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