Hit the North 7

(photos courtesy of Adam Rowlinson, Michael Silver, Oliver Colam and me)

I agonised all week about whether I should allow Hit the North to go ahead or whether I should postpone it due to the coronavirus thing, but in the end I decided that everyone who had entered was an adult and could probably make their own decisions. On the day the actual turn-out was low so maybe some did stay away, perhaps put-off by the virus or the 2019 mud and/or lack of coffee…. who knows.

The sun was shining on the day that I set out the course with my arrows, ball of string and wheelbarrow. The park isn’t in a brilliant state following several storms, attacks by stolen motocross bikes and a long period of neglect but I think I managed to string something interesting together and finally, in the middle of that sprawling, run-down urban park, I finally started to relax and look forward to the event.

On the day of the race, we had coffee, Caribbean food, a PA system complete with wheels and disco lights and a small band of ladies and gents – some of them racing, some of them helping by marshalling, handing out numbers and setting up various timing gadgets to take away the horrendous manual timing nonsense of previous years. And no rain (not much anyway).

With only a few equestrian, illegal motorcycle and grumpy dog walker encounters out on the course, the whole race ‘just happened’ without too much intervention from anyone. The first aider didn’t have to do anything and to my knowledge, nobody’s bike or body suffered anything too serious. Everything was packed up by 2pm and apart from a few tell-tale brown stripes on the grass, nobody would have known that anything had happened.

The day went so well in fact that I immediately decided to organise another race in 2021. Possibly 2 races. Maybe not at Philips Park, but on the other hand it does have its advantages. I’d be interested to know what others think about that.


There’s a long list of people who deserve thanks, so here goes…

Debbie, Michael, Rachael and Eleanor for putting up with me dragging them all 200 miles south for this and for their unrelenting help on the day.

The marshals – Lauren, Adam, Julian, Oliver, Maggie, Jo, Cath, Jackie, Cathy, Sally, Christa and Duncan. Heroes.

Budge and Carl for the early start and the gazebos.

Proper Cleaner for supplying the prizes and Guy Martin hats.

Phil and Darren for the hours and hours of help with marking out the course.

Warren for the website, graphics, back-end stuff and for making things look cool.

Tony Barry for being the most laid-back and friendly commissar that I’ve met for many years.

Matt “Timing Monkey” Brown, Bill and the awesome Citroen coffee van, Abdullah and the Afro-Brit street food, Mike and his banging sound system, Bury Council, the Forestry Commission and British Cycling.

Most of all, a MASSIVE thankyou to all those who entered this race and especially to those who have supported this event over the past 12 years. This has always been a team effort.

Results and the event website are here, where you’ll get news of future events.

A matter of days after the race and the UK government said we should all stop going out and British Cycling cancelled all races that they insure, so Hit the North happened just in the nick of time, on the last weekend of racing for some time….

Stay safe, look out for others and stay sane, folks!

Strathpuffer 2020

For the first few hours of the Strathpuffer, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was missing. There was something absent – was it a section of the course? Was it something I’d forgotten to bring? Was it a person or group of people I normally see at this race?

Weird, I couldn’t figure it out.

I rode lap after lap in near-bewilderment until it struck me – I was actually riding the whole lap every time without any kind of incident. The course was uneventful, not boring, but completely rideable, utterly without surprises and most importantly, it wasn’t a Nervous Icy Horror.

At last! A return to the brown and grey Strathpuffer of old – it might chew your bike to pieces, it might fill your shorts with glittery sludge that wears the skin off your arse but at least you’ll be falling off BECAUSE YOU MADE A MISTAKE rather than it just happening because the Gods Of Ice have decided it’s your turn to slam into the terrain, shoulders and knees first.

Sofia and I had won the mixed pairs category at this race last year and endured what was probably the worst ice that I can remember. Ice tyres helped, but it wasn’t a huge amount of fun at times.

This time though a good mud tyre up front was all you needed for a fast and predictable lap and fast and predictable laps were what we churned out, one after another, until we stretched out a 2 lap lead and earned ourselves an early finish and another win.

Meanwhile, Debbie, Ailsa and Debbie looked after us with coffee, Arsene Venger-style insulated coats, tattie scones and 90s rave tunes from the vastly changeable atmospheric conditions inside the Team Breakpad gazebo. Also while this was going on, Mark was busy breaking his 24 hour solo duck by churning out 17 laps and consuming his bodyweight in gels.

Thanks to the Wonderful Women Of Wigtownshire- Deb, Debbie and Ailsa, Sofia for being as fast and determined as ever, Mark for massive vans and massive kerosene heaters, Sam at the Breakpad for sorting our bikes out so that we could trash them, Michael for moving to Scotland for the weekend to look after the kids and to Steve MacDonald and his team for organising the Strathpuffer for the 15th time – this race seems to get bigger and better every time.

I’ve not said ‘never again’ this time yet, so watch this space.

10@Kirroughtree 2019

The 10@Kiroughtree (known locally as “the ten”) is a lapped MTB endurance race on one of the most brilliant courses I’ve ridden. Yeah yeah, I know I’m a local boy now and therefore I’m bound to be biased, but after the 2018 race I genuinely was hoping that the course was going to be the same this year.

In spite of the race being held at a trail centre, only some of the course uses ‘built’ trails and most of the natural stuff is about as root-infested, exciting and steep as the most challenging XC courses in the country. If you’ve got a dropper seatpost on your bike, you’ll probably end up using it. The route is about 9 miles long, has a surprising amount of climbing and descent and really does have ‘a wee bit of everything’.

Since doing hardly any riding since the Pan Celtic race due to being pretty broken, injured and demotivated, I was getting desperate for a way out of the solo category as the day of the event grew closer. One of those seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time ideas.

Luckily Sofia wasn’t all that keen on racing the 10 as a soloist either, so a quick couple of text messages later, we were in as a mixed pair. We’ve done ok since the start of the year as a smash n’ grab tag team so sod it, we thought.

Partly as an attempt to exorcise my first lap puncture curse, Sof agreed to ride the first lap while I had a leisurely wander over to the transition area in the warm sunshine, deciding that I was never doing a first lap again 😉

Before long we’d taken the lead, but the last lap disaster of the Glentress 7 meant that nothing was being taken for granted. I don’t know about Sof but I was getting a bit ahead of myself and had to lie down in between laps after pouring a bottle of water over my head….

Apart from a burped front tyre (my fault), my Blur and Highball were both flawless. Normally I’ll have a stupid mechanical at some point but this time I’d spent more than 10 minutes on preparing them both. Maybe I’m starting to learn harsh lessons in my advancing years.

(pic:Chris Helson)

More laps, more lying down and more almost-vomiting followed until the point at which Sofia HAD TO RIDE ONE MORE LAP THAN ME and take the overall mixed pairs and vets win. Chuffed!

Thanks to the Galloway Hillbillies for organising another brilliant event with the now trademark laid-back and welcoming Galloway vibe, Sofia for being a brilliant (and fast!) pairs teammate and to Deb for doing her thing in the pit as usual, keeping everything ticking along smoothly and making sure everyone and everything is in the right place at the right time.


(pic:Stevie Todd)

Keep your eyes on the Galloway Hillbillies website and Facebook page for news of 2020 events (as well as the 10 there’s a duathlon in the spring).

The Pan Celtic Race 2019

Even though the ferry crossing from Cairnryan to Befast is only a couple of hours long, I happily paid 26 quid for a cabin just for a shower and a chance to lie down on something comfortable. While the idea of riding an extremely-hilly 1470 miles over the course of a week didn’t particularly faze me – it’s surprising what the human body can withstand when there is literally nothing else to do but ride and eat – if I’m being completely honest the past 3 days of the Scottish leg of the Pan Celtic race had been tougher than I was probably expecting….

It all started in Inverness and headed north into a strong headwind. Many wills to live were almost lost. After that, the north and west coasts of Scotland were ridden and while I was happy with my pace, it was obvious that none of this was going to be even slightly flat and/or easy. A couple of hours trying to sleep on a 2 seater sofa at the Ullapool checkpoint while everyone in the room brought their loudest and weirdest snores was welcome respite after 20-or-so hours of solid riding and then the eating/riding routine started again.

(photo: Brian McLeod)

There’s very little food to be found in the Highlands, especially on a Sunday so I think I’d been riding for 28 hours on a handful of gels and a bag of mixed nuts. Some free samples of energy drink were included in the race goody bag and they probably saved my bacon (Active Root – actually very nice indeed, folks) but once the shops and cafes opened on Monday many of them received a sweaty, stinky, clip-clippety-clop visit.

Sometimes, the main spectacle was bacon and sausage rolls being ordered and consumed in seconds right in front of the startled shop lady before another was ordered. Crumbs were probably spat.

Eat food and eat it fast. Make it fatty and high in, well, pretty-much everything and then get the hell outta there.

I spent a solid 4 hours sleeping in a shed just outside Fort William after another 22 hours of the calorie consumption/energy expenditure/calorie consumption sphere of existence and set off just as it started to rain. I’d set off a little bit too early, thinking that the McDonald’s in Fort William opened earlier than 7am but it didn’t so I rode away, muttering naughty words.

Eventually I arrived at a petrol station and ignoring the woman’s moaning that the place wasn’t open for another 10 minutes, proceeded to eat a pork pie, a coronation chicken baguette and a Mattesons smoked pork sausage, washed down with a coffee and a can of Irn Bru. By the time I’d finished she was ready to take some money off me so I bought a couple of extras for the road (another smoked sausage and a ham butty, in case you’re interested) and got cracking.

Invariably I’d either meet another PCR rider just leaving a petrol station or café and I’d be leaving just as another arrived – I assume this routine went on for a week or so, or at least until the food ran out.

The world’s slowest case of panic-buying, ever.

It had been raining all day. It was ok for the first few hours, but as the day wore on (apparently there had been an amber weather warning) it started to wear quite thin. The scenery was still absolutely mind-blowing in places but to be honest my arse was starting to hurt and I knew that my soaking wet shorts were going to be my downfall unless I took action…..

…the problem was that no matter how much chamois cream I was applying, being out in heavy rain for that amount of time was just washing it away. I was stopping every couple of hours but by the time I’d ridden past Loch Lomond, through the shitty, muddly cycle paths of Glasgow and down into Ayrshire it was dark, it was still raining and my seatpost had decided it was going to fall to bits (3 zipties to the rescue). By now I was struggling to grip anything with my hands and changing gear was becoming impossible. I’d altered the saddle angle a few hours ago and now there was more pressure on my arms, wrists and hands.

I was getting into bother but I was almost at Cairnryan.

Ignoring the temptation to just ride back to my house when the route came within 4 miles of it, I arrived at the port just 2 hours before the ferry left for Belfast, 3 days and 670-something miles since the start, just as the sun was rising (not that you could see the sun).

Following a less-than-restful wait to board the boat with my head resting on a crisp vending machine I got to my £26 cabin. Bliss.

I was banking on this amazing 2 hour sleep miraculously fixing my various injuries and issues.

Unsurprisingly, 2 hours sleep is nowhere near enough time to resolve a nerve-damaged hand and a backside that won’t allow me to sit on a bicycle saddle. I rolled down the ramp onto Irish soil anyway and immediately looked for somewhere to stop.

Like an oasis in the desert, a branch of Greggs loomed into view. I spent a large amount of cash in there and tore into my lukewarm haul of pastry on the step outside.

I was losing my belief in getting much further and I weighed up what my next move should be. Just get straight back on the ferry? Give it an hour? Eat another steak slice? Kick the crap out of the car park bin? Cry?

I sat there for as long as I could before the staff in the shop started tutting and my phone got a few text messages from people asking why my dot wasn’t moving.

I set off back on the route. I couldn’t sit down. I stopped a couple of times to change gear with two hands and give myself a break from the pain.

I thought about what lay ahead and thought about the where the other PCR riders who travelled on the same ferry would be, now I’ve let them have a 2 hour gap.

I thought about the ferries, trains, shops and (most importantly) my friends Geoff and Maragaret in Belfast as opposed to the lack of pretty-much anything on the route once I’d left the city. I decided to stay in Belfast where I had some infrastructure and scratch (AKA drop out, jib, cry off, pack it in).

Many people drove and walked past a dejected cyclist sat in a bus shelter just north of Belfast city centre before Geoff rang and gave me directions to his house. Maragaret was waiting with food and a change of clothes.

I spent a few hours with them, visited their local pub then went home on the night ferry, wearing Geoff’s jeans and t shirt.

I’ll be back at some point to finish off the job, and maybe I’ll line up again next year, better-prepared and perhaps slightly wiser. Maybe with longer than a week off work…

Some truly amazing films and details of the Pan Celtic race can be found on their website here https://www.pancelticrace.com/

Thanks to Matt, Toby, Rebecca and Pete and all who helped organise this incredible race.

Glentress 7 2019

It didn’t matter how much shouting and swearing I was aiming at the stubborn tyre valve, it wouldn’t shift. The minutes ticked by. Sally stopped and offered to help, but unless King Kong or someone with a large plumbing wrench arrived I was looking at a very irritating day indeed….

Sofia and I had been banging out laps in the Glentress 7 mixed pairs category for the past 5 or so hours. I figured that this would be my last lap of the course and all being well, we’d secure 2nd place.

Jersey from the Team JMC “Ice Cream Parlour” range. Shoes model’s own

Everything was going well on my final lap until I reached the top of the last descent when a loud ‘psssssssssssss’ instantly changed the happy, “ooo I wonder what I shall wear on the podium?” mood to a state of mild panic and disappointment.

As I listened to all of the air escape from my torn rear tyre, I hoped in vain that it would miraculously seal itself. I don’t care how bold the claims by tyre sealant manufacturers are – in my experience tyres hardly ever re-seal once they’ve been punctured but as usual I ignored past experience, pinned my hopes on a miracle and wasted my only cylinder of C02.

Upside down went the bike, off came the wheel, out came the spare tube and into overdrive went the swearing.

Tick tock….


The screw-on collar thing on the valve wouldn’t turn. Gluing the valve so that you can’t get it off in a hurry is probably one of the things that tyre sealant does do well, which would be fine if I wasn’t trying to get a bloody inner tube fitted to my wheel before any more people rode past.

It did eventually start to turn, but it took a monumental amount of effort to unscrew all the way along the valve’s 45mm length.

It felt like I’d been there for hours. Eventually I was rolling again and had to take a few risks on the way back down the course so that I didn’t miss the cut-off that would deny Sofia starting her final lap (and hopefully pull some time back). Getting across the line with seconds to spare, Sof went off in pursuit of a podium spot. My tyre-related tomfoolery had cost us 16 minutes and we’d dropped down to 4th place….

Sof crossed the line only a couple of minutes behind the 3rd place rider, she’d pulled back a load of time but it wasn’t to be. The curse of the rear tyre just won’t go away….