The Wrong Tools

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My enthusiasm towards the cyclocross racing that resulted from the Crickhowell race was well and truly extinguished with the rain at Round 2 of the series at Risca. It was raining really hard in Brecon when we left and it didn’t ease off much all the way down. The course was, predictably, a mud-fest. My choice of gearing (32:17) wouldn’t have been too bad for the course in good conditions, but with the mud and wet it was all wrong. My sense of humour and enjoyment had failed me by lap four, despite encouraging words from Beth at the end of lap three.

By complete contrast, Round 3 followed a period of virtually nil rain. The course was an open flattish route around well kept grass fields on a farm. There was one long climb, but otherwise it was a fast course. Too fast for my gearing anyway. I rode as hard as a could for nearly an hour, got lapped twice and came well down the ranks considering the effort I’d put in.

It’s probably no surprise to the casual reader that a singlespeed isn’t going to cut it in a race with road-race hardened ‘cross riders on fast and generally non-technical courses. Fair enough, I didn’t expect it to. My principle objective was to have fun, and while Crickhowell was a real hoot, the singelspeed strategy (and to an extent my fitness) took the edge of the fun element in the rounds that followed. Still, there’s always next year. Perhaps Singular will have their Kite in production by then ūüėČ


Plus One Lap

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The playing fields of Crickhowell High School were criss-crossed in an intricate fashion with plastic tape. It weaved in and out of trees, up and down steep slopes and through the sand box of the long jump to form a convoluted race course. I stood on the start line of my first ever cyclocross race surrounded by hardened roadies “fresh” from a summer of road events and criterium races.

Standing astride a my 29er MTB with 32mm tyres and one gear at the back I was clearly in a minority of one. Crossing my fingers, I hoped that 32:18 was the right gear for the course. Without anymore time to contemplate the implications of the choice of set-up, the whistle went and we were off. Carnage ensued before the first corner: a bottleneck in the course caused a momentary hold-up, but once it was clear the pace soon opened up to the leg burning, lung bursting and heart pounding pace that characterises cyclocross racing.

The first half of the race was a bit of a procession, wheel to wheel with other riders while trying to pick them off on the tight turns or on approach to the technical sections. The 32:18 gear seemed about right for powering out of the hair-pins, and the technical sections favoured my MTB background. I settled into more of a rhythm after about 20 minutes, and with the thinning out of the other riders, I could concentrate on keeping my lines smooth and trying to gain some ground on the few riders I could see ahead of me. I was lapped by the leaders on lap six I think. I finished 19th of 31 seniors in the end, plus one lap on the leaders. Overall, it was a good event and an interesting introduction for me to cyclocross.

Round two is on Sunday…

Not Bikes, Races

Making Up For Lost Time

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I stopped to look at the map and survey my immediate surroundings. The total time displayed on my GPS continued to tick. Beside it, the figure showing my moving time had stopped. I was in Cornwall for Round 6 of the Endurance Life Coastal Trailquest series. Usual format, visit as many checkpoints as you can in five hours. Oh, and don’t be late.

It occurred to me, as the difference between my total time and my moving time increased, that I’ll never make those few minutes back, and as a result I will be arrive later at my final destination than I would otherwise have done. Such is the nature of trailquests – a balance of planning and execution.

The same is true for life, of course. It’s too full of distractions, diverting us from doing those things that matter more or preventing us from keeping the important things in focus. When you stop and look up from the path you’re on and survey your surroundings, sometimes you see a different one. Time spent getting to that point wasn’t wasted, it was a necessary part of the journey and along the way lessons where learnt. What has kept us busy for the last three and half months isn’t really important, it’s where we go from here that’s important. [Matthew 16:24-25]


Sun, Sea and…

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… Chainsuck.

The fact that I can’t remember when I last changed my chain or fitted the last set of chainrings to the bike, nevermind checking them for wear was probably not a good sign. After about 2 miles of trying to stop my chain being dragged upwards into my chainstay by the middle ring, I decided enough was enough: I was going to have to use either the big or the little ring. Any other day, I’d have cut the ride short or gone home to get the Swift. Trouble was, I was about 20 minutes into a 5 hour trailquest on the Gower. Not a good time for my drivechain to say, “Hey, you know what? I’ve done with having mud, grit and sand ground into me for the heaven knows how many miles and you’ve only got yourself to blame for not checking me over properly before a race. So there.”

It was a nippy minus 7 in Brecon at 7am, and still below freezing at Llangennith where the event was based. A cloudless sky heralded a good day, and not much wind either despite my proximity to the coast. The map showed 20 checkpoints scattered all over the Gower Peninsula: beaches, ridge tops tracks, rural bridleways and woodland trails added lots of diversity. I had time to plan a good route with the goal of getting to all 20 checkpoints – a tall order to navigate around 45 miles of a complex array of tracks. The scoring was quite interesting in that some checkpoints were quite out of the way and difficult to get to, yet had low values which meant that if I committed to trying to get them all, but failed, it could mean me having to miss out some higher scoring ones elsewhere. But, it was worth a go. Once out on my route, things were going pretty well.¬†Checkpoint placements were good, taking in some of the best (and one of the worst) trails the Gower has to offer. There was a brilliant descent from Kittlehill Farm down to the stream that was rocky, covered with slippy leaves and littered with other competitors pushing there bikes down it gingerly, while I came rattling down trying not to hit any of them and babbling “excuse me, sorry, on your left, thanks, on your right, cheers” until I got to the gate at the bottom.

Five hours might seem like a long time, but it really flys by when you’re doing these event, and time was pressing on for me. I had 12 miles to do in just under an hour and half, which included the climb onto Rhosilli Down (190m) from sea level. This turned out to be a push up the southern “face” to gain the ridge top and the trigpoint checkpoint. From there, I was expecting a flowing ridge top ride and a fast grassy descent off the north end, but it was deceptively hard work and the grassy descent I was expecting was wet, lumpy, stepped, ocassionally rocky and very treacherous. It succeeded in having me off before I got to the bottom, right in front of two walkers who looked quite bemused by the whole affair. I had 15 minutes left and two checkpoints to do, so it was looking rather tight. I grabbed the higher scoring of the two and made a dash back to the finish. I could see Llangennith from some distance away, only 2km on the map from my last CP, but it seemed much further. I hammered up the high street as hard as I could to finish in 5 hours and 55 seconds, incurring 1 penalty point. Though there were only a small number of competitors, I was the only one who got close to getting all the checkpoints. I was rewarded with a rather cool solid bronze medal, minted specially for the event organisers Endurance Life, which goes down as one of the better prizes I’ve collected from an event for it’s uniqueness as much as anything else. A series win gets you a gold plated version.

Roll on the next round in January at Portland.


Isle of Purbeck

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The heavens opened just as we got back to the running transition. We were positioned nicely on the top of the Purbeck ridge where the wind could blow the rain at us sideways. This was round 4 of the Quest Adventure Race Series, and the last hour and forty minutes had been painful – the run was tricky, slippy, hilly and my legs just didn’t feel like running. With hindsight, we should have cut the running leg short at CP07, but the lure of CP15 and CP11 and the sixty points they held was too much. I have some rules for these kind of events which go like this:

  1. Make a plan
  2. Stick to it
  3. Have an exit strategy just in case number one doesn’t work out…

It’s fair to say we did neither of the last two for the run and it cost us time – 20 minutes by my estimation. The result was my legs were wrecked by the time I finished and we had to compromise our bike route to make the finish on time, which more or less nulled the sixty extra points we’d worked hard for on the run.

The bike section hadn’t been easy either. We had a constant head wind, and the ground was sodden after the weeks (months?) rain. We both had tyre/ground interface problems finding little or no traction on ¬†the chalk. The only thing that saved us was good route planning and execution that meant that we had a good points total and plenty of time as we started the run. Now those hard earnt minutes on the first bike leg were now lost after the run, and time (and strength on my part) was rapidly running out we made a dash back to the finish. We had 25 minutes left on the clock, with 7 miles left to do on the bike back to the finish. It was going to be tight, really tight. I hung on to Al’s back wheel as we blasted the road leg back to Wareham.

We swung into the finish having exceeded our 5 hour allowance by only 4 minutes. To our suprise, the points we acculumlated across each of the disciplines were sufficient to take us through the win. Possibly the hardest earnt win I’ve made in a long time, and one that I probably wouldn’t have managed without Al, who was most definitely the stronger on both bike and foot.

With Matt Morris and Barry French winning their¬†Master’s Team category in the trio event, it was a good result for Brecon contingent last Saturday. Hopefully something we can continue in 2009.


Chasing Checkpoints

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It’s a good few years since I rode in Cannock Chase Forest. In fact, I was on the Pace which dates it a bit as I’ve been through quite few bikes since then. I remember a bewildering array of singletrack – paths cross-crossing open moor and darting in and out of birch scrub and conifer forest. Easy to get lost if you weren’t paying attention.

The perfect place to have an orienteering event then. Specifically, Round 3 of the Quest Adventure Race Series. Round 1 didn’t even feature on my radar, Round 2 was in Brecon the week after Henry was born so I had my hands full. My mate Alan did the Brecon event solo, and having had a really good time, persuaded me to join him for the Cannock Event.

Checkpoints everywhere...

Following a very similar format to Polaris whereby you navigate to various checkpoints within a specified time limit, it mixes the disciplines of mountain biking and running.¬† The biking obviously being our strength, we headed out on a mission to get all the bike points available. With a few navigational errors along the way to counter some really slick navigation through bits I knew, the checkpoints began to fall pretty quickly. There was a specific transition area for the running in the forest some distance from the start/finish, which we arrived at after 2.5 hours. We’d ridden pretty hard and accumulated a good points tally already. The legs felt pretty good going into the run, but it wasn’t long before the undulating nature of the forest (read as: everything felt as if it was uphill) began to wear us down. With seven of the 18 running checkpoints tagged, we got back to transition with enough time left on the clock to pick up the remaining bike checkpoints. It was good to be back on the bike after an hour and half of running, but¬†my legs¬†defintely felt heavier than they did before the run. A puncture 20 minutes before the end cost us the extra time we needed to get the last fiddly bike one, so we rolled into the finish with 7 minutes remaining of our 5 hours.

With 615 points on the board, we were hopeful of good placing. We waited tentatively at the prize giving only to discover we’d posted the highest score! Cool. Overall, it was a superb event¬†– well organised and very friendly. Still slightly stunned we actually won our category, but extremely chuffed. Roll on the next one: Round 4 – Isle of Purbeck.

Not Bikes, Races

Two Thousand and Eight

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Earlier this month Steve organised an excellent Duathlon Challenge on Mynydd Llangorse for the Multisport Club. After a week of rain, and even a bit of snow on the higher ground, it was almost miraculous that the day of the event was almost clear and sunny. Suffice to say the ground was wet, with patchy ice and snow¬†and the right choice of tread was important for both bike and feet.¬†A pair of gnarly NB fell running shoes kindly donated by Ryan and a pair of Bontrager Mud 1.8’s (which hadn’t seen any use since Mountain Mayhem) did the job very nicely¬†in some very soft and slippy mountain conditions. Given that it was my first off-road duathlon, I got round in just under¬†1:55 for the 1.5 mile run/ 8 mile bike/ 4 mile run, about 8 minutes behind Matt who won.¬†I was quite pleased with that and it was a good start to 2008.

Of course, 2008 actually started in the traditional fashion of¬†a party and lots of alcohol. Our club got together for a T-Party, which means you have to come dressed as something beginning with “T”. After much thought and pondering, I put on a brown pin-stripe suit, a badly tied tie and pair of converse all-stars and armed myself with some psychic paper and a sonic screwdriver to go as a Time Lord. Other T’s included Tank Girl, Thor, a Thespian, Mr T.,¬†Tigger, Tinkerbell, with Beth going as a Tooth Fairy.

Looking back, this blog is now 1 year old (and a couple of weeks). Its was quite a year with one thing and another, the high point of which had to be TransScotland. The latter half of 2007 wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, but it’s showed me the way for 2008, and there’s lots of excitement ahead. Watch this space…

Not Bikes, Races

…and, we’re back…

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It’s been a busy few weeks with one thing and another. After a lengthy period of writers block, I’ve found some time in between plastering the kitchen* and getting ready for a duathlon tomorrow.

To recap, the latter part of August and September were spent preparing for the final round of the Dragon XC mountain bike series. Having spent a good deal of time entering races, I felt quite qualified to actually try and organise one. In a sense, it helped quite a bit, but in many other respects I under estimated the amount of work involved both before hand and on the day. Four of us spent days strimming tracks, building berms and little bits of north-shore, putting arrows and marking tape out. The result was what many racers regarded as an excellent course – one of the best of the year if you read the straw poll on the xcracer.com forum. Anyway, suffice to say there’s much more to running a race than meets the eye, but seeing 60 odd happy (and tired) riders kind of made it all worth while.

In between times, I’ve continued to try and get the hang of this swimming malarky, with at least two sessions a week. Its the one thing where my base fitness from cycling doesn’t actually count for much because its some much down to your technique, or in my case, lack of. I’ve done a bit of running too with the local club, completing my first bench-mark mile the other week in 6 mins 22 seconds. I wasn’t sick when I crossed the line, which was something. I’d hope to get under 6 minutes pretty quickly now I’ve learnt a bit about pacing for that sort of distance.

St Brides Haven

I’ve been away with Beth on holiday, for the first time on what seems years. Taking time of work to train or do DIY isn’t really much of a holiday. Looking at the photo above, you’d think we’ve been somewhere really exotic, but it’s actually Pembrokeshire. A vast array of photos, trimmed down from over 400 is here.

So, that brings you more or less up to date. After a hour fettling in the garage this evening, I’ve got my tri-bars in the right position for tomorrow. It’s not a particularly serious event, between the local triathlon club and the athletics club, but it’ll be a first time I’ve done an event such as this. The route starts with a hilly 2 mile run, followed by a 9 mile bike and a 2 mile run again. The trick I suppose is not being totally wrecked when I get off the bike so I die on the final leg of the race. Full report to follow soon…

* or rather, the room where the kitchen used to be. Most of “the kitchen” is in pieces outside waiting for me to fit the new one which is taking all the space where we used to have a dining room and a lounge. Like all good DIY jobs, there’s more to it than you first thought…


Climbing Off


Relief, so I’ve discovered, is a very temporary feeling.

At around 3am on Sunday morning I took my helmet off and slumped into a camping chair in the pits. I’d just come to the end of my 12th lap at Mountain Mayhem, the last two of which were particularly painful. I felt I’d started quite well, not too hard on the run but far enough towards the front to not get caught in traffic, and settling into a good rhythm which I kept up into the darkness. I had the usual difficulties of not fancying most of the food I’d brought with me, but Beth managed to find the right combinations of things to keep me going.

Once the dew settled the mud (which had been drying out nicely) became very sticky. My lap times slowed, the singletrack descents that followed the tough climbs on the second half of the course became a slog. In a way it was challenging to keep upright and surf the mud, but at the same time you couldn’t help but feel slightly cheated to have to work so hard to get back to the bottom.

That was it for me at that point. The last lap was through a fine rain that was just beginning to get harder, and the prospect of another 11 hours of riding seemed beyond what I felt I could manage, both mentally and physically.

The relief of climbing off faded quite quickly. What I’m left with is an enduring feeling of disappointment while I try and work out why it all went wrong…