Pivot 12 solo: For Mick

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It feels a bit like bike racing this year has gone hand in hand with lots of on bike dramas that I’ve managed to dodge over the last few years. It feels a bit like 2018 is just my turn for punctures, wrong turns etc.

2018 is a year we will remember with sorrow for other reasons. After my gran passed away recently we also lost Mick my father in law just before my birthday. This happened the week prior to Pivot 24/12 where we had planned a family short break in the caravan. Priorities of course needed to be shifted with Sarah making another trip across to Suffolk where her family are based and I was left in two minds whether or not to do the race or not. Mick had been at last years 24 hour race supporting in the pits in the horrible slop and he loved getting involved in any event whether it be horse eventing or more recently coming along to bike races despite his poor health. Mick was a get on with it kind of guy so I think he would have wanted me to race. I wasn’t quite sure if my head would be in it though and there was a severe risk of my just having a mid race meltdown and sacking it off. I’ve been more upset that I imagined I would be as we knew he wouldn’t be with us in the long term but when it comes round it’s still a shock and I miss him dearly already. He was always there for us and was a fantastic father and role model. Having two daughters I was more than happy to fill the son role and he was always on the end of a whatsapp video chat as I crawled around under some rotten hole in our house advising us on various DIY nightmares. I really appreciated his interest in my biking racing and he even watched the live timing for 24 hour races when he couldn’t get to them. More than that he raised my wife Sarah to be the woman she is and in turn has brought us Rory, for that alone words of thanks aren’t enough.

Moving on, I decided to give it a go and get an early morning train back from Plymouth to Suffolk afterwards via a pedal on the race bike across London between train stations.

Fortunately the very kind and lovely O’cain family took me under their wing and drove me down in their rented motorhome (bonus). Ollie was doing his first 24 hour race and I’d been giving him a few pointers and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him and chat about racing. His family were really supportive as well which is the foundation of any 24 hour event.

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Ollie and me at our dream motorhome pit setup. He came 5th in open male on his first 24! I did joke his induction to 24 pitting was a luxury but then the weather made up for his getting off lightly…

As ever on arrival it was great to catch up with loads of mates. It was also a chance to chat about ‘A Lap of My Mind’ our planned charity cycle around the coast of the UK this year. More on that another time.

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Alex one of the 10 Lap of My Mind riders rode to Plymouth from Essex as a warm up for the 24 hour race!

The weather forecast coming in was mixed to say the least which seems to be a running theme at this event. That on top of me breaking or bruising (still don’t know) my toe the weekend before added to the potential challenge/carnage.

Lining up on the start line there was the usual calm before the storm. I couldn’t help think of Mick not being there and had a tear in my eye already. Jesus I thought, what chance have I got of getting through the next 12 hours if I’m a wreck already. I had a word with myself and decided this ride would be for Mick. Any time I was hurting or wanted to throw the towel, I would think of him and his pains which put my little aches in to perspective and just crack on. The race started, game on, let’s do this I thought. We can talk ourselves in to and out of a race I think. I had just about clawed my mind in to it from the brink.

There was a good turnout in the 12 hour field and I knew buddy Chris Noble would be on good form despite his ‘I’m just going to enjoy it’ claims early in the week. My race strategy unusually was to try and hang on to him and then see what happened. The pace at the start was pretty full on but my body seems to be responding well. I’d only just recovered from a chest infection so it was good to have the lungs functioning again. The lycras were a bit tighter though with recent beer and chocolate feel better indulgences so the short sharp ‘mach’ climb made me feel like I was going to tip backwards! I felt great and strong on the descents though which let’s face it are the only reason we ride uphill. The course was a bit different from previous years but it was great mix of classic Newnham Park trails with something for everyone and some really fun downs. The weather started to get interesting pretty quickly and some on and off heavy showers at times made things pretty slippy. That was nothing though compared to the biblical conditions the 24 hour riders had to endure which prematurely ended the event early in the end. I earned my battle scars from 2017 on that front.

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Trying half successfully to take on board some of the riding techniques I picked up recently from Matt @pedalprogression

Sure enough Chris was at the sharp end looking strong so I followed. Then ensured some fairly high paced suffering for a few hours going back and forth as I hammered the descents to pull clear only to be dropped on the climbs. Some other fast vets like buddy Alan Colville were also in the mix so it was pretty tasty.

Eventually I just had to ease back as I was starting to cramp on the climbs, a sure sign I was pushing too hard. I was also pushing on the descents which led to a fairly high speed crash at one point leaving me a bit battered and a sore knee. I was glad I was able to mentally go hard as I was worried I might be a bit ambivalent.

Ollie’s family in the pits were great (thanks again!) although seemed a bit shocked at the speed at which I was taking the bottle hand ups the first time. I hadn’t really briefed them to say I wouldn’t really be stopping at all! It’s good to be able to have a name to shout to warn when you are coming in to the pits. Some of the other pit crews were probably slightly confused as me and Ollie shouted his dad’s nickname ‘Baggins’ throughout the event!

Chris slowly pulled out a lead but I was sitting in second for most of the race. Then until the 3rd to last lap where true to current levels of misfortunate my tyre burped and when I pulled out my gas to top up for some unknown reason nothing was coming out. I then pumped it up but on removing the pump it pulled the valve core out, arrrrgggh. All this meant I lost a load of time until Ollie turned up and we reasonably unsuccessfully managed to use his gas+tubeless foam can thing so that I could at least nurse it back to the pits. I assumed 3rd place Seb had overtaken me by that stage but I didn’t really have any info how far he was in front. I was pretty demoralised but tried hard to get my head back in the game and pushed again on the spare bike in a last ditch attempt to get back on terms blasting through the night which Exposure Lights booming through the woods.  I didn’t know what Seb looked like or what his number was so not sure I would have known anyway what I was aiming for. I was delighted that I had held it together and been surprisingly strong all things considered. 3rd place was pretty good still.

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I was half way to Suffolk when the prize presentation happened so I couldn’t be there but neither could Mick who would have enjoyed the event.

Ultra endurance racing has a different flavour to other competitive sports from what I’ve seen. I think it’s summed up by what I heard from UK 24 Champ Max from the pit lane as we were going past “Come on Chris, come on Matt, oh I don’t know who to cheer for!” The fact that we’re all mates and just want to see each other do well makes me love this game. Chris’s dad was even cheering me on ringing his bell as I went past shouting my name, lovely.

Pivot 24/12 is such a feel good event. Coming over the line I just lost it. I usually have a mini teary moment at the end of a 24 with the outpour of emotion but this time the whole last few weeks caught me up and consoling hugs were dished out by the MC legends duo of Rory Hitchens and Matt Carr (thanks guys). Normally I can’t stomach a beer at the end of a race like that but this one went down well, I needed it. Thanks to Mark @exposurelights for the hand up.

So I write this sat on a 5 hours journey to be with my family for a few days. Onwards and upwards please now 2018 you big horrible bastard of a year.

This one was for you Mick.

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Pedal Progression: Skillz session=free money

Recently I’ve been giving a few tips to first time 24 hour rider Ollie who is one of the three strong team at Pedal Progression in Bristol. For those who don’t know these boys are embarking on a massive journey to help develop the trails in Bristol and put back in to the community by committing to become a Community Interest Company. Anyway for more on that check out http://www.pedalprogression.com

As something of a skills exchange Ollie and Matt agreed to show an old dog some new tricks and take me out for an early morning skills season at Ashton Court. I’ve always fancied myself as decent on the downs having spent a few years pushing up hills in sweaty body armour as a younger gent and then many misspent summers in the ski lift assisted European alps. Although when the Lycra came to the fore and I discovered I was proportionally more skilled at suffering for hours on end that riding downhill fast I’ve somewhat lost some of the basics and balls that went with. Being able to ride downhill fast in xc is pretty handy after all faster descending skills=free money. Usually I hold my own at xc races on the downs but I was curious to see what the boys would make of my skill level and where some improvements could be made. I was really interested in particular to find out if any efficiency savings could be had as let’s face it, extra speed downhill is free money.

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Spot the difference

We started off with some basic body position assessment and from he off Matt’s style and guidance showed he didn’t just have the skills to pay the bills but was also someone who could explain things plainly without patronising. Matt had also done his homework and social media stalked some pictures of my riding position mid race. We both agreed that this wasn’t the best measure give some were taken deep in to endurance events when I was totally shagged so riding position might not have been top of my agenda! image4

One thing that was immediately picked up was that my knackered racing body has my back in a funny position. Interestingly I hadn’t come across the benefits of riding with straighter legs before, one of the main benefits being helping you to pump through sections with your legs but also this in turn put my back in to a better position.

It felt weird on the grass but I was interested to see how this would feel on the trail. A few other tips and tricks were discussed before going across to test them out. The leg pumping was kind of tricky to get but by the end of the session I knew what I needed to do and I reckon this will help flow through trails quicker and crucially with less pedalling.

We set up some timing poles and interestingly my two timed runs were about the same time between trying to utilise the techniques used which felt way slower compared with a flat out attempt based on my usual riding style. At Pivot 12 hour recently I definitely felt a bit faster in general and the descents there are somewhere I have ridden quite a lot in the past so it felt good to squeeze out a bit more.

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Give the boys and shout if you want some free money! You just have to learn how to waterski like Michael Jackson… (for those who know)

 

Fresh kit, fresh sponsors!

Some fresh kit arrived recently based around the Team JMC colours. Massive thanks to new sponsors Funn and Budge at Team JMC for putting this together.

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A chance to welcome the new sponsors Funn, Granite Design and Taylored Cycles on to the jersey alongside long term sponsors USE, Exposure Lights, ESI grips and E3coach. Sadly both M Steel cycles and Roll for the Soul closed down in 2017 who both have supported me brilliantly in the last few years. Particularly Joe and all the guys at M Steels who helped supported my very early days of racing.

The kit is ready in time for the next few weeks of panic race cramming as I haven’t done that much so far this year. I have managed to get out riding a fair bit though including a slightly rained off biking stag do to Finale Ligure and some bit road bit missions including Suffolk-Bristol for the hell of it.

 

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The next few weeks involve taking in Gorrick 100, Heaven of the South and Wantage MTB marathon in prep for the trip across to the Isle of Man for the UK 24 Hour champs which is the main early season goal. Looking forward to catching up with the island locals and 24 hour racing buddies alike, oh and the mega curry afterwards of course! It will be interesting to see where I’m at on the back of a pretty hectic winter where I’ve managed to get in a surprising amount of riding mostly due to little Rory being a bloody legend (please god let that continue).

The goal as ever this year is to leave nothing out there at all the races I do and see where that takes me.

 

Long racing: it’s been a while

To my surprise I realised whilst sat on the start line of Gorrick Brass Monkey ‘Minley Rewind’ 4 hour xc race that I hadn’t done a race of this length for over  for 6 months! Yes there have been some rides of that length but nothing really prepares you for racing like well, racing. I even got a full night sleep the night before as Sarah stepped in to cover my night shift withlittle Rory.Bonus.

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It was only my second time at Minley after dabbling in the Torq 12 event a while ago. I was amazed at the quality of the course given the shit awful weather we’ve had of late. Somehow it was mostly pretty dry. Perhaps that’s the benefit of not having Strava wankers smashing across lines and destroying trails to move up for 1002 to 1001 of ‘Dave’s deadly descent’ segment.

The lack of use on some of the trails and the carefully cut in new sections meant chunky tyres were an advantage but not essential. This course offered up some really nice singletrack with only a couple of sections of fireroad. Even the odd little freshly cut shoot made things even more fun.

I thought it wise to undertake a practice lap after hiding away from my mountain bike lately in favour of the commuter to avoid the permaslop and was enjoying myself a bit too much when at an unknown point around the loop I realised that the start commenced in 10 minutes time. Cue some aggressive warming up! I made it to the start line with just enough time to say hello to a few old friends.

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A mass of 2 hour riders had set off before us so it wasn’t long before we started catching these up after we set off a few minutes later. This made it a bit more tricky to work out who was in what race throughout. I hadn’t quite prepared my bike perfectly with a bit less free time these days so my rear brake was a pump it up on the descents job to get it working which caused me a slight cropper and OTB at one point when I forgot to pre pump in to a corner! Mudhuggers all round were keeping the crap off me though which was a bonus if some of the wetter fast fire road sections.

I had some of the likely podium riders in my sights for the first lap and a bit but by an hour and a half I realised that the reason for this was that I was was riding absolutely flat out, not something I could sustain for this length of time! Podium riders disappeared but I was still feeling decent enough. It felt like I then started to go backwards a bit as a few riders came past that we’re looking like they were in it for the longer haul. Many of these came past standing up and looking like they were giving it some over ambitious beans at that stage so I did not attempt a repost. Sure enough at the back end of the race I saw these chaps again as my Diesel engine started to kick in and to my surprise started taking a few places back. Unfortunately I had made a bit of a bottle error calculation and due to rushing round to get to the start line hadn’t drink any water on the practice lap or much that morning so I was a bit parched on the final couple of laps and started to cramp. I played that cramp hard pedal soft pedal game where you try and manage the onset by not overdoing it without entirely grinding to a halt. This got me round but meant I didn’t quite get on to the same lap as the top guys by a few minutes. That was handy though as I wouldn’t have had enough juice anyway as I had chugged all my available bottles.

I finished pretty happy with 4th in open male having fought back from around 7th all things considered.
So time to get another few of these middle endurance distance things in as they are great for solid hard efforts without taking out the whole day. The local ‘Madax’ 60km challenge and a Thetford 3 hour race followed by a 100 mile mission ride home straight after the race should be enough to keep the legs ticking over in the next month.IMG_2578IMG_2579IMG_2580IMG_2581

Daddy goes racing!

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Following the festive period where we celebrated the arrival our own little bundle of joy (Rory) it’s been a time of focusing on family whilst trying to tick over the legs. I haven’t really stressed about the inevitable dip in fitness as there are more important things than pedaling push bikes now.

If I’m honest so far it’s not been too difficult to fit things in so long as you are prepared for your carefully scheduled training to take place a bit more haphazardly and creatively (think squats whilst winding and stretching whilst bottle feeding). It’s been quite fun getting inventive. Although doing longer rides has been off the menu, Jon at e3 coaching has slipped in a few more turbo sessions (which I actually like coz I’m weird). The big question for me was going to be what the energy levels would be like with the inevitable sleep deprivation when I tried pushing the pedals harder. Although many new parents will hate me for saying this I have to say I think we’re coping quite well so far all things considered. I think sometimes when people ask you how things are going they are seemingly begging for blood and horror stories so are somewhat disappointed when you look in one piece and not like you’re about to have a meltdown at any second. Of course I’m not naive enough to think this couldn’t change at any moment – babies being somewhat unpredictable!

We had such a busy back end of the year in 2017. I was spending every hour not at work sorting the house out for the impending arrival or squeezing in some riding. There were times when I got cold sores which is my indicator of over doing it. So as planned when the boy landed (or rose from the depths of the birthing pool as it turned out) we downed tools and made sure we weren’t tempted to carry on smashing through house renovations. We wanted to save our energies for the little one so we could make the most of that time. We ran out of money anyway which conveniently aligned with the DIY sabbatical.
So I guess what I’m saying is that actually I’ve found that (so far fingers crossed) I must be pretty adapted to functioning on high levels of fatigue. Even before the DIY fest, training a lot with a full time job and other life stuff makes you accustomed to feeling a bit wrecked a lot I suppose. Clearly I’m not going to have the same amount of time for the push bike stuff but actually I’ve got more important adventures going on. The test I think is whether or not I’ll still want to race and compete at 80%.  Well as I’ve loved racing for a few years now and not just when I’ve more recently been at the sharp end, there’s still lots for me in that world even if it doesn’t mean podiums.


Wow so after a long life update intro which is sort of relevant… I dragged my sleep deprived self along to a local short XC race down Somerset way at Stourhead Woods estate run by Gillingham Wheelers. It’s super small scale and it ended up being a just a handful of us (come on guys get supporting local races!!). Normally you’d therefore fancy your chances but with rapido Kim Little of Swift world beating fame and my fast endurance buddy Chris Noble being the other two keen looking ones it wasn’t exactly a slow bunch. We’d taken Rory along to get his first taste of UK mountain bike racing so muddy woods in freezing conditions seemed a good inauguration as any!

Off we set on a lap that took just over 10 minutes. Which was mainly rocky narrowish muddy fireroad but with the odd little cut through. Although no singletrack heaven it’s enough for an hour in winter and better than a crappy muddy field where they make you run sections on purpose?!

After a friendly warm up Kim pretty quickly disappeared as expected to leave me and Chris to race it out for 2nd. Early on I stopped to nurse a young lad back to the fireroad after he’d come a cropper in a bomb hole bit. Chris caught me up at that point and we swapped places on course for a couple of laps in between dodging out of control horses! I seemed to have the edge on the climbs and was able to pull away and hold a decent but visible gap. We were both on the final hill climb expecting another lap as we were approaching the summit just within the hour but the organisers said Kim was well through and had gone out to pick up some signs so that was the chequered flag. We went round again for a warm down lap and to help collect some signs with Kim.

Chris pedalled home and we went to the pub for a roast dinner before I swapped bikes and pedalled the 25 miles home, just because.

So it turns out you can pedal hard as a new daddy (for now). Just need to get those midnight strength sessions dialed in with the help of the increasingly weighty little one.

End of year review

Well 2016 was always going to be a difficult act to follow after somehow finding myself being both UK and European 24 hour champ, which still hasn’t really sunk in. 2017 was always going to see a bit of a shift in racing volume as our amazing new house needed some serious TLC. I managed to keep some focus earlier in the year. In now usual fashion I set myself a winter challenge that turned out to be quite apt in character building. Hacking across Dartmoor then Exmoor and the Quantocks ‘Moors Madness’ was pretty tough with somewhat soft underground conditions but it was great to get a big ride in the bag early on in the year. IMG_1620-e1491581237352IMG_1622

I managed to get to some of the usual MTB marathon events including a decent ride out at the annual pilgrimage to the Dyfi Enduro, which is so good I did it twice.  I was still managing to get a decent amount of training despite the DIY carnage ramping up as we tried to make sure our house didn’t have frozen glass on inside for next winter. This now had a deadline with the great news that we were pregnant with a Christmas day deadline!

A trip to Italy for the world 24 champs was the first major event that I wanted to do well at. Prep was pretty good but a total mental meltdown when I was well placed meant I didn’t finish as I wanted to. I took loads of learning from this and took the bad experience on the chin and moved on. I took from it that I didn’t quit despite when I came round lap after lap with the words ready to deliver to my pitcrew I somehow found the will to keep the pedals turning.

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This picture that Charlie Lees took of me is my favourite of the year. It totally sums up where you can find yourself in an ultra endurance event and that’s why getting through one is a massive achievement in itself at any level. More about that one here

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It’s fair to say I didn’t have an ideal run in to the UK 24 Champs only a matter of weeks later, indulging myself a bit too much. I actually for once stopped looking at the scales (a bad pre race habit of mine) and just focusing on wanting to put Italy behind me and coming out again with a strong mental attitude. The UK Champs came round very quickly! The start line like the previous year’s was jammed with top racers. It basically rained for all but the last few hours but I loved it and just got in to my own zone and drew on my character building training earlier in the year. As it happened I managed to have a battle with Max Suttie which actually involved some rarely (from me) seen change of pace in attempt to catch him late in the race. I was pretty happy with second all things considered! My highlight from the whole year came at this race, when out of nowhere new friend Stephen Kelly kept appearing out on course at the point when I started catching Max with roars of encouragement, still sends tingles down my spine. It was great to see a podium full of relatively young guns, the future is bright!

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From the UK champs onwards I focused my energy on getting the house sorted and preparing for the new baby. I did manage to sneak in another challenge hooking up with Epic MTB events for a great day out circumnavigating the surprisingly green outer edges of London doing the ‘Smoke Ring Challenge’.

Then the best bit of 2017 just in time for Christmas was the arrival of baby Rory. My friends will know I’ve never been the most cooey around babies but when you cuddle your own for the first time it totally changed everything for me. Currently cracking on with the first few weeks and loving having a family together.

So what next for 2018? I think I’ll go in with the aim to make sure I keep the balance between family life and training and turn up to the UK Champs again and get myself up to Fort Bill for the World Champs. I think racing for me is about burying myself and seeing what the outcome is rather than chasing podiums so even if I’m not 100% I’m still game for getting to the start line and giving myself another thrashing.

I’d like to take the chance to thank everyone for making 2017 great to all my sponsors, particularly two long term sponsors in M Steel Cycles and Roll for the Soul who have unfortunately closed this year. And of course my super supportive family most of all!

Happy New Year everyone and I hope 2018 brings good times for you.

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Man Not Hot: Getting back in the saddle

Neither the weather nor the form was hot at the Offcamber XC Enduro but that didn’t stop some winter fun being had in the woods.

It’s fair to say racing hasn’t been anywhere near the menu since the UK 24 hour champs in July as other more important life stuff has happened. I didn’t really miss racing that much as I turned my attention to other challenges (mostly of the diy sos variety). When I have ridden it’s been good to catch up with some mates and do some no numbers rides. This all of course has had a bit of an impact on fitness but I wanted to wait until I got the urge to race again before stepping up to the line.

The urge eventually came round. My coach Jon points out that every year I have a ‘I’d rather just go to the pub and ride with mates’ phase. This one has been a bit longer than normal but I’ve been enjoying my riding and still getting in a few hours each week commuting to work. Sit-ups and that kind of stuff has taken a hit but hey I can’t frankly be arsed to do that torture year round!

So I saw the advert for a long xc race thing not too far from home and on good reviews put it in the diary.

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The 2.5 hour xc Enduro was basically a long xc race format with a 5 mile loop near Blandford. Turning up at the holiday park venue made me wonder if we would just be hacking round grassy fields but sneaking in a practice lap revealed a little gem of a course that was mostly twisty and rooty singletrack. No grassy slop or fire road boredom. No major climbs either but enough to keep it interesting.

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There were even A and B lines on some sections including a proper sized gap jump that had me shit myself on the practice lap as expecting a piddler of a gap I needed to pull up hard to clear it with my lackadaisical approach! It could have been a very short outing. The course held up really well despite the wet weather of late and after new sponsors Taylored Cycles had done a little bit of last minute fettling the race bike was de-dusted and ready to rock.

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The race itself kind of went how I expected. My heart exploding with the shock to the system of the first lap. The accepting that I might die at that pace I found a more life prolonging speed to make it through to the end. Those pub trips mullered me on the climbs as riders poured past but I did manage to keep up on the flatter stuff. Early on there were moments of why am I doing this but they were quickly overshadowed by the good pain vibes that come with these things for me. My jaw was aching with the cold and hard breathing though! I managed to push hard all the way through despite being left in no man’s land for the second half. Was good to catch up with some friends including coach Jon.

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There was a great turnout of over 100 riders at all levels from National xc podium riders through to first timers. Tea and cake for £1 rounded off an excellently hosted event. I even managed to get back a couple of places as the end came. I wasn’t arsed about the result but finishing just outside the top 10 wasn’t too bad all things considered. I might actually try and sneak in another one of these things this side of our xmas day drop date!