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When you’re riding a very light, rigid-forked, singlespeed mountain bike at speed on a narrow, rocky trail at night it’s easy to forget (or deliberately ignore) the fact that you’re only really a fraction of an inch from potential disaster. Every twist and turn, bump and depression in the trail successfully negotiated simply results in more confidence, more concentration and more speed. More bravery. Faster and faster we go….
I’d not ridden this (very light, rigid-forked, singlespeed) bike since the Strathpuffer last year. I’d built it more or less specifically for that race – one gear, no suspension, very, very light. It’s a fantastic bike to ride – involving, responsive, rewarding, etc, etc. Not much in the way of compromise and on paper, definitely not ideal for riding for 24 hours in one go. You can put the front wheel where you want it to be without a great deal of effort. Likewise, ride something bumpy and the front wheel can be knocked off it’s line quite easily – belt it into even a small rock with enough gusto and all of a sudden you’re making a big correction just to stay upright/not in a bush.
I’m pretty sure I hit something largish the other night while hurtling down one of the amazing singletrack trails at Penmachno. One second I’m flying down the trail, the next I’m flying through the air. The bike, knocked off the narrow trail onto a patch of sticky mud and weeds at the side of the trail, coincided with me reaching the limit of my reaction speed and ability and suddenly pitched me forwards, into the air and onto my head. From that point things got a bit worse as I tumbled down the steep, muddy bank at the side of the trail – tumbling over 3 or 4 times I hit rocks with my arms and legs on the way down and thankfully came to a halt before I fell down a hole or off a cliff.
In hindsight I don’t think there was a cliff and I’m not sure if there was a hole, but I knew it would be in my best interests to stop rolling down this hill kind of soonish.
I knew it was a big crash because Phil, who was riding behind me at the time, wasn’t laughing. Instead he was running/sliding down the embankment towards me.
As I lay there, I waited for the adrenaline to start to wear off so I’d be able to tell if I’d broken my arm. It felt like I might have done – it was bloody painful but not so painful that I was crying out. Maybe I’d got away with it. My legs were hurting and already my neck was getting stiff from the initial impact. I’d also belted my chest into the bars as the bike and I parted company and the pain that I experienced when I inhaled suggested that I’d cracked a rib or something.
Great. Just great. I seem to have spent the past couple of months either injured or full of some kind of snot disease.
I’d also lost my helmet light – I’ve no idea where that went but it’d either gone out or was buried because we couldn’t find it.
Thankfully the bike was ok so I wasn’t looking at a 10 mile walk back to the car.
As I sat in Dave’s car, waiting for Dave, Budge and Phil to complete the ride (I insisted that there wasn’t much point in everyone sacking it off on my account), I gradually warmed up, ate the remainder of my food and decided that I’d not broken my arm as I watched it swell and go a funny colour.
Hopefully in a few days I’ll be able to turn my head fully and ride a bike again without constantly swearing and grimacing in pain…
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In the past couple of weeks I’ve decided that “recovery” hurts. Yeah, yeah, yeah I know it’s necessary and all that and to be fair if I’d not taken a couple of weeks off, as in doing nothing at all, after dragging my already-pretty tired carcass around the Relentless course for 24 and a half hours I’d have probably ended up in hospital anyway…but GOOD GRIEF I JUST WANT TO BE THIN AND FAST AGAIN.
I’ve not bothered weighing myself for a while. No point. I know I’ve overindulged on crappy food and red wine and I can tell that I’ve eaten very little in the way of healthy food because I’ve had a cold for a week and I’m constantly sleepy – presumably something to do with a lack of vitamins or something. Dunno.
That’s all out of my system now though and as far as I’m concerned I’m fully recovered and rested. If I try to recover any more I’ll just go mad and probably start running around outside in my underpants with a colander on my head.
So….my return to Doing Stuff and Eating Properly Again has coincided with the arrival of the autumn miserable weather and almost-constant darkness. After a road ride in the Dales with Dan where my extra bulk became obvious during a particularly painful ascent of Fleet Moss, I’ve spent the last week or so getting wet and muddy; slipping and sliding on local trails that not too long ago were dry and dusty. At least I’ve got the place to myself again.
To remind me what can be achieved with a lot of hard work and dedication (and not sitting around eating pasties), this arrived today. My medal from the World Solo Champs. Ok it’s 17 months since that race but it’s still lovely.
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Unsurprisingly, racing a fifth 24 hour solo in 12 months was a pretty uncomfortable experience. I’d had a good few days of taking things easy after a slightly-harder-than-I-thought-it-was-going-to-be Bristol Oktoberfest, I was nice and organised (apart from the fact we didn’t arrive in Fort William until 1am the night before the race) and I was feeling ok. In reality though, I didn’t really have the legs for a 24 hour race last weekend and I’m still quite surprised that I was able to finish it, never mind win it.
I was fine for the first few hours. In fact, I created a nice big gap between me and everyone else at the start of lap three by making a Heroic Big Move™ and hammering it to the top of the first climb after spending the previous couple of hours to-ing, fro-ing and “getting into it” with a fresh-looking Jason Hynd.
After 6 hours or so the running order behind me was starting to settle down (Matt Jones was putting in some nice consistent lap times in second place) and the gap was now somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. It wasn’t getting any bigger though and I was starting to become frustrated at my inability to kill things off and make the gap bigger. I was feeling tired and if I’m honest, I was hanging on and praying that I didn’t have a mechanical – if I had some catching up to do I wouldn’t be doing it today…
Debbie arrived four hours into the race and after a 6 hour drive, immediately dropped into her role of supporting me while I immediately slipped into my role of grumpily barking orders J
It was raining. I was getting cold and my shorts seemed to be filling up with fragments of Scottish granite. I wasn’t so much ‘tapping out laps’ as ‘grinding round the course’. I was suffering but I wasn’t planning to sack the race off because I’d put £120 of diesel in the van to get here.
The course was trying to break me and to be fair, it was doing a pretty good job of it. The first climb from the start/finish line was testing my patience as well as my legs and some of the tricky downhill sections were getting sketchy too (including one muddy bit that by now had a rut that looked like it had been caused by a meteorite).
I kept grinding out the laps. Matt would put in a faster lap and I’d somehow respond by doing the same. The gap never extended beyond 31 minutes. I was going to have to ride for longer than 24 hours ‘just to make sure’. My 23rd and final lap was enough for the win and as I rode for the final time to the finish line towards a cheering throng of 4 people, my rear mech finally packed in, seemingly in sympathy with my wretched and crumpled body.
It was time for chips, gravy and a bloody good rest. Big thanks to everyone who was there for putting up with my monosyllabic grunting, especially Deb, Jacqui and Phil. Thanks also to Frazer and Spook for their hospitality and for organising the race, John and all the guys at Exposure Lights for shouting encouragement as I rode past 23 times and finally a massive “bloody well done lad” to Matt Jones for a super-strong ride for 2nd place.
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Let’s start with the plan. Arrive late the night before the race, camp out, get up early, do the race. Dig deep but not too deep – remember you’ve got a 24 hour solo next weekend. Just dig deep enough to make the trip to Bristol worthwhile, make sure all is well with the bikes you’ll use next week and maybe win some beer. Drive home.
…for a change, that’s pretty much what happened. Almost. The drive down was late enough to be trouble-free and 3 hours after leaving Manchester I arrived at a dark Ashton Court in Bristol and pitched the tent (just how ace are pop-up tents?). A solid night’s sleep and a relatively stress-free couple of hours of pre-race faffing passed a little bit too quickly, leaving just a few minutes to use the loo.
There weren’t many loos and a lot of people queuing to use them. Ooops.
Eventually, I’m back in my tent, feverishly pulling on bib shorts and jersey while simultaneously applying chamois cream and I made it to the start line with literally 3 seconds before the start of the chaotic run to the bikes, left at the side of the gravel track.
The course was almost all purpose-built, hardpacked, swoopy MTB trail and was mostly very narrow. I spent the whole race politely asking people if I could get past just before nearly riding into a bush while riding past. After a couple of laps I started to get the hang of it, let a few psi out of my front tyre and started to have fun. I even jumped a few times. Go me.
One of the highpoints of the race was a lump of home-made flapjack left on my table by Ant, complete with a written note to tell me how I was doing. Up until this point, about 3 or 4 hours in, I had no idea if I was first, last or somewhere in between so I was forcing myself to push hard the whole time. Which wasn’t the plan.
Anyway, the flapjack was bloody lovely – just slightly over-done but not burnt. Perfect
6 or 7 hours later and I think I started to fade a bit. In fact, the earlier fast pace after what’s been a big couple of weeks on the bike definitely caused me to fade a bit and eventually a very fast Andy Cockburn went past and carried on riding off into the distance to win the 8 hour race overall. I managed to hang on for the last half hour or so after that and I can’t complain about winning the vet’s category after riding 15 laps of what turned out to be a very punishing course – especially as I won beer, a cup and a pretzel.
So….all is set for Relentless 24 next weekend – my fourth last 24 hour race of the year.
Someone told me it’s been snowing in the Highlands…
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Apparently it’s been a long time since there was a cyclocross race in Heaton Park. I know there’s not been one for as long as I can remember (cos I can’t remember there being one)…anyway. I was sat on the sofa, having a coffee just half an hour to the start of the vets race. Finished my coffee, rode half a mile to Heaton Park, signed in and got ready for the off. When getting to the start of a race normally involves the best part of a week packing, preparing multiple bikes and getting a caravan loaded up the day before, this was sheer luxury.
I started in my usual mid-pack position without much of a warm-up and without a practice lap. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that coffee after all…
The course, given Mick at Manchester Wheelers had to presumably keep the whole thing “compact” and unobtrusive for this year at least, was brilliant fun.
Nothing too tricky but it flowed fantastically well and had a number of short but very steep climbs up the grassy slope near the Papal monument – the same grassy slope that I used to ride my old Marin up and down yonks ago. An ace rooty section through a wood and some steps to run up and a couple of barriers to hurdle (repeatedly trip over, in my case).
I had some little battles with other riders, didn’t crash, didn’t get lapped by the leaders and finished in 12th place, which I think is my best result in a ‘cross race ever. To celebrate I went home, had a butty, swapped bikes and headed for the hills for a few hours.
The cyclocross league lasts throughout the winter and whilst I’m looking forward to future rounds in glamorous locations such as Clitheroe and Liverpool, my next two MTB races will probably ensure that “12th” is as good as it’s going to get for quite some time…
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I should have known, as I pulled on my favourite (and most expensive) pair of bibshorts and found that a couple of years of muddy endurance racing and hard training miles had worn a hole through them in a place that would have probably seen me arrested, that it was going to be one of those days.
I should have known, as we hurriedly pushed our eldest daughter out of the car on a lane near Austwick to be violently car sick on the grass verge, that it was going to be one of those days.
As it turned out, it was one of those days.
This year’s 3 Peaks Cyclocross didn’t look anything like last year’s. Apart from a bit of a breeze it wasn’t raining hard and it didn’t look like conditions were going to be anywhere near as epic. Shame, I loved that aspect of this race last year and for the first time I looked back and could honestly say “I really enjoyed that”. Nope, today it was sunny and everything pointed to a fast race in which everyone who was in the mood for it would get a personal best time.
The start was as crackers and as dangerous as ever and I watched, despite warnings just 10 minutes ago of the race being stopped for people riding on the wrong side of the road, a steady train of riders overtake the main group on the wrong side of the road. Normally I’d join them but figured I’d claw back dozens of places as soon as the road went uphill. I’m not sure I’ve seen quite so many people undertaking by riding on the pavement before though. Maybe that happens every year, but yesterday was the first time I’d noticed.
As the road went uphill I clawed back dozens of places and was soon pretty much back to the position I was in at the start. Me and Phil were soon climbing Simon Fell side by side and making good progress – our highish position in the field was getting better and we were almost guaranteed plenty of room on the ascent of the next peak. The ‘breeze’ was a fierce tailwind by now. I figured that if I got a little bit ahead on the climb I’d have a head start on the descent – Phil would almost inevitably pass me on the descent and we’d be able to help each other with the (mainly) headwind on the next road section that would take us to Whernside.
While spinning through the air, I somehow had enough time to think about various friends who’ve broken their collarbones and also my thoughts drifted to Dave’s Bolt. This was going to hurt. A split-second ago the descent was going well – Phil rode past but I was keeping up and the plan was up to now working. Where the plan went wrong was when I took the worst line imaginable into a steep bit – the bit of the steep bit with a bloody big, front-wheel-swallowing hole in it.
I think I was heading over to the right, but I somehow managed to twist my weight around and over-corrected things and headed over to the left instead. In mid-air I pitched forward and landed on my forehead. To be more accurate I landed on the front of my helmet which emitted a loud and expensive-sounding cracking noise and was driven into my forehead. I lay there for a few seconds, waiting for the pain of a broken something-or-other to kick in but thankfully it didn’t. My head was hurting and my lower back bore the full force of the saddle belting it so sitting down on the saddle for the remainder of the race was pretty uncomfortable but I appeared to have mostly got away with it.
The rider that was immediately behind me stopped to check I was ok and carried on. The rider after him fell foul of the same hole and also crashed, but I believe his was less spectacular than mine, so I win. The rider after him chastised us both as “that’s a bad place to stop, that, mate”. Cheers, thanks for that. That really lightened the mood. A bollocking for crashing in the wrong place.
My rear wheel had been torn from the bike in the crash (no idea how) but once I’d put everything back together and straightened the handlebars I took a deep breath, lamented on the 60 or so places I’d just lost, remounted and continued the descent.
I’d lost my concentration now and was finding it difficult to stay off the brakes and ride confidently, expecting more wheel-swallowing holes. I finally reached the sanctuary of the road and got on with the ride to Whernside. I knew I’d lost dozens of places now and that by the time I reached Whernside I’d be somewhere in the middle of the slow procession rather than the ‘brisk trot’ up the stone steps that I enjoyed last year. I mostly spent the road section on my own, my only constant companion was the wind.
The slow march up the steps of Whernside was pretty frustrating but by now I was resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to catch Phil up and my ambition of finishing in less than 4 hours had pretty much evaporated. The main feature this year of the Wherside ascent was the incredibly strong crosswind that was at times making standing up difficult, never mind riding a bike. The 3 Peaks never fails to deliver something….
Unusually for me, my descent of Whernside was incident-free, but still pretty slow and “over-careful”. I reached the Ribblehead viaduct, got my usual round of applause for riding down the steps, collected a replacement bottle from Deb and carried on along the road towards the final peak of Pen Y Ghent.
I saw Phil start his descent of the gravelly track from the rocky bit near the top. That meant I was about 15 minutes behind. Maybe a bit more more. Perhaps I could still finish in less than 4 hours. Pressed on for the summit as much as you can in a procession of riders trying to avoid being hit by other riders running and/or riding down the same rocky trail.
Started my final descent. I was telling myself for some reason that I still had enough time. I’ve cracked another helmet by crashing and landing on my head on this descent before and the pain in my lower back and by now the whiplash pain in my neck was reminding me of that incident. Again, the voices in my head were forcing me to take it easy but it was ok – I wasn’t going slowly as such, I was just being careful.
During the final, screaming blast along the rocky lane back to the road I got a puncture. Brilliant. I started to laugh. I had a chat with a couple of walkers as I fixed it, all sense of urgency had disappeared as quickly as the air gushed from my rear tyre.
4 hours seven bloody minutes.
Big thanks to 2Pure for the loan of the light (but quite obviously bombproof) Rolf Prima wheels, Deb for always being there when I needed her to be and to everyone else taking part or organising this great race that one day I’ll get to grips with…..
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Sleeping outside in a waterproof bag doesn’t sound too appealing. Even less so when you have to get into it in the dark after a hard 7 hour bike ride on a wet bridleway in September. Nope, in a lot of respects, it’s not very appealing at all.
Speaking from personal experience, the chances of getting a good night’s sleep are relatively slim. If you find a perfectly lump-free and soft place to lie down you’ll have done very well indeed. The ride to the spot where you try to get some sleep will be difficult because you or your bike (or more likely both) will be weighed down with gear. You’ll “travel light” as best you can and you might even invest in some proper lightweight kit (not all sleeping bags are made equal) and luggage that shifts most of the weight from your rucksack to the bike but you can forget going fast. You might be cold and wet by the time you stop riding. And it might rain. Or worse.
But it’s still ace, and strangely addictive. The fact that you’ve left behind most, actually make that ‘all’ of your creature comforts, gone for a big ride, slept under the (billions!) of stars and then did another big ride to get home beats the pants off “went home, watched X Factor, mowed the grass, cleaned the car…” in the “what did you get up to at the weekend?” conversations that break out at work on Monday.
Sleep becomes easier to come by once you learn that you need to be absolutely shattered by the time you get into your bivvy bag and once you accept that you’re not going to break any speed records on a fully-laden bike, especially uphill, the ride becomes as enjoyable as any other ride.
Wanting to prepare for another multi-day wilderness race and promising to treat me to a pork pie, Phil persuaded me that an overnight bivvy somewhere in the Peak District in September would be a great idea. We met up on Rooley Moor Road and immediately my rear brake started to misbehave. My bike was heavy enough without having to ride it with the back brake on so we had to stop every so often to prise apart the sticking pistons.
We made reasonably good progress along the Pennine Bridleway, heading south towards the Peaks. At some point during the next couple of hours, my front brake started binding as well which meant that I was riding quite often with both brakes on….
Eventually, after seven or so hours of riding and pratting around with my brakes, we arrived at Lantern Pike, picked our spot, carefully arranged our riding kit so it wouldn’t be soaking wet in the morning and ate, chatted and wondered if the single-figure temperatures were going to be a deal-breaker as we both retired to our glorified binbags.
As it turns out, a good quality sleeping bag inside an equally-good bivvy bag is perfectly fine in autumn temperatures and as I lay there, various lumps and bumps in the ground preventing me from getting completely comfortable, I tried to take in the spectacular view of the cloudless night sky. I expect this is the best bit for many people – it’s certainly the best bit of the bivvying/bikepacking/mini-adventure experience as far as I’m concerned.
In the morning after what felt like a whopping 10 minutes sleep, we attempted to fix my front brake so that I’d be able to ride back along the bridleway in a bit more safety than yesterday. Within 20 minutes of fiddling with it, we’d made things considerably worse so I had to remove the pads entirely and rode home along the road with just a partially-functioning rear brake. Which was a lot of fun….