“An Eventful Summer”
I’m not very good at keeping up-to-date with blogs about events (no! you’re not! – Ed). Straight after a race or ride I’m either too tired, lazy or thinking about the next big thing on the horizon. The positive side to this is that when I decide to catch up on what I’ve been doing, its great recalling all the amazing memories and stories that can easily be forgotten.
This summer has been eventful and even though the weather hasn’t been great, it hasn’t dampened any of the fun! After completing the Cairngorm Loop, which was my early season goal, the plan was to work on sharpening my speed for some faster events over the summer, start doing some fell races with the 3 Peaks cyclocross in mind later in the year and also work to something big before my family summer holiday.
I had decided to dispense with formal training plans this year, which can become stressful to follow and instead follow my instincts, get involved in more races and most importantly make sure I had fun. Sometimes over the last few years, achieving my goals had taken the fun out of things and that was not going to happen this year!
After recovering from the Cairngorm Loop I did a few runs and then jumped straight into a fell race which was local to where I live. The Holcombe Two Towers Fell Race was between 5 to 6 miles long with over a 1000 feet of climbing. I lined up alongside what seemed like a very experienced group of fell runners. Everyone had team vests and appeared to know what they were up to, whereas I was sporting a pair of football shorts and some brand new compression socks, which was quite a look! The race was brutal starting with a near vertical climb and then continued to dish out successive climbs throughout the race. The end couldn’t come soon enough and as I crossed the line I was told I was in 3rd place, which I hadn’t expected. It was a thoroughly enjoyable race, done and dusted in about an hour and only cost a few quid – I’ll definitely be doing a few more of these!
Not perfect planning but the next night there was a local XC mountain bike race at Chorlton Water Park. It was part of Manchester’s Midweek Mountain Bike Madness series that has been building in strength over the last few years. I had planned to do every one of the six races organised this summer, but with so much other stuff on, this would be the only one I could take part in. As usual it was full on racing for just over an hour. This course was reasonably flat, which I’m not that used too, and considering I had a fell run in my legs I didn’t do too bad. The sun was out, the trails were dusty and it was good fun. If you live in the North West then you should get down to one of these races next summer.
Next up was Mountain Mayhem. I’ve raced Mayhem for the last 7 or 8 years and it is always the first race on my calendar at the beginning of the year (except when Hit the North is on!). Over the years I have rode in a male team, mixed team and solo. This year was different as for the first time Pat had introduced a pairs category. So following our successful defence of the Strathpuffer pairs earlier in the year, I managed to talk Rich Rothwell in to having a crack at a pairs race that would have a bit more light and hopefully be a bit warmer – Rich didn’t take much persuading. The new home of Mountain Mayhem in Princess Anne’s back yard at Gatecombe Park, is a great venue. The site has a fantastic arena position, plenty of camping space and provides a course that satisfies all types of riders, from the XC whippets to those attempting their first endurance event.
We started off the race well even though I pulled my hamstring on the ‘Le Mans’ run at the start. We took an early lead in the pairs cat but not by much. Our strategy was to change every lap, however the lap times were just over 30 minutes so it didn’t give you much time to rest inbetween. I’ve said this before in previous blogs but pairs racing is bloody hard. You would think that having a rest between laps would make it easier but all it does is allow your body to cool down and stiffen up, meaning the start of the next lap is more painful than the last. As the laps clocked up, so did our lead – but not by much, maybe just a few minutes each lap. We then decided to do double laps, but realised that we weren’t making any time gains so reverted back to singles.
The night came and went very quickly and our lead had continued to increase. I think we were now a lap up but we knew a single mechanical or accident could knock us back. Our lap times continued to be consistent and not much slower than the first half of the race, which was good considering that each 8 mile lap had 1000 feet of climbing!
As the morning progressed, we continued to build on our lead and went on to win the race. I can’t remember how many laps we did, but it was a lot. Not only did we win the male pairs cat but we also managed to bag the male oldies title as well! And on top of all that we got to meet the Princess when she handed out the prizes. What a lovely lady.
With only a week to recover from Mountain Mayhem, next up was a Team JMC first. We had entered a 24 hour pedal car race earlier in the year, through contacts Jase had made from his tandem world record event with Guy. We had generously been lent a pedal car for the weekend, so we compiled a team of six and off we went down the M6 not really knowing what to expect. We knew we would be racing round a karting race track, which wasn’t very long, and we knew there was a food tent and that was about it!
I won’t go into much detail here about the race, as Jase and Budge have both covered it on their blogs, but I will just add that it was a fantastic weekend. It was full on fast and competitive racing with a great bunch of people and we all had a ball. We managed 4th place, which considering we hadn’t ridden our pedal car until an hour before the race, was pretty good. I expect we will be back next year!
Now in to July, events were coming thick and fast. I competed in another fell race organised by Darwen Dashers – the Tockholes Fell Race. Good course, great organisation and a sunny evening for it. I was still suffering from the pulled hamstring I did at Mountain Mayhem, so limped over the line having been passed by about 10 runners in the last mile!
Next up was the next Scott MTB Marathon of the 2015 series. I had rode the first event at Builth Wells with my two daughters, Ciara and Iona, who successfully completed their first 25km marathon distance. This race was at Church Stretton and again we all took part in the 25km distance. It was lovely and sunny for our ride and the course and organisation were fantastic. The girls were amazing and completed the ride quicker than at Builth earlier in the year – so maybe the 50km at the next one!
The next event was something completely different. I took part in the Aggregate 100, which was a test event organised by Emma Osenton. The format was a 100km distance with a combination of off-road trails, gravel tracks and a bit of road, all raced enduro style. So rather than timing the whole race, there were timed sections throughout the course. The majority of people rode CX or gravel bikes but you could compete on any style bike. The whole event was a complete success and a whole load of fun. You raced in pairs and I was teamed up with Rory Hitchens from Upgrade Bikes. We had a ball and ended up winning, which was a bonus. Look out for this event next year. Any who likes riding bikes off road will love this race. It is a different format of a race and I guarantee you will love it!
Back to fell running with thoughts about the 3 Peaks, so where better than competing in the Ingleborough Fell Race. This was the first gala we had visited that had a fell race as part of the festivities and it was all very jolly. That was until the race started and it was a 2000ft grind straight up Ingleborough. I did ok going up and was in about 30th place as we hit the top and then it all went horribly wrong. I realised that I don’t have the hardened legs of a fell runner yet and the run back down to Ingleton was horrible. My legs felt like they were full of lead and I couldn’t even improve my speed on some of the flat bits. I think I lost about 30 or 40 places going down, which wasn’t good, but at least I’ll be on my bike at the 3 Peaks on the downhill bits.
Then on to Bontrager Twentyfour12. I had been told by lots of people how good this race was, particularly the course, which comprised mainly of singletrack. So this year we decided to head down with Jaqs doing the daytime 12 hour race and then at midnight I would hand over the childminding baton and head out on the Torchbearer 12 hour race. The weather on the Saturday for the first 12 hours was perfect – dry, sunny and warm with the trail drying out fast following recent rainfall. Jaqs had worked hard running up to this race with lots of training, which paid off and she took second place in the female vets category – Awesome!
Then for my turn. The weather was still dry at midnight but heavy rain and wind was forecast for about 5am. The start of the race was fast, which I wasn’t expecting as it was the middle of the nights. It felt a bit odd starting a race at midnight having been awake since early morning. I tried to get some sleep prior to the start but it just didn’t happen. This race would need to be fuelled by coffee.
I soon got into a rhythm knocking out the laps and found that myself and Carwyn Davies of KTM were at the front and continually swapped places for the lead. This was going to be a hard race if there would continue to only be seconds difference between our lap times. The course lived up to its reputation and was a great mix of twisty singletrack and forest track with some great technical downhill sections.
As the race continued, Carwyn and I continued to battle it out. I appeared to be stronger on the uphill sections with Carwyn then catching me and being much faster on the downhill sections. Then the rain started as forecast and the remaining 5 or 6 hours of the race were instantly made more difficult. The course stood up well to the deluge of rainfall with mud tyres not required. However the spray from the tyres caked every part of you with mud to the point where you couldn’t recognise anybody. After about an hour of being soaked through I was frozen and shivering. I needed to stop and change into a dry top and thicker waterproof. As I entered the pit, Jase, who was leading the 24 hour race, was there in the same state.
Riding in a team is a great benefit at times like this. Neither of us wanted to go back out into the storm, but you gain comfort from the fact your mate will be out there suffering as well, which helps to push you on. I got changed and got straight back out on the bike, but that was the turning point of the race. Up to that point Carwyn and I were still neck and neck, however my changeover to dry clothes had took too long and Carwyn pulled out a lead which I wouldn’t get back. The rain continued to fall but the change of clothes had worked and I warmed up, even though a new layer of mud had now applied itself to my fresh clothes.
The legs still felt good and I continued to knock out consistent lap times. I had a few mechanical issues over the next few hours but nothing major and going into the last couple of hours of the race, I remained in 2nd place about 15 minutes behind. I knew I couldn’t retrieve this but pushed on until the end and was more than happy with what I’d achieved. It had been a while since I’d competed in a solo lapped race and I was clearly out of practice with keeping my pit stops efficient.
With that race over, it was now time to recover and prepare for the big ride of the summer – The Pennine Bridleway End to End record, which deserves a blog on its own! Watch this space…
Lots of people have supported me over the summer but in no particular order thanks to Jaqs and the kids, Debs for support at Twentyfour12, Team JMC, USE Exposure, Lezyne, Emma Osenton and Rory Hitchens. Ta!