One wet windy March morning I met with Stu Taylor in the Wheelbase Carpark in Staveley. His head was upright, he has been letting his neck recover, although he hasn’t sat still with the Silva Lakes 100km Traverse run booked in for the next weekend.
Stu hadn’t ridden a bike since the Moroccan Atlas mountain race and had to do some last minute gear cable replacements, then we were off.
I wanted to catch up with Stu to get more insight into his amazing Atlas race where he encountered the ultra racers dreaded Shermer’s neck.
You’re necks ok now?
“Yeah its not too bad, it’s still sore and still stiff.
What was the Shermer sensation like, could you feel it coming on?
“You know when you’re lifting something and you cannot lift anymore, whatever it maybe theres just noting there, it was like that in your neck power. I’m trying as hard as I can to lift my head up, literally gritting my teeth to get my head up. It was a weird pain, you could stand it, but it was defiantly a pain. Sort of doable.”
So the Toilet roll.
“I think it was the best solution for it really. The traditional Berbers of Morocco, they don’t use it. It took a while to find the toilet roll. The last shop had it, it was bit more of a built up area, this old traditional Berber man, he knew what I ment, he started laughing, started miming the actions!
What made you think of it?
“I strapped my helmet to my hydration pack to hold my head back, and I thought yes this is it! I’ve won it, this is genius, but it held my neck in a fatigue position. It was painful but it was a weird pain, after a while I couldn’t really stand it. Right I need to wedge my head up, if I can rest my chin on something, so I got my buff put it through the helmet straps, filled it with my gloves and tied the ends, it was like a cracker, a buff cracker if you know what I mean, and I strapped that round my head.
What were you listing to? Nothing too head-banging?
“I don’t normally listen to much while I’m riding, this time I listened to so much, I had a load, a mixture of all sorts, I don’t know where it came from, some rave classic, a DJ going ‘Everybody when I say green light! Wah wah wah when I say green light’ and it would kick off, it was awful but it was good,
“I had my head down, and I just started using my phone as a guide"
Did think about throwing in the towel / loo roll?
“If I was like, that’s it I’m done, so what’s gonna happen? How are you going to get back to the van? How are you going to get a car to go home?
Presumably you got to a point where you could get out, but you kept going?
“Yeah, checkpoint 3. Checkpoint 2 was when it was starting, looking back at photos you can see I was having issues, saddle sores also. Regardless of what you’re going through physically, mentally as well, it is a mental ride.
I suppose your there for hours, you would feel low at some point,
“its quite mediative, you do have a bit of a cry, and it’s so good afterwards, most people do at some point. I remember crying at one point where I was riding along and I thought about my mate that died, totally welled up, starting filling with tears, bit of a moment with some music on, 30 seconds to minute later, felt real empowerment, real strong. Even what’s going on at home, Niko is expecting, she was early on then, she couldn’t get in touch with me because the signals so bad, you have theses moments but you come out of them with this real rush.”
“Its not really felling low, I didn’t feel low when I was crying, it’s not like you think you’re going to scratch, you’re not in a sad way, it’s almost a celebration way, for my friend it was sadness that he’s passed away. I’m not in a low moment, its just part of it, It’s weird I don’t know how to describe it. A really nice state to be in, not a sad state, it’s mediative I suppose. There’s a lot of happy tears, I’m not like, this is killing me get me out of here, Nikos at home 12 weeks pregnant, your emotions are right on the tip, your really in touch with them because your on your own for so long.”
Why did you start doing the ultra events?
“Motivation behind the very first one, very first big one was the highland trail, raising money for a friend who was sick, unfortunately he passed away. He was struggling, he was only very early diagnosis. I thought, right I’m gonna raise some money. That was how it sort of started, planted the idea in my mind.
I obviously had to train for it. I thought I would just get straight into the event, but the organiser said ‘prove to me that you have done something like this before’, and I had never done. Well what do you want me to do? He said to go and ride the lakes 200 which is a 200km bike packing route round the lakes which is pretty gnarly, and let me know how you get on. I beat the organisers time, I sent him the Strava and he said well I can’t really refuse you now you beat my time. I did it on my Specialised enduro 160mm travel, raised, over 5000 pounds for Leeds Cancer Care, people donating is good motivation.
I Met a guy on that event who runs the French Divide and he said to come ride this event and i'll give you a free entry. How far is that? Its 1400 miles! Which is pretty much three times the one I just done pretty much!”
How’s was that one?
“It was long. It wasn’t hard, just bloody long, your life becomes bakery, patisserie, croissant. I did it in 11 days, came about 12th, on a Sonder Broken Road.
How long are you in the saddle for?
“20 hours is what I try, with 4 hrs Sleep. That’s what I look at, but usually its 4 to 6 hrs sleep, in reality probably 18 to 20 hrs not necessarily peddling but that’s up and with your bike, you stop for lunch etc. Some days it can be so slow, depends how hard it is. The average I aim for is 150 to 200 km a day. If you do that and maintain that you can achieve a fairly decent time, baring in mind you're looking at off-road and some of it is really slow. The first 120 km in Morocco I took in over 3500m climbing over the highest point, and that took 14 hours.
Chamois cream? Problems with your ass?
“I don’t usually get much problems with it, I was using cream in Morocco. I that was because of the distance between this event and my last long event, you build a bit of hard skin I think. I dunno how but in Morocco some sand had got in the mix, so I rubbed sandy bum cream on, Noooo! Its gonna make it worse. I’ve used it for chain lube before.”
“I remember on a Bmx trip, I went from English winter into US summer, and my lips cracked, and I couldn’t find lip balm any where, I was using shower gel, hair gel anything, they hurt so much. Eventually, I found some in a corner store, and it was a Ryan Nyquist signature Bmx balm with a little graphic of him doing a tailwhip or something. I couldn’t believe it, I still have it somewhere.
“You can use your bum butter on your lips, just make sure you don't double dip. Left hand for lips.”
What’s coming up?
“Im Going out to Greece in May, The Hellenic Mountain Race, a fixed route, unsupported 940 kilometre fixed route in Northeern Greece. I am surprised how long it's taken me to recover from Morocco this time, I think my neck has really caused my body to be really battered."
Since writing this Stu has completed his debut ultra run across the entire width of the Lake District, the Silva Lakes Traverse, coming in at eighteen and half hours.