Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Three Peaks Cyclocross 2012

5th 3 Peaks. 50th edition. Just turned Vet 50. It all added up (in my mind at least) to giving it a bloody good go. I'd worked hard at getting fit over the last few months with pretty much everything geared up to the Peaks. I'd get asked what I wanted to achieve - sub 4 hours? high up the field? I knew neither of those were realistic but inside I really wanted to stop my trend of getting slower every year. The signs were good - a great ride at the 'Ride with Brad' sportive, a pretty decent time for a Singlespeed ride on the Mary Towneley Challenge and some reasonable fell race results. I was feeling good.
Finally the week of the race arrived. I was sensible. I tapered. I took Vit C and avoided people who were even mildly ill. Inside I felt a kind of giddy excitement. When asked if I was ready I could honestly say 'yes'. No nerves, no worries, no doubts. The weather forecast began to be mentioned with increasing regularity on Twitter. It was pretty bad. Strangely even this did nothing to affect my mood. I'd trained hard, the bike was right. I could do nothing about the conditions and, after all, they would be the same for everyone.
If you're reading this then I guess you already have a fair idea of the conditions on the day of the race. Other people's blogs, the photographs and stories are already mythologising the 50th Three Peaks. So, how was it for me? It was tough. Maybe the toughest thing I've done for a good few years. Yes, there were 50 mph winds. Yes, the rain peppered you like shot. Streams became torrents, puddles became lakes. Any hope of a decent time soon faded. Bizarrely what didn't fade was my feeling of euphoria. The worse it got, the more alive I felt. This was wild in all senses of the word. I could trot out hackneyed phrases about elemental battles and conquering mountains etc etc. I'll save you all that, there's plenty of it elsewhere. The upshot is, when all the rhetoric is done, it all boils down to some numbers. I recorded a PW. 4 hours 39 minutes.

Immediately after finishing I was gabbling excitedly to other racers and were also buzzing. Wandering off to find Cath and Hannah and the warmth of the car, I became aware that I was shaking and it wasn't excitement. Teeth chattering and soaked to the skin, I thanked my lucky stars when the car arrived just as I got to the road and I was able to peel my sodden kit off and get some food inside me. Then it was time to reflect. My feelings veered between two polar opposites: I was disappointed to be unable to record a good time despite all the work I had put in. I'm not sure how much longer I can keep battering my body, especially my arthritic knees, so the amount of races I do in future is going to start lessening. On the other hand I had survived an event that, I'm sure, will be spoken of in hushed tones in years to come. Not only survived it but had actually loved it.

The 50th Three Peaks Cyclocross race. I was there.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Half a hundred

I turned 50 the other day. People say it's a milestone. I'd say it's more of a millstone. People say it's only a number. Yes, a bloody big number. I think in my subconcious it's been niggling me for quite a while. In a way I think I've been feeling that I was already 50 for ages and yet in other ways I was slightly amazed that it actually happened. I don't think I'm your average 50 year old - riding bikes, running and listening to loud noisy music - but then, maybe that's what everybody does. Hmm, maybe not.
Anyway, it's been looming over me for some time and not in a good way. I found myself becoming increasingly introspective, self critical and just generally bloody hard work. Of course I wasn't conciously aware that it was the 50 thing that was causing it. Maybe it wasn't, but I think it was certainly a contributing factor. Problems at work lead me into a fairly depressed state. There was a black cloud constantly over my head. Mentally I was in a pretty dark place at times.
I didn't really want to celebrate my birthday at all but eventually I decided that rather than having some 'do' what I would really like to do was just go for a drink with a few people that I genuinely liked. No mass invite, no formal bullshit. I got it organised that we would meet at the Sunnyhurst and walk over to the Royal and have a few bevvies before wandering back. There was a good turnout - about 20 or so. Sadly there were quite a few that I would have liked to have seen that night who couldn't make it for one reason or another.
It was a good night and I had a few good chats with people and I ended up pretty plastered and staggering home at 2.30am. It helped to know that I've got some good mates and it cheered me up a lot. Two other things that are helping are the new cross bike I got as an early birthday present. And - we've got a new dog. Sam is a collie pup and he's ace.
I am trying hard to put things into perspective and be more positive about life. I know that compared to most people in the world I am living in paradise and I am extremely lucky. Sadly it's not as easy as that. I'm hoping I've turned a corner though. Let's see how it goes.

Monday, 27 August 2012

On the whole... good!

We had a lovely family holiday in Asturias, Northern Spain. a lovely spot twixt mountains and beaches. Perfick. AND even better, Cath and I took our bikes.

We did all the usual holiday stuff, yada yada but we got to ride in some 'proper' mountains. Those Sierra's are steep rascals! The intense altitude training camp thang that was secretly brewing in my mind never actually happened but I did get some truly memorable rides with Cath and took in some great views, grovelling climbs and "weeeeohmygodohmygodweeee" descents - you know the type. The journey back home wasn't particularly restfull - Bay of Biscay up to it's old tricks and then a 300 mile drive. Ah well.

Once back in Blighty and back into the cut and thrust of top competition. Well, ok, I had a go at Darwen Dashers Uphill Challenge. I did the one last year and enjoyed the masochistic element of it. I think I might have come third, last time, behind Russ Owen and Mark France. I felt like I'd improved my fitness since then so I was feeling fairly confident about getting a good result. I think there was only about 10 of us turned up to take part, which was a bit poor. Linda and Jo had gone to a fair bit of trouble to organise it. Unfortunately for me one of the people that did turn up was Mark Walsh. Doh!
The format was - you set off at minute intervals from right down at the bottom end of Sunnyhurst Woods park, at the Hawkshaw Rd entrance. You then pelt along the flat bit towards the bandstand and then turn up towards the Lychgate. Through the gate at the top, left, right and then straight up the most direct route to the Tower and stop at the trig point. Easy , eh... :0/
Mark W had been drawn to start after me and Jonathan S a minute before. My goal was to catch one and not get caught by t'other. My heart was properly boucing off the rev limiter as I passsed Stubbsy just bbefore the Lychgate. Getting out oto the moor I could see a group ahead. Head down and do my best. as I got closer I could see it was Andrew the vicar, Gary Taylor and his son Gareth. Could I catch 'em? The Taylor were engaged in their own little battle and I just managed to draw level with Andrew on the steep little ascent to the Tower. He started to come back at me and I surprised myself by having enough left to sprint ahead. Such a painful challenge! When we got the results later I had been beaten by 'Usain' Walsh by 32 seconds. I knew I'd given it a good go but I felt a bit disappointed that I wasn't closer to him.
Next up - Pilgrim's Cross fell race. The afternoon of the race I'd felt a bit 'off' at work. Not quite sure what was going on but I certainly didn't feel at my best. Persuading myself that I was being soft I turned up for the race and pretended all was well. It's a pretty tough race, this one, and I never seem to have a good run there. I usually manage a decent start as it's a stiff climb up Robin Hoods Well. Not today. I got a bit stuck in traffic on the initial section annd then when I  reached open moorland and tried to keep up with Des Reilly I knew that the wheels had fallen off. In the distance I could see Mark W and young Jonathan B enggaged in a good tussle at the sharp end of the race. I wouldn't see them again until the end.
Sheer cussedness kept me going but Des was soon well away from me. I sought another target to keep me distracted and tucked in behind the next person to overtake me. He had a lovely easy running style and seemed to glide over the ground. The jammy git! I became more aware of my laboured lumbering.
As you head towards Peel Tower there is a steep grassy descent. Everybody else charged down it whereas I had to put the brakes on. next thing I went over on my left ankle. Bloody brilliant, I was still struggling with the sore tendon from going over on my right one at Ingleborough. I carried on, but  really the towel had been chucked in by then. When, ages and ages later, we reached the final descent back down Robin Hoods Well, I just wasn't in the mood and ended up walking some of the tricky slippy stone sections. I must have lost about 20 places along here but I just didn't care. I held a guy off right at the death but it was pretty much from force of habit than anything else. I got in the car and went home. One to forget.

Darwen Gala fell race is one of my favourites. It's a cracking little course - only 3.7 miles long - but it packs a couple of decent climbs in before the sprint back down through Bold Venture to the finish line. Another thing I like about it is the free beer at the finish! More of that later...
A reasonable turnout of 62 runners lined up at the start. The usual mix of local club runners and young lads thinking 'how hard can it be?' were joined by an almost unnoticed slight looking young girl and her Dad. We set off and the climb up through the park soon took it's toll on the unprepared. Finally we popped out of the trees and onto the moor. As I glanced ahead I could see the young girl. She was leading! Not only leading but putting a distance into the nexy runner. Wow! I got on with my own little world of pain and a bit of a battle with Clayton runner Andy Orr. He's a bit good is Andy but I was  pretty close to him at Ingleborough so I thought I'd have a go. We were neck and neck pretty much, up to the Tower but he sprinted off on the steep descent. I knuckled down and was right behind hhim by the time we got to the top of the climb up the 'diagonal'. It had taken it out of me though and I couldn't keep the pressure up. That was pretty much game over for that contest. I knew he'd be a lot quicker than me once we reached the end of the flat bit across the top of the moor and it's then pretty much flat out descending. And so it came to pass... I did try but y'know. I managed to beat Beckie Taylor again. This is becoming a habit. Seeing as she is frequently first Lady in a lot of races this is a bit deal (to me). At the finsih I found out that the young slip of a girl had won by a country mile with her Dad coming in second. She had broken the Ladies record by over 2 minutestoo. Not bad at FIFTEEN! Last year I'd had a decent run at the Gala and actually managed to get a PB! How had I gone on this year? Whilst I was waiting for the results coming out I had a wander round and a good old social with a lot of familiar faces. I was aided and abetted in this pursuit by the complimentary pint of Runners Ruin. I say 'pint', by the time I was weaving home I'd managed to neck 6. Another PB! Oh, and I was 20 seconds faster in the race too. Not a bad day out.

The day after Cath and I went cycling with some bloke called Wiggins. Will won a competition on Twitter for 2 places on the Ride with Brad sportive so we decided to tackle the 62 mile option (the 100 mile was a bit much at 2 days notice). We drove up to Barnoldswick and eventually picked up our numbers and joined the throngs waiting to set off. We'd seen Brad Wiggins set off with the 160km crew earlier although he was just a dot with a yellow helmet on in the distance. Cath was joined by Sue Taylor which I was glad about, whereas I was on my todd. Great! Initially I rode with a largeish group of Scousers but I decided that they were a bit too sedate for my tastes and put the pedal down. A lot of the route was on lanes that were unfamiliar to me but it was very well marked and there were plenty of riders on the course. It's a lovely part of the world and there are some impressive looking houses round there. I dug in a felt comfortable at a fastish pace. After about half and hour or so I became aware that I was pretty much riding at the same speed as a couple of lads on Trek's. Eventually I let on to one of them and we struck up a bit of a conversation as we hammered past everybody. This was more like it. We weren't exactly doing a classic 'though and off' but we were soon working together and all doing our bit on the front.
By the time we reached the first checkpoint I think we'd got an unspoken agreeent that we'd try to stick together for a while. I loaded up on the free gels and bars and topped up my one water bottle. We seemed to stay at the CP for longer than I would have liked but I didn't want to be rude and make the first leaving moves. Soon were were away again. Same format - hammer time!
There were 2 times uphills on the course where you could go for King of the Mountain. I had a bit of a go but wasn't too hopeful - there were a lot of people doing the event and many of them were proper club riders. As we progressed I learned that my 2 new mates were also fell runners, members of Wharfedale Harriers. I got the feeling that they were also a bit good. Talk of being 4th in a major Lakeland race before getting lost in the clag etc. One of the guys was game for hammering up the climbs and I was game for playing too. I generally managed to just finish in front of him but it was a close thing every time. I remember Jeffrey Hill being a particularly tough 'un for both of us. Some of the descents were a bit scary too!
On and on we went and hit the next KOM challenge - Nick o' Pendle. I went for it as I was still feeling pretty good despite us being well into the event by now. I felt like I'd made a good attempt at it but was soon caught over the tops by the other two. Over towards Barley now and soon we could see mighty Pendle Hill. There is a massive '1612' on the side of it as it's the 400th anniversary of the witch trials. I made some very weak gag about the digital clock stopping or something. To be fair I was doing well multi-tasking speech and pedalling by this stage...
The hills started to become a bit relentless towards the end of the course. I love climbs but even I was suffering a bit by now. Thank God I hadn't done the 100 miler, I thought. And, I hope Cath is ok! The baking sunshine that we started the sportive in had been replaced by mizzle. That fine rain that soaks you through. I was glad I had swiped the gels at CP1 as it turned out that we had ridden right through CP2. Doh! We were all getting low on water but we knew that we couldn't have that far to go. I must say that even out in the sticks there were people standing out cheering us on. I know they had come to see 'Sir Bradley' but they certainly gave us all a boost by encouraging us round. Fantastic!
After I while I had lost myself in my own little bubble and was just tapping it out at my own pace and it took me quite a while to realise I'd dropped my mates. I concentrated on not making any stupid mistakes and binning it on the rather dodgy back lanes, with their potholes, gravel and slimey coverings. Unexpectedly I made a turn and was directed into Barnoldswick Cricket Club. Nearly back! I'd lost all track of time now but I was now on the lane that I'd set out on and then turning back into the event grounds. Large crowds cheered as I got in and grinnned for the photographer.
It was when I stopped that I realised how cream crackered I was. It took me a while to get organised enough to pick up finished goody bag and get back to the car to get changed. I met my fell running buddies in the food tent and had the crack with them while we hoovered the rather disappointing free pasta dish. I started cramping up badly while we sat there but that was ok, I'd finished now.
Cath and Sue got in a while later. Cath said it had been tough but I was bloody proud of her for finishing it. I was also quite jealous when it emerged that Brad Wiggins had ridden next to her at one point and let on to her!
A few days later I learned that I was 10th fastest out of the 723 doing the 100km course. 3hr 52 mins 17th on Waddington Fell KOM and 31st on Nick O'Pendle. Cath was 544th in 5:56:11

Big up to Mark McGoldrick and Sam Watson for being great riding companions.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Pain, rain and gain

Rapha Rising Challenge

Ooh, this looked like a whole world of pain 'n hardship - emulate the TdF riders climb while they were in the 'Circle of Death' of the Alps and Pyrenees. 6881m of ascent in a week and unlike the 'easy life' Tour riders I'd have to do it working round the tedium of work and real life. Hmm. A bit of calculating and putting it into old money revealed that I'd have to be doing 3000' of climb a day. Except I wouldn't, as I didn't really have a week to do it - I had a fell race on the Saturday and I was off on me jollies early doors on the Sunday. Riiiight... Well, it's not called a challenge for nowt is it? I'd got a bit of a start with doing the CRC mtb mara on the first Sunday luckily. That gave me a very useful 4696' fer starters. Just to give me a proper boost and to prove my commitment I headed out on the 'cross bike when we got home from Shropshire and did a 1191' ride. Easy.
Monday morning and things weren't quite so rosy. Rain on the extended ride in. nice. Little did I know but this was going to be the theme for the whole week. Also I realised that 'only' 845' gained on the way in wasn't going to be enough. I was going to have to get creative with some of the local hills. On the way home I did Smithills Dean, Belmont Bleach Works, Stones Bank Rd, then off to Edgeworth and along Roman Rd. this little lot gave me 1743', more like it.
I decided that that route was probably my best hope of racking the climb up so I did that morning and night, day in and day out plus whatever other rides I could fit in. One night I rode over Belmont to Rivi where Cath was doing a 5 mile (running) road race. That gave me 2745' but also meant I'd done 65 miles that day. I was starting to feel pretty fatigued. I was also running out of cycling gear and constantly soggy. The saddle with it's holes torn in it, was so wet at times that I could squeeze it and have water run out. Yuk.
Knackered as I was, I was determined to finish this bugger. It seemed at times that not riding the bike felt wrong. I'd got the Friday booked off and I worked out that I could finish it with one decent ride. Up the easy height gain of Pickup Bank, down to Edgeworth and then turned off through Hawkshaw and into Rammy. In a moment of inspiration I decided to do the Rake - national hill climb route. Perfect! Blimey, it's a cheeky rascal! It really kicks up near the end and gets the heart beating a bit. Turn right at the top and along to Helmshore and the the climb up the Grane, back down Pickup Bank and another late addition, Eccleshill. as it turned out it was a good job I stuck that one on as I didn't have a clue how much climb I'd done until I downloaded it to Strava when I got back. I imagined how I'd feel if I got back and downloaded it all to find I was short! Surely I'd done enough? Well, I got back and rather tensely did the 'Save ride' thing. And waited while the Rapha Rising bit acknowledged it and told me how I'd gone on. Had I worn my appropriate 'Col de Tourmalet' jersey in vain? Finally the electrickery put me out of my misery...
Completed - 101%! Job done.
Ingleborough fell race
With all that bike climbing in my legs and no running for a week, how the hell was this one going to pan out? I certainly didn't know. After the disappointment of Bull Hill I wasn't feeling massively confident, I must admit. I'd travelled up with Stubbsy and Mark W in Jonathan's rather swish VW camper. As it turned out that was 4/5 of Dshers taking part. For quite some time I was optimistic that I could get 2nd Dasher until Des rocked up and rained on my parade. Doh! George T, who had come up with Katy, completed the line up. I realised that I was pretty hungry just before the start and I'd cunningly managed to forget my gels. Luckily I managed to buy a rice crispy cake from one of the charity stands dotted around the field.
When the rather enthusiastic drummers performing on the Gala field had finally finished their performance and buggered off we got to line up. The typical too fast start as we headed through town before turning off towards the mass of Ingleborough . I was next to Jonathan at this point and I can't remember whether I spoke out loud or it was just in my head but I was trying to work out where Des was.
I finally spotted him (no club vest on, see) and gave chase.
At first the track is pretty much flat but gradually it becomes a little steeper and rougher. I could now see both Des and Mark W ahead of me. Des looked possibly catchable but Mark was quite a way in front. To distract myself from the pain I tried to count what position he was in. I made it around 20th. When I finished my mind games and focussed again I had made up quite some ground on Des. I remembered Mark W saying that the race was pretty much all runnable. Right, that was my goal then.
Des was really close now as was Andy Orr, from Clayton, another really decent runner. What's this? Des was walking. Interesting. As I passed him I asked if he was ok. 'Not really.' was the answer. I ran on and incredibly I passed Andy too. Uncharted teritory for me. Dig it in, dig it in. I caught and passed Becki Taylor just as we reached the stone steps. I really really would have liked to say I ran them but I just couldn't. Too steep and too big, too much lactic and too hot. So many bloody big steps. Briefly they were slightly smaller and I could run again and passed a couple of runners, aware of their sidelong looks.
Up to the trig point and two thoughts ran through my oxygen starved brain - the next time I'd be up here would be on a cyclocross bike, hopefully, and the coplete indifference of the marshals. I was killing myself here, the least they could do was to try to disguise their indifference, the feckers.
That was all the up finished and now all the down. and the first bit was steeply down. So much that my feet shot from under me and I whizzed down a fair strech of it on my ass. Looping round to join the stepped path I was soon dodging in and out of still ascending runners. I could feel the hotspot on my heel which is always the tell tale sign of a blister. Putting it to the back of my mind I gritted my teeth and held on. Could I manage to keep in front of Des on the descent? No way was I looking back. The track seemed to have grown in length. My God, it was endless! Finally the end of the track was in sight and just as I was readying myself for the transition to tarmac two thing happened - Andy Orr passed me and then I went over on my right ankle. I could feel something crunch. Ooh, that hurt. No point pulling up now. I wasn't going to repass Andy but I had no idea where Des was.
Across the road, cutting the corner through the car park and into the field. Down the banking trying not to take a prat fall here, and through the line. I was still pretty close to Andy and Mark Walsh was still knocking about, not changed or anything!
To my massive surprise and delight I'd had a bloody good run there. 33rd out of 195 in 59:02
Results here
Video here

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Downs and ups

Bull Hill fell race

I hadn't planned on doing this race. It's not in the fell championship so I didn't really have much to gain from it but a few people I knew were doing it and it made a nice change from running at the club on a Thursday night. I like the course, it's got a bit to it - reasonable climb, a few descents and a long drag back up before the final charge to the finish across a rough field. I had one of the best races of my life here against Mark Walsh a few years back. Proper neck and neck stuff. I still reckon I'd have beaten him if I could have done a track style dip at the finish!
Anyway it was a nice night and it wasn't raining for once so I headed over to Hawkshaw with Dave Billi, George T and our Will (as photographer) on board. The usual registration bit and then the ridiculously long walk up the lane to the start. I could tell that I wasn't really 'feeling it' at that point, I was walking rather than warming up. I had a few chats with people I knew on the line - Stanners ex of Rossy Harriers and Budge and Phil from JMC doing their first ever fell race.
Finally we were off and the climb up towards the Horseshoe path was steep and pretty wet and muddy. Not pleasant. Jonathan B and Des were in sight but a way ahead. I wasn't too concerned as I thought I might be able to reel them in later. We gained the main path and headed down. This felt pretty hard. I was huffing and puffing and the first seeds of doubt began to be sown. After a while the course veers off the path and climbs onto the moorland. I spotted Stanners who had obviously pulled out and looked to be in some pain. Not a lot you can say in the circumstances so I kept schtum and carried on. The next section, although not massively steep is quite a continuous slog. Relentless really. I knuckled down and passed a couple of people but JB and Des were becoming dots on the horizon.
My usual crap performance on the descents meant a reasonable stream of people thundered by. Eventually we reached the return leg of the Horseshoe path. I was goosed. Nowt in the tank. Also, more worryingly, there were some ominous rumblings from my guts. As I got to the stone steps that I love belting down on the mountain bike I bacame seriously concerned that I was going to have to get off the course for an unplanned 'comfort break'. Jeez, I've often needed a pee during a race but I've never come close to sh*tting myself before. A new low.
I struggled on and after an age I came to the turn into the finish field. It was rough as owt with plenty of opportunity to go A over T. Fortunately I got away with it. I could hear somebody right on my shoulder and my old ally. foolish pride, kicked in and helped me hold him off on a sprint to the line. I felt awful and, after hanging around for the others to finish I started to get really cold. I lost circulation in my fingers and was going a bit shivery. Absolutely rubbish. I didn't start coming round until I'd had a chip butty and a pint in the pub after. A perusal of the results later yeilded no surprises, it just confirmed how crap I'd done - a good 4 minutes off the time of my great battle with Mark a few years ago.
Ah well, on the plus side it wasn't a championship race and everybody has a dip at some point. Onwards and upwards.
Chain Reaction mountain bike marathon Marshbrook, Shropshire
I'd won a Twitter competition for a place on the mtb mara for me and on the Sportive for Cath. We drove down in torrential rain and I thought 'Hmm, I'm not really looking forward to this.' Maybe it was because it was a free do but I couldn't get too excited about it. We parked up on the muddy farmers field (the field was muddy, not the farmer. Although...) and set up camp. Later we headed down to registartion and thence to the pub. I find 3 pints is a good aid to restful sleep and I was soon pushing up the Zed's when we got back to the tent. Incredibly it wasn't raining on Saturday morning as the Sportive began. We'd heard that parts of the course had been changed due to flooding a debris on the roads. Cath set off with an early group and was soon out of sight. I mooched about for a while and eventaully came down to the pub restaurant near the start/finish area and got a bacon and egg barm for my dinner while I waited for her to come in.
Luckily I'd finished by the time she got in as she was way ahead of her predicted time - 4:20 as opposed to 5 hours. Not bad for a very hilly 50 miler on some very sketchy sounding roads.

Another trip to the pub that night and another reasonable nights kip. This is a secret I must remember for future use... At the start of the mountain bike marathon I was talking to Neil 'Nezbo' Harwood and his mate and cracking a few jokes. the weather was good and there was no pressure to perform - it was just a challenge ride after all. Neil and his oppo were doing the 80km ride where I was only doing the 45km one. I figured it was enough.

Off we set and were soon on a steep climb. I'd ended up near the back at the start and as I was on the SS I was having to stand up and churn to keep moving. Of course virtually everyobody else was in the granny ring and twiddling so I must have passed about 100 people before the top. I started to feel ok, although I knew there was a long way to go. I wasn't feeling quite so happy when, about 20 minutes later, I rounded a bend on the course to be confronted with a load of riders coming up towards us. Most of them looked a lot cleaner than us and suspiciously very like people I'd passed a lot earlier. They'd taken a massive short cut. I was seething but what can you do? I don't think it was deliberate and it wasn't a race, after all.
Soon I'd shrugged this off and was concentrating on the ride. It has to be said that it was pretty bloody good. Some lovely singletrack and plenty of mahoosive climbs. We went up one and were surrounded by paragliders and gliders floating by at pretty much head level. There didn't seem to be anyone else stupid enough to do the event on a SS and my ego was boosted a few times as I heard folk I'd overtaken muttering '... singlespeed...' and 'Bloody hell!'. Heh, heh!
I was using the event as a starter for the Strava - Rapha Rising Challenge. Basically you had to do 6881m of ascent in a week - the same amount of climb as the TdF riders were doing while they were in the 'Circle of Death' in the Alps and Pyrenees. It was going to be hard for me to complete this so I needed all the ascent I could get. This came back to haunt me later.
I'd settled in and was feeling pretty good. My misgivings about the event had long gone and I was setting about motoring on. With about 2/3 of the course done I could start thinking about heading home. I was hydrated and was managing to get a gel an hour down plus the biscuits etc I'd grabbed at the food stop. There was a long back lane over the tops of the hills which snaked sinuously up and down meaning you could see a long way ahead. I could see a couple of riders in the distance and began to chase them down. I was in my aero tuck and winding it up. I rounded a bend and the guy ahead had disappeared from sight at the top of a steep road descent. I was 'on it' here so charged into it and started flying down. part way a car pulled over to let me overtake. I guessed (correctly as it turned out) that I was doing nearly 45 mph here. It got a bit sketchy as the bends were gravelly and wet but on I flew. it was only when I reached the bottom and hit a cross roads that I realised I'd not seen any directional arrows for a long time. The car I'd overtaken caught me up. 'You've missed it. There was a turn at the gate at the top of the hill.' 'What, that bloody big hill that I've just ridden all the way down?' 'Yes.' Smashing.
It really was a big hill. It really was a big steep hill. It was so steep that I had to get off and walk some of it. 'Ah well,' I thought 'think of the Strava.' I got to the top and rejoined the course. There was a group of 3 riders ahead. I was fired up so set off after them. It was a long steep offroad descent and they weren't hanging about. I caught them at the bottom where they had all stopped. They were looking around whilst looking puzzled. 'I don't f***ing believe this' I thought. Back up the bloody hill again. I was so steamed by this point that I just blew the others away. Again I got back on track and raced after riders ahead, this time keeping an eye out for markers too.
I caught one guy up and he was keeping pace with me so I engaged him in conversation. He had quite a distinctive foreign accent so I asked where he was from. 'London' he replied. A bit of tutting and eye rolling from me and he revealed that he was origianlly fromTurin. We kept pace for quite a while and really enjoyed flying along the tops, eventually getting onto another back road where we were easily keeping pace with the traffic. Soon we reached a point where the different courses split and we pluged down. This must have been the highly trumpeted long singletrack descent that I'd heard so much about. Great! Well, it was great until everybody slowed to a halt and realied that we'd gone wrong and the proper route was waaaay below us. This one turned out to be due to somebody taking a marker pole down. Nice one. I went off piste down a proper arse on the back wheel steep descent.
Now I was on the tRack proper I could motor a bit. It was fun, in a very wet way! More back lanes and I was catching and passing more riders here. One guy I couldn't catch was on a free ride style full susser with flats on. Just couldn't catch him. Eventually the course reached the campsite and the muddy techy descent to the finish. He jibbed on a bend and I shot past. Get in!

At the finish I got my free t shirt (Woo!) and had a quick word with my new Italian pal who came in a bit behind me, before heading off to find Cath. Food, bike washed, me washed, car loaded and we were away. Or we would have been if the battery hadn't gone flat. After a fair bit of trasipsing round i got a jump start off a guy in a camper and we were finally heading home.It had been a good do. The weather was pretty kind to both of us and we both had enjoyed it.  My final starts were 32.4 miles and 4696' which was quite a bit more than I was supposed to do, but hey, think of the Strava!
Big thanks to Chain Reaction for the free places and to John Lloyd and his team for putting on a cracking event.
Strava here

Sunday, 8 July 2012


I’ve been a bit lax on the blog front lately so this is an attempt at catching up. So, first off we have...

Settle Hills fell race

Out of the attractive town centre of Settle and almost immediately we are climbing. I’m pretty close to the sharp end as we leave tarmac and get up onto the grassy Dales. It’s still a stiff climb but I’m feeling pretty good. Up ahead I can see Mark Walsh and Des. I put a few nippy overtaking manoeuvres in and I’m right behind them. We’re still within the first mile of the race but I’m in a silly mood and so I put it in again and shoot past them both just for the hell of it. Just to make sure they’ve got the message I give them 2 fingers over my shoulder. I hear an appreciative chuckle from behind.

Mark soon re-passes me but I am surprised that Des doesn’t follow suit. I still feel pretty comfortable so I settle in behind Mark. I’m not sure what is going on here but I am soon on his shoulder and without too much effort I pass him again. It must be about 5 years since I last got past Mark in a race so this is a pretty big deal to me. We descend slightly across a wide field heading towards the next steep up.

Mark pulls away here and I get my head down and run at my own pace now. There’s a long way to go and I have no chance of staying with him all the way round. There are a couple of runners just behind me as I ascend. On the top of the hill and Mark has vanished, I follow the markers as best I can but after a while I realise I’ve gone astray. I glance to my right and spot a marker near a gate in the corner of the field. The two runners that were behind me appear from behind a hillock and are now about 30 yards in front of me. ‘Thanks for shouting me back when I went off, lads.’ I think to myself.

We are pretty much at the highest point of the course now and are traversing the moors in a large circle. Still trying hard I seem to be at my optimum pace and nobody else passes. Onto a track and I can just make Mark out in the far distance. At the back of my mind I am expecting Des and Jonathan B to come past at any minute. I’m wise enough not to look back and I just get on with keeping my pace up. Eventually I reach the famous descent. I’d heard it was pretty steep but there was still the comedy ‘ Bloody hell!’ double take when I got onto it. It just dropped away in a massive grassy chute.

As the world’s worst descender I started mincing down as fast as my knackered knees and ankles would allow me. The flood of overtaking began and inevitably included Jonathan B. I reached the bottom after an age and crossed the field to where Barnesy (wearing his metaphorical Settle Harriers hat) was marshalling. I guessed that we couldn’t be that far away from the finish now so tried to up the pace a little. Jonathan stayed about 20 yards in front with a few runners between us. I hung on and hung on as we hammered along the track. We finally came out onto the road near the Rugby Club where the finish was. A little sideways shimmy through the gate and then it was onto the pitch for a charge to the finish funnel. There wasn’t anyone in front now and I certainly wasn’t going to risk looking back at this stage of the game. Flat out and breathless to the line.

Third Dasher. That’ll do me. I felt like I’d had a good run, especially the climb at the start.

20th out of 121

Results here

Brownbacks mtb series round 2

Lesson learned from the first race, I used Will’s bike which is geared lower. The memory of the pathetic attempt at the start climb still smarted. A look around the other competitors and it seemed that I was the only Singlespeeder there. Hmmm, there was pros and cons to this. It meant I would be unopposed for the prize but I wouldn’t have anyone else to race against in the class. Ah well, I’d just have to content myself with racing all the other V40 ‘silverbacks’ and ‘weekend warriors’.

Shivering on the start in the rain I was pleased to hear the start signal and try to find a line that gave me some traction. Standing up and thrutching, I managed to pass a few as we headed onto the course proper. I’d had a bit of a ride round the course before the start so had an idea of what was to come. As ever it was an interesting mixture – stiff climbs (especially on a SS), speedy flats and some decent technical bits. The mud and rain on the rocks making you think twice on some sections. Well, until the racer in your head piped up ‘Waddaya doing, you pussy?!’ and normal service was resumed.

The course seemed a little shorter than last time and I determined to get at least 5 laps in (you race until the first in the racer class has completed 6 laps). I’d spoken to a mildly hypothermic Twinkly Dave before the start. He had, of course, ridden there from Preston and was riding home again afterwards (!). He passed me at one point and gave me a bit of encouragement. I put it in and tried to stay with him for a while.

The back end of the course is where the action is – a whoopy rollercoaster leading into massive berms which challenge you to stay off the brakes and ride smoothly. Later on you are crashing across a rocky ledge of a path with a drop to the left. It makes you concentrate shall we say.

I got a couple of laps in and realised that I was so involved in the race that I hadn’t been drinking water. There aren’t that many places to grab a quick slurp but I force myself to. No chance of getting my gel down so I mtfu instead.

As at Round 1 there was a tricky rocky chute to negotiate part way round. This time there was the added ‘fun’ of it being churned up into a muddy slurry and then ending in a 90 degree right. I cleaned it most times but cocked it up once. The Mountain Rescue who were waiting at the bottom in a vulture stylee, got treated to some world class swearing that time!

As I tackle the short, sharp climbs again I think to myself ‘This must be the most old-bloke-with-dodgy-knees-on-a-singlespeed-unfriendly course I have ridden in a long time.’ And it bloody was too! Some of the climbs that I was clearing earlier on are now seeing me off the bike and pushing, albeit at a run.

As usual I end up getting stuck behind somebody slowly grinding up a hill in the granny ring. Not good when you are on 32:18 and trying to power up a climb. I shout ‘Come on, keep it going’ so that I encourage them, without seeming too much of an arsehole. Later on I have to run up a hill and some cheeky bugger behind shouts ‘Come on, keep it going.’ I laugh. And then tear his legs off.

For once I have my wits about me enough to count the laps so when I start lap 5 I am pretty sure I won’t be doing any more. A lad I had been speaking to at the start – Papa Lazarou off of STW – passed me so that gave me some incentive to beast myself in the vain hope of catching him. Soon I was destroying my knees on the last little climb before the finish line and spinning home in a sweaty frothing mess.

Assessing the race afterwards I was fairly happy with how it had gone. I was sooooo glad I’d gone for a lower gear for this race as I would have died on my ass (even more) trying to push 32:16 round. I seemed to have paced it better and certainly finished further up the V40 class.

At the presentation it turned out that there had been another singlespeed taking part. Oh bollocks, I thought. It would have been a bit gutting to be 2nd after all that! Fortunately for me it turned out that he’d retired on the first lap with a puncture and so I got to go through the mild embarrassment of standing on the podium on my own wearing an XXXL Charlie the Bikemonger t shirt and being presented with the chain medallion. The chain will definitely end up on a bike!

Another good day out but, my God, the mud and grit!

9th out of 18 in V40 class. Full results here

Horwich CC Hill Climb

Last one of the mini series so all I had to do was turn up and complete. No dramas, eh? This being me of course, I had to go and bugger up the crank on the ‘crosser a couple of days before. Smashing. So, my choices were: 1. Do it on the SS – given that a lot of the course was along the flat bit of Belmont Rd this was NOT an option. 2. Do it on the Ragley – possible and a good bit of resisitance training – 2.35” tyres and a chunky build meant that this was pretty much last resort. 3. Put out an appeal on Twitter and hope some kind soul responds with the offer of help – Result! Livsey kindly offered me the use of his crosser. What a guy!

I picked it up from his late the night before and so only got a quick go on it before heading to the start on the Wednesday night. I moved the seatpost down a bit but was still unused to the gear shifters. No matter, I’d pick it up. We drove over to Belmont and discovered that there had been a big smash right on the route of the course. Not good. Broken glass and a load of sand covering the fuel spill.

On the car park of the Wilton pub the competitors gradually turned up and speculated on how the organisers would tackle the problem. As it turned out they decided to delay the start and move the start line along the road so it was past the incident site. This was good news for me as it meant that the event was a bit shorter!

I set off at number 12 behind big Dave Headon. I didn’t think I had much chance of catching him! From the off it was big ring stomping and stood up on the pedals until I got up to speed. The gear shift caught me out and I quickly had to change back up again. Doh!

Reaching the San Marino restaurant and it was the plummet into Belmont. I tucked in and pushed as tall a gear as I could manage. Up towards the Black Dog and it was standing up time again. The marshals on the bend cheered me on as I headed up past the church and onto the flat stretch near the Blue Lagoon. Tuck in and hammer. Then, bang, it was onto the last big climb. I’ve ridden up here a lot over the years and so I knew exactly what to expect. And I got it - burning legs and sucking air in hard. Gaining the top all I had to do was boot it to the finish at the turning for George’s Lane.

Will had got a lift to the finish with a marshal and I shot passed him as he took some pics on my iPhone. As I rode on after the line to give myself a bit of time to recover I suddenly realised that my chest wasn’t burning as it had at the previous two events. Now, did this mean that it had been a pollen related problem or did it mean that I hadn’t tried as hard? Hmm, hard to tell really. I was pretty happy with how I’d done – I wasn’t caught by the guy behind and I felt pretty fast. I sent Paul a text saying it must have been the bike as a bit of a joke, but it was nice to ride. It felt light and nimble and seemed to shoot forward under power. I reckon it would have gone a bit faster with some skinny tyres on it. Anyway, thanks Paul – you got me out of the clart there.

In retrospect I have to say that I really enjoyed doing the series, it was even fun in a masochistic kinda way and I’d met some top people whilst doing it. Big up to Horwich CC for putting it on.

Oh, and I got my best result of the series at this one.

1 Adam Newall 6.56 Horwich CC

2 Rob Richardson 6.57 Bolton Hot Wheels

3 Dave Headon 7.03 Horwich CC

4 Tim Stanley 7.46 Woo-Ha Ram It

5 Simon Fox 7.50 Here Come The Belgians

6 Tim Kelly 7.56 Horwich CC

7 Dave Bateson 8.01 Horwich CC

8 Shaun Taylor 8.01 Horwich CC

9 Neil Pope 8.04 Lancs RC

10 Brian Holt 8.32 Lancs RC

11 Albert Sunter 8.46

12 Sue Mayes 8.46 Lady

13 Pete Holden 9.01 Horwich CC

14 Alan Sweatman 9.14 Horwich CC

15 Jordan Stanworth 10.54 Junior

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Real Ale Wobble 2012

I've been running the Wobble for quite a few years now after taking up the baton from Mick Heath. I like to think I've made it my own, introducing a few twists over the years and having a new route every time. The basic premise is always the same - an on/off road ride visiting several local (ish) pubs and, most importantly, good company.
I always agonise over the route and still worry that people aren't going to turn up. This year I was up against it because not only was heavy rain forecast but England were playing too. As KO time neared the crying off texts began. Never mind, the show must go on.
At 6.30pm I was at the Sunnyhurst for the start. Jonathan B kindly bought me a pint and so I was in the mood from the get go. A few others joined us and I knew we'd be meeting more at the first stop so at 6.45pm we set off. Reaching the A666 the heavens opened. It was like a monsoon. I'd already decided to cut one bit of off road for the sake of speed and now as we regrouped at Greens Arms I opted to ride straight to the Cheethams Arms. Already we were pretty much drenched but it wasn't cold. Always a bonus!
A quick soggy blast down the road and we reached the Cheethams. Budge, Phil and Jase (aka Team JMC) had all ridden over from Rammy/Prestwich to meet us there. It was Budge and Phil's first time on the Wobble. I had a feeling that they'd enjoy it. A few more stragglers and late comers arrived too and we were up to full strength - about 16 or 17 if memory serves.

We necked a pint here and then shot off through Chapeltown and across the dam to the Black Bull at Edgeworth. It wasn't far but I like to get the first few pints in early doors to get everybody in the mood. The footy was on here and so we crammed into the bar to crane over people's heads to watch a bit. I'd got my finger out by now and sorted the traditional kitty for ale - tenner in and drink whatever pint is put in front of you. Budge and Jase seemed a bit reticent at first but Phil had a bit of a word. I think it was 'Pussies'! So, for the rest of the evening pretty much it was a case of bar staff doing a double take when I ordered about 9 pints at a go. Glasses drained and back on the bikes. The booze was just starting to have a bit of an effect - not enough to make you reckless but a warm fuzziness. It certainly didn't slow us down as we shot through Wayoh and onto the road across the dam and up the steep climb to the Strawbury Duck.
Another big round in and a throng formed in front of the telly to watch some more of the game. It was 1 -1 when we left the Bull but Sweden got in front while we were in the Duck. Was this going to put a dampener on the evening? We drank on. Suddenly cheers as Walcott equalised! Game on! And so we jumped on our bikes and headed for the penultimate pub - the Greenfield back in Darwen. I was feeling pretty good now and was putting the hammer down a bit. There was a line of merry riders in pursuit, their tongues flapping as we charged along Edge Lane. I stopped for a regroup and while I was explaining to somebody that if 24 hr races had compulsory drinking then I'd win 'em (ahem) word came through that England were winning.

Down the A666, off through Dog Shit Woods, cheeky singletrack at the back of the Cemetary, through Jacks Key and down Cranberry to the pub. I figured that everybody knew where we were going so they'd either keep up or catch up. The Greenfield was absolutely rammed. I managed to elbow my way to the bar just as the final whistle blew. Sweden 2 - Engerland 3! That'll be 9  pints of 'England's Glory' then. Outside again into the damp darkness as riders were still coming in. I think the only one who had a light on was Pete Murphy and he couldn't switch it off! It was quite a happy (if grubby) mob spread out in front of the pub. It had reached the stage where tales were just starting to get a bit tall, voices raised, gestures a bit more extravagant. Excellent!

'Right, you buggers - sup up!' We were heading for a (tired and) emotional re-union with the Black Horse as finishing venue for the Wobble. Mick and Andy had only recently got back into the pub and it was good to be getting back to the spititual home of the Wobble. The usual Banzai charge down Sough Rd and the familiar funny-but-a-bit-weird sensation of wheeling muddy bikes through a busy pub to lock 'em up on the beer garden. And then it was time to get stuck into some more drinkies... I managed to briefly lose the kitty but fortunately discovered it again after everybody had gone seperate. A quick count up and I found we were just shy of enough to get another round in. Phil was stood next to me at the bar and just gave me a fiver to make it up. What a proper chap!

From this point on it gets a little hazy. Mick and Andy had put on a brilliant spread of sandwiches for us so it went quiet for a short while as we hoovered them down. And then drink followed drink. Oh dear...
Gradually people began to disperse. The JMC boys set off on their long ride home. Jonathan B was picked up by his Mrs and amused passers-by by dropping his bike off the roof rack... Eventually (and inevitably) there was just the hard core 4 of us left - Dave Billi, Livsey, Will and me.

It was getting pretty late and so I figured it was 'Jack Daniels' o'clock. Dave came back with it from the bar and had bought everybody else some God awful concoction of port and lemonade which, he assured everyone was his 'favouritisht drink'...

As stools were being stacked around us we eventually took the hint and left. Unusually I didn't have to drag Dave out of a bush on the ride home and I didn't smack into any wing mirrors.
By 2 o'clock I was showered and tucked up in bed, grinning to myself as events from the evening came back to me. Oh yes, I was pissed.
Thanks to everybody who turned up despite the weather. I don't need to say I hope you had a good time - I know you did! Bring on next year!
Some more Wobbly pics here.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Horwich CC Hill Climb 13th June 2012

                   Pic by Martin Holden Photography

The second hill climb of Horwich CC's mini series was the Matchmoor Lane one. After working out where the route went I opted to use the 'cross bike rather than the Singlespeed. Too much spinny stuff on the roads on this one. Plus the SS needed some attention. I'd mentioned the event to Paul Livsey the night before but he'd sent me a text earlier in the day saying that he probably wouldn't go as a. he'd cycled to work in Preston and b. it was lashing it down. And so it came as a bit of a nice surprise when he rolled up as I was getting my act together before registration. Also in attendance was Alison Mitchelmore who is the other half of a friend from various bike events. We three seemed to be the 'odd ones out' to a certain extent as the rest were club riders from various local clubs.

In a way these low key events are a bit like fell races in that there is no snobbery and you can talk to anyone and have a laugh no matter what level you are.
Anyway, soon it was time to get lined up. I'd decided not to be as keen as last time and so got a number quite low down the start order. I was 14, Livsey 15 and Ali 16. The guy in front of me set off. He looked the part - properly muscley calves and shaved and tanned legs. He went off like a rocket. Now, although I was on a bike that was a lot more appropriate than last time I was still on a pretty hefty device compared to the carbon and titanium road bikes I was up against. Also my Landcruisers were probably twice  as wide as everybody elses tyres! I do enjoy a challenge (yes, I am an idiot)...
5,4,3,2,1 and I was off. Head down and hammering with the front wheel popping little wheelies as I charged up the road.

Since doing the first event I knew what to expect. Pain, basically! I experienced the wierd and rather nauseating effect of staring straight down at the road and not being able to focus on it as it shot by beneath me. I couldn't keep that up and so had to look up. Bad move, it just seemed like I had barely moved. Reaching the turning for Georges Lane I swung left cheered on by the marshals. I was quite surprised to see a rider up ahead. My poor oxygen starved brain convinced me briefy that I must be riding like a God and it was 'Muscley Legs' ahead. Silly boy! I thrashed on and made the turn for Matchmoor Lane finally catching the bike ahead. It was actually a young lad of 11 who was doing his first bike event. I mustered enough breath to give him some encouragment as I passed. He just looked a bit bewildered.
Stood up and the pedals and ekeing out the last of my energy to crest the rise before a sitting down spin to the finish line. Again I had to have a bit of a moment to compose myself. My chest was burning and the asthmatic cough had started up again.
I trundled down to the line to cheer the young lad in and then spotted Ali heading home with Paul just behind.

We had a bit of fun at Ali's expense as she laid her bike down carefully before prostrating herself on the floor whilst panting dramatically. Offering no sympathy whatsoever we had a bit of a chat standing over her. When she realised that we weren't taking her on she asked me to take a pic on her phone of her sprawled out on the deck. I fired a few shots off and then managed to get quite a good one of Livsey mooning. Obviously I wouldn't condone this sort of behaviour myself...
When we'd all pulled ourselves together and decided that it had been a good do, Paul set off to ride home (!) and I went back to the start to pick photographer Will up and head home myself. We  drove back over the route of the race so Will could have a look at it and then went over Belmont Rd back to Darwen. I was quite amazed when we'd got virtually all the way home before we caught Paul up!
I got the results off the Horwich CC site the next day and was very pleased to see that I was 9th out of 19. I thought that I'd have been maybe ahead of Livsey, Ali and the young lad so this was a real bonus for me. All being well I will do the last event in the series next month.

Big up to the Horwich club for organising it.

1 John Findley Bill Nickson R.T 6.16
2 Adam Newall Horwich CC 6.30
3 Rob Richardson Bolton Hot Wheels 6.43
4 Jason Wiltshire Lancs RC 6.54
5 Dave Headon Horwich CC 7.00
6 Luke Dearden Chorley CC 7.05
7 Robert Armstrong Bill Nickson RT 7.08
8 Denis Mason Horwich CC 7.14
9 Simon Fox Here Come The Belgians 7.39
10 Neil Pope Lancs RC 7.47
11 Steven Horrocks Lancs RC 7.50
12 Dave Bateson Horwich CC 7.53
13 Tim Kelly Horwich CC 7.55
13 Mark Potts Lancs RC 7.55
14 Alan Gibson Manchester Wh 8.03
15 Shaun Taylor Horwich CC 8.17
16 Alison Mitchelmore Velocake 8.48 Lady
17 Paul Livsey Darwen C 9.16
18 Jordan Stanworth 11.20 Junior

Pics by Martin Holden Photography here

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Horwich CC Hill Climb 6th June 2012

I spotted a tweet by @DaveHeadon1 advertising a Hill Climb run by Horwich CC. I've known Dave for a few years now as our paths have crossed at the Three Peaks cyclocross race and he's a pretty sound bloke so I thought I'd turn up for his event. It was open to anyone, only £3 and it's always good to support local events. The route was up at Rivington and climbed Sheep house Lane. It's a steep bugger but one I quite enjoy, especially when out on the mtb and I get chance to race roadies on it on a Sunday morning! With this thought in mind I decided to do the event on the Singlepeed mountain bike for the 'comedic' value. My reasoning being that I knew I could get up the hill on that gearing and nobody would be expecting me to do particularly well at it so there was no pressure. Plus it'd be a good hard work out. Right then, that was decided then.
Taking Will with me to take photographic evidence and give moral support, we arrived at the car park by the reservoir dam. As I dragged the bike out a bloke in the car next to me said in a joky voice 'There's a hill climb on here tonight. You should be having a go!' 'I am.' I answered. 'What, on that??' 'Er, yes.'
I soon found myself on the startline ready for the off. I was so keen to get registered that I ended up number 1. At least it gave all the club lads on their sexy road bikes something to look at as we all got devoured by the swarms of bloodthirtsy midges that thickened the air.

" Go." and I was away and spinning like a hamster in a wheel on the initial flat section. Whizzing past the first marshals I then got onto the initial climb, heading up towards the turn off for the ICR car park. I'd had a brief warm up but the shock to my heart and lungs from this redline assault was pretty severe. Stood up on the pedals and pushing hard now I reached the next marshals and my mouth was set in an 'O' like a silent scream as I sucked in the air. A flat section and then a slight descent. I had to have a brief coast as I just spun out my gear. No concious decision making now, everything had gone beyond that. Bend to the right and onto the 'meat' of the course - Sheep house Lane. This was never going to be anything other than a proper suffer-fest. Stood up again and forcing the pedals round, lactic acid coursing through my legs. So, so hard. I glanced up and saw how far I had yet to go. Subconciously I must have decided to not do that again due to the demoralising effect it had.
The climb kicks up as it nears the top and by now I was feeling something akin to a panic attack. This had to end soon or I would surely collapse. Then the cruel trick of a sharp turn at the top and still a steep climb. Later I remembered hearing someone there saying 'No, it is him!' which I thought was quite funny. Finally I was off the agonising climb and I could at last sit. I forced myself into an 'aero' tuck and clamped my hands on the bars as close to the stem as I could. Head down and spinning fast. The road curves sinuously here past a small lay by before another climb. It looks so innocent when you drive along it, but not now. At the top of the short rise I could see the finish line marshals opposite the end of Georges Lane. Spin, spin, spin, knees a blur. I crossed the line and coasted a short distance before literally dumping the bike on the grass verge and standing, back bent, with my head down towards my knees. My field of vision was going a bit black round the edges, my lungs on fire. After a short while to compose myself I tottered unsteadily to the finish line for a brief chat with the marshals as the next rider came in.
I tried to work out how far he was behind me, given that he'd set off a minute behind. My brain was still oxygen starved and just wasn't up to the task so I just thought 'At least I didn't get caught.' I rode back down to the start and shouted encouragement to riders coming through. I got the impression from their expressions that this wasn't the done thing in hill climbs. Ah well.
A day or so later the results were posted on the Horwich CC forum. I wasn't last! In fact I was 10th out of 13 competitors. I know that sounds a bit lame but believe me I was bloody pleased with that. I had deliberately made it hard for myself by doing it on a completely unsuitable bike and I'd pretty much held my own. Now that the memory of the total pain and suffering has faded slightly and my asthmatic cough has abated a bit, I am thinking about doing the other 2 events in the mini series. I went through absolute brutal, masochistic hell on the first one so why deprive myself of the 'fun' of more of the same?
Big thanks to Horwich CC for putting the event on and to all the marshals for risking death by midges.

 Details of Horwich CC events here.
Adam Newall 9.35 Horwich C.C

Rob Richardson 9.45 Bolton Hot Wheels
Dave Headon 9.52 Horwich C.C
Luke Dearden 10.00 Chorley C.C
Paul Ashcroft 10.35 Lancs R.C
Simon Moore 10.47 Horwich C.C
Guy Mckenzie 10.53 Horwich C.C
N Pope 11.10 Lancs R.C
Dave Bateson 11.12 Horwich C.C
Simon Fox 11.17 Here Come The Belgians
Gareth Prosser 11.54 Horwich C.C
Shaun Taylor 11.55 Horwich C.C
Alan Sweatman 13.12 Horwich C.C

Photos by our Will (who must have been pissed).

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Helvellyn & the Dodds fell race

At 15 miles and over 4,500' of ascent this race was going to be a test. With a month of Strava 'strive for the summit' inspired hill bashing and a few longer runs behind me I felt like I was in as good a shape as I could realistically be in. There was a reasonable turnout of Dashers for this. It's another counter in our fell race Championship but it isn't exactly on the doorstep. Chatting to Mark Walsh before the start we both shared the opinion that the race seemed to be something of a secret. Not much info on the 'net, certainly no map, and no thread about it on the FRA forum. Weird. I parted with £3.50 to Pete Bland for one of the excellent Harveys waterproof maps of the race course. A quick scan of it before the off confirmed what I expected - a steep climb to start followed by a pretty much linear course picking off summit checkpoints along the way to Helvellyn and then turn and back the same way.
Just shy of 80 runners on the line gave me a moments pause. What if I went wrong at some point and I wasn't in sight of anyone else - would my rusty (and pretty poor) navigating skills be enough to bail me out? I pushed these thoughts to the back of my mind as we set off. I have a good idea of a sustainable pace for distance now and so I got my head down and just tapped it out regardless of what anybody else was doing. Mark Walsh was away with the leaders and Jonathan B was a bit in front. I'd been with Kev Smith at the start so I knew he wouldn't be too far behind. The ascent of Clough Head was pretty huge but not as severe as Robinson, for example. I kept my steady pace up and by the top I was with Jonathan. I was a bit narked to notice that some runners had taken a line away to our right as they ascended. I didn't know if this gave them an advantage or not but as the course was still marked by flags at this point I felt that they shouldn't be doing it, 'Bob Graham line' or not.
Along the tops in a small pack of runners. Usual pattern of pushing a bit on the climbs and dropping slightly on the descents. I felt pretty comfortable as we bombed along, ticking off the checkpoint at Great Dodd as we went. My recent efforts in training must have paid off as I found myself having a chat to Jonathan on one of the climbs rather than the usual breathless and pained silence. I was quite surprised to see a few mounatin bikers up here in the wilderness. Most of them were pushing pretty beefy looking DH or Freeride rigs and were heading up to Helvellyn. 'Good effort' I thought to myself.
By the last but one checkpoint on the outward leg, Raise, I decided to stretch my legs a little and took off after a guy a short distance in front. The checkpoint itself was atop a rocky outcrop that was almost a scramble to get to. The clag was coming down here and I lost sight of the runner ahead and at times struggled to see the path. A sign of things to come as it turned out.
Only Helvellyn summit to go. The wind picked up massively here and was blasting in from my left. I staggered in the force of it and peered through the gloom. The leading runners appeared and sprinted by. I spotted Mark W amongst them and gave him an encouraging shout. The thought flitted through my head that I wasn't actually that far behind him. Blimey! Reaching the checkpoint I was clinging onto my race number to prevent it being torn from my vest. The cold on my head and face was pretty intense as I turned and headed back the way I came. Scittering across the rocks on the summit and heading back towards White Side was where it all went wrong. I lost some time after deciding that I needed to put my hat on. My hands wouldn't work due to the cold and I struggled getting it out of my bumbag and onto my head and then couldn't zip it shut. I was on the path and , although I couldn't always see it, I could make out the mini cairns along its way. Glancing to my right I saw a line of runners including Jonathan. I thought 'That's not right.' I continued on my line until self doubt led me to cut across towards them. Even then I knew it felt wrong., I shouted to the guy at the front and indicated the direction I'd just come from but he kept going. He looked so sure of himself that stupidly I believed him. Onto a wider reddish earth path and descending fast. It suddenly veered way off to the right and I skidded to a halt. This definitely wasn't the way we came. The mystery lead runner had disappeared from view and there was a group of  four of us left scratching our heads. Jonathan, myself, a Preston Harrier and a guy from a Lakeland club, I think. We all knew we were wrong and did a bit of communal swearing before acting. We could see a lake below us and after ruling out the daft suggestion that it could be Thirlmere by pointing out what the compass was saying we continued bearing hard West, contouring round the hills. After a while we spotted a hut and a ski lift. I didn't even know that there was a ski lift on Helvellyn! We dodged across the grassy piste and scambled on. I was massively pissed off as I had been having a decent run until that point and I had visions of all the Dashers flooding by while we floundered. Suddenly we saw the path and runners descending fast. Some shouted questions and we ascertained that we had missed the Raise checkpoint. Bollocks! There was no way on God's earth that I was going to get a DNF after all that work so I set about charging back up to the summit to get checked. I shouted encouragement to Jonathan but he seemed quite disillusioned by now and said something about seeing me at the finish.
I was totally fired up at the embarrasment of going wrong and I set about beasting myself to try to make up as many places as possible. I saw Rebecca and Chris and thought 'I've gone from 2nd Dasher to last!' It turned out that they had reached Raise after the 2 hour cut off and had been send back. That must have been pretty soul destroying although Rebecca was certainly in good spirits as we exchanged a joke when I sprinted by. The long open stretch across the tops skirting Stybarrow Dodd revealed a long spread out straggle of runners. Any style I might have had was long gone as I pushed hard to catch up. I wasn't entirely sure who was in front from Dashers although I knew that Kevin was. I'd spotted him wearing a reflective windproof top as I turned back to Raise earlier. That was my marker. I could see a flourescent top way, way ahead of me in the distance. I knuckled down. Onwards and onwards I thrashed. Back towards the Great Dodd checkpoint. Finally I spotted Kev. He'd taken his windproof off now and was running with someone else. He was part way up a climb and now walking. I tried to run as much as I could before being forced into the fell runners walk, hands on knees, back bent. Still I passed people. Kev glanced back and saw me and started to run again. As did I. The sting of pride stronger than my flagging body. I caught him just by the checkpoint at Clough Head. Genial as ever, Kev actually seemed quite pleased to see me and we had a bit of a chat about what had gone wrong for me. Soon we were on the steep descent of Clough Fold and my battered quads and blistered heels slowed me massively. Kev's superior descending skills would have been a delight to watch in different circumstances as he shot off and put a massive gap in.
Was all my work in vain? Had I come so far to be let down by my lack of prowess going downhill? No, I thought. I'm not bloody giving up that easily. After the main drop there was a rough field to cross as we headed home. This wasn't anywhere near as steep and I could see Kev ahead of 2 other runners. Back up to red lining again. Arms and legs pumping furiously now as I knew this was the only chance I had. The gap narrowed. A photographer popped up out of the heather. I gave him 'the grin' .

Then we were onto the singletrack strip of tarmac which led to the finish at Threlkeld Cricket club. My feet slapped the ground as I pounded along. I shot by one of the runners ahead on a bend and then reeled in the next on a short straight. The little bridge that gave onto the field was in sight. Kevin was part way across it when he turned and saw me. Just a few hundred yards to go. No use saving anything. The tarmac gave way to grass and finally I was on his shoulder entering the field 'Well done, Simon. go on.' he said. The red mist was still flooding through my head as I sprinted for the line, mouth agape. And. Finish. My God, what a race!
Later on after seeing the results I reflected on the way it had gone. A stupid mistake and lack of self belief had cost me maybe 15 - 20 minutes or so. This could have possibly given me a top ten finish. Ok, the field seemed a little depleted, possibly clashing with other races, but even so a top ten finish in ANY race would have been a pretty big deal to me, let alone a 15 mile tough Lakeland fell race. So was I disappointed? Actually no, in fact I was pretty pleased with myself. Yes, I'd messed up but I had been running pretty well up to that point and I hadn't given up. I'd got stuck in and worked bloody hard to make up all the places I'd lost. In the process I'd had a really great contest with Kevin. This was one race I won't forget in a hurry.
26th out of 71 finishers 3:13:07
Results on this page:
Photos by Paul Dobson. More here: Paul Dobson's pics
Strava: lumpy

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Brownbacks round 1

As part of my highly organised, not in any way just making it up as I go along, 'training' I decided to have a crack at doing the Brownbacks mtb series. I've raced at Lee Quarry before, a few years ago, even winning a prize in the Singlespeed category once, and so I thought I might come out of mtb retirement and have a dabble.
I took Will with me so that he could marshal and also so he could see what it was all about with a view to maybe doing it himself at some point. Slinging bike, gear and Will in the car we blatted off to Stacksteads. It was a glorious day, the sun really did have it's hat on. Once I'd registered and got Will packed off with the reflective jacket crew I sashayed back to the car to get my dancing trousers on ready for the balloon going up. I was quite disappointed to spot somebody else on a Singlespeed. And worse, it was a very racy looking 29 er with a racing snake pilot on board. Rats. There went my chance of unopposed glory!
I sulked off to have a mosey round the course. I knew that some of the JMC crew would be there, Terrahawk was riding over, Twinkly Dave was racing as was Jacqui - Phil's missus, so it wasn't a surprise to bump into head honcho and all round good guy Budge, knocking about. Whilst chatting to him and commiserating with him about his grip falling off I got his views on the course (he'd already ridden some of it). There was a bit of teeth sucking and elaborate arm gestures to demonstrate the numerous steep, rocky and generally life threatening bits which apparently littered the course. Gulp! I went to see.
Following the route markings I did indeed find some steep, rocky technical bits which did give me pause for thought. Hmm. Tricky.
Soon it was time to rack up on the start line. I realised that I hadn't brought a gel with me as I'd intended to and I must say that I am indebted to Jacqs and Budge for providing me with what turned out to be very neccessary sustenance. The start is naturally up a bloody big steep hill covered in loose stones. I remembered being caught here before, trapped in the midst off a lot of people frantically changing gear and faffing about whilst I tried to keep forward motion pushing 2:1 gearing on the SS. I know, I'll run to start, I thought. Brilliant idea. Not. I looked on as the majority of the amusingly titled 'silverbacks' (V40 & V50) riders buggered off into the distance. Bollocks. I jumped on and started thrutching. I managed to catch up with Budge after a while and sat in for a bit so I could shovel my lungs back in. Recovering I managed to nip past him on a chute that he opted to run while I rode it. He had the grace to cheer me on.
Still smarting at being so far back I put the hammer down (it's all relative) and actually manged to pass a few. The course was actually a belter. Tricky technical bits and really fun swoopy berms a plenty. These made up for the painful (on a SS) climbs. A quick whiz down some whoop de doops and a 90 degree right and we're into lap 2. The first one seemed to have taken FOREVER. Proper pedalling through treacle stuff. Now I'd got a sighting lap in and my breathing was fairly settled I got on with racing. There were 2 guys that I seemed to be quite close to so they became the target men. One was a shortish guy with a red and black shirt and t'other a great big long fella on a Scandal.
The heat and the 8 mile hill rep fell run the day before inevitably started to take it's toll and I had to dismount and push up a couple of the climbs including the one to the finish. Bizarrely the laps seemed to pass quicker now (they weren't, of course) despite me getting a bit shagged now. I remembered the gel that Budge had given me and, as I tucked in behind someone on a flattish section I managed to get it down before overtaking. It might have been placebo effect or the gel might have worked its magic but I felt a lot better very soon after. I could tell we hadn't got long to go so I pressed on. There was one bit that had a short sharp and loose climb, a short level and then up again. Only about 20' or so but if somebody slowed on it in front of me I was screwed on the SS. Coming up to it this time there was a guy right in front who obviously changed down as he came up to it. 'Come on, pal. let's get up this!' I yelled. He was that surprised that he charged at it and then faltered a bit on the second climb 'GO ON!!' Fortunately he did. I then shot past him before getting to the bit of the course that I cocked up every time. It was a sharp right hand switchback at slow speed and I just couldn't do it. Finally I ended up jumping off and running round it, shouting 'I think I've mastered it!' to the laughing marshal.
Onto the whoops and round the switchback before reaching one of the (for me) unrideable short climbs. The Scandal guy was just in front. I jumped on and went after him. There was another short loose climb before the straight to the finish line but I just couldn't ride it. I pushed up as quickly as I could to see Scandal crossing the finish line ahead as the chequered flag was waved. Noooo!! If I'd realised we were finishing I would have beasted myself to ride that last little climb. Ah well.
Then there was that bit in a race where it's all over and there's that 'love in'. Everybody is mates and is congratulating everybody else and it's 'How did you go on?' and 'Good race, fella' and 'Did you see that bit...?' I rode down to the car park, got changed and hung around for the presentation. I found out earlier that the other singlespeeder was a guy I follow on twitter - @singlespeedmatt - and we chatted as Will got his free dogburger for marshalling. As there were only 2 of us on SS I knew I'd be on the podium despite Matt racing in Racer and me in Owd Codgers. The presentation went on. And on. And on. And then suddenly it was over. No Singlepeed presentation??!! Matt went and had a word and I tagged along as back up. They'd forgotten the prize and had managed to forget to do the charade of sticking us on the podium. Doh. They quickly humoured us and gave us our moment of 'glory' and took a snap despite everybody buggering off by now. Hey ho. I'm pretty sure they won't be so shonky next time...
So, in summary a pretty good day's racing. I was a bit rusty but that was to be expected. 32:16 was pretty tall for the course so that might need looking at. Brownbacks have a pretty good set up and the course was fun. The competetive element is definitely still in me and I'll be looking to do a bit better than 9th V40 out of 17 next time.
Results here: Brownbacks
Pic by our Will.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Cranking it up

The year has done it's usual trick of suddenly getting nearly half over before I'm ready for it. For a change I've been getting my finger out a bit on the fitness front and I'm pretty happy so far. My goals are to complete, and do well at, the Dashers fell race series and to get in shape for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross race (presuming I get in). So, given all that its reached the time of year when there's some event or other on every weekend. In the last couple of weeks I've managed to get a couple of fell races in and a mtb challenge ride.
The first was the 'Cake Race' in Diggle, Saddleworth.

This was a championship race so was pretty well attended by Dashers. In the car park I couldn't help but think 'Oh, there's Jamie. That's a place lost. Mark Walsh, that's another gone. And Des. Smashing.' I knew that I had no chance against Mark and Des but maybe I could stay in sight of Jamie over the 9 and a bit mile course. That was my game plan. From the start Mark and Des shot off and I dug in on the steady climb. I caught Jamie and passed him. A longish drag across the moor and then down. Jamie shot by me, legs and arms flailing. He got away. I settled in but kept looking ahead to see how far he was in front. Steady away. Eventually we reached the turnaround point at a reservoir. Although he was a good few hundred yards in front I could see him glancing back. Aha. Another longish flat drag and then down a long flight of steps to a dam. Jamie hadn't extended his lead and I knew we were coming to more steps going up this time. Great! I dug in and ran all the 167 steps where everyone else walked. I passed lots of people and reeled Jamie in. By the top I was about 5 behind him. Another look back. Along the side of a Golf course and I did a quick overtake so that I was right behind him. As he crossed a stile he did a big doubletake when he saw me right behind. 'Where did you come from? ' he said. I explained about running the steps. I think his head went a bit then. The next bit of the race is a grind uphill. I knuckled down and concentrated on keeping going. I figured that if I could put a gap in here I stood a chance of holding him off on the descent to the finish. To my delight this actually worked. I think Jamie got a bit disheartened and gave up a little as I was a minute and a half in front of him at the finish. I was bloody pleased with 3rd Dasher and Jamie and I both agreed it had been a good race between us.

Next up was Belmont Winter Hill fell race. I think the last time I did this race was 2007 and although it's only a short 'un - 4.5 miles - it packs a lot in. It wasn't a championship race and I cadged a lift off 'young' Jonathan Bruton and took Dave the Builder with us as I thought he might like to have a run out. George Thompson was already there as we arrived and we saw Des Reilly at registration. A quick warm up and a slash in the bushes and I discovered that Gary 'incognito' Taylor was also taking part. Blimey, a decent turnout of Dashers for a non-championship race! Jonathan and Des were always going to beat me in this but that was ok. In a way it was more of a training run with a load of other people taking part. There's a real brutal start to the race. You run past the Blue Lagoon on the road and it just feels like you aren't moving but your lungs are burning. Somehow it's a massive relief to finally turn off onto the moor. And then you climb. Steep but runnable. Head down and dig it in. Jonathan behind me and Des still in sight ahead. It levels out briefly and then the real climb begins, up the side of Winter Hill. I managed to keep jogging it out for quite a while before settling into the 'fell runners walk', hands pushing my knees down, back bent. Near the top I discovered Dave Woodhead, the organiser of many Yorkshire fell races lying on his side in the grass taking photo's of us all. I had a brief word with one of fell running's good guys and he took a decent pic of me.
Right behind Des by the time we topped out I gave him an encouraging 'Go on Des!' which worked really well as he then took off like a scalded cat! Jonathan passed me soon after and flew down Noone Hill and onto Georges Lane. He was just about in sight by the time we had run along the bumpy track and then begun the nasty climb back up the side of Winter Hill. Along the fence at the top and back the way we came. By the time I was descending I could see Jonathan was a little yellow dot way ahead. A plummet off the moor and then a leg killing run around the paths by the Blue Lagoon. I could hear somebody right on my tail and I was dying. I held him off untill we got near the road and then he got by. A Horwich runner of about my age. Onto the playing field and I thought I might as well go for it. I sprinted. His head went. I beat him. Result! We shook hands. Jonathan has finished about 30 odd seconds ahead of me. Des was well in front. We saw Dave the Builder have his own battle at the finish. George came in later, a bit unhappy.
I had decided to run home as I need to get some miles in. I thought it was quite a way home, it certainly felt it. Strava told me it was only 5 and a bit miles. It was a nice run in the sunshine though and a decent warm down!
The day after I had an early start for a 30 mile mountain bike challenge in Golcar, Huddersfield. I'd encouraged a guy I know to do it on his cross bike as a bit of early training for the 3 Peaks. Laughing Dave was also dead keen on doing it. I was on the Singlespeed, natch. I'd done the event a few years ago with D t B and remembered that it was pretty darned hilly. It was going to be a challenge in more ways than one. Virtually from the off you are climbing a cobbly hill and blowing. The route is a good mix of off road descents and largely on road steep climbs. For the first ten miles or so I rode in complete silence. Everybody around me looked serious and looked like they were in a race. The group I ended up riding with seemed like a binch of miserable gits so I made so witty comment (hard to believe, I know) and that broke the ice. There was a shortish fella on a blue hardtail in his early 50's and he started talking to me then. Trouble was every time he told me about the course it was 'Oh, big climb coming up' or 'Bit of a dangerous descent here.' I started laughing and said 'Bloody hell, it's always bad news from you!' we rode on as a group for quite a while and worked together at times. I dropped them a bit on one of the mahoosive steep climbs and heard one of them saying 'He's doing well on that singlespeed.' which did my ego a bit of good!
Eventually we reached a climb through a valley. I remembered it from the last time I'd done it but given that it still seemed quite familiar. It was only later I realised I'd been there going the opposite way on the fell race the previous weekend. Anyway we ground our way upwards. A bloke I was with said 'Oh are we going to get a tailwind along here?' I said 'I doubt it, its been headwind all the way so far!' And sure enough we got a headwind as soon as we got out of the shelter of the hillside. Doh! Part way along here I came across the Sport Sunday crew. This gave me a boost as they are really good folk who do a great service for so many events. As usual I was snapped whilst flashing my pearly whites. I must say in my defence that I was really enjoying myself and was feeling slightly euphoric.

At the head of the valley we turned off onto the road. Finally there was a headwind. Blimey it got fast! I spun out in no time and got into an aero tuck, the tyres were making a fantastic buzz on the tarmac and my eyes were streaming. Must have been getting on for 45mph I reckon. after a few minutes of this adrenalin fix I was directed back off road by marshalls. This next bit was hard going. I could see the group I'd been with a little further ahead but I could feel my energy levels dropping after so long stood up pushing 32:16 against the wind. I had to stop and get a gel down my neck. I lost time but there was little choice. I had no idea how far we had gone but my Spider senses picked up that vibe in the air, that slight picking up of the average speed that makes you feel you are nearing the end. I think the caffeine in the gel had worked its magic as I began to wind it up. Into a small town and there were 2 riders ahead. I put it in to get on them but as I neared the front one carried on whizzing down the road whilst the other took a left at the route marker. When I caught up he said 'I shouted after him but he just kept going.' Ah well. I bet he'd be upset when he realised. The pace was now nearing frantic and I was glancing over my shoulder at someone coming up fast. He just nipped past as we got to a road junction. We turned left and he got stuck behind a stopping Tranny van as I whizzed past it. 'Unlucky.' I said, trying to keep the glee out of my voice. Hammertime now as the finish line neared. My little legs were going 19 to the dozen as I spun the SS into sprint mode. A turn onto the finish field and the line was in view. I just held him off. The clock gave 2:51. Not bad for a hilly 30 miles even if there was plenty of road. I got changed and grabbed a bacon butty and a brew. Craig on his 'crosser arrived soon and I had a good chat with him about the event and mutual acquaintances. I hung around for a while for Laughing Dave but there was no sign and I had to go. He got 3:37 I found out later but to be fair he had been ill and had hardly ridden his bike for about a month. I was fairly happy with my performance until I found my certificate from last time I did it and discovered I was 11 minutes slower this time! A good day out and a fun ride with some tough bits. These challenge rides are a good work out.
Results here: 37th/266 finishers will do me.
So, in summary a busy couple of weekends and it seems that giving the old body a battering seems to work ok for me. Can it last? Watch this space.