Run, bike, run.
The commas are important. In a duathlon, these represented the transitions. The briefest of pauses to swap shoes, to grab/replace bike, and probably not much else. Each of my stops were around 90 seconds. The quickest people were nearer 30 seconds per stop. Where did two entire minutes go? Those two minutes were the difference between a top 10 overall and my 15th place. There is no way I could have shaved off two minutes from my run. I may have been able to on the bike, but more on that in a bit. Two entire minutes?
The Grizedale Duathlon took place on a bitterly cold morning, starting from the Forestry Commission trail centre. We arrived early (Jenn was meeting her brother to go and have their own epic adventure on Coniston Old Man), and wandered through the huge complex of trail centre buildings to find registration. There has been a fair bit of development since I was last here (which, to be fair, was probably 15 years ago). Modern buildings sit within the forest, complementing the landscape really well. I can imagine lolling around on the grass after a summers bike ride, drinking tea and eating cake.
The transition area was small, cramped maybe. But, it was early, so I had a choice of where to rack up my bike. I went for as close to the exit as possible. I laid my MTB shoes out neatly, open and ready to be stepped into. I placed my helmet on top of them. I hung my gilet on my bike, aware that while I would be more than warm enough running, I could well cool down while on the bike. I sipped flat coke, I felt nervous. A different kind of nerves to what I have experienced previously. I had no doubt that I would finish it, no doubt that I would do reasonably well. No fear of the total exhaustion that 12hrs+ of racing brings. I did have fear of the intensity, fear of the pain, fear of the taste of blood at the back of my throat, fear of cramp. Fear of not finishing the race having given everything. Fear of wishing I had pushed harder, fear of what could have been.
I did my best to empty my mind of those thoughts. Matt Brown, @singlespeedmatt from twitter recognised my kit and bike and came to say hello. It was reassuring to see that someone else was stupid enough to attempt this on a singlespeed. Unfortunately, Matt is seriously fit, a good rider, and a good runner. He also works for Inov-8 and was sporting some spanky new shoes.
Time stretches and compresses before the start of the race. The hours before seem to drag, nerves mean watching checking on a regular basis. All I want to do is start. Then, at about 30 minutes to go, everything seems to change. I am focussed on last minute fettling. I am focussed. I am. I am taking of my warm layer. I am standing on the line. Near the front. I want to get away fast, I don’t want anyone in my way. I am.
Minutes to go, and they hang in the air, like a wave waiting to crash down. Seconds span hours of thought. Go. Run, a line through chaos. In front of chaos, clear. Passing runners in front of me, gradient increasing. My system hasn’t yet caught up with what I am asking it to do. The beauty of the first few hundred metres. Pain receptors start firing. My lungs start to try and wrestle control of my deliberate breathing pattern. Legs already want to slow down. Ignore it all. Just keep running.
I can’t keep this up.
Just keep running.
At the top of a dirt road, there is a sign pointing to the right. Straight up. I can’t keep this up. And I can’t. My pace drops, but so does everyone’s. The climb gets steeper. We burst through, and back onto fire road. Flat. Quick, again, then back into a jumble of rock and mud. Steep. Upwards. Top out, and drop like a stone. Legs full with blood and lactic struggle to move fluidly and react to the technical, rocky descent. I don’t flow, but I progress. I stay conservative, no wild jumps and leaps, just safe foot placements, and progress. Until, after an age, I pop out on to the farm track back to transition.
Kick running shoes off. Put helmet on. Pull cycling shoes on and try to do up ratchets. They won’t grab. The plastic teeth are so worn, there is no purchase left. Finally I get both shoes secure, grab my bike and pass through on to the bike course. CX style remount and start riding. As I set off, I see Matt arriving into transition. I was expecting him to pass me on the run, but give him a cheer, and wait to be passed later. The climbing starts immediately. Jelly legs push my singlespeed gear. This feels wrong, but the gradient is ok, the track smooth, I keep pushing, ignoring the alien feeling in my legs. I turn on to singletrack climb. Steeper, rockier and requiring strong pushes and attention to maintain momentum. It would have been a pleasure if I was fresher. Grit teeth. Keep going. Why, oh, why did I decided to do this on the singlespeed? I struggle to stay on top of the gear. The trail joins fireroad, and my legs are able turn at a faster pace. I drink, take on a gel, spin my legs as fast as they will go, get passed by people cruising by. Where I can, I tuck in and grab their wheel for a while. At some stage, I am aware that my seatpost is slipping. My legs are becoming more and more cramped, unable to stretch to an efficient pedalling position. Stop, get passed. Re-adjust. Go!
Often, when the trail turns rougher, and back into the rocky singletrack, I am able to catch and pass people again, the higher gear forcing me to maintain momentum. Dig in. The Kinesis FF29 is so fantastically capable. Despite the tiredness, despite my mind being focussed on the race, it affords me moments of pure joy as I carve a corner, or manual through a rock section. It feels like a precision instrument. A scalpel cutting through the trail, rather than a chainsaw chewing it up.
After a long descent, the trail points straight up. The path, cut into the woods is steep, and unmade. In the interests of energy conservation and keeping cramp at bay, I dismount and push up, running where I can. My legs scream. I continue. I’m passed. I continue. Back down. Traversing. Descent. I sense the end. Another gel. Keep riding. Christ it is cold. I can’t feel my hands.
I run through the transition process in my mind. Park bike. Remove shoes. Replace running shoes. Leave. Quick.
Park bike. Remove shoes. I can’t feel the buckles, but no problem. Replace running shoes. Jam left foot in. Try and wriggle the heel cup up. I can’t feel anything, I can see my fingers are where they should be though, and eventually the shoes slides into place. Repeat the tortuous process on my right foot. Ignore the pangs of cramp in my abdominal muscles. Just try and relax. Stand up. Breathe. Go. I know what is to come. I hit the first climb, like a slow motion replay of my first lap. Gravity has grown stronger over the course of the last 90 minutes. My legs no longer have the power to push onwards. I simply move one in front of the other. Despite this, I am making up places. Onto the proper steep stuff. I can no longer maintain a run. Quick, long strides replace my shuffle, and still I progress. I can hear myself breathing. Gone is the controlled two breaths in, one breath out. It is replaced by a ragged sucking in of any available oxygen molecules in my vicinity. Groan.
Despite slower progress than the first lap, the climb seems to pass more quickly. I start descending, cautiously initially, but keen to keep those behind me at bay, and aware that others are not far in front of me. I will have nothing left when I cross the line. Powerful strides, quick paces, jumbled legs. This is no game of chess; I am not plotting a line, just the best place to plant my next foot strike. Reactive. Switch off head. I can hear the person in front of me. I am faster than him. I am gaining. I am running out of time. I will have nothing left when I cross the line.
I am a projectile shot out of the bottom of the trail, on to the track. He is in front of me. I can only hear my breathing. I’m sprinting. Not like at the start. There is no semblance of control, no reserve of energy. This is my last gasp. I’m alongside him. 20 metres to go. I accelerate.
I have nothing left when I cross the line.
It turns out I was racing for 15th place. This isn’t the glory of the podium. I’m not even that bothered that I came 15th instead of 16th. But, I absolutely had to feel like I had given everything. I would not have been satisfied if I sat up. I’d like to think that I would have sprinted as hard if there was no one in front. I had to give it everything. In the end I held Matt off – he finished about 6 minutes after me, after an over-the-bars on the bike stage robbed him some time. Still a strong effort, especially given a super-stiff gearing choice.
So, a few days down the line, I look back. I can pick points that I would like to have gone better. Yes, my transitions could have been a bit smoother. No, singlespeeding was not the fastest option. Yes, if I’d have checked my bike more thoroughly I might have noticed that my seatpost clamp wasn’t as tight as it should be. But, most importantly, I have learnt to give it everything in a shorter race. My ability to work at an intense level for a “short” (I know 2.5hrs isn’t short) length of time is improving. Ironically, I won’t be doing many short races for the rest of the year. But, it is nice to know I can.
It was just your average weekend ride in the Dales. The four of us were lying in our bivvy bags, under a children’s climbing frame, in a pub beer garden, in Aysgarth, as it started to snow. Again.
Stuart Rider (has there ever been a more appropriate name for someone in the bike trade?), owner of Riders Cycle Centre had planned out a two-day-with-a-bivvy-in-the-middle ride, that he was planning on guiding clients on later in the year.
Rob, who I met, and rode with on the Cairngorms Loop travelled up to join us. Reprising a Cairngorms Loop foursome, including Jenn and Stu. It’s no coincidence we are all planning on doing the Highland Trail in May. Stu’s mate Simon also joined us for the Saturday section of the ride.
Pre-ride fettling. Pic credit to Stuart
So, under a cloudy, grey sky, heavy with snow we set off from Stu’s shop. Our loop was going to be run anti-clockwise, 50-ish miles each day. Not huge, but a serious enough undertaking, and the furthest I’ve ridden off-road for a while now. We spun away on singlespeed gears (other than Stu, who runs 1×9 on his Ragley, chatting as we left Skipton, and gradually (and then less gradually) climbed our way on to the fells behind it.
The subdued green of the valleys became white, and our view was largely sepia toned, other than for our bright drybags, loaded with warm bivvy kit… and the sick green FF29 of course…
After a fast, long and cold descent to Appletreewick, complete with snow/hail stinging our faces, we hit our first bit of off-road, and steadily climbed along the bridleway to Stump Cross. Greenhow edge was appropriately bleak and buffs were pulled over chins as we cruised along the road, before diving off left for more bridleway descending to Pateley Bridge and a well earned brew and toasted teacake. Layers peeled off in the warmth of the cafe were replaced in preparation for the next leg of the ride, up the east side of Nidderdale, past Gouthwaite reservoir, before climbing higher and following the valley round to the NW, on to Scar House reservoir. The snow got deeper as we climbed, rarely so deep that it made riding impossible, but certainly enough to make things a little slower going than the last time I rode these trails, back in an early spring dry spell last year, when they were dry, compact and fast flowing. The wide trails again allowed us to talk some more as we rode, each of us tracking forward and back, sharing conversations. Often there would be one clear line, and we would drop into line. This left me in a world of my own thoughts for a while, content in the stillness, listening to 29er tyres roll over squeaky snow.
Solitude shared with great company. One of those oxymorons that mountain biking throws up sometimes.
Just above the dam at Scar House, we waved goodbye to Simon, who was heading off back to Skipton, a family and a warm bed for the night. The prospect of a warm bed may have briefly triggered pangs of jealousy, but I was looking forward to sleeping out, and had no desire to head home just yet. The next section was a long, slow push up on to the tops.
Pic credit to Stuart
The snow was deeper than it had been anywhere else, and the gradient was tough enough that gears wouldn’t have helped a great deal anyway. After the climb, we were rewarded with a sketchy, drifty descent in flat light, making it almost impossible to spot changes in the terrain. Often the first tell tale sign of a change in camber was finding the bike pointing towards a ditch at the edge of the trail, and showing no inclination to stop. The snow, which had stopped falling for a while, came back, accompanied by low slung, ominous looking clouds, and we were all chilled as we followed tarmac ribbons through grey looking Dales villages and hamlets. Time was getting on, and it was still only February. Daylight was still short lived. As we made our way over to Wensleydale, the clouds lifted once more, and we were treated to stunning pastel colours, and crisp skies. Onwards, and downwards towards Aysgarth. It was dark enough for me to pop my lights on for the two miles on road to Aysgarth. We climbed out of the valley floor, and our tea wouldn’t be earned without a 1:6 haul. Thankfully it was brief, and the pub lights were on.
We tumbled in, and were hit by the warmth. Layers were ditched as quickly as possible, amongst locals out for an early Saturday drink, and more suitably attired for the occasion. It felt fitting to have a pint of Wensleydale while pondering a great looking menu, and settling in, enjoying the welcoming atmosphere. As well as a great guide, Stu also does a fine line in tall tales, and kept us entertained with stories of his youth, as we tucked into big meals and more beer.
Our pace of consumption and conversation slowed as the days efforts took their toll, and we reluctantly thought about making a move back out into the cold and setting up camp for the night. Our original plan was to bivvy near Aysgarth Falls, but it didn’t take much persuasion by the pub landlady to use their beer garden instead. A children’s climbing frame was perfect for rigging Stu’s tarp up to, and after a few swigs of Jura Superstition, we all drifted off to sleep quickly. I woke a few times in the night to snow being blown on to my face, rolling over and drifting off once again, drowsy and warm, thankful that I brought my winter weight sleeping bag.
“Camp” Pic credit to Stuart
An unconventional breakfast of chocolate, nuts and seeds and chorizo had me ready and raring to go on Sunday morning. Actually, ready and raring is an overstatement, but “go” we all did. We would broadly be trending south and west, for what was actually going to be a longer day in the saddle than the Saturday. Our day followed a similar pattern to Saturday, with low cloud and snow showers to begin with, but it cleared significantly as the day progressed, treating us to blue skies and epic views. We picked up the Pennine Bridleway for a while, descending towards Dent. More sketchy snow. More fun. Then a bitterly, bitterly cold road descent, that had us all stopping for extra layers, and looking forward to the next climb, purely to generate some heat. The next climb would be on a familiar hill for me – Whernside, but from the north, on a trail I’ve never used. The climb was a little too steep and prolonged to make on loaded singlespeeds, but would be a good granny ring winch in other conditions. We then dropped down towards Ribblesdale, picking up the 3 Peaks Cyclocross route off the hill, popping out alongside the railway line, and following it to the hulking mass of Ribblehead viaduct. Tummies were rumbling, so Stu took an executive decision to shorten the next leg slightly by going straight along the valley road to the Pen-y-ghent cafe. Pint of tea, cheese and beans on toast, extra toast and a bottle of coke. Fuel.
The blue skies and sun beaming through the windows of the cafe gave an illusion of warmth. The reality was that there was still a chill in the air as we set off, and while it felt like the back of the ride was broken, we still had a good way to go, including a long climb up to Malham Tarn. More pushing, followed by tarmac slogging. Mastiles Lane was dealt with, fuelled by bullet-hard Skittles, a handful stashed in my cheek, gerbil style until they reached a warm enough temperature to chew.
Eventually, we popped out on to tarmac at Rylstone, leaving us with a 5 miles tarmac spin/slog/spin to get us back to Skipton. The light was fading quickly, but we were welcomed back to where we started by ringing church bells (I’ve no idea how Stuart managed to get that organised ) and confirmation by Mr Rider that we had ticked over the 100 mile mark somewhere on the road stretch back to town. A couple of hours later, Jenn and I were tucked up on the sofa, eating enormous quantities of toad in the hole and mash, my face glowing with windburn and the joys of central heating.
The FF29 and bikepacking
So, I’ve established the FF29 makes a fabulous, fun trail bike. How did it cope with being loaded up and taken out on a long xc ride? Very well, actually. The light weight meant that, despite being loaded up with a bar bag and saddle roll, it felt far from sluggish. The extra weight over the back wheel actually provided a little more traction, which was handy for hauling up a few of the steeper climbs. Aluminium has a reputation for being harsh, but the FF29 was anything but. I was as pretty much as comfortable in the saddle at the end as I was at the start. Again, the carbon fork continues to astound me. It is so compliant and comfortable, it really does feel like there is a little bit of travel there, but I love the direct feel of the rigid fork. Happy days.
Thanks to Jenn, Rob, Simon and Stu for the great company. Biggest thanks to Stuart for organising, and planning the ride. He is a fully qualified guide, and can take clients on this trip, or one tailored specifically for you – longer, shorter, bivvy, hostel, hotel…
Pic credit to Stuart
What do I say about a bike/frame that I’ve been given to ride? What if I hate it? What if I just don’t get on with it. It just doesn’t feel right?
I did wonder that when I stood in my kitchen at 23:15 on Friday night, sipping a tumbler of Bowmore and admiring my handy work. A phone call from Al over at Garage at around 15:00 had me diving out of the office as early as I could get away with. Unpacking the frame, the bright “sick” green shone out from the cardboard, despite the opaque bubblewrap protection. It certainly isn’t subtle. Luckily, I don’t really do subtle.
Back home, after getting the bottom bracket expertly faced by Al, and the fork steerer trimmed while he was at it, I took my time assembling the bike. 6Music on in the background, a mug or two of tea, mostly new or as-new parts. Methodical, calming, fun. Brain occupied enough to forget work, yet not taxed enough to stop me daydreaming about riding on Saturday. A big group of mates, a trail centre blast, a fun-per-miles quotient maximising social ride. The weather turned out not to be ideal… Sleet, rain and the kind of grey, penetrating cold that I have grown bored of this winter. Luckily the bike made up for the disappointing conditions. First impressions don’t always mean a great deal when riding bikes. Some take a bit of getting used to, or setting up to get the most out of them. Others just seem “right” immediately. It was nice to find out that the FF29 fell into the latter description. So far, my thoughts have been:
-wow, it’s light. The full build as pictured is 19lbs.
-that lightness translates into a fantastic bike for climbing on.
-after a winter of riding 26in wheels, I’d forgotten how well 29in roll over small lumps and bumps in the trail
-this is so much more than a cross country race bike. A rigid bike, this light has no right to be so confidence inspiring and composed over quick, rough ground
-it is the most nimble 29er I’ve ridden, capable of quick changes in direction, with little effort
-it might look out of place on a the build, but the dropper seat post is a great addition. Getting the saddle out of the way really let me throw the bike around a little more, extracting as much speed and fun out as possible of every situation. I only fitted it as a stop gap while I waited for a new post to be delivered, but I’ll leave it on for for the time being
-I currently have 710mm bars fitted – wider than I anything I used until a few years ago, but times have changes. They are now the narrowest bars I own, and I miss the greater leverage of an extra few mm either side. Again, for pure xc duties, this is not an issue, but as an all-rounder, I think I want to go wider. The Kinesis Strut bars have caught my eye, and will allow me to gain the extra width without sacrificing low weight.
All in all, I’m a happy boy at the moment. I’m looking forward to a few longer rides, and some serious time in the saddle, but things have got off to a great start…
Backpacking with a bike.
I’ve had a few adventures over the years which have involved riding somewhere, carrying camping gear, sleeping out, then riding home the next day. The concept appeals, not least because it allows one to explore that bit further than can be done during a day. Or, do a longer “day” route, but at a social and relaxed pace. I’m also a sucker for sleeping outside. Little differences, like the changes in sounds: no creaks and clunks of a cooling down house, no muffled traffic noise. Crinkles of synthetic fabrics, wind, rustling grass, creaking trees, the hollow echo of rain against tent/bivvy bag/tarp fabric.
May will see my longest bikepacking adventure yet. Not huge, but big enough, and with an additional time pressure. It’s an individual time trial, so while no one will be racing, it carries with it an implied goal of completion as quickly as possible. I’ve already mentioned the Highland Trail. I’m sure I will talk about it a lot in the months to come.
In the mean time, I want to be as prepared as possible. This will involve the “usual” training rides, and as much long distance stuff as I can fit in. I also want to make sure my camping routine is completely nailed, and is a “routine”, so when I’m two days in to the Highland Trail, and shattered, I know that my sleeping bag will be warm enough, where my stove is packed, etc. That means a few preparatory rides and nights out. I.e. a perfect excuse for more fun.
1st up will be later this month, with Stu Rider, of Rider’s Cycle Centre in Skipton. Stu is a top bloke – I actually met him on the Cairngorms Loop last year, and we have bumped into each other at CX races and the like since then. He is going to be taking on the Highland Trail too, so is equally keen to get some miles in. He has planned out a route in the Dales, on tarmac and less muddy sections of off-road. We’ll be over-nighting at Aysgarth, before returning home. 50 miles each day, at a social pace. If you fancy joining us, there are more details on the Riders Cycle Centre Facebook page. The route is here:
The kind of news that has made me feel excitable for a few days.
Kinesis Bikes are kindly giving me a FF29 to race/ride/play on this year. The FF29 is their first foray into the world of big wheels, but looking at the reviews it has received so far, they took their time to make sure they got things right.
I will be building the frame up with Kinesis’ own IX carbon forks initially, although I may swap between them and some suspension forks as and when I feel like it. Other parts will be an eclectic mix of stuff that I already own and a few new bits and pieces. Can’t beat shiny new kit. I’ve decided to keep things super-simple to start, and run the bike single speed. Again, I’ve got a full complement of 2×10 gears to fit should the mood take me. And for some of the events, like the Highland Trail, I’m not sure if one gear will be a compromise too far for me. Riding all day on an SS is ok. Riding all day for days on end might be a bit much. We shall wait and see. Plenty of time to make up my mind on that front.
So, the next few days will be a matter of waiting for the odd parcel to arrive, doing a bit of preparatory fettling, and trying not to get too giddy while I wait for the good stuff to make its way up to Leeds.
Oh, and on a final note, the frame will be “sick green” (Kinesis’ description, not mine). I love the colour. (Un)fortunately, it will clash amazingly with my Garage Bikes race kit. I’m going to spend a year looking like a two wheeled tic-tac. I actually quite like this
Huge thank you to Dom at Kinesis for the frame. I just hope to do it justice, and have fun while I do so
I’ve not been writing on this blog quite so much recently. I’ve been keeping busy though. Issue 78 of Singletrack Magazine is on sale at the moment.
The mag have been brave enough to commit 10 whole pages to a subject that I think is important, and often not talked about: depression. A real risk for a magazine about riding bikes. Not everyone wants to read about someone else’s lows while they put their feet up with a brew. The editorial team could very easily have run another (great, as always) article about riding in the alps, or playing on bikes in the woods. They didn’t though, and the feedback from readers has been overwhelmingly positive, so I hope the magazine feel the risk paid off.
I also have a little column about building up a new bike tucked away in the cyclocross “bonus” section. If you are local to Leeds, then Garage Bikes have a few copies left, be quick though, they are selling… Fast.
End of the season and physically tired, but mentally exhausted. A combination of head “fun and games” and starting medication again left me needing to take things easy, be sensible. I’m not very good at sensible.
No Relentless, no Bearbones 200. I’m disappointed I missed them, but they will wait until next year.
Instead, making the most of the still-booked week off, I decided that I needed my own, personal adventure. No pressure, minimal logistics, just riding for a long time. Time to think, not think, ride quickly when I want to, slow up when I’m ready.
The ride was one that I have been thinking about for almost a year. As it was, it needed less planning than I first thought. I liked the idea of riding from Settle to Carlisle, following the route of the famous railway line as much as possible, as much off-road as I could eek out of the route. Familiar landscapes of the Dales would soften into the flatter landscapes of Westmorland. The opening of the final section of the Pennine Bridleway made route choice from Settle to Kirkby Stephen extremely straightforward. The first 35 miles or so would be almost entirely off-road. Beyond that, it was a case of dot-to-dot linking sections of bridleway in a vaguely NW direction, with the quietest looking roads possible, and maybe hunting out a few road-map chevrons along the way. Bikehike is a brilliant tool for doing this. Simple online route planning, using OS and Google maps, all for free, and it allows you to export a GPX file. Bloody awesome. The route was planned out, and came in at 104 miles. Nicely in the zone of long, but do-able in a day.
Unfortunately, the train service decided to add an interesting “against the clock” slant to the day. The last train out of Carlisle was at 18.18. Unsure of the quality of the going, and keen to avoid an unscheduled stay in a Cumbrian hostelry, I opted for an early start. A very early start. Leaving the house at 3.30am was painful, but I was awake, and excited by the time I parked up next to Settle station. Faffing was kept to a minimum and I rolled through the silent village not long after 4.30am. My USE lights creating a safe pool of light in the increasing dark, as I left the amber glow of street lights behind, I popped a headphone ear in, familiar sounds adding a welcome soundtrack to the early miles. My back wheel span on damp earth and grass, lights having a flattening effect that sadly only applied to my eyes and not my legs. I removed layers quickly, as despite the coldness of the early morning, I generated excess body heat. I remembered the benefit of the bar-mounted GPS early on, as wandering ever-so-slightly off course, my lights didn’t pick up the well signposted gate, that in the daylight would have been impossible to miss. Only a minute or two wasted.
Perfect solitude. I wondered what people in the valley below would think of the two odd spots of light moving gradually across the lower fells. Stereotypically “Yorkshire Dales”, with white drystoned walls and barns. Unfortunately, with walls come gates. Very many gates. Enough at times to really break rhythm. I looked at the clock and decided it was too early to make mental calculations. I felt like progress was too slow though. There was a different feel to the riding for a while. Valley bottom walled singletrack was a welcome and fun relief, despite an “interesting” moment where a combination of a blind corner and excess speed found me on a not-very-wide-actually stone walkway across a cold looking stream. Higher up than I might have wanted; a little closer to one edge than I might have wanted. It was far too cold and dark to get wet just yet. Continue with care.
Black was beginning to fade to inky blue in the east, as I climbed again, Ingleborough directly north of me, just over a week since I was climbing the now innocent looking Simon Fell with a CX bike over my shoulder. I rode over rubbly track, then grass; the local sheep doing a superb job of buzz-cutting it to closely-cropped, easy riding ground. Inky blue was stained orange and yellow, silhouetting Pen-Y-Ghent. It felt colder than it had two hours ago. This was autumn.
Bombing back down to the B6479 and straight across the other side of the valley, I afforded myself a smile. I was enjoying this, although my head still felt clouded with extraneous thoughts. I couldn’t leave them behind like I normally do.
My memory of the next section is mainly climbing. Not nose on stem, gritted teeth climbing, but steady height gain, fairly easily won, wandering east away from Ribblehead for a while, before almost doubling back and riding above Dent, just able to spot the viaduct low in the valley. More gates. So many gates. Going was slower than I wanted, and I did start making mental calculations. Average speed, distance covered, distance to cover, 18.18. Hmm. I knew that things would get quicker after Kirkby Stephen, as the gradients eased and the route used progressively more tarmac. But, I would be tired. And what happened if I punctured, or had a mechanical? Keep riding.
At least the sums kept unwelcome thoughts at bay for a while.
Puncture. Sealant bubbling. Quick toot of CO2, and back rolling. I don’t have time for this, ah well, keep riding.
Tyre has deflated again. Stop. Tube in. I don’t have time for this. Back riding, having taken the opportunity to eat. Mental calculations. 18.18. Crap. Time for a decision. I had the option of another 5 miles or so of what looked like more gate purgatory, or a slightly shorter route via back lanes that would spit me out back on course with minimal effort. I didn’t want to leave the blue line on the screen. It wasn’t what I had planned to do. Stubborn. Common sense won over though, and it was pleasant to sit on top of a big gear, feeling the air quickly flowing past my face. There was no more off-road until after Kirkby Stephen. I didn’t actually go all of the way into the village, but turned directly north, into, what was for me unknown territory.
Some bridleways were a pleasure to ride, some were churned up clag-fests through more cowshit than mud. Time was still moving quickly, but I was moving quicker. I didn’t need to clock-watch any longer. But I wanted to ride faster. The scenery was pretty. The weather was good. I didn’t want to be “not riding”, but I wasn’t particularly enjoying riding. It is what it is. Keep riding.
The peril of planning a route entirely using maps, is that if you aren’t paying attention, you may miss significant obstructions on the ground, that your pen (or pixels) skips over without an issue. My track lead me to the River Eden, just south of the A66. My assumed bridge wasn’t there though. The river was a good 20 metres across, and looked like it was probably knee deep water. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It turned out that knee deep was thigh deep, and quite quickly moving thank you very much. Careful foot placement and some strong shuffling saw me on the other side, with a note to self to reroute that section if I ever tried the ride again.
The villages of Westmorland are extremely pretty, with a Dales like feel, but constructed out of local red sandstone, rather than the more familiar limestone and grit of further south. I continued in my own quiet world, uncomfortable with my own company, but relieved to be alone.
I spotted the first sign pointing me to Carlisle. Destination in sight. No sense of “nearly there”, just an acknowledgement that this ride would nearly be over. No fatigue, I had been riding comfortably within myself. I was aware that it had been a long time since I turned my first pedal stroke though. The last miles stretched out. Time became elastic. It wasn’t until the last mile that I actually felt like I was in a major town. Talking to the ticket assistant felt alien. We joked about the mud on my face. I’d just missed the earlier train and had an hour and a half to wait. I didn’t care. I was in no hurry. Coffee and real food bought, I sat quietly. The odd one out in muddy lycra and hastily added layers, while commuters and locals hurried past me. It felt like after a whole day of moving through a static world, the tables had been turned. Now it moved around a static me.
Could I have ridden further? Yes. Could I have raced over the longer distance? Yes. Would I have enjoyed it? Maybe not. Did I have that needling desire to travel as quickly as I could, and the mental strength to see it through to a result I would have been proud of? Unlikely.
Yet, a few weeks after the ride, I sit writing about it. I’m already excited about races and adventures next year. I already have the itch to ride quickly again. I will continue to rest and ride purely for fun for a little longer, until I feel the need to start pushing myself harder again. The fact that I’m smiling while writing this says more than anything else. Riding bikes remains part of me.
Here is the route, if you fancy checking it out.
I’ve deliberately left writing this blog post for a few days. I have had a lot to think about, a lot to work out in my own head. When things don’t go right it is easy to beat oneself up. But it is equally easy to brush things under the carpet and not learn from mistakes. Not take responsibility.
I wasn’t even going to do SITS until about a month beforehand. But, in an otherwise empty month, it felt like a perfect mini-target. The fact that a big group of friends would be racing in various categories was enough for me to get an entry in quickly.
I arrived at Catton Park to beautiful sunshine, which rapidly turned to torrential rain, then blue skies again over the course of the next hour. A sign of things to come. I have never felt so relaxed before a 24 hour race. Our camp was nicely placed, next to the track, and we all sat around chatting and laughing until slightly later than I might normally have chosen to, given the exertions ahead. It was just all so lovely.
12 midday, and I jostled my way through the pack during a short Le Mans style run to the bikes. Legs felt great. I got to the bike and away cleanly enough, and well up, leaving me with loads of free space to avoid the usual first lap traffic jams. I rode fast, but within myself… and increasingly cautiously as my front tyre began to deflate. Hmm… thanks tubeless. Fortunately, I got back round to my pits ok, and got the tyre reinflated with minimal fuss and time wasted. I settled down to a quick, but comfortable pace and got on with business. But, I was bored. I didn’t dislike the course. I just didn’t love it. There were no sections that I particularly was looking forward to. No sections that I really didn’t like. No awful climbs, no technical descents.
I actually went through a period of deep self-doubt. Why was I out there? Why did I feel the need to do this? How could I have the temerity to ask friends to give up their weekend to support me? To ask companies to sponsor me? I wasn’t cut out for this. It was my first race for 2 years without being under the influence of any anti-depressants. Maybe my brain was taking the opportunity to explore the areas the drugs blocked up. It still remembered how to pull the strings. I felt mentally weak. It took a good few laps for me to battle myself, to accept the fact I would have to deal with this for the next 20+ hours.
By the time I had settled in for the challenge, something new happened. It rained. Hard. Spectacularly. Distant thunder had turned into a storm overhead, and boy did it rain. Big fat blobs of the stuff. The track almost instantly transformed. My Racing Ralph/Rocket Ron combination struggled to cope with slippy clay, and my pace took a dive. But, it woke me up. Reignited some fight, and brought a smile to my face.
A quick bike swap in the pits, and back out again, with renewed determination. Singlespeeding this time, and enjoying the more playful feel of 26in wheels. Until, inexplicably, I ploughed off the track, straight into a tree. Headfirst. Oops. Back on the bike, and I refocused again. The rain was already beginning to ease, and there were patches of blue sky visible all around. The course had so much variety, although mainly in the type of mud on offer. All the way from dirty puddles, to slithery layers, to deep plasticine trenches, and “build me a mud hut” grass/mud combination fun. There were points I had to stop and clear out the wheels, as they blocked entirely, and descending often became an exercise in blind faith, waiting for my front wheel to select which of the many ruts it wanted to follow, then hanging on.
***Gordon, my pit helper for the weekend, is a lovely, lovely man. With a lovely, lovely wife, and a lovely, lovely dog. He drove to the event in his new lovely, lovely T5 van, and looked after my every need for the race. Gordon is a bit of a foodie. He loves to cook, loves to make delicious things, and is a master baker (watch out for auto-correct) of lovely, lovely sourdough bread. This weekend, I introduced him to many new things:
-How to fit tubeless mud tyres (with help from Jenn)
-The “joys” of cheap peanut butter on cheap rubbery white bread
-How to make a Pot Noodle. It has a line that tells you how much hot water to use!
Gordon. Thank you. For everything. You were brilliant***
Back at the pits. Gordon handed me my Pot Noodle. I took out the Dirty Harry with nice skinny Mud Xs. I rode. I laughed, I slid, I gripped, I looked forward to the dark. I loved it. I probably burned a little more energy than I should.
I got back to the pits. I had a few mouthfuls of peanut butter sandwich. I fitted my lights. I declined the offer of a gilet, despite being drenched. I headed out into the dark, ready for action. I rode through the first wooded section, and I collected mud. And more mud. I cleared it out, and carried on riding. The bike clogged again. I didn’t feel too great. The entire lap continued this theme. After consistently hitting 50min laps, I drifted out to over two hours for a single loop. I was pedalling in granny gear, downhill. I could hardly lift my bike, it weighed so much. I ended up walking sections that I could have ridden, as I didn’t have the will to clear the wheels again and swing my leg over the bike. I forgot to eat my gel, and my drink was making me queasy. This isn’t what it was meant to be like.
My memory of what happened in the pits is hazy. I got off the bike and laid down. I tried not to throw up. Gordon and Jenn were lovely and looked after me. I was sat down in a camping chair, being fed crisps and tea. I was in my tent and eating a few mouthfuls of jacket potato. I fell asleep.
7.30am. My race was done. The sun shone. It was getting warm already. I climbed out of my tent. I didn’t want to be there. I couldn’t escape my thoughts. I was trapped in a loop of worrying about letting people down, not being good enough, being thoroughly stupid and naive. There is only one cure that always works when I feel like that. I swung my leg over the bike, and headed back out onto the course. I was still oh so empty. Weak. But it was fun again. I was stupid. I was naive. I have let people down. But, it would be ok. It was mistakes, and I would learn, then come back better and stronger.
12pm. I crossed the finish line, beer in hand, thanks to the Singletrack lurkers’ bar. It wasn’t meant to be like this. But, it was really quite fun in the end.
A huge, huge thank you to:
Everyone else at our pits…
Big congratulations to:
Singletrack Gritty Kitties for getting 1st in their category
Singletrack girlies for all doing 3 laps, with smiles on their faces, despite a baptism of fire (mud?) for their 1st 24hr race.
First challenge for 2013 sorted.
It’s a bit of a big one. 430 miles through the Highlands. Unsupported ITT style. Cannot wait.
Another Saturday, another race. Another Friday, another long post-work drive. I sat in traffic, listening to the rain bounce off the wind-buffetted car, and struggled to muster much enthusiasm.
Fast forward a couple of hours and I was sat in my car, drinking beer at the campsite, waiting for the others to arrive.
All I could do was cling to the hope that the weather forecast was correct, and Saturday would dawn dry and bright. Mikey and Katie were first to arrive, after a similarly long drive, up from Penzance. Not that you could tell by their Lancastrian accents. It was the first time I’d met both, and a pleasure to meet the informal Directeur Sportif of VeloCake and a fell Lego lover. We set-to putting up tents. 2 minutes later, my Decathlon pop up number was up, pegged out and filled with a thermarest, sleeping bag and pillow. Mikey had nearly finished putting the poles together. Another ten minutes later, we were taking the poles out of the incorrect sleeves, and starting again. It was in my interests to help. Mikey and Katie had a porch!
We lazed around inside the tent, as the summer sky finally darkened. We sipped a few beers, ate some pretzels and kept our eyes peeled for Piers, who had travelled down from Penrith. It was properly dark by the time he arrived, but it wasn’t long before he was sat in the tent porch joining us drinking, and even supplying some very tasty sloe gin. Hmm… the theme for the race tomorrow had already been set. It maybe wasn’t textbook preparation.
The one sad note was that Mikey Summers had a delayed flight, so would miss the race. We were prepared to take on the opposition as a mighty threesome, but Dave Jevons stepped into the breach at short notice.
The sun was indeed out for the 9am start the next day. The wind was still up, and it wasn’t hot, but I wasn’t complaining. No time for a practice lap, I headed down to the start (for I, lucky old me, had been nominated to start. Sommat to do with running occasionally). I dropped the bike somewhere near the side of the course and continued walking down hill, ready for the Le Mans style start. At which point, I bumped into Lee Eaton, who was racing solo for Team JMC. We had a catch up, and were so engrossed in conversation, that we may have missed the countdown to the start, and were taken somewhat by surprised when 3, 2, 1, GO! Was shouted out. A less than marvellous get away ensued, but I did get away, found my bike without too many problems, and set off. Then was forced to trackstand. Then got away. Then got barged. Then got away. It was all a bit manic, but good fun.
The course was utterly fantastic. It genuinely was all-weather, with no real muddy sections, and fast rolling combination of gravel and limestone finishing. Not only that, but there were berms and jumps galore. Generally, I settled into a familiar pattern… bury myself overtaking people on the wide climbs, tuck in and recoup some energy by maintaining flow down the singletrack. Tag onto the end of a train of slower riders, then bury myself to pass them when the trail opened up. All round good fun.
My two laps were over all too quickly, and passed the baton (or hair bobble in this case) on to Piers. Now, this was new ground. I’ve not done an endurance race in a team before. What am I meant to do now? Well, turns out it was quite easy to fill the time. I had a coffee and a bacon butty. Bumped into Dean (who got 3rd in the singlespeed pairs category on his Jones spaceframe), said hi to Shaggy, chatted with folk, heckled the other VeloCake team and generally enjoyed the sun. Dave was up next, then Mikey, who sported the best race face I’ve seen for a while.
Before too long, I was back out again, and having even more fun. The trails were less crowded, allowing me to carry more speed round the course. This is what racing should be like. POP, pssssssssshh. Oops. I had been getting a little carried away and after nosing my front wheel into a berm a little clumsily, I rolled my tyre, and broke the tubeless seal. I quickly banged a tube in, but it cost me 5 minutes or so, and I was annoyed. I then had to stop at the pits and add more air. Grrr. Lap two was without incident, but I just wanted to keep on riding!
More socialising, eating, watching, sunbathing, chatting followed. Maybe I could get used to this.
I headed out on what I thought was to be a single lap, with Piers to go out straight after, in a bid to keep our lap times short. And I made the most of the one lap. Arriving in the pits breathless and sweaty, I looked around. There was no Piers. Oh. Only one thing for it. I went back out. And actually, despite feeling a bit hanging, did an alright time, and enjoyed myself. Dave took over from me for a lap, and Piers finished off, with around 20mins to go. Sadly not enough time for us to go back out for a final flourish. Probably a good thing. I had already opened a beer.
The other VeloCakers had been busy too. Matt, Andy, Phil and Dan smashed out the laps and looked to be enjoying themselves, apart from Matt who always looks a little grumpy… (sorry Matt )
Those of us who could stay the night met back up in the beer tent and enjoyed a few drinks, planned some new adventures and drank a little more.
Oh… p.s. we came 26th in the end. Not too shabby. And VeloCake/3 Counties came 40th… very respectable too.
And double p.s. on my third lap, pre-puncture I made a slightly clumsy overtaking manoeuvre and clipped another rider. I did shout out sorry, and got an insult for my troubles. Fair play, it wasn’t a great place to try and pass. So, to whoever you were, sorry again. No need for the swears though hey mate?
I checked my watch again. I’m sure time was speeding up. I had 20 minutes to finish the lap. I needed to keep pushing hard if I was to stand a chance of getting out on another lap. 16.30 was the cut off time. 16.10, and I was still climbing. I felt tired, but not exhausted, but I just couldn’t eke out any more speed from my legs. A hastily downed gel at the wrong time didn’t help and I coughed most of it back up on “Rue de Souffrance”. Damn, this was going to be tight. Liquid crystal bars flicked off and on, counting off more minutes. I kept on riding.
Marathon or a sprint?
Seven hours is not a short race by anyone’s reckoning. It is a lot shorter than anything I have attempted this year though. The Glentress Seven was an event I really enjoyed last year, and it was one of the first I entered at the start of 2012. The sentiment was the same for last years winner, Rich Rothwell. It was a real shame then, when I bumped into him pre-race to find out he had broken a rib during the week and had taken the sensible decision not to ride. I carefully laid out my pre-prepared bottles and gels in the solo pit area. I was by myself for the weekend, and wanted to make sure my pitting would be as smooth as if I had a support team. The plan was to stop for no longer than it took to remove my old bottle and replace it with a fresh one, with gel ready elastic-banded to it.
The weather was colder than I would have liked and I was aware that I was wrapped up in virtually all my clothes before the start. I finished last year’s race with borderline hypothermia. This wasn’t an experience I wanted to repeat. At least it was dry for the time being, and the overcast sky was not particularly threatening.
I enjoyed the ceremony of pulling on brand new, fresh kit. I felt the part, and looked the part. Lou at Patisserie Cyclisme had sorted me out with their lovely new shorts and jersey, and I stopped off in Lancaster on the way up to Scotland to pick them up in person. Good news for Lou was that I got lots of compliments about it over the weekend, so I’m sure her next batch will sell like hot cakes (pun intended). I’ll keep racing in the kit until the Garage Bikes team strip is ready, later this year. Only problem is, a white jersey leads to lots of time with the Vanish, post race!
I finally managed to get my stiff legs warmed up, and it wasn’t long before I took to the start line. Near enough the front to guarantee a clean get away, far enough back to make sure I didn’t get in the way of the genuinely quick boys. The start was pretty unpleasant. Fireroad climbing all the way up to Buzzards Nest. Nearly warm legs complained. Lungs felt restricted. Not long after I was descending and dropped my chain. Grrr. I was getting flustered. Deep breath. Replace chain (it didn’t drop again for the entire race, but I’m tempted to try out a Shimano clutch rear derailleur). And settle down. Climb with composure. Descend with a smile on my face. This is more like it. I was still near enough to the front to not get held up, and no one was passing me.
In fact, the first two laps followed this pattern. I was riding almost by myself. By lap three, the fresh legs of some of the team’s third riders started catching up to my less-spritely pins, and I had more company again. One of the things I really like about endurance racing is the politeness and friendliness of people out on course. Not once did I have a problem overtaking with a quick “on your left please”, or “can I pass when it’s safe for you?”. Not once was I subjected to anything less polite myself.
And the laps kept ticking by. I was tiring, but felt comfortable. I was aware that I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be, but whenever I attempted to pick up the pace, my legs just didn’t seem to have the answers. I knew this was a likelihood. I just haven’t given my body much chance to prepare for the intensity of shorter races. For this year, I have just had to concentrate on getting a solid base fitness to make sure I can keep on going for the duration of endurance events with minimal performance drop-off. So, I settled in. I kept half an eye on my lap times, but without much seriousness. I made sure I kept pushing. Then, come the end of Lap 6, I started doing sums. It was probably going to be tight for me to get through the cut off of 16.30.
Nearing the highest point of the course (conveniently flagged up as such), I checked my watch again. My instinct told me I would struggle to make the cut off. I couldn’t ease up though. I had to at least try. I hit the downhill sections with more aggression than I had for a while. I took more risks. I ignored the painful need to pee. I took the short climbs as hard as I could. I descended again. I peed in my shorts. I knew I had no time to spare. I did not look at my watch. Just keep on going. One last time down the drop. Jink through the trees. Lock up. Mess up a corner. Crap. On to the last grassy dual-slalom descent. I know I haven’t done it. But keep on riding. Click down the gears ready for the tight turn into the start/finish. And… 16.33. Race over. 8 laps.
Disappointing, but not the end of the world. I drink a chocolate milkshake, watch others come in. Put on layers and pack away my kit. I chat to a few others and eat a burger. I feel so fresh still. I could do another few laps, but only at the pace I’d be sat at all day.
Eventually, the knowledge of a long drive home, and the desire to meet up with friends before last orders pulls me away, and I fire up the car. With plenty of time to reflect on the drive home, the disappointment magnifies. I hate not doing as well as I know my body should. Despite the logical reasons why I didn’t, despite a reasonable result (17th senior), it isn’t good enough.
Luckily a few drinks, some good friends and a whisky nightcap ease the negative thoughts, leaving determination to keep training, to train smart, to learn, to race hard. It’s all part of the journey.
I was very lucky that Jamie Hunter was in attendance, and got these great photos of me. Particularly like the “race face” one above. Why not take some time and head over to his website and flickr pages.
I have 5 minutes to change and saddle up before meeting mates who are currently going through exactly the same post-work ritual. Knee pads, SPD shoes, Camelbak, helmet are thrown in the dusty Ikea blue bag. Time to get changed.
Capilene, Coolmax, X-bionic, 100% polyester, Lycra, anti-bacterial, Spandex, wicking, compression, Roubaix, performance, fitted, base layer, technical, breathable, thermal, cooling, Windstopper, Pertex, flat seams, bonded fabrics, contoured, stretch, zips, pockets, Lifa, smelly Helly, even good old natural merino, and weirdy hippy hemp and bamboo fabrics.
Screw you all. I don’t need thermal properties. I’m going for a social rides with mates. It’s a warm evening. I’m not going to die of hypothermia. I don’t need to wear something that looks like it’s been spray painted on to me. I laugh in the face of aerodynamics. I’m not racing. I don’t need pockets. I don’t care if I end up a little damp and sweaty. I don’t need layers. I don’t care if I don’t look like a cyclist, or mountain biker, or Outdoors Consumer.
I pull on a favourite, bright, cotton t-shirt. I’m ready to ride (ok, I also put on a pair of shorts). Cotton. The least practical of all the fabrics. Read the right (wrong) magazines and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you might die if you dare set foot outside of your house wearing something so, so untechnical. You are one of those irresponsible people that Mountain Rescue are hoovering off Snowdon in the middle of winter, with a Greggs pasty in a carrier bag and 5 inch heels.
There is also a risk that you might pass for a Normal Person. Where is your badge that says “I’m a rufty-tufty mountain biker”? Grrrr.
Now, I am aware of the contradictions in what I’ve written. Camelbak? What’s wrong with a water bottle? Knee pads? Pah… Consumerism for people who can’t ride their bikes properly. And, my drawers are stuffed full with every single piece of technical clothing imaginable. I appreciate the comfort that the right choice of clothing brings when the weather is at the extremes of the spectrum. I like having layers that I can add or remove, dependent on changing conditions on long rides. Let’s face it, we live in the UK. The correct clothing often means the difference between deep discomfort and a fun ride.
Perhaps that is why it was so refreshing to be sitting in the pub a few hours later, with my t-shirt still stuck to my back. Laughing with friends, watching the last of the warm sun drop below the horizon.
I have a hectic month of racing ahead of me.
I have 3 races in June. Each of them has their own challenges and will require a different physical and mental approach.
Let’s take them in chronological order, starting with Glentress 7, this Saturday 2 June. It is a pretty straightforward format. Start at 10am, complete as many laps as possible within 7 hours. Most laps/quickest time wins. I came in the top 20 last year, while singlespeeding. Theoretically, I should do better this year. I’m fitter. I have a bike with gears (which should be a real advantage on a course that has a large amount of up and down per lap). I’m more experienced, and feel back into the swing of things as far as racing is concerned.
Weirdly, compared to the last couple of months worth of exertions, a seven hour race feels rather short. I’m under no illusion that this is no sprint, no walk in the park, no other stock expression for “easy”. I want to do well. It will be hard, relatively fast racing. To add to the challenge, I’m working all day Friday, and driving up after work. I will be “solo” in the purest of terms. I’ll be camping, and I don’t have a pit crew. All my bottles will have to be made up (by me) in advance, and I need to make sure my mini pit (luckily there is a solo racer’s tent) is suitably stocked.
I’ll be dropping my bike off with Garage Bikes tomorrow for a quick once over. ‘Arry is beginning to show the signs of well over 1000miles use since February. The lower headset bearing needs replacing, I’ve worn through a set of tyres, and the BB area has developed a familiar creak. Luckily Al knows his business. It makes a huge difference to my self-confidence knowing that I can depend on the bike.
The following weekend, I will be donning my VeloCake jersey, and it will be a new experience for me… I’ll be taking part in a mountain bike race as part of a team. Bristol Bikefest sounds like a great sociable event. I had originally hoped to race solo, but numbers mean it is far more sensible for me to join a team. Another “as many laps as you can” event, this time in 12 hours. It introduces some new challenges for me… going flat out for a lap, then sitting around for a while, then doing it again. Could prove difficult. The team I’m in will be trying hard, but not taking things too seriously. It will be all about just doing our best. I’m looking forward to meeting up with some old friends and turning some “twitter buddies” into real life acquaintances, especially Directeur Sportif Mikey Mullerton.
I then have a week off from racing, and I’ll be taking things (not so) easy with a lap of the Mary Townley Loop with my friend Peter. I’ve done big parts of the loop before, but never linked it all together into a single ride. It may not be the best riding, there may be a million gates, but I still feel the need to get it ticked off. It will also be a great opportunity to catch up with a guy who I don’t get to see very often.
Finally, into the last week of June, and Original Source Mountain Mayhem. An all time classic in the mountain biking calendar… and event that has all but passed me by. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard all the horror stories from the bad weather years. I will have my fingers firmly crossed for a dry weekend. Again, I’ll be competing in a team, with Jenn and Tim, amongst others. Tim is doing rather well in the summer CX and is a bit quick in general, and Jenn is bloody rapid. I don’t want to let the team down, so I’m glad it won’t be my first team racing experience.
I’ve been working on trying to find a bit of speed in my endurance legs… lets see if it pays off this month!
The photo illustrates how I started the ride. The drybag at the front contains bivvy bag, with sleeping bag already inside. I then bodged my OMM Trio Chest pouch over the top, with gave me a nice zip pouch in which to store sweets and a couple of other items. The top-tube bag contained a few energy gels and the saddle bag (just) held 2 x tubes, a puncture kit, multi tool, tyre levers, CO2 and zip ties.
I then carried spare clothing and some bulkier food items in my rucksack. As the weather forecast was for a cold one, I hurriedly added a few more items of clothing.
At around the same time as my GPS failing, my saddlebag tore off. The fabric gave way around the velcro straps. Not very impressive, as I’ve only had it a year, and rarely used it. Saddlebag went into the rucksack for the rest of the ride.
Water was carried in one bottle on the bike. There were more than enough streams to refill at. I never ran completely dry.
Lighting was dealt with via a USE Exposure 6pack (thanks Garage Bikes) and my shiny new USE Joystick
Craft string vest style base
Scott bib shorts
Craft knee warmers
On-One SS jersey and endura arm warmers
North Face “Dirt Track” jacket with zip off arms
Endura waterproof shorts (was expecting to remove these at some point once I warmed up, but temperatures were never particularly high, and keeping a dry bum helped my comfort levels)
Endura baa baa merino socks
Pearl Izumi midweight gloves
OMM Kamleika Smock waterproof
Lowe Alpine waterproof trousers
Decathlon roubaix style leg warmers
Finisterre Etobicoke primaloft jacket
Decathlon hooded softshell
Aldi winter gloves
Low Alpine peaked gore-tex hat
Fleece skull cap
I pulled on the winter gloves during my evening hike-a-bike and wore them for the rest of the ride (sweaty hands in the warmth, but not a disaster). The Decathlon softshell was a heavy luxury, and probably not necessary. I pulled it on over my existing layers at the same time I swapped gloves… it did a job at the time, but I had other layers in my bag that I could have used.
At the bothy I pulled on legwarmers, primaloft jacket, big hat, and put my softshell over the top. Waterproofs were used as a pillow. I wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t exactly a comfortable night.
Setting off in the early hours, I kept all my clothes on until I started to warm up, then layers were slowly shed throughout the day.
What I would do differently
Less weight on my back. I’d look to use a decent, large saddle pack and some form of framebag.
Winter shoes. The Mavics just weren’t warm enough.
Fewer clothes if the forecast is milder
Consider a small back up “point you in the general direction” type GPS in case of failure
No exploration, no map stops, no socialising, no admiring the view. Nothing to distract me from the pursuit of riding my bike as hard as I can for a few hours.
Two laps of Dalby red, with a loop of the world cup xc course for good measure.
First lap. Chasing speed, concentrating on try to hold back, but largely failing. New bike romance is blossoming. Despite the tiny proportion of the ride completed, I can’t help but accelerate into berms, popping off kickers and stamping up short climbs.
Second lap. Testing memory. Half remembered lines through corners. Some noted and ridden faster, others ridden in an identical manner while cursing my poor memory. LIstening to my body for the first signs of tiredness. Was I pushing a harder gear last lap? Am I getting slower? My legs definitely feel a little weaker. Not long to go. Head down and and focus.
I needed that.
The Glentress Seven was one of my favourite races last year. Seven hours of riding round an excellent course, in frankly appalling weather produced the ideal combination of fun, suffering and socialising. The choice of singlespeed wasn’t optimal, but added to the challenge. The onset of mild hypothermia towards the end made things a little spicy as well.
Anyway… the race is back for 2012, and I’ve dropped in my entry already. Reckon I’ll ride geared this year, and see what happens.
-I get to ride, lots, and lots
-I get to travel long distances and see a variety of landscapes, with added benefit of “going somewhere”, rather than doing laps
-I get to deliberate and ponder kit choices for days, weeks, months
-These kind of events tend to be pretty expensive to get to
-Riding day after day after day wears you down, physically and mentally
-Wet kit, smelly kit, injuries, eating for fuel rather than pleasure
-I decide I need lots of new kit which costs lots of money
Well, there has been a small group of UK based racers, who have obviously been having similar thoughts, and are keen to bring the ethos of those races to our shores. And, just like buses, two might have come along at once. I’m bristling with excitement at the prospect of both races. The best thing about them both for cash-strapped boy like me, is that there is no entry fee for either, due to the self-sufficient nature of the riding.
The Cairngorms Loop particularly appeals to me… it is one of my favourite parts of the world, and the relative remoteness of the riding is a real bonus.
Not long enough for ya? Well, how about the EWE (England-Wales-England)? Looking like 800+ miles.
I’d love to do both in 2012. Let see how things go, hey?
Not done one before… looking forward to a good, cold, muddy two hours of racing.