3Coach, who has recently started helping with my training. Thanks guys. My success is your success.
And to my friends and family who put up with me disappearing for hours on end to train. I love you all.
Many thanks to Naomi for writing the blog. You can find out more about her at FrikFRak74.