Made in Yorkshire

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It’s now a month to go until Highland Trail. How the hell did time go so quickly? Something that has been in the distance for well over half a year is now approaching at pace. Time is becoming compressed. I’ve still got plenty to do before then… a few long rides, a 12 hour race, preparing final kit choices, maybe a few summer series CX races, and a wedding to go to.

I’ve now made all my big purchases, and while there is always something else to tempt me, I’m confident I can rely on my current gear. There is just one final piece to the bike packing jigsaw – a framebag. I’ve done without so far, but for a ride of this duration, I really want to get all the weight off my back.

There are a few companies out there now specialising in this kind of gear; Wildcat, Revelate Designs and Alpkit amongst others. In the end I decided to go down a slightly different route though. Restrap are a Leeds based company, who initially started life making foot retention systems for fixed wheel riding. They have started to diversify into messenger bags and rucksacks, and I wondered whether they’d be interested in knock me up something custom for the Kinesis FF29.

A quick email to Nathan was all it took to set up a meeting at Restrap HQ. I brought along the bike, and Nathan got to it, measuring and taking notes. We talked about a few different set-ups and the pros and cons of each. While no bikepacker, Nathan has got a real feel for what I will need, and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to constructing this kind of stuff. The final product will be tailored to my preferences, and fit the bike perfectly. In the end I went for a framebag, and a gas-tank style bag for easy access to food and similar items.

And that is where I left it for now. We are meeting up in a week or so to run through the initial designs, giving us time for any final tweaks before the big event. In the age of the internet and online shopping, it is a pleasure to deal with real people, and a local company. So, alongside Garage, I now count myself really lucky to have the support of a two great Yorkshire businesses.

I’ll be updating the blog with pictures from the design/build process, so watch this space…

Grizedale Duathlon Race Report

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.

Thank you as always to Kinesis for giving me a superb bike to race, and Garage Bikes for making sure it works and never let’s me down (and giving me the most visible kit on the start line!)

Running into the night

Blinking felt weird. Dry and a bit painful. I realised it was probably because I hadn’t closed my eyes for quite a while, as I was scanning the frozen trail for the line of least resistance.

I don’t do many fell races, but I liked the sound of Mr Sparkle’s Dark Un, not least because it was on a Friday night, and seemed like a good way to kick off the weekend. It is a traditional fell race format, of broadly up, then broadly down, over around 5 miles. The twist is that, as the name suggest, run in the dark, with a headtorch added to the usual compulsory kit list.

Friday night was bloody cold. Sub-zero, and bone dry. The trails were rock hard, and almost sticky, in the same way your fingers stick to an ice cube from the freezer. Other than the icy sections, of course, which were as slippery as, well, ice.

I started near the front of the 75 strong field, and it was good to see a few familiar MTB faces there, including Phil Simcock, Amy and Ali. Jenn was also there, doing her first ever fell race. The pace was quick from the off, but not that quick. In fact, I seemed to be making up places, and while I was working hard, I felt comfortable. This was sustainable. We actually descended to start, and I let my legs go, and body plummet down the smooth, sandy trails. I moved up some more, but had someone right behind me, casting a shadow in front of my line. Luckily, we turned a corner and headed up hill, as I pulled away from him and passed one other person, as we chose different lines past the sheet ice that covered much of the trail. I was aware that there were at least two people in front of me, but I rarely got a glimpse of their lights as they pulled away. I had a man behind me as we settled into a regular pace.

At some point, along the ruts of the moors, I was re-passed, but stayed on his heels, actually welcome for a rest from choosing my lines, and able to follow someone else, learning from their experiences of slippery patches, or looser sections. A marshal shouted out 3rd and 4th. I’ve never been this high up in a fell race (or any other race, actually… other than the odd endurance race, before things have settled down, and I’ve shuffled back through the pack). Don’t mess things up now. I allowed myself a rare look behind. I could see the next placed runner, but there was a reasonable gap between us. Stay focussed on my own running. 3rd placed man increased his pace. I matched it. He slowed down, I moved onto his heels, and towards his side. He sped up. I hung on.

Intensity. I can never push myself this hard on a bike. I think I’d fall off. Every cell in my body is devoted to the act of propelling me forward as quickly as I can. One foot in front of the other. Simple. I’ve been doing it for nearly 33 years. A simple act transformed into the sole reason for breathing, for existing for 36 minutes.

And so it stayed, until the last rocky descent. We both had “moments” on the way down, requiring some rapid correction to prevent a nasty fall. The gap opened after I had one such trip. I couldn’t quite close things back down. Oh for a flatter run in after the descent. We crossed the line, a few seconds apart.

My throat was raw with the cold, and my eyes still sore as I blinked rapidly to try and rehydrate them. Deep breaths. Sharing stories on the finish line. Pint of shandy, chip butty, home (after Jenn collected her prize for 2nd place woman – not bad for her a 1st fell race!). Great start to the weekend.

I was 2nd senior male, 4th overall. I’ll be happy if I can carry that form through the year!

Thanks to Simon (Mr Sparkle) and the rest of Darwen Dashers for organising.

Nice news

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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.

Bike Radar
Quest Adventure
Singletrack

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 🙂

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January

Not only has January snuck up on me, but it is now nearly the end of the month.

I’ve not raced since an ill fated Rapha Supercross in October (sticky mud and wide tyres in the CX bike were not good bedfellows). This was all part of The Plan. A rest. Time off from racing. Riding for fun. Not riding so much. This has been a mixed blessing. I’ve enjoyed some rides with mates that I might have missed out on otherwise. I’ve been doing more running (see post below). But, occasionally I have struggled mentally. I’ve missed long rides, yet not felt motivated to do them, yet beaten myself up for not riding more. Telling myself it is part of The Plan doesn’t always help.

Post Christmas and I have gradually been getting back into things. A few more miles, more regularly. A mystery New Years bug and a cold haven’t helped, but I’m slowly but surely getting fit again. I’ll need to, I’ve got some fun plans for this year.

February
-Hit the North… 2 hours intense riding. Crashed out last year. Lots of Good People going. Will be fun.

March
-City Cross… Not yet decided whether I’ll race, but should be a laugh
-Edale Skyline fell race

April
-No races planned yet, but an Easter break on Skye will involve lots of riding

May
-12hr solo champs – only two weeks before the biggie
-Highland Trail – 400+ miles of Scottish wilderness. Brilliant. Bit scary.

June
-Brisol Bikefest – so much fun in a team last year, back to do it solo this year
-Mountain Mayhem – only a week after Bristol. Maybe another team ride?

July
TBC

August
TBC… Summat big

September
-Scotland Coast to Coast. Did it two years ago. Fancy another crack
-3 Peaks CX

The ultra that wasn’t

After a Christmas break in the Lake District, with the bike left at home, but running shoes packed and used every day, I thought I might as well use the little bit of condition that I had earned and enter a race.

I like the simplicity of running. Even when compared to riding a bike, which needn’t be a complicated sport (although we often seem to do our best to make it so), I love that all I need is a pair of trainers to run. I also find it much easier to up the intensity when on foot. I really struggle to do an intense 45mins on the bike, but when running, I find it relatively “easy” to push myself to the point of exhaustion.

Having said that, I didn’t enter a short race. In fact I decided to enter my 1st ultra marathon. An ultra is technically anything over the regulation 26andabit miles of a marathon. My choice of the Anglesey stage of the Coastal Trail Series was 33 miles. Fairly short in terms of ultra distances, but a good 5 miles more than I have ever run in a day before. It was also 75% off road, much of which was on undulating and tricky coastal trails. The kind of race that needs suitable training and preparation. I signed up with 3 weeks to go. Then got injured. Ace.

I managed a pain free 5k run into work on the Thursday before the race on the Saturday and declared myself fit and ready to go. The weather forecast made for “interesting” reading, but our (Jenn was coming across too. Originally planning to do the marathon, a late entry meant that she ended up on the ultra course too) main concern was whether we would be able to drive to Anglesey; heavy snow was predicted for the North. I took the most sensible approach and tried to ignore it.

The drive to Anglesey turned out to be beautifully easy. Little traffic, and no snow. It was surprising when a friend posted up a picture of a heavily snow covered Holyhead on twitter. It was literally only as we crossed the bridge over the Menai Straits that the snow started to fall, and we almost immediately got stuck in a queue of traffic on the A55. It took over an hour to drive the 15 miles to Holyhead, but we got to the B&B, and started eating and faffing with gear and eating in preparation for an early start on Saturday. Again, I tried my best to ignore the foot or so of snow outside. At 8pm the cancellation email arrived. Frustratingly late, but the organisers had been working hard all day trying to mark courses, only for the markers to be covered by fresh snow. By way of compensation to those who had travelled up, they were still running a “fun” 10k course around and up and down Holyhead mountain. Not quite the ultra I had been psyching myself up for, and I was thoroughly deflated.

Luckily a big breakfast helped cheer me up… Never one to stay grumpy when food is on offer.

Saturday was beautiful. Blue skies, sunshine, and lots and lots of snow. We met Amy, Ali, Greg and Pauline at the event centre and set off around the course… Stopping regularly to admire the view/throw snowballs/bury Pauline. The snow made things heavy going, and despite there now being a trail trodden through the snow, it regularly came up to calf height. The first guys through had the pleasure of some waist height drifts. The full 33 miles would have been an epic challenge, and one which was rightly saved for another day.

That does leave me with an itch to scratch though. I still fancy ticking off an ultra in 2013…

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3 Peaks, my alternative report

Sorry for the swearing.

I have written up how the race went for Kinesis, over on their website. It’s a description of a race. It’s true, but on reflection, it isn’t a description of my race.

I looked at the skies at the start. I knew what the weather forecast was. Good. I wanted to suffer. The clouds were as black as my mood has been recently. It’s hard to describe, but I am trying to climb out of a self-created pit of negative thoughts and feelings, of anxiety, confusion and hopelessness… illness, mental illness. Emotions carry an extra weight at the moment. Every emotion. What makes this harder is that it becomes harder to distinguish what is “real” and what is a misfire of my tired, confused brain. I needed something to cut through the shit cloud. Something real.

Pain and suffering feel real. The hills are real. The weather is real. There was a beauty in suffering through doing something that I could have chosen to stop at any moment. I revelled in the futility of it all. I could channel every lingering emotion into one simple goal of survival.

A sense of total elation overcame me when I topped out over Simon Fell, and felt the full force of the wind for the first time. Fuck you comfort zone. Fuck you being sensible. Fuck you wind. Fuck you anything that isn’t about moving forward.

Into the calm of the road stretch to Whernside. An opportunity to stop fighting. To recoup. To eat and drink. To think. No… to fight thinking. To play mental games, and perform calculations. Average speeds and maximum speeds and projected times.

The descent off Whernside (the ascent was nothing. It was just steps. I didn’t need to play mental games; I could just feel free from thought). The first time that it clicked that reality isn’t a game. I can’t choose when to press pause. I’m cold. I’m tired. Deep play. The best kind. I’m in control. I’m making the right decisions, I’m being conservative. I don’t need to take risks, there is enough thrill to be found from walking the tightrope of being “safe”, no need to try and do it backwards, while blindfolded.

Pen Y Ghent, and my body is letting me down somewhat. Cramp is hindering progress, I should probably have another gel, but I am too focused on just getting this done. I know I am too cold and empty for this to be sustainable. I also know that I will be home in less than 30 mins.

And finished. Beautiful silence. Sitting in the car warming up. A calm head. Empty. Sheltered. Free, for the time being.

3 Peaks Cyclocross… not long now

Rarely does a mass-participation race have so much history. This Sunday will see the 50th running of the Three Peaks Cyclocross race. 38 miles of tarmac, wet tussocked fell side, limestone, millstone grit, steps. Much, much more than a “just” a bike race, it isn’t an overstatement to say that it has reached iconic status. It is fair to say then, that it was with a mixture of giddy excitement and trepidation that I received my confirmation-of-entry email a few months ago. Twitter had already begun to bristle with similar statements of relief/panic/joy as I checked my hotmail. This seems to reflect the entire feel of the race; a sense of community. Maybe, it is because for many, it is less a race than a personal challenge. Against a psychologically daunting course. And, while, on the day there will be spikes of competitiveness, for the time being the event itself is enough.

Never have I witnessed so much discussion around “what tyres”, “what ratios”, “what fuel”, “what strategy”? I’ve even been sucked into said discussions, and spent longer deciding on kit than I have for 24 hour races, or multi-day adventures. Perhaps it is down to that course, and the sheer variety of the terrain. There are points at which it would appear that the following would be the ideal choice:

  • A road bike
  • No bike and fell running shoes
  • An actual cyclocross bike (you know, as per the name of the race)
  • Stiff gearing
  • Spinny gearing
  • A full suspension mountain bike

This inevitably leads to compromise. Especially for someone like me who doesn’t have the resources to bring spare wheels, or a spare bike (check out Alan “Crossjunkie” Dorrington’s plans here). Where the compromise falls, seems to depend on budget, preference and maybe experience.

Experience… hmm. I’ve not done this race before, and it really is pretty unique. I’ve frequently been told that nothing will compare. Guess I’ll find out on Sunday. This does make training a little more of a challenge though. So, variety has been the spice of life for the last couple of months. Interspersed between the usual “I’m going out for a ride” type training (also known as having fun on a bike), I’ve been running a little more than normal, including all the fun of hillsets up on Ilkley Moor. Ideally I would have been doing this with a cross bike on my back, but I decided to sell my old one and buy a new one (more below), leaving me without a tool for the job for a while. I’ve done the odd fell race (including twisting my ankle at Lake District Mountain Trials after an embarrassingly short distance). I’ve also concentrated on shorter, more intense riding, after the long endurance slogs of the spring and summer. Finally, I did a recce run of the Ingleborough and Whernside sections of the route. I tried to remember a few tasty looking lines coming off Whernside. I have no doubt that I will have forgotten them all by the time I get there come race day. Will any of that make a jot of difference? We’ll wait and see. It’s been fun in a horrible kind of way already.

So. I know the course. I’ve done (some) training. I just need a bike.

My old cross bike was beginning to tire, and I was thinking about throwing some money at it to bring it back up to standard for another winter of 1 hour vomit sessions around muddy fields. As these things tend to happen, I ended up deciding that what I actually needed was an entirely new bike. I sold my previous CX bike and a road bike. I cobbled together meagre funds, and I had a chat with Garage Bikes. I decided that I wanted to go down the disc-braked route for this bike. I have used them on all my mountain bikes for approaching a decade. I love the power and modulation available, and importantly for ‘cross, the consistent performance in wet and muddy conditions. Disc braked cyclocross bikes are becoming more popular, and they seem to broadly fit into two categories. The do-it-all drop bar commuter workhorse, and the race-bred whippet. It is the later that I am interested in. I settled on the Kinesis Pro 6 frame and forks. It fits the bill beautifully, and looks rather pretty too. The frame and forks option also allowed me to spec the bike exactly as I wanted (barring no expense spared uber-bling). So, here it is:

 

 

 

 

  • Kinesis Pro 6 Frame (alu) and Forks (full carbon)
  • Hope ProII Evo/Stans ZTR Crest wheels, run tubeless with Schwalbe Racing Ralphs
  • Shimano CX70 chainset and front mech, 105 rear mech and cassette, Ultegra STIs
  • Avid BB7 road brake calipers, alligator discs
  • Deda stem
  • 3T Ergonova bars
  • Fizik Tundra 2 saddle

I’ve had the bike for around three weeks, and in that time have done a couple of longer “exploring” type rides, some CX skills practice and a single ‘cross race. It hasn’t taken long for me to feel very much at home. It feels like a cross bike. No big surprises. It is light (sorry, no idea of actual weight), it is just twitchy enough to be lively, but stable enough to not be a handful, have I mentioned that it looks very pretty? There are some thoughtful touches, like a flattened, smoothed toptube which allows for comfortable shouldering. Perhaps though, the it is the disc brakes that make this stand out still. I’ve never ridden discs on a drop-barred bike before. They were a bit of a revelation. Braking from the tops is controlled and a pleasure. Power is ample. I’ve had to learn to feather the rear in particular as it is easy to lock up. 

All in all, I like it. A lot. Sunday will be a big test, and should be a real proving ground for the brakes. We’ll see how things go!

New Garage Bikes team kit!

It has taken a bit longer than we hoped, but the Garage Bikes kit has finally arrived, and very splendid it looks too…

Here I am, sporting bibshorts, LS jersey and gilet.

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And here is Joe Roberts, the Garage Bikes downhiller, and part time mechanic.

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GarageGarage have got some kit for sale, so get in contact if you’d like your very own understated riding gear.

Sleepless in the Saddle. Some hard lessons

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:
“Evil” Gordon.
B
Tim K
Jenn
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.

Bit of a catch up

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on here. Same old excuses… busy doing other things, etc. But mainly, I haven’t felt in the mood to write much.

A quick run down of the past month or so:

Mountain Mayhem memories

  • Mud
  • Mud
  • Mud
  • Laughs
  • The gazebo of dreams
  • Wonderful friends
  • General silliness
  • Laughs
  • Mud

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon

  • Wasdale always takes longer than you think to get to
  • Despite being one of the wettest places in the UK, we avoided the rain while the rest of the country was drowning
  • I’d forgotten how much I dislike contouring on steep ground. With tussocks. And bog.
  • I’m lucky that I can share time outdoors, and racing with my family. It was great to catch up with my uncle over a weekend.
  • I met Joss Naylor. On the fells! A lovely man, and it was an honour to share 5 minutes chatting about the mountains.

I’m really excited about the coming four weeks

The Cairngorms

  • Can’t wait to return to the home of my favourite ever adventure.
  • Just a long weekend, but will be taking my Dad along some of the same trails. It will be a pleasure to sit up and take my time in the scenery

Settle to Carlisle

  • I’ve got a week off work. An entire week.
  • Rather than a long trip, I’m planning a few micro adventures. One of which will be riding from Settle to Carlisle in a day, then getting the train home.

Sleepless in the Saddle

  • Mayhem was great fun. I loved the friendly atmosphere. I loved having a lot of friends around.
  • I wanted to ride more though
  • Back to 24 hour solo. But there will be lots of friends around, both supporting, and out on course.
  • Best of both worlds!

Team VeloCake take on Bristol Bikefest

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.

All-weather trails

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? 🙂

Glentress 7

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.

Racing season hotting up

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!

Bike packing, learning lessons

20120517-095806.jpg
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

I wore:
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
Mavic shoes
I carried:
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.
Spare socks
Fewer clothes if the forecast is milder
Less food
Consider a small back up “point you in the general direction” type GPS in case of failure

Crayons

Team kit designs by Sarah at Garage. Luckily Endura “professionalisimicate” for a non-felt-tip look. (Sorry Sarah) 🙂

20120502-121639.jpg

Exciting news

I’m just back from a chat with Al and Sarah, over at Garage Bikes. They have already been very generous to me, and loaned the shop lights out for 24 Hours of Exposure.

Garage Bikes is based in Morley, and is a relatively new-comer. They are celebrating their 1st birthday this Saturday. In their first year they have gone from strength to strength though, combining experience with an infectious enthusiasm and good customer service.

It is therefore a huge honour that they have offered to sponsor me. I’m looking forward to pulling on a Garage Bikes jersey at a race soon, and will be genuinely proud to have their name across my chest. Al and Sarah have put no pressure on me about results, but it will certainly be an extra motivation to get out and train, and push myself to do as well as I can. Not just for me, but for those who have backed me.

Work to do

The gentle rumble of mountain bike wheels over fireroad leeched into wherever my subconscious had taken me. I raised my head from my toptube to see the silhouette of a rider, detail shadowed by his helmet and bar lights. I mumbled a hello. Why was I sitting on a picnic bench instead of my bike? How the hell had I fallen asleep? How long for? What on earth was I playing at?

The entire lap so far had been horrible. Nausea, double vision, and an inability to keep my eyes open left me feeling pathetic, and opened the door into the dark corner of my mind. The one full of self doubt, the one that revels in suicidal thoughts, the one that cares about nothing, but attaches negative value to everything. I didn’t want to be me, let alone the me that was two thirds of the way through a 24 hour race. I swung my leg off the bike. Sat on the bench and forced a gel down my throat. It was time to regather. It turns out regathering led to 40 winks, but at least I felt a little better for it. Back on the bike, shivering as my hard earned body heat had long since risen into the misty/damp sky, I rolled down one of the wonderful trail-centre descents. No longer whooping, pumping and jumping I was nevertheless savouring the opportunity to not turn the pedals for a while.

The previous 30 minutes had defined my race. I am not the endurance racer that I want to be. Yet.

36 hours earlier, I had arrived at Rock UK, lying next to the 7 Stanes trails of Newcastleton. Nice and early, I set up camp next to the course, in a perfect spot for my pit crew to look after me during the race. Over the next few hours I caught up with Jase, Dave and the other JMC boys. Amy and Ali arrived, as did Greg and Pauline. My own pit team arrived in the Bike Doctor Leeds van, and I settled into the task of eating, drinking, talking, eating, drinking and repeat. Sleep came surprisingly easy.

Newcastleton Village centre… 11.30am, just before race start. Nervous chatter fills the air. Everyone looks fit and focussed. This is not your usual race. The minimum 12 hour solo option self-selects a certain kind of rider I guess. It felt like the whole village had come out to cheer us off, and there was a lovely atmosphere as we were counted down and rolled out behind the USE van along a neutralised tarmac section up to the trail head, and race course proper. BAM. The pace went through the roof as soon as the van peeled off. I was in a reasonably good position, and held that for the most part, which was useful as we hit the mud-like-plasticine-but-more-slippery-steep-climb-through-the-trees. Something wasn’t quite right though. It took a few seconds to work it out. My seatpost was slowly slipping. GRRR. A frustrating couple of minute stop sorted things out and I was back on my way, but worked that little bit harder to regain time lost.

I caught up to Greg on Lap 2 and we shared a quick chat. He stayed in sight for a good while longer, but at some point I had a bit of a low patch and the gap opened to 15mins or so.

The first 8 hours passed remarkably quickly. I ate, I drank, I rode, I walked some of the steeper climbs. I felt ok. Food wasn’t going down so well – I was regularly feeling rough for the first third of the course while my body struggled to digest whatever I put in it. Including gels, which is unusual, as I normally cope really well with them. This had the effect of making high effort sections like the climbs really unpleasant, but it’s a 24 hour race, I wasn’t expecting it to be pleasant. Head down and crack on Tom.

Night arrived quickly in the woods. My borrowed USE Exposure 6 Pack and Diablo/Joystick combo was, frankly, amazing. I kept both the bar and helmet light on low the entire time, and was never wanting for more power. It was a pleasure not have to worry about swapping batteries. A couple of minor hiccups though… somehow I managed to not charge the Diablo properly, so that died midway through one lap. Oops. Quick swap to the joystick saw things back on track. Later, on a rough fire road descent, the 6 pack bounced off its mount. ARGH! Thank god for a helmet light. I think my number plate had somehow flicked the otherwise excellent release button on the clamp.

And then, the lap of the nap. I’ve never, ever, ever stopped like that during a race. Not in my previous 24 hour race, not in anything shorter. I’m furious that I did, but at the time, I simply didn’t have the mental strength to keep moving. Doing some forensics… I think I can identify a few cause factors:

  1. Fitness. I’m reasonably in shape, but did I follow the training plan that I set out for myself back before Christmas? Not really. I allowed excuses to get in the way too often
  2. Mental strength failure. Black, dark thoughts have become a normal way of life for me over the last couple of years. I failed to identify them as a symptom of tiredness, and manage them immediately. Instead they grew into something almost unmanageable.
  3. Lack of caffeine. I largely used caffeine free gels and drink. I think a few more hits of the chemical pick-me-up may have seen me through the vital last few hours of darkness.

Lap from hell was finally completed. Layers changed. Much needed pep-talk from Andy received. Back out into the dark, but in the knowledge that there was already a feint inky blue tinge to the previously black, black sky. Rebirth. I rode. I enjoyed riding. The simplicity of being on a bike was wonderful. This is all I want to do. And it was all I did until crossing the line a few hours later. It wasn’t easy, there were more dark moments, but an element of mental strength had returned. I would not be broken. Not by my own thoughts anyway.

My final lap was a relaxed affair, taking things easy, chatting with Rachel – who went on to be the womens winner. Wow. Great effort from her in her first 24 hour race.

And then, over. Relief. Happiness? I guess. Satisfaction? I guess… no, actually, no. I didn’t do what I set out to achieve. This wasn’t just a result of the 24 hours of the race, but the months beforehand. I can still do more. I will do more.

But, another race compete. 16th in the Open male isn’t too shabby, and I’ve got some brilliant memories from the weekend.

The thank yous:

  • Andy, Gemma and Alex. My wonderful family, and perfect pit crew
  • Garage Bikes, Morley for the lights.
  • Greg, for his good humour and shoe strap
  • Amy, for making me laugh
  • Ali, for being lovely
  • Pauline, for her cheering
  • Jase, Dave, Phil, Lee and the wider JMC crew for wise words, piss taking and encouragement
  • The organisers for putting the event on

The highs:

  • Super happy snail trail
  • Thunderbird and Bumblebee marshalls
  • Cruising the blue
  • Chatting with Rachel
  • Beer on the finish line
  • Monster meal in Newcastleton in the evening
  • Torq rhubarb and custard gels

24 hours of Exposure

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved”.*

Enough of the eulogising though. I’m off to ride my bike as fast as I dare and have fun for 24 hours.

*Quote courtesy of Helen Keller, with thanks to Rob Lee who included it in his book “Endurance Within”