Two gruelling races and two different riders sit down and talk all things race, prep and perseverance.
Despite living only a few miles apart in Glasgow this year’s GB Divide winner Chris Hinds and regular Advntr contributor Marcus Nicolson had never met, So after a year of endurance at home and abroad we thought we’d take the opportunity to catch up with them both after their bikepacking racing experiences in the UK and Hungary. Read on for a de-brief of some of the highs and lows of their adventures, a tale of two divides if you will.
Below is the Route for the 2021 Hungarian Divide –
What was the biggest challenge of the race (GB/Hungarian Divide) for you?
MN: For me it was the daytime heat in Hungary. I wasn’t prepared for the 35-degree peaks at midday and my speed slowed down massively as a result. This was especially tough on the first few days of the race. It took a lot of resolve just to keep moving forward and not go lie down under a bush during the early afternoon especially! I was able to put in good shifts in the morning and evening on those hottest days to make up for it. During the peak afternoon heat I would soak my jersey and cap under a water fountain and wear those to try and bring my body temperature down. That was my technique for dealing with the heat.
CH: The quantity and severity of hike-a-bike! Being a local I knew the West Highland Way would be a lot of hiking but the volume of hiking on the rest of the course was a surprise. Physically walking up steep gradients pushing the bike in cleats really did some damage to my achilles and feet. Mentally it was just really disheartening to see your average speed keep dropping with every minute and realising that your planned schedule was totally out the window. I ended up limiting my little bubble of existence to just getting over the next hill and trying to carry enough food to survive no matter where I had to stop for the night.
How did you maintain a consistent speed when riding an mtb/29” set up on roads as well as off-road?
MN: There were some long tarmac sections on the Hungarian Divide that were quite slow going on the 29er wheels. On those bits I felt a bit sluggish. However, there were plenty of really chunky off-road sections where I was stoked to have the extra comfort of the 2.1” tyres. Overall, I think I was less fatigued/physically beat up as a result of riding with the bigger set up. I only ended up with a few numb toes and fingers compared to all of them!
CH: I’d tested out my gearing and tyres on the road prior to the event and figured out on the flat I could at best knock out about 30kph which I figured wasn’t too bad a top end speed on the road relative to the offroad averages I expected. In the end i averaged 25kph on the road sections which was flying compared to the 14kph off road! Chunky tyres were a lifesaver, I don’t know if it would have been possible to finish with anything smaller, if you’d used a 40C gravel tyre you’d be walking 80% of the route! Like Marcus, the added comfort is probably the only reason I can still hold a knife and fork just now.
Did you struggle to find water/resupply? Any special foods that kept you going?
CH: I learned the hard way on TPR 19 not to run out of food, so I ended up carrying some emergency rations the length of the UK. Extra weight but it’s reassuring to know you’ve always got a fall back. The UK is pretty good for resupply, and can pretty much guarantee that every Co-Op in the country has 7-10 opening hours! Water was easy to come by but I wish I’d had covers on my water bottles, they were covered in sheep shit for most of the week! Co-Op bakery breakfast with some orange juice was a little bit of normality when you could get it!
MN: I brought a lot of my own snacks along on the ride. I found a recipe for energy balls using peanut butter, dates and coconut and made up a bunch of those in Scotland before heading off to Hungary. Those added a fair bit of weight to my bike at the start but I felt secure that I always had some proper food with me. Apart from that there were a lot of pizza and bakery stops when I came across those! At one point on the route there was a surprise refreshment point where I got some watermelon and homemade lemonade for my bottles, which got my spirits back up after a long puncture repair!
Did you have any unexpected encounters along the route? What kept you motivated to keep going?
MN: After a dodgy puncture repair I ended one night with a slow puncture heading up a steep road climb. The wind was picking up for a storm and I knew it would be better to track back down the hill and get some shelter to rest and repair. A high school group was staying at a hostel lower down the hill and the teacher offered me a spot in a tent outside when I explained my situation. There were loads of fleece blankets and it was great to get out of the wind for a few hours that night.
CH: On the first night I ended up racing a badger on a descent off the South Downs as neither of us could get out off the track with the fencing and hedge rows. I was struggling to scrub speed on the chalky mud and it turns out badgers can really shift when they need to. Two of us were neck and neck in the dark with me just repeatedly screaming “F*ck” to myself and hoping we didn’t collide.
Motivation for keeping going? In general i’m just really really stubborn, I had no reason to quit other than discomfort so no real excuses there and if I scratched I’d have to come back and do it again which sounded even worse!
How did your recovery go? Did you do anything in particular to physically/mentally get back to health after the race?
MN: I was eating non-stop for 2-weeks after the ride. Hungary has some amazing bakeries. My favourite was a poppy seed strudel type thing! I took a proper break from exercising during that time and I slept loads too. I guess it takes a while to make up for the +200km a day on 3-4 hours sleep a night!
CH: I was the same, couldn’t stop eating for the first 2 weeks afterwards. I just chilled out for a couple of weeks with a few very, very short and slow spins to the coffee shop. Mainly to try and get my achilles mobilised again as they were like rock after all the hiking. The fatigue hits you like a wave at weird times so I had a few naps on the sofa which is really not like me! Mentally I was excited to get back on the bike so it was difficult to reign that in. Got a bit frustrated at how little I could ride when the weather was good!
How do you train for these kinds of events?
MN: I ride about 3 times a week with a long ride at the weekend usually. I try to think more about time than distance when it comes to training. I usually vary the terrain; fixed gear road riding, light gravel to chunky stuff. In the past few months, I’ve been doing some strength and mobility work at the gym to try and reduce my chance of injury. I’m trying to stretch more but I’m always so lazy with that! My partner is teaching me some basic yoga that I hope will improve my flexibility!
CH: I tend to focus on shorter rides of higher intensity and generally quite a high volume. If I can squeeze a lunch time turbo in, I’ll try to do short high power/low cadence work to build strength in my core and lower back with an hour or two in the evenings depending on weather/work/life etc. On the weekends I really only do max 3hr rides as I get a bit bored doing more. But those three hours will be right on my limit. Like Marcus I’m lazy with stretching but I do try to fit in yoga and mobility as it really does help!
What are your future race/riding plans/bucket list rides?
MN: I’m looking to squeeze in a few longer rides in the autumn and then take part in the Atlas Mountain Race in Morocco next February. It’s been postponed a few times so fingers crossed on that one. I’ll definitely have a few more lined up for next summer but I’ve got a PhD to finish off in the meantime too!
CH: Autumn and winter only means one thing for me, CX. So I’ll be hanging up the ultra wheels and digging out the mud tyres for the rest of the year. I fancy some winter bothy trips but hopefully on skis! Badlands and Transiberica are the main two events I really want to get ticked off, so hopefully it’ll be the Gorafe desert and a suntan for me in 2022!
To stay upto date with what both Marcus and Chris are upto be sure to follow them via the links below.
Chris click ………. here!
and for Marcus …………….. here!
Last modified: 19th November 2021