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

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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!

 

Ard Rocking

I do try and fit in ‘normal’ person activities around training for ultra slog fests. No more so than just after I’ve completed a major slog fest aka the ‘blowout’ period where I catch up on eating and beer activities.

Although possibly a little soon for the legs to be in one piece after the UK 24 hour solo championships I had entered the Ard Rock Enduro ages ago so without any of the usual pre race faff I rocked up totally unequipped for the weekend ahead but ready for some beer, junk food and awesome trials.

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Setup faff/ blowing the dust off the big bike/ waiting hours for mates to arrive

Our group got entry to the ‘Intro’ after missing out on the main event so that meant the last three stages rather than the full five. It turned out that we were somewhat out of place as even a 10 pint handicap group of mid speed riders ended up packing the top places. We hadn’t appreciated how many beginner riders there would be, great for the sport but maybe not so if you wanted a clean run down the stage. I didn’t really care either way as I wasn’t seeing this as a race at all.

My day changed quite a bit after nursing my hungover self to the top of the first major climb only for my mech to crumble in to pieces. Mech off, rear shock pumped up to 220psi, singlespeed full susser here we come.

It made the day a bit of a grind/ long walk but despite not being able to pedal properly from either spinning out after 2 seconds or the chain just dropping off and flapping around I still loved the descents. I need to work on my chainless racing skills though finding myself having to punt along at times. For good measure I got a flat right at the end of the last stage. The stages were a mix of what I would basically call proper mountain biking taking in moorland trails some fun rocky quarry sections and sheep tracks. Not as techy as some made out but if you were flat out I guess it would get a lot sketchier. Some off camber fields with jumps through walls was pretty good fun.

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Somehow I ended up in 13th (definitely unlucky!) although we were somewhat out of place in the intro group with lots of beginners stacking the ranks. Smiles on everyones faces though despite the hold ups. Great to see lots of ladies out there in the hills, probably the biggest turnout I’ve seen at any bike event in fact.

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Big ups, big downs. Hard work on one gear!

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‘Team Gnarr Shredding’ aka sandbaggers

The terrain in the Dales is awesome and some of the climbing is a walk on a big bike. Next year I’ll definitely be up for the main route if we get an entry in time. I had a crazy thought of doing all three events across the weekend so that would total 125km of hard terrain, hmm might need to stay out of the mosh pit the night before for hat one.

 

Write ups from around the web

Here’s a bit of a summary of some this year’s race blogs from around and about that I hadn’t quite gotten round to putting up on here yet. My favourite picture of the year so far is from Charlie Lees:

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Early year XC racing

https://www.teamjmc.uk/2017/01/mid-winter-madness-for-matt-jones/

Ridiculous winter challenge ride

https://www.teamjmc.uk/2017/04/matt-joness-moors-madness/

Musings about racing and looking after yourself

http://www.e3coach.com/blog/119-looking-after-yourself

Dyfi Enduro Double

https://www.ukxcnews.com/race-reports/make-best-event-year-even-better-twice/

MTB Marathon double dodgy stomach affair

https://www.teamjmc.uk/2017/04/matt-joness-weekend-goes-down-the-pan/

Singletrack 7 hour event

https://www.teamjmc.uk/2017/05/singletrack7-report-by-matt-jones/

Midweek 1 hour xc thrashing

http://www.e3coach.com/blog/121-mad-thrash-midweek-xc-race-report

Racing bikes

https://www.ukxcnews.com/news/race-bike-focus-matt-jones-24-hour-racing-machines/

WEMBO 24 hour world champs

https://www.teamjmc.uk/2017/06/wembo-24hr-mtb-world-champs-report-by-matt-jones/

UK 24 Champs

https://www.teamjmc.uk/2017/08/mudfest-for-matt-jones-at-the-uk-24hr-solo-champs/

Next up after I wean myself off the massive eatafon is a little challenge ride around london, 200 miles around the ‘smoke ring’ in a oner, watch this space

 

Winter Racing and the next ‘epic

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.

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Pay man in van fiver, have fun in the mud, simples

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?”!

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‘warming down’ for a couple of hours post xc thrashing

 

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.

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The Moors! From behind local ripper Sam Pantling’s bars

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180 miles over 2 days