It’s been a busy winter and spring, filled with lots of training and racing, so I thought I’d better report on what I’ve been up to before the weather gets too hot and humid like last year. Photo : Andy Waterman
2013 started off with the annual Team JMC pilgrimage to the Strathpuffer. Having won the solo race the year before, I decided to take the more relaxed option in 2013 and ride the pairs. After a lot of cajoling, Budge finally gave in and agreed to be the other half of the pair. The target would be a podium place but we knew we would have to work hard to achieve this. Training for the event would need a different approach than my usual plans, so I sought the help of Greg May from Stoic Focus Training who prepared a very focused and gruelling training plan (although I did have Christmas Day off!).
The usual weather watch happened on the run up to the race and the large amounts of snow falling across the country did not extend up to Strathpeffer, so we had to satisfy ourselves with mud and ice. The course as usual was awesome and held up well to the battering from hundreds of bikers. In the pairs we were competing at the sharp end for the majority of the race and there were four teams vying for the podium places. In the end we secured third place, which we were more than pleased with. Budge performed better than he ever thought he could and as a team we worked well together through the good and bad parts of the race.
A race with 17 hours of darkness needed lots of light and Exposure Lights were on board to help us out. Thanks to John and his team for their continued support.
In the solo race, Team JMC nearly filled all podium places with Jase taking the top spot and Dave securing third after another bad crash during the race. So next year – pairs again?
There is never much time to recover from the Puffer before one of the best races in the calendar – Hit the North. Two hours of cold, dirty fun thrashing around a park near the centre of Manchester. This event becomes more popular each year with a bigger and more talented field as well as attracting a fair share of riders who have never raced before.
Photo Courtesy of Andy Waterman
The intention was to improve on last year’s position of 13th and get into the top ten. The field was stronger so this would be a big ask. The course was amazing with new swoopy singletrack sections added and the usually running and climbing bits seemed more savage than previous years. On the day I performed well but once again struggled across the ‘Field of Despair’ – but who doesn’t. I managed 11th place, so I improved on last year but didn’t make the top ten. However, as always I thoroughly enjoyed the day, the company and the riding.
Following ‘Hit the North’ I competed in a couple of short XC races. One in Cannock Chase organised by Go Run & Ride and a British Cycling National XC race at Sherwood Pines. My plan this year was to compete in more short distance races with a view to doing less training miles. This strategy was supported by Greg and his training advice but was soon altered drastically by my plans for later in the year –more of that in a bit.
The race at Cannock Chase was great fun. Lots of tight, twisty singletrack, a few lung busting climbs and dry conditions. A fully rigid 29er with wide bars wasn’t the right race tool, but I managed to man handle it around the course and finish 12th in the elite class. A good result considering I had a very poor start.
At Sherwood Pines I had been told by Jase, Dave and Lee to expect a fantastic course with some fast, flowing singletrack. The weather soon destroyed that vision and a deep layer of snow created a course that was just mud and ice. I was gridded at the back of the vets field in about 90th position and spent the whole race grinding and sliding my way up the field. By the end I managed 31st place, which I was more than happy with, but I was left with thoughts of what could have been if the weather had been kinder.
Photo courtesy of Cookson Cycles
Moving into spring and I needed to turn my attention to my plans for early summer. After completing the West Highland Way Double last year, I decided I probably wouldn’t compete in a solo 24 hour race in 2013, but instead look at doing another long endurance ride later in the year after the XC season was done and dusted. I then stumbled across the Highland Trail race. An epic 430 mile off road jaunt across the highlands – perfect! This was the first year of the race with a limited number of entries, so I hastily put my name down and didn’t consider the consequences of kit and planning. I did however realise a few miles would need to be ridden in preparation. Out of the window went the short course training and big rides were back on the agenda.
One big ride was a planned 200 mile charity road ride across Wales from Caernarfon to Cardiff organised by Mike Hall. Due to organisational logistics we couldn’t sort a lift back from Cardiff, so our plans changed to a ride from Cardiff to Rhayader and back which was the same distance but meant we could drive home afterwards. On the day there was group of four of us who rode together; myself, Dave, Mike Hall and Richard Dunnett. The weather was reasonably kind and we pushed a good pace over the first 100 miles. After a big feed we set out on the return leg, taking a different route over more hilly terrain. We didn’t get lost and maintained a good pace back. This was rewarded by a massive curry back in Caernarfon. I have no idea how Dave kept awake driving home with a belly full of curry and 200 miles in his legs!
April consisted of lots of big rides and no races. I adjusted my race bike with the Highland Trail in mind and started to purchase lots of new kit that I would need for the race. I ventured out for a few long overnight rides with a bivvy in the middle to test out the new kit and see how I would cope with little sleep. These rides were great fun. Looking back I can’t believe I haven’t done more of this in the past. Having kids and a busy career, riding and training consists of early mornings and late nights to fit it all in. I had now found a new way of a fitting in longer rides without the usual impact on the family. With this in mind plans are now afoot for some really daft rides in the future.
Moving into May, I decided to enter the 12 hours of Exposure European and UK championship MTB race that this year had moved from Newcastleton down to Wasing Park. Murmurs of a short course with little climbing didn’t sound fantastic but it would be a good event to round off my training for the Highland Trail. Four of us from Team JMC entered the 12 hour race; myself, Dave, Lee and Jase who also was competing in the fat bike category. The race as usual began at a crazy pace and for the first lap I managed to keep up at the head of the field. I knew I wouldn’t sustain this pace over a short and relatively flat course, but I cracked on, head down, elbows out. A lead group of three disappeared in the distance and I maintained a position somewhere in the top ten.
Photo courtesy of Rachael Eaton
I wasn’t enjoying the course as I prefer longer laps with lung busting climbs and the reward of fast and technical descents – we were spoilt last year in Finale, Italy! Lap after lap was completed and although the course began to dry out and firm up, I was struggling to maintain pace and keep focused. After about six hours I stopped for a protein shake which did me a world of good. I realised I hadn’t ate or drank nearly enough and this sorted me right out. The next 3 hours was more fun although my pace continued to drop as I should have eaten and drank earlier in the race.
And then the rain hit us after about nine hours. Combined with a sudden drop in temperature, the dynamics of the race completely changed. Every rider out on the course was suddenly frozen to the bone and hypothermia became a real possibility. I chattered my way around a lap taking over ten minutes longer to compete it as the trail became a muddy, slippery mess. I now had no feeling in my hands or feet. I was ready to quit, with my mind trying to convince myself that self preservation for the Highland Trail was the right option. Back in the pits I saw everyone else was suffering just as bad. Angela and Rach who were our support in the pits had to deal with all four us more or less simultaneously. They did a great job helping us change in to dry, warmer clothes and then kicked us back out to get on with it.
There were now only a couple of hours of the race left, so I rode out the remainder of the time at a steady place to maintain my position. I crossed the line in 2nd place in the vets category and 5th overall, which was fantastic considering I didn’t have the best race mentally. Jase won the fat bike competition and was 3rd vet (6th overall), Dave was 3rd senior and Lee came 6th vet – so quite a successful day for Team JMC. Congratulation to Craig Bowles who won the 24 hour race. A solid performance by a great guy and thoroughly deserved. A big thank you to Angela and Rach for the awesome support and encouragement throughout the race and also to Exposure Lights for sorting me out with a new stem before the race and some lights for the short time I needed them.
So that brings me up-to-date and prepares me for the summer ahead. It’s a week to go until the Highland Trail, so I’ll try and fit in another blog post before the off…