On Sunday, I took part in the six-hour challenge at Revolve24.
What is Revolve24?
I’d not heard of Revolve24 before this year (although I knew such events existed), so as soon as it was mentioned to me I was keen to find out more. It’s a 24-hour race around Brands Hatch, starting at 3pm on Saturday and finishing at 3pm on Sunday. There are also 12-hour and six-hour challenges taking place. The 12-hour challenge starts at 3pm on Saturday and the six-hour challenge starts at 9am on Sunday.
I had prior commitments on Saturday but wanted to get involved, so the six-hour event seemed perfect.
Originally, Stuart was going to be my partner. He had his arm in a cast until Friday and is still in a splint, so we knew he would be unable to ride. Luckily, my friend Sergio stepped up.
Sergio has recently done an Ironman, so he is bike-fit, unlike me. I’ve really not been riding as much as I’d like this year. I don’t even cycle to work any more as the logistics involved in securing/unlocking my bike at the start and end of each journey make it more time-consuming than walking 🙁
Getting to the start line at Brands Hatch
I’d spent time on Friday making sure that my bike was OK. I’d inflated the tyes and gone for a quick ride, but was still nervous that I might have a slow puncture or that my Di2 would need to be recharged.
It was an early start to get to Brands Hatch by 7:30am. Luckily, there’s not much traffic around at that time on a Sunday, so we had clear roads. It was also lovely weather with clear skies.
On arrival at Brands Hatch, we parked, got my kit out and then went to the Media Centre to register. I’ve never been to a racing track before, so there were a few surprises in store for me. One of them was that I had no idea that grandstand spectators would be able to see so much of the course. My panoramic photo isn’t great, but you may be able to see parts of the track curving off to the left and another loop over to the right-hand side.
There was only a short queue, so it didn’t take long to register. I went with Stu to get the timing chip fitted to my bike and then walked to the pit garage to meet up with Sergio who had camped overnight.
How is this event similar to other events I’ve done?
My only experience of an event similar to this is Thunder Run, a 24-hour running race. From that, I expected to see a lot of people camping, but it didn’t look like there were many people staying in tents, which is a shame as it would be a lot of fun. However, a fundamental difference from Thunder Run is that each team or competitor is allocated a pit garage, so I would imagine that the soloists and pairs probably didn’t bother with tents. There were also quite a few camper vans (and transits), so people were probably sleeping in those.
The pit garages were great as there was running water and plug sockets, so people were easily able to make hot and cold drinks. They were also sheltered places where you could sit down and rest. As two sides were open, it was easy to view cyclists coming down Clearways to Clarke Curve and Brabham straight, whilst also offering a view of Cooper Straight and Surtees.
Is it a busy event?
I was surprised at how few people had entered the six-hour challenge. I guess that it’s probably because most people want to be part of the 24-hour event. Many of the entrants were soloists.
Revolve24 doesn’t feel like an event that has ‘sold out’. There are a few races that I’ve taken part in that have become so popular that they’ve outgrown their venue and the facilities do not meet the needs of the participants. There were plenty of toilets – posh portaloos and real toilets – and the catering stands only had shorts queues of one or two people at most.
Where are all the female cyclists?
I was surprised by how few female cyclists appeared to be around. Apparently, too many women are put off cycling for trivial reasons such as not wanting to mess their hair up or get grease on themselves/their clothes. I’ve also heard that fear of traffic is another barrier and fear of mechanicals being a huge contributory factor. I will admit that even during my first half Ironman, I was relieved when I was within 20 miles of the bike finish as the thought in my head was that if I had a mechanical problem I could run to transition with my bike. (I hadn’t thought through how hard that might be with cleats on my shoes!)
I’ve been on quite a few bike maintenance courses run by different groups and shops so I am a lot more confident these days. I also think that having to deal with other people’s punctures in horrendous weather conditions during Tour de Y means that I know that even under pressure I can replace an inner tube. I’m not quick, but I can get it done! [I only saw one person with a puncture during Revolve24 and he appeared to be receiving help from marshals. I’m assuming that the beautiful tarmac meant that very few people punctured and as the course is quite short, if it were a slow puncture then people would be able to return to the pit garages.]
Ready… steady… go!
After the brief briefing, it was time for me to put my helmet on and get to the start line. Rather foolishly, I seemed to be quite close to the front. However, I was on the side of the group and as we were being started in waves, I was less worried that I would be in other people’s way.
There was a countdown for the first group of cyclists…
Then it was time for my group to start. Of course, there was a slope to get out of the pits. I was a little nervous that I might be in completely the wrong gear.
As you can see, I was paying close attention to my gears and not looking at the camera for a change!
It was quite a cool morning and I opted to wear my arm warmers. I also considered wearing a buff and knee-warmers but decided that I would probably be fine without them. There were quite a few riders on the track wearing bib tights, gloves and long-sleeved jerseys, but I’m figuring that they were probably soloists who had cycled through the night and were low on energy.
What’s the course like?
I thought it might be helpful to include a plan of the course. I’d looked at this before going to Revolve24, but it didn’t mean much to me.
I will admit that I’ve never been a huge motorsports fan. Although I’ve watched racing on TV before, I can’t say that I’ve ever paid too much attention to the circuits. I was aware of some hairpin bends, but I wasn’t familiar with the fact that Brands Hatch is ‘undulating’. Before I went, I probably should have looked at the elevation profile:
On second thoughts, it’s probably just as well that I didn’t see that as I might not have turned up!
My first hour on the track
As soon as I left the pits, I was onto a curving downhill section. Woah! I was not expecting that. Paddock Hill bend is famous, but I wasn’t expecting it. I’ve really not been on my bike much this year and I was a little tentative, so this was a challenge so early in my first lap. I was feathering my brakes but didn’t want to lose too much momentum as I could see the 9% gradient of Hailwoods Hill immediately ahead of me.
For almost all of the six-hour challenge, there was a young marshal positioned on Hailwoods Hill. He was really great at encouraging people. I’d used my inhaler shortly before starting, but was definitely wheezing going up this hill. I had seen a few people warming up on rollers before going to the start line and had done an internal eye-roll… now I was the stupid one!
A photographer was stationed on Hailwood Hill, so I felt obliged to smile, but my legs and lungs were screaming.
The recovery section?
I had a few seconds of getting my breath back whilst going around Druids, before the descent started. I was trying to remember what we had been told during the briefing about positioning ourselves. Presumably, I should be on the left-hand side of the track, but that would involve crossing the path of some serious speed demons. I decided that I’d hug the edge of the track and that way shouldn’t be in anyone’s way. (This strategy seemed to serve me well for the whole event, but apologies to anyone if I should have been elsewhere – I’m assuming that avoiding the racing line was OK!)
The next part of the course was Coopers Straight. It’s probably the flattest part of the course, with just a slight incline, but a keen headwind made it feel much harder than it should have been. I only managed to draft someone once on this section of the course and she obviously didn’t appreciate it as she did her best to lose me.
It was then onto Surtees which wasn’t as steep as Hailwood but was enough to test my legs.
End of my first lap and onto another five
The middle section of the course was a bit of a blur on my first lap. Every time that I thought I might ahve a break, anotherhill would appear or a tricky, curvy downhill. Why had I not paid more attention to racing on TV?!
Finally, I reached Stirlings and from there it was a lovely donwhill section to Clearways and Brabham Straight, where Stuart and Sergio were cheering me on.
Phew! One-lap down in about 10 minutes, so only another 5 to go before handing over to Sergio!
In the end, I did 6 laps ranging from 10:35 to 10:55 before it was Sergio’s turn to ride.
My second hour on track
This time around, I knew what was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier. I started to get a bit more confident coming round Graham Hill Bend. As these photos show, I stayed quite wide as I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way!
Cycling up Surtees
Surtees is the second hill on the circuit. It comes after a reasonably long gentle incline and has a turn partway up. It’s definitely one of those hills that becomes more challenging every time you do it. Again, there was a photographer stationed at the top for quite a lot of the event, so I felt I should smile!
During my second hour, Stu and Sergio were watching from the wall by the pits and Sergio managed to film me cycling.
As you can hear, there was music playing throughout the event and a real party atmosphere.
After my second hour of cycling, I figured that I should eat something. I’d snacked on some cashew nuts and drank a bottle of nuun after my first ride. I swapped my cycling shoes for some comfy trainers and strolled down to the catering area. There were plenty of options and the Pasty Tram caught my eye, but then I saw that I could get a Halloumi wrap. It was absolutely delicious and just what I needed to give me a bit more energy.
My third hour on the track
I misread my Garmin during my second stint, so I cycled for over an hour. Sergio and I agreed that I would do a slightly shorter third session, which was just as well. I was feeling shattered from several consecutive late nights and my earlier cycling efforts. Hailwood Hill was getting increasingly hard. Despite that, I plastered on a smile for the photographer…
I was feeling exhausted and knew that my lap times were slowing. Stu managed to snap some pictures as I passed the pit lane on my final lap.
The professional photographers managed to snap me as I crossed the start/finish line. As you can see, I was looking focused (and tired!)
Sergio’s final hour
Teams could ride their final lap together during the event. That would be really fun, but I was feeling totally exhausted, so I declined.
I went and changed and then returned to the pit garage to watch Sergio. I took a few pictures of him cycling along Cooper Straight and up Surtees.
Stu and I watched Sergio come around Clark Curve and were surprised to see him come into the pit lane. He tried to persuade me to go for a final lap with him, but I just had no energy left. Sergio was also feeling tired, so he agreed that he would do one final steady lap.
We saw Sergio come around on his last lap. He was talking to the safety car. He was trying to stay behind as he didn’t want to have to do another lap!
Although Sergio ended up ahead of the safety car, he was able to finish at the end of his lap. He was so relieved!
How did we do?
After I’d finished, I went and had my chip removed and collected my medal.
I really like the medal. It’s quite a simple design incorporating a bottle opener.
I managed to do 16 laps in my 3 hours; Sergio cycled 21 laps! As you can see there were only 4 mixed pairs in the six-hour challenge. Sergio and I managed to finish on the podium in second place!
My final thoughts
I absolutely loved taking part in this event. It’s so exhilarating. Despite the complete mix of abilities, everyone was careful and courteous on the circuit. There is a good range of facilities at Brands Hatch, including a play area for children. The catering was good and there were plenty of toilets. I appreciated the high-quality photos that were available for download.
Next year, I would love to take part in this event again. I think it would be the most fun to be part of a team doing the 24-hour race, so I’ll be recruiting friends in the next few months! I’ll also be trying to persuade as many female friends as possible to take part as I’d really like to see more women taking part in Revolve24.