Decisions and reflections

It was while I was in the middle of dragging myself out of bed at 4:30am again to go out in the rain to ride up a hill six times that I cracked. Apart from the occasional fortnight off here and there, it felt like I’d being doing this for years.

I paused and I realised that I HAD been doing this for years. Repeatedly training for a 24 hour solo race, no real variation apart from the changing weather and the availability of natural light. I need a break from this. Not a break from riding bikes or anything silly like that, just a change of routine. A chance to prepare properly for the big plans of next summer while also having the time and energy to finally tackle my list of non-cycling, mainly-domestic stuff I’ve been putting off for years.

I’d loved training for the world champs back in October but I knew that I was going to run out of enthusiasm sooner or later – luckily for me I had just enough to see me through my race preparation and the race itself. The motivational ‘dip’ kicked in just as I was tucking into my post-race meal(s).

The grown-up decision to abandon plans to race the Strathpuffer in 2016 wasn’t a particularly hard decision to make, in fairness. The prospect of sitting out a 24 hour bike race located 400 miles to the north of Manchester a month after Christmas sounded quite appealing, so I’ll leave the ice, darkness and mud to those who are bursting with enthusiasm for it. While it’s a brilliant event, if you’re going to miss a race, missing the Strathpuffer tends to make some sense.

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Just this one mind – I plan to be racing again in the spring and summer after a (hopefully) rejuvenating break.

In the past few weeks I’ve been doing what many ‘normal’ cyclists do. I’ve been lifting weights, running (it’s good for you to do things you’re not very good at!) and I’ve been riding bikes a lot less than I would normally. I’ve been worrying about my winter weight gain, while simultaneously telling myself that a bit of weight gain, while a bit unsightly, is actually good for the mind and body and it’ll somehow reduce the chances of me getting a cold. And the list of domestic jobs? Clobbered.

I’m ‘putting the miles in’ again now but racing, for me, starts next spring – short races, long races, running and cycling races, loads of stuff – and the next 24 hour mountain bike race is over six months away. That gives me just about enough time to put a big dent in my list of jobs around the house and for a few dozen more visits to the local tip….

So that’s that! 2015 ends in a bit of a flat note, but there’s no shortage of cool things to look back on. A good result (and a sore back) at the Strathpuffer, a win in the mixed pairs at Mayhem and another solo win at TwentyFour12. The main racing highlight was a dramatic but hugely enjoyable World Solo 24 Hour Championship, a race that I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to travel to and one that once again made me realise how lucky I am to have so many people in my corner, making stuff happen. You’re all The Best and I’m really chuffed to have the same team in my corner for 2016.

Here’s to a grand New Year and I hope you all have a fun, happy and successful one. Cheers.

 

Kendal – it’s MINT.

It’s been a whole seven weeks since I last updated this blog – to be honest in that time there’s been very little to write about. Going to work, sleeping until 7:30am, eating to gain weight – I suppose I could make it sound interesting if I really tried but..well. It’s eating chips and drinking beer. It’s hardly the stuff of legend.

Things are starting to happen now though. As well as getting back into running again (I’ve got some running things planned for 2016 that I’d always said I’d never do, but I think I’ve had a road to Damascus moment… or something), I’ve been very gradually easing into “putting some hours in” on the bike. Good job as well, as I seem to be racing at the Strathpuffer again in January.

I’m not sure how committed I feel about the Strathpuffer this time, which can be a problem when faced with a six hour training ride in the driving sleet in mid-December but there you go. I’m on the list. It’ll be as fun as it normally is, which is always a surprise because it always sounds like it’s going to be horrible.

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As well as the usual diet of short races, long races, big rides and early mornings, In 2016 I plan to get right out of my comfort zone – I can’t go into masses of detail just yet because nothing about 2016 is 100% definite, but plans are getting there and in any case, the Big Thing that I’m doing  next year was sort of announced at the Kendal Mountain Festival last week.

All I’m saying here is that I’m going to be buying a new sleeping bag.

The Kendal Mountain Festival is a brilliant event, by the way. If you have chance to go next year you really should. Loads of cool films and events all about outdoorsy, epic and generally bloody impressive stuff. Not just mountain biking – if climbing, canoeing, skiing, camping out on mountains or just being outside is your thing you’ll love it. Kendal was buzzing last weekend.

There was a 10K run as well – Debbie and I braved the wintery conditions and took part – you can read about that on the Team JMC blog.

That’s all for now!

World Solo 24 Hour Championship 2015

I’d completely run out of swear words by the time the last elite category rider vanished down the trail. Try as I might, the tyre refused to go back on the rim, my ham-fistedness increasing with every heartbeat, each heartbeat increasing its volume in my skull as I started to panic.

Don’t panic. There’s ages to go yet.

I snapped my tyre lever. One of those Pedro’s tyre levers – the ones that hardly ever break. I started to dig deep into the swearword bank.

Eventually, after what seemed like a million riders had ridden past (most of them shouting, “do you want some help?” without actually stopping…), Will stopped and offered me his tyre levers and gave me a hand with the tyre.

After some more swearing and cursing of thousand-dollar rims, I was on my way again, charging after the group as though the race had 23 minutes, rather than 23 hours to go….

Prior to this first-lap, torn tyre debacle in this year’s World Champs, I’d travelled all the way from Manchester to Weaverville, California with Debbie and Budge after a week of last-minute bike spannering, work hassles, packing and dogsitter-arranging. The journey itself wasn’t too bad, we were reassured by the British Airways cabin crew that the bikes had made it to the flight from Heathrow even though our internal flight from Manchester had been delayed. I relaxed and got plenty of sleep….

I wanted to smash the San Francisco airport terminal with my bare fists when the lady behind the enquiries desk broke the news that the bikes were still at Heathrow. A few wanders around the now-empty baggage claim carousels quelled the rage just enough so that I could communicate without spitting. It was Thursday. The race was on Saturday and I’m being told that the bikes wouldn’t arrive in San Francisco until Friday afternoon. On arrival, they’d have to be poked and prodded by US customs then couriered to Weaverville, the thick end of 300 miles north.

My plans for a building the bikes on Friday morning, then wandering over to the race venue and getting in a nice practice lap were looking dashed. In fact, I was staring at the very real possibility of the bikes not actually being here by the time the race started. Fantastic!

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Luckily we arrived in Weaverville in the middle of the night to be welcomed by Noreen and Graham – one of the Weaverville families who signed up to take in World Champs racers and two of the warmest, most helpful people I’ve ever met. Along with their children, they turned our trip around by not only providing the three of us with board and lodgings but by taking a lot of the stress away from us by ferrying water and bikes to and fro and by staying up all night to sign for the bikes, when they were eventually delivered at 1am on the day of the race….

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Bikes built at 6am, some concerns over the fact that I’d not ridden either bike before lining up at the start, but there was nothing I could do now – here it was, the last few minutes before the lead-out, this time behind some horses and a classic Ford Mustang.

Eventually I got into the rhythm of the race after the first lap trouble I mentioned earlier and I was picking people off, slowly but surely working my way back up the leaderboard. Debbie, Budge and Allan from Santa Cruz were keeping busy in the pits as I came in with a near-constant stream of tyre and ‘missing bolt’ issues while I suffered in the heat of the Californian afternoon. I’ve honestly not experienced heat quite like it – the lack of any moisture in the air and a mouth and nose almost constantly full of dust meant that I was struggling to maintain anything like a brisk pace so I held on as best I could, kept my pits as brief as possible (always aiming to ride straight through with a bottle hand up) and looked forward to the cooler evening temperatures.

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Once the sun went down I got on with the job and felt like I had a new pair of legs – my lap times came down and I was able to sustain more effort for longer without overheating. Temperatures continued to fall and as they did, I just got faster. As dusk became full-on pitch darkness, my Exposure lights working at full beam allowed me to ride the long, fast descent as fast as I would in daylight. The bleak first few hours were starting to be forgotten and I was actually enjoying myself.

Lap after lap I toiled away at the 3.5 mile gravel climb, the 1 mile flat bit and the 7-and-a-bit long singletrack descent. The course was hard work, but the long descent did give me a chance to recover well from the climb, provided some flat-out thrills and allowed me to ride the climb harder than I would normally. Eventually I’d pulled myself back into a reasonable position and started to think about getting into the top ten. Getting into tenth place was probably the most difficult and prolonged overtaking manoeuvre I’ve ever had to carry out – I’d overtake the rider on the climb then he’d catch me and overtake on the descent. This went on for two laps until I got pissed off and practically killed myself to open up a sizeable gap on the climb then took one or two risks on the descent. It paid off.

There were a few hours to go and I reckoned I could move up a bit further, at least until the sun came out again. 9th and then 8th place appeared soon afterwards, then I caught Rob Friel in 7th place an hour or so later. By now the sun was shining again and the race was nearly over. I only had enough time to get past Rob at the bottom of the big climb (which to him may have looked like I was all smooth and in control, but really I was in agony) before one more lap and a nice lie down in the shade. Apparently the twitter feed had been going a bit bonkers while all this was going on…

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While the few days before the race weren’t ideal prep and the start of the race was frustrating, the outcome and everything that happened in between was brilliant – in fact, I probably enjoyed this 24 hour race more than any other I’ve done in the past (and I’ve done quite a few). The support I had from all of my sponsors – Team JMC, Santa Cruz Bikes, Exposure Lights, Jungle Products, Craft UKHoney Stinger, 2Pure and Mount Zoom made it possible for me to train for and to be at this race and for that I’m eternally grateful to them all.

Most of all I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my super-brilliant support team of Deb and Budge and the extended Santa Cruz family – Will, Allan, Josh (who was 2nd! Incredible.) and Rob. Lastly, our new friends in Weaverville, the amazing and ever-dependable Noreen, Graham, Melia and Kelvin. I honestly can’t thank you enough.

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The Holcombe Duathlon and the end of the final block…

I’ve not run a single step since May this year, so there was no way I was going to take part in a duathlon. I don’t care how laid-back or grass-roots the event is, I wasn’t going to put my legs through that sort of nonsense right now. Nope, instead, me and Deb would take part as a relay team. Deb’s a pretty handy runner nowadays so I thought we’d do ok.

It was more exciting than I thought it was going to be….

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The race started with only three relay teams and only two of those were mixed. So it was us or them. I waited patiently in the transition area, bike positioned ready, helmet on, caffeine gel down the neck. The runner in the other pair reached transition, she tagged her team mate and he rode off up the hill.

I waited.

I waited a bit more and started to worry – something must have happened to Deb.

Seven minutes after our rivals had handed over, Debbie returned. “I’ve been over on my ankle 3 times” she gasped.

I rode as fast as I could up the first climb in pursuit, not going if I’d be able to make up a seven minute gap over a hilly 16 mile route.

9 miles later, I caught the guy I was chasing and rode past. I’ve ridden this loop dozens of times, but never have I ridden it as fast as this.

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By the time I reached transition again (where Deb was complaining that I’d gone ‘too quickly’), I’d created a 5 minute gap. It would have been a bit more if I hadn’t stupidly incurred a 20 second time penalty for not dismounting the bike in the right place. Always pay attention at the race briefing, kids….

Both runners were away. Deb had a 5 minute head start but had a dodgy ankle.

I chewed my nails a bit. There was a bottle of beer up for grabs for the relay winners.

In the end we finished second, but what a nail-biter! Everyone had given it their all, including the Holcombe Harriers who organised the whole thing. Well done to them!

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So that’s pretty much it. All my training for the World 24 Hour race is done. I’m happy that I couldn’t have done any more, not without losing my job/marriage/sanity anyway. This means that the race can just happen now, whatever the outcome I know I’ll have given 100% in preparation for it and as long as I don’t catch a cold or crash on the first lap or some other surprise event, I should do ok. All I need to do now is pack my stuff, get on a plane on Thursday and show up at the start line. I’ll be back at work the Wednesday after….

 

 

 

Ruthin MTB Marathon and then some

According to the all-powerful Training Plan, this ride was about a week late. It didn’t matter really, I’ve not exactly been short of long rides recently but I ‘owed’ the All-Powerful Training Plan a 9 hour ride, so I dutifully packed up the Passat and took a bike and a pile of food to Ruthin for the MTB Marathon.

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Even the longest route today was ‘only’ 75K, so that would tick off four hours. I made sure it was a hard four hours  – I rode with Matt for a bit, rode with Dave for a bit and due to not being able to drop down into the small chainring, I utterly killed myself on the very first climb in order to stay with some friendly faces. The small chainring would see some action later in the ride but confusingly (to me), I was only able to change gear properly once the bike was well and truly covered in mud and poo.

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It was properly covered in mud and poo once I’d failed to unclip and fell sideways into a bog, covering one side of my entire body with mud. You’d pay good money for that at a health spa.

Anyway, the Genius was doing its thing – climbing like a billy goat and descending at speeds that I don’t normally do on mountain bikes while I was concentrating on being efficient, eating properly and generally looking dead cool. It was going well I thought – I knew I was approaching proper racing weight (not easy when you’re 40-odd and you work in an office with a load of serial cake shoppers) and I also knew I’d been putting in the effort for the past few weeks.

Anyway, a very steep and hilly 4 hours and a couple of feed station stops later I finished, ages behind Nick Craig but 14th overall which wasn’t too bad. A quick coffee, a change of jersey and a bit of route advice from a local and I was on my way along the road to Llandegla. I left the car in Ruthin and I reckoned I could ride to ‘Degla, get a couple of laps in and then ride back.

The ride there was a grind up the Nant Y Garth pass into a headwind but it took less than an hour. Café was still open, but cos I’m a focussed individual at the moment I rode past it and straight up the first climb to start a lap of the black route.

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I love Llandegla. It gets crowded at weekends and there seems to be a lot that go there that can’t help dropping litter all over the place but the trails are ace and it’s just down the road. Sort of.

After the black I just had time to go round the blue trail, which is waaay more awesome than it sounds. Saw John and Tom in the Exposure Lights van just as I was leaving –  we had a quick chat then I enjoyed a quicker ride back to Ruthin to the car.

Total ride time – 8 hours 10 minutes. Doh!