As now traditional for me I’ve had a dabble at a couple of wintery short xc races of late in a desperate attempt to kick start the hard training ahead and post xmas festivities ‘getting back on it’.
Keeping things local(ish) first off I headed an hour south to partake in the last round of the Gillingham and District Wheelers winter xc series. This was definitely grass roots racing and on arrival at the car park in the woods by St Alfred’s Tower about an hour before race time there was only me and one other chap in sight. Have we got the wrong location, we both looked at each other and asked?! There were certainly no rollers or easy ups here. Eventually the organiser turned up in a van with a lunch box to receive the fiver entry fee (A FIVER!!!) and a few more cars arrived to make up the numbers.
With plenty of time for a test lap of the short circuit through the woods it was clear this was going to be a muddy one. The technicality came from trying to keep things in a straight line down the gloopy forest road shoots whilst there were a few really sharp punchy climbs to keep the legs in check. I’d gone out for a few hours the day before so this would be a good chance to test some high speed endurance. Once I spotted Kim Little (Merida Factory Racing) on the start line I knew my lungs would be tested even trying to keep up for a lap. As it turned out I don’t think I even managed a lap as he shot off up the first climb. We did have a brief coming together whilst getting temporarily lost which allowed the rest of the field to catch up. Despite only being a small gang of us there were a few decent riders and I settled in 2nd but was getting hunted down by others from the off. I eventually ran out of beans on the second to last lap with a chap coming past me. I had gone full mudguards which is almost a never in a race but I reckon everyone else had about 1kg of mud stuck to their backs compared to me!
Next up was the last round of the MAD XC series up in Gloucestershire. Based again at the National Trusts Ebworth Estate where forest roads are linked with nice little bits of singletrack. The organisers had to abandon most of the singletrack to preserve the woodlands after yet more disgusting weather had left things Somme like. Jon at E3 coach had really upped the pain for this weekend scheduling a 4 hour ride the day before then a couple of hours after the race to really finish me off. I knew during the practice lap that I was pretty empty and sure enough once the gun went I didn’t really get going. A few points at the front were fighting for the series overall prize so were off like a shot and I just slowly slipped back. After a couple of laps I really felt like throwing in the towel, this was not fun, let me curl up in a ball somewhere. I hadn’t been sleeping very well either which meant I was a bit zoned out. I kept on plugging though as it would have been easy to just call it a day but I reckon if you throw the towel once you know what it feels like therefore know how to do and it are more likely to do it in future. Tapping in to my 24 hour racing stubbornness I just got my head down and got on with it. DON’T EVEN TOUCH THE TOWEL I told myself let alone get hold of it. Weird that such mental battles can even happen in such a short race. Mercilessly I approached the start/finish line a minute before the cut off for a final lap, DON’T EVEN SMELL THE TOWEL and off I went for then final lap of trudging through leg sapping mud. I noted a couple of fast finishers had hunted me down and were within site so this gave me a bit more motivation to actually pull my finger out and put some more effort in for the last lap. I held them off and came in 10th. I did pick up a trophy, last year’s overall 2nd place in the series. Character building part 2 commenced straight after the race heading off on a mix of local bridleways (more boggy hell) and backroads to spin the legs for a couple of hours. I had stuffed loads of food in my back pocket so was able to take comfort in that at least.
I made it back to event HQ just as the organisers were leaving and probably thinking “who’s this idiot?”!
I’ve got a bit of a mission lined up next weekend to do the first 180miles of Aidan Hardings EWE mountain bike route www.aidanharding.com/ewe/. I’m aiming to make it across bleak Dartmoor on day 1, Plymouth to Barnstaple (100 miles) then Barnstaple to Bridgewater on day 2 heading across the steep climbs of Exmoor and then the Quantocks covering 80 miles. It’s a mix of bridleways, singletrack and national cycle network route. I just wanted something as an early season challenge to keep me motivated and I’ve always wanted to do a route across the two moors. I expect it to be fairly grim but a good mental challenge at this time of year, at least I’ve got a half way curry lined up with a mate in Barnstaple and a bed for the night to recharge. I’ve been trying to figure out how best to strap kit to my bike to keep things nice and lightweight but as a total amateur I’ll probably just end up stuffing a load of kit in my back pockets to avoid a rucksack.