How not to prepare for a 24hr race

5 May

Well the British and European 24hr Solo champs are upon us this weekend, I’ve been very excited all week but not enough to do any actual packing it would seem (Rule No.1: Start Preparing in Good Time).

Mostly I’ve still been working long hours, getting home tired about 8pm (Rule No. 2: Get plenty of good sleep in the week leading up to your race), sacking off bike building until tomorrow (Rule No.3: Don’t turn up to the race with a bag full of bits) and getting up at 5:30am to do it all again.  I did manage to get out on the bike on Wednesday to work and back just to keep moving and felt quite loose which was nice.

I’ve sort of got a bike ready. It just needs spanky wheels (Picking up from On-One in the morning) a suspension fork (currently in Cardiff) chainrings (Newport) stem and seatpost (Somewhere in Sussex I think) and then I have maybe 3 possibilities for spare bike in various stages of build from not mine but almost complete to ideal but currently split down into its constituent atoms and quite probably missing some vital ingredients. Despite this I’m actually quite calm – infact I’m finding it quite amusing and its distracting me from the impending ass-kicking and hours of misery in storms that are forecast.

I’m going to pack everything bike related I own into the van in the morning and set off, hit the supermarket on the way too and might be at Newcastleton by mid afternoon. then it’ll be out with the tools.

Someone called me the last minute man last week.  They don’t know how right they were!

This is an odd contrast to Strathpuffer where I was super prepared but also very highly strung but then there things didn’t go to plan the night before despite my efforts to try and control everything.  It was only when I calmed down and started going with the flow that things started to go right so this time I’m just going to keep my head and I’m sure everything will come together.

Updates might be made via twitter (@Spanky_Mike) over the weekend,  apathy and phone signal permitting, along with more golden rules of 24hr racing as and when I break them.

Shakedown Part 3 + Taper

2 May

On the Monday Mark and I climbed Ilkley Moor before I left to retrace my steps back to Hebden Bridge.  After a good feed I hit the Pennine Bridleway which would take me all the way back to Middleton Top.  I had considered that I could try and do it all in one hit but time was moving on after my leisurely lunch and I had my bivvy packed again so it didn’t matter anyway.  I was starting to like riding in this way; with no curfew and no set end to the ride, it put me at ease and I was afforded a great freedom, rare for me these days, to just enjoy the ride.

My legs enjoyed the ride too as it happens – I was really starting to feel confidence in my endurance ability coming back.  The start was stiff but as the day wore on my legs just seemed to stop reporting pain and quietly did whatever was asked of them.  After around 30 miles I’d settled into a groove and the ground just rolled beneath my wheels in a steady tempo with the minimum of fuss or resistance.   I was calm and happy.

Eventually the bubble burst though.  Signage in the Greater Manchester area was a bit poor and I messed about a bit finding the way through before running out of water, ironically by three massive reservoirs.  By the time I reached Tintwhistle I was fully dry and stopped at a pub to refuel.

Go on then – I may as well have a chicken Jalfrezi too.

In order to make a good night of it I decided I should bivvy in the dark Peak area and give myself a decent ride the next day so I opted to make for Roych Clough by dark and then find somewhere fun to sleep.  Friday night’s bivvy was great but really from the point of view of testing my kit, it was far too good.  Fortunately the weather had become a little less clement though not too bad.  The temperature at least would drop a bit more so I could get a better idea if I had the right balance of weight and warmth.  Topping out above highgate and approaching Roych Clough I spotted the biggest lump of ground in the immediate vicinity, a peak called south head, and pushed to the top.  The wind getting up a bit by now and as I reached the cairn at the top there was no cover whatsoever.  Perfect I thought; this will give me a good chance to see how comfortable my sleeping kit could be in less than ideal conditions.  The temperature was about 5degC and with the wind chill it was doing a good impression of being quite a bit colder.  If I stuck really close to the ground in the little depression I found then the wind wasn’t so bad.  I weighed down the bivvy bag with my remaining kit, inflated my thermarest and slipped inside.

For a minute there I almost drifted off too but then the needle of the wind-o-meter swung from ‘not that bad actually’ all the way through ‘quite unpleasant now’ and on to ‘everything is going to blow away very soon’.  The covers that were gently flapping under my chin were now battering me in the face.  I tried everything to keep the bag from blowing about but the wind kept upping the stakes.  Eventually it was time to get off the hill.

Somewhat lower and more sheltered I nodded off and woke early morning.  I was happy enough that I could keep warm in my bag without trying that again.

The 50 miles home were fairly un-eventful, my legs kept grinding it out without a hint of complaint.  I climbed out of Cheedale like had been flattened out for me.  It wasn’t fast but pedaling somehow felt as automatic and incidental as breathing and my mind wandered.  A stop for a sausage butty at Parsley Hay and I was still home before lunch.  All in all a cracking few days riding and a good little adventure.  I’ve learnt a lot about my bikepacking set up – a few tweaks and bits and pieces and I reckon i’ll be sorted – plus the constant days in the saddle and the effort of and XC race in the middle have given me the last big training effort I wanted 2 weeks before the UK and European 24hr Champs.  With any luck it might not be so bad after all…

P.s. Another little race…

As its taken me so long to finish this little story the Wiggle Enduro 6 has come and gone too.  A chap at my local cycling club, the Derby Mercury was looking for a pairs partner so I thought why not.  My legs had been stiff all week from last weekends excursions and even gentle road ride Saturday morning was a struggle so I was apprehensive about the night time trial but I went and did it anyway.  I could have done better but it was fun and by the end of it I felt like I had burnt through the sluggishness I had been feeling the last couple of days.  Sunday came and I felt much more on it with consistent and respectable lap times.  The harder I rode the better I felt and though we didn’t trouble the top 10 the whole weekend felt like a success.

I can’t wait for the Solo champs next week.

Shakedown Part 2

29 Apr

On Friday I only managed 55 miles after the late start.  Working 5 days of hours in 4 days each week normally means I still wake up at dawn on my days off regardless, my brain unable to let go of the early morning routine.  Because of this little quirk in my sleeping pattern I was planning to be away early on the Saturday morning.  After such a good nights sleep though and having become very comfortable in my little hollow in the heather, it was difficult to prise myself out of the Bivvy Bag and it was nearly eight o’clock before I was rolling down towards Barber Booth.

Successfully negotiating my way down Jacob’s Ladder convinced me of the handling of the loaded bike.  Having all the luggage weight between my hands actually makes the whole bike very manageable.  As there’s no suspension, there’s no dive to worry about and I can guide the front wheel and extra weight over things knowing the back will just follow without any drama.  Any worries I had about going over the bars on steep stuff were unfounded.

Down in Edale I didn’t find anything open so the craving for coffee would have to wait until Fairholmes and I headed up to Jaggers Clough.  Its true what they say about big wheels giving better traction.  The steep, loose climb out of the ford was almost too easy; a sign that I was beginning to find my legs after the troubled first day although maybe I was flattered by the bike’s appetite for technical climbs.   The load too, rather than compromising my efforts, was keeping the front end down nicely and more than just tolerating the loaded set up; I was loving it!

At Hope Cross I took a left, followed the Roman Road and then branched off left to descend to Ladybower and on to the kiosk to find breakfast.  After coffee and a sausage butty I headed around Derwent on the west side to pick up the Cut Gate path.  I had a stab at the first part of the climb and then fettled the Bergen pouches into a makeshift back-pack to push the rest of the way to the top.  By this time it was about midday and there were plenty of other riders out enjoying the bone dry trails.  Maybe it was the visual presence of the packs up front but every rider I came across moved over immediately to give me a line through and there were plenty of positive comments like ‘bloody hell – good work with the loaded bike fella!’ as I picked my way over the technical bits with a nimbleness that belied the apparent clumsiness of such a packed out machine.  Once down the otherside I headed a little further north and picked up the trans-pennine trail to avoid the masses of holiday traffic on the Woodhead Pass and then got my head down on the Longendale trail to make the half one train from Hadfield into Manchester.

I didn’t really think too much about it until I was rolling up to KRO bar, a trendy danish bar and restaurant in the middle of picadilly gardens and suddenly I came over all self conscious and felt very out of place.  Perched on an outside table, on the corner, my friends came out in ones and two’s to visit me until one, Angus, decided there’d be no harm in asking if I could come in with it and to my surprise, he’d only gone and blagged it.   So that’s how I came to be ‘doing lunch’ sat in a city center restaurant in two day old riding kit that I’d slept on a moor in, dried mud crusted to my legs with my bike leant against the coat racks.

There appears to be something about a bike with luggage on that appeals to people’s sense of adventure and I’m sure I wouldn’t have got such a warm reception had it not looked like I was in the middle of some kind of journey.  All good though and I had a cracking lunch and caught up with some friends I haven’t seen in years.  Then I was on my way again and caught the train out to Littleborough to continue my trip.

I badly needed a few bits before the Nutcracker Race at Gandale in the Yorkshire Dales the next day so I time-trialled it down the road to Hebden Bridge and made it to Blazing Saddles 5 minutes before closing, got sorted and hit the Calderdale-Airedale link to Haworth before dropping into Keithley and finally climbing over the moor and down into Ilkley in time for dinner at my mate Mark’s.

On Sunday, after a cheeky coffee at the Dales Bike Center, we headed to Gandale near Catterick for round 1 of the Nutcracker Series.  Not having an XC license I entered the sport race which was one of the largest fields of the day.

The start was up hill with a rolling start and when the start siren went off I quickly slipped backwards.  My ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibres didn’t feel much like twitching but I figured I could let a few places go and rely on keeping a good pace later in the race when others were starting to tire.  I was after-all pre-tired from the last couple of days.

My legs entered the race halfway through lap one but my water bottle took an early exit and decided to get off before I even had chance to take a drink.  Not good – it was hot.  Down the fireroads though the 29er was properly rapid and near the end of the lap I bridged the gap to a group of riders who were giving chase to the leaders.  How many more were down the road though, I didn’t know but I tucked in to the group for a breather.  The track kicked up and before I had chance to decide whether an attack was a good idea or not I was off.  I got a good few hundred yards on the group and broke it up a little before I hit the rocky dry stream bed and, despite wandering slightly off course to find smoother trail, got a good kicking through the rigid fork and lost the ground I’d taken and a couple of places to boot.

On lap 2 with the heat and incessant pressure from riders behind I became very uncomfortable. I was gagging for a drink and didn’t think I’d make it through 4 laps.  I tried to relax a bit and made my aim to keep going and not lose too many places.  By the end of lap 3 I’d forgotten how thirsty I was and starting to get closer to the rider in front again.  Finally people were starting to tire.  On the last lap I took back what turned out to be third place with a strong attack to deter the chase and I got enough of  a gap to hold on to it through the rocky bits but was looking behind me all the way to the line.

It may only have been a sport race but there were some strong riders out and I very was happy with that.  I’m definitely no short course racer and normally get my ass kicked on a good day so to finish on the podium after 130-odd miles the previous couple of days felt pretty good.  Maybe that’s how I should prepare for XC races in future.

After seeing Ant, Rich and On-one rider Dan Cook (who thought I’d fallen off, I was that dirty from now 3 days on the bike) fight it out in the vets we headed back to Ilkley where Mark got the barbeque on and I prepared for the trip home again…

5 day shakedown

27 Apr

Last time I brought you a torrent of words, so this time here’s some pictures.

Starting with the new Carbon 29er; fresh out of the box…

To me it is slightly ugly but in a good, functional, way.   Some females I know thought it looked better than my Whippet though so that shows you what I know.  Words like elegant and dangerous were used – all good then.  I do like the understated profile and the big decal on the down tube mind….

Built up with a few borrowed bits and taken out onto Ilkley Moor, it certainly started to grow on me…

…and with a number board on it was looking like a real race weapon, although with the safety catch on at Dalby forest, evidently…


This week then I dropped the rigid forks on and had my first crack at ‘bikepacking’ ready for the Tour Divide  (basically carrying the bare minimum gear for Bivvying out on your bike).  The whole challenge is to come up with as light a set up as possible by taking the very least kit you can get away with and stowing on the bike as such as you can still cover ground at a good rate.  I chose not to go for the usual bags popular with bikepackers, those of Revelate Designs and the like.  Their bags come highly recommended and with good reason, but they are also very expensive.  Economy was one reason to look for an alternative methods, the other is that I’m a designer and so naturally I like to think I can come up with something myself that’s just as good.

Early efforts were based around the idea of Alpkits Airlok dry bags; cheap and very lightweight.  With one strapped behind the seat, one under the bars and a third on aero bar extensions I thought I could get everything I needed squirreled away but they rubbed the back of my legs when pedalling, were a faff to get in and out of and I wasn’t sure about durability.

When I took the side pods off my Bergen, however, things looked more promising…

The great thing about Bergens is they’re squaddie-proof which means they’ll survive just about anything.  These side pouches are also about 15ltrs each so between the two of them they hold pretty much all the gear I need.  That bottom one contains a Rab Storm Bivvy Bag, a cheap (but actually quite good and very light) Quechua sleeping bag, a soon-to-be-replaced-with-silk poly-cotton sleepingbag liner and a full length Thermarest.  I’m yet to decide on my final set up for the divide but I’m liking the idea of a full length sleeping mat and a lighter bag Vs a heavier bag and 3/4 mat because a lot of heat can be lost to the ground and warm feet makes for a good night’s sleep. Plus I can always stick a few extra clothes on.

In the top pod there’s a bunch of other stuff like waterproofs, warmer layers, phone/lights/GPS chargers, food, socks, gloves etc plus some ballast (books) to account for any extra weight as I add things ready for the trip.  I’ll post up a final kit list when I’ve got it all together but hopefully it won’t be any heavier than what I tested with here and it might even be a bit lighter.  Initially I was a little concerned about having all the weight over the bars but actually its not as heavy and clumsy as it looks.  Together the two packs on the bars weigh about 6kg (by the time I reach New Mexico I reckon I’ll have lost at least half of that off my body) and as they zip together and secure around the bars with clips and webbing the whole thing is very stable.  In fact, the extra mass helps damp the front end nicely too.  An extra benefit of the Bergen pods is that they clip off the bars in seconds and can be clipped to a harness allowing me to put 90% of my luggage on my back for extended hike-a-bike sections.  This was particularly useful pushing up Cut Gate at the weekend.  On the seat-tube then there’s a small seatpack with tools and tubes and another tube taped to the post.  On the back there’s a SPOT tracker.  I did activate it for my test but the site was down over the weekend so it wasn’t tracking in the end.  When I left the house, with 2 full water bottles (1.5kg) and about 800g of food the whole package weighed in at 18.8 kg.  Given these wheels were borrowed off my commuter until my lighter ones come I can shed a good bit of that still.

I headed out about half past one on Friday afternoon, way later than planned but it didn’t really matter – I had lights and a Bivvy bag – there was no rush!

I headed up to High Peak Junction on the road before picking up the High Peak Trail.  Along the way I spotted a Revelate Designs frame bag which was attached to the bike under a chap called Steve Wilkinson.  It turned out Steve has completed the Tour Divide and the Great Divide Race as well as the Iditabike and will be heading out to the Colorado Trail Race this summer so has a wealth of experience in this type of thing.  We had a brief chat and he imparted some good advice, mainly about getting out from the end of the race which could take as much as 36hrs itself.

I headed on up the trail to Cheedale, got defeated in the heat by the super-steep climb out of the limestone gorge (above) but pressed on.  By the time I got to Roych Clough I was mad hungry and out of water so in Hayfield I stopped at the Royal Hotel for a steak sandwich.  Knowing I wasn’t going to get much further I began to plan a route that would give me somewhere good to sleep but also some good riding in the morning before heading into Manchester for lunch to see my friend Saskia who is emigrating to New Zealand.  I headed for Jacobs Ladder and by the time I got to the top the sun was setting and having remembered seeing this on Al Humphreys site during the week I decided this would be a great place to bed down for the night.

The night was perfect for sleeping outside and I drifted off staring directly upwards at the big dipper.

…and as if that wasn’t enough, waking to a view like this in the morning is a very good thing…

to be continued…

Two week torrent

19 Apr

Well life is cracking on at quite a pace at the moment, it feels like I’m rapidly freefalling towards two of the biggest events of the year.

First the UK and European 24hr champs which I am becoming increasingly more excited, yet also less confident about every day. But they’ll happen and I’ll be there and give it my best shot, hopefully I get a number 8 board this year after last years effort and I also hope I can improve on it.  Whatever happens it will be another awesome event.  Last year’s was the best mtb race I’ve ever been to.  The atmosphere was exciting and you could really feel like you were part of somthing special, just being there.  This time round there’ll be more people and more excitement for sure.  I can’t wait.

Secondly and pretty much taking center stage in my life at the moment is thoughts and preparations for June’s big exciting and daunting trip – the Tour Divide.  For those that don’t know the Tour Divide, have a scratch around Google and You Tube – its a big ‘un and there’s plenty written about it.  I have my flights booked, my lovely carbon 29er is here thanks to On-One, my Satellite tracker is here.  I’ve got nearly everything I need and I’m going for a 5 day trip this easter to test my gear, get used to bivvying out and covering lots of miles off-road.  The plan (such as there is one): I am going to ride from here (Derby) up the Pennine Bridalway and over to Ilkley and bivvy on Ilkley Moor.  Then if I can make it I will head back into Manchester and catch up with my friend Sas, who is emigrating soon, for lunch before heading back to Ilkley to my mate Mark’s.  Sunday we’ll head to Catterick for the Nut Cracker XC race and then I’ll ride back to Derby with a bivvy stop on the way.  That’s the plan anyway but you can bet your life it won’t happen like that.  It should make an interesting tale though if I ever get to tell it.

Speaking of which the last couple of weekends there’s been plenty happening but I haven’t found the time to get enough sleep, let alone write about it, so here’s a bit of a torrent of recent happenings and maybe you can fill in the gaps yourself.

Built Whippet

Raced in Wales

Wrist fixed – all good

Mid week TTs started – 5sec off a PB on first night

Raleigh Pro showed up to show us how its done.

Carbon 29er frame and forks arrived.

Builth Wells Marathon, wasn’t expecting so much of a race – don’t know why?

Started too fast

Took out Luke by accident

(Sorry!)

Went the wrong way

Went slow for a bit

Went fast for a bit

Went slow for a bit more

Went dizzy in the heat

Sat down for a bit

Finished in just under 4hrs

Midweek TT – 55sec slower – Oh dear!

Visited the Planet X / On One Showroom. Very Nice.

Built the Carbon 29er (Pics as soon as my Paps mail me) Thanks to Guy for the bits.

Went for a ride ont’Moor

Skills accreditation session at Manchester Velodrome

Raced at Dalby

Ace course!

I dug part of that course many moons ago but never raced there.

Went for a practice

29er was ace down Worry Gill

Lost track of time

Made the start with seconds to spare

Had to start at the back, tight lines, hard to pass.

Chainring fell off

10 min later got going again (cheers Eoin!)

Rejoined as Elites were coming through.

Looked fast for a bit

Got distracted

Got bored

Did 3 laps and called it a day

Enjoyed the sun

Hung out with friends

Enjoyed the drive home

TT tonight

Set a PB

Course record fell

Those two events are not connected!

Wasn’t feeling strong.

I can go faster!

Time to sleep again.

Welsh Series Round 3

5 Apr

Due to disappearance of Mojo (more on that later) and a recurring wrist injury first picked up at Coed y Brenin I’d been off the mountain bike for 5 weeks recovering. I’ve been putting some big miles in on the road and been holding on in some pretty rapid chaingangs recently so training hasn’t been going too bad but I really needed to get some saddle time in off-road and I’d held out on the wrist as long as I could.  It was time to enter a proper XC race, my first in a very long time.  In fact if we are talking proper XC race I haven’t done one since the NEMBA series back in my teens.

I’d also just built up a rather spanky new race weapon: a Carbon Whippet from On-One that had actually arrived a few weeks before but due to moving house and injury combo I’d been able to practice some rare self discipline and put off finishing the build so I wouldn’t ride it.   Now it was finished though and I was ready to baptize it in the fires of battle (or at least a soggy North Wales Forest) at Round 3 of the Welsh Mountain Bike series which was back at the scene of the crime in Coed y Brenin.

So, just to recap, that’s first ride back from injury, first XC race since forever, on a brand new bike I haven’t ridden yet on the very trail that smashed my wrist up in the first place. Very fitting and not in the least bit foolish.

I thought how hard can it be though and filled my boots with carbs, forgot to do any riding on Friday and Saturday and showed up there itching to go, but not knowing what was going to hit me on Sunday afternoon.  Quick practice lap and I didn’t like the fast rocky fireroad much or the big rock slab singletrack much and winced every time I hit anything hard but the bike was quietly doing its thing while being extremely stiff and light but still a little bit comfortable.  Its not a shouty bike, it was just getting on with the job, no fuss like.  There was a bit of flex from the short front end in the tighter turns but most of that could be put down to a flexy stem and the fact I haven’t been able to bring myself to take the saw to the carbon steerer tube just yet. There wasn’t a murmur of twist from the back end though and when my legs were fresh, it just went.

The race start was great, my legs were brimming with energy for the first half a lap and despite being gridded five rows back I almost made contact with the Elite field up the long first climb.  On the descent I decided to stay off the brakes and hoped to skip across the loose rocks but that went badly wrong and I wobbled awkwardly at speed into a rocky gully like I was in a 70s comedy film.  Fortunately I wobbled out again and only lost the one place.

In the next singletrack section I got a little stuck behind a Columbia Bikefood rider before numerous thwarted overtaking attempts saw me eventually getting frustrated and taking a rather shady line on the inside of a berm and cutting him up.  He took it well though and I shouted sorry and hit the gas to make the move stick.  All that work was undone though when I gave away a handful of places where the course split around a drop and the faster exit from the ‘chicken line’ we’d looked at in practice didn’t pay off and my mate Si profited at the second split though he took the slower line and we nearly took each other out as the course re-joined and we both tried to occupy the same bit of trail.

The next little climb was slippy and rooty and a rider ahead stalled, as did Si behind him and the effort of trying to keep the bike moving with my wheels slipping over the roots meant that I’d soon out-pedaled my lungs and by the time we got to the top of the section I could barely breathe.  I had nothing left to give chase with and had to watch Si pedal away.  For the next two laps I backed off slightly into a more comfortable pace.  There was something I couldn’t put my finger on that made it difficult to push hard, my position on the bike was awkward but there was also a slight chill over the surface of my muscles and a sensation of impending cramp from within. I labored on and on lap 4 took a gel.  Things started to get better and I was reeling people in they were appearing to get tired.

At the start of lap 5 I caught a Cookson’s Cycles rider and he picked up the pace and took my wheel.  I attacked a couple of times thinking he’d be tired and I could shake him off but my attacks lacked any depth and each time he got back up to me and so we had a little chat instead.  Over the top I gained a few bike lengths and got a gap down the decent but then my chain bounced off and became tangled up twisting the links through 90 degrees and stopping me for almost two minutes.  I lost several places and finished up on a rather sedate last lap with not enough time to catch anyone and rolled over the line 13th overall including the expert and elites categories.

It would have been nice to finish hard but all in all not a bad effort.  I went fast for a bit, hurt for the rest and thankfully the wrist appears to be mended so I’m happy with that.

A Blog Resurrection

23 Mar

A year ago I started this blog, the original intention being to log my first years experience as a newcomer, let’s say, to the serious end of endurance racing. After a few months and for a few reasons I let it slide; I have a bad habit into going into a lot of detail in race reports and posts, not always a bad thing but it does take a lot of time and effort to sit down and write.

Just as the racing got interesting, so time got short and the first monster race report didn’t get finished, the next few races came thick and fast and once I was a few reports behind there didn’t seem to be much point any more.

Looking back at my first post on here though I realise just how far I have come. I never imagined at that time I’d be sitting here 12 months later having won a 24hr Solo race. I’ve learnt so much about racing and myself that it’s a shame not to have captured it as it happened.

All is not lost though; I’ve decided to crank it back up again and fortunately I still remember most of the important bits and intend to go back and fill in the gaps in parallel with tales of new adventures, albeit shorter and more frequently this time around.

There are plans afoot for a proper website and lots of other exciting things so the look and maybe the name of this might change a bit but plans have changed so many times over the winter, and continue to even now, that I just want to get an outlet for my ramblings again without any more waiting.

So here it is – back again, lighter, more streamlined but hopefully more robust and ready for action.

Just like me.

Feeling Exposed

19 May

Exposure 24, the solo 24hr National Championships is less than 3 days away now and I’m sitting here wondering where has the spring gone?

On the one hand I think I’m in as good a shape as I’ve ever been and I’m definitely getting faster but the step change from half-arsed leisure rider to being competitive hasn’t gone exactly as I imagined.  A training regime is a difficult thing to adjust to when you’re not used to it and there’s plenty of things that get in the way, equipment needing servicing, the weather, the need for sleep, employment etc, all very inconvenient and not necessarily the things you think of when you set out but that’s the reality of it.  There’s been times when training has been going great; full weeks of hard riding or multiple days of long miles but there’s also been times when I kind of fall off motivationally, sit around the house doing nothing when I meant to get out early on the bike.  Morning slips into afternoon and the plan for an all day mtb ride becomes a consessionary road bike ride before I realise that the road bike needs fettling and by the time I’ve done that it’ll be getting dark.

On the whole though over the last 3 or 4 months there has been continuous riding and training the like of which I’ve never had before and even if the mileage count won’t knock you over, its still been well over 600 hard miles a month but the main thing is that I have achieved the mindset I need to be a more competative racer and that has been a transition you perhaps couldn’t have explained to me 3 months ago, so maybe I’m being too hard on myself.

Here we are then, with possibly the most significant 24hr race the UK has ever seen ready to kick off on Saturday and I’ve been tipped as a contender.  Well that’s a bit of a turn up for the books; I am probably the most unlikely of anyone on that list and everyone there has serious credibility, so much so that I feel quite out of my depth.  With that too, I have lost the safety net of anonymity; Exposure 24 will be the first 24hr race where I will line up with the expectation of putting on a performance, rather than exploring my own abilities and enjoying a personal challenge so it will be a very new experience.  I’m not setting my ambitions any higher than aiming for a top 10 though and I’m even hesitating to type that: if I achieve top 15 or top 20 I will be very happy indeed.

Yet with all the anxiety over racing the big boys I am quietly confident that I have enough resolve and endurance to finish the race and that counts for a lot in a solo 24.  All too often big favourites go out hard with what proves to be an unsustainable pace and in the small hours when real mental hurt comes, its too much and even they can crack; that’s what happened at sleepless and that’s how I got my podium, by tapping it out and moving through the field during the night.  Could that be how I might get my place in a top 10 already over-subscribed with big names? the more of them there are to tear each other’s legs off and break each other, the more may drop out.  I just need to make sure I stick to the plan and keep tapping it out again.

Another question I have been asking myself: ‘Am I in better form that I was at Sleepless last year?’ – I honestly don’t know.  Probably, and if not then I’m not far off.  Overall this year I didn’t expect to start the season with top form: I will be looking to improve through racing and so my results should get better throughout the summer with my main targets being at Sleepless and maybe 24/12.  This means I take the pressure off myself a little in the first couple of events and I’m doing four solos this year there is a good chance of burning out by July if I’m not careful.  Exposure is a big deal though so I won’t be holding back.  It will also be the first 24hr race of the year for many others too so there’s a good chance that not everyone will be at their full potential yet either.  One can live in hope at least!

What I do know is that 24hrs is a long time and many things can happen.  For me this is a good.thing – I can go out and ride my race, discover my form and still have time to light the blue touch paper later in the race and that’s the way I like it. Whatever happens Exposure 24 is going to be epic and it’ll be the best thing to happen to UK endurance racing.  I feel very lucky to have moved to a position for it where people are starting to seeing me as a worthy competitor and where I can get a meaningful insight into what it takes to be knocking on the door to the top end of endurance mountain bike racing.  Despite big nerves building this week, my prevailing feelings are still of massive excitement.

I should also mention that my good friend Guy Kesteven will be supporting me at Exposure 24.  Guy is great to have around when I need encouragement and understands the moodswings of racing well and, like just about everyone that has anything to do with this race, he’s also very excited about it.  Before Sleepless 2009 I’d not had any support and asking friends to give up their weekend to make sure I shoveled enough cake down my throat and push me back out on course when I want to sleep seemed a bit primadonna-ish especially when I didn’t expect to be getting the results.  At Sleepless though, where I had the good fortune to be adopted by Rod Dean’s pit crew of Mr Leitch and the Exposure guys, I found out just how much difference a good ‘pit bitch’ can make so having Guy along gives me great confidence.

So then… all my gear is sitting in the lounge ready to throw in the van in the morning and after work I’m headed north. If I’m not ready now its tough luck!

Fred or Dead: Part 2

17 May

I was frustrated to lose the quick group and set about fixing the tyre without much much urgency but rather enjoyed the novelty of my first time fitting tubular tyres and using the CO2 inflation.  I tried not to think about what could happen on the descent of Honister if I made a balls up of it.  When two decent sized groups of quick riders went by though, the first containing wheelbase Mike who had dropped off the back of the other group on Kirkstone, I got my act together, finished up and set off in pursuit.  After a couple of miles down the road the new tyre was making an odd ticking noise each rotation and I decided to stop where the route hit the A66 to check it out.  I couldn’t find anything wrong with it in the end and lost more time but it was better that than ending up sliding down the road on my face later.

On the A66 I had little choice but to get as low as possible on the bike and put the hammer down as there weren’t any quick riders around.  I caught several groups of more leisurely riders quickly as the traffic had backed up behind them and I cheekily drafted a few cars and trucks to make my way up the road.  Eventually after a couple of miles of time trial action I reached a group that looked like it might contain some handy riders.  The group was fragmented though and not working together so I decided to accelerate away.  It was only when I’d got a few hundred yards down the road did they get together and give chase.  They caught me and I joined the group to recover but ready to do my bit when required and the group just fell apart again, no one wanting to take the work up front, as we pulled out of Keswick then I got fed up, hit the gas again and moved away.  By this time I didn’t care if I hit the bottom of Honister in a state – the idea now was to have a killer training ride, my chances of a good time had already gone.

I took to a time trial like pace again for a few miles putting plenty of distance between me and the other group and eventually caught two riders in Honister 92 jerseys.  The three of us worked well together for a while before sitting up and chatting a little as Honister loomed into view and we gathered ourselves to take it on.  Honister is the first of the very steep passes and arguably the second hardest climb on the Fred, partly because it is longer than Wrynose but also because its the first steep one and hits you hard sending your heart rate through the roof early on with no chance to get a rhythm.  Two riders from the A66 group, one in a Katusha top and another smaller guy in KMB kit, caught me half way up the steep section.  Both were clearly better climbers than me and had the physiques to match.  They moved up the hill with much less effort and started to disappear into the distance until the gradient relaxed a bit and I was able to keep them in sight.  Over the top and down the other side and I had thankfully completely forgotten about my hastily fitted tubs, even when passing the paramedics tending to the inevitable downed rider.  This section is super steep and NOT the place to crash, even so with a smooth line and looking far ahead I found myself easing off the brakes more and more and quickly passing numerous riders including the two riders who had done me on the climb.

I reached the checkpoint at Buttermere just ahead of the KMB rider and, knowing we were heading for Newlands Pass straight after I ‘dibbed’ quickly and gave him the slip.  Both he and the Katusha guy, predictably, caught me on the climb but they’d clearly put in an effort to do so as, when I turned round to give a bit of banter acknowledging our little battle, there was no reply and I was able to pull away a little again to prolong the fight.  Sure enough though their power to weight ratio did me again but by this time we were almost at the top and as it leveled out I was able to catch up before making my getaway on the descent.  I was from there to Whinlatter I was able to put a decent distance between us just by descending quicker but I hit a dead stop when traffic was backed up in Braithwaite and a marshal held me and some other riders at the junction for a good minute.  When we got going again and exiting Braithwaite, Katusha guy and KMB man appeared from a side street, obviously missing the jammed junction and were right back on my case – cheeky!

KMB man had probably had enough by this point, or maybe his smaller frame lacked the power as I didn’t see him for a bit and Katusha guy and me were locked in another battle.  He put a couple of hundred meters into me as I struggled to keep back cramp but then I got a rhythm I could hold and he didn’t get any further away.  I heard the familiar cries of “put him in the Hurt Locker!” from a certain Ian Leitch standing on the side of the road, it wasn’t directed at me but it gave me enough encouragement to mount a fresh attack and I started reeling Katusha guy back in again.  As in the previous year the top of Whinlatter was full of people cheering and that gave me all the encouragement I needed to put in an effort that saw me catch him.  By the top he was more talkative and we chatted a bit before he said ‘you’ll burn me in these s-bends’ and backed off as the road got steeper and faster again.

Yet another descent and another getaway and I was starting to hurt but then so was everyone else.  The next few hills we smaller but the terrain was trying  – crucially I was starting to run out of food and water and rationing them only added to the fatigue.  I conceded to eat everything I had left and stop at the next feed station to re-fuel.  Approaching the bottom of Cold Fell my tyre was starting to feel soft again so I had to stop to top it up with the last of the CO2 again and yet again I was caught and passed but this time I was quite a way back.  Cold fell is my type of climb though, shallower gradient and long, by the top I had caught them all and by the descent it was the same old getaway.  I stopped at Calderbridge only to get passed again and find I had much more water that I thought, then at Irton Pike it was Katusha guy’s turn for a pit-stop and by the roll in to Hardknott we were all together again but I knew what would happen next.

Hardknott is the climb where you concentrate on putting the next pedal stroke in because that’s all you think you can manage, then you go for the next one and the one after that and eventually you end up near the top with one last push to make.  Every time I climb that hill I don’t think I’m going to make it and every time I get to the top I still don’t feel like it should have been possible, like somehow I’ve cheated and slipped by while gravity wasn’t looking.  By the top my front tyre was soft again, like nearly flat soft, I tried the CO2 again but in vain and set off gingerly on the descent.  Wrynose was hard but manageable in the wake of Hardknott and knowledge it was the last push but the bodies of the broken and tired were littered around the final few hundred meters.  By the descent my tyre was just about flat and when I hit the cattle grid near the bottom that was the final nail in the coffin (in fact I thought the rim was going to shatter).  I tried to re-fit the original tyre and get more gas out of the half spent canister but it was no use.  Around the corner a guy gave me the rest of his CO2 and that got me a couple of miles down the road before it was dead flat again.  After a mile or so of riding on the rim I borrowed a pump of a marshal and got a modest amount of air into the tyre.  There was only a few miles left to go and a guy passed me an shouted ‘jump on!’  I started to say it was a bad idea to go his speed with a flat tyre but then went anyway and held on.  My GPS was reading slightly out and it wasn’t as far as I thought back to Conniston.  I was pleased to make it back and totally surprised to scrape into the ‘elite’ category by the skin of my teeth with a time of 6 hours and 59 minutes and 19 seconds.  I was pretty happy with that considering everything.

PHEW!

Fred or Dead: Part 1

13 May

The affectionately named 'Murder Bike' breaks its all black stealth regime with swanky Bonty climbing wheels, ready to take a few scalps at the Fred.

Last weekend was the 2010 Fred Whitton Challenge. After finishing last year’s event a semi gibbering idiot after going too hard at the start, getting caught in the hail at the top of Hardknott Pass, blowing up on the run back into Coniston yet still setting a respectable time, I said I wouldn’t bother again. It was a great event but one I’d ticked off the list and I had no need to go back.

Well, that was before I decided to get serious about endurance racing this year. Fast forward nine months and the Fred presented itself as the ideal line in the sand, a good time on what is regarded as the UK’s hardest one day mass ride was there to be bear

The Fred comes at a very handy time too; being well positioned to be a good tester of form ahead of the start of summer racing as well as a chance for one last hardcore training ride to bring that form up to scratch. There are then no excuses for holding back – the only way I could have a bad ride at the Fred is if I had to pull out or just didn’t try hard enough. Going too hard too early – like last year can’t really be considered to be a mistake then. In fact it probably should be encouraged

As in the ’09 Fred I had the pleasure of riding with Mick Style of the Manchester Wheelers. Mick is an experienced road racer and also North West Vets Cyclocross champ and knows the Fred Whitton route very well so is great to ride with and watch as he’s always well positioned in a group of riders, hard riding and yet able to pace himself well through the ride.

8am is usually when the serious club lads start and to stand any chance of a fast time it pays to be in the main group of the day, especially when it gets to the A66 and turns into one big chaingang. This year was no exception, as we made our way down to the start we a large and likely group of riders ready for the off. Among them were plenty of the smart new white jerseys of the local ‘Honister 92’ road team and also Mike from wheelbase, a strong rider who we’d ridden with for most of the previous year’s event.

‘Dibbing’ to start the timing and hitting the road, the pace was immediately high and about 8 white jerseys took to the front as the group, some 30 strong and growing as we swept up riders ahead on the road, became strung out in single file. By the bottom of Kirkstone Pass, with one climb out of the way, the average speed was over 20mph. I shouted to Mick that we should try to keep with the group over Kirkstone, to save ourselves the hard chase back on we had last time, but we were both a little unsure as the pace was a little too hot for comfort. Fortunately as we got the climb the white jerseys relented and the group climbed steadily before reforming a little lighter in number and resuming the charge on the fast flat to Ullswater. We were making very good time in the main group and weren’t far from the A66 but for me it wasn’t going to last.

Cresting Matterdale end my front tyre was feeling soft, then very soft, I said goodbye to Mick and pulled over, the ultra-light Bontrager climbing wheels I’d borrowed for the day were tubular carbon types so I was praying I wouldn’t get any trouble with them, although its possible to ride on a flat ‘tub’ we were only 25 miles in and another 80-odd isn’t really an option. Fortunately I had a spare tyre and CO2 inflation kit but approximately zero experience fitting tubs.

To be continued…