Welcome back to my blog. If you’re a returning visitor, I salute your stickability, if you’re a first time reader, bear with me…
I’d decided to take some time off training and racing following the uk 24 champs in 2021. It was a funny old time after that, at first feeling quite weird on rides without a ‘purpose’. Now for some that might sound like I only ever rode to numbers which isn’t the case. A purpose can equally be just a pure for fun ride, this is still a purpose.
Turns out the reasons for the decision I took didn’t play out quite as I’d expected. I thought that training and racing was becoming too much to manage amidst everything else going on in life. So I thought I’d have loads of free time to break the back of the never ending diyathon at home or more time with the family. But it didn’t really work like that. Before the sabbatical I was often up at 5.30 in the week and weekends to fit in training, funnily enough this didn’t transpire to getting up at that time to do diy or other chores… A lot of people said to me oh you’ll be able to spend more time with the family. Well I quickly realised that the way I did my training actually didn’t particularly take much time out of family life anyway as I’d often have a 10 minute turnaround post ride at 9am to the bundle the boys in the car and off to soft play or whatever was planned to get them out of the house so they didn’t kill each other that day.
Equally in evenings, if I wasn’t training I’d just end up sitting on the sofa watching some nonsense. Interestingly when I’m training I’m pretty organised to fit everything in and more efficient in most things as well as you just have to be. In short I don’t think my taking a break from training and racing provided much net benefit to the household as I thought it would. The other side is the endorphin hole that’s left and the not having a feeling of progression in your riding. Some people say they don’t like the idea of every ride having a plan, maybe I’m weird but I do and missed that. I did manage to do a few other positive things more with the down time like taking forward a village solar project to offset all those mixed grills I have eaten over the years (I have turned to greener eating now as well by the way and I’m told it is the way to tell everyone as much). I also managed to put some energy in to Sarah’s flower business and had an epic 7 months of building a poly tunnel we cobbled together from a mix of freebies and bodgery.
This brings me up until summer 2022 when I’d been starting to wonder whether a year on I would have another bash at the racing thing again. After a typical day slogging at the polytunnel a quick spin round the local lake was in order with mates. I felt a split second of dizziness and (now thinking back) just about heard the clatter of the bike then my head smashing on to tarmac. I woke up 3 minutes later in the middle of the road.
Thanks to Dave and friends they had called an ambulance but I stupidly did the ‘I think I’m ok’ adrenaline fuelled thing and said they should cancel it as it could take ages and just to ring sarah. Sarah arrived having had to bundle the kids in the car fairly quickly but about 5 mins in to the 25 minute drive, the adrenaline started to wear off and the pain began as my shoulder was definitely not right. By the time we got to the hospital the boys were already fairly traumatised from hearing my muffled screams, topped off when the paramedic opened the door to get me out welcomed with an ‘you ok there mate friendly slap on the shoulder’… I was in some hell hole of pain between them getting me on a stretcher and inside with Rory apparently asking mummy ‘is daddy dead’. Things didn’t improved once in the hospital either on diagnosis of a broken collarbone, firstly a mix up with morphine meant a 2 hour wait in agony for pain relief (gas did sod all) and secondly them putting me in an MRI scanner thinking I had already had morphine, queue more being moved about screams. I must say when I eventually did have morphine I was rather disappointed as it seemed to do precisely fuck all for my agony. I now have a bit more of an appreciation of what real pain is like aka child birth as it’s some uncontrollable guttural thing you have no control over screaming out, it sends shudders down me thinking about it now. I had a pretty awful couple of days in hospital with very little sleep, coupled with them trying to kick me out when I could barely move and unfortunately a continued series of errors left me in constant pain (note to anyone, don’t assume they are checking your pain relief schedule!). A few horrible months followed of being in pain and not sleeping and no cycling before they eventually said I needed to have surgery which eventually happened in November. I had plenty of mri’s and heart tests following to find out what happened but these were all clear so probably a case of overdoing it (I hope). Nevertheless a worrying time.
On the plus side I was able to manage a week in finale doing enduro beer and ice cream with mates as it was revealed that my collarbone was still in effect broken and the big gap was causing the pain due to all the movement in it.
So basically the doc said as it was already broken so I couldn’t break it even more if I fell off it would just hurt a lot! Fortunately I didn’t fall off… It was around this time that I got back in touch with Lee at Advanced Cycle Coaching who has steered the training in the past and got the best out of me. I needed some goal setting after the months off a bike and was ready to get back to the process. Funny how it often takes a big shock to realise what you miss and need most.
The roller coaster of crash and then surgery depicted in fitness line form….
Surgery went well and so did recovery now it’s plated. I’m still gaining strength back but I can at least sleep at night which was torture for months. I was also taking a fair chunk of pain killers and sarah did have to point out at one point that I shouldn’t be taking so many for so long! The lack of sleep and life stresses such as ripping up floorboards in a sling also lead to a bonus period of anxiety (or at least that’s what I can assume a horrible panic feeling in my chest was) which was a bit worrying and unpleasant but that’s settled down a bit more now fortunately.
The process is the goal…
Pre accident it wouldn’t have been such a big jump to get back towards fitness as I was still ticking over riding but the long period off the bike has certainly resulted in a cliff edge effect but Lee has worked steadily to bring me back towards seeing progress on that front which is good to see.
Normally I’d set some goals for the year to target but this year is different and doing ‘the process’ is the goal aka keeping the balance, enjoying it whilst making fitness progress. Races and challenges will just be a by product but I will look to some stuff to target later in the year when I feel a bit stronger so long as I’m still enjoying it.
I have however managed to get to my first race in nearly 2 years at the Dirty Knocker 6 hour at Cannock. My first time there and a great course despite the mud fest. I was a bit nervous, more so about the question of would I enjoy it for some reason as I’d forgotten the feeling of racing. Sure enough in the first 10 seconds things clicked and I was reminded of the fun and joy of pushing yourself in the woods. For the first time in a long time I positioned myself way back from the front which turned out to slow me down a bit but things soon spread out and I was chuffed that the collarbone held up, I didn’t crash and gave it full beans. I had a mini rave in the car on the way home as I remembered the buzz after doing one of these things (or may have been the caffeine gels that also kept me up most of the night). I was totally wrecked the week after but in a satisfied way. Back at it and most importantly I liked it, more please.
I’m also now helping organise bike events but this blog is already long enough…
It’s been a funny old time but one things for sure I need process and racing in my life to help balance everything. That means you might have to ensure reading some more of these brain dumps again… Onwards and upwards.
Alex Hutchinson’s book ‘Endure’ contains a harrowing story about a woman and child who were dragged out to sea from a beach swim and the mother treaded water for an unimaginable period of time before surfers eventually spotted them. On hoisting the child on to the surf board, the surfers turned around to find that the mother had slipped into the dark never to be seen again.
23 hours into the UK 24 hour champs I felt I could equally let go. Job having been done and the head told the body it could stop. Clearly a massive relational over dramatisation! But you know this might be my last blog in a while so I’ve gone BIG. However Alex’s book and lots of other content I’ve absorbed and feats I’ve personally witnessed in the last year brought me to that moment. It’s incredible what our minds can tell our bodies to do but once it knows it’s over the finish line the parachute comes out of the back and things grind to a halt aka me slumping round my last lap of many which earned me a 4th place overall at Newnham Park.
As you may have noticed this last year like for many has been a tough one. Increasingly I’ve had to be inventive to keep riding and enjoying the training. The goal of the UK 24 hour champs created a target to keep digging in for. In the years now I’ve been riding to a plan I’ve never had to have as much motivation as recently. A couple of weeks on I’m wondering how the hell I managed it to be honest.
I might have previously been doing a lot more training and riding than I do now but that’s an absolute piece of piss when you can just get home to a freshly made protein smoothie prepared by your newly wed then watch box sets all afternoon. This compared to instead being handed over two raging children for an afternoon of soft play sweaty hell when you just want to curl up in a ball on the sofa like the old times! I (hope) I’ve never allowed biking to come before family so the training hours have decreased as family has (rightly so) taken up more time plus trying to fit everything else a dilapidated house and being an unpaid labourer throws up. The biggest shock to the system has not been trying to fit everything in but being well enough and rested enough to do everything with some sort of quality. Child lurgy and lack of sleep I’ve found have become far bigger impacts on training/ racing performance than any amount of extra hours on the bike could compensate for. And that’s with having relatively good sleeping nippers!
All this said I’ve still enjoyed the racing and the training itself (even the 5am winter starts) but the frustrations have built up. More so I’ve come to the realisation of how much head space being focused in this way demands. So for example almost everything I do in one way or another relates back to how this impacts on training and racing. So always thinking about what I eat and associated guilt of doing it ‘wrong’. Now this might have been proportionate if I was in the territory of marginal gains but when you’re 5kg over what you would consider a past sensible race weight it kind of becomes disproportional to dedicate head space to these types of thoughts. Equally buying the carbon version of a tubeless repair tool because it’s 15g lighter than it’s cheaper counterpart, is well, in hindsight, ridiculous.
One final muse/rant before I get to the racing bit. Of the 4 out of 5 events that I’ve managed to squeeze in this year prior to 24/12 I’ve either been ill or had DNF mechanicals. This wouldn’t normally bother me as much but the final straw was driving 3.5 hours to sussex with family in tow for a 4 hour marathon race, the car breaking down on route, after 1 hour racing having a cataclysmic and expensive mechanical DNF to then have a £1k car repair bill and a whole weekend written off. So you might get where this is going…
About a month before 24/12 I made the decision that I just couldn’t hang on to this type of lifestyle any more. I didn’t want to, it had become too much. You can only get punched in the face so many times before you need a lie down for a while to recover. I’m going to be taking a lie down for a while now from training/ racing. ‘You’re being a bit dramatic’ Sarah would say, which I obviously am but you get the drift.
I was pretty concerned about making this decision just before my target goal event. I felt like it could affect me one way or another. Would I be likely to sack off the race really easily if it got tough as I would be thinking it was my last one for a while anyway so it doesn’t matter or could I get my head in to the space of having a sabbatical for a while but going out ‘on a high’? This made me think back to various books and podcasts I’ve listened to around sporting achievements and the power of the mind. Could I do what others have done before and go beyond just being bloody stubborn to bending my mind more powerfully? We all know some of the basics of this but going in to depth and applying this enlightenment was something I thought I could do to try and make sure I didn’t have a mindset DNF to add to the rest of the years woes.
I tried to tell myself I was up for the race and was ready to give it full gas etc but I honestly didn’t know if this was just something I was committed to or just what I thought I should be thinking or what other people expected me to say. One motivator in any of these events for me are they require commitment from friends and family. So not wanting to let anyone down as such through something I could avoid is important to me. It’s such a big ask of anyone to stand in a pit for you for 24 hours so I think it’s only fair that us riders give it everything we can. Vince of MTB Epics fame had stepped up to the pitting challenge this time after expressing an interest in bearing witness to the carnage of a 24 hour racing. We’d also done a few supported test rides around the Smoke Ring Challenge and Bristol to Liverpool and Vince is an organiser so I had faith!
So on to the racing…
Vince and I travelled down together and it was off to a good start as he had actually read my race briefing doc. I think he’s probably the first person to actually read through in full and even provided some comments/ questions, nice one. Bed and Breakfast was the accommodation choice for a good night sleep. I was feeling great after Sarah had taken the boys across to her mum’s a couple of days before meaning 3 lie ins pre race, 3 LIE INs!!!!
It wasn’t clear who was actually racing until we turned up on the start line as the organisers chose not to release a start list which seemed rather odd for a national championship. When I did get a chance to look at the start list it appeared that some people were in the wrong category, more on that later… I did pencil down about 7 riders who could potentially win this thing which was a decent turnout.
We had a good bunch of JMC riders pitting together which is always great for motivation and support so our setup was ideal. I felt good on the start line and although a bit nervous, strangely calm in a way as muscle memory came back. I get to ride my bike for 24 whole hours I told myself. A mass start with teams and shorter event riders always makes for a chaotic opening couple of laps but I settled in pretty quickly letting people go and focusing on my own pace. Bike was working well and pit hand ups were super slick. After a few hours I realised that I had gotten myself in to the magic mindset of just tapping out the laps and feeling really focused. This relaxed me even more as what I had managed to convince myself was going to happen, in fact was happening… That said I did have a few crashes early on which were of my own doing when I fitted a lighter pair of pedals that were really tricky to get your foot out of so when I’d normally occasionally dab on corners I ended up just going straight down instead!
One of which was right at the pits on a grassy switchback which was rather sore as I had only just fallen off on the exact same thigh half an hour before. I blocked it out though and carried on eventually getting Vince to change out my pedals for some heavier but working ones! This turned out to be my only bike swap the whole race. The course offered a few opportunities to put yourself on the ground as well and despite being a bit shorter than I’d normally like at just over 5 miles it was a good mix of singletrack trails to keep things interesting. Olympics course designed Paul Davis was on the case so we were lucky indeed. Fortunately the weather for once held out and was mostly pretty decent so roots weren’t polished up any more than necessary.
Incredibly things were going so smoothly that I didn’t actually stop at all through the pits for the entire first 12 hours of the race. The warm overnight temperature and the food going in well to fuel the consistent pace meant I wasn’t in need of much else other than handups. The squirt lube also meant no top up needed during this time which is pretty awesome given the damp ground conditions. Once I had put some dance anthems in to my ears and started to hit a bit of caffeine I was really feeling decent and enjoying the night time riding with the exposure lights leading the way as ever. Over time I was aware that a couple of the favourites had dropped out which if I’m honest spurred me on (sorry guys) and the ride time went really quickly as I became aware that people who I had previously pencilled as expecting to be well up the road weren’t actually that far ahead. Apart from the eventual winner Rich Penning that is who lapped most people relatively early on. I find in mind blowing how you get just get in to a zone and providing the food keeps going in, the legs keep turning.
Unfortunately the timing system was shocking with a google doc spreadsheet being offered up rather than the expected live timing system we have come to expect as standard now. Worse still the timing wasn’t updated for hours overnight for some unknown reason. This is a nightmare for pit crews and riders who put so much time, effort and expense to do these events to be let down in this way. Hopefully things can improve in future as there were lots of positives about this event in terms of course, trade area, winners jerseys etc. The timing issues didn’t however really affect me in the main as I was just cracking on doing my own race until the morning when I wanted to know where I was and no info was forthcoming. At this point you kind of really do want to be able to manage your effort to the end and knowing what you need to do helps somewhat. Eventually between asking other pit crews and guessing myself I had moved up from about 8th to 4th overall and holding 3rd comfortably in my age category. This was very unexpected as I knew I had been so limited time wise in my training compared to others. Whats more though I felt comfortable and consistent throughout which I put down entirely to my head just telling me this is what was going to happen. That said Lee at Transition must have done a bloody good job getting the most out of a half dead horse at times as although I wasn’t lightning fast I definitely had the aerobic engine to get through this which we had spent a lot of time working on. It was so good having all the trackside support many of whom were friends shouting for me which was an immense motivator.
I treated myself to a change of clothes mid morning after finding I was in a slot of having a decent gap in front and behind so the last few laps were about holding it together rather than chasing positions. I was already delighted with where I was so wanted to hold on to this without breaking. Usually I’d go for a heroic fast finish but no need this time.
After giving young gun Bill in his first 24, a kick up the arse to crack on and chase the rider in front of him I realised that I only had to do one more lap to hold position as it was a short 24 meaning you had to finish your last lap before the 24th hour. I had time for two but wouldn’t be riding for anything. At the moment of realisation that I was on my last lap the proof of the pudding that my head had held the whole performance together came to reality as literally someone put a pin in me and my head told my legs that’ll do. I crawled round the last lap satisfied but in the knowledge that once your head tells you you’re done that it’s all over. Fortunately I’d held on for 23 hours and in reality more like for the whole year before to get to this place and it was the culmination of that time not just in the event itself which was a massive relief. I’ve raced flat out in the last lap of many 24 hour races but how wrecked I felt after this one was right up there. I curled up in a ball back at the pits, body in tatters and mind too exhausted to hold a conversation for what felt like quite a while! I definitely left it all out there which is always the aim for me, results you just can’t control.
It had been quite the performance with some mega consistent laps and more so not a million miles away from the overall podium. One of the more pleasing stats is that I had stopped for a total of only 8 minutes the entire race, after a couple of on course sit downs and a change of clothes that’s got to be the lowest stoppages I’ve had. Thanks to Vince who took it upon himself to do shuttle runs up the exit to our pits to make sure everything was all gravy on many of the laps. Also to Lee Johnson for some assistance after his ride ended.
Shout out to Bil who went on to finish 5th and Eilish the female winner with a super strong ride, great mentality and some mad downhilling skills. Good to see some fresh interest in 24 hour racing.
The end and prize presentations were marred somewhat by the earlier mentioned category misplacements, meaning I wasn’t called to the age cat podium as Rich Penning had been put in our category despite being a vet (and he told organisers at registration as well). More woes were had by others like Rich Long who won our age cat but wasn’t given a jersey at first as Rich P was put on top of ours. This also meant that the vets podium was messed up with Rich P supposed to have won that category and the overall. Really gutting to see this at a national event and so easily sorted. Hopefully we might see some sort of riders association to help sort this sort of thing out in the future to guarantee the quality that riders, friends and family deserve. Anyway as one not to keep my mouth shut I helped facilitate sorting at least some of these issues out on site and we took it upon ourselves to re-do our own age cat podium. The results weren’t updated until the following day leaving people thinking they had won their categories or indeed got on the podium when they hadn’t, ugh.
Obviously there’s so many people to thank but for this one particularly Vince and Team JMC gang but most of all Sarah for giving me some much needed free time around the event. But also really effectively allowing me to swallow up all our household free time with selfish pursuits and being dragged around the place handing up bottles. Time for at least a little bit of payback now as spend some free time helping her new business venture Little British Flower Co. ~~cough plug~~ British only grown flowers so perhaps my attempts at environmentalism have paid off (another reason for not doing as many far flung events). Likewise more environmental changes are happening after we went veggie earlier this year, this was a mega change for a massive carbon intensive meat guzzling animal I once was but one I feel utterly embarrassed not to have made sooner.
So now I’m going to take a sabbatical, I’m not going to hold myself to a list of must do’s or must nots. The only thing for certain in the short term is not riding to any set plan to free up some head space. I must admit to feeling a little bit lost and have surprised myself how much of a cliff I’ve dropped off ride time wise. Probably not helped by having nerve damage in my hands again, ugh. That said I’ve got lots of amazing things to be able to apply my energies to but after lots of days off the bike following the race one thing is for sure I definitely still need the endorphins in my veins!
The last year has felt like holding my breath to keep motivated to get out of the bike in the hope that goals would present themselves. Obviously this is a challenge with the lack of events so I’ve been holding out and ticking over until I could breath out again once reaching the first events of the year on route to the bigger goals.
So it was a relief to see that the Gorrick crew were putting on some events in April that I could aim for. I’ve managed to keeping plugging away during winter and under Lee at Transition MTB coaching have really been focusing on getting some deep efficiency levels by keeping things very easy on most rides. I’ve been amazed to see how controlled my heart rate has become on climbs now so something great to build on. April isn’t a time when we had planned to be working on any higher intensity so turning up to some flat out races was clearly going to be a shock to the system.
Race 1. The gorrick team has set things up pretty well at Frimley limiting numbers and separating age cats out to avoid mass start groups. The grid was alphabetical which I guess you can’t really complain about for a 3 hour race as it’s not like there is a 3 hour official rankings or anything. I’d had a bit of the child lurgy the week before but was just about over it bar a few snivels. I had a good blast around and was surprised that I could keep the effort levels high. The course was relentless as it near constant twists and turns. I’m generally crap on this sort of course preferring the wide open blasty stuff but I made the most of the occasional jump and drop to max the enjoyment factor. I’ve been testing some Scrub Carbon Wheels over the last year for a mate of mine. He’s looking at putting together a UK built carbon wheel at a reasonable price and these ones come in at a racey 1500g for a strong 25mm internal with hubs that seem to have a really quick pickup (even better than my dt240’s) which I really felt the benefit from on the stop start twisty singletrack. I must admit I’ve abused these a bit as well over winter when I’ve failed to clean my bike and left in a muddy heap for a few weeks to return to smooth spinning freehub and bearings which is a good sign for those who don’t polish their bike after every ride! So give Andy at Scrub a shout if you’re after some xc/down country hoops.
It was great just to be racing again and I rolled in 8th in cat so within the top 10 points which was pretty decent as there seemed to be some fast chaps out there. It was interesting to compare myself to others that I had raced against in previous years and was surprised to have been there abouts or beating some of them which is a great sign given the lack of intensity in the training plan to date. I had forgotten how good it feels after a race after doing everything as well as you could on the day. I had a little dad boogie on the way home in the car to some dance anthems.
Back at Frimley again and a similar course and certainly as many twists and turns! By some ungodly doom I had yet again come in to the race with child snots this time affecting me way more than I thought. A dodgy stomach the night before added to the woes.
I can conclude that the biggest threat the race performance is your children… don’t worry though I’ll have my revenge in the vet 50’s making them pit for me whilst I bark orders for more porridge at 3am…
In the end I managed an hour at some reasonable gas in around 5th before my body told me to piss off and go home. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, there’s always other races right. Well this year and these days I definitely want to make the most of the opportunities so it was massively frustrating. I wasn’t going to collapse in a heap or anything though and given I’d driven 2 hours to get there I tried to change the goal for the day, character building, time to not throw the towel which I thought would make me feel better if I at least finished. However it was utter misery seeing the glee on pursuers faces as I slid to second last. I even had a stop for a flask of tea at one point to cheers me up and had to put a gilet on as I was feeling cold. I knew I should stay backed off though as the body was empty so I wasn’t going to do anything other than make things worse. I tried to think of it as just time riding my bike which I should be grateful for but I was instantly in a grump which continued for a few days.
Having adjusted to life of 5am starts and managed to keep life balanced it felt like a kick in the teeth. Of course my reaction is disproportionate to the importance of the event but I couldn’t help it! This has coincided with struggling with some body mechanics around running that has been an old niggle I had tried to work around, now unsuccessfully.
I’m having to go get physio support and work on some mobility stuff which is going to take a bit of time to sort. So the off road iron man plans are going to be put on the back burner until later in the year which means a 100% focus on the UK 24 champs at Exposure 24/12. Lee has already planned out our attack on the event with some stepping stone goals along the way which is helping me focus on knuckling down.
Am I a roadie? My mates have questioned this over the years to the point of being a statement of fact even though I haven’t actually owned a ‘road bike’ the whole time! Lycra, lightweight kit check check, enjoys long rides on roads, check. I used to ride cycle paths and roads on a santa cruz chameleon with an alfine 8 speed hub many years ago such was my objection to owning something with skinny tyres and steep head angle! More on my history of biking covered in Cycle Stations Podcast here.
After moving down south I had to get something more road like for long commutes for 6 months of Bristol – Swindon mileage. This was a Trek ‘Cross Rip’ with marathon tyres and heavy setup. I then upgraded to a 1x cheapy planet x thing as I started to enjoy the road miles a bit more but wanted to equally enjoy cycle paths. This was labelled a ‘gravel bike’. I think I got down to a 28c minimum tyre and even rode it around the whole south west coast of England.
As I slid dangerously towards, by my own definition of a ‘roadie’, and even sampled a couple of group road rides (being told what speed to ride at in a group wasn’t my thing though). I was invited by a mate to do a big old 1000km road ride round the perimeter of Wales (read about The ‘Welsh 1000’). I felt this was pretty new territory for me doing this sort of mileage on road over three days and in panic fashion wondered how I could speed my journey and aid my comfort! Step in Upgrade bikes and Rory with a loan of a long distance comfort giving machine the RTD (Race The Distance). Here are my thoughts on my first ‘road bike’.
Full disclosure first, Upgrade loaned me the frame and wheels and gave me some other bits to test, I’m not writing this as a review as I don’t imagine people give much heed to that kind of spiel.
From reading up on this bike in advance the Kinesis RTD is designed for long distance road adventures at an affordable price. The scadium frame had influences from the late great Mike Hall with an eye on events such as the Transcontinental. Scandium is a material not as familiar to many but originally made an appearance on xc bikes as a lighter alternative to aluminium amongst other features.
My immediate comparator for this bike was what I expect a lot of people end up buying if they want a bit of a do it all starter do it all road/gravel bike, a Planet X full monty £1k wonder. Solid enough and decent componentary for the money but a bit lacking in the frame quality. Certainly the immediate difference I was surprised to note so quickly was the ride comfort improvement over the Planet X which may have been a factor in having given myself ulnar nerve damage previously! Part of my surprise was that I had gone from 28c all weather tyres on the PX to a much racier 25c continental gp 5000 on the RTD. So on tyres alone this should have been a harsher ride but not what I found.
The RTD frame has clearance almost of gravel noteworthiness taking a 30c tyre with mudguards or depending on brand probably up to a 34. You could easily go bigger on the front with the Columbus carbon fork which has plenty of clearance. So fine for cx I imagine or for all but the gnarliest of gravel duties. But this is a bike built for long road miles and whilst sat aboard for 16 hours at a time round Wales I can safely say it’s a comfy perch for that time. It’s pretty light but not carbon light as you’d expect. I’m not going to pretend I can tell all the differences in terms of ride response etc but all round it was a really solid improvement on the Planet X and didn’t give me ulnar nerve damage!
Some Reynolds AR29 wheels were a nice touch and noticeably stiffer and just faster than the ally ones they replaced. I run perfectly fine Stans Grail but they just aren’t as fast (or nice looking).
I run a 1x sram setup with a 42 oval front ring and 10-42 cassette. I really can’t see why you’d want a higher gear unless in a mass peleton and I never seem to spin out. I’m used to the big jumps in a wide range cassette from riding exactly the same setup on my mountain bikes but you really do just adapt anyway I reckon. Some nice light bits and pieces from Ultimate USE made for a respectable build weight of 8.5kg.
After successfully riding around Wales I’ve been amazed by how much I’ve ridden this bike over winter. Chucking on some Kinesis sturdy metal mud fenders that hold up way better than plastic alternatives has been a big factor in some pretty awful winter conditions. I’m ashamed to say I hardly rode my mountain bike over the winter as I enjoyed exploring the miles on the RTD with so much less faff on mountain biking!
It got to the point of bike return to HQ and I have actually ended up buying it as I couldn’t bare to go back to the planet x. So for someone with my frugalness that’s probably a decent indictment! Unfortunately the carbon wheels were a bit out of budget 😦 . I haven’t yet done another group road ride but I’ve definitely enjoyed exploring my local roads more sat aboard the RTD.
Are you a mountain biker thinking of becoming a roadie?
I think this bike would be a great weapon for mountain bikers that want a road bike but don’t really want a road bike… By that I mean something that isn’t too flash or harsh ride, can do a bit of everything and ultimately isn’t going to break the bank.
If you need support during this difficult transition time, check out Kinesis Bikes
It’s all just riding bikes after all isn’t it?
Roadie over and out.
Thanks again to all my sponsors and supporters and especially Upgrade Bikes for the enlightenment
First off, not much to review last year! 2020 contained four races for me, one an actual race at Gorrick and a couple of virtual endurance zwift jobs amongst a make your own course Trust event (the latter I randomly won). With a lack of races like anyone I was struggling to motivate myself but overall I’m chuffed that I didn’t fall off the wagon gazza style, particularly after the arrival of William the mega baby.
Will 1 hour old
The routine and focus training and riding created was just what was needed to keep some normality during the unnormal times (Thanks Lee @ transition). Plus training with power gives so much clearer indication of progress where the rest of life seemed to be wading through treacle at times. I’d had to reduce riding things down significantly at times particularly in first lockdown with home childcare carnage but I’d still managed to tick over and more importantly want to do so.
Economising on time ‘parenting’ and training
A lovely jaunt around Wales was a tough challenge but that alongside helping buddy Alan to break a world record were a couple of highlights amongst the lack of any races.
Momento of Alan’s world record
One epiphany for me within the process of figuring out how to be a good dad, husband, diy bodger and endurance rider extraordinaire was that I have to now think differently about motivations to get do the ‘numbers’ training around the normal riding stuff. I felt like with everything going on that if I stuck to the mostly head down training focus based riding I’d done in the past at times then it was likely that I wouldn’t keep this up. So I thought about how to find motivation amidst the carnage and time pressures that worked for me. For the first time in my riding life I entertained the idea of stopping for a coffee and cake mid ride! I know this is a staple requirement for most but it’s just never really been in my mindset as I wanted to just focus on enjoying the riding and do the cake stop afterwards or whatever. So rides started to include looking at where to get a good slice, well at least when stuff was open anyway!
mates and stopping for joyous food=new motivators
Another part of finding motivation in different ways was to go on more rides with others. The general lack of human contact in the last year where I’ve previously been in a team office environment has been a hard change and I’ve definitely not enjoyed working at home like others have. Home is home, work is work as far my views on it go and the cycle between the two is the time to switch off. Not having that divide has left me in no mans land in my head at time with the break of what otherwise has been a 15 year routine riding to work most days. I’ve not only been missing the human interaction but also the meditation a regular cycle commute can provide.
Wanting to find the time?
My issue was that with increased pressures on family time and home time, by choice I might add, I had to figure out how to find the time and if I had the motivation to work with the variables involved. I’ve thought for a while that people who say they don’t have the time haven’t really thought about what they mean when they say it. I think in many cases it’s more of just the fact that they don’t WANT to find the time. Maybe that long bike ride isn’t as attractive as staying in bed or having a few beers the night before or staying up late to watch some crap on netflix. The time is there if you want to find it, so for me this was readjusting sleeping patterns to hit the hay super early but get up at 5 and on the bike often by 5.20am. I’ve seen others do this in the past and thought them bonkers, now I get it though. After a 3 hour mid week ride and still enough time to help sort the kids out for the day I feel like a totally different person. This compared to the journey from kitchen to home office (aka the spare bedroom misery). Fortunately I know a couple of other endurance nutters so have managed to drag a few people out on early ones via the now necessary cake stop (challenging to find cake at 8am though!). I’ve massively enjoyed these rides and although at times the pace might not have been training ‘ideal’ (sorry Lee) they have kept my motivation in check for the more focused numbers sessions that I think would have just killed off my enthusiasm otherwise. All this said perhaps doing this stuff is so ingrained in habit I’d probably feel lost without it so the fear of lost in space is perhaps what drives me?!
‘Finding the time’
Ok so brain download complete about the new differently motivated me.
So we’ve managed to more or less keep our shit together in the last year and not worried about the weighing scales what next?
Well to keep a nice number of three things (mates and cake number 1 and 2) the third has been setting a new goal for 2021. I always like a bit of a challenge to keep me motivated and increasingly they are outside of racing, on my own terms and what I’m interested in.
Nice work Alan on the logo!
So enter the IRONSHAM. The idea to do a Self Supported, Self Designed, Off Road, Iron Man distance triathlon. The SHAM being a bit of a play with the fact that from the outside looking in, Iron Man looks a bit wanky for want of a better description! The whole tattoo on legs thing, mahusive corporate machine side of thing doesn’t really float my boat but I do like the concept, and well it’s there so… So despite a serious lack of swimming and/or running ability I thought I’d give it a go. I did a bit of googling and to my surprise this doesn’t really seem to be a thing. Sure people have done self made iron man distance stuff but pretty much on road from what I could see and with support crews. I for one love a good support crew setup as much as anyone but in the current climate and in some ways to simplify it, I’m going to rock it solo. I’ve probably used up a fair few supporter cards in the past as well so will let them have some down time in the hope of some future pitting support at some stage again!
The reason for throwing swimming/ running in to the mix is driven by wanting to challenge myself in a different way but also to learn those life skills I’ve never really cracked as such. I’ve never swam for more than say 30 minutes and although having run two marathons and one half these were done slowly and entirely reliant on cycling fitness rather than any actual running form or conditioning (and nearly 10 years ago!). Another reason is that these things for me are quick and easy to fit in compared to the at times faff of cycling. Running is a dream from where we live, endless footpaths to explore whilst the local pool is 10 minutes up the road. I think the bang for buck of swimming/ running is much higher than cycling and also provides some more all round conditioning cycling alone can lack.
So where am I at now?
Well it’s not exactly been easy to start the IRONSHAM journey with pools closing etc but I’ve just been starting very slowly on both and trying to learn how to do them properly. I’ve always had tight calves when running so keen to overcome that with improved posture and flexibility whilst swimming has never been something comfortable with me and I’m even planning on getting some lessons! Swimming is a super foil for cycling as well as it stretches you out in all the opposite directions that cycling lacks so I’m hoping it will in fact keep me from being crippled later in life. Indeed my grandad swam well in to his 80’s and was really mobile late in life so that’s a good incentive.
So if I can manage to figure how to run without injury, swim efficiently and keep the bike fitness at the same time, I’ll be giving this concept a crack over the summer.
If you’ve made it this far down the read then you are already an endurance athlete so if you fancy giving it a go as well then holla? Maybe it could become ‘a thing?!’
It’s 5.00am, 43 hours into pit crew duties to support a cycle elevation gain world record and I’m sat slumped in a camp chair on a Welsh hillside. This is savage. My mental state in tatters after only 90 mins sleep since waking up 47 hours ago. Head in hands wondering how I’m going to function for the remaining crucial 5 hours to help my mate Alan Colville. I can’t even do the basics of remembering to write numbers on a board. And I haven’t even been cycling up and down the same hillside for that same time! Here’s the story of an utterly bonkers journey to break a cycling world record that began years ago to help a buddy realise a childhood dream.
Getting to the start line
Before the actual story there’s a story before the story. Although it’s slightly painful territory to cover this crazy challenge to help my mate Alan break the world record for cycle elevation gain in 48 hours began a few years previously. Alan, and my then coach Jon, had the ambition to set a different world record, for the highest anyone has ever cycled (nearly the height of Everest)! This involved an ambitious plan to do the training, get the gear and crucially the finance to take on this mega task. To help them in their goal I spoke to a few friends to see what we might be able to do to help fundraise towards their costs and fundraise for mental health charities. From this ‘Lap of My Mind’ was born. We intended to cycle 4800 miles around the coast of the UK with 10 riders in relay each doing on average 480 miles, in the middle of winter, on crappy coastal roads. The finish would be on the darkest day of the year so fitting with our goals of raising awareness of the benefits of cycling for our mental health. Cutting a long story short, the whole event had both short-term and long-term implications for me with my ride causing ulnar nerve damage that only 18 months later was fully fixed with surgery. The whole thing was seriously stressful and I just wasn’t ‘right’ for weeks afterwards, mentally and physically exhausted. I won’t go into all the details but eventually this led to some difficult times and broken friendships and I have to admit I hadn’t really moved on fully since. What should have been a massively positive experience raising funds and awareness of mental health, and for my mates Alan and Jon’s record attempt ironically ended up affecting my mental wellbeing for quite some time afterwards as their record attempt never materialised and I never felt I had closure for various reasons.
One lasting positive thing that did come out of the whole experience was strengthening my friendship with Alan. I guess you get to know someone a lot better when dealing with difficult things. I think the bike world is super for lots of people hanging out and getting together and even more so with mountain bike racing. But I think we could probably question how well we know people outside of this bubble as we rarely build friendships in the ‘real world’ outside of racing. On reflection myself and Al have a lot in common in terms of outlook and morals but also the fact that he has literally half an arse due to a horrid accident with a truck years ago that took him from top end XC racer to being laid up for months, in a difficult mental and physical state for a long time (before I knew him). By chance I also have some of my arse missing from surgery to remove a cancerous tumour a few years ago which also laid me up for a time albeit much shorter and far less severe. So maybe between us we have a whole set of buttocks at least!
After the disappointment of the first world record attempt it was clear Alan still had ambitions to realise his boyhood dream of becoming a world record holder. After the Lap of My Mind dust had settled I said to Alan lets just go and plan a challenge just for us over the following winter as a positive target. No faff, no bollocks, just smashing out something and feeling good about it.
In between this I’d also had some disappointments having had to pull out of the UK 24-hour MTB Championships due to my dodgy ulnar nerve, so it was good for me to have a goal as well. So just for shits and giggles we decided to have a go at an ‘Everest’ where we would cycle non-stop up and down a hill until we reached the height of the famed mountain. Further bad luck ensued and I missed the first Everest that Alan and friend Ian Walker did due to illness so eventually we set a date to take on Draycott Hill in Somerset, a hill known for its steepness. Completing this together felt like a first step on the road to recovery for me in many senses. But it also struck me how easily Alan had done the Everest whilst I was relatively blowing out of my arse. I can’t remember the exact sequence but Alan then ended up doing multiple Everests over a period of time (absolute nutter) both indoors and out (I joined for half of his indoor double Everest, ugh!). Around this time we realised Alan had a raw talent for riding up hills and I found there was a Guinness World Record for the most climbing on a bicycle in 48-hours. It sounded bonkers but potentially achievable for Alan. So the record attempt was born. We knew we had a team built on trust and friendship, the rest would fall into place.
Although Alan was doing all the hard work in training for this thing I really enjoyed helping him with elements that could help him realise his ambitions, nutrition, bike setup, hill section etc. It was a mammoth task to take on particularly if you want to break a World Record that’s been held for over 5 years and, apparently, one there had been hundreds of attempts at. Alan had an insatiable thirst for knowledge being relatively new to ultra events and was able to draw on a wide range of people’s expertise. People who were only too willing to give it to Alan as he is basically a bloody nice chap.
After a few months of Alan putting in the miles we were set for 48-hour record attempt one and I was part of the second pit crew team due to head out for the second 24 hour stint. However due to ridiculous heat, this attempt at the end of August was halted during day one. Lots of lessons learnt and Alan was quickly set another date to go again. This time I committed to be there for the whole time as our newborn was a bit older by that point so a whole weekend away was slightly more acceptable.
Two weeks out and the weather wasn’t looking favourable for the planned dates at the end of September so some rushed discussions resulted in a last minute change of date for the attempt. Bringing it forward a week to a period where the wind direction would be much more favourable and the skies clearer. Unfortunately this then halved the availability of the pit crew from four to two. This was a massive risk as crewing for 48 hours with all the requirements of capturing evidence, keeping an eye on nutrition etc was a big burden for just two people. However we decided to go for it as it would have been the last chance we had this year with decent weather. Thanks to mine and Budge’s super-supportive other halves we were given passes for a few days of pit crewing on a hillside in Wales! Game on.
Myself and Alan travelled to site in the motorhome he had hired the night before, with Budge making the long drive down from the North West on the morning of the challenge. The hillside was near Builth Wells, right next to a military firing test area, and the hill had an average gradient of 10%. The wind was also blowing in the right direction, a massive boost on the exposed road. Our pit area in a roadside layby just before the top was pretty exposed to the strong wind gusting up the road so we were well wrapped up.
To break an official world record there is a massive amount of faff, bureaucracy and expense involved. Once you start the process you soon realise that Guinness is just a commercial organisation that has to raise funds to keep going. It’s sort of like when you realise Father’s and Mother’s Days are created by card companies to make money. This meant lots of evidence capturing requirements and timing equipment which Alan had spent a lot of time organising, and relied on pit crew to keep on top of as well as everything else involved in keeping someone going up and down a hill for 48-hours. Over evidencing we all agreed was the way to go.
At the 10am start time I went down the hill to film the start and the first couple of reps on my bike with Alan. Halfway up the first climb I noticed a wobble in his tyre and before I could insist he stop to check it, BANG!, the inner tube blew as the tube had been caught in the tyre. So we fixed it then restarted the challenge at 10:21am. Luckily we didn’t have any further tyre trouble after that.
Alan got into the rhythm of pushing out hill repeats and pit crew in the routine of logging activity and handing up endless food and bottles. We had people appear to either photograph or ride with Al at times which was great to break up the time. Darkness came surprisingly quickly and Al was still going well and to plan. We gave him the planned 20 minutes sleep on night one and worked through the hours without any major dramas. I had a brief lie down but didn’t sleep, whilst Budge managed a short nap after being up for longer. Al’s first wobble came overnight as lap times started to drop right off around the middle of the night, pleasingly some sleep sorted him out and he eventually drew back on the schedule.
There had been a number of rushed efforts in the days before the attempt to produce a spreadsheet that we could use to track pace and basically tell Al whether he needed to speed up or slow down. Budge valiantly tried to work with other people’s workings but ended up doing a modified version himself which eventually became somewhat of an obsession as we were both nervous about giving Al inaccurate information. We constantly checked our calcs back and forward thousands of times – it felt like!
I was glad Budge took up spreadsheet duties as numbers aren’t my forte. I focused on nutrition and performance but I was equally nervous ensuring Al had the right nutrition to keep the legs turning, especially given he had had issues with vomiting on the failed previous attempt. I’ve been on the other side of the tape many times and although it sounds ridiculous to complain if someone hasn’t got the right thing ready for you in the pits, it can be disproportionately frustrating. I tried to then put myself in Al’s head space and think what he might need at any point.
Me and Budge made a decent team, by that I mean he didn’t kill me after 48 hours working so closely together. Budge started Team JMC and has created a club that contains a super group of people that go and enjoy events at all levels, supporting each other along the way. This was probably one of the most extreme shows of support for our teammate Alan.
All seemed to be going well though and we mixed in some real food amongst the packaged stuff and he stayed off gels for as long as possible. His digestive system seemed to be amazingly on song which is a massive factor in ultra efforts like this.
[Skip to next paragraph if easily offended] We also took time management to the next level by taking Ian Walker’s tip to eat whilst on the toilet. This really did save time in pit stops which we were generally keeping right on point and to plan. I managed a short nap on the first morning which helped reset me for the day.
Al had spent a long time doing an hour by hour plan for everything. A plan we broadly followed but the reality is that everything is going to go tits up at some point when riding for so long and it’s critical you react and adapt the plan appropriately. It was pretty stressful constantly trying to think what Al would need and also what needed doing at any one point. There wasn’t as much sitting around as you’d think! Every minute he stopped was losing 12 meters of climbing, so the pressure was on unlike any other race I’ve witnessed or been part of.
Although a relief to make it through night one after some serious pacing doubts, it was sobering to think that we would have to go through another night to get to another morning!
Visiting riders helped break things up for us all and messages of support via WhatsApp kept us motivated. Al’s family arrived during day two and ended up staying later after a trip for some lockets and burgers to keep rider and pit crew respectively going. Once they had departed, showing how great minds think alike, myself and Budge had individually given Al a gee up to say right you’ve had the nice family time, now it’s race time again. Hoping to give him a boost for the monstrous night to come. Our evening was brought to light literally by military flares booming over the adjacent hillside and we just hoped that our countdown timing clocks weren’t targeted!
Myself and Budge made the decision that we would both be just sucking it up and staying awake for the whole time of the second night. As both of our bodies and minds started catching up with Al’s levels of fatigue we figured two half minds and bodies were better than one! We could see this could be possible, we just had to throw everything at it as a pit team to support Al.
We continued to be about on schedule to break the record but on the rare occasion when an unplanned stop happened, no matter how short, it quickly became apparent how detrimental this could be for the record. Al had planned for his rep times to slow but as we neared the hardest hours of the night, Al really started to slow and we became really worried as times slipped from 18 mins to 21 and he pulled in to tell us he was really struggling before setting off again. I jumped on my bike to ride behind him to see what was happening and Al down was very slow on the descent and more wobbly than we would have liked. Especially given the winding hillside, speeds of 30+mph, the ever-present risk of sheep wandering onto the roads and a cattle grid to cross. Reports of hallucinations were very worrying, was this the end?
At the turnaround it was clear Al needed some sort of intervention. We didn’t have another stop planned for 2 hours so anything at this crucial time would undoubtedly set us back. Added to the fun was at the bottom of the hill I had pinged my achilles that had been recently injured and it was properly painful. I had to pedal one legged up the climb whilst trying to plan and agree a course of action with Al, whilst calling up the hill on the phone to Budge.
This was all really concerning and whilst pedalling up a 10% slope in my trainers and down jacket I had to quickly think about what to do. So I made a quick instinctive decision to let Al have a stop and try and get him to close his eyes for a few minutes and hope he could then make up the time afterwards. This was a really concerning time as when he came in we had to direct him to bed with care. Myself and Budge talked outside about what to do whilst Alan was sleeping. I was on the side of get him up and running as soon as possible whereas Budge was (rightly so) extremely concerned for his safety. It was obvious that IF he did go back out he would have to be accompanied but I had just given myself a sick note and could barely walk and Budge hadn’t brought any cycling clothes or bike with him.
Once Al had been given a 5 minute nap and a hot bowl of food he fortunately started to show regain some colour in his cheeks, enough that Budge was convinced to jump on my bike to ride alongside him. Thankfully the rest did the trick and Al started to crank up the pace again whilst I hobbled round the pits in pain and feeling pretty useless. Budge quickly pulled in as he wasn’t enjoying riding full speed downhill, not clipped in, over cattle grids, on someone else’s bike, but he reported life signs from Al which was a massive relief. Fortunately we didn’t have to get to the point of forcing him to stop but this step wasn’t far away. This was a super hard situation to deal with but one where I felt strongly that Al could continue if he had a nap. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised it wasn’t just a hunch that suggested that course of action but from something I had recently read about ultra runners doing two overnights back to back with no sleep and solutions to exactly the same problems. A short eye close could work wonders. Either way it worked and Al began to fly again making up time quickly and agreeing we would completely cut out unnecessary stops. During the ‘intervention’ in total he had been in the pits for about 18 minutes, amazing what the body can achieve. In hindsight we never really considered what Al wanted to do and we didn’t ask. It seems very odd but in that situation we felt a huge sense of guardianship for his well-being. Al also never made one single comment you often hear in these situations, ‘can’t’ or ‘don’t want to’ were not in his vocabulary such was his focus on the challenge and ambition.
Just as things had started to settle back into a rhythm again I stood up and ping it felt like someone had stabbed me in the achilles again. I slumped back down into my chair and the sleep deprivation along with the stress of the situation just became too much and I had a short uncontrollable sob. Partly in helplessness and partly a bit of relief that this thing was now possible again. The emotional rollercoaster was a brutal one. Either way my head was all over the place and Budge had to take on the main duties whilst I tried to pull myself together. I couldn’t even remember to note down the basic things Budge had asked me to do. I madly texted a few local riders in the off chance they fancied standing in at 5am on a Monday morning as I didn’t want to be the weak link in Al’s support chain. I resorted to taking some of Al’s caffeine tablets and multiple cups of tea but I think that just made me feel even worse. It wasn’t until the golden sunrise that my brain adjusted and I was able to think straight again by which time the pain in my achilles had eased, helped with a handful of painkiller drugs that were now being rationed between me and Al!
Al had somehow pulled out a blinder since his nap and was heading towards equalling the record with 45 minutes of riding still left (well what we thought at the time anyway). This was incredible considering where we were only a few hours ago. Myself and Budge were now totally exhausted but jubilant and we allowed ourselves a mini celebration when he broke the existing record. Amidst jubilant and hoarse screams filled with expletives, water was sprayed on Alan and Ant Pease (riding with Alan to video the moment the record was broken), disappointingly not champagne. However we knew he had to beat it by a margin so we pushed him on until the end supported by photographer come super support rider Ant Pease. We were still nervous as to whether or not to believe the numbers but with the time left we felt he would definitely be over the record even allowing for a margin of error.
As the clock ticked over hour 48 we couldn’t believe he’d done it and it was certainly one of the highlights of anything I’ve ever done in cycling. To have that moment together at the end to celebrate was very special. Even Budge appeared to have something in his eye. Truly shivers down the spine stuff and a monumental effort by Alan which just blows my mind having witnessed it first hand. The feat is made even more impressive when compared to the previous record that was set on a very straight hill in California compared to this Welsh hill littered with sheep, corners, cattle grids and blustery autumn weather, with 10 hours of darkness TWICE.
It was tear jerking stuff and on a selfish personal level it brought the whole Lap of My Mind thing to a close, finally helping a mate break a world record. Although I wanted to help Al in the back of my mind I also wanted to learn more about myself from the other side of the tape. Moreover to apply what I had learnt in ultra stuff over the years but to someone else’s benefit and ultimately close a period of my life with parts I’d really rather forget.
Top tips from the other side of the tape:
Make sure you have enough people to allow for sleep amongst the team if possible.
Talk and agree responses to predicted situations in advance of them happening.
Take EVERYTHING, doesn’t matter if you don’t use it.
Put yourself in the shoes of the rider throughout, what might they be needing, food, moral support etc. Have multiple options of things to hand just in case.
Be prepared for an endurance event mentally, imagine you are in a competitive situation as much as the rider.
In the last year some of the most satisfying things I’ve done in biking and life in general have been helping others to do stuff, whether that was doing a virtual cycling Everest to help fundraise for my now deceased mate’s family, starting a community energy group in my village and now Al’s ride. This is quite a change from the selfish lifestyle of a 24-hour solo mountain bike racer and all that it entails. But perhaps it’s shown me how important it is to get outside of your own headspace particularly in the current diabolical times we face and how that can enrich your own mindset whilst ultimately gaining the satisfaction of helping others. We could probably all benefit from occasionally being domestiques.
Day 40 of #lockdownlife and at least another 63 to go for our pregnant household until we can emerge to the outside world (if of course we are capable at that point)!
What has this meant for training and bike racing?! Well the latter is obviously off the cards for the time being but it’s been a period where I’ve strangely had more opportunity for some focused quality training.
This is where having a coach comes into its own. They can keep you motivated within your limitations, which lets face it, for non professionals we all have at the best of times let alone in the current situation.
To give you an insight, a lot of my weekly on bike hours are commuting for 90 mins 4 days a week. This also involves hauling a 13kg weight on the back for the first/last 20 minutes each way via childcare. Lee at Transition MTB coaching sets my weekly training plan the Thursday before the week ahead to accommodate my week plans including the commuting by bike. We figure out what’s possible on the commute to make the most of it whether it be a high cadence recovery spin or some hard gear efforts (easy with the extra weight!). Equally important are rest days but when I still need to go in to work and the only easy choice is bike enter the e-bike! It’s been an incredible training tool for making rest days actually resting.
Commuting wrapped around other sessions makes my training week. Although I get a reasonable amount of volume it can be hard to get quality sessions in as part of the commute given traffic and other limitations.
Now throw in the current context where a successful day looks like achieving enough work to keep me in employment, avoiding getting slapped around the face by your offspring and balancing panic imminent baby 2 DIY with some riding/ training time. Fortunately Rory is a pretty decent weight to do squats and kettle bell swings with and is also partial for a bit of peppa pig whilst sat on the turbo so it’s not all incompatible if you get creative!
Periodised strength training
Making the most of it
So what’s changed now then? Well since lockdown I’ve been working from home balancing childcare like many. So although I have slightly less time we have been using the turbo a lot more to get some focused quality sessions in the bag. For me personally I don’t feel comfortable going out on 4-5 hour big rides at the moment (we won’t go in to that), but I’ve been combining my ‘not far’ outdoor time with indoor top ups and the odd run as well to mix it up. So combined I can get a decent overall TSS in the bank without the guilt of riding miles from home. I’ve also topped up with a few micro missions with Rory to various local locations to get him out and about which is nice so long as you don’t under-clothe him and it gets cold (ooops). Those missions alongside regular chocolate intake and occasional beer zooms have helped keep our household sane.
Lee has been super adaptable to the week on week changes and having some structure to something has been a good consistent base to otherwise challenging times. Just having one less thing to think about at the moment is really welcome. I can imagine feeling extremely lost given the inevitable lack of focus otherwise .
The weather has been good when outdoors
I’ve had a chunk of time off the bike after hand surgery in February but some specific turbo sessions have helped build the fitness back up relatively quickly. So what better way to test it with a LONG session on the turbo. My mate Alan was doing a double virtual everest so I said I’d join him to support on the second half of his effort which happened to be overnight on a friday. I guessed at about 12-13 hours so finishing by breakfast the next day with Alan who was raising funds for Mind Charity.
middle of the night!
After some horrible news recently that a riding buddy of mine had been diagnosed with terminal cancer with only a few months to live, his mates had organised ‘le tour de fran’ involving loads of people clocking miles indoor and out over a weekend to raise funds to support his family in this difficult time. I therefore did the ride for Fran which spurred me on to tackle the inevitable pain cave not the friday night rave cave I would have preferred in years past!
Massive thanks to everyone who has donated if I haven’t sent you an individual message sorry I missed you.
So I rode non stop overnight to complete the challenge which after a busy day was quite tough! Plus I’m not exactly a mountain goat at the best of times. I made it unintentionally a bit harder by choosing a virtual mountain bike for the first few hours thinking it was the cool thing to do until I noticed I was putting out more watts for the comparative speed of others! So it’s fair to say I burned some matches early doors! I really didn’t know what I was doing in this virtual world and made a few errors to add to the agony.
It was a pretty gruelling mental and physical challenge but I just had in mind my buddy which encouraged me on. I was having to change hand position quite a lot which may have been in part to my still recovering post hand op. Even setting up a time trial type position with towels at one point! This was a hard effort and I was sweating A LOT going through pretty much every head band I own and changing tops regularly and applying lots of Squirt chamois cream.
On the downhill bits it was very odd being able to wander round the house at 3am whilst the virtual me rolled to the bottom of the hill to start it all again! It was surreal waiting for the kettle to boil hoping I wouldn’t miss the turnaround at the bottom of the hill. The virtuall cycling software Zwift shat itself after a few hours so I didn’t get the full effort in one go but ended up over 9000m of climbing in 14 hours on the bike. I recorded on my gps unit as a backup anyway.
Done! Look at the joy!
14 gels (1 caffeine), 3 bananas, 3 rice pudding, 13 litres torq energy drink, 4 cups of tea
13 hour 51 riding (including the descents), can’t be arsed to work out the actual exact everest time.
Average heart rate 148
Rory was quite confused when reappearing in the morning to see daddy still on his bike! I challenged Alan to race up the final climb and amazingly he had more beans in the tank than me due to his climbing goat skills! Big things to come from that boy watch this space!
So we’ve got many more weeks of lockdown before the baby is due where I’ll be chipping away at the fitness in hope that some events may be on again this year but at worst having some focus in at least one part of life is something I’d recommend. Hit up Transition Endurance Group for all your MTB, Road and Triathlon needs, they are very approachable and happy to have a chat about supporting you during this time.
For those of us who don’t have the luxury of being full time ‘athletes’ there are always going to be lots of barriers to overcome to even get to the start line of endurance bike races let alone actually do well in them. As life has become increasingly busy I wonder what I ever used to do with my time?! Bike racing is still an important thing for me but expectations have to be tempered with everything else going on with my time these days. In the last year I’ve probably learned to still enjoy racing but knowing that getting to the start line fit and healthy is the most important thing not necessarily how I actually do. I’ve had to be even more smart with my training time.
Play time/ training time
Always there to help!
Racing has always been a self satisfaction thing for me rather than chasing podiums. I’ve been lucky enough to stand on a couple but that’s not usually the greatest sense of achievement for me. It’s more about having done everything I could have before the event to race well and some of my ‘best’ performances I can remember are when I’ve not got anywhere near the podium.
So after some elongated period of illness over winter I’ve been working hard with Lee at Transition Cycle Coaching to re-focus and get some good solid training in.
Winter miles and smiles
I had entered Kielder 24 as an unusually early season goal for me after the exciting news that we’re going to be having another baby in the household in the summer (i.e. when all my usual races happen). I think the best training for racing is well, racing. So the Gorrick winter series was a good opportunity to get some short hard intensity endurance efforts in the bank during January. Race one was a bit of a shock to the system after new year especially after our boy Rory had gone on a running streak of 4.30am wakes ups the week before and topped off with a 5am wake up race morning. This did at least mean me getting out of the door on time and to the race venue early. Early enough to take a 20 minute power nap in the car park to recharge.
It was a super fun and dry course at Porridgepot Hill and the race went ok though I couldn’t quite hold on to the tails of the podium boys who were charging hard and battling for overall series points. I stayed consistent throughout though and finished 5th in senior males.
Goodbye my lover…
This was to be the last ride out on my custom build china Pro Mance frame (sad face). A couple of weeks later we were burgled and bikes taken. It made me realise how much time and effort goes in to a race bike in terms of researching frames, individual components, searching for weights of different top tube bags etc (yes I’m sad like that). So it’s not so much the financial loss but the hours that have gone in to getting the setup just right. Needless to say the garage now has fort knox fortification levels so someone’s going to have a hard and noisy time trying to get back in! In the same week the car broke down and we got defrauded for £950, you couldn’t write this stuff!
So scrambling around to beg, borrow and steal kit for upcoming races I’ve managed to get sorted and just in time to race the last of the Gorrick Winter series at Minley. Massive thanks to Ross at Taylored Cycles for all the last minute help getting things sorted and Ultimate USE/ Mudhugger for some bits and pieces.
My winning streak continued in the car park where I broke my racing shoe which meant a less than secure fit for the race! Just for good measure I threw myself off in to the shrubbery on the first lap trying to get past some slower starters. At that point I wondered whether or not I should bother getting back up!
Despite my head being all over the place with a hellish week I managed to hold it together and had a much stronger ride. I deployed some anger I think. I’ve been using Vittoria tyres for the last year and can report good findings as the Barzo’s gripped well in some slightly more slidey conditions. I was clinging on hard to Chris Nobles coat tails for longer in the race before having to sit back in to a more sustainable pace. I finished 5th senior again but much quicker pace overall. This by chance got me 5th overall in the series from just a couple of rounds so not a bad little smash and grab couple of prep races before Kielder. Thanks to the Gorrick team for putting on a couple of great courses and events, long may they continue.
Only anecdote for shite week is to go racing….
So now to Kielder Chiller 24 and we’re currently balls deep in prep week from hell. Mates Vince (UK MTB Epics) and the legendary Andy Howett have stepped in to help in the pits and Team JMC will have a strong presence up north. It’s where I began racing when I lived up there many years ago now so I’m familiar with the conditions and setup. I’m expecting the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in but compared to recent events all I’ve got to think about is riding my bike so it will be a welcome relief!
Counting up over the years it appears that somehow I’ve ridden at total of 13 24 hour races before this years UK champs at Fort William. Unbelievably I’ve managed to finish every one of those. 24 hour races are like jenga, things can fall apart very quickly! As everyone knows there are massive highs and lows associated with these things but I’ve been very lucky indeed to have had the chance to avoid major injury, mechanicals or total what the fuck am I doing syndrome preventing me from finishing. So sooner or later by the law of 24 hour racing averages I was probably overdue a DNF. So spoiler alert…. at the UK Champs this year I was a big fat DNF.
If you care to read on this is what happened…
Thanks to new coach Lee at Transition Cycle Coaching I’d managed to build a good recovery from some hospitalising illness in the summer to start to feel on point again before the UK Champs.
Family lurgy central
Given some time off the bike earlier this year with nerve damaged hand I was pretty pleased coming in thinking I could do alright.
Fortunately I managed to book our accommodation for the right weekend this time and the JMC pit row setup and pre race day prep was incredibly smooth. No panicking like normal. Long suffering pit bitch Rich had even gone to the effort of obtaining a driving licence to ferry himself north which further reduced logistical faff to a breeze with mate Dai commandeering a work van to load us in to for the long trip north. We made sure the apple pie was securely down properly this year…
The teamsheet was missing a couple of fast boys but there were still around 6 people more than capable of winning this thing. The gun went and those said people shot up off the hill with enthusiasm only matched by the fastest team riders. Young gun Kyle disappeared like a bolt perhaps temporarily forgetting he wasn’t on a hill climb race! The rest of us then more or less maneuvered for a couple of laps before gradually Max slowly pulled ahead in pursuit of Kyle. It was all fairly tight for the next few hours and I managed to settle in nice and quickly whilst finding time for the odd chat with the likes of Keith who would normally be up the road by this point smashing it out full blast. The usual pattern of yo-yoing with Michael was in full flow as well, all familiar territory. Pit stops were fast, legs were feeling very good and nutrition was on point. Darkness fell quickly and the night riding fun began. The new bike was lapping it up! The weather was a bit rainy occasionally but nothing that caused too much bother. Caffeine time was about the commence.
After about 10 hours I started to feel an ache in my right hand. The same one that had been subject to 7 months of hospital appointments for ulnar nerve damage earlier in the year. At first I was just hoping it was something in my head that might fade but compared with my left hand that was feeling absolutely fine it was definitely not feeling quite right. At this point I had a massive decision to make, carry on and hope it didn’t get any worse or stop and pull the plug at the risk of flaring up past injuries. Loads of questions were going through my head at this point and I didn’t say anything to the pit guys for a couple of laps, ‘is this just a weakened hand and normal from past injury, is this caused by a slightly sticky shifter, what would happen if I carried on, if it was the same thing how long would it take to recover if I carried on, how would I feel if I stopped, what would I feel like if I stopped but it turned out not to be the nerve damage just a weakened hand’. I think one motivation for not having DNF’d in 312 hours of 24 hours riding has been fear of letting down those who stand in some awful conditions handing up bottles to a one syllable grumpy zombie for hours on end. Also the lead up to these events are stressful and the recovery afterwards takes a lot out of family time. So in short stopping just because you don’t fancy it or without making sure you’ve done everything to carry on isn’t really an option.
The final decision to stop was based on that even if I continued I would have the horrible prospect in my head that with each hour I was perhaps damaging temporarily or even permanently my hand. So this just wouldn’t be a fun way to ride for another 12 hours. I felt really disappointed at this point. After a shower and chocolate feel better scoff fest as partly a way to distract myself from self pity and partly because I was still buzzing and full of energy I decided to help out fellow JMC riders and buddy Oli for as long as I could stay awake. As it turned out I really enjoyed doing this and it was a real insight from the other side of the tape. I clearly owe some pitting hours kudos to the cycling community so it was good to be of use at least.
Me pit bitching for once!
I did also have a little chance of revenge on the infamous painful course creator Barry of Cold Brew Events as he rolled in towards the latter stages asking whether he needed to do another lap to hold position. I quickly opened my phone and pretended to open the timing website to say with affirmation, yes you definitely do. Fair play he probably knew I was blagging but off he popped on his silly pain creating fully rigid singlespeed! I think that one might come back to bite me! Seeing others finish and missing out on that feeling of relief and joy was a bit hard but its only a bike race after all.
I’ll also take some positivity that I was feeling comfortable and running 4th on stopping and had ridden really consistently so had a good chance of cracking on to a decent result all things considered. #shouldawouldacudda etc
I nervously awaited any change in feeling in my hand around the nerve damage for the following week but nothing really appeared. Not sure if I’m relieved or more annoyed now that I might have been able to carry on. Hey ho, it was just perhaps just my turn to dnf.
The course was it’s usual banging goodness that No Fuss events put on although we didn’t get to go right to the top. My new full susser prepped by Taylored Cycles was definitely a massive bonus for the rough stuff as well making laps even more of a joy. So it was 12 hours of great riding either way. The biggest disappointment is not having another 12 hours of calories burnt to replace!
Thanks to my buddy Rich and JMC gang for all the support once again. Mega special mention to Budge who not only helped in the pits after riding for a long stretch himself but also loaded in all my gear and housed it for a week as I was flying directly off on holiday the next day! Mrs Budge even washed my gear, bloody amazing!
And as ever to all my sponsors this year for the mega support I get and especially Taylored Cycles for the bike prep support, they worked sweet as anything.
Unforuntately the sick note theme this year continued with a missed everesting attempt early December due to lurgy but mate Alan smashed it anyway to keep the Lap of My Mind baton lit in the darkest month of the year.
I’ve definitely got a 24 hour race left in my legs still so I’m booking in the Kielder Chiller 24 early 2020 to get back in the saddle.
It’s been a hectic few weeks that I hadn’t gotten round to sharing a couple of words about returning north to Kielder for the Deadwater 100. Also some thoughts on this weekends UK Champs…..
A return to the calendar of the Kielder 100 now in a slightly different format by Cold Brew Events was a good excuse to return to where mountain bike racing began for me. Some great memories from this part of the world as we stayed a couple of miles away from where we got married back in 2014.
I’ve been gradually getting back to fitness working towards the Uk 24 champs. 100 miles on a hilly route was another stepping stone towards that goal.
I rode in a group of six including a couple of JMCers for the first 25 miles or so before feeling like it was a bit too hot pace for where my fitness was at so I backed off and settled in to my own pace for the rest of the race. The mix of groomed trail centre stuff to essentially hacking through unbuilt and dense muddy jungle was somewhat interesting, I’m glad it wasn’t raining as I had a couple of silly tumbles in the murk even in relative dry. Rolling through the 50 mile mark at the start finish was a head screw having to set off for the same again (but slower). On the second lap I managed to add on a fair chunk of time with my head down missing a junction but this meant that I was probably the only one to ride 100 miles as my garmin said 100.4 whilst 98.6 seemed to be the non bonus route. The man in front towards the back end managed to keep there as I didn’t really have the desire to bury myself to catch him even if I could. The new bike worked well and good body and kit test for bigger goals to come.
Speaking of which this weekend is the Exposure Lights UK 24 Champs. Unbelievably looking back I’ve had a 1,2,3 finish at the last three UK Champs. Pretty lucky to have been able to attend those ones and we’re back at Fort Bill again where I won in 2016 in a memorable battle royale race. It marks a return for many of us to last year where the World’s saw some epically bad conditions. For me it was a really weird race with my head entirely elsewhere for the first 18 hours. The fog lifted and I managed to smash out a few laps towards the end and get in the top 10 overall. This year has been a bit of a funny one with some sick noting meaning I haven’t done as much as usual. This should keep the legs and enthusiasm fresh though and aboard a full susser I’m looking forward to the added comfort and enhanced fun/reduced pain on the descents. The forecast is ‘mixed’ and I’ve got a bit of a history of enjoying the shite conditions, I don’t seek them out but once in them I sort of just laugh to myself how ridiculous the whole thing is really. The adversity spurs me on I think somehow.
A strong JMC contingent are getting involved this year so expect a mass assault on a few of the podiums! It really does make for a great atmosphere when you have a great gang of people all together like that.
It looks like the start list contains a few familiar faces but also some newer ones with recent good results in endurance stuff so I predict a bit of a shake up from the usual suspects. I’m looking forward to what Brett Bellchambers labelled the ‘best 24 course he’s done’ as I seem to go well up there even when I’m not going so well like last year. I’ve got a bit of an incentive with a next day last minute holiday booked, shipping off to Croatia where I hear beer, ice cream and pizza are aplenty, watch out!