Grizedale North Face loop – a mad evening dash

I grabbed at a small window of opportunity this evening when mum had invited Lily to go to the theatre in Lancaster – to see The Jungle Book. I thought I’d throw the MTB in the car and belt up to Grizedale for a quick dash round the North Face Loop there. With an off-road triathlon coming up at Coniston on Sunday that includes a lap of the loop, I was keep to suss out just how much technical stuff there was to decide how to set up the bike. Continue reading “Grizedale North Face loop – a mad evening dash”

MTB Ride: Mary Townley Loop

Had a lovely day today. My training rides these days tend to be not much more than an hour in length. This has its advantages – you can go out and totally hammer yourself for an hour or so and get all the training benefit; I really believe that if you want to be fit to race well you can gain little from pounding out the miles. Greg Lemond agreed too in an excellent article in one of last year’s ProCycling magazine articles.

However, training theories aside, there comes the odd day when you really just fancy a long ride on yer bike! Continue reading “MTB Ride: Mary Townley Loop”

Fine tuning for the Nationals

Given that my chances of finishing much higher than 30th position in next Sunday’s national cyclocross championships are as slim as a cigarette paper, an outside may think I’m a bit obsessive trying to hone my training down for a one-hour race. I maybe am, but it’s the only way I know.

Christmas and New Year went fairly well for me in terms of fitness and wellbeing. I got tired a couple of times and ate a bit much a couple of times, but I managed to keep ticking over and seem to have repaired any form-damage before it took hold. I also managed to dispense with a cold just before Christmas meaning that (hopefully) my immune system is that bit more robust now.

Sunday’s race is a double whammy for me in some ways. Obviously it’s the nationals, and at the nationals eveyone is that bit more psyched. It’s also in the north of England; something that hasn’t happened for many a year. And with it being at Peel Park in Bradford, a venue I’ve put in my best rides at during national trophy events in 2006 and 2007, I’m bubbling over with excitement. All we need now is shed loads of rain to make it muddy and nasty, and I should be in my element. Not only that, but I’d be made up if Rob Jebb could do a ride at Peel Park – he does tend to excel on the muddier courses and won there in 2006. Fingers crossed for a ‘home’ victory (well – nearly).

Having the Todmorden Cyclocross last Sunday was a great bonus. Whilst I didn’t give it my everything, I gave it pretty near to everything for most of the race. It’s a perfect time for a good race – one week before – in that it blows away any cobwebs and allows you to get some proper intensity through your body in a way that you can never do in training. I was pretty pleased to be quite far from being lapped at the end of the hour over a relatively short course. I also found my bike handling fine after three weeks off racing. On Monday I had the day off work and squeezed in a fantastic ride over some great hilly roads – including Cragg Vale – technically the longest climb in England at 5.1 miles of undisturbed ‘upness’ see profile below or view ride in Google Earth here. Tonight is an hour on the Turbo, with an hour fell running on Wednesday then some cycling hill reps on Thursday… it’s all a bit focused and serious at the mo. That’s how I like it.

Cyclocross National Trophy round 5, Rutland Water

Leaving the house for a day seemed even harder this time round given that Lily had spent almost all day in bed on Saturday and Elsie was up about six times on Saturday night… cyclocross is tough on family life this year for us and I haven’t been able to really get into the training as a result. However, Katie was quite on top of things at home when I left (even if I wasn’t) and once in the car I got my head into racing mode.

The course itself was just the best cyclocross course I’ve ridden in many ways. It was a good mix and required so much concentration from start to finish. The grass was slippy and muddy, but there was only one real short running section.

I also got on top of things right from the moment the gun went – holding my place (for a change) after the start and picking my way past a few riders on the technical sections – of which there were plenty. (So many people seem to use their brakes on these muddy courses on corners – losing time and making themselves skid!). The field was a lot better this time round too and it was nice to see Nick Craig, Oli Beckinsale and Ian Bibby back in the top cyclocrosses.

I finished pretty much where I normally finish in terms of positions – 24th – but in a larger field I know I did a bit more of a ride this time. It’s really odd though – preparation was dreadful in the two weeks before with almost no training and disturbed sleeps… I just don’t know how to predict these things any more! Lewis also did a blinding ride for 7th after similarly rubbish preparation (stomach bug!).

2008 Three Peaks Cyclocross

I had a great day out yesterday doing the event that I go through in my head for 364 days of the year. In my sporting life, it’s the absolute pinnacle of the year. I essentially had a ‘clean run’ with no punctures, indeed no mechanicals whatsoever to talk of. A first, I think.

The dry ground was a bit of a surprise. A recce ten days before had left me thinking it was going to be a soggy, hard day out. The speed at which everything dried out with no rain at all during those ten days was quite a shock.

For the second time, I used a three-bike strategy that worked really well for me. Having some faster, more expensive and more fragile carbon wheels for the road sections gave me a lovely break from the utilitarian and a bit sluggish Maxxis Locust tyres that cope so well with the rocky parts of the course. Tolly and Simon were great with the changeovers and it’s so reassuring to know that if something did go wrong, there’s a bike and helper not too far away.

The detail
Peloton in HortonIn near perfect conditions 446 riders set out all together in an enormous, stretched out bunch from Helwith Bridge at 9:45 exactly. The unmistakable sound of Roger Ingham announcing the race was approaching sent a shiver down my spine – I’ve been here so many times before but I was very, very edgy, and was finding it hard to turn the pedals. When we’d done two of the 3.3 miles ‘escorted’ road section, my GPS told me that we’d averaged almost 25mph. The neutralised section was, thankfully, not very neutralised, as the speed helped to keep the riders strung into a longer, thinner bunch.

By the time we reached the ‘proper’ start at Gill Garth, I was struggling to stay in contact with the front of the race. I was feeling decidedly sick and not at all comfortable. In my heart of hearts, I knew that this was nerves, and just had to keep myself plugging away. I was in around 60th place as we got onto the first open field and onto the fell. I was feeling slightly better but my pride was dented and I had to bide my time and just get over it.

As the climb of Simon Fell got ever steeper, I managed to start picking my way slowly through people. I started to feel much more like my normal self as we re-mounted on the slow terrain on the ridge to the North of Ingleborough. I reached the summit checkpoint not knowing where on earth I was placed, but feeling like I had my work cut out to better my previous best position of 15th (in 2006). A later found that I was 30th over the top, (thanks to the excellent electronic event timing!).

I consolidated on the descent taking a number of places from people who are clearly better at running up hills than riding down them (thank the lord for such people). By the first bike change at Cold Cotes, I was feeling pretty good, and linked up with Keith Murray (a good reliable workhorse) and someone who’d had to run quite a bit of the Ingleborough descent and was in no mood for working. Keith and I were spurred on to try and make contact with Stu Bowers, who we could see just ahead (and did just catch at the foot of Whernside).

Simon made his first ever bike change for me(!) at Chapel le Dale and soon I was dismounted and alternating between running and walking up the steepening path of Whernside. By the summit, I was starting to get the first feeling of fatigue in my legs. I’d been going for 1 hr 45ish and had averaged 170bpm on the heart rate monitor, so it was okay to start feeling tired… I just had to keep fluids and minerals coming into my body and not over-exert myself.

The track over the summit ridge was pretty much as it has been for a few years now. Fast and with good traction, it’s one of the areas of the course where a good climber will make up some ground. Not being a good climber, I managed to limit my losses and kept the cadence pretty high on the bike, and hit the summit 21 seconds ahead of me. I soon made this up on Keith who was going through a bit of a doddery moment on the top part of the descent (we all have them!). We headed down together catching once again those nimble little fell runners who descend like the light boys that they are. (I’m just jealous of their weight!). I took a dramatic trip over the bars and enjoyed an incredibly soft landing at one of the gnarlier parts of the descent, but when i looked back, it seemed that Keith had gone the same way – he was nowhere to be seen. I had to plough on to Ribblehead making the most of my fairly good speed on the flatter, faster dry mud track.

As I dropped down to the viaduct and headed up to my bike change (thanks again, Simon and the lovely Katie), I made contact with two other riders for the valuable load-sharing on the fast road section to Horton in Ribblesdale. I pulled ahead of Phil Hinchliffe and Steven Macinnes inadvertently (I didn’t want to be on my own on the road!) so managed a quick banana and a good slurp on my Science in Sport ‘Go’ drink in the bottle, before being rejoined by them and we shared the work fairly well on the way into Horton, where Tolly was waiting for me with the bike for Penyghent.

Another smooth change and I was on my way up the rocky scar road. It was nice to spot Andy Rushforth snapping away. I was unsure whether he’d be out and about as he had some visitors over, but it’s great that he found the time and got a great set of pics, as usual. The climb of Penyghent seemed pretty much as I expected. I kept a sensible cadence up making the most of my bottom gear of 34 x 27, and didn’t panic when I quickly lost contact with Steven Macinnes, who clearly was going to climb way better than me. I stayed with Phil Hinchliffe on the climb and kept alternating between a walk and a run up the evenly graded track. I surprised myself a couple of times with how fresh my legs felt when I ran, but fatigue was quick to catch up and I had to walk every so often.

It was great to see Rob’s lead looking so utterly unassailable, and also a good morale boost to see that Lewis and Stu had both had seemingly good rides. Things had gone with form and it was reassuring in many ways to see Stuart ahead of me again after his dreadful ride in 2006. He’s a quality rider and as a team mate I genuinely share in their success. Talking of team mates, Damian Smith – relatively new to Team Wheelbase and an unknown quantity to me was closing in and only ten seconds or so behind me by the summit of Penyghent. I have appearances to keep up and needed to get down there pronto. On top of that, I was under the impression (misguided as it happened) that I might have been on for tenth spot if I got my backside down there quickly.

I went off like a bull in a china shop down the fast top bit of the descent. A few hairy moments but I was seemingly getting away with things, but I suddenly hit the deck whilst trying to overtake Ian Taylor – a fellow seasoned three peaks campaigner. I took a daft line and lost my front wheel down a pothole. I was quickly back on and caught Ian again before we hit the scar track, where I later found out he punctured.

I was in no mood to slow down now so near the finish. I took the track recklessly and paid the price when I took a high line way too fast and caught my front wheel on a rock. I went down hard and fast and my shoulder took a pounding. Adding insult to injury, I went into immediate cramp and had to nurse my hamstrings as I tried to retain my disturbed momentum. Not a good moment. I was a bit shaken and sore from the cramp now. The easiest bit of the descent followed, but my flow was well and truly broken and Phil Hinchliffe caught me near to the bottom.

Descent of PenyghentWith cramp a clear and present danger, I made the decision not to change bikes in Horton for the last couple of miles. Despite my best efforts, it caught up with me as it did three years ago on the otherwise fast and easy run in to Helwith Bridge. I had to let go of the valuable wheel in front of me and swore very very loudly as I was unable to move my legs in any cohesive way. Watching someone just ride away from you after a hard day out is soul destroying. What made matters worse was that I could see Phil cramping up 100 metres ahead, but as I recovered, so did he. I was once again strong again to close the gap but it was too late, and I rolled in a couple of seconds down in what turned out to be 13th position.

The time was good enough for a PB after eleven finishes in the event – shaving a fairly healthy 4 mins 59 seconds (irritating, huh?), coming in in 3:22:24.

Related Links
My Three Peaks Cyclocross Blog
Official Results 2008 (Detailed Results incl Checkpoint times)
British Cycling’s event report
My 2006 blog of the event
My 2005 blog of the event

Train for pain

I’ve spent the last few weeks getting myself back into off-road cycling in readiness for the cyclocross season.

It’s slightly strange this year as there’s a National Trophy race the weekend before the Three Peaks cyclocross. As some of you will know, I’m a bit nuts about the Three Peaks race and whilst I don’t mind a shorter, faster, flatter training event or two before the biggie, having a National Trophy race before is a bit of an unwanted distraction. There’s a bit more at stake in the national series and I can’t afford to do a dreadful ride, so it’s been a bit odd trying to combine training for the two very different events.

Whilst I’ve been trying to get in the odd fell race this summer (three shorties since my break after Elsie was born) I’ve also been trying to get back into crit racing on the road bike (hard to dip in and out of – it’s a ‘speed’ versus ‘fitness’ thing). Also, for the last few Sundays, Lewis (Craven) and I have been meeting up at 6:30am nearby and getting some long off-road ‘cross bike rides in to get ourselves ready for the Three Peaks. (this is the usual training route – when mechanical issues allow me to complete it!)

I’ve also been on the scales again and decided that I’m fast running out of time to lose those 6 extra pounds I really want shot of, so it’s no more booze and (fairly) strict dieting for September.

The upshot of all this is that I’m a bit wasted… but it’s nice thinking in the back of my mind that somehow, there’s a plan coming together, that may just work. Whilst I’ll be very happy not to get lapped at the first round of the National Trophy at Abergavenny like last year, I want to do all in my power to do the very best I can do in the Three Peaks. I don’t want to look back in a few years and wish I’d tried harder when I was younger.

Too busy to blog

It’s a sad state of affairs when you get too busy to blog. Considering we haven’t been away this summer, it’s been pretty hectic.

Obviously, having a new(ish) baby about the place is a good reason to keep my fingers off the keyboard in non-work time, but it also seems to have just been a bit of a packed time. Loads of things have happened that I’d usually go into great detail reporting, but the reporting time itself is at a premium, so instead, in the ultimate compromise, a list-view of recent goings-on:

  • Two fell races (and one more coming up this Wednesday) – in the Rossendale mid-week series – finished just about where I wanted to in the Golf Balls fell race and let myself down a bit in the Pilgrim’s Cross fell race. Google Earth maps of the fell races here
  • Two smashing days out on a long weekend:
    Morecambe: – had a trip to the seaside in some pretty decent weather at last – and a great chance to play with Lily on the beach (although she lost Ariel’s arm!) and visit the recently renovated Midland Hotel – an art deco landmark. A fully restored Gill relief sculpture of the Morecambe Bay area was a lovely highlight, as was getting a snap of Mum on the steps of the Hotel holding her wedding photo from the same spot. I also managed to sneak in a nice ride back from Morecambe via the gorgeous Trough of Bowland and long climb of Waddington Fell.
    Great Hucklow: – an annual trip to catch up with some old friends from Gloucestershire – Will and Juliet – and their fun family. A grand day out including some climbing wall fun and Will being part of the Doris Dancing team..
  • Some good momentum in the Three Peaks training, with some great 6:20am starts now three Sundays in a row (albeit with some appallingly bad mechanical incidents, the training still happened!).
  • The Olympics have been a time to be proud as a cyclist. We should make the most of times like these and it won’t be long before the Telegraph and Mail bits of the country start hating pesky lycra louts again. The Olympics in general have been a great reminder of how utterly rubbish the ‘normal’ sport on TV is in this country. So, so so so so so so badly skewed in favour of footballers pretending to be fowled. Some dodgy tattoos though.
  • I’ve relaunched the website. It’s now a fully functional ‘ning’ – a cyclocross social network with some stunning functionality – I really hope people start using it to upload their own reports and images.

I’ll hopefully gather some time in the near future to start writing ‘properly’ some time soon. When things calm down. That distant, lovely day that never comes.

Waugh’s Well Fell Race 2008

So that’s the break over with. 52 days after Elsie was born and 54 days since my bike crash, I’ve finally got back up and running and started the ‘training’ as opposed to the ‘keeping ticking over’. I’m really glad I forced myself to do the Waugh’s Well fell race earlier this evening.

A shade under four miles and climbing approx 1300 feet, it’s a classic Lancashire short fell race. I did it a few years ago and know the hill of Whittle Pike (climbed twice) really well – our house pretty much looks onto it so it’s a real landmark to me.

The time, and position were neither here nor there. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but what I got was one heck of a workout and a reminder that competition is the best form of training. A couple of years ago I’d have been pushing a top ten in a race like this on a good day, but I was content to push myself as hard as I can this evening in the knowledge that I’m back to training rather than keeping fit.

Another gobsmacker for the statisticians out there… average heart rate of 178bpm for the race (look at that graph… redlining!) and a max of 186. At 38, that’s pretty good and I think the max-est max I can recall since getting the trusty Garmin 305. View the course here in Google Earth. Mainly and out-and-back up-and-down race with a loop in the middle.

I beat my previous best by 40 odd seconds – I did the race four years ago and came 22nd. Not sure what position I was this year but it was about the same. Room, and time for improvement… the upward slope has started, touch wood.

A quick evening bike ride… after 15 years

The relocation of my brother Phil to his new job in Lancaster – and soon that of his family, as soon as they find a place to live – is starting to have an impact on me in a great way. It’s just so great to be able to meet up and do things pretty informally. His life and home in Devon were so great and visits were brill, but it’s such a big deal to get in the car, pack all your stuff, and ‘organise’ a trip.

A couple of weeks ago, just after Phil started, he popped down for the evening, after work – a meal, a few pints, all simple stuff, but stuff that’s been missing for so long.

Richard and PhilLast night, I met Phil with an old friend and long-term colleague Richard Bardgett, thus reforming – in a small way – a set of cycling buddies I used to pop out for occasional cheeky evening rides with in… well… about 1993 ! The lanes round Longridge were a great choice for some lovely mellow chatting (we saw about ten cars all evening) and just to be able to get out and enjoy a nice bike ride without ‘training’ was so good for the soul. (My only non training rides in recent memory have involved a trailer-bike being attached to the back!)

We’ll have to do it again some time. Maybe let’s not leave it so long till the next one.

The Fred Whitton Challenge 2008 – Faking It

The Fred Whitton Challenge is billed as a 112 mile sportive ride for charity around the English Lake District, taking in six of the major passes en route… starts and finishes at Coniston, and includes the climbs of Kirkstone Pass, Honister Pass, Newlands Pass, Whinlatter Pass, Cold Fell, Irton Pike, and finishes with the brutal Hardknott and Wrynose Passes.

Fred Whitton Challenge - ProfileI’ve ridden the Fred Whitton Challenge in the Lake District for the last three years now, and seem to have got by on not much specialist training, but today’s event was the closest I came to coming unstuck! Although I’m not too gifted as a climber and don’t immerse myself in the world of long training rides, I’ve managed to get by on some type of fitness or other in the past. This year’s preparation was taking it to extremes, with my longest ride this calendar year being 2 hrs 15 minutes (the ride is generally over 6 hours). I also had a three week chest infection which culminated in a course of Penicillin starting on Wednesday. We’re not talking ‘training camps’ here.

But cometh the hour, cometh the Loafer, and I managed to somehow avoid death on the hottest extended bike ride I’ve ever done.

Avid readers will remember that I cleverly decided to ride as a domestique last year (a team helper), hammering the pace hard for the first 50 miles, and cunningly giving myself an excuse to do the rest of the ride at a relative trundle. Well this year I had a helper – a super-domestique in the shape of last year’s record breaking rider Lewis Craven, who’d been equally slovenly in his training in recent months, and was quite happy to work like a horse with me on the front of the 50 strong group until the first ‘killer’ climb at 45 miles; Honister Pass.

Whether the pace or the lack of training was the undoing of Lewis and I is up for debate, but come undone we did, big time, later on.

On the descent of Newlands Pass, Lewis punctured, and we agreed that I should push on at a leisurely pace to the top of Whinlatter Pass, where I’d wait for him if he hadn’t caught me. And wait I did, for ten minutes, until one very dead looking record-holder emerged up the climb. Lewis had blown and we were half way round. Bugger.

We took things really easy along the western side of the course, and decided at the second and final food stop (Gosforth) that it was time for a good rest and a gossip, so we ate and chatted to a few helpers and set off back ten minutes later.

The approach to Hard Knott pass, easily the hardest part of the route, is purgatory. Especially when you haven’t done the training. But up we rode, where most decided to walk in the heat, and were starting to approach home and dry. It was 28°. The heat was a contributing factor in Lewis’s second puncture on the hairy descent of Hard Knott pass (the hot rims from braking melted the rim tape and a spoke poked into the tube!). I mended it for him this time. He was in a worse state than me.

We pressed over the final climb of Wrynose pass and rolled home rather flaked out and a bit sunburnt in a pretty unremarkable time of over seven hours.

Oh well. We still winged it I think, considering the lack of training. And we were mini heroes in helping keep the pace so high early on that Wheelbase team mate Rob Jebb manage (along with national hill climb champion James Dobbin) to break Lewis and Stuart Reid’s record for the event. Bitter-sweet stuff for Lewis, but that’s cycling. He was modest and full of humility throughout though – a very respectable man!

Fred Whitton Challenge on Google EarthView the 2008 Fred Whitton in Google Earth

FULL CLICK HERE for full Fred Whitton Results 2008

Photos here (or slideshow if you’d prefer).

My Stats from the Garmin 305 (didn’t pause it at any time).

  • 109.4 miles
  • Max speed: 51.9mph
  • Total Calories: 9367
  • Avg Heart Rate: 151bpm
  • Max Heart Rate: 179bpm
  • Total ascent and descent: 14061 feet