Kill or Cure
I went to the Run and Ride Winter Classic XC Race feeling a little on the rough side, bit of a chesty cough seemingly nothing serious though it was affecting my ability to breathe. It wasn’t until the Tuesday that I began to go downhill, the cough continues, the cold took hold and the fuzzy head (technical term) began to kick in. I attempted to go to work on the Wednesday…lasted a few minutes! I was completely out of it, migraine took hold and I became a recluse for a couple of days, curtains close, struggling to have my eyes open and moving from my bed to the sofa was as much as I could handle. Thankfully I saw the light on Friday back on my feet and back to work, still sniffling, but ok in myself, though energy was low. Saturday evening and I was deliberating whether to take the 2 hour plus journey to race for up to 4 hours in the rain or not. Many things were saying ‘don’t go’ – the cold, the early morning start and the rain that was battering down as I tried to get a few hours sleep!
I ignored all of that, checked the weather forecast and watched the movement of the rain around the race venue and spotted that it wasn’t getting hit much at all, so thought it could be dry from above at least! I packed the night before, so the morning it was just breakfast and go. I was committed to going, completing the series and just treating this one as a good training ride as I knew I was running on 60% energy, definitely not full of beans, but capable of riding a bike, hopefully. As they say ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’. Not sure that pushing your body when it’s trying to recover is a wise choice, but hey ho. I’m writing this now, so clearly it didn’t kill me!
New Location – Same British Weather
This race was initially schedule for 5th Feb, but they postponed it due to the forecasted rainfall and stormy weather and the fact that the track wasn’t ready yet…I think the rain was just an excuse to delay it. A month on and you would have thought that Spring would be in the air, the sun shining, but oh no, not in the UK! We’ve had Doris and I think Edmund hit our shores bringing high winds, torrential downpours and simply being rubbish, the sun barely featuring. All this does is leave our minds wondering to holidays abroad in the sun and trying to remember what a dry and dusty trail is like and if we will ever see them again.
The location is a new one for the ‘Brass Monkeys series’ and here’s what they say about it
WBR, Bordon, Hogmoor Road, Bordon, Hampshire GU35 9HL. A new long term exclusive venue for us which is part of the Whitehill & Bordon Regeneration initiative. Whilst there are no hills you can expect lots of short climbs and descents in mixed woodland. There’ll be a hard standing arena and parking.
In this description I read that it is flat, with short, sharp climbs within trees. There’s no mention of mud or sand, which as I describe the course will discover very quickly there was a fair bit of it! It felt like we were going into an abandoned army training ground as there were parts of tanks, mahusive tyres littered about and other random vehicle parts around the track. It seemed as if a lot of work will be going into this place, so future races there will be even better, it might even be dry! The area seemed to drain pretty well, but if the track was that sloppy in places just now, it must have been pretty sketchy a month previous as a lot of it was freshly cut in.
Solo Sally Strikes again
There was simply no expectation on this one whatsoever, training had ceased completely and running for a tissue was the closest thing to exercise. If I hadn’t pre-booked onto it, I probably wouldn’t have made the trip, but as I did I felt more committed to go and to be honest I really enjoyed the day, if it broke me a little. The drive over (leaving at 7am may I add) was through heavy downpours and no clear skies at all. As I go closer the clouds did begin to look a little friendlier and low and behold the sun was trying to break through. When all around was getting soaked we were in a little micro climate, which set the tone for the whole day, nice!
After a quick scout out of where everything was, I had enough time just to get my number board, get changed and have a little pedal up and down the road to loosen up the legs. I didn’t quite have enough time to check out the lap, so left that for the race, keeps it more interesting. A quick swig of Coke and off to the start to see who I was up against. The 2 hour race was just setting off, which was the post popular by far. Then it was time for the silly or hardy (you decide) 4 hour races to head to the line. There was hardly any of us, I’m guessing that many saw the weather forecast and opted out, which is fair enough, but if you don’t even rock up you don’t have any hope of a result. All this being said for it to be a race you have to have fellow racers in your category, this is something mine lacked! I was expecting the ladies who were at the previous ones, but only one turned up and packed it in after about 10 minutes on the track, saying it wasn’t for her, which is fair enough. This then left me racing myself, yet again.
Why do I keep pedalling?
If I was there just for the win, then I could have stopped after doing one lap. That for me is definitely not the point. When I enter a race unlike the male categories there are generally a lot fewer women to compete against so I find myself setting my own goals to push myself as I have no one to chase down or get challenged by. It’s all about my mindset, if I start saying to myself, what’s the point then I will just sack it off, go have a very enjoyable cuppa and watch the rest beast themselves to gain valuable seconds. I didn’t drive all that way just to ride for 30 minutes and go home. I was going to keep pedalling as long as I could, but was well aware that I was not 100% so could not give it my all. This was evident straight away.
The Race, the course and that SAND!
I’ve got used to the way these races run now, turned up at the right time and even set off with the right group! It began on the concrete all pedalling off to gain positions, I was content being further back especially when after a few seconds it dived sharply left on some slippy mud, which slowed the speed down pretty quickly! The track widened and headed onto what looked like some wide paths in the making, promising for the regeneration project, but I was intrigued at how unfinished it was! Another couple of corners and my question was answered, there was a gap in the road and the race halted and individuals hopped off and ran down the steep bank or braved the slippy drop hoping not to go over the bars. The pace slowed as the route snaked down a newly cut single track, a few minutes in and I regretted putting my coat on, there was a short shower just before we set off and my optimism briefly left me and I was stuck boiling in a bag, for the time being.
I was pleasantly surprised by how dry the track was to begin with, no massive puddles and only a little bit slippy in places, it was pretty sweet. It was I’m sure very fast paced for the elite riders, but I was just getting myself round at a steady pace very aware that my body was already feeling fatigued and struggling with being active! Then the change of terrain happened which literally zapped any pace and felt like I was getting sucked into the ground. It was hard packed sand with a top layer of soft sludge that just felt like you were riding with the brakes fixed on. This was tough, but thankfully was over before you got annoyed by it, this time round!
It was a relief to splash through a puddle and get back onto some mud and single track. There was some really cool sections to keep the route nice interesting. First up was a freshly cut trail that weaved it’s way though a narrow section of trees then headed up a little bank over to a sweet couple of loose sharp turns down the side of the hill that gripped surprisingly well, just to turn you back on yourself to ride/run/walk/slide up a fairly short, steep climb, which I didn’t manage to pedal up (I’ll blame the low psi in my slick fast track tyres for that one!). It continued to weave and dip up and down through the forest with little drops onto tracks, but then straight away back up very steep tracks the other side. One of these I attempted twice, first time was half hearted and just got half way up. The second time I nearly got up and over, the key word being nearly just faltering before the crest and quickly finding myself going backwards. This led me to believe I would be quicker walking up, so that’s what I did, hearing that there was not many who actually cleaned them all!
There was unfortunately another longer section of sand to hopefully float over, no floating happened, but I think some of the fat bikers were in there element along with the single speeders feeling smug that they have no rear mech or cassette getting trashed by this very gritty, muddy sand. This was another tick in the single speed camp (it will come in time, I know it!). Enjoying a moment in the sun, pretending I was on a beach, mind wandering a little before it again led you into another section of woodland. First a little climb to enjoy a nice bit of flow back down through the trees to be guided back up and into the sloppiest sections of the course. In my moment of silliness I decided to try any plough through it. This was a bad move, it got pretty deep very quickly and I soon ground to a halt. It was ankle deep and sinking and there seemed to be no way to avoid it. We all splashed through it until dryer ground emerged. The only thing was the brakes sounded horrendous, gears now crunching, this course was a bike trasher! A few opted to use there drink to try and clear the brakes off a bit, but I think it was vein attempt as the terrain wasn’t going to change! This led you back round onto the concrete, round a slippy corner to the start/finish.
Now I was warmed up, I dumped the cost by a tree to hopefully come back to it again. It was a good call as there was no more rain for the rest of the race, which I still can’t believe. The track was actually dying out in places, puddles were shrinking as more wheels swooshed through them and the ‘race lines’ were starting to appear. Now I was warmed up, it was time to just settle in for as long as I wanted to, a race where I was going to be the only thing hindering my performance! I only had one comedy off trying to get up another of those cheeky banks, just went a bit sideways and just went for a lie down on the soft moss, very casual!
The only other issue I was having for pretty much the entire race was with my pedals. I have Crank Brother Candy’s that I have had on for the last few rides, but I just can’t get on with them. I chose them for the mud shedding and easy clip out, but the frustratingly hard to clip in factor was really annoying me, I just couldn’t find them and spent too much time with my feet floating on top of them, not good. If anyone loves these pedals, I’ve got a set going that have hardly been used that I’ll see for a good price! I’ll be going back to the Shimano XT’s that I am far happier with, not sure why I changed, stick to what I know!
This was the track, full of dips, twists, sand blasts and climbs that kept it interesting. It was about 7km in length, so for those who could, they were putting in some quick times. For me however the state I was in simply meant I was going to plod on at a pace I could manage. I couldn’t breathe too well and a headache swiftly came into play after the first lap, which really helped my motivation. I was struggling to take in how long a lap was taking me and too be honest I really wasn’t bothered as my body wouldn’t let me go faster and my head was in full support of that! All I knew is that I had 4 hours to ride as much as I was willing to! I had a nose that was streaming most of the time (failed with many snot rockets!) and a head that was pounding, but the sun was shining, I was enjoying most of the course and thinking how fun and fast it could be in the dry, so just carried on! It was just nice to ride somewhere else, not really classing it as a race personally, to be honest, just a bit of fun. If I’m not having fun, I generally don’t do as well, so the more fun the better!
Results are in
It was not a hard choice for me to cool it after 5 laps. I had about 40 minutes to go, but at the pace I was going (which was slow) I would be too close to the wire and knowing how annoying it is to cross the line just after the 4 hour mark from the first round, this time it was not worth it. Instead, I decided to roll in with time to go and get changed, hide the mud bike and grab a cup of tea, take some paracetamol and munch on a mars bar, whilst I watched the last few guys race to get in before the time. Only a few managed to sneak that extra lap in, but it isn’t over until it’s over, right!
The result for me were already set after the first lap (here’s my Strava of my race). It was a slightly hollow victory, but I did get to take home a cool little monkey trophy and stand on a lonely podium with a spattering of applaud, all a bit of a laugh really. It is a bit of a shame that most of the racers had already gone by this point so the final prize giving was just for the handful of 4 hour racers who were wanting to get changed and warm, but waited patiently for the series results. Here are the results for all of the categories – Time Laps and for those who love to check out the mug shots of us pedalling round this track check them out here at Kevin Sheldrake Photography. It was a quiet end to the series, but wrapped it up nicely. Well done to the organisers for creating 3 great courses, but I think this last one was strangely my favourite and would like to give it a go in the dry!
SO, that’s how you ride!
I have huge respect for cross country riders who are at the top of there game, they are simply rapid. From the moment the hooter sounded they are relentless until the time ticks over. There is no let up and they seemingly look as fresh as when they started, just a little muddier. They really make you realise how much more training you need to put in if you want to get anywhere near there capabilities and speed they show. It’s not just that they can go fast for a long time, but they can ride technically very well. This means when I struggle up the little banks or walk up a slippy climb, they will be riding, no question about that. If they do spin out they will run, not walk. It’s really inspiring as well as frustrating that I don’t think I will ever be that fast and furious, I don’t quite cut the mustard! I’m just happy to be on the same track as them and respect them as they fly past me, sometimes panicking me to get out of the way to not slow them down. I appreciate the ones that actually say something instead of the ones that expect you to pull over instantly. Knowing you P’s and Q’s can get you far with me!
This was a full on day, the early start, 2 hour trek over, a few hours on the bike, pack up and drive 2 hours back home. That was not the end though, the bike couldn’t be left in that state it was with sand and water in every unwanted area. This meant Sonny (Epics’ name) needed to be stripped down, oo cheeky! First a hose down to get rid of the clumps of mud that I brought home with me. It was then onto getting the wheels off, drivetrain off and forks slipping out to give it a proper clean up in the headset. It’s a really good way to get to know your two wheeled friend and actually give it a closer inspection, checking the frame, that the bolts are tight and it’s all good. It’s still sitting in this naked state as I need to get myself some grease!
The bike now partially sorted, it was onto the washing. Mmm, my poor washing machine see’s more mud than clothes at the minute! It was then finally time to clean myself up, love the post ride shower followed by a nice mug of tea and collapse on the sofa. It was the next day that my legs were hating me even more, I think it was the shock of being on the bike again. I took a spin on the Zwift machine to move the legs, but the feeling is still lingering. It’s still was a good trip that I was pleased to take.
Once I kick this cold once and for all, I will get back on it. I have only a couple of weeks before ‘Battle on the Beach’ in Pembrey. Oh hang on, more sand – what am I getting myself into! I’ve entered because I have heard good things and it’s one of those bucket list races to do, so why not eh! I’m going in with an attitude of fun, of course I will give it my all, that’s what I try to do with everything in life, but I don’t think I’ll be getting close to those XC machines who will wrap it up in half the time, but I can say I was a part of it! This just means I need to get my pedal on, a few hill reps and quicker rides if time allows, but it might be too much too late, never mind!
Hopefully spring will have sprung by then, days getting a bit more of the daylight and hopefully that yellow thing in the sky that should be shining might make more of an appearance, but I won’t hold my breath! Until the next time, appreciate the days you get to play, seeing the daffodils springing up and the chance to get out on your bike, go for a walk and simply be outside, did you know it’s free! The best gym in the world so make the most of it!