Page last updated at 01:38 GMT, Saturday, 23 January 2010

Riding a puff daddy of bike races

Bikes in snow on The Strathpuffer
Bikes lie on snow on a stage of The Strathpuffer

The Strathpuffer is one of the UK's most extreme 24-hour mountain bike races.

Held in the hills and forests near Strathpeffer in the Highlands, competitors this year had to contend with snow and ice.

TV presenter Dougie Vipond, who was taking part and filming the challenge for BBC Scotland's Adventure Show, ended up in hospital after crashing during the first lap.

Here Dan Holland, of Inverness and a member of the race's First Time Can't Climb team, gives an insight into last weekend's endurance event.


The last thing my sports psychologist brother said to me was: "Make sure you know how to pull yourself through the hard times, be ready to do whatever it takes to not think about the pain."

So that is how I found myself singing, in fact shouting at the top of my voice, Eye of the Tiger in a Highland forest at four on a Sunday morning.

In my mind I was Rocky running up those steps to the statue. In reality I had nearly reached the top of a muddy icy climb, it was snowing very lightly, the stars glistening. But I had at least another six hours of this to go.

Dan Holland
A mud-spattered Dan Holland at the end of his first lap

But on the bright side we had already done 18 hours of The Strathpuffer - one of the toughest mountain bike races in Britain.

The idea is easy. A Le Mans style, 24-hour endurance race around the woods about 25 miles north of Inverness. You enter as a solo, a pair or a quad team.

Just days to go and three of my quad team pulled out. I tried everybody I knew who had ever pedalled a bicycle to replace them. My pleading turned to desperation - there was no way I could do this race as a solo entry.

With 36 hours left before the start an e-mail from Paul, Chris and LJ offered me a place in their team. We didn't set out to be competitive, just to take part, to say we've done The Puffer.

LJ did the first and probably the hardest lap forging through the snow. Ahead of her was nine miles of forest road and single track, rocks, burns and bridges.

As the hours passed we kept lapping as best we could. The snow had turned to slush then to mud and as dusk fell it started to turn to ice. Puddles became swamps.

Bloodshot eyes

There was a wonderful sense of camaraderie out on the course, riders talking to each other, asking politely to overtake and offering assistance.

I don't know who you are, but to the single speed rider I talked to for half a lap around midnight - thank you for the encouragement.

To those who I raced past on the short descent on the same lap - I am sorry, but psychologically overtaking you gave me a bigger boost than any amount of sugar could have done physically.

Around 0800 GMT dawn broke the long winter night with a spectacular array of colour.

Soon the end came into sight and Paul set out on our 14th lap. Could we squeeze in a 15th? Or should we be happy with what we had achieved in our first Puffer? We went with the latter, tired but happy.

Mud splattered faces and bloodshot eyes started to gather around the finish line to cheer in the final riders as the minutes and seconds ticked down.

There was an ambiance of achievement, of having arrived safely at the other side of some great divide - it was strangely quite emotional.



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SEE ALSO
Vipond crashes on mountain bike
18 Jan 10 |  Highlands and Islands

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