Tour De Mon and the 10@Kirroughtree not-bothered-what-the-weather-does weatherwatch

I’ve spent a lot of time on the Isle of Anglesey in the past 40-something years. When I was a child I’d more or less be there permanently through the school holidays and most weekends during term time. I thought I was familiar with all of it, despite being able to pronounce a very small percentage of the place names properly.

When I entered the Tour De Mon sportive, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get much out of it. Apart from it being a good excuse to pay my parents a visit I assumed that there wouldn’t be many surprises throughout the whole ride. I’m glad I did enter though, the route contained plenty of unfamiliar lanes and ‘grass up the middle’ stuff to open my eyes to parts of the island I’d never been to or had long-since forgotten.

one of many wheel-sucking moments

It wasn’t easy either – 104 miles (plus a 30 mile ride to the start – rarrr) and over 2500 metres of climbing on up-down-up-down-up-down roads meant that you knew you’d had a good day out. There was even an actual sort-of race for a mile along the Mona airfield, which took some recovering from…

Next weekend it’s the 10@Kirroughtree race, about 3 miles from our new house in Newton Stewart. When I entered the event months ago I wrongly assumed that I’d be a resident of Newton Stewart by the time the race starts but obviously that isn’t the case, so we’re driving up from Manchester instead.

I’ve not done a great deal of training in the past few weeks either due to ‘other stuff’ but it’ll be a fun day out and to make sure it is fun, I think I’ll take a Big Bike with a Big Fork and Big Tyres and have 10 hours of fun in baggy shorts.

Capture

Another chance to see some more of the trails up there and to catch up with friends north of the border.

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Heading north

From here….

Soon the Miles family will be moving away from Manchester to side-step the organised chaos of the city to live in Dumfries and Galloway, over 200 miles away in Southern Scotland. I’m sure readers in the USA would drive 200 miles to buy a pint of milk, but in the UK it’s a long way.

…to here.

It’ll be a big change for us, moving to a town of 5000 people from a town of 500,000 but we’re good and ready after spending most of this year planning and trying to negotiate the incompatibilities between the English and Scottish conveyancing systems. We’ll be living in the caravan for a short time to work-around one of the main legal issues, but it’ll all work out fine.

It also means that apart from the occasional cyclocross race on the odd weekend that I’m not unpacking boxes and decorating, 2017 is pretty much over as far as racing bikes is concerned. With the current pressures of work and a life-altering house move, there just isn’t the time right now, nor is there an appetite for the added stress and hassle.

I’ve got plans for a Big Scottish Ride to keep the weight off and the fitness up before the end of the year and for the last few months of 2017 I’ll be training for the Strathpuffer 24  before I get stuck into things again next year, but things will start to look different from now on. Stay tuned!

Mountain Mayhem 2017

In spite of the temptation to race solo at the last-ever Mountain Mayhem, I decided at the start of the year that I’d have other fish to fry this year that I want to be fresh for. When Jamie Willetts asked me to race with him in a pair, it sounded ideal.

Less than ideal was my arrival time. I got to the race nearly 6 hours after it had started because of various domestic issues that occur when you sell your house. Jamie didn’t seem to mind, but by the time I’d arrived he’d already ridden for 6 hours and was slowly baking in the 30+ degree heat.

It was really, really, really hot.

Keen to let the lad have a well-earned rest I got changed, filled my water bottle and set about riding a few laps. “Are we taking it seriously, Jase?” Jamie asked. “I’ve just arrived 6 hours late”. No, in other words. Let’s just enjoy it and try not to get fried.

The course was fast and arguably the best one yet at Gatcombe Park. Mountain biking in dry, dusty conditions is such a novelty for UK riders that any old crap would be enjoyable, but this was genuinely pretty good.

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Cutting straight to the entertaining stuff though, my front light rattled loose and tumbled down a steep slope at the side of the course at about 11pm. Luckily it remained lit to it was easy to find…down and down I climbed, legs getting scratched on prickly shrubs. Eventually I retrieved the light and climbed back up – my helmet bumping into a low branch and sending my helmet light tumbling down the hill. Down and down I climbed, legs getting scratched on prickly shrubs while the air was turned blue by my potty mouth.

You couldn’t make it up.

Jamie’s turn again. He arrived back after one lap after a crash that ended with his sternum meeting his handlebar stem at high speed.

No intention of riding 12 hours solo in the wrong category, I went to bed for a bit.

The glue on my grips had melted by the time I got back on my bike in the morning and as the temperature continued to rise I took more tea breaks in between laps. It was going well.

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Jamie brings it home

Jamie put in one more lap before the end of the race and that was that. 20 years of Mountain Mayhem, all finished.

The Big Daddy of UK 24 hour races, I, like thousands of others, have had fond memories of this race and it will be sadly missed.

 

 

 

Get fixed

I’ve been getting progressively slower for a few years now. I thought it was one of those standard ‘getting old’ things – loss of form leading to loss of motivation, leading to more loss of form…and so it goes on.

It all started to come to a head late last year when I picked up an injury while out running. Or at least I thought I’d picked up an injury that day. As it turns out, I’ve been carrying an injury for a lot longer than that. I’m talking years.

I was on day 9 of a 256 mile running challenge back in December. Day 9 meant 9 miles. I managed to do about 6 miles that day before pulling up with an injury in what I thought was my arse cheek, or perhaps my upper leg.

I rested and basically muddled through as the pain came and went over the course of several months. I’d had lower back pain quite often in the past but just ignored it mostly. I tend to spend lots of my time in discomfort so this was one of many aches and pains that I’d got used to managing. I remember a 24 Hour UK championship race about 6 years ago where I had to repeatedly get off the bike to stretch my lower back and since then it’s been a near-constant companion. I never did anything about it other than moan and do the occasional stretch. Stretching, I should add, did nothing to alleviate the pain.

My off-the-scale level of suffering and general poor performance at a stage race in Belgium a few weeks ago tipped me over the edge and I started to seek some help.

Google told me that there was a guy just down the road from here and his past clients clearly rated him highly. Off I went to see Stephen Oakley, AKA Massage Hands.

I described to Stephen what had happened, how I sometimes couldn’t walk and how it’s often been painful when I’m pushing hard on the bike. He showed me where he thought the problem was and explained that over the years (probably since the first flare-up back at the UK champs 6 years ago), my Quadratus Lumborum muscle was quite simply, tired. In fact, he quickly noticed that it was as hard and as inflexible as a block of wood. It’s also a bugger to stretch, so probably needs fairly regular maintenance.

A very painful 30 minutes followed while the offending muscle was squashed, pummelled and broken down so that it would heal back the way it should be. A bruised and sore few days followed, after which I immediately started to feel better – more flexible, able to do more before it became painful.

I went back 10 days later for another session. Less painful this time, my body already responding to the therapy. 2 days after that I felt better and stronger than I have done for years. I rode a 100 mile local road sportive and The Distance 165 mile bikepacking event a few days later with Phil. I felt faster and had more endurance than I have done for a long time and I was actually enjoying riding bikes again. Only a few weeks ago I was assuming that riding bikes simply hurt more as you get older. I was very, very wrong.

Yesterday I had my third and final session with Stephen and I feel amazing.

Get your niggles and injuries fixed by someone who knows what they’re doing – it’s money well-spent and in my case has helped my state of mind and how I feel about racing bikes too.

Belgian Mountainbike Challenge

“There aren’t many people with the opportunity to do things like this” I kept saying to myself, trying to reinforce the fact that I am, in essence, a Very Lucky Lad to be able to travel overseas to ride my bike. It wasn’t making the experience any less painful.

I think the entire world knows by now that I had a stupid crash on my bike a couple of weeks ago that left me with nettle stings all over my arse and a cracked rib. I’d like to say I don’t moan about such things very much but honestly, I’ve droned on and on and on about it. There’s nothing worse than the guy that highlights his apparent handicap (hard training week, hard work week, broken bone, cold, wrong tyres, I’ve just won a baby in a raffle and it kept me awake, I accidentally brought a singlespeed/fatbike/unicycle, etcetera…) to everyone before every single race but for the past couple of weeks I’ve (admittedly self-consciously) been That Guy. Sorry everyone BUT IT REALLY HUURRRRRTS.

Debbie even offered me a number of Get Out Of Jail cards in the week leading up to the big trip to Belgium for a stage race. It’s always easier if someone else decides to drop out of a race for you. I declined the escape route though, like I said – “There aren’t many people with the opportunity to do things like this”. Besides, we were meeting Lee and Rachael there and even if the race was a disaster we’d be guaranteed a weekend-long bloody good laugh with our friends.

So off we went. A 600 mile drive south to Belgium. Lovely, pan-flat Belgium. Home of waffles, fine beer, chips swimming in mayonnaise and other stereotypes.

Actually parts of Belgium are full of wartime history, steep (STEEP!) valleys and people who don’t speak any Flemish, nor do they seem to sell waffles.

Not flat though. Very, very, very not flat. Not mountainous but trails like a dragon’s back. Up and down and up and down all day long. The first 80-something kilometre long stage was a killer with one 20 percent climb after another and  by the end I was in a fair bit of discomfort – the rib injury-induced shallow breathing of the previous week had returned and even though I only brought it as a precaution, the co-codamol came out that evening so that I’d get some sleep.

The second stage was longer and while I’d have loved it to have had climbs that were less steep, I was to be disappointed on that score. It was 100 kilometres of up and down and up and down all day long. That one took me ages and ages to finish. Longer than everyone else I knew, in fact.

I had a long lie down and dreamt of the easier final stage. 77 kilometres of smooth, flat trails with an ice cream van situated every 5k.

That was a dream, obviously. This last stage, despite being shorter, was in reality even harder than the previous two horrors. Sat at the start line, having a jolly chat with Lee before he disappeared up the first climb, I felt like I’d been in a pub fight every day rather than a bike race. One of those fights where your opponent is a sneaky bastard and concentrates his punches and kicks on your obvious weak spot. I was in a codeine-induced daze too. I was having so much fun!

“There aren’t many people with the opportunity to do things like this”.

Up and down and up and down all day long. Again. No ice cream vans.

20K from the finish of the third and final stage, I punctured my rear tyre, couldn’t get the tyre back on the rim with a tube in it (this had happened to me before), snapped three tyre levers. One of them didn’t even belong to me. Started to walk to the nearest road with my bike on my shoulder. Not what the bone doctor ordered.

Watched the time cut-off approach and then elapse as I tried to describe to Debbie where I was. “I’m on a road near a village….erm…somewhere”. She didn’t know where she was either, but eventually we ended up in the same place.

Bike in the car and the Drive Of Shame back to the hotel. Even though I was keen to tell a race official that I’d retired from the race, she didn’t seem that interested. “What would you like me to do with this information?” she said. “Errrr well why don’t you send a helicopter out to look for me or something?” , I replied, expecting a kick from Deb for being a grumpy git.

“ahh yes. What is your number?”. She got the message in the end.

I just wasn’t in the mood.

A few hours of eating pizza and drinking red wine was needed. So that’s what we did!

The Belgian Mountain Bike Challenge is a 3 day mountain bike stage race in the Ardennes region of Belgium. It’s very, very hard. There are around 600 participants and nobody is a messer. It sells out in a really short period of time and while I would recommend you took part, you’re probably better off turning up well-rested and injury-free.

See? I do these things so you don’t have to.