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