As someone who has been fortunate, and fleet of foot, enough to win The Stinger on a few occasions (and trust me, you will be reminded of this incessantly on the day) I feel confident in passing on some tips on how to come away knackered, muddy and smug. So here is my guide on how to smash The Stinger in style.
1. Relax. It's not an Olympic qualification event, there are precious few bragging points, and within no time at all everyone, including yourself, will have forgotten it ever happended and moved on to the next event (hopefully Round 1 of the Soggy Bottom Series). So you can just relax and enjoy the personal challenge.
2. Sort your admin out. There is a fine line at a multi sport event between not having the right kit, and looking like you are packing for a fortnight away. You will not believe what people will carry into transition with them, and leave out in the rain for the duration of the event, so pack smart, and avoid the paralysis that ensues when you are looking at your transition kit mountain and can't find your lucky biking socks. You can run and bike in the same clothes, so you don't need a change of kit. You will be boiling hot from 2 minutes into the event, and will continue sweating for the next few hours so be bold and start cold. Don't run in a helmet or SPDs, that's just daft. Gloves should allow you to do up / undo your laces, so practice at home. You'll be out there for a couple of hours, tops, so you don't need a camelbak, just a bottle on your bike and a gel or similar for transition snack. If you can change tubes, carry tubes. If not, why bother? And the same applies to bike tools; if you can't fix it in your garage in the warm, you won't fix it mid race in the mud so don't weigh yourself down with tools. Travel light, move fast.
3. Practice. Practice putting your running shoes / biking shoes on quickly. Then practice again at the end of a run or bike ride when you are tired, stiff and confused. There are all sorts of gadgets that will help with transition, but none help as much as practice. Do it now.
Practice the bike course on the day. The course isn't overly technical, but the running whippets need to hold off the MTBers for as long as possible, and the MTBers have it all to do in the 20 km bike leg, so you all need to go as fast as your bravery will allow you . Go practice on the morning and commit as much of the course as possible to memory. The bike course will be open from 0930 ish on the day so get there early.
Practice transition on the day. Have a run around, run into the transition from the direction you will during the race and see how many strides it is to your bike. Trust me, you will run straight past it during the event, but at least you'll be close.
Have a look around the transition to make sure you know where you are going to enter and exit, and look at where The Stinger run is going to go, as your red mist will prevent you using your eyes during heavy breathing.
4. It ain't over 'til it's over. On one occasion, I didn't take the lead until the final downhill on The Stinger run, when the dude who had led all the way got cramp and I skipped past him in a sporting and supportive way. The shakedown in the event generally happens by the last lap of the bike, so don't panic and blow your doors too soon.
5. Pacing. All the mass of articles on this subject have always baffled me, because I always found pacing an event to be really simple - you just go as hard as you personally can until the nice man says "stop". We all have different cruising speeds, but you should defintely be blowing it out of your arse all the way round. There is only one response that you'll get to your "I think I could have gone harder" post-race comments, and don't expect it to be supportive. Go hard or go home, or choose your own cliche to that effect.
6. Patience. Results / photos / reports and all that will be available for you to analyse to death in the days after the event, so just wait patiently, don't hassle us, and say nice things about us when it all appears.
7. Bring some lunch cash. It's all change in the event catering at Newnham Park. With the Pickled Lemon Company having emigrated to Spain, and by the bizarre British double standards become ex-pats, rather than immigrants, we were short a caterer. So it's a welcome return for Rita and the legendary Portakabin bacon sandwich brigade. It'll be a simple post race menu, of the 'take it or leave it' variety, and not featuring any drinks that end in -achino. Expect home cooked food, Rita's winning smile, and some change from a fiver.
8. There is no such thing as a stupid question. Whatever it is, don't be afraid to ask us. Just don't be surprised when we share it with the world every time you come round to finish a lap.
9. Definitely do The Stinger run. Even if you are struggling to complete the bike laps, we are still happy for you to go out and wallow in the mud of The Stinger run. You will still get a result relative to the number of laps you completed, and you'll get the full experience of losing your trainers in a bog, which is what you came for after all?!
"Who is that over there talking to Sally Gunnell?" is something I've never heard said at a dinner party before, and it made me snort like a pig.
I had previously always sworn that the only way I'd go back to London would be to watch Plymouth Argyle play at Wembley or pick up our OBEs. But the opportunity to represent the wonderful Pilgrim Flyers and drink our weight in free champagne was too good to miss.
The initial phone call invite was so out of the blue, and the subsequent lack of contact so suspicious, that we started to think that it was some sort of bizarre hoax. On the train down to London, I still wondered if we were heading towards the UK Hunger Games; two unsuspecting numpties from each of the provinces enticed down to the capital to fight to the death in front of Judy Murray. Luckily, it was the real deal, we were housed in Hilton's finest Travelodge rip-off on Hyde Park, welcomed with a bottle of bubbly and free umbrella (useful when you come from Devon), and treated to a glacial speed taxi ride to the Grosevnor to remind us why we live in Devon.
After being ignored by the autograph hunters and snubbed by the paparazzi, we broke the World Record for the fastest crossing of a red carpet. The carpet is clearly designed to automatically repel anyone who hasn't been in Hello magazine, and we went up it like we'd been fired out of a cannon. Luckily for us, but not for anyone else, it meant that we were first to hit the free booze, and assuming we were just there as rent-a-crowd, proceeded towards alcohol poisoning and incoherence.
Once seated at our table, the traditional game of 'What's His Name?' started among us non-celebs, not helped by the fact that we were all rubbish at remembering names, the famous faces there present were B-list at best, and our brain cells were being rapidly pickled. Remember, we were just there as fodder, to politely applaud when the eventual winners were announced and then head off to find the nearest Wetherspoons and so avoiding spending £40 on a £5 bottle of wine. Dirty robbing Londoners.
When the Pilgrims were announced as winners of Grassroots Club of the Year, my stomach lurched. The reality of having to climb on to the stage and be interviewed hit home and images of Oliver Reed on the Russell Harty show flashed through my head. Maddie had made herself comfortable and taken her shoes off, but we eventually ambled up the steps to collect the trophy and garble some nonsense at a bemused gaggle of celebs. A swift round of backstage photos and interviews followed which made me wonder why they didn't just stick us all on roller skates and push us round to where they wanted us.
And on the evening went; we met some really nice 'grass-roots' people and some really rude 'celebs' who proceeded to talk loudly and play with their phones through most of the awards. (Kudos to Maddie who went over to tell them to 'shut up') The after-party turned out to be an opportunity to sell us massively expensive bottles of beer, and nowhere near as exciting as I thought it would be, given the presence of a load of footballers. Where's Wayne Rooney when you need him?
The magnesium flare of moments like this has thankfully burned out and we can get back to the important job of buggering about on bikes with a bunch of crazy kids. We are so proud of being part of the Pilgrim Flyers, but as the Wonder Stuff said, we're 'just two legs of the Groove Machine'. The award and the credit belongs to everyone who has abandoned the traditional cyclist "what's in it for me?" attitude and given their time for the club - the coaches, riders, parents and the vast amount of people who have had a positive influence on what we do.
Next up is our club Christmas Bash at Newnham Park. The rider who gets voted the Flyers' Flyer of the Year will get to take home the Pride of Sport trophy, and have their mother polish it. The coaches get to finish off the remaining bottle of bubbly, so everyone's a winner.