See that happy smiley face? That's 'cos Simons Fell wasn't killing me. That was a relief. My coach said "it's no a running race", so lets bin the running and concentrate on the cycling and you know what, he was right.
To be honest I had no idea how I would do in this race and the night before I was very nervous, more nervous than I think any other race I've done. I just didn't know how fit I was, I've never done 7 weeks on the turbo, could I go hard from the start? Or should I pace myself round so that I could at least finish?
Add that to the apprehension about the bonkers start and would my bottle caching idea work and I didn't sleep well on 3Peaks Eve!
I had gone down a day early, this was a good thing; I could recover from the 6hr drive (massive sleep in a massive bed) recce parts of the course, get a wee pre-race ride in and sus out where to stash some bottles.
This all went well, I'm a great believer in recce-ing and checking everything in plenty of time, I hate last minute 'faffing about' - check it and forget it.
Even so, restless sleep, up really early, big Premier Inn breakfast and off to the race. Sign in, meet friends, hand over bottles - for hand-ups where possible, and try to look calm (wasn't).
The line up is mad, stand in a place you think might be near the front a good half hour early, then watch as loads more push in til you're no longer able to see the front!
Then the start.
How to describe the start?
It's like 650 totally wired and hyped up cyclists all trying to get to the front, utter madness.
My coach had 'reassured' me by saying go as hard as you can right from the gun, get up near the front (well, top 50-60ish) and just hang in there for the rest of the race. Gulp.
Heart rate straight up to max and bonkers riding all around me, going from hard on the brakes to stamping out watts that I should only ever see in 20 second intervals. I'm sure there were crashes, there was certainly lots of colourful shouting.
Even with all this effort we still hit the first obstacle - a cattle grid, bunched up and there's some impressive track standing to avoid unclipping.
I'll not give a blow by blow account of the whole race, but Simons Fell was over without too much pain, the first descent was very boggy and I grabbed my first cached bottle with shouts of "well done Paul Masson!" from those who had been standing near my labelled bottle!
Picked up a nice wee group on the first road section, everyone worked well together and pretty quickly it's off the bike and onto the second climb - Whernside.
Another trudge, but as on Simons Fell, I wasn't suffering too much and even managed to pick off a few people throughout the climb, this was starting to feel good.
Followed a 'local' on the descent, dunno if this was a good thing, ended in a bog and had to run onto the main track. Maybe not do that again.
Second bottle hand up went well, until I reached down to my bottle cage for a drink a few k's later only to see that I had half a bottle cage and no bottle. A thirsty last climb then. Hooked up with a handy time trial looking rider i.e. a good windbreak, on the road to Pen-y-Ghent and between us we towed along a good half dozen other riders. Thanks guys.
Pen-y-Ghent climb was fine, picked off more riders, legs still felt good, rode to where you should be able to ride - 1x11 gearing was grand.
Dibbed at top, saw the time and thought 'jeez that's good' then proceeded to ride like a right punter on the descent 'cos all I could think about was 'don't crash', 'don't puncture' instead of just riding like a rider that normally rides lots of rocky downhills (like I live in the Cairngorms) duh.
Anyhoo, out onto road, catch a few more riders who seem quite happy just to sit in, but I'm there now so use my last few watts dropping them. Up ya.
So a strong finish leaves me thinking could I have gone a wee bit quicker?
Dunno, but even now, one day on, I'm already thinking of next year!
Massive thanks to my coach David Lines of Espresso Cycle Coaching, he told me what to do and it worked.
Oh and not forgetting all those involved in the race, the marshals, the gang that help pass the bikes over the fences, the bystanders that cheer you on and those that thought I looked thirsty and offered me up drinks on Pen-y-Ghent, all these people are awesome and reaffirm your belief that most normal people are actually quite nice!
Til next year...