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]


Bye Bye 2008

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Wow, another year passes by for Beth and I. A year full of memories for us, since the arrival of Henry in May. Despite devoting nearly all of our time to getting the hang of parenthood, we’ve managed a family holiday in Scotland, toured a few places in Wales, and Ian even managed to fit in some races in his “year off”. But for now, 2008 will be dominated by one very special little man.


We’ve also updated the other blog with some photos from the latter part of year.

So that wraps up 2008 – here’s to an eventful, exciting and rewarding 2009!


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.


Too good to miss

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Days like yesterday are few and far between. The bitter cold and fog of the weekend cleared to reveal clear blue sky, grass and leaves edged with heavy frost and crisp ice where previously there was water. A perfect day for a ride then.

With the bike stowed in the back of the car, I headed out to some of my woods* around Llanidloes, which is conveniently only 15 miles or so from Nant yr Arian, east of Aberystwth. Red kites circled above the visitor centre and its largely empty car park as I headed out on the Syfydrin Trail. I didn’t quite have a enough light to do the whole loop, but local knowledge and couple of shortcuts later I’d bypassed the boring bit past Nant-y-moch reservoir and made it to the top the Nant Bwlch-glas descent. A fun piece of trail under normal conditions, made all the more exciting with little icy rivers and frozen patches to keep me on my toes.

The sun was beginning to set as I made it to the final descent. This bit of trail had been in the sun most of the afternoon, so despite still being very cold, much of the ice had melted so I could cruise through the turns, pump the dips and fade the crests with much more confidence. Once the Leg Burner climb was out of the way, all that was left was the final descent through the larch trees back to the visitor centre, where there was just enough light left for the full on blast this brilliant piece of trail deserves. An excellent day that was too good to miss.

* One of the perks of being a forestry consultant is deciding you “need” to go out and visit such and such a wood on days of glorious weather, preferably in close proximity to some decent riding. This is countered in equal measure with arranging to meet someone at a specific time and place which will usually be in the cold or the rain, or both.


Real Ale Wobble

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A superb blend of mountaining biking, beer, long forest road climbs, slippy singletrack, good company, rain, mud and most importantly, beer – all fused harmoniously into a single event in Wales in November.

Hmm, beer...
Did I mention there was beer?

Well, you wouldn’t want a warm one would you?


Fast and Simple


Casting an eye around the garage last month, I began to realise I had quite an excess spare bike bits which I could sell to a) clear some space and b) make some money. Then I uncovered all the singlespeed kit I had for the Cove last summer. So, the question was, could I raise enough money from the bits I had to sell to buy the extra bits I needed to get a singlespeed on (or off) the road?

Singular Swift

Yes, is the answer, and I have to say I’m very pleased with the result. Despite my previous foray with the larger wheel off road, the whole 29er exeprience is completely new to me, and was something of an experiment. It’s very difficult to express sometimes just what makes a bike good, but I’m very impressed with the handling of the Swift, which was an absolute blast to ride around the tricky rooty trails of Llaneglwys Forest.

For a bike with one gear, funny looking bars (which are considerably more comfortable and confidence inspiring then they look) and no suspension, I was surprised just how fast I could get the bike up to while still feeling in full control. Lots of grip, lots of control and those big wheels just eat up the rough bits I didn’t really feel rigid was a disadvantage. In terms of maintenance, there’s so little to go wrong, keeping it in good fettle should be simple. Problem I have now is not riding it to the exclusion of the Soda…

Bikes, Training

October Wrap Up

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Another month slides by gracefully. Not sure where the days have gone just lately, but looking back it’s been surprisingly busy.

A good proportion of my time was spent learning about, studying for or being assessed as part of my British Triathlon Level 1 Coaching Certificate. It was a very enjoyable course with a good crowd of people, from novices such as myself through to elite athletes including Andrea Whitcombe, pictured below, 3rd from right:

ITU Hy-Vee World Cup Triathlon
ITU Hy-Vee World Cup Triathlon

With my increased interest in triathlon and aided by a strong cycling background it will be a useful string to my bow both for teaching myself about the sport, but also sharing and developing that knowledge within our local club: Brecon Multisport.

In other news, there’s a new additional to the bike stable in the pipeline. I managed to convince Beth that if I sold a big pile of surplus bike components that were lying around in the garage, I could use the money to build up a new bike. I’ve gone for something that doesn’t compete too closely with the Soda, and is of a specification that keeps the build cost down to a minimum. More to follow once it’s built up and ridden…

The funniest thing about the month has been the weather. Early on, summer showed it’s face just to remind us what we’d been missing over the months of June through to September. A few cold nights and sharp frosts later, the leaves on the trees have turned and Autumn is in full swing – I’ve probably missed the best of the colours with the camera by now, but I may still get the chance to snap a few good pictures. By the end of October the Beacons have a coating of snow and and it’s time dig out the leg warmers and winter shoes and wrap up for winter once again.

Babies, Not Bikes


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Water defines Scotland. The clouds are enriched with it as they shroud the mountain tops, or linger majestically in the valleys. Water fills the bogs and charges the burns. It descends down the mountain with gathering pace, cutting through rock and carving the character of the landscape as it goes. With great force it plunges over rocks and falls before reaching the broader rivers. Here, it slows to a meander through alder and birch woodland with an impossible stillness. The rivers flow seemlessly into the vast expanses of the lochs: great valleys cut by huge glaciers of a previous era, are now filled with an eerie tranquillity.

The burn racing down from Ben A'an

Our first family holiday was to the Trossachs. As you can probably guess, we had a bit of rain, but overall it was a good break. Henry saw lots of new things, places and sights and we tried to relax in these peaceful surroundings to unburden ourselves from the cummulative effects of our busy lives at home. The passing moods of the clouds, the rush of the mountain burn, the stillness of the river, the raw power of the waterfalls and the morning mists rising from the loch are a reminder of how water defines our environment and enriches our lives. 

The water brings with it the character of the country. The mountain waters, tinted brown from the peat, flavours the beer and the whisky. The whisky especially. We toured the Glengoyne whisky distillery, sampling many of the excellent single malts with the unique taste of their unpeated malted barley. A bottle of Glengoyne 21 year old single malt rests in the cupboard, a nice compliment to the peaty tones of the bottle of Ardbeg next to it.


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.


Fast Twitch

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Ten thousand kilometre’s came up on the Power Tap today*. Despite taking it easy this year, I’ve still made a habit of collecting data from my rides just out of curiosity. One thing I have noticed though is that because they are just rides, where a training goal is largely absent, there’s been a change in my physical capability. Fewer miles, reduced training load, more cake and a “just-out-for-the-fun-of-it” mentality has, by and large, lead to reduced fitness. But, because I’m struggling to hang on to the back wheel of Alan, Neil or whoever, the actual intensity of some rides can be quite high, the result of which is interesting, albeit perhaps unsurprising.

The graph above shows you how the riding I’ve done this year has affected my power curve. The yellow line is 2005-2007, where my training goals were focused towards 24 hour solos. The result was a pretty good power output for endurance at the expense of all-out power over short durations. While my long distance endurance has dropped this year (the dashed line), I can now put out 20% more power in a sprint. I might not be the first to the top of the climbs any more, but those fast-twitch muscle fibres that I’ve been quietly developing all year means I’m well up for the sprint back into town at the end of a ride.

* since November 2005