The race against the slow cooker

Another ride on the Pennine Bridleway at the weekend. I’d planned to ride hard for 6 hours or so – luckily the amount of big hills on the PBW means that the going is never easy anyway…

Normally I ride from the house and join the bridleway near Oldham – this time though I thought I’d try to be clever and join it a bit further north, thus increasing the amount of offroad in the ride.

Unfortunately the maze of minor roads around Oldham and Saddleworth had me confused for quite some time (I really should get out on the road bike and gain some knowledge of that side of Greater Manchester) and just as I was getting a bit frustrated by the seemingly endless number of wrong turns, I saw the PBW sign and cracked on with the ride south.

I’d not ridden the Ragley TD:1 since Relentless 24 seven weeks ago and I’d almost forgotten what a hoot it is to ride – especially when you get the tyre pressures  spot on and the conditions are dry and fast.

Fast, that is, until I reached a narrow section of trail that was covered in ice. A puddle, about 15ft long, had frozen over and was positioned just nicely on a slight bend.

The front wheel let go and started to slide sideways. Still hurtling forwards I thought, “this is going to hurt” but just as the bike had leant over enough for the front wheel to let go entirely, the puddle ended and the tyres gripped again. I rode away from that with my heart still in my mouth like when you almost crash your car; shaking a bit, giggling a bit too.

Onwards towards Glossop and the interim section that follows the Trans Pennine Trail for a while. It’s been an interim route for years now – I suspect that it’s permanent really.

Through Glossop and more climbing, rejoining the Pennine Bridleway eventually and starting to climb, then an ace rocky downhill followed by the long gradual climb to the summit of Lantern Pike. The last off-road descent of the route down to Birth Vale was much nicer than the last time I was here (and we’d climbed it) before I started the 20 miles or so on the road towards Prestbury. I had to get a move on now – the light was fading and my tea was going to be ready soon…

Reaching the top of the climb to Pott Shrigley just as the sun was setting, the temperature started to drop even further – I doubt that it had gone above freezing all day but now it had started to plummet. A fast road descent was just what I needed then to make my face go completely numb.

That didn’t matter though – tea was a huge pan of stew with crusty bread and red cabbage.

Hit the North 2.5 – The Resurrection

Here we go again. Hit the North will go ahead and it’ll be a return to the apparently much-loved 2 hour winter format – shorter course, less tape and signs with arrows on them, same caterers, ace musical accompaniment, all money to charidee, etc, etc.

I’m well into uncharted territory here as I’m now doing this on my own (see here) but so far things are under control – everyone’s cooperating, giving me permission to send a couple of hundred cyclists across their land, letting me plug the event on their websites and adding me to the plethora of race calendars out there. Entry has been open a week and it’s half-full already so all is well.

As usual, it’ll be ace! Sign up


Rhyl-ly long warm-up

I rode to Rhyl yesterday on the cyclocross bike. It was a nice quick ride, a bit too quick as it turned out… I went to Rhyl for the NWCCA cyclocross race that was taking place there but arrived almost 2 hours early. Luckily Dave and Angela were already there so I huddled as close to the back of their car as I could and commandeered Dave’s coat as an anti-hypothermia measure.

I’d figured that a nice 80 mile warmup followed by an hour of mud, snot and screaming lungs would be an interesting training exercise. Deb would be meeting me there with the kids, the dog and the car and we’d all go for a play on Rhyl’s (surprisingly lovely) beach afterwards.

Eventually Deb did arrive and I got on with the job of changing into ‘racier’ (and not as warm) clothes, paid my tenner, pinned on the numbers and made my way to the start.

The course in Rhyl’s Glan Morfa country park had apparently been reduced in size due to much of it being covered by ‘sharp rocks’. By the looks of the parts of the course we did ride I suspect ‘sharp rocks’ actually meant ‘half bricks and shopping trolleys’, however apart from the fact that the laps were very short it was reasonably good fun, the multitude of dog turds to dodge and the rolled-up carpet partially-submerged in a puddle only adding to the excitement.

I managed to make it to the halfway point of the race before being lapped by the lead riders, 58 minutes had passed before Dave came past (who eventually finished in 8th) and I eventually finished in 28th place, comfortably mid-pack and not too bad for my ‘explosive and belated return to cyclocross racing’ 😉

After another quick change of clothes, some food and goodbyes to Dave and Angela, off we went to the beach. The girls loved it despite their faces going blue as a result of the freezing temperatures so then we warmed up by fleeing back to the car and eating bags of chips.

Next week’s cyclocross hilarity is at Leverhulme Park, a mere 4 miles from home in Bolton. There’s a fell race in Darwen before the cross race starts though….hmm…


Mustn’t grumble

I’d not done a ‘proper’ offroad loop in the Peak District for years. I regularly ride from one end of the national park to the other, following one of two routes depending on mood and what bike I’m on at the time, but it was going to be a nice change to ride up/along/down/repeat in a big loop from the car park at Hayfield.

Meeting up with Dave and Phil on Sunday morning we faffed and got changed next to our cars (no riding from the front door this time) and eventually began to climb the steep hill towards Lantern Pike and the Pennine Bridleway, then onto the Trans Pennine trail, eventually arriving at the foot of the climb up some great big hill that eventually led to the Cut Gate Path.

I’d never ridden Cut Gate but I knew from other people and from things that I’d read that in the dry, it’s ace. I’d also read that during or after wet weather, it’s not very ace.

To be honest I struggled along Cut Gate, trying to keep up with Phil who was mostly hopping from muddy puddle to boggy bit to rocky slab, I seemed to be continually falling off or watching in horror as my front wheel disappeared hub-deep into the mud, sending me hopelessly over the bars.

I was having a proper ‘off day’. This was probably because I’d been out the evening before for a meal with Deb and some friends and alcohol was involved. I don’t drink very often at all so when I do it doesn’t take much for me to be adversely affected; it turns me into a sweaty mass of feeble flesh and bone in other words and these effects can last for a day or so afterwards. I’d definitely not been drunk last night, but on Sunday I wasn’t in the greatest shape I’ve ever been in.

I’d also cleverly decided that this route would be best tackled on my fabled ‘other bike’, given it’s awesome when the going gets rocky and I’ve hardly ridden it since I got it…

Good things about The Other Bike:

  • A suspension fork. A great big one. A coil-sprung, 140mm travel Rock Shox Pike with a bolt-through axle. It’s ace for smashing down rocky Dark Peak descents, but I think it needs a bloody good service.
  • Compared to my regular 29er racy bikes, it’s pretty slack and is supposed to go downhill very quickly indeed (in the right hands, obviously)
  • The brakes are utterly massive. Massive I tells yer. And as everyone knows, you go faster with big brakes.

Less good things about The Other Bike:

  • It’s got a limited range of gears. The 36 tooth chainring was making climbing a right pain in the arse after just 4 hours of an 8 hour ride and trying to chase Phil and Dave on the flatter and tarmac bits, spinning a million rpm cadence because there’s no big ring was getting quite knackering too.
  • It’s a bit heavy.
  • The fork wanders about a bit when the climbs get really steep (and I forget to wind the bloody thing down)
  • It’s a bit heavy.
  • The wheels are a bit diddy.
  • The front brake fell off. I bolted it back on after I nicked some parts of Dave’s rear mudguard.
  • It was even more heavy with 2Ib of mud stuck to it.

The main problem though was that I’d stupidly gone to the pub after we’d left the restaurant the night before…

More falling off on descents followed more sweaty grinding uphill followed a bit more falling off and bad language. So far this week I’ve counted 6 bruises on my legs and a hole in the knee of my ¾ length bib shorts (which, naturally I was wearing under some proper mountain biker baggy shorts to match the rad-core bike I was riding). I think I need to practice some basic skills…

Still, I was spending the day riding my bike in an utterly beautiful part of the country with a couple of mates, so how bad could it be, really? I just needed to MTFU a bit, that’s all. So I did.

After cutting the route a bit shorter to allow us to at least get back to the car before bedtime, we made our way up more ridiculously steep climbs, down more rocky descents, eventually arriving (after some faffing with the map) at the foot of Jacob’s Ladder. It was by now starting to go dark, luckily we were good boy scouts and had all brought lights.

Up the wrong, footpath, ascent of Jacob’s Ladder to start, we carried our bikes up the hill. By now I was getting quite close to a full-on bonk but was comforted by the fact that the safety and warmth of the car was just on the other side of this hill. Eventually arriving back on the legal and supposedly-rideable upper section of the ‘Ladder we mused at the amount of skill, practice and determination would be needed to successfully clean this climb.

I know that Dave was thinking the same thing I was thinking and I suspect that more attempts to clean this one will be on the cards in the coming months 😉

Down the other side was going to be fun in the dark – covered in big, pointy rocks, the descent down towards Hayfield was a balancing act between caution and momentum…I’ll admit that I got the balance wrong on one occasion; more in favour of caution and immediately I was sprawled out on a pile of rocks with my hand bent the wrong way….

Eventually convinced that I’d not broken my wrist, I gingerly made my way to the bottom of the hill where Phil had been waiting, probably for a long time.

Oh goody. More bruises.

Back at the car and for the second time this year I realised that I’d forgotten to bring any clothes with me, so I drove home in my lovely and damp bib shorts and base layer. Good job I didn’t have to fill the car up.

here we go again. Again.

After what feels like 2 years of almost constant racing and training I’ve had a bit of a rest. Yes, I know my last blog post was going on about having a rest in a past-tense, but I just wasn’t ready to jump back on the hamster wheel right then after just 2 weeks of rest.

But now I am ready. I’ve hardly ridden a bike for the last month (since Relentless 24 in fact), I’ve lost a bit of fitness, I’ve put on some weight, I’ve got under the feet of my family. It’s been great and I feel great. Bizarrely, now that the weather has turned properly nasty as well I’m even more motivated. I’m visualising my regular routes, late at night, chucking it down with freezing, horizontal rain and imagining me feeling like a right tough nut. Thinking of everyone else, many of them I’ll see at races next year, tucked up in bed or watching telly…

When I say ‘I feel great’, I felt great until I went for a ride on Saturday morning on the freshly-dug-out-from-the-back-of-the-cellar winter road bike. Carrying an extra bit of ballast, riding a heavy road bike and having legs that were a bit softer than they were a month ago gave me quite a shock and had me reaching for the downshift more often than I thought I should have been…but what the hell. The fitness will soon come back and it is only November…here’s where the hard work begins, building and preparing for next summer’s big endurance races and maybe having a crack at one or two records.

To further focus the mind, I’ve entered the Strathpuffer again, this time as a pair with Phil. Last January’s race was brilliant (even though at the time I didn’t feel like I was particularly enjoying it) and my podium finish certainly made me consider racing solo again this time. But then I decided I wasn’t going to give myself another kicking this early in the year again and have the unique stresses of trying to prepare and then peak for a 24 hour solo race when I should be building a good base for the summer.

So I decided to cross it off the list completely.

Then I went to the pub with Budge and Phil and after a few drinks the subject of the Strathpuffer cropped up. So one thing leads to another and before I could say ‘bollocks no way’, I said I’d do it.

A pairs race seems like a good compromise. Sure it’ll be knackering and I know Phil wants to have a proper crack at the race the same as I do, but it’s a world away from the fatigue of a solo race. I’ll get a breather and a cuppa after every lap, plus I get to shout encouragement at Dave and Budge who are both racing solo.

Not only is Budge racing solo, he’s also raising money at the same time for Help For Heroes – you can read his thoughts on the race and donate to a good cause here.