Kirroughtree Hillbilly Duathlon 2019

I was hoping that my strategy of simply not doing this year’s Kirroughtree duathlon as a solo participant would amount to a more pleasant experience than last time.

It couldn’t be much worse than last year’s hellish cramp-fest. I suppose I could be squashed by a falling tree or attacked by an angry osprey but to be honest a race-ending wildlife incident last time would have been a handy excuse to go home early.

I’d been introduced to a handy local runner, Jamie, a couple of weeks before the event. We didn’t know each other before then but I was hopeful we’d make a decent team. At the very least I hoped he’d turn up because once I’d put our entry in, he owed me twenty quid….

“I’ll be in the changeover bit, waving my arms around”, I said, expecting a large crowd for Jamie to negotiate. Luckily he returned from the 10K looking like he’d not done a 10k run at all, in 7th place. So I was easy to spot and feeling a bit of pressure to perform just as well as he had, I got cracking.

I was riding the Blur this time because it’s ideal for a fast lap of the red trail at Kirroughtree. Riding fast is obviously a bit part of it, but knowing the lines and being able to just sit down and pedal over lumpy rock obstacles is just as important. Fortunately I caught up with Sam, who’s probably ridden the red route more than my 4 or 5 times and so I kind of just followed his wheel (and may have learned a bit about the best ways to ride some of the more awkward bits of the trail). Following Sam’s wheel wasn’t a bed of roses either, I was feeling ok but wasn’t sure if and when I’d have to slow down a bit…

3 seconds separated us at the finish, me rolling across the line also in 7th place. So that was tidy. I don’t ‘do’ short races as a rule so I was chuffed with that.

Jamie and I finished in 4th place overall, 3rd in our category. As a rare treat for me, I was placed in the young person, non-veteran category because Jamie’s about half my age. In fact I was the oldest person on our podium – easily old enough to be everyone else’s dad in fact.

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10 Under the Ben 2019

After our pairs win at the Strathpuffer, Sofia and I decided that we’d take the Christiansen/Miles Steamroller to Fort William for a crack at 10 Under the Ben.

Just 5 hours each. How hard could it be?

Thanks to the Clan McGowan our accommodation in Fort William for the evening before the race was all sorted and after a surprisingly healthy-looking veggie burger (and chips) in Tyndrum we rolled the Breakpad Tranny into town just before it was time for bed.

Oh look, it’s my turn AGAIN to do the first lap. I thought I had the last laugh when we were told that lap 1 was going to be a short one – straight up the fireroad to thin out the pack. If it was more than a mile shorter than the regular course I’d be really surprised, for some reason I was expecting a 20 minute zip around the woods rather than an 8.5 mile painfest but I tumbled into the transition area with a smile on my face and the taste of blood in my throat. At least I’d warmed up a bit and had left some pastry in the van for breakfast.

Sof’s adventures in South Africa and the hard training she’d been doing recently had all paid off as her lap times were nice and quick, so quick in fact that I had to deny myself any kind of easy laps throughout the race just to make sure I was putting in similar times. It’s so important in pairs racing to have an evenly-matched team mate, even when you both seem to be driving each other to the brink of destruction 😉

In between laps we were kept entertained by the junior downhill practice – the race was due to happen the day after and our local downhill superstar, Katy McGowan was going to be racing.

A crash on a Root Of Doom (TM) on my 3rd lap had me wincing for a while and reaching for the ibuprofen but other than that we both had a reasonably flawless race and while we both tired towards the end, we maintained a 20-30 minute gap and took the mixed pairs win, finishing 6th overall.

This was the 17th 10 Under the Ben, which is both super-impressive and a credit to No Fuss Events but it’s also made me feel very old indeed….

(photo – Keith Fawcett)

A McDonalds and cramp-themed drive home through the glens and forests of Scotland in the wee small hours rounded off a good old-fashioned smash and grab weekend.

The awesome Katy McGowan finished in second place the day after!

Something in the water in Newton Stewart I think…

 

Hit the North 6 – the race that very nearly wasn’t.

All photographs courtesy of Paul Davy – Cycling Photographer

The sixth Hit the North (it’s more like the ninth really, we cocked up the numbering a few years ago) was the first one to be held in the middle of a storm. In the past we’ve had high winds, snow, ice and some sunshine but this time the course was partly submerged and the bits that weren’t submerged were incredibly muddy.

I think many thought that it’d be called off but there was no way I was going to let that happen – I’d had to move the date twice as it was due to poor entries. The first date clashed with the royal wedding, so I assume everyone was cheering on the happy couple. The second date was a December gamble and that yielded about 3 entries. I’d had to refund dozens of entries already, so it had to be third time lucky.

Thankfully the March 16th date, over a year after I initially opened the entry, was a big success and entries went mad in the last 2 weeks. A record number of entrants, in fact.

I was glad that people had to pre-enter because I was expecting the weather to put most riders off. The coffee woman jibbed at about 8:30am on the morning of the event so that was a kick in the nuts. No coffee. So serious I included a grovelling apology in my race briefing. There was a loud groan from the assembled throng of 143 riders. The rest of the main ‘arena’ looked sparse too – I’d booked a pair of portable toilets (at least those turned up) but other than that HtN6 was very much the Austerity Edition. Probably just as well given the weather on the day.

(If anyone wants to have a stand or any sort of Thing at the next Hit the North, get in touch!).

143 riders! An amazing turnout considering it was hammering down with rain. The course was absolutely filthy and the big downhill was a lottery. The mud was knee-deep in parts though, so while your fallen waterbottle/garmin/glasses probably sunk forever, you had a softish landing.

We had to close the stream cross that magically went from a small trickle into a super-angry, gushing torrent that was threatening to sweep riders and bikes down the Irwell.

2 hours later and the mens’ winner, Will Lewis, crossed the line. We think it was Will but to be honest it could have been anyone. Screeching to a halt just behind him was local elite racer Chris Lever who’d taken a couple of hours off work in the bike shop to do the race.

Hit the North regular and multiple winner, Ian Taylor won the vets category while Alison Kinloch and Cathy Atkinson won the female vets and seniors respectively.

That was the sharp end of the race, but quite honestly everyone who turned out and raced in those conditions deserved a medal. Most of the DNFs were caused by disintegrated brake pads (and one broken shoulder – get well soon Kai) so there’s probably a lot of unfinished business knocking about.

Thanks to everyone who helped this happen – the next one is in March 2020 so keep your eye on the website, the facebook page or Twitter.

Full results at www.hitthenorth.net

Kielder Chiller 2019

I can’t say with much certainty when I last took part in a 24 hour race as a member of a team of 4. I’ve dabbled in pairs racing from time to time but the vast majority of endurance racing has been as a solo rider. It’s nice to have regular breaks for a sit down and a cup of tea but I always find that the breaks are over far too quickly, but are just long enough for my legs to start to go stiff and for me to get far too comfortable and warm to be bothered to go out for yet another bike ride.

Drinking gallons of tea, eating tons of crisps and having a laugh in between laps is good though.

The weather forecast for the Kielder Chiller was traditionally awful, high winds and constant rain were expected. I’ve trashed countless brake pads, chains, cassettes and nice bikes just from riding around in Kielder Forest and those prior experiences, as well as the fact that I’m just plain tightfisted meant that I took a rigid singlespeed. I could be all smug while I watched the drivetrains and fork seals of others reduce to atoms in a cloud of abrasive grime.

if you took this photo get in touch so I can include a credit – ta

As things turned out, the weather wasn’t too bad. Our team of 4 (Budge, Karen Price, Phil Simcock and me) grabbed an early lead and gradually extended it as the race progressed. If I’m being honest I was finding things very tough with just one gear – the course wasn’t particularly kind to anyone stupid enough to be riding a singlespeed – it was basically a series of steep, long climbs with some really steep bits that were making my back feel like it was about to explode outwards. The end of each lap felt like I’d been squatting big weights in the gym for an hour and while we were still leading by a healthy margin, I knew I was having to make a meal of every lap.

In the end we won the mixed team category by a good margin and finished 3rd overall in all teams of 4, Karen Price bagging the fastest womens’ lap of the race obviously helping towards the result, as well as Phil demonstrating how blindingly quick you can get by training and racing an entire cyclocross season…

pic:Budge

It was all a good laugh in spite of me alternating between suffering and moaning. The Team JMC pit had about 20 people racing out of it, almost everyone won something (including Deb, Sally, Shona and Jacqui who banged in a load of laps, won the female teams cat and beat a few mens’ teams in the process), nobody got too soaked and I didn’t ruin anything expensive or smash my face in again.

So that’s 2 wins out of 2 races this year so far…I’d better find another race to do quick before my purple patch comes to an end…

Strathpuffer 2019 – Apparently hell CAN freeze over.

It doesn’t matter what the weather forecast says, or what people who are in Strathpeffer for days before the race say – the fact is, nobody can predict the weather at the Strathpuffer. You just have to think how you’re going to prepare, spend loads of cash on stuff you probably (or even hopefully) won’t need and always, always pack at least one studded ice tyre.

This year’s Strathpuffer was a case in point. All week it was rain this…mud that…I’d fitted mud tyres and had packed waterproof baggy shorts. I think most people taking part were braced for a slop-fest.

What actually happened is that almost the entire course was covered in black ice and that thick, solid type of ice that polar bears used to stand on to sell mints. Rumours quickly spread of 12 broken collarbones in the first lap.

Good job I had that ice tyre fitted to the front wheel and I was equally glad that Sofia had managed to get one too.

Sofia Christiansen was my mixed pairs team-mate and I knew she’d been training hard for this. We both had – neither of us were here to make up the numbers but once the race got underway it was clear that something wasn’t right. I couldn’t stop coughing, but put that down to the cold temperatures. I was struggling to breathe at times too, but put that down to all the cycling I was doing. Then the vomiting and the cramp started. I’m pretty good at vomiting on the move and don’t normally need to stop to do it. This time was no exception but the bike needed a good wipe down at the end of each lap.

I don’t know what was causing the puking. Perhaps I was coming down with something…

It made for an exciting race though. Sofia was super-consistent in her lap times and was as focused as I knew she was going to be. I’d then set off on either a good lap or a not-so-good lap and the lead must have changed hands between us and two other pairs repeatedly throughout the night. I wasn’t really sure how all of this was going to end up and while I wanted to put in a Big Move and create a gap, I didn’t really have the legs (or head, or guts, or lungs) for that.

Eventually though, a 2 minute gap was just enough for us to build on and that soon became 18 minutes (then a blip back to 12 minutes or something) then 18 again, then things became uncertain again…

Sofia arrived at the changeover point pedalling with one leg. Her knee was knackered. I said I’d ride my lap, if she still couldn’t pedal we’d decide what we were going to do.

It was then that I remembered what happened in Kielder a couple of years ago, when I raced in the pairs with Phil, crashed, broke my face and forced him to ride the remaining few hours of the race on his own. There was no conceivable way that I could drop out because Sof was unlucky enough to pick up a race-ending injury, so unless Sof’s knee had miraculously mended itself, I was on my own to defend our slender lead for 5 hours.

I finished the lap. There was Deb, Sofia, Ben, Sam and Ailsa. I thought I’d have a moan and a whinge for effect. “Get me gels, lights and water here for the end of this next lap”.

The rest of the race was spent mostly crashing as a patch of light rain passed over the forest and turned whatever rideable line that existed into a skating rink. My lap times were silly-slow by now but as I finished my final lap, Deb greeted me not with a bottle and a gel, but with a tell-tale bacon sandwich. We’d won the mixed pairs category with a 35-ish minute gap.

Chuffed! Relieved. And now, I have the flu! Awesome. I thought I was coming down with something.

MASSIVE thanks to…

Euan and the Forestry guys, Sam and Ben from the Breakpad bike shop for the relentless spannering and bike cleaning, Ailsa for lentil soup and motivational abuse, Deb for doing what only Deb can do behind the scenes in races like this and Sofia for being a nails-tough team mate.