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””

Running: Winter footage helps get the job done.

I feel blessed.

As a cyclist, at this time of year, it can be a bit of a daunting time. Ancient myth and unchallenged tradition dictates we should be out there getting base miles in our legs. But just look out of the window. 6 days out of 7 since early December, it’s been blowing up some nasty storm or just plain rainy. Cycling is for the committed. Clearly, that’s not me. No way.

walshes-1In the 45 to 75 minutes per day that I can generally put aside for sport, I need an escape from the desk, and I feel blessed that I can run. It’s so simple. When the weather’s wet, or it’s blowy outside, too dark to ride in complete safety, or just plain freezing, running generally still takes place in the same gear, give or take a layer or hat. You’re ready in 3 – 4 minutes, leaving more time for the actual good bit.

In contrast, I’ve found winter cycling, despite loads of lovely weather-proof clothes, a decent lightweight winter bike and all-important mudguards, more and more of a faff. After a bit of excitement after getting back on the bike post-operation a month or so ago (as I blogged here for Planet X), it soon came home to me how miserable it can be at this time of year, too..!

walshes-2It’s the layers, the washing, the bike cleaning, maintenance, the choice of route to allow for being blown about the place, or even planning to get blown home… the random mechanical cock-up, the odd puncture… it all adds up to something that just means more and more faff – when you have a choice… to run.

Not that running is without its dilemmas, of course. I do enjoy the option where I live of the moor, the woods, faster pavement runs, fulfilling open-space quiet ones. It’s not a boring option. It’s no cop-out either.. Here’s the science bit.

The science bit

I’ve been reading mildly about views on this and although everyone has an opinion, it seems, the weight of it does tend to favour running as an effective supplement or even alternative to cycling – for cyclists. A 20 minute run taps into roughly same resources as a one hour ride (ref: http://roadcyclinguk.com/riding/cycling-winter-training-running-for-cyclists.html) and anyone who dips into running from time to time will know that – purely from how the body feels after 20 minutes. There’s fairly obvious use of more muscle groups in running, so fatigue effects kick in easier and hence lungs and heart have to work harder to sustain the effort.

It’s also, more anecdotally, good for the soul. The faff-removal in particular.In an October 2012 ‘serious’ bit of research by Øyvind Støren, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, even with the partial substitution of running for cycling, a rider’s total monthly training volume dropped by 18 percent during this preseason period, but the amount of training he did in the range of 90 to 95 percent of his maximum heart rate increased by 41 percent. We know from our other winter cycling alternative as cyclists (the loathed but necessary turbo trainer) that high Intensity workouts Increases VO2 max – so does running.

Drawing the line

2014-02-04_1315Although my running volume’s gone up a relatively huge amount this last few weeks, as the ‘January Run Map (right) shows, I doubt I’ll be doing any more running races this year than I have in the past. It’s a lovely, grass-roots, welcoming sport, as I know from the odd fell race I turn up to (usually two a year, max, these last few years) and the cross country leagues I’ve been taking (daughter) Lily to. However, I like to give things my best shot and in order to become a much better runner, I’d need to put in more time, vary my sessions, focus on different aspects… I only have room enough for one obsession and that’s biking. Running’s just a great, helpful alternative to training rides.

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

Colne Grand Prix 2013 – Marginal pains

Colne Grand Prix

Last night was my last race for a bit. Colne Grand Prix is a race I have ridden loads over the years. It’s a great race. A very simple town centre criterium on a very simple course. The corners are fast and flowing, and it always has a great atmosphere with the course packed full of people on either side. I’ve ridden there the last nine years and only missed one, and still felt I had my 2005 podium somewhere in my 43 year old legs if I got it right.

Ice cream Colne

Katie and the girls had come to watch. That’s a fairly rare thing; the pain of dragging two mildly moaning but very lovely girls to a freezing cold cyclocross course in November is bad enough to put anyone off for life, but a town centre crit on a balmy summer eve is something a bit different. And they had ice creams there. So I had my entourage.

From Casual T to Casualty

The build up to the race was the usual Haygarth chaos. Despite being very well organised (for me), and getting there in plenty of time, on a glorious summer’s evening, I forgot my racing Jersey, so had one together from the rather casual ten-year-old T-shirt I was wearing. What a nana. Actually it didn’t look too bad really. Okay, it did. But I was there, I had a number on, and there was a race to be done.

Start of the race – spot the casual guy in the red t-shirt. Photo by Andy Kennedy for British Cycling

 

The race itself was unsurprisingly very fast. Gone are those days when a 3rd cat crit is stop-start or slow. The first ten miles or so averaged 26.5 mph and only started to dip a bit as people settled in. There was no riding off the front on a warm night with little wind, so it was a matter of decompiling the forms and strengths of the riders around me and working out when to move up for the inevitable sprint.

As it worked out, I managed to avoid the inevitable sprint, by being right behind the almost inevitable crash on the final bend. With 250 metres to go, two riders in front of me hit the deck and that was it for me. I lurched over the top / side of them and hit the floor on my good side, but still somehow managed to pop out my bad shoulder.

I Scream Colne

Anyone who’s dislocated one before will identify with the all-consuming pain. I was calm in a way, reassured by knowing what I’d done and that 95% of the pain would be gone once they’d got it put back in in hospital. Panicked, to an extent about what Katie would think of me when she saw me in an ambulance – again. Never easy that stuff. But most of all, upper body movement of any description caused groaning, moaning agony. That needed sorting.

St John’s Ambulance were there and were ace. But they did run out of Entonox (gas and air!) after I’d relaxed my muscles for 15 mins or so. That was a bummer. When I eventually got to Blackburn Royal Infirmary and waited 20 minutes for some more Entonox, I was borderline passing out. Not being dramatic, just consumed by pain. Temporary pain though. Lordy, did I tote on that stuff when they got me some. It was amazing. I heard echos and weird reverberations, spoke jibberish, and saw in tunnels. But it relieved it.

X-Ray-ted words

They have to X-Ray you when they do these things. It’s easy and cynical to say they just have to follow procedure and it delays the process, but obviously they need to know what’s what, even after two prior dislocations of that shoulder. I was in for a bit of a surprise though. I knew they’d have to move me somewhat in my wheelchair to get the pictures they wanted, but after three blurry attempts to get the right angle, they leant me over in such a painful pose that something went click. I gurgled out some intense swearing, then took in so much gas that I could barely see straight. Only two minutes later did I realise that by moving me, the sonographer had accidentally manoeuvred my shoulder back in. I could have kissed her. But I didn’t. I was sweaty and half bloodied. And she was probably not that interested in me, to be fair. Don’t blame her.

Home Tweet Home

We all rolled in to the house rather late last night. Priority was to get 5 year old Elsie tucked up after an excitingly late night for her – and Lily too – but Katie and I stayed up and chatted for a while. It didn’t seem right to go to bed – we were a bit buzzing. And I wanted to tweet about it. First things first. But it was only a few polite tweets, then bed.

Marginal pains.

It could be seen as a snap, spur-of-the-moment decision, but with some clarity I’ve decided to do all I can as quickly as I can do get the Labral Repair surgery (link) done that I’ve been put on a waiting list for. I’m not prepared to put myself in any more risk positions until my body is fixed. The potential advantage of carrying on until the op was highlighted to me last night as very marginal, if indeed of any advantage at all. Towel thrown in.

It’ll be very strange in so many ways to not be training for the 3 peaks this year. The first event without a Haygarth in it for 20 years, with my brother Phil absent, too. But I’m very clear that it’s the right decision and that I will come back strong and enthusiastic. I’m quite looking forward to the idea of watching the race, in a way. A whole cross season out will be hard to deal with too, but there will be more in 2014.

Strava: The film

Strava KoM

I recently wrote about a love hate relationship with Strava. The app that bikes back doesn’t want to go away.

Some try to sue them, love, some hate, but it’s not quite like Marmite – as we all seem to love and hate it a little bit. A little bit like real racing, we love it when it goes well. We hate getting beaten.

But perhaps most significantly, it does seem to change the way the more competitive-minded of us go about our training rides. Even on a nice day. So the other week, I made a short film.

Can be watched in HD 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

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