Dusk Till Dawn weatherwatch

For my second race in my Three Races In Three Weeks adventure I’ll be heading down to Thetford this weekend for Dusk Till Dawn, the ace 12 hour endurance race in the ace Thetford Forest that starts at 8pm Saturday and ends at 8am the morning after. At this point Michael is supposed to be coming with me and helping me through the event by tending to my every need each time I come back to the pit and absolutely not falling alseep. Not at all. Nope. No sleep. Help dad. No sleeping. None. Ahem.

Him being 16 years old, I’m half-expecting him to not come with me and tell me this news 10 minutes before we set off (although I’ve stocked up on cans of Monster, chicken, Reggae Reggae Sauce and bread rolls in an attempt to lure him down to Norfolk in a van with his dad instead of hanging out with his mates, some girls and beer).

If I end up going on my own (and I think I just convinced myself that I will be), whilst it won’t be ideal, I should be ok – I’ve got 15 or so bottles that I can fill with CLIF go-go juice before the race, I’ll put it all neatly on a table and I’ll just try to stay organised. I’ll have a spare bike and I’m pretty sure one of my fellow soloists who have a full compliment of pit helpers would help me out too, if I ask nicely 😉

It is ‘only’ 12 hours after all….

The weather? It looks like it might be a bit wet, windy and very muddy.

Three Peaks Cyclocross 2010

My two previous attempts at the 3 Peaks had been ok, however there was more than a few ‘ifs and buts’ – ‘if only that hadn’t happened I’d have been a couple of minutes quicker…’ that sort of thing. I guess it’s like that for most people really – the event is so hard on bikes and bodies that the likelihood of even relatively minor mishaps is very high. Despite the harshness of the route, as Dave Haygarth rightly points out, if anything becomes loose, falls off or snaps, it’s likely it’d be my fault anyway…

For this, my third attempt, I was as sure as I could be that I’d not have a niggly mechanical at the top of the first climb like I have in previous years, I’d changed my feeding/hydration strategy (I was wearing a hydration pack filled with cramp and bonk-proof Clif Shot drink, in other words) so that I was less likely to be spasm-riddled mess at the end, I was sticking my neck out a bit and using lighter tyres than those bloody Landcruisers (that I hate) and I’d fitted gears to the bike that would allow me to ride more of the course than ever.

Physically I was feeling reasonably confident in spite of the fact that my ‘3 Peaks-specific’ training hadn’t been particularly good; but then the skills needed for this race are so specific that the training would have to be to the detriment of most of the other stuff I’m involved with. The ability to shoulder a bike up an almost-vertical moor is a bit pointless when you’re 18 hours into a 24 hour solo MTB race, after all.

I’d be relying on my fitness and bravery again 😉

Car parked in a monumentally convenient spot (thanks Simon), faffing out of the way, I made my way to the start and met up with Phil and Dave, hellos and howdos to friends that I met briefly on the way there. We were in the 3.5-4 hour section of the starting lineup, despite this though there seemed to be a lot of people in front of us; no doubt a good mix of over-confident types, first-timers about to get the classic ‘first-time-around-shock’, folk who were actually in the right place and maybe more than a few riders like us, all-too aware of what was in front of us but happy to start further back and just aim to beat last year’s time (oh, and survive in one piece).

The climb up Simon Fell and then to the summit of Inglebrough seemed steeper than last time, I was using my left hand to steady my ascent more often than normal. Maybe I was going the wrong way. Look up. A lycra-clad arse blocking out the sunlight. Nope, going the right way. Keep going. The burning in my calves wasn’t as pronounced as last year so I pressed on a bit. Phil was a few metres in front, but not far. I remembered his first-time sub-4 hour performance of last year and decided that if I could stay reasonably close to Phil I’d be doing ok. We’d spend the rest of the race within seconds of each other – I’d pull ahead a bit on the climbs, we’d work together on the roads and he’d completely leave me in his dust on the descents.

Near the summit, I had a niggly mechanical. Pretty much in the same spot as last year’s loose bottle cage and the seatpost incident of the year before that. I had to stop to tighten my headset (next year I’m going to dip the bike in a huge vat of threadlock). At the same time, Phil had punctured. I left him to it, knowing that he’d probably catch me on the next descent anyway (and I was reminding myself that this was a race after all).

I arrived at the foot of the climb of Whernside and cracked on with the climb, thankful that this one has got steps but apprehensive about the mental descent on the other side of the hill. I felt ace during this climb. Chatting to and then passing other people, I made a lot of time up and was able to reach the summit much quicker than I was expecting. The descent was as tricky as ever, no punctures and I made it down eventually in one piece.

Almost at the road again and Phil finally caught up, one whole mountain later than I was expecting but I knew that he’d descend like a man possessed as usual. Working together on the road to Pen Y Ghent we both knew that despite earlier difficulties we were well on our way to a respectable time. We also knew (from information shouted at us by Deb) that we’d gained a good seven minutes or so on Dave – he had a cold but we ignored that and pretended that we were just dead fast 😉

The climb of Pen Y Ghent, unlike previous races, just kind of happened. I rode much more of it than I’d done in the past and even on the really steep bits where carrying is necessary, I was still feeling great. Phil was keeping up – I wasn’t hanging around though as I knew that I’d get dropped on the descent if I dared to reach the summit at the same time as him.

Reaching the summit a couple of minutes before Phil, just as Dave started his descent I begun my final downward plummet. Almost immediately I rode down a very steep section of moorland and went over the bars. For the first time in my life, I landed on my head. Hearing a loud CRACK I knew that I’d at best knackered my helmet. I lay still for a couple of seconds whilst other riders stopped to check that I was ok. I was still able to move, the bike seemed ok. I removed my helmet and it looked ok (although I would find a crack in it later). Off I went again, this time less confidently, much more carefully….a bit slower.

Inevitably Phil caught me up on the lower slopes so I just followed his wheel. We were battering down Pen Y Ghent lane, scattering rocks in our wake, each of us changing position at the front and just generally ‘having a race’. My chain came off the chainring a couple of times but I was flicking it back on with the mech. Eventually though it snapped.

It took 2 or 3 minutes to sort that out, Phil rode to the finish to record another sub – 4 hour time and I eventually rode across the line in 4:01. An improvement over last year’s time of 2 minutes! Woo!

Denied my target by the same kind of niggly mechanicals I mentioned earlier and one hell of a crash, I congratulated friends and fellow finishers for a while, changed into a clean jersey, got some food from the car and then turned a 38 mile race into a 90 mile day out and rode back to Manchester….

….which might sound like a really stupid thing to do, but I’ve got one eye on Dusk Till Dawn next weekend. I’m racing solo (obviously) and Michael’s coming along to support/mutter encouragement. Father/son roadtrip. Yay!

3 peaks Cyclocross Team JMC ‘Roll of Awesomeness’

Dave Powell 3:55:01

Phil Simcock 3:57:58

Jason Miles 4:01:57

Andrew Burgess 4:41:27

Kielder 100

“I know what I’d be doing, I’d be sacking it off rather than walking all that way” the marshal said as he watched me struggle to get a 26 inch tube into a 29er wheel for 20 minutes. I’d been given the tube by Paul who I’d met as I’d just started the 3 mile walk to the next checkpoint in the Kielder 100, a race that had started well for me but gradually an Incident Pit ™ opened up and I fell head-first into it….

Arriving the evening before, meeting up with friends, catching up with familiar faces (but only seen at races), and signing on, all was well. I’d prepared the bike and the rest of my kit at home before setting off as the race was going to start horrendously early the morning after but it didn’t matter, everything was cushty.

The horrendously early start happened without too much trouble. I’d forced down a fruity breakfast and managed to leave the caravan on time to meet up with Phil and Dave for the start line banter. No problems.

Following the couple of miles of following a (rather slow) van, we were off. Was feeling good. Could see Dave up front a bit, chatted to the Leisure Lakes lads for a bit then rode away from them..I reckon I was well into the top 20. Ace!

It was at a certain part of the course that it started to go a bit wrong (this bit is a bit hard to explain so bear with it). Following the marshal’s pointing finger up a grassy climb and onto another gravelly fireroad I rode with a small group of others. I thought it was a bit strange that they all seemed to be going slow all of a sudden, as if the upward gradient was hurting them more than it was doing on the last climb. Never mind, I rode past but started to notice a lot of pairs of baggy shorts and flat pedals…something’s not right. Robot-like I continued to climb then recognised a familiar pile of rocks…hang on…I’ve been here before. About an hour ago in fact. It turned out that the marshal should have (somehow) been directing riders up here the FIRST TIME they got to that junction at the bottom of this hill then down to a checkpoint the SECOND TIME. I’d been directed, with this group, up the ‘first time’ route instead of to the checkpoint and a mixture of one bit of trail looking very much like the rest and me being a bit mindless, I’d blindly followed the incorrect instruction.

I hurtled back downhill to the checkpoint, dodging surprised-looking riders who were climbing the hill. Checked in at the checkpoint then cracked on with the job of regaining the places I’d just lost! Maybe I was going a bit too fast as I smashed my rear wheel into a rock and got a puncture. Fixed that, set off again. Started to claw back some places. Then, slid further down into the Incident Pit and got another puncture….this time I was cursing my bad luck and also my laziness in the last few months in getting my tubeless setup sorted.

Rather inconveniently, the spring from my spare pads had pierced a hole in my second innertube in my backpack. As I slid further down into the pit…I attempted a repair with my patch kit but that was crap (Lezyne puncture repair kit, in case you were wondering).

Phil arrived eventually. Told him to crack on with his race. Started walking to the next checkpoint, about 3 miles away. Not many riders appear to carry puncture repair kits these days and understandably even less are willing to stop, so onward I marched. Then Paul arrived and gave me a 26″ tube that I thought I might be able to stretch around the 29″ rim. I did manage it eventually but then it’d just pop off again when I tried to reseat the tyre. The marshal who was sat nearby offered to call in and arrange a lift back to Kielder from the next checkpoint and pointed out a shortcut to it. I considered it for a minute or two but then decided that despite my ‘race’ being well and truly over, I was hours away from the cut-off time and besides, the weather was fine,  something would probably turn up and I still had 38 miles of riding to enjoy if it did.

Onward I marched.

A chap stopped and offered me a puncture repair kit that turned out to be similarly useless. I willingly accepted and started the whole tube repair rigmarole again. This time I was attacked by a dense cloud of carnivorous insects and was bitten so much that small dribbles of blood ran down my legs and worse still, I was bitten ON THE EYE.

Onward I marched (actually I ran away this time).

Almost at the Newcastleton checkpoint, a South African guy skidded to a halt. He was on a 29er. He gave me a tube. After about an hour and a half of this crap I wanted to hug him. I didn’t. I said ‘thanks’, fitted the tube, re-packed my now-bulging-with-extra-tubes-and-puncture repair kits backpack, filled my bottles with water at the checkpoint and unleashed some pent-up fury.

The next 35 miles were spent mostly overtaking people. I’ve not idea how many I went past but it could have been a hundred, nay, a thousand other riders. every now and then I’d remember that I wasn’t actually in this race any more (not really) so I’d slow a little bit and admire the view. Then I’d remember that Deb would be waiting anxiously at the finish line, wondering what had happened to me as I was by now a couple of hours later than I was expecting to be and I’d start to cane it again.

Eventually I finished in 111th place, in just short of 11 hours. So happy to get to the finish, so pleased not to have retired, proud to have stuck it out to the end. Oh, and yet another race to add to the Big Book Of Unfinished Business…

it’s all kicking off again

Despite me vowing never to have a hectic autumn in 2010 like I did last year, I appear to be about to start a period of almost solid racing. 4 big races in 5 weeks, in fact. Thankfully (I keep telling myself), the longest 2 are in weeks 4 and 5 so I guess I’ve got it all the right way around 😉

First is the Montane Kielder 100 this weekend. A 100 mile mountain bike race in a nicely remote part of the world, complete with a large number of participants and a very strong field of ‘competitors’. I’ve been looking forward to this for some time now and I’ve got a realistic goal to aim for. Which will mean that I probably won’t allow myself to check out much of the scenery. It’s been nice packing for a race without having to worry about 24 hours’ worth of food, helpers and spare bikes and wheels….

A little while later is the 3 Peaks Cyclocross. My third time. First time I wasn’t very good. Last time I wasn’t much better. I’m not expecting to set the world alight this time either…but this really is a ‘special’ race and deserves to be in my plans every year. It’ll hurt as much as it always does and I’ll ask myself ‘WHY??’ more times in this race than in any other, but I feel privileged to be on the start list for a third time. I’m trying to ignore the fact that I’ve done a woeful amount of specific 3 Peaks training this time (walking up near-vertical slopes in other words) although I did push a pram up Snowdon the other week.

The week after that and it’s Dusk Till Dawn – my favourite event of last year when me and Simon raced in the pairs. This time I’m racing solo for the 12 hours. Cool. Such a great course, although it remains to be seen if I will have as much fun as last year, given I’ll need to ride at a more sensible soloist pace. Or I could just blat round as fast as possible and see if I can survive to the end :-/

And….the week after that I’ll be at Relentless 24, a 24 hour race at Fort William* No idea what to expect at this one but I know I might need more lights and more clothes than I normally take to a 24 hour race. Hopefully it will be a suitably awesome end to the 2010 race season and great training for that other big scary Scottish race in January that will kick off the 2011 season…

*subject to me not being completely shattered by ‘blatting’ round Thetford the week before…