Sunday, 22 September 2013

Testing, testing

Cath's been training for an upcoming tri and has been riding to Bolton Parkrun, doing the 5k and riding home. It seems to have been working pretty well and I thought I'd have a go at this just to see how my 3 Peaks training affected my general fitness. So, one Saturday morning we set off. Well, I say 'we' but actually I was a bit underprepared and so set off about 10 minutes after Cath. Doh. My goal was to hammer it and try to catch up before she got there. Not an easy task believe me. I just saw her pulling into the park as I approached.
So, nicely warmed up knackered, I was all ready for the off... Andy Smith was there and after the Gala race I persuaded myself that I should be quite close to him. And, for part of the first lap I was! Then it all began to hurt and get really hard. I hung on though and felt pretty happy with my performance - 9th out of 233 in 19:56 which is my fastest time at Bolton on the present course.
Which leads us to the next day...
Brownbacks mtb race series race 3. I signed up for the series of 4 races with the intention of doing well in the Vet 50 category. I'd had 2 3rd places so far, which was ok but I felt like I was a bit fitter now. Could I improve on it? Cath and Will came along to marshal on what turned out to be a lovely day. The course had been billed as being fast. I pre-rode it and my initial thought was 'I don't like this'. Too many short steep uphills and no respite just what you don't need on a singlespeed! So, I rocked up on the start line to discover that I was competing on two fronts - there were only 4 in the V50 but (gasp) there were some more singlespeeders! First time this series I wasn't going to have it all to myself. Good news - I hate feeling such a div standing on the podium for the singlespeed prize on my own. Every time... The bad news was that one of them was in the v40 class and so set off before me and - even worse - t'other was in Racer class and looked the part, despite his protestations that he wasn't really a Racer.
Eventaully we set off and I had a stinker. Couldn't get any grip setting off and I had to get on and off about 3 times while everybody else buggered off up the hill. Finally I was off and fired up. I was soon up to speed and right with the guy in 2nd V50. The leader (and winner of the previous two races) was away in the distance. I was having a good race with V50 number 2 - guy in a Lyme RC shirt. I was right with him on one of the aforementioned steep little climbs when he had a bit of a stall at the top off it meaning I had to stop and get off. I guessed he had missed a gear and carried on. Further on there was a little rock step up through a gate, Again I was right behind him and again he did a bit of a stall and I had to get off and lose time. I now realised he was doing it on purpose and I wasn't a happy bunny. I passed Cath's marshalling point and told her what was happening. As we climbed the next section I went to get a good line of traction on the inside and as I 'undertook' we clashed bars. I had to get off on this hill anyway as my bike was geared too tall to get up it. So I ran. Ran!
The race continued and I was settling in. I was a bit behind Lyme RC by now but still in sight. After a while I glanced up to see him and a guy from the Racer cat on the floor. The Racer seemed pretty unhappy. he picked his bike up and then threw it down in disgust when he realised it had been damaged. I shot past while they were arguing the toss. I knew there wasn't much chance (read none) of catching the V50 leader so all I had to do was keep in front of my 'mate' from Lyme.
There was of course still the singlespeed category to contest. I saw the V40 bloke ahead. He was on a blue 29er that he had told me was 'homebrewed'. I started to reel him in and eventually passed him. I was feeling pretty good now and put the hammer down to make sure he stayed behind. I was getting some great support round the course - there were some kids at a marshal point who had some bike forks they used as cowbells and shouted out 'Mr Sparkle' in a Rod and Todd Flanders stylee every lap - and I always got a good shout out as I crossed the finish line. It really spurred me on.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the Racer guy who was leading the singlespeed category a distance ahead. He turned back at that moment and saw me. I thought to myself 'I'm going to have you.' On we went, dodging round people in other categories but just focussed on each other. He was a tidy rider and smoothly pulled away on the massive berms and whoops. I would reel him back on the climbs. Finally I was on him.  I really pushed on, feeling surprisingly energetic at a stage of the race I usually started to fade on.
Harder and harder I raced, my mouth wide open to hoover air in. Last part of the last lap. An uphill to the line. A kid in front of me, obviously no threat to me but I was hammering and we crossed the line next to each other. I'd done it! 2nd V50 and 1st Singlespeed! I was really made up.
  Me looking a plonker in the compulsory Charlie the Bikemonger t shirt smock
              Very happy with 2nd V50
I still felt good at the finish. So, thinking of the 3 Peaks I decided to ride home. It's not really that far but it felt good. 13 1/2 on/off miles in just under an hour after podiuming in a race. I felt like one of those 'proper' Enduro race heroes like Terrahawk or Twinkly Dave. Apart from the Peaks the miles in the legs would come in handy for ...
I've done the Mary Towneley Loop quite a few times over the years and I do ahve quite an affection for it. My fastest time was 5:04 many years ago when it was held earlier in the year (read better conditions) on my first SS. Thbis would be a true test to see how my Peaks training was going. It's 10 miles longer and has more total ascent (if not actually 3 mountains). I did contemplate using the cross bike to do it but ultimately decided to do it on the SS. Two reasons: I have suspension on the mountain bike and I didn't want to damage the 'crosser at this stage in the game.
The weather forecast was, frankly, dreadful. Heavy rain absolutely guaranteed. Smashing. There was a good turnout of people lined up at Fearns college despite this - over 190 starters. As yet the weather was not too bad. From the traps it was the usual sprint, after all there was only 47 miles to go. I'd got a lift there with Paul Julien and I knew I wouldn't see much of him after the start. He's in some form at the moment and won the v40 at Brownbacks the previous week. Budge was also there and I hoped that I'd be around his sort of pace. Possibly even quicker.
I'm not sure how I managed it but twice I went wrong on a route I've done at least 6 times! WTF?! I settled in and although I was finding it hard on some of the climbs into a headwind on 32:16, I churned on. Sections came back to me and I yo-yoed between riders out on the course. The weather finally set it's stall out and became worse and worse. The wind picked up and the rain set in. My core was warm but my hands began to get soaked and I lost feeling in my fingers. Damn you Reynauds syndrome.
I caught up to Budge around the half way point and we rode together along London Rd below Stoodly Pike and on towards Summit. I paused at the checkpoint to put on some dry gloves and eat chocolate while Budge carried on. I know the next stretch like the back of my hand as I've run it several times on the old Relay. Pushing hard I eventually caught Budge as we headed towards the 'Godforsaken Golf Course' as I have dubbed it.
Again we rode together. Budge was in good spirits and was keeping me going. I was starting to suffer now. The hard climbs into the wind and the cold (I couldn't actually feel the bars by now) were taking their toll. By the time we got to the notorious Rooley Moor Rd I was at a low ebb. I strained up the climbs and at times I just couldn't keep the bike moving so was off and running, at times. My arms felt like I was tearing them out of the sockets and I was hurting. I'd dropped Budge on the climb, probably due to him having access to lower gears. I neared Cragg Quarry, although it took me a while to realise due to the low cloud. It was now REALLY hard. Suddenly Budge shot past with a cheery word. On I struggled. Past the Cragg trails and out onto the highest section. The wind was howling and I actually got blown off the bike twice! Finally I reached the turn off for the last descent down to Cowpe. I was battered by now and minced down the hill. The rain continued to lash down as I whizzed down the road and on towards the final road climb on then - at last - to the finish!
There were some tired bodies in the hall afterwards. It had been a tough day. I felt sorry for the people who do it as a real challenge - the last rider home took ten hours and 40 minutes! Imagine being out for so long in those conditions! When the results went online I discovered that I'd come 16th out of 172 finishers in 4:50. Although I was a bit disappointed to not be closer to Budge (he got an impressive 4:37) but I was pretty pleased to finish so high up on a SS in those conditions. Oh and it was a new PB for the MTL for me.
Now for the 3 Peaks...

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The salvation of pain

My hands are rammed deep into the drops of a pair of wildly bucking handlebars as I try to scrub some speed and get back on the right side of control. I'm rattling down the rocky diagonal descent from Darwen Tower on the 9th of 10 reps that comprise a steep hill carry, fast descent and sprint across the 'flat' bit of the triangle. It'll take me just over 2 hours of hard effort to complete. Sweat and snot streak my face. Three Peaks Cyclocross sadomasochism.
It's my birthday. I'm 51.