Mountain Mayhem 2015

I’m sort of saving myself this year. In my head, there’s always been a chance that I might be able to get to the World 24 Hour Champs in California in the autumn.

As a result I’ve tried to start the year steady and limit the number of 24 hour solo races I do. I think 2015’s total of three 24 hour solos is the lowest number since I started doing them – I remember the years gone by when I’d happily attempt 5 or 6…not this time though. Experience over the past 8 or so years has taught me that if I did my usual ‘thing’ of entering every endurance race I could possibly think of as a soloist, by the time I reached October I’d be ready for a fortnight of sleep rather than a very fast, expensive and competitive endurance race.

And so it came to pass that I was able to enter that big endurance race in California and I’m starting to make some plans. Flights are booked. It’s happening.

It was a good job then that I’d decided some time ago to race at Mountain Mayhem in the pairs category (the mixed pairs, to be precise) rather than defend my 2014 solo title. Instead I’ll be racing in the 24 hour solo at TwentyFour12 in July instead – my one and only solo race this summer.

So my mate Beate and I hatched a plan. Beate’s pretty fast nowadays – a few years of road, cross and mountain bike racing has given her decent levels of speed and endurance and I reckoned that we’d do well.

We agreed that due to the relatively short course, we’d ride 2 laps each throughout the race. From the start we were in the lead and the dry, fast course was a real pleasure to ride. Even at 3am.

Meanwhile Debbie was supporting us both – in fact she stayed up all night (like she does when I’m soloing) just to make sure that we didn’t stop and to make sure we both had whatever we needed and to pass on messages. We were a team of three really.

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I was struggling to breathe early on in the race so I brought the pace down and kept things ‘friendly’ from that point on. Every time I tried to ride ‘properly’ fast I’d get out of breath again, which was worrying and more than a little bit annoying. I was however LOVING the rare treat of being able to stop for a sit down and a cuppa after every couple of laps :-)

Nice and steady. No idea why I was having respiratory problems– I assumed it was because of the humid, warm conditions.

I was riding the new Santa Cruz Highball C – it’s the first time I’ve raced for longer than an hour on this bike and after my experiences of spending 24 hours on my old Highball, I was expecting the bone-dry course to give me a battering. I’d borrowed a new USE EVO-91 carbon seatpost a few minutes before the start of the race (thanks Tom) which helped and the new bike was remarkably comfortable throughout. The Highball is definitely much more of a cross-country race bike than it was before, longer, lighter and a frame more suited to endurance racing.

Lighting the way (and Beate’s way after they lent her some lights), my USE Exposure Reflex and Equinox combo meant I could ride at daylight speeds even in the dark and a good supply of fuel was provided by Honey Stinger gels and waffles. In between laps though, I was all over the chicken fajitas and tinned ravioli ;0)

Apart from a slight ‘wobble’ in the small hours when Beate had a fairly routine gastric complaint (remedied by her altering the food she was eating and having a little sit down), my weird breathing issue and an early snapped chain (thanks to Jo Burt for helping out with that one) it was a pretty flawless race. We won. In fact, if Beate was a bloke we’d have been 4th in the male pairs, possibly third if we hadn’t finished early to drink tea in the food tent.

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And I was reunited with my old friend the Princess Royal. I’m sure she was wearing the same clothes as last year…..

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A quick trip down to the Pain Cave after work

The last few weeks have been relatively quiet on the bike racing-front – with only a few weeks to go before I race as one half of a pairs team at Mountain Mayhem and after that a 24 hour solo race at Twentyfour12, I’ve been keeping busy by working on regaining my cycling fitness after a winter of “just getting the miles in” and running. Gradually re-introducing structure to my riding while leaving out the added stress of preparing for and taking part in races.

Apart from the half marathon I ran in Tenerife, the local cross-country mountain bike race I did last night was the first race I’ve been a part of since Battle on the Beach back in March. I know that’s only a few weeks and a change is as good as a rest, etc…but it’s always surprising how unfamiliar everything feels even after a relatively short break.

A very slow but frantic drive to the race in regular Manchester traffic meant I arrived with only a few minutes to spare before the start, so I leapt from the car already wearing cycling clothes, pulled my singlespeed (which hasn’t turned a wheel since the Strathpuffer) from the boot and headed for the start line.

The start line was down a flat, wide dirt track. Before I knew what was going on, everyone turned around 180 degrees and so I found myself at the back. Right at the back. Bugger. Nothing like a schoolboy error to start the first round of a race series.

Off we went – my lack of gears meant that I was having go spin my legs at around a million rpm just to keep up on the flat sections of the course but could then catch up and pass other riders on the short climbs of the Clayton Vale course.

Overtaking opportunities however were few and far between – the long, wide sections were mainly quite flat so my lack of top speed meant I was having to work very hard just to hold the wheel in front, never mind get past it. I was having fun testing myself though, after the shock of the first lap oxygen debt subsided.

I’ve no idea where I finished. To be honest I don’t think I want to look at the results, but I’m pretty sure that I finished further up the pack than where I started…

In spite of my self-inflicted bike and starting position deficiencies, it was 6 laps of brilliant, breathless fun and I’m looking forward to round two in a couple of weeks.

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Tenerife, again

In the context of a week’s family holiday to Tenerife, 12 hours of riding my bike plus a half marathon isn’t bad going. The fact that while you’re riding a bike in Tenerife you’re spending the vast majority of your time grovelling uphill and that some of the grovelling is at a high enough altitude so that it hurts a lot more, it’s perhaps 12 hours that would be equal to a few more hours than 12 in the UK. Perhaps.

Regardless of how much fitness Tenerife can kick out of you, the weather, the views and the varied and often breathtaking surroundings make the whole island one of  my favourite places on earth.

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far, far from the beach

The half marathon Debbie and I did was a little bit larger than I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a rather small, grass-roots type of thing in a small village on the coast. When we arrived and saw the hundreds of runners, huge start/finish gantry, grandstands, live music and TV cameras I knew we were taking part in something rather large.

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It was a brilliant event. Two laps of a hilly course (typical of Tenerife) along closed roads, water stations every couple of kilometres and lovely weather, if a bit on the warm side for Northern Englanders. I reached the finish line in 1 hour 36, Debbie crossed the line 20 or so minutes later.

I spent the rest of the week riding up and down the mountain while gradually shaking off a thigh injury picked up in the half marathon. Sometimes up the main roads with easier gradients, sometimes up the unrelentingly-steep minor roads while being barked at by (and sometimes chased by) large and demonic farm dogs. Ok, the small West Highland terrier that gave chase wasn’t demonic but they’ve all got teeth…

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I took a mountain bike (once it arrived as it somehow missed the flight that I was on) because I knew there was good (and dry!) off-road riding to be had, the only problem was I couldn’t find too much legal stuff that I was prepared to tackle on my own. I’m not a massive fan of falling off cliffs without someone to call the helicopter. What I did ride was good fun but there wasn’t loads of it – I’ll stick to the road bike in future I think. Or grow a pair :-)

DSC_4640As well as the bike, I took some Craft cycling and running clothing that up until last week I’d not had the chance to wear. The Craft gear I’ve been wearing all winter is mainly windproof, rain-proof and thermal but the jerseys and shorts I took to Tenerife were somewhat thinner and lighter.

The ‘Move’ jersey I was wearing whilst toiling in 28 degrees centigrade are covered in mesh panels and are the next-best thing to wearing nothing at all. I’m not sure what the naked cycling laws are in the Canaries but I assume it’s not allowed….

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I also took a whole box of Honey Stinger Waffles – I was starting my rides early therefore there was no chance of having breakfast before I set off so I took those to avoid the dreaded bonk two or three hours into a hard ride. They were ideal – not only do they taste good they kept my legs turning and they fit nicely in my pockets ;-)

Time to start counting down the days to our next trip.

Fron Four fell race

Holidays are for relaxing, aren’t they? Not for doing loads of strenuous exercise. Just sitting down, doing very little…
Wrong! They’re for doing stuff in new places. Mad stuff. Big stuff. Stuff that makes you all puffed out, dirty and/or sweaty. That’s what holidays are for.

As a warm-up before the half marathon me and Deb are doing in Tenerife soon, I decided that while we were spending a nice weekend away in North Wales for Easter, a local fell race might be a good plan. I dragged my family and my mate Jamie (who’s a good runner but had never done a fell race in his life) the few miles down the road to the Fron Four fell race. It was only 8 or so miles, how hard could it be?

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“just run up that”

Very hard as it turned out. In fact apart from the 3 Peaks Race I don’t think I’ve taken part in a fell race as hard as this one. The amount of pain and suffering in store for all 33 participants started to become clear as the race organiser pointed to the summit of the nearest mountain – Mynydd Mawr – and explained that we’d see that summit up close. Twice. The rest of the route was pretty bloody hilly as well, not to mention the rocks, slate and frankly ridiculous 45-degree hillside traverse that I thought was going to snap my right foot off.

85 minutes later it was all over. I’d finished in 13th place (7th vet), just behind the first-placed female who looked like she was still at school. I apologised to Jamie as he reached the finish line a few minutes later – the poor lad’s first experience of fell running was a proper baptism of fire but he was still smiling.

My description of the Fron Four race might sound like a moan and give you the impression that I didn’t enjoy it. On the contrary, I thought it was utterly brilliant and I’ll definitely do it again next year.

The incredibly tough course, the three pounds and fifty pence entry fee, the cuppa at the end and the usual warm welcome from all involved (that is as much a part of the fell running experience as the running itself) all combine to equal a brilliant way to spend a couple of hours on a spring afternoon. Fabulous stuff.

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.