After an unsettled night’s sleep anxious over the next day’s (and potentially beyond!) challenge ahead, my 4am alarm shook me awake on Saturday morning, alerting me to start consuming my bowl of rice, yoghurt, jam and strawberries - my classic pre-race carb dense meal of choice. I forced the spoonfuls into my mouth, knowing that despite my lack of appetite at such an ungodly hour, I would very much be thanking myself for every gram I consumed in the coming hours. After a final equipment check and some ingestion of strong coffee, I rolled my bike over to the start line of The Traka 360, with plenty of time before the 6am start.
Approaching the start area, I saw a huge mass of riders already in position, but was lucky enough to have a space on the starting grid in the front pen. The countdown to the start began with flashes of press cameras and lights in all directions, amongst the flashing bike lights of riders lighting up the dark ahead of us. The atmosphere was electric and whilst the clock ticked down, we chit-chatted away expressing excitement but also nerves for the adventure ahead. When the timer hit zero the race was underway and the pace was immediately high, as riders pressed on to get a good position before the first gravel sections. With high excitement and pace around me, I found it hard to calculate my effort, especially with the unknown of how my body would respond to 360km of riding with over 5000m of elevation. I rode off instinct, and found myself riding with a strong group coming into the first feed at 90km, only 6 minutes behind the leading women.
This sort of endurance race with feed zones was something entirely alien to me, having never competed over a distance greater than 150km before. I had nutrition and hydration planned out with my sister who was supporting me for the race, but this soon was thrown out of the window when a miscommunication meant that she replaced my hydration vest with an empty one at feed 1, something I later paid for hugely! On realising it was empty, I chose not to turn back, with riders leaving me at the feed whilst I took a nature break. I chased back onto them on the climb we approached and sipped through my bottles, unaware of how many hours it would be before I had a chance to refill my sparse water supplies. The views at this point were utterly outstanding, as we rode through a gruelling remote section, so I was momentarily distracted from my hydration troubles by some beautiful distant sea views.
After hitting the coast, we passed through another scenic section of the route, which featured a 7km technical single track most definitely built for mountain bikes rather than something with drop handlebars! I embraced the challenge and found I actually enjoyed some of the drop-offs and was riding well beyond the realms of my technical ability. I began to ask other riders around me if anyone could help me with water, but as expected nobody offered to help, with most riders running low on water themselves given the length and difficulty of this section paired with the heat! On hitting a town, I managed to find a bar on the route and got someone to fill up a bottle with water, a huge relief! But by this point, my throat was so dry I had become unable to swallow any of my nutrition. Races of this length can essentially become eating competitions, so I was aware of the importance of ingesting carbs for the longevity of my performance, but simply couldn’t keep anything down. Not long after leaving the town, I finished this bottle of water, but spotted fellow Parcours athlete Mark on the course, who shared some of his water with me, as I explained my dehydration situation.
Hitting the second feed zone, I downed a huge bottle of water to try and recover from the dehydration over the preceding 4.5 hours and tried to see if there was anything I was able to eat. I managed to swallow some food by eating it bit-by-bit whilst drinking, and got myself back on the route as quickly as possible, knowing now I was holding a strong 5th position in the race, with my team-mate Amira, just in front in 4th. The next chunk of time was a blur, and I managed to get some good speed over a flatter section, but my stomach problems began to worsen. I was unable to stomach any of my nutrition, which now included carbs in my bottles and I was concerned for the 100+ miles I still had to complete.
Hitting the third feed zone at 246km, I decided to pause for a longer time and really force myself to take on some food. The feed zone was stocked with a variety of food and I picked up a bowl of plain rice and did my very best to shovel it down my throat despite my body’s rejection of it! I knew I needed some fuel in me to get me to that finish line, and that the time lost here taking on as much as I could nutrition-wise would be worth it, as it would increase my probability of making it over the finish line. After my battle with a bowl of rice, I emerged victorious and hopped back on my bike and back out onto the course, with the final tough climb about 20km away. I continued to battle with my stomach, but pushed through the discomfort, determined to finish the race, and ideally finish in the position I was holding! Hitting that last climb, I had barely anything left in me to get up the 10km long ascent with sections as steep as 22% and I found myself having to hike-a-bike, despite having been able to ride the climb entirely when I had recce-d it. At this point the race really became mental rather than physical and I pushed myself to the 4th feed where I retrieved lights and prepared myself to hit darkness within the next 2 hours.
At 8:40pm the sun set, and with this darkness came a very unfortunate heavy downpour of rain. Having overheated earlier in the day, I actually wasn’t too put off by this downpour, but felt for the hundreds of riders on the course behind me who would be riding all through the night to complete the course by the cut-off of 2pm the next day. I kept my focus and picked up my pace coming out of the 5th feed, keen to ensure that I would hold my position on the podium and really get out the last watts that my legs were able to push out. I shoved a handful of Pringles into my mouth as I left the feed, but I unfortunately was only able to enjoy chewing them, as swallowing was still something my body wasn’t permitting. The last 2 hours had some single track sections in the dark, and I found myself really enjoying the course and the challenge of really leaving everything out there before the finish line (whilst navigating darkness and wild animals!). In the last hour, I found another rider to work with, and we pushed each other right to the 361st km, as we chatted away about life and the ridiculous riding we had just done.
I crossed the line in 16hrs 54 minutes, securing a sub 18-hrs finisher mug as well as 5th fastest female in a really strong field of riders. On finishing, I felt a huge sense of joy and pride, for both my performance and that of my teammate who finished in 4th place in front of me. I did however manage to bring some paramedics to my side by some rather extreme and sudden vomiting (not my most shining hour!). Fortunately for me, I do speak Spanish, so I was able to let them know that I was in fact ok, and not in need of their immediate assistance. I hobbled to the car and was driven back to our flat to attempt to eat some solid food before rolling into bed and attempting to recover from quite the adventure! My thoughts at this moment were with those riders who would continue to ride throughout the night, and I was very thankful to be burrito-d in a duvet in bed no longer vomiting!
The Traka 360 was a humongous challenge both physically and mentally, and I am so proud to be able to add this to my palmares! I also got to meet some incredible and inspiring riders whilst out in Girona, and the race has fuelled so much excitement for the rest of my season ahead. Despite some rather low lows during the race, I had an incredible time, and I don’t doubt that I’ll be back next year with a dialled nutrition and hydration plan to improve on my time from this year, and see if I can push for a higher podium step! Definitely a day on a bike I will never forget.