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Mark McPhillips at the Polaris Weekend

September 2012

Meteors, Explosions and face full of mud!

10.55am Friday 21st September

Brains were fuddled as we left the White Rose Hotel (no guess as to which county we were in). Dan, Maggie and I had been carefully marking up our maps and trying to work out the flattest routes through Yorkshire while drinking Lemonade.

As we headed back to camp confident that we had devised our strategies for the Polaris we all looked up at the night sky to unexpectedly see not just stars glistening but fireballs zooming across the sky!

Approx. 9.45am Saturday 22nd September

The start on the Saturday morning had been cleverly located half way up a hill to gently persuade you to use this height to climb to the top and drop into the next valley where a lot of high scoring controls were located.

So we rolled out from the ‘give out’ area with a plan and an ambitious high scoring route that also took into account that some areas of moorland were closed due to the shooting season.

It was only when we were one hundred metres down the road that everyone heard the first gun shot. Except I knew it wasn’t a gun shot as I had come to a complete halt on the steep climb. I looked down dreading what I was going to see.

The rear tubeless tyre on my bike had exploded off the rim. I looked temporarily stunned as I realised our chances of winning the Polaris had now been drastically reduced less than 30 seconds into our ride.

Luckily the tyre was OK and fifteen minutes later we were cycling again. Unfortunately that time lost meant that our initially ambitious route was now going to be maybe too ambitious and we set off to find out.

Approx. 11.30am Saturday 23rd September

Control 13 marked the end of the first phase of our planned route and what seemed like the beginning of the end. Due to the earlier puncture I had been pushing on the downhills a bit harder than I normally would during a Polaris and I was about to pay the consequence. One perfect wheel sized bog and a violent over the bars crash where my face hit the ground first was not what we needed. My face was buried in the deep clay like mud along with my entire right hand side and the front of my bike!

Dan must have felt the same urgency I was feeling as I tried to brush off the mud. He had instinctively checked my bike over and had even placed it facing the right direction to get up and go.

The get up and go was delayed until I washed my map in a stream as it was caked in mud and unreadable. It also gave me a chance to stop shaking from the adrenalin.

Approx. 1pm Saturday 23rd September

Dan and I were now riding really well and working really well as a team. Discussing options on the road and then getting our heads down. After leaving control 30 we noticed Andy Conn approaching from a different direction. Andy is one of a handful of riders capable of winning the Polaris and he had a successful summer of racing with the highlight being a bronze medal at the World MTBO championships in Hungary. It would be interesting to see if we were riding quicker than Andy or not. The fact that he caught us would suggest not but once we started climbing up to Buttersett High Pasture he got off his bike surprisingly early and we surged ahead. In retrospect this climb is so steep and long that conserving energy like Andy did was probably a better tactic as from the top of that climb onwards I was in a personal hell; due to my lower back going into spasm as a result of the earlier crash and hard off-road miles on a hardtail.

At the top of Buttersett High Pasture an important decision had to be made; an aggressive all in approach or a much more tactical option that left lots of options.

No time for thinking we threw ourselves into our high risk strategy. Dan was riding really well during these last two hours and I hated him for that as I had to go much deeper than I normally would. I felt like I was being tormented by the timer on my Garmin.

We had indeed been far too ambitious with our route despite already knowing we were going to be late we had to get a high scoring control that required an out and back diversion off the main trail. The points from this control would cover some of the penalty points we were now going to receive.

Saturday Evening

A familiar routine was established once at camp off trying to eat and recover as much as possible. Luckily this was aided by an unexpected bonus of a van full of supplies delivered by the local pub. I was good and avoided the beers but I did eat an array of flavoured crisps in an attempt to eat more carbs!

Saturday Night – The less said about that the better. There are not a lot of positives regarding trying to sleep on balloons in a tiny tent with another 6ft bloke.

Sunday Morning – I made it. I spent most of the night on the edge of despair as the temperature tried to drop to freezing. The one and only highlight was having a midnight feast of salt and vinegar crisps.

Sunday No Risk No Fun

The big gamble came very early in our route as we chose to ignore high scoring points near the overnight camp and instead picked a series of controls that led to a cluster of high scoring controls in the North East corner of the map on Fremmington Edge and Gunnerside. Once this decision was made the rest of the ride was physically hard but our plan was working so our route felt like it was flowing well. Another calculated gamble near the end meant that we sped into the finish on Sunday late but with the 2nd highest score of the day only 10 points behind Al Powell the Overall winner. Our Sunday ride was so good we moved up from a distant 4th to 2nd overall by a very small margin of 5 points.

10 Things I learnt at the Polaris this year

1. Meteors look like large fireworks but only much faster
2. The fords in Yorkshire are extremely deep
3. Sometimes you need to go slower to go faster
4. Taking risks can lead to failure
5. You need to take risks to win.
6. If you wear a small green sleeping bag in a skirt like fashion everyone on the campsite will stare at you and think what a twit.
7. The words balloon and bed should never be used together.
8. You can always go much harder than you think you can.
9. There is no such thing as a two man tent at the Polaris
10. Just because your suffering doesn’t mean you can’t suffer some more

Report by Mark McPhillips