blink and you’ll miss it

That was a nice rest. Ahhh. just what I needed. Almost 2 weeks since Relentless 24; in that time I’ve ridden bikes for all of about 4 hours, I’ve been running just the once, I’ve been to the pub and got quite revoltingly drunk, had a 3-times-over-the-speed limit ride in a taxi, eaten chips, curry and quite a lot of cake. I’ve been replacing burnt calories in the quickest way possible and gradually the feeling of hunger that has occupied my waking thoughts for the last few months has diminished.  No doubt my hormones are more balanced and normal now or something so I can face a winter of base training, making a tit of myself at cyclocross races and maybe a very hard 24 hour race way up north in good shape and in the right frame of mind for starting to build for next summer….

…and in my head I have a plan for next summer. A proper one, with ambitious goals and everything. But I’m not telling you what that plan is, obviously.

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Relentless 24

120 miles into the 300-odd mile journey north to Fort William, I had one of those ‘OH SHITSHITSHITSHIT!!!’ moments.

Having meticulously packed everything I needed for a 24 hour race in the last few days, like I always do, then carefully placing everything in the van a few hours earlier, I was immediately shocked into a state of confusion and panic when I realised that I’D LEFT ALL OF MY SODDING CLOTHES IN A BAG ON THE BED AT HOME.

Eventually I gained enough composure to ring Dave who confirmed that he had two team jerseys with him and that if I was short of anything else (which I was), he had 3 of everything else. I was heading up to Scotland in October with nothing to wear apart from the shorts and t shirt I was sat in. Fantastic. What a great start.

Eventually arriving at the race campsite (which was a car park at the Fort William gondola station) at 10pm-ish, I ate some more food and got my head down for what turned out to be a brilliant night’s sleep in my floral-print pop-up tent. Luckily for Dave I was able to buy a new pair of bib shorts at a stall the next morning. A quick visit to the lovely 2Pure folks at the Niterider stand for another 24 hour race-worth cardboard box of CLIF energy fuel, then new shorts and borrowed jersey donned, I got ready for the start.

The run at the start of the race was thankfully very short but unfortunately didn’t have either the length or the Hit the North-style hilarity to properly break up the field so immediately a queue developed as everyone tried to ride through the first constriction (a tunnel!). It’s a long race. It won’t matter. The course had lots of climbing and a fair share of technical, rocky, slow speed bits to keep things fun early in the race and to also keep things dangerous later on when everyone’s knackered.

The course really was superb. I was tapping out laps with a kind of rhythm that I’ve not had for a long time…since perhaps CLIC24 a while back in fact. Until I got a puncture. I knew that I was in 3rd or 4th place at this point and I wasn’t too keen on dropping back 6 hours into the race but The Incident Pit started to open and I couldn’t get the tyre back on the rim. Eventually Dave arrived and dug out a tyre lever to replace the one I’d just snapped…then a marshal who was riding a trails motorbike turned up and handed me a foot-long metal tyre lever. My Stans rim won’t like it but here goes….

35 minutes of buggering about later and I’m on my way again, now chasing the places I’d lost.

I got back into the beat of the race again and rode into the night still feeling good. Still gaining time on those in front. A bit of big-ring action on a downhill here…pass a group of riders on a climb there…keep your eyes open for the bloke in 3rd cos you’re gaining on him, that’s a fact. It’s true, Angela said so.

Angela, Dave’s girlfriend, was here to support us and had been awake for the entire race. Using two alarm clocks so that she could keep track of mine and Dave’s approximate lap times, there wasn’t a single lap where I didn’t see her next to our pit, arms full of energy drink bottles, food, gels and would immediately run and get whatever I needed as soon as I’d mumbled my ‘order’.  In between looking after 2 needy soloists she’d be examining the leaderboard, writing down names, positions and lap times so that we’d know when we were doing ok and when we’d need to pull our fingers out. You just can’t ‘race’ a 24 hour race without support like that.

Eventually my tempo dropped and I started to hit the wall. This doesn’t happen to me that often; waves of nausea washed over me and I felt very. very cold. No matter how hard I rode, I was shivering. I wasn’t shivering due to cold though, I was starting to switch off – my effort not being matched by either my preparation in the weeks before the race or my consumption of food during it. Sat on The Chair Of Hurt for 20 minutes with a blanket around me, I contemplated ending the 24 hour race season like this- broken and shivering. As I shivered a second cup of tea all over my legs I decided that this wasn’t how we were going to end this race. I’d driven for 6 hours to get here. I’ve recovered from bigger setbacks than this in races in the past. It’s been a long, hard season with almost continual endurance racing but surely this would have made me stronger? Yes? YES?

I got up and rode away. Almost immediately I fell off, got back on and hit the steep climb out of the main arena….

5am. I passed the guy in 3rd place. He didn’t attack, but I’d have ridden away from anyone right then in any case. I kept going. Tapping out the laps. bang. bang. bang. bang. Sunrise, a second wind, lap times tell me I’m dropping 4th place…

The finish. 26 laps later, 3rd place overall. The overall winner is a vet, which means that I’m in second place in the ‘Senior Mens Solo’ – Dave’s finished in 1st place in the seniors. We’ve owned that podium again ;0)

…and due to my forgetfulness on the clothing front, there were no clean jerseys to wear on the podium. So we accepted our trophies still wearing the stinking, filthy threads we’d raced in for the last day. Living the dream…

(pics courtesy of Mike Hulme)

once more…unto the um… thingy

2010 has been a good year. I’ve been telling myself this quite a lot recently. While the level of success since the Trans Cambrian ride has taken a nosedive – SITS (Aargh), Kielder 100 (garrrgh), 3 Peaks Cyclocross (Oouch) , Dusk Till Dawn (owwww) – I’ve been able to drag a great deal of positive vibes out of every race (well maybe not SITS..erm not really Dusk Till Dawn either…oh dear). But still, you quickly get used to the big happy endings I suppose.

In the context of the entire year though, it’s been pretty bloody good up to now for a late-30s full time employed father of 3 😉

Three podium finishes since the Strathpuffer in January, including one win, a new record set on a recognised long-distance route and the arrival of some superb support from more brilliant (and recently, I imagine, quite patient) sponsors are perhaps more than I would have ever dared to expect at the start of the year – it’d just have been nicer for the kickass results and general awesomeness to carry on for a bit longer.

Right. I’ll ignore all that spilt milk and Crack The F**k On With It.

The last ‘big’ race of the year is this weekend. I’ll be going up to Fort William for Relentless 24. Not surprisingly it’s a 24 hour race that apparently uses the ‘man-made’ World Cup XC trails up there so hopefully no bike/eye-eating mud.

More than ever I’m hoping for a respectable finish to this one, it’d be great to finish the season on a high note and whilst there’s a lot that needs to go well before a ‘respectable finish’ and despite the frustrations of the last few races, I’m as confident as ever.

Preparation this week has been a couple of easy rides, including a rare-but-we-should-do-it-more-regularly ride with Andrew and Neil on local trails. I crashed, despite riding a bike with one of them suspension fork things (rather a large suspension fork too).

Surveying the Dusk Till Dawn damage to the race bikes and replacing parts last night took a while longer than I thought it would too – 4 sets of pads, 2 sets of jockey wheels and a chainring replaced (removal of the old one required the use of the hacksaw) plus a shedload of grease pumped into various nooks and crannies. They’re ready and so am I.

For the final time this year (well, until I get around to some cyclocross racing anyway)…Here we go again.

Suffer!

My life is dead busy. All the time. That’s not a bad thing, my life is full of great stuff and great people. I do however often find myself with more things to do than I could possibly have time for, but then there are a lot of things that are just lower priority and simply don’t happen until it’s absolutely necessary (DIY, cutting the grass, washing the car, etc).

A very large chunk of my ‘free’ time is spent racing and training (that’s why I’m busy all the time I guess, I’m always buggering off for a ride). The very nature of the races that I ‘specialise’ in involve training sessions that are quite long. For example a 4-hour ride is relatively short when considered in the context of 24 hour solo racing.

But a lot can be achieved in a short period of time, such as an hour. And often, all I have is an hour.

You’ve just got to make sure that what you do with that hour delivers, as much as possible, the training benefits that a much longer ride would do. In other words, an Hour Of Pain is infinitely better than nothing at all when you’re short on time. Oh, and apparently short periods of ‘very hard’ can make you faster than if you just did ‘long periods of moderately hard’.

So from time to time, when life in general is particularly busy, or tiring, or if I get completely sick of bad weather, I turbo train. Once upon a time, turbo training would be something to avoid at all costs – the sheer boredom and feeling that time is ticking by at half-speed would amplify the pain and discomfort and despite intentions to do x number of intervals, quite often a session would be abandoned before the end.

That was until I discovered The Sufferfest. A small collection videos containing structured training routines that make indoor training harder (in a good way) but at the same time more enjoyable (I’m not joking). Using footage of road racing, cyclocross and sometimes even downhill racing set to a brilliant soundtrack, the Sufferfests have changed my whole approach to indoor training.

No longer is it a means to an end, a way of training when time or conditions leave me with no alternative…now I’m actually including turbo training in my training plans. It’s a regular thing. I’m even seeing a tangible difference in my overall condition.

Up to now, four videos are available all concentrating primarily on a particular aspect of cycle training – climbing, flat-out speed, sustained efforts at threshold – get them all and you’ve all it covered.

I’m getting nothing for this review. I might get a thanks from the guy who produces them, but apart from that, nowt. I’m not expecting anything either. Sometimes, you use something that’s so good that you’ve got to share it.

Dusk Till Dawn – carnage

Riding a mountain bike quickly at night, in driving rain on a trail that twists and turns through a dense forest whilst only being able to see out of one eye is not an experience I want to repeat. Ever.

The start of Dusk Till Dawn went well, I’d got myself into a reasonably good position during the rolling start, well out of trouble (there was plenty of sketchy riding going on all around me at the start) and whilst I sat behind some traffic during that first lap it was ok. Not blisteringly fast, but not slow either. Making full use of the fireroads to stretch my legs and overtake large groups of other riders I was feeling good, just as I was last year.

The second lap was a bit wetter. At some point soon after the start of the race the rain also started and the levels of grip that I’d enjoyed in that first lap had pretty much gone now. I needed to get back to the solo tent where I expected Michael to have the spare bike (with mud tyres) ready to go.

It was still raining and now a large blob of mud had scored a direct hit on my right eye, despite me wearing glasses. I’ve also lost the use of my rear brake, oh and the rear mech seems to have developed its own free will. This is starting to get interesting much earlier than I was expecting it to….

Back to the solo tent, there’s Michael stood in the rain with the bike. He’s a good lad, my lad. A quick ‘my eye’s hurting and this bike seems to be broken’ whinge and I’m off again, this time apparently with a level of grip and an ability to manoeuvre around the twisting and turning singletrack the like of which the rest of the riders out there could only dream of. The biggest challenge at times was avoiding crashing cyclists.

One lap and a pair of brake pads appeared to have been worn out. I think I actually braked just twice during that lap too. Back to the tent, eye hurting, grab another bottle, eat a gel, carry on.

Ignore the pain. No idea what my position was but I was pretty sure I was doing ok.

As well as brake pads, my right eye was now definitely being worn away. The grit that was obviously still in there was causing me a great deal of pain by now – I was having to stop more and more frequently to try to remove it with my filthy, cold, wet fingers and not surprisingly I was making the problem worse.

I was getting angry with myself now as I should have just gone to get help and have the eye washed at the end of the second lap. I was going to have to stop after this lap and find the first aid tent…

Then my rear mech packed in – bizarrely the grit seems to have destroyed the lower jockey wheel so that’s now seized. The chain is continuing to roll over the jockey wheel but it was vibrating and making a noise like a moped.

I’d better get back to the solo tent to fix it then.

But I can’t see out of my right eye now without it feeling like someone has built a small fire in it. Sod the bike, first aid is what you need.

The medic shone his light into my eye and after washing out most of the dirt with (I think) a water pistol, he told me that I’d put a large scratch on the eyeball. No amount of cleaning was going to reduce the pain so he put a dressing on it, shared an anecdote about scratched eyeballs and chainsaws, told me to expect a couple of days of pain and then sent me on my way.

And that was the end of that. My race had ended after just four hours.

Other riders went on to soldier on through the worst weather ever seen at this race – 50 minute lap times eventually became over 2 hour slogs. Even the wide fireroads deteriorated to a point where they were mostly unrideable but despite this, many riders made it through to the end.

Suppose we were long overdue a proper wet race. Who knows what would have happened if I’d not got injured..I know loads dropped out, each one either having their own troubles or just talking themselves out of carrying on. Onwards and upwards…Relentless 24 next, after some bike repairs and a few days of Optrex.