Battle on the Beach 2015

Battle on the Beach was up there with all my favourite things of 2014. Last year’s race was brilliant – in fact it was probably the only ‘short’ bike race that I thought was worthy of a 500 mile round trip in the car. This year Matt achieved something really special and the race was even better.

My weekend started with a five hour drive with Dave – we cursed the various nocturnal diversions in place that can really add chunks of time to a late-night drive (and they did). We’d set off at about 9pm (racing cyclists with children will understand) and were expecting to arrive at 2 in the morning. No big deal. We both had pop-up tents and would be tucked up within 5 minutes of arrival.

In spite of being fully-clothed inside a sleeping bag, inside a bivvy bag, inside a tent – I was absolutely freezing. Perhaps veterans of Arctic expeditions and other really cold things would scoff at my claim that I was ‘absolutely bloody freezing’ but at the time I was so cold that I even contemplated sleeping in the van. No amount of toe-wriggling was going to help, I tossed and turned and shivered and generally stayed awake. Brilliant!

Morning arrived and I snoozed for all of five minutes as the morning sun thawed my pop up coolbox.

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Photo – Jacqui Simcock

 

With a half-hour kip in the van, a couple of caffeine gels and a stern letter written to oneself, I lined up at the front of the 600-strong race. Apparently there was sixty fat bikes! A long, fast sprint along the beach would thin out the field before the incredibly enjoyable and dry singletrack sections. It was vital to stay in a fast group and not get spat out of the back.

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that was me gone.

 

I lasted all of 30 seconds in a fast group before being spat out of the back. My efforts to get back on a wheel made things worse and I was starting to curse my two-and-a-half months of non-training (for all the right reasons, as explained here) as I was losing places fast. Almost going backwards but I knew there wouldn’t be too many fat bikes ahead of me so I dropped my head and moved my hands closer to the stem, gradually gathered momentum and arrived in reasonably good shape at the end of the beach.

The next two laps were spent taking back places where I could, trying to stop my lungs from popping out of the top of my head and peering as far into the distance as I could for other distinctively-fat tyres.

Meanwhile, the new, faster tyres on the Scott Big Ed were transforming the fatbike experience from ‘low-pitched rumbling over anything’ to ‘pretty nimble and pacy trail bike’ – as well as reducing rolling resistance I’d shaved a big chunk of rotating weight from the wheels in the process. As long as I didn’t do anything really stupid on the beach section I was able to keep up with most of the other riders around me, regardless of which bike they were on and the singletrack sections were as fun as it probably gets – the Rockshox Bluto suspension fork, wide bars and quick handling helping with that. And the fact that while I was riding fun singletrack, I wasn’t blowing out of my backside on the beach.

I honestly had no idea in what position I was in when I crossed the finish line. I knew there were fat bikes in front of me (I’d put a lot of effort in but I’m far from fast at the moment) but how many?

4th fatbike (annoying), 33rd vet (not too bad I suppose), God-knows-what overall (let’s just leave it there).

photo - Jacqui Simcock

photo – Jacqui Simcock

Thanks to Matt Page and the rest of the A Cycling team for organising what seems to have become a must-do event at undoubtedly one of the most beautiful settings in the country, cheers to Scott UK for the loan of the bike and a big thanks to Dave Haygarth and Emma Osenton for keep me company in the van.

 

 

Zig-Zagging around the Isle Of Man

Last weekend was one of those “why have I not done this before?” types of weekend. Guy rang me on Thursday and suggested that it might be a good idea if we went to the Isle of Man for a bike ride. Me and Dave already had plans for a big ride but after checking with him and also checking that Guy definitely meant bicycles and not motorbikes we were all set.

The plan was simple. Drive to Heysham in the van at 10pm Friday, leave the van there and get the 2am boat to the Isle of Man which would arrive at 6am-ish. We’d all be wearing our cycling clothes, ready to go. Off the boat, ride for hours and hours, back to the boat for the 8pm sailing, back home by 2am. Less than 40 quid return, it seemed almost too straightforward, but apart from a café stop (which included beans on the thickest slices of toast I’ve ever seen), a ‘just popping in here to buy me dad a Triumph” stop, a quick visit to my mate Ron and several cup of tea stops, the straightforward plan is precisely what happened.

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hills! sunshine! Sea air!

We rode 125 miles of some of the quietest, smoothest and toughest roads in the country (I know it’s technically not the UK, but anyway) and the views were stunning. The comparative lack of potholes and damaged roads wasn’t confined to the TT course either – the whole island rode like a dream really.

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a long way up

I’m not sure a one-geared road bike was my brightest idea but Guy was taking his fixed-wheel bike so what was I supposed to do? We encountered a lot of very steep gradients that we had to zig-zag our way up and I’m surprised that my back didn’t explode outwards, but it was a good workout I suppose….

If you’ve never ridden in the Isle of Man before, you really should.

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obligatory “bikes against a wall” photo.

In true “do you know who we are?” fashion, we were treated very well by the crews on the ferries and at Douglas port. We’re talking cabins (so our 28 hours away from home was punctuated by a few hours sleep) and sandwiches here, no messing about. Thanks to the lovely Steam Packet crews for looking after us :0)

A great adventure and not for the last time either.

Honey Stinger

sting

I’m really chuffed that Honey Stinger are taking care of my nutritional needs for 2015’s packed training, racing and “possibly bitten off more than I can chew” big rides schedule.

In the past few years the huge advances in cool things like bikes, offroad biking lights and clothing are well-known and get loads of press coverage, yet sometimes the massive improvements in nutrition products are overlooked. I remember when I first started racing, you had to put up with energy bars with the texture and taste of plasticine, gels that reminded you of snot and protein bars that were apparently made of chalk. If you were able to experience normal bowel function in the 2 weeks following a 24 hour race, you were doing very well. 20150212_155701

Fast forward a few years and the situation is much different. The main problem now is how to resist eating all of the delicious sports nutrition products with a nice cup of tea instead of using them for their intended purpose (stuffing them down one’s neck while trying to ride a bike/run/ski/whatever).

Honey Stinger gels, bars, protein bars, chews and waffles (WAFFLES!!) are probably the most tempting I’ve ever had in the house. Maybe it’s the liberal use of dark chocolate that does it, or the high honey content. Whatever it is, I’m really impressed with the “Regular Food-ness” and lack of any kind of artificial taste or texture.

Protein bars deliver 24 grams of protein and a thick layer of lovely dark choc. Gels and chews give you around 75% carbs and waffles are around 65% carbs with a bit of fibre. Flavours include Limeade, Cherry Cola, Acai and Pomegranate and Strawberry.

If you see me at a race this year, ask me if I’ve got any sample Honey Stinger treats going spare :-)

A proper off-season

I must admit things have been quiet since the Strathpuffer. I’ve been doing what I probably should have been doing after the 24 hour race before the Strathpuffer, which is taking time out of racing, relentlessly training and stressing over how many calories I’m consuming. (Instead I had a couple of weeks recovery and then immediately started training again, which quite honestly I didn’t enjoy at all).

Just going for a ride...

Just going for a ride…

I’ve been running a fair bit, which is what I normally do in the winter months to keep me occupied anyway. Nothing like the amount of running Debbie does, but quite a lot for me. I intend to stick with it for a few weeks, maybe I’ll do a marathon in the spring or something. So anyway, I’m enjoying that.

I’ve also been ‘just going for a ride’. Which is what most people who ride bikes do, admittedly. I mean riding a bike with no real purpose apart from spending time with friends, riding to places I’ve never ridden to before (such as Grimsby!), just smelling the air…sometimes riding slow…sometimes a bit faster. Just getting the miles in really. Short rides, long rides, very long rides, rides on my own, rides in big groups. On-road. Off-road. A bit of both. Or maybe a lie-in instead. What I should have been doing months ago, like I said.

Riding with friends - joining Dave, Matt and Chris on their Welsh epic

Riding with friends – joining Matt and Chris on their Welsh epic

I did a race yesterday but it was short, I rode a fat bike and I wore bright yellow baggy shorts. I finished 6th in the singlespeed category (on a geared bike….). Then we all went for a meal in a pub afterwards.

the Scott Big Ed 'race' bike. Not exactly Arse-up Head-down...

the Scott Big Ed ‘race’ bike. Not exactly Arse-up Head-down…

 

using The Force

using The Force

What I have started to notice is how much fitness I’ve lost in the past few weeks! Always surprising how quickly a chap’s top-end evaporates :-/

pointlessly on the front row

pointlessly on the front row

Only there for the post-race beer and chips

Only there for the post-race beer and chips

Temporary loss of fitness aside, in contrast to how I felt during the weeks prior to the Strathpuffer where I almost walked away from cycling entirely because it had started to feel like a job, I’m loving it again. A few weeks of not ‘having’ to go for a bike ride and not ‘having’ to knock out a few sets of hill reps when I do has left me full of motivation to get cracking with ‘proper things’ for the big races in the spring and summer….but not just yet. I’m far too busy enjoying just riding my bike and running in the woods for the time being.

Stuff that survived the Strathpuffer – Craft and Armadillo clothing

If something performs well and emerges from the Strathpuffer in one piece, you can assume it’s worth having. Here’s the first of 2015’s “Stuff the survived the Strathpuffer” blogs….

photo shamelessly pinched from Rich Rothwell

photo shamelessly pinched from Rich Rothwell

It goes without saying that 24 hour mountain bike racing in freezing and wet conditions in the depths of the Scottish winter needs some pretty serious clothing. Clothing that will keep you warm but won’t make you overheat when you put some effort in. Clothing that won’t fall apart if/when you crash and will survive the continual spray of mud without wearing through and/or emerging from the washing machine still covered in brown stains…

I’m lucky to have my winter riding needs taken care of by my friends at Craft UK and Armadillo Merino. But even the best winter cycling clothing needs to be VERY good to stop me getting cold in a round-the-clock race…

Craft took care of the outer layers with Siberian windproof gloves, PB Storm bib tights and PB Featherlight jacket. The final mile of the Strathpuffer lap involved a soaking-wet slither down a hill that was covered in several inches of soaking wet mud. My bibtights basically took a pounding every lap and while they got wet, the windproof panels and the perfect fit meant that they didn’t become baggy and I didn’t get cold. Likewise, when the temperature dropped during the night the jacket kept the chill at bay. My hands, normally the first to turn to blocks of ice when it’s cold, didn’t get cold at all in spite of freezing temperatures and a chilly wind.

After the race, everything spent a couple of days in a bag, rinsed in a bucket and then washed at 30 degrees in non-bio detergent. Everything came out as good as new.

Underneath all of that, I was wearing a pair of Armadillo Merino Commando Socks and a pair of merino liner gloves. My overshoes (cheap, sacrificial ones that I’ve had for years) kept popping off the toes of my shoes, leaving me riding most of the race in summer cycling shoes and socks. It was down to the socks to keep my wet feet from getting cold and I can’t praise them highly enough. I’ve worn loads of wool socks in the past but the performance of these is really quite remarkable. I was expecting cold feet as they were repeatedly exposed to water and wind, but it never happened. The socks themselves were soaking wet but somehow they managed to stay warm. Brilliant. Get a pair.

If it’s tough, warm and well-fitting kit you’re after, my advice is to get something that’s survived a Strathpuffer.