Glentress 7 and the Blur CC

My journey back towards race fitness continued this weekend at the Glentress 7. Unsurprisingly it’s a 7 hour race on a lapped course just up the road at the brilliant Glentress forest.

There was little chance of me making an impact on a “short” 7 hour race on a technical course in 25-degree heat with my current weight and lack of race sharpness but it was going to be an ideal opportunity to get a big, hard ride in and to show off the new Santa Cruz Blur CC, get a good feel for it and to get it set up just as I want it.

A couple of weeks ago Daz mentioned that the course was a rough one and that I’d be better off on a full suspension bike. It’s funny because years ago I used to race everything on a fully-rigid bike but nowadays things just seem to be more punishing and, well, bumpier.

My gorgeous Blur CC arrived on Friday, the day before the race. That reminded me a bit of the time Brant sent me a new ‘cross bike the day before the 3 Peaks Cyclocross. That one arrived completely in bits (and I was quite proud of the fact that the only thing that fell off in the race was the bottle cage) so just putting the front wheel on the Blur this time was a relative luxury.

But what a bike. Look at it! And it rides even better than it looks.

So there I am on a brand-new bike, waiting for the start. I’d spent far too long chatting to everyone so missed the fact that everyone had lined up in the tightest, narrowest start line I’d ever seen. So I was at the back. Great start, Jase!

The first lap didn’t really open the pack up either – in fact I’d be amazed if I’d managed to overtake more than 20 riders but it was good to get a steady lap in at first because the course was pretty technical and the box-fresh bike needed a bit of shock pump lovin’.

photo- Roots & Rain

For the next 2 or 3 laps I just rode with the shock pump in my pocket and stopped every so often to twiddle with the setup until it felt bang-on. The whole time the bike felt amazing and my near-constant adjustments and (not ham-fisted, honest!) tweaks just made it better and better at handling all the roots, drops, singletrack and climbing that the race had to offer.

Unsurprisingly my race result wasn’t anything to write home about, but results will take care of themselves with a few months of hard work and graft. In the coming weeks I’ll make some more changes to the bike’s setup but my god, even if I did nothing to it at all it’d still be a formidable weapon. Things are looking up.

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Midweek Madness round 1

There aren’t many things that can beat riding a mountain bike on hard, dry, fast woodland trails. Even when you’re in the middle of a one hour cross-country race, you’re sucking in air from the next county and you’re trying not to think of the taste of blood in your throat, the suffering is made infinitely more tolerable when your bike goes precisely where you point it and your gears are always working as they should. It’s also a novelty to not have to clean your bike afterwards – most of the time in the UK the bike becomes more and more heavy as mud is applied to the frame, layer by layer. Sometimes the only way to clean off the muck and sods of grass is by poking the whole sorry mass with a stick.

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My fantastic Highball CC after the race. No mud!

Not last night though. I LOVED last night’s dry, fast and dusty Midweek Madness race in Leverhulme Park. I have no idea at this point where I finished but it’s up there with the most enjoyable races I’ve ever done. Maybe it was the presence of loads of other riders who all seemed to be in a similar frame of mind as I was. Even the one or two crashes and ‘racing incidents’ were good-natured and resulted in giggling rather than swearing and handbags (I was even involved in one ‘coming together’ with the race leader…sorry Chris!).

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I started quite near the back, which is more to do with me missing the line-up after being preoccupied with talking to other riders that I hardly ever see now that I live 200 miles away from Manchester, but it didn’t matter. This one was most definitely for fun rather than pointy elbows.

The course even had a couple of scary/tricky bits and plenty of painful climbs – for an urban park that takes some doing and it’s great to see Leverhulme Park becoming more and more popular and established in the Manchester XC and cyclocross scene. Oh, and it’s a 3 mile ride from my mum and dad’s house, which means that my post-race meal is always on the large side 😉

The next race in the series is on the 30th May near Wigan. Get your name down!

 

 

 

Kirroughtree Hillbilly Duathlon

I knew the Kirroughtree Hillbilly Duathlon was going to hurt. I knew that subjecting my less-than enthusiastic, relatively-untrained legs to a fast 10k run then a fast 18k mountain bike ride wasn’t going to be easy but I also knew that the journey back to full racing fitness was going to involve lots of pain and suffering.

Bloody hell I worked hard yesterday. About 7k into the run I was almost sick. Once I got back to the transition area and I’d finished my ridiculous dressing-up competition, tripped over my own feet, nearly crashed my bike into all the other bikes (there were a lot of bikes still in transition which I assumed was a good sign) and then got going again time was really starting to get on.

I’ve ridden the red trail at Kirroughtree loads of times in the past 6 months. It’s my local loop. But this time was different. Unsurprisingly the run had used up most of my energy and enthusiasm but I had to carry on – THE WHOLE TOWN WAS HERE to witness me dying on my arse. So off I went, all sweaty, potty-mouthed and quite dribbly.

dribbling

A voice in my head was screaming “This first climb has definitely got steeper!” and I remembered that I’d spent the previous afternoon riding my road bike with Lee so that probably wasn’t helping either. But riding road bikes on near-empty Galloway roads with your mates is fantastic, while running still sucks.

I was pretty sure that I was catching some people up but who knows. The run had completely ruined my normally smooth pedal stroke so while the effort was high, I was probably crawling along.

None of that mattered now anyway- my calves were starting to cramp. I’m not a regular cramp sufferer, but I know what it feels like seconds before a muscle spasm so I know when I need to immediately back off the power and start to soft pedal to avoid an embarrassing, painful and inconvenient problem.

My right calf went into a massive spasm anyway, soft-pedalling or not.

I got off the bike when it happened the second time and had a bit of a stretch, using my 10 grand, super-light, race-winning, pro-level magazine test bike as an ironic leaning post while more people rode past.

When I’d finally got going again I soon got cramp again, then someone crashed into my leg with their big fat clumsy front tyre. Cheers!

Thankfully all good things come to an end and as I freewheeled back to the finish line, I considered taking up snooker. Then I thought of the high-quality kicking I’d just taken and the fact that I’ll be a tiny bit stronger as a result. The next few weeks and months are going to be about ‘taking a good kicking’, in fact the next one is a another short course mountain bike race on Wednesday, situated in picturesque Bolton….

No running this time.

It’s time.

It’s now been 6 months since my family and I moved up to Scotland. It’s been brilliant – we’re still settling in really but all the anxieties that we had early on have pretty-much gone now. And summer is just around the corner, so more time for playing out in the daylight.

It’s been quiet for me on the racing side of things. At times it’s felt like a temporary retirement, but at the back of my mind I’ve always known that I’m not done with endurance racing just yet and in time, I’d get back into a good routine and some of my old habits. To be perfectly honest, I’ve just been enjoying going out for a ride on my bike or going for a run rather than working to a set plan of intervals, zones, etc.

Rather underprepared, I’m off to Valencia this week for a stage race. I’m nowhere near fit or light enough to worry the podium at a mountainous, 3 day, offroad bike race but it’s almost a free trip (I’m covering the event for Singletrack Magazine) and I’m going to treat it as a kind of training camp to see where I’m really at and to ride some dusty trails. Everyone on the start list is Spanish, so perhaps at long last my Spanish ‘O’ level will come in useful. It will be useful as long as all I need to do is order a ham sandwich or ask where the toilet is.

Once I get back, I’ll need to unpack my suncream and pack my midge repellent for a trip up to Fort William for 10 Under the Ben – the 10 hour endurance race that I’ve not done for years (read all about that here). If that won’t get me back into the endurance racing ‘zone’ I don’t know what will.

Soon after that, I’ll be lining up on the start line of the Kirroughtree Duathlon. It’s an offroad run of 10K (so that’s me knackered then) and then a fast lap of the red trail at Kirroughtree. It’s my local event so I’m dead keen to support it, but I know it’s going to hurt. A lot.

After that, I’ll have my race organising hat on with another Hit the North, way down south in Manchester. If you’ve not entered yet, go here www.hitthenorth.net

To round off the spring, I’ll be heading up to the Isle of Jura for the Jura Fell Race. Another run. It’ll be fine, I’ll have my lucky socks on. I need to take 3 ferries just to get to the start line and it starts and finishes at the Jura Distillery. What could possibly go wrong?

Thanks again this year for the continued support of Santa Cruz Bikes, Jungle Products, Team JMC, Mount Zoom, Singletrack Magazine, Exposure Lights and Proper Bike Cleaner.

Strathpuffer 2018

“How do people live in Alaska?”

“How do people put up with this every day?”

“Why is my brew stuck to the ground?”

“Jesus Christ, why does the heater not work?”

These were just some of the hundreds of inane questions we were all asking each other over the course of last weekend, sat in our dark, squalid, filthy gazebo while we each waited our turn to ride another lap of the snow and ice-covered Strathpuffer lap.

The Team JMC gazebo isn’t normally a disgusting hovel, combining the worst of the Glastonbury Festival, an explosion in a breakfast cereal cupboard and the Calais Jungle – it was just that this time it was inhabited by 4 blokes who were all racing and not one of us had brought our mum.

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Before the mess got really bad. Gas fire clearly not working. (pic: Rachel Sokal)

It really was very cold indeed. I had to retreat to my car at one point and left Darren (my pairs team-mate) to ride 2 laps. I don’t think he minded. Riding your bike was the only way to stay warm. The car seemed like it was bloody miles away – in reality it was in a hotel car park in downtown Contin. If you’ve ever been to Contin in the Highlands you’ll know that heading ‘downtown’ takes seconds from whichever part of Contin you’re currently at.

Heated seats on full blast. Heater on full blast. I was shivering uncontrollably while the damn car took 45 minutes to get warm. The car’s external thermometer reckoned it was -7.5 degrees centrigrade. It felt far colder. It’s a 16 year old car so the instruments probably start to go mental when they get really cold anyway.

The weather lady on the BBC last night said that Saturday night was minus 13 in the Highlands so I’m claiming that.

Minus bloody thirteen.

ere y’are yer bike’s ere Daz

At least the mysterious Tesco bag of poo that Carl discovered under the van was ‘manageable’ in the cold temperature.

Why use the massive forest we were in the middle of when you have a carrier bag? Five pence well spent.

Back to the exciting racing we were doing. Tom and Carl were bashing out laps and were flying. They’d been training and it was paying off.

Darren and I were also doing ok, in our own way. We weren’t messing about (ok we started to mess about quite a bit once we realised we’d dropped out of the prestigious top 25 places and our motivation to keep changeovers below 10 minutes diminished) and we were getting round steadily.

spiky tyre, beige powder

Not much choice really – the generous covering of snow on the course meant that momentum, a vital ingredient of Awesome Singlespeeding, was hard to achieve and even harder to maintain.

On the uphill bits, any hint of pedalling out of the saddle resulted in a large amount of rear wheel slippage, so pushing the damn thing up even the smallest of inclines was necessary to avoid a stem/ballsack interface-event.

throw bike on floor, walk off.

Alternating between pushing uphill and trying to pedal uphill at a cadence of 10rpm only gave us a sore back each, which to be fair we both turned up at the race with anyway. But we weren’t going to be singlespeeding our way to a bad back cure.

In essence, we got slower and slower as the race progressed.

Chilly HQ

It didn’t really matter – neither of us had any burning podium ambitions or expectations and while it was very cold (I might have already mentioned this), this was probably the most perfect Strathpuffer conditions ever. The lack of mud, rain and the fact that the whole thing LOOKED AMAZING more than made up for any suffering on offer.

Not Salford

Our fast pair (and by far the pair responsible for most of the shambles in the gazebo – I’m just putting that out there) of Carl and Tom finished in 5th place in the pairs after some late neck-and-neck racing drama where some other chancers pipped them to 4th place. Me and Daz, after reaching the heady heights of 10th earlier in the race, somehow managed to finish in a less-than-awesome 34th place in the pairs. We only had 2 gears between us though, we Kept It Real therefore technically, WE WON.