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Thursday, 24 November 2016
Year 6 pupils from the Junior Boys’ and Junior Girls’ Schools were treated to a talk from Chris Eatough, an Old Boy who went on to become six times World 24 hour Solo Mountain Bike Racing Champion. He was back at Bolton School to deliver the Tillotson Lecture, but also found time to address younger pupils about his sporting success and answer their host of questions.
He talked briefly about his time at Bolton School: he played football and water polo and represented the school in biathlon competitions. He also talked about moving to the US at the age of fifteen, and his discovering of mountain biking while studying Engineering at Clemson University, where he also played soccer. His father had also competed in mountain bike races, and helped to inspire him in his early career in the sport.
Chris explained that he enjoyed mountain biking because of the direct correlation between training and improvement, which was different to the team sports he had played before. He therefore continued training and realised that he was at the highest level he could achieve in the type of races he was competing in, but that he tended to do better in longer races. He therefore decided to start taking on longer races and discovered 24 hour races. At first he competed as a member of a four-man team with each of them taking on six hours of racing each, but he realised during these races that some competitors were racing for the entirety of the duration by themselves. Intrigued by this, he wondered if he could do it and decided to take on a solo 24 hour race himself.
The Year 6 pupils were impressed to learn that Chris’s first 24 hour solo race was at the World Championships, and even more so to hear that he had won.
However, he explained that he then had to continue with 24 hour races and work out how to do them well in order to keep winning. The techniques that he and his support team worked out over the years to cut down his pit stop time were fascinating to hear about, and many of the questions at the end were focused on this aspect of his racing career.
Chris went on to be World Champion for six years in a row. Speaking about his seventh year, he explained that he came in second place, but was only briefly disappointed as his rival ended up in the hospital as he had pushed his body too hard during the race. Chris, however, was able to greet his wife and the rest of his support team, collect his award, and go for a meal after the race, all of which the winner could not do: he therefore realised that winning wasn’t all that mattered, and his achievement felt like a win.
He said that although the racing itself is done solo, he could not have done it without his support team behind him, and paid tribute to the hard work his wife, father and friends put in behind the scenes to help him with those races.
Finally he talked about his career since he gave up mountain bike racing at the age of 36. He has since implemented a bike-sharing transportation network installed in Washington DC and is now working on a similar project in Maryland. He is passionate about biking and hopes to encourage more people to get involved in this activity.
At the end of the talk, the Junior School pupils were filled with a host of questions inspired by Chris’s talk.
When asked about what it feels like to do 24 hours solo, Chris said it was “tough”: although the first and last laps feel good, the middle is hard to get through, both physically and mentally, and the section of the race that takes place at night is particularly difficult. He admitted that he did doubt himself every race, and there was always a battle inside his head, but he always tried to remember that he came to the race to achieve something, and that crossing the finish would be worth it. He also spoke about not wanting to let his support team down. There were questions about the kinds of food he ate – everything from sports bars to pancakes with syrup and even pizza – and his top speeds, which could get up to 40mph when going downhill. He was asked if he had even broken any bones, but said that he was very lucky: he had only broken one, and it was not while mountain biking but rather while riding his bike on the road in wet weather! Chris recalled competing in the National Championships twice more after he came in second place in the World Championships because he wanted to go out on a high note and didn’t want to finish with that race, and also talked about his favourite place to race, near Whistler in Canada. When asked about falling off his bike he said that it hardly happened because all the falls happened while he was training, and compared riding his mountain bike to learning to walk. However, he did also describe his most dramatic fall for the curious pupils, and said that he was lucky to land in a soft spot and be able to get up and keep riding afterwards. He also talked about why autumn is his favourite season to ride in, because it reminds him of the conditions he was used to in Bolton when he was young, and fixing problems like flat tyres and snapped chains while racing.
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