Ride or Slide!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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Early morning cold and crisp rides!

It’s a new year, a new start and new challenges ahead. What New Years resolutions have you made? Are they going strong or failed before you even begun? For me I’ve not made any resolutions, but bike events have been entered and motivation has been renewed magically as the clock ticked over to 2017. Why does this change things? Who knows, but it seems to give some a kick up the backside (myself included), others another opportunity to crack that diet or start that new hobby, it’s a chance to do better, wipe the slate clean and start again or build upon what you have already achieved. For me it began with entering Battle on the Beach at the strike of midnight, apparently it’s rather good. Prior to this I’ve put my entry in for Mountain mayhem 24 hour solo, I’m going to use this one as my introduction to 24 hour racing, hoping I’m going to find some lovely riders and pit crew to gate crash or something! This is then going to let me know what’s going to go down at Pivot Twentyfour12 a month or so later! Fun times ahead, but all this means is I need to get some mileage under my belt!

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First 100 miler in a while crossing the old Severn Bridge

This will come in the form of keeping it mixed up. I have now joined the Zwift movement to make the turbo trainer a little bit more appealing and so far so good, quite fun really. I get to ride with people all over the world, dependent on what time it is, morning sees a lot of Australians and Kiwi’s where as the evening the Brits come in there droves! Alongside this I will be aiming to get a few more 100 milers on the road bike, jump on the roadie single speed to keep a bit more steady pacing and then keep playing on my mountain bikes however the weather and my mood takes me! I’ve put my weekly mileage goal up to 200km on Strava and hoping to keep that up, but life may have other plans! One week in and 220km done, so that’s a good start! All appears to have this word ‘hope’ in it, it’s all I can do, without a personal trainer and internal drive to keep it up, I will do as much as possible and stay optimistic!

The problem is the maths/bike equation of N+1 (is expensive!) and as soon as I get a bike such as the Mango Singlespeed/Fixie, I want another!

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My new Mango Singlespeed bike, bit of an attention seeker!

There is an Orange P7 in Minion Yellow in the pipeline and now the hope to get a half decent single speed mountain bike, they just seem so efficient as long as the gearing is bang on. As I don’t have any little people or animals to feed, the bikes get a bit more of a priority!

First Race of the Year – ‘The New Year Hangover’

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It was as if Christmas and the New Year were here and then gone in a flash. This meant that the 2nd round of the Gorrick Merida Brass Monkeys Winter Enduro Series was here. The week leading up saw me on the turbo a couple of mornings, and out on the race bike on the cold crisp days off. Got some stunning views and sunrises. It’s sometimes worth waking up early and catching the first glimpses of the day, a real mood booster! I didn’t suffer from any hangovers, so the name given to this race wasn’t too relevant, but I’m sure there may have been a few who enjoyed a tipple or two!

It’s handy to have friends who live close by, so it was a great excuse to catch up with them and crash on there floor, totally awesome plus the chocolate orange cheesecake (jaffa cakes in a cheesecake!) and Exploding kittens. A bright and early start, opened the blinds and hoped it wasn’t raining, it looked damp and yet again foggy (what is it with fog and this series?). After a classic breakfast of tea and porridge, I set off to Minley, thinking it would be at the same entrance as Torq in your sleep, so went on auto pilot to that entrance to sense it wasn’t right. After a quick turn around there were very obvious arrows to follow to get to the venue!

Parked up, I sensed a bit of drizzle coming down, but nothing to be concerned about. I had about an hour or more to work out what kit to wear, it wasn’t cold, about 6ºC but still winter, so stuck with the Specialized thermal tights under my Endura MT500 shorts, Endura Baa Baa baselayer and jersey. The key kit was my Endura MT500 overshoes, need to keep my feeties warm, to keep me happy!

Let’s Start with the Pack this Time!

I was a bit more ‘with it’ this time round, ready and waiting after my pathetic warm up spin that consisted of going up and down a track past all the cars a handful of times. I think I need to improve my warm up technique! Any way I was good to go, watched the 2 hour racers sprint ridiculously fast hustling for positions. There was probably half the field in this race, fast and furious (not for me then!). We lined up after them for our start, 10 mins later. There was still a number in this group, but because we were all settling in for 4 hours, the sprint start was only really for the keen beans (should be me, but I would have just got in the way-got to work on my confidence I think!). Though a hundred yards in, it slowed quickly because there was a puddle! Ha ha, hardy mountain bikers and we are trying to avoid a little muddy puddle!!! This meant that we were all having to slow down pretty quickly to not crash into someone else, fun and games!

Lap 1 – Get to know the course

I’m sure many had pre-ridden the trails, but where’s the fun in that! It’s all about discovery on the first blast and see what happens! After getting our bikes dirty (like they were going to stay clean in this race) we did a quick loop of the field, come make-shift car park and then under the start banner, it was on. It went straight onto freshly cut single track, a bit mulchy, rooty and moist (sorry for those who don’t like that word, but it’s what it was, moist!). It climbed up a little bank, there weren’t any epic climbs on this track, but short sharp punches to get you busting a lung. It was quite slippy already and with many exposed roots, this was going to be one course to keep your wits about you! It then descended shortly into a sketchy corner across a forest track and back into more brown stuff.

Following other riders your pace was set for you unless you backed off and got passed, which I wouldn’t let happen on the single track sections. Another even muddier climb, which gripped surprisingly well, led you up round a root strewn tree, down the other side onto the first short section of forest track, not enough time to drink anything as a 100 yards down the line you were led back off the track into more freshly cut and very rooty loose loam, which sent you round a couple of corners, down a shoot that got you up the other side, quite fun really! It steadily started to turn into a maze of tracks taking you all over the shop really. I recognised some sections for Torq in Your sleep 12 hour, but as soon as I thought I knew what was coming up, the trail had been reinvented and you were heading off in another direction. It took in some parts the same way and others reversed it, which was nice to do. These sections funnily enough were the best bits to ride as they had been established and because I knew them a little I could relax into them a bit, but not too much relaxation that I got to my steady 12 hour pace!

I won’t bore you with a full description of the track as honestly there was so much going on the track gets blurred, needless to say there was a lot of roots, close encounters with trees, sections that if dry woud have been fast and flowing, but in the wet were all about controlled sliding (a new skill I think I got the hang of mostly!). All good fun, but nothing to be too cautious of, so this would have been pretty fast if the condition were dryer!

It just takes one wrong move

Saying that it doesn’t take much to come off is way to true, sometimes your down before you know it. Unfortunately after 5 minutes into the second lap, just ahead another lady, Cassie, who I think was just ahead of me, had an argument with the roots around one of the corners  (they won) and she went down hard smashing her head, not good at all. 3 of us stopped, deliberating on whether to get an ambulance over, but after a couple of minutes lying still on the ground in clear pain she was able to move her head a little. We were all concerned (you don’t mess around with head and neck injuries). However, she was more concerned for us to keep racing, as all 3 of us couldn’t do much to help, one of the guys who said he wasn’t taking it to seriously offered to stay with her and walk or ride it steadily as she wanted to carry on, so myself and the other chap carried on (to say I was taking it seriously was possibly a stretch too, maybe I should change my mindset!). I think I need to carry at least my phone on me with the emergency contacts of the course,  as there were no actual marshals out on course apart from the to motocross bikes, who appeared randomly. It brings it home quickly that this is just a race and peoples lives are way more important and carrying a bit more kit is not the end of the world and could come in really handy. I didn’t see Cassie again, but looking at the lap times, she finished that lap and then sensibly stopped, I really hope she is ok and nothing serious (Get better soon Cassie). That corner is now known to 4 people as Cassie’s corner (probably not what you want to remember a section that nearly K.O’d you on), but that’s sometimes how sections get named.

Steady as She Goes

After that, I was definitely riding far more cautiously than before as it could happen again so easily especially when on lap 3 the rain that was not forecast (BBC weather lied to me!) began to fall. At first it was a light drizzle (‘It’s spitting’ – Peter Kay), I could handle that, didn’t feel it in the trees at all, but it wasn’t done yet. The drizzle went into that fine rain that soaks you right through! (Peter Kay does a comedy sketch about this one!). It was relentless for about an hour or so and it was enough to change the course from a little slippy and sketchy in places loop, to a mud fest on most of the track, sliding corners, really horribly mud hidden roots and climbs that you hoped you didn’t spin out on or catch a mud groove and start getting directed off the narrow track! It certainly made it far more interesting. Fast lap times were off the cards for me now, it was all about staying upright and controlling the slides (easier said than done).

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The lap itself was shorter than the previous round, 5 miles I believe, so the fast race machines were lapping under 30 minutes, so rapid. My fastest was my first lap at 34 mins because I went with the flow of the pack and realised it’s a pace I couldn’t maintain for another 3 and a half hours! If the conditions were dry and dusty (not sure when that is ever happened in the UK) then I may have done better but with laps coming in around 37 minutes meant that getting any more than 6 laps would be pushing it. I wasn’t working this out as I went round I was just riding and not stopping. The main challenge I found was trying to wrestle with my Clif Shot Bloks packet, attempting to get into my Torq gels and take swigs of drink, when the fire tracks were just to short! It took me 2 laps to tell myself a much needed drink, another lap to actually open the Shot Bloks and part of the next to eat a couple. The first gel was a disaster as it didn’t open properly so it wasn’t coming out quick enough and before I knew it I was heading back onto some sketch roots, so ditched it in the gel bin with stuff left in it. This was gutting as it was a Torq winter shandy gel, which are so tasty good, that I didn’t want to waste any at all! Ah well, I just kept riding on taking any opportunity that showed itself to me to get something down.

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That’s me down the bottom climbing up a mud slope!

It was lap 5 that the energy levels were rapidly fading and the course conditions were not getting much better, but the rain had finally ceased, after soaking myself and the course fully. It had already done the damage and the course was eaten up and hard going fighting through the mud tracks. The boost came from seeing my brother and his family cheering me on at a couple of points. It wasn’t particularly exciting for them at all to stand about in a wet, cold field, but to me it was great to see them (missed them at Christmas, so thank you!) and to get a little cheer was just what I needed! There was now just under an hour to go, so knew I could only manage one more lap in the 4 hour limit, so after passing through the arena I wanted to push it a bit more to see how much I had left in the tank, so tried to keep a steady pace all the way round. I didn’t have much left and with my 4th position pretty much set I was only racing myself (all good training). I managed a few quick swigs of mud ladened drink, not that nice having gritty mud drink, but it was all I had! Combined that with a caffeine gel, I got a boost to kick until the end with about 20 minutes left or something and took a minute of my lap time. Here’s my Strava if you’re interested, follow if you like!

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Think the guy on the ground says it all!

That was enough!

I was happy to finish, no question of whether I could squeeze one more lap in or anything. I was done, completely covered in mud, wet, but strangely enjoyed it all. Of course it would have been nicer in the sun, but it’s winter, so get stuck in and get muddy! It was like a 4 hour cyclocross race, the skinnier wheels may have worked well through the mud as well! After finishing I was greeted by my nephews, they surprisingly didn’t want a muddy hug, though Bobbin (aka Robert, who’s nearly 2) after laughing at me came over for an almost hug, but then proceeded to laugh at me more!img_2198

I am simply hilarious even when I do nothing, just stand there covered in mud. I suppose that is quite funny! After this is the worst bit of racing, getting out of wet, muddy kit and trying to not cake clean stuff in mud, thank goodness I have a van it just saves a lot of awkward changing and avoiding the  almost flashing passers by when changing in a towel, just hide in the van and then dump stinking kit in a pile, mmm so nice.

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Just a little muddy!

Looking at the results on Time Laps I was on track after the first lap, but then I just slow  down and find my own pace and settle there, losing valuable minutes each lap as the ladies in front continue the same pace pretty much throughout the 4 hour duration, with the top 2 happily fitting in a 7th lap, fair play.

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6 or 7 laps seems to be actually pretty good!

I will aspire to do the same next round, but this means I need to knuckle down, do a bit of interval training, hill reps and generally more speed work, just to see if my pace can speed up or I’m stuck in a pace that I have done for a few years now. It will be interesting to see if the last round will bring a different result. To be honest you can’t predict anything as you never know what happens on the day! Here are the official photo’s from Kevin Sheldrake (sorry, bit skint to buy them for this, Christmas and event entering happened!). Discovered that I have this too: Roots & Rain. If I do well at the next round then I could be in with a chance at a Series podium, so it’s worth committing to all 3, fingers crossed

What’s coming up next?

Until the next time here are a list of the races I am already booked onto for 2017, if you are at any then see you there, if not then I’m sure I’ll have one or 2 things to say after to keep you bemused for a moment!

 

  • 5th Feb              Merida Brass Monkey 3

  • 19th March      Forest of Dean Half Marathon (not booked as yet, but hopeful!)

  • 26th March      Battle on the Beach (XC Race)

  • 26th May          Glentress 11 (Running race)

  • 27th May          Glentress 7 (MTB Endurance Solo Race)

  • 16-18th June    Mountain Mayhem (MTB Endurance Solo Race)

  • 29-30th July    Pivot Twentyfour:12 – 24 Hour solo

There is of course some of the MTB Marathons to jump onto last minute if I’m free, maybe a Sportive on the road bike and any other cheeky fun events like a night enduro that catch my eye. It should all keep me out of mischief, but I just want to go with the flow, so along as I am having fun I’ll keep going!

I hope you have something to look forward to this year, if not why not set yourself a personal challenge or a new place to visit, an event to do or just something on your bucket list, what have you got to lose!

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