3 Peaks cyclocross 2015: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

Photo by Adrian Nichols / SportSunday.co.uk

I’ve never read The Tale of Two Cities but that incredibly well-known opening line from a novel sums up my 2015 3 Peaks.

Okay – it wasn’t quite the worst of times – far from it – but when things are going really well, it seems to emphasise the problems when they come. And they came. But more on that later. I wanted to gather thoughts whilst fresh in my head as usual. The next few days will be absorbed with the 3 Peaks just like the previous few weeks have been, but it’s good to write these things down whilst they’re fresh on my mind. Continue reading “3 Peaks cyclocross 2015: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times””

The final bicycle-made-for-three commute of the year

Bicycle Made for Three

I go in for my shoulder operation on Monday, and will be in a sling for the rest of the year.

It has been a lovely day here, and Lily capped it all by saying “We’re just ace” to me, as we flew through the village.

I know what she meant. Heads Turn when you ride along on a long, long vehicle like this.

Some young people would get paranoid and not enjoy the attention.

We don’t mind. We’re just ace.

A change of direction.

It’s 4 weeks now since I dislocated my shoulder (for the third time) and had what I now see as an epiphany. I was unceremoniously dispatched to the tarmac at the Colne Grand Prix about a week after hearing that I needed surgery on the shoulder. It was inevitable in hindsight that it was going to pop out when my next crash came. Anyway… that’s the physical. It’s the mental stuff that’s been preoccupying me since then. That’s come as some sort of a surprise to me, in a way. It’s hit me a bit harder than I thought.

Let’s get this straight. The decision not to race until this is sorted is unequivocally made and not in question. The pain that happens with my dislocation when it happens is as near to all-consuming as I have experienced. To race – either a bike or fell running, would elevate the risk of a fall and I’m in no doubt at all that I do not want that.

I’ve yet to get a date for the surgery but am happy for now to sit it out. (It looks like October, if you’re interested)

There’s a few things that have caught me by surprise since ‘the decision’.

Routine.

The first thing is, life is about routine more than I realise. Bringing up children, I became aware of that. Routine is your best friend with children with so many things. It helps them immensely – and you – especially when they are very little. But I’m only just coming to realise how strong an influence the routine of my cycling life has had upon me over the years. This time of year is deeply engrained in me. The scene is familiar but the stage has been taken away. It’s the end of family holidays and about 6 weeks until the 3 peaks cyclocross. In my normal routine that means lots of things; coping with a minor weight loss burdon, running with the bike, hill reps, longer rides with the harder last hour, fine-tuning the bike, obsessing over minor frills, there’s a long long list (and each worthy of its own blog post over the years!).

But that’s all gone. I’m not riding the 3 peaks, and on the surface, that’s making things simple. Except it isn’t. It makes it strange, unfamiliar, partly exciting, mildly depressing, but very, very out of routine.

Any speed you like as long as it hurts.

Another thing I have come to realise is that I ride bikes and run because I am competitive in nature. I have ‘tried’ riding my bike a couple of times now in the last four weeks, and also ‘tried’ a couple of runs. (These are – by my own strict rules – away from competition. There is a clear self-preservation thing in me keeping me from situations where I might fall until the surgery and recovery has taken its course). I actually enjoyed both riding and running. But only because I went fast. I hurt. My legs hurt. My feet hurt when I ran. My chest was straining on climbs on the bike. I got in that zone as soon as I could. And that’s why I enjoyed it. I did try, when I set off, to go easy. I’d love to think that I could just go out for a spin… or for a jog… just an amble. That’s not going to happen for me. Not easily, anyway. I do try not to go hard, but it’s hard.

So, for now, I’ve decided to carry on not racing as fast and aggressively as I can.

The beaten track

I thought I’d miss off-roading on the bike, but I don’t. I’m really unsure as to why, but have an incling that this really won’t nag me too much over the next six months or so. I can – for the time being – get my fix of the rural by running, when I want (I’m permitting myself to run off road – just not go silly downhill*). There is a bit more faff in off-road biking and I’m not missing that at all. I can pedal on the roads, and I can run off. So that’s fine. Surprisingly fine. For now.

Mind Games

It may be a break from sport, but my subconscious has never been so rushed off its feet. All my holiday, I read tales of people’s cycling adventures. Those of my team mate Alan off in the Pyrenees were particularly, disturbingly envy-inducing. But even everywhere we went on our holidays, driving to chunky altitudes in the Picos de Europa Picos de Europa Roadsup swooping smooth roads, driving through the dramatic tree-smothered hills of the Basque country, the swirling Mediterranean Carreteras of the Costa Brava… all of it was basically one huge monologue-to-self about how the Planet X N2A would feel swooping around on roads like that. An itch that will have to remain unscratched, for now.

It bled into my dreams and my sleep was disturbed by a combination of bike pining and worrying about my arm popping out. An comfortable mix of a mind not at rest.

On the up

Every cloud…

I’m starting to resolve some excitement about this rare opportunity to do a few different things this Autumn (aside from keyhole surgery and six weeks in a sling). There are a few things I can put to my advantage. I’m ‘watching’ my first 3 Peaks since 1994, for a start. I plan to do a bit of filming and make a short piece about a support team for the day. I can do things like ‘drink alcohol’ in September. That will be novel. I may even get to take Lily to some cross country races, or take Elsie to do a cyclocross without it all being a rushed compromise of a day. I can go on my friend Alan’s stag do without feeling guilty… and even attend his wedding in January without going straight there “filthy from the nationals” , as was the original plan.

It’s not all bad. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s different. I must make a point of keeping a half-full glass. Unless it’s someone else’s round.

* Just on climbs – see here

Time Trialling: Ten Years Gone

Circuit of the Dales

It’s almost exactly ten years since my last time trial. I had ups and downs in my against-the-clock racing between the ages of 17 and 33, but on an April Sunday in 2003, I rode the local Hilly Time Trial (the now defunct Circuit of Holcombe) and didn’t realise quite how long I’d be hanging my time trialling wheels for.

Ten Years After: I’m going Home

A lot have changed in that ten years; fairly obviously, I guess. Now ten-year-old Lily was literally a babe in arms then. Cycling-wise, I’ve also had a bit of a late thirties flourish in cyclo-cross, in my own relative terms, and ten full years off time trialling I must admit I’d started to get a wee bit intrigued about how it all would feel again to ride against the clock…. so I entered a race that had always taken my fancy – for several years – the Circuit of the Dales. Reasonably steeped in history (since about 1980), it’s a tough course and an event that takes place within spitting distance of Kirkby Lonsdale (where mum lives) and Ingleton (where Katie’s parents live). It’s also, dare I say it, within eye shot of three rather special ‘peaks’ of the Yorkshire Dales. If I was going to time trial again, it may as well be a special one.

Surprise, surprise, there was little fun to be had. Despite the spring finally turning up just in time and that nagging easterly wind finally taking a break, even in chilly spring sun (1°C at the start) it still felt pretty heavy weather. A ‘big push on the back’ start at the top end of Ingleton gives you such flattery for five miles or so to Tunstall. It’s downhill, and I think I even sensed a tailwind… but those things never last. The psychological damage kicked in at Greta Bridge, where you start climbing the Lune Valley. For ages. The roads feel like ‘I should be doing 25mph’ but the actually are ‘I’m struggling to do 21mph’ roads. Luckily, a few rises and falls make this bearable, and changes in rhythm are welcome in this sort of a race (well, for me).

It’s a real relief to start the first ‘real’ climb, from Sedbergh over Garsdale Head. Not that I’m a climber (especially a stone over my September weight) but it’s nice to have something to get your teeth into other than energy-sapping should-try-harder drags and false flats. Though the climb lasted 29 minutes, it was a reasonably ‘fast’ climb (I rode the 800 feet of climbing and 9.8 miles at an average of 18.9mph), but it was a climb. You knew where you stood. You had to ride uphill. That was less psychological torture than the Lune Valley.

The uppy downy descent to Hawes is basically one long anticipation of what’s to come. With only 1,000 feet of climbing over 6 miles, the drag over to Ingleton is rarely steep, but tired legs make it that much worse. I rode a lot with a heart rate monitor in my former time trialling days in the 90s, abd today it was of really good use. It’s so hard to go too hard for a bit (then pay) or lose focus and let the effort drop, 2 and a bit hours into racing flat out, but riding on your HRMs guide is really useful on drags like that.

I’m going home, to see my babe

It was nice to see a few people out chivvying me along… Phil, Angus and Mum predictably chanting ‘Good Boy’ near Casterton and Middleton, and Katie with Jean and the girls at Ribblehead, but strangely, on an innocuous streth of hell, almost 1,400 feet up, it was warm to get a shout from photographer Adrian Nicholls of SportSunday – out getting a few photos in a remote spot. That was near the crest of the final climb (not to be sniffed at and higher than any Lakeland pass!) and an ‘I’ve made it’ moment – with only 6 or so miles of mainly downhill left.

So is there anything I learned? Would I do it again? Am I going back to being a tester?

Well, no, in a word. I knew it was going to be very tough. It was very tough. My finishing place – about 39th from 140 was nothing to write home about. I know how to improve that and frankly aren’t that bothered about the dedication it needs. I’d much rather relish putting training into something I could raise my arms aloft for. I’m a tart. I’m driven by ‘event’, by ‘occasion’, and by the sounds of spectators, in a strange way. Time trialling doesn’t provide any of that. That’s not a criticism of time trialling – it’s a criticism of me, and what makes me tick. Put another way, I don’t have the legs for it….! But, crikey, what a stunning part of the world to suffer in. Give me that over a dual carriageway and a fast time any day.

Thanks to my brother Phil, Nephew Angus, and to Ady Nicholls and his ace people at SportSunday for the photos.

GPS Here on Strava: Circuit of the Dales

National Cyclocross Championships 2013 – Peel Park, Bradford.

My favourite venue for cyclocross outside of Helwith Bridge. This year’s Nationals were at Peel Park again. The rain held off much to my disgust int he days before. I like it more cloggy and technical, but on race day, Peel Park never lets you down – it’s a terrific venue with so much technique called upon even on the less muddy years. So here’s race day, in as few words as necessary. Continue reading “National Cyclocross Championships 2013 – Peel Park, Bradford.”

Cyclocross: All of the faff

It’s the National Championships at the weekend, and time to reflect as the season approaches its finale.

Cyclocross is a strange sport. It breeds and harbours obsessives. For a discipline that involves belting around muddy fields, there is an inordinate amount of fine-tuning, preparation and finesse… from the meticulously exact tyre pressures for the conditions in the correct tubulars with the correct tread, to the perfecting of the right line on the course recce at 8am in -2°C. The right clothes, the right food, just enough sleep, the right warm-up… the training, the bike fettling, and even the Dirt Bags to make sure we clean off properly after a play in the mud.

This short road movie is about all of the faff of cyclocross for team mate Alan Dorrington and I as we covered the northern half of England in the final three rounds of British Cycling’s National Trophy series.

Yeah, we raced, too. But that was just for a few minutes every fortnight.

The 2012 Three Peaks Cyclocross:

Penyghent Lane

I’m tired. It’s probably not the best time to do this, but it’s important to try and gather thoughts fairly soon whilst still fresh in the head.

My 16th attempt at the three peaks Cyclocross yesterday was a tough one. It was the same for everybody who took part. The weather forecast had been bad, and it turned out to be a very accurate forecast on the day. Everybody was mentally prepared for a hard one. Still, no matter how much preparation you make, it doesn’t stop it from being hard. Yesterday was hard. Continue reading “The 2012 Three Peaks Cyclocross:”

I had a fit.

Retul Bike Fitting

I’m 42 and had my first fit yesterday. You might think it’s young to have your first fit. For me, it’s about 26 years later than it ought to have been.

With a mix of health problems cropping up over the last year or so from bad backs to kidney stones to even more bad backs, I took it on myself to see a Chinese Physiotherapist recommended by Alan (crossjunkie). The experience was quite enlightening (aside from the fact that she told me I had a very very weak kidney pulse – prophetic, to say the least, a few days before my diagnosis). One of the major things that Leslie (she herself isn’t Chinese… but the practice is!) mentioned was assumption that I had my bike all fitting me well and I’d been measured up, etc. Time to fess up… I hadn’t. Ever. Been fitted for a bike. Ever.

Time to call Brant.

I’d seen a promotional video about Planet X’s Retul fitting service and decided the time had come for me to arrange a session… ‘just in case’ anything I’d been doing for the last 25 years or so was a bit wrong.

I had indeed been doing things a bit wrong. Well… a bit more than a bit actually.

I called my bike sugar daddy Brant to see if I could book a fitting.

Planet X ShopI’d just taken delivery of a very very handsome Planet X N2A bike so with the brand new bike only a couple of rides old I headed down to Rotherham. Aside from the fitting itself, this whole things was a real treat. Kid in a sweet factory. You get the picture. This is a big shop and a bigger warehouse. Mmmmmmm! The fact that I’ve been riding for Planet X for six months or so but never made the time to get down to their place was playing on my mind, so the fitting made the perfect opportunity.

Last Fit

I was greeted by Chris Last – Planet X’s soigneur and an experienced cyclist who took me through the Retul process amidst a mass of fairly untamed cycling chit chat from both our mouthes. Chris’ experience of local riders over the last few years overlapped a bit of my time in Sheffield in the early 90s and it was great to chat away whilst simultaneously finding out my bike was pretty hilariously adjusted. Watching a stick man of myself on the screen, live, is a strange enough experience, but watching a cramped up one made it very plain to my eyes that something wasn’t really right. Through an hour or so of careful adjustment, bit by bit, we corrected all those bad angles, until everything fell within the right tolerances. New bike or no new bike, I had been riding a saddle that was 35mm too low and it seems I had been for quite some time. Talk about having a fit. Shocking, mildly embarrassing (but I’m bigger than that and I can take it), and all in all a bit of a revelation.

So… one day later, I gave the bike a really good kicking yesterday for 90 mins and over a couple of big climbs in a bloody headwind and crappy drizzle. All held up really well and if I could summarize the change I’d say that I feel like I’m getting the sort of power down that I would have done in the past by standing up. Makes sense really.

What a tit

So once you’ve all stopped laughing at my “discovery”, spare a thought for how this bodes for someone who has suffered from lower back pain. Watch out… here I come. The final word goes to a certain person I know who commented: “It’s a bit like when I went to get myself properly measured for a bra in my mid 30s. I’d been wearing a 36C – then I found out I was actually a 32F”. The minor details count, but the big details count more.

Video below of the experience and if you like my soundtrack you can hear it in full here

Ronde Van Oost Lancashire 2012 – the trailer

Bezzy mate Alan ‘Crossjunkie‘ Dorrington’s ‘own’ ride – the Ronde Van Oost Lancashire – is in its fourth year now and growing exponentially in popularity each time round. It’s on the 31st March this year and I’m getting all little-biy-excited again for a lovely “grovel on the cobble” day out. Especially good this year is that it’s going to turn out to be a bit of a school reunion for me with – hopefully – Phil (brother), Tolly, Rich Bardgett and Rich Hannaford. That truly is a treat and I haven’t ridden with some of those people for 20 years!

Continue reading “Ronde Van Oost Lancashire 2012 – the trailer”