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.







Belgian Mountainbike Challenge weatherwatch AKA ‘Excuses Corner’

For  second year in a row I’m taking part in a stage race. Not Sri Lanka this time, this year I’m making the short(er) journey to the south of Belgium for the Belgian Mountainbike Challenge – 3 days of mountain bike racing in the Ardennes. Loads of climbing. In Belgium!

“Rugged terrain” it says on Wikipedia. “The Hardest Mountain Bike Tour in the Benelux” it says on the race website. I think it’s going to be quite hard then.

Anyway, it doesn’t seem like 10 minutes since I got back from Belgium but this time I won’t be hiring a tandem. Nor will I be drinking loads of beer.

I will however be taking an injury with me, which doesn’t happen too often. It’s a stupid self-inflicted, painful niggle that will hopefully fade between now and the start of the race.

Image result for belgian waffle

That’s not curry

I did something to my ribs when I landed heavily after a silly crash while out on the bike a week or so ago. I’ll take strong painkillers so that I can sleep then a couple of days later it won’t feel too bad (unless I breathe deeply….) but then I’ll do something like pick up a rucksack or reach for something in a cupboard and it’s back on the painkillers again.

Oh well, no excuses. I won’t be the only old giffer there with some kind of issue and besides, we’ve ploughed a few hundred quid into this trip already.

I’ll be trying to keep up with the in-form, man-of-the-moment Lee Eaton while our wives make light work of the local delicacies. Chocolate, beer and waffles, basically. Maybe pate.

I wish I’d not looked at the weather forecast for Belgium next week. Chucking it down with rain!

Dirty Reiver 200

Some people, who claim to be sensible people, absolutely avoid at all costs taking a brand new, never-ridden bike to ride in a bike race. A very long, hard bike race in a remote location with no mobile signal.

Those are people who are obviously lacking in moral fibre. Taking a bike that’s been checked, double-checked, ridden, checked and ridden again? Give over. Just sign for it, whip it out of the box and ride the bugger.

You would though, wouldn’t you? Look at it!

I spent a couple of hours on Friday night swapping the tyres on my new Santa Cruz Stigmata for some wider, more-gravelly ones as well as adding a couple of bottle cages, some pedals and adjusting the seatpost so that it fit me. Sort of. It was a bit of a rush job and the front brake was rubbing a bit (brand new pads and I put the mechanic at Jungle under a bit of pressure when I asked for the bike at the last minute) but time was getting on and I had to drive 150 miles north to Kielder to take part in the Dirty Reiver 200 at 7am the morning after.

I slept in the Mighty Passat that night, the Stigmata (worth approximately 12 times more than the car) at the other side of the bed. At 5am I got up again, built the bike, drank a nice coffee that Dave had made in his motorhome and headed to the start.

200 kilometres of gravel on an amazing bike, in nice weather, in a stunning part of the country, with a large portion of all the coolest people I’ve ever met since I started racing about 100 years ago? These are weekends made in heaven.

And it was bloody brilliant. Miles and miles (I’ve done the kilometres thing now, thankyou) of dirt roads, massive views, blue skies and friendly (if a bit breathless) chatting with friends old and new.

I never did stop that front brake rubbing though, and the tyres that I fitted the night before were just being a pair of rebellious idiots all day long. By the time I’d arrived at the bit where the course split – where the madras/korma – blue pill/red pill – long and short options were (there was a 130 kilometre route as well as the 200), I’d re-inflated my front tyre 5 times and the rubbing front brake was really starting to make its rubbing-yness felt in my legs so I decided to take the blue pill and bail out on the shorter option. I decided that I could still go for another ride the day after rather than spending the next week recovering and at this rate I was going to finish the long route on Wednesday.


There’s more gravel racing (and less last-minute faffing) in my future….

Hit the North 5


I’ve had time to clear up the course tape, signs and discarded gel wrappers (ok there were only three of those, and they blended in with the usual burnt-out mopeds and dog poo bags anyway) after Hit the North 5. I’ve also had time to go on holiday for a week, publish the results and start planning the next one.

Those that were there to witness the return of Hit the North a couple of weeks ago will know how great it was. I’ve no idea how though. All I do is mither people on the phone for stuff, decorate the woods with signs and hire toilets. 200 or so riders paid to enter and didn’t seem to mind the stupidly-steep bits, the stupidly-muddy bits, the funny-smelling bits and the lack of music at the start/finish (broken generator). In fact, everyone who took part or helped out loved it.

I loved it. I loved organising it.

In fact I enjoyed organising this one more than any other HtN that I can remember and that’s not because it was easy (it was far from easy, thanks to….oh never mind), but because in the years since the last event, I’ve genuinely missed it.

So twice a year then. I’ll keep on doing it until everyone gets bored of it or I get bored of it.

Massive thanks to – Debbie, Simon Fox, Warren Edmond, Rob Allen, Karen Long, Jackie Aspden, all the staff and parents from St Mary’s CE Primary (Prestwich), John Moore, Andy Smith, Mike Sudder, Jess Wain, everyone else who marshalled, all at Singletrack magazine, Laura and Dave Bradshaw, Allen Bridge, Bury Council, Phil Lee from the Forestry Commission, The Nice Weather, Jo Allen, Joe from Bite Café, Carl Salisbury, Budge and anyone who I might have temporarily forgotten.

Most of all a HUGE thanks to all of you who paid money to take part and kept the faith. See you all in October eh?

hit the north jason miles xc