Monday 20 December 2010

2010 Full of Firsts

When was the last time you did something for the first time? In 2009 I stretched myself to complete the South Downs Double, and in 2010 I’ve achieved many more things for the first time. Here are a few;

* Visiting a gym was a new experience in January. I must have enjoyed it as I’ve been back 139 times.
* Pilates was something quite new at the gym where I’ve balanced (in)appropriately during 60 classes.
* Regular Spinning classes kept my legs active during 68 sweaty sessions.
* Training with weights was quite alien for me in January, now I can pump the iron!
* The Body Pump class killed me on the first session, now I am able to live through it.

* A Health MOT gave me an amazing score of 94%, what happened to the other 6%?
* Discovering my low cholesterol level was a relief, more cakes please.
* Measuring my VO2 max was interesting as it was appropriately high

* Snowboarding in February was my first adventure into winter sports. I’ll leave the black runs for my son Dan.
* Entering the TrailBreak ride in Reigate with Dan showed me how good at mountain biking he is, beating most of the adults in his category.
* Setting out the route markings for the TrailBreak event was surprisingly therapeutic.

* Racing as a pair for the Muc-Off 8 was a different concept to my usual solo events, giving me a rest after each lap!

* Riding a fixed wheel bike at the Calshot velodrome felt like going round a massive berm. Winning a 30 lap race showed me it was more about tactics than brute force.

* Completing a 100 mile ride solo and unsupported was a first for this distance. I also knocked 90 minutes off my best time for the South Downs Way. Why do I keep riding this same route?

* For the first time after a 12 hour race, I was wanting more. Set2Rise was great in May after the mud had solidified.

* Taking a MTB skills course was a revelation. You can teach an old dog new tricks. I've finally managed to ride confidently with no hands on the bars.

* Using gas to inflate tyres was invaluable during races and long events. Why did I struggle with a pump for so long?

* I finally resigned to creating a Twitter account, which proved really informative when following riders progress in MTB World Championships.

With so many new accomplishments, I wonder what I will do for the first time in 2011? I've yet to sell something on eBay and learn how to bleed brakes.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Bring on the Snow

Snow covered the ground in abundance whilst Reigate Hill was littered with abandoned vehicles.  This gave the perfect excuse to go for a ride. 
The 6-12” deep powdery snow flared up from the wheels covering our feet and the bikes like ‘clean mud’.  Pedalling down hill was a novelty making any forward movement hard work.  Balancing skills were honed with the front wheel often going into opposite lock as we remained upright.

The sights were fantastic with untouched snow covered trees decorating the white carpeted trails.  With only a handful of dedicated walkers and no other cyclists, we had the hill to ourselves.  The quietness in the air created a serene atmosphere in the near black and white world.

Stopping off at the Sportsman pub for a bite to eat, we warmed ourselves by the open file with warm mulled wine.  Resisting the temptation to stay there all day we headed back out into the white stuff.

Descending the hill on the steep chalky path from the monument was awesome.  The thick snow on the chalky slope provided all the traction we needed.

Dropping on to the snow covered roads we hopped over the speed bumps returning back to civilisation.  Travelling faster than the cars we made it home with no spills,  What a fantastic ride.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Training the Mind

When asking a friend what events he wants to do next year, he replied “Nothing much. I would love to do the South Downs Way in a day, but I haven’t got the time to train for it.”  He later said that when he finds the time he will then put his mind to it.
Having a goal for the next season is essential if you want to improve and stay motivated. You will never find the time for training if you don’t have a goal. Work first with your mind to establish what you really want to achieve.  Once you have a goal to aim for, if you are determined, you will find the time for training. I call this 'Training the Mind' where I delivered a presentation about it last year to Redhill CC.

Sometimes it is not so much a matter of finding additional time, but finding a way to incorporate training in with your daily routine.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Focus initially on your ‘will’ then you can find a ‘way’ to accomplish it.

 A few weeks ago I was lacking enthusiasm whilst training in the gym.  Now that I have my key goals established for 2011, there is much more of a purpose to my training where I can't wait to get to the gym.  I am even looking for specific exercises to help me with my quest.  You'll have to wait for another post to discover my goals for 2011.

Sunday 10 October 2010

The Bug for Racing

2010 was my first proper season for MTB racing where I achieved some pretty good results.

Following a recovery training programme after winter illnesses, I entered the 8 hour as a pair with Keith Reed.  It was Keith’s first big MTB race where we came 4th out of 21 pairs.

The mud made Set2Rise a difficult race in May.  After the 12 hours I was still buzzing finishing 9th out of 48.

Storming along the South Downs Way, I knocked 1:30 hours of my personal best, taking just 9:48 hours for the 100 miles.  With about 100 other participants, I came 2nd.

Big Dog in August was a mud bath.  Ending the 6 hours with a sprint finish I managed 6th out of 18.

Squeezing in a 9 mile road time trial, I achieved 1st place in the MTB category.  There were only 4 seconds dividing the first 3 riders.

Torq in your Sleep was another great ride where I finished 8th out of 38 after the 12 hours.

I certainly have the bug for long distance racing and can’t wait to do more.  A structured training programme is in place for this winter where I want to be stronger and fitter for 2011.  My goal is to reach the podium for a major race.

Monday 27 September 2010

Round & Round and Up & Down

Arriving early at the Hawley Lake Sailing Club near Camberley I prepare for the XTM Enduro that is part of the XT Festival.  The organisers All About Triathlons planned a weekend of multidiscipline events where for the first time they arranged a specific MTB race.  The race was only 4 hours attracting over 100 riders.

Setting out on a couple of practice laps, I soon realised that it was not technically challenging.  The single track sections required a bit of thought, where it could have done with a few bomb holes and technical descents to make it more interesting.  The few short sharp hills gave it an average of 120 feet of climbing per mile, which tested riders towards the end of the enduro.

Each circuit was just 3 miles in length.  After taking a couple of breaths, I was half way round and before I knew it I was back at the start.  There were few places to get a rest or stretch the legs so the heart was pounding solidly.  Completing my first 6 laps in 17 minutes each (10.5mph), it was getting confusing to know which lap I was on.  Fortunately I had programmed my GPS to keep count of the laps so I could grab a gel on the even laps.

During the early stages I picked out the best lines and sussed out the overtaking places on the single track.  This proved useful on a number of occasions when I didn’t get a chance to overtake on the fire roads.  I was certainly overtaking many more than those who overtook me.  Unfortunately it was very difficult to work out who was riding as a pair or going solo.

As the race progressed the course thinned out and passing comments were few.  I was delighted to see bunches of riders straddled up the hills panting or pushing with their bikes.  Rising to the challenge I powered up the slopes overtaking as many as possible.

The rules stated that the winner is determined by the most number of laps.  Those who had completed that same number of laps would be judged on the speed of their last lap.  This was an interesting concept, which was confirmed when talking to the race organiser.  Normally it is the overall time that separates those with the same number of laps.

During lap 9 I realised that I could not quite squeeze in a 13th lap before the 4 hour deadline.  I therefore took laps 10 and 11 really easy and had a good stretch before I started lap 12.  Speeding round the course on my final lap, I could tell that others had similar ideas.  Overtaking several riders on the steep climbs enabled me to achieve another 17 minute lap as I reached the finish.

The results were somewhat ambiguous as the pairs and soloists were mixed together and there was no factor for the speed of the last lap.  Out of 65 soloists, I came about 21st covering nearly 40 miles.  For Goodness Shakes were handing out their drinks afterwards to kick start the recovery process.

It was a good day out where the weather was kind to us.  During September I’ve reduced my training programme towards the end of the season so I can rest properly, hence the lower race position.  Soon I will start my winter training in preparation for challenges of 2011.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Torq in your Sleep

My last major race for 2010 was the Torq in your Sleep organised by Gorrick near Yateley. There was no let up in my meticulous planning for the 12 hour endurance race as detailed lists were prepared and everything was packed into the relevant boxes for the day.

Arriving at the campsite soon after 9am, we set up the gazebo and other equipment right next to the track. I say ‘we’ as I had the luxury of a dedicated support crew in the form of my daughter Lorna and her boyfriend James.

Following a quick warm up getting a feel for the course, I was ready for the start at midday. 300 riders completed a controlled lap of the arena before diving into the first section of single track. Initially it was crowded, but not too congested as I worked my way into the top third of the bunch.

The course was surprisingly dry considering the recent heavy rain during the week. The single-track sections flowed well and there were a few decent 20 foot near vertical drops to glide down, some with a steep climb out. The first 8 mile lap was completed in excellent time where it was quite an adventure not knowing what was coming next. Lap 2 enabled me to pace myself around the course whilst still maintaining a good speed.

Pulling in for a quick change of my CamelBak, I was off into lap 3. By this stage I was adopting the best lines to take on the technical sections and looked forward to my favourite part that weaved tightly between several trees.

Taking a slightly longer stop after lap 4 my average speed was 10.7mph, which is pretty fast for single-track. It was at this stage the heavens opened with a torrential downpour. I questioned my choice of summer tyres as the wheels slid all over the place on lap 5. Previously calculated lines in the dry were useless in the wet conditions, so it was back to basics to pick the safest line over the roots whilst remaining upright.

Just near the end of lap 5 my rear tyre punctured but the slime did its stuff allowing me to continue riding to reach my support crew. James did his stuff with the track pump, and then I was off into lap 6.

The rain had now stopped and there were signs that the course was drying out. I’m glad I didn’t change my tyres as they were once again rolling fast over the hardened surface. Using my new toy, James washed down my bike with a portable pressure washer. With mud free gears I headed back out onto the course.

Laps 7 and 8 came and went where I still had the strength to power up the hills overtaking several riders. It is very difficult whilst out on the course to know my position in my category. At each stop Lorna gave me the low down with my position in the field and the times between myself and the riders ahead and behind me. She even gave me their rider numbers so I knew who to look out for. At one point there were 3 riders all less than 5 minutes ahead of me. This wealth of instant information provided a huge mental boost and motivation.

The lights came on for lap 9 as darkness fell. Trusting my tested lines on the technical sections I conquer the roots in the woods, although I was caught by a couple of surprises. Managing a good lap time I head straight into lap 10. It was now pitch dark everywhere and I really enjoyed owning the night with my bright lights.

Setting off into lap 11 was a real struggle. Motivation was low, my legs were tired and everything hurt. The 80 miles of technical riding had hit me hard. I then punctured again, it was the last thing that I needed. Fortunately the slime plugged the hole and a quick squirt of the gas did the trick.

Refuelling after the lap I pushed on into lap 12. Gathering all my strength I complete my final lap which seemed to take forever. Reaching the Finish for the last time, I take a well deserved rest while the support crew sorted everything out.

Out of 38 solo riders I took 8th place, which felt pretty good. It was a well organised event with around 600 participants and special thanks goes to Lorna & James for being my fantastic support crew.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Victory by a whisker

Redhill Cycling Club hosts a Time Trail season where the 9 mile races on the Horne circuit are opened up to mountain bikers. This usually attracts a handful of mountain bikers where the competition is very intense.

A mountain bike with knobbly tyres is the necessary criteria, so I fit the smoothest knobblies I have with the highest pressures they will take. The suspension is locked out to provide a fast running rig for the tarmac. The road cyclists with their skinny tyres, aero bars and pointy helmets ridicule us on our hefty machines. The smile is sometimes wiped of their faces when we match or beat a few of their times.

Alex Bottomely, Gareth Ashton and I line up for the staggered start. We are probably the fastest mountain bikers in the club and the gloves were off for the coveted trophy. Alex sets off at a blistering pace 30 seconds before me, where Gareth starts a minute behind us. On the long straights I can just see Alex’s rear light in the distance, he was certainly applying the pressure while I was doing my utmost not to lose sight of him.

Completing the first 3 mile lap in 8:32 minutes, I calculate that I’m 8 seconds ahead of my 26 minute target time. Riding into the headwind, I tuck my arms in adopting an aerodynamic position as possible. My heart rate is pounding at around 165bpm which is just over 90% of my maximum. I need to sustain this intensity for nearly 2 more laps.

Passing the Start/Finish point, I completed lap 2 in 8:35, giving me 13 seconds in the bag for a 26 minute time. It was then the pain set in. The intense pressure was taking its toll as my body ached and I watched the digits on the speedo descend. Pushing hard and focusing on my posture and technique, I battled on through the pain barrier. Catching glimpses of Alex in the distance, I knew I wasn’t doing too badly. Applying the power on the penultimate straight I reel in some of the distance between us.

Rounding the last corner I tuck my head down and give it all I’ve got. There is a long gradual incline to the finish where the headwind was prolific as ever. My heart rate nearly touches its maximum as I cross the line at 26:08 minutes.

I had missed my 26 minute target, but more importantly how had I fared against Alex and Gareth? In the previous week Gareth had achieved 26:11 so I waited with bated breath for him to finish.

The results are calculated where Gareth made it in 26:12, Alex finished in 26:10 while I claimed the 1st MTB place with my 26:08. With just 4 seconds separating the 3 of us, it couldn’t have been much closer.

Monday 16 August 2010

Big Dog meets Mud Dog

One of the pinnacles of my MTB calendar is the Big Dog race in Brighton. The atmosphere last year was so friendly where the whole event is organised on a not for profit basis. Driving down with Jon & John from Redhill Cycling Club, we erected the gazebo in a prime location and donned our new club jerseys. Gareth, Keith, Alex Matt & Monica joined us to fly the flag for Redhill.

My personal planning for these events is a detailed affair, where everything is calculated and organised. The anticipated lap times were prepared with suitable hydration and nutrition requiring two very short stops during the six hours of the race. With the ominous weather forecast and the slippery experience at Set2Rise due the wrong tyres, I opted for full traction with my winter Trailraker muddy tyres.

A 200 mass start is always difficult until we get suitably spread out where the jostling soon dies down. Where possible I try to spot the race numbers of other riders to see if they are a direct competitor. At registration I noticed all the 20 solo vet (over 40) riders were numbered from 60 to 79. Glancing round I note a few riders to watch out for.
The course was virtually all in the trees of Stamner Park. Although the woods only measure 1½ miles by ¼ mile, the organisers had cleverly squeezed in a 7 mile loop with nearly 1000 feet of climbing. Most of the course involves weaving between trees, watching for low branches and negotiating the millions of roots. There were a few sections that were smoother and wider where it was possible to grab a gel and overtake other riders.

Towards the end of lap 1 the heavens opened and the anticipated rain descended in abundance. The trees provided some shelter but it wasn’t long before I was soaked through.

Completing the first lap in 52 minutes, I was just 2 minutes behind my schedule. The congestion at the start had lost me some time, so I was quite happy with my progress as I entered the woods again for lap 2. The trails were now really slippery and treacherous. In places there was just no grip in the tyres to get up the hills or to stay on the track with an adverse camber. Pushing on, I got covered in mud from the spray flying up all over the place. On the descents, the wet disc brakes were singing in harmony from the different bikes. We were all in it together gritting our teeth hoping the rain would subside.

Grabbing a gel on one of the wider sections I tried to keep to my plan of 1 gel and 2 shot bloks per lap. With several sections of the woods looking very similar, I found it difficult to remember where to take them in anticipation of the hills.

Sliding in to the Start/Finish area at the end of lap 2 after 53 minutes, I accepted that the weather conditions were slowing me down a bit. A cheer from Anne Dickins on the side lines was a boost. I wasn’t expecting her to be at the race and at this stage I needed all the encouragement I could get. We were 2 hours in with the slippery conditions zapping our energy, yet there were 4 hours left until the finish.

Pushing on into lap 3, I was over taken by Ian Leitch on his 4th lap who ran with his bike up one of the steepest and slipperiest sections. He either had mega traction in his shoes or there’s some local knowledge he kept to himself!

The rain eased off slightly and I managed to complete lap 3 in exactly 1 hour. Swapping over my CamelBak for more hydration, I grab a banana and set off again. This 30 second stop turned out to be my only stop for the whole race.

At this point the sun tried to poke between the clouds. The mud became less slushy and more like a congealable gloop. It now stuck to everything and the bike doubled its weight. Several times the wheels stopped turning due to the volume of sticky mud. Frequent pauses were needed with a stick or fingers to remove great handfuls of the stuff. The mud got everywhere, my drink tasted of mud and my gels were decidedly crunchy. A 6th lap was looking less likely.

Completing lap 4 in 1:13 hours, 4 hours into the race there was only enough time for 1 more muddy lap in the 2 hours remaining. The first half of Lap 5 was even stickier, then it appears to dry out and harden slightly. With the loose mud on the descents, I had about as much traction as someone running down a bob sleigh track in flip flops. Frequently the front wheel was in opposite lock with the rear wheel sliding sideways.

The constant dodging between the trees was draining my concentration and I started to make a few mistakes. Loosing the front wheel in the mud, I took a close look at a bush. My shins were burning from the fall and a quick glance saw that there was more mud than blood. As I composed myself rider 66 passed me, who I later discovered to be Keith Whitten. Clocking him earlier we had overtaken each other several times during the race. He was very good on the single track, but relaxed on the climbs. I was not going to let him beat me.

Jumping back on the bike I complete the section of single track to find Keith on the climb. Determined to pass him I power up the short hill and dive into the final single track section. Using all my concentration to stay upright, I hold the lead into the final straight. A quick glance back informed me that it was rider 66 just behind me where I then stood on the pedals to sprint to the Finish.

Passing the Finish line just a few feet in front of Keith, I claim 6th place after 5:18 hours.
Despite the mud and heavy rain, it was a good day out where I was pleased with my position. Cleaning the bike took at least 2 hours as the mud was stuck to everything.

Sunday 1 August 2010

South Downs Way – Again!

The lure of the South Downs Way beckoned again as the BHF hosted another of their well organised events. My specific challenge was to beat my personal best time of 11:17 hours for the 100 miles.

Arriving at Winchester, we saw a large group of about 50 riders set off at 5:30am. Not wanting to get caught up with the masses, we held back for a few minutes. I was riding with Julian, Mark and Chris from Redhill Cycling Club, who kindly said that I didn’t need to wait for them if I wanted to go a bit faster. During the next few minutes several other riders set off so we picked our moment and hit the trail at 6:10am.

The weather was overcast and drizzled for the first 2 hours. Some areas became slippery where fortunately the ground was generally firm. Riding with the others for the first few minutes gave me a controlled warm up, yet we still overtook loads of other cyclists. The South Downs Way route is now very familiar to me, except for the change last year via Exton (10 miles). I don’t like this alteration as it has an awkward climb with steps on Winchester Hill, taking about 10 minutes longer. It was somewhere around here that I lost touch with other Redhill guys as I continued to overtake small groups of riders.

Reaching the QE2 Country Park (22 miles) in 1:50 hours there were loads of riders taking a break. My strategy was to ride at least 50 miles before I stop. Carrying 4 litres of liquid with gels and Shot Bloks accessible in my back pocket, there was no reason to stop the wheels from turning. The number of riders had seriously thinned out by this stage so I switched on the iPod and settled down to what would turn out to be a solo ride for the next 75 miles.

The miles whizzed by as the hills came and went. At Bury (42 miles) it had taken me just 3:25 hours with an impressive average speed of 11.9mph. A 10 hour ride time was looking possible. I focused on powering up the hills and relaxing on the descents. From recent experience, this strategy can make a big difference to the overall riding speed.

Coming across another rider at Gatting Beacon (39 miles) who appeared quite fast, I stormed up the next hill leaving him standing. At Amberley Mount he tore past me where I couldn’t keep up with him on the hill at Washington. Seeing him again at Steyning Bowl, I upped the ante, and eventually caught him at the bridge near Steyning.

By this stage my CamelBak bladder had run dry so I planned to stop at Steyning for a refill. Unfortunately the tap was broken, so I continued on to the Youth Hostel at Truleigh Hill (60 miles). Passing the BHF officials, I was encouraged to hear that only 5 other riders had reached Steyning. This inspired me to keep up the pressure.

Reaching the Youth Hostel I took a well deserved break for about 10 minutes. Rehydrating the CamelBak and grabbing a banana, I also cleaned the mud that had collected on the gears. The sun was trying to poke through the clouds so a quick spray of sun protection was a worthwhile precaution, despite my legs being covered in mud.

Pushing on to the check point at Devil’s Dyke, I said a quick hello to the BHF volunteers who had just set off the 35 mile riders. Rapidly overtaking the small groups, I head up to Ditchling where I enjoy the long gradual descent to the A27. Seeing a couple of muddy riders, I discover they are also on the 100 mile route and pass them quickly.

Grabbing a banana to relieve the cramp, I set out on the long slog up the (400 foot) climb beyond the A27 (77 miles). Mentally it’s a tough climb as you can see the top from the bottom. 10 minutes later I rounded the first crest and tackled the gradual climb along the top of the ridge, which took me into the clouds. Visibility was less than 100 metres and it was difficult to stay on the right course. Coming across a gate I didn’t recognise, I retraced my tracks and flicked on the GPS to guide me back to the main route.

Powering along the gradual descent, I passed several walkers in full wet weather gear. Wearing just a thin top and shorts, I felt fine as long as I kept riding. Passing 2 more 100 mile riders I realised there couldn’t be many others in front of me. This felt good.

Catching a thorn at Bothops, I heard the rear tyre hiss until the slime plugged the hole. After a quick squirt from the gas inflator, I was back on the trail feeling pleased to overcome the puncture in just a few seconds. Climbing the hill after Itford Farm (84 miles) the tyre hissed again, this time due to a flint. The slime went everywhere and there was a small nick in the tyre. Changing the tube and using a small piece of plastic to patch the tyre, I was soon back in the saddle gaining altitude.

Passing Firle Beacon (88 miles), which was my last stop when I rode the South Downs Double, I knew I was nearly there. I also knew that I had two massive hills to conquer. The clock was on my side and a sub 10 hour time looked possible. Feeling a bit greedy I wanted to beat 9:50 hours. Pushing hard against the strong headwind, I rounded the top of the last hill. Changing into the big ring and standing on the pedals, I power across the golf course and down into Eastbourne.

Arriving at the finish I enter the sports centre after 9:48 hours. This is an hour and a half off my personal best time, which felt amazing. The centre was pretty empty and I heard that only one other rider beat my time, out of about 100 participants. If only they had a podium!

Enjoying the benefit of a sports massage I relax and reminisce over the day’s events. All my training and preparations paid off to achieve a fantastic ride.

Monday 5 July 2010

The Rewards of Giving

Last Friday evening I went for a gentle ride on my own. It was a refreshing experience as I normally push myself hard when riding solo. This particular ride was different as I was marking up a course for the Reigate Trail Break event the next day. Placing the orange signs and tape at the junctions was an opportunity for me to give something back to the cycling world. It’s so easy to ride a marked up route without thinking of the folk who position and remove the signs before and after the event. Enjoying the tranquillity of the North Downs on a summers evening was such a contrast to the congested M25 where I was sat an hour previously. It’s not all about fast training rides, sometimes we forget the pleasure of just taking it easy.

The next morning was quite different. Rising early, I met up with the Trail Break guys then headed off to check the route. The trails were dry and dusty where I wasted no time in following the orange markers. Unfortunately after just a few hours of putting out the signs, some markers had been removed whilst others were turned to point towards footpaths. This is very petty and dangerous, as in one case riders were directed into a cemetery. Despite stopping to correct the signs, I managed a personal best time for the 23 mile ride. This was possibly a combination of the fast trails, the gentle warm up the previous evening and the knowledge that I only had to do 23 miles.

Working with Trail Break in designing the route and marking it up was a real pleasure. I tried to include all the best bits of the North Downs that I could link together whilst fitting in with their ride distances. Judging from some of the comments afterwards from the riders, they were surprised at how much the North Downs had to offer. Welcome to my back yard!

Monday 21 June 2010

Track Racing for a Mountain Biker?

Jumping at the chance for my son Dan and me to ride at the Calshot velodrome, we headed down to Southampton to join up with Sutton Cycling Club. Dan was with a group for experienced tack riders whilst I joined the beginners as it was my first time.

Riding a fixed wheel track bike with no brakes was a new experience that I quickly picked up. The most difficult part was riding in close proximity to others, which is usually avoided when mountain biking. The steep sides of the track are at a 45ยบ slope going up about 20 feet high. It appears quite scary when looking down the slope from the spectator gallery, but when riding round the top it’s really exhilarating. I treated it as a massive berm.

Completing a ‘flying lap’ Dan managed 11.41s where I just pipped him with 11.34s. It won’t be long before he’s overtaking me on the sprints.

The adults had a 30 lap race. I’d never ridden in a close proximity race before, let alone on a track. The 7 of us set off on a rolling start where the first 10 laps were a bit messy as we rotated round taking in turns for the lead. The pace was moderate where I knew I could go faster. As soon as I reached the front of the group I applied the pressure stepping up the pace quite significantly. It wasn’t long before I could see the tail end of the group where I then lapped about 3 of them. Conscious that someone was coming up onto my tail, I tried to up the pace a bit more but my legs were beginning to feel the pressure. Had I broken away too early? He caught up with me with about 10 laps to go taking advantage of my slipstream. As I pulled up the bank he reluctantly took the lead so I could rest behind him for a lap or two. With the final lap in sight I applied extra power to ride up the bank and accelerate past him. Tucking myself in front, I hugged the black line round the final bend where he was now trying to overtake me on the outside. A final burst of power saw me take the finish line just ahead, giving me 1st place.

It was a fantastic race to ride and apparently also to watch. I’d never come first before in a race and was delighted to receive a medal to add to my very small collection.

The adrenaline was certainly buzzing during the race and it was a great day out. There’s a lot more in the way of tactics and ride positioning with track racing, however I also get a buzz out of a fast flowing single track descent. Both disciplines require a very different skill set, which in some ways may compliment each other.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Set2Rise - From Muddy to Magnificent

Avoiding the Bank Holiday traffic on the A303 we reached Erlstroke near Devizes in plenty of time.
With virtually a free choice in the field, we set up our camp on the side of the Set2Rise track in preparation for night's ride. This was the first proper outing for the new Redhill Cycling Club gazebo, which proved to be an invaluable shelter for the night. Downing a late pasta lunch then grabbing an hour's kip were the next priorities. I woke up mid afternoon to find the campsite a mass of tents and bikes where excitement filled the air. With heavy rain earlier in the day and a couple of downpours during the afternoon, the weather was not on our side. Riders returned from their practice laps covered in mud, which didn't bode well. Selecting intermediate tyres, the waterproofs went on and off just before the start, as the weather fluctuated. I finally opted for two thin tops and lycra shorts so if it did rain, they would dry out quickly.

The race started at 6pm where 200 eager riders jostled for position before the first set of singletrack. Determined to keep my heart rate down, I slid along the ice rink of the trails. Mud and wheels were everywhere. I reached an open space just as the heavy rain descended, soaking me right through. Recognising parts of the course from last year, I realized the layout was very different. I needed to revise my gel location so I could take one approximately 15 minutes before the big climb.

Quickly changing my top after lap 1, I head out for more mud and sliding. Returning back to base after lap 2, I swap my CamelBak for my spare that has a full bladder and grab a mouthful of pasta.

The rain had stopped for laps 3 and 4 where the mud now became really congealed clogging up everything in sight. On a couple of occasions it prevented my back wheel from turning forcing me to stop and clear all the cack.

It was a real effort to go back out on the track for lap 5 knowing how hard the first 4 laps had been. I forced myself out and took a gel with caffeine to give me a mental boost. The ground became firmer and I started to feel a bit better.

This was my first night ride for the year where I was uncertain how I would find it. With my bright Exposure lights on the bars and helmet, visibility was never an issue.
Lap 7 was fantastic! The ground was firm enough to get sufficient speed on the single track to swoop up the short inclines. Lap 8 was also good as I was really getting into the race.

Setting out on lap 9 at 3:30am, I realised that I only had time for 2 more laps. I was loving it at this stage and wanted more. Making the most of the final 2 laps I am rewarded by seeing the sun push through the small gaps in the cloud creating an awesome sight. After riding all through the night it's quite a magical feeling to see the sun rise at the start of the new day. All the pain form the night before simply disappears.

Finishing at 5:36am I am delighted to see that I achieved 9th place out of 48 other solo riders. This could have been even higher if there was a Vet category.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

From zero to a bit better

With 3 months off the bike I had lost all my fitness and piled on the weight. As the weather was pretty wet and the ground sodden, I joined the road cyclists in Redhill Cycling Club to regain some level of fitness. Gradually increasing my ability, I progressed from their Beginner to Intermediate group. Joining a gym for the first time ever, I take up their spinning and Pilates classes. My core muscles are pants where previously I'd only ever worked on my legs. Two Pilates sessions a week slowly enhanced my stomach improving my overall body control.
Following a week snowboarding, which was fantastic, I pick up a sinus infection curtailing my training for a month. This was quite a set back as I needed to improve my fitness for the events in the summer.
Picking myself up, I enter the Muc-Off 8 as a pair with friend Keith using this as a target for my training. The 8 mile course was really muddy and hilly providing little respite for recovery during each lap. Together we manage 8 laps achieving 4th Place out of 21. Not a bad position.
At the end of April I jumped at an opportunity to take a bike skills course. Having never previously received any formal bike training, this was a new concept for me. Wow! There's so much for me to learn and what I did learn made such a difference. I now have so much more confidence in going down hill fast and doing a manual is easy.
In May I tackle my first long ride for many months, 9 months in fact, where I do the Trial Break 100k on the South Downs. Using my newly acquired bike skills I do reasonably well whilst learning some valuable lessons.
The next couple of weeks sees me on my home territory of the North Downs where I ride the training loops I devised last year in preparation for the South Downs Double. Completing a 40 and a 50 mile rides, both in personal best times, I know my fitness is improving.