Jun 082014
 

“A cross-country race is a time trial that starts with a field sprint” – Ned Overend

The sun is out and I’m sat in the grass; ice cold can of coke in one hand and a burger in the other. Usually I’d be pretty happy right now but today I’m just disappointed. Bikefest is still happening, and the race is gonna Finish without me. I’m disappointed because I’m a loser, not that I lost, just because I’m a loser. I’m a loser because I let my ego get the better of me, I’m disappointed with my attitude, the outcome, and the coke in my hand; it just tastes sour.

I flunked out of my own sport, the sport I love, and have lived for two decades. 5 out of the last 6 races I entered I didn’t even get out of bed for. Bristol was the 6th! the nail in the coffin. A proper loser’s attitude. Time to quit. Summer 2013.

And that was how it happened. It wasn’t because I had nothing left to prove. It was because I had nothing left to give. Totally burnt out, a shell. So I went away, and I went skateboarding, and I broke my arm, got it rebuilt. And then started to feel something inside for the bike again. At first I denied it but eventually succumbed to the call. I started riding again, I started riding every day, I started riding further than I’d ridden yesterday. I found a little bit of fitness and then started to think about racing – the usual dreams and big ideas, all the stuff that unwound me in the first place. I needed rules, restrictions, and I started with performance related goals – no race entered unless I reached such-and-such performance marker.

Back at Bikefest a year later…

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The horn sounds and I start as standard – lets find out where I am. The answer: the engine is good. Into the lead group and comfortable, very comfortable, and my easiest Bikefest start to date. Then the singletrack and… oh, not so good! Usually my strong set but the left hand is already struggling and control is an issue. Reign it in and stay rubber-side-down, check my ego at the door. The goal is to finish, I absolutely must finish. I settle into a pace, based on not binning-it in the singletrack.

And so the race goes: I’m the most comfortable I’ve ever been on the Bikefest climbs but I’m the least adept that I’ve ever been in the singletrack, on the UK’s most singletrack-heavy race course.

At about an hour and a half in I start to wonder if the hand will survive the test. It’s a lot of pain. Pain I can handle. The lack of control though mmm… it’s stressful. I absolutely must finish. A DNF is not an option. I keep racing.

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Lap ticks off, lap ticks off, lap ticks off. I’m still really strong. I’m still really in danger of a crash. Then it rains, I crash, I finish 6th. Joint 6th with Nick who catches me at my crash but says he’s not going to sprint it out. A gent. He could have dusted me, he didn’t, I appreciate the sportsmanship.

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I’m done, I fell like I got hit by a car, I bypass the coke stand, the burger stand, I’m not disappointed, and I’ve got a big grin on my face. Race analysis all the way home, a list of things to work on, performance goals that I want to hit.

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 Posted by at 8:31 pm
Jun 022014
 

The Bryan Chapman Memorial (BCM) has been on my list of things to do for a while now. The idea of a 600km, 629km in truth, ride from the bottom of Wales to the top and back again is wonderful. Honestly, it is a beautiful route – or what of it I did – and the other bits I’ve done in the past.

So the trip started out well, until I got to the Severn Bridge and drove over it…forgetting that I was staying on the English side, not, the Welsh side…anyway at least I’ve now driven (and paid) to cross the bridge. Odd that you don’t have to pay to escape Wales though. The hotel were very nice to all the riders and let us take our bikes in, and turned the heating on. Now, normally this would be a good thing. But as it was already about 20 degrees during the evening, having the heating on resulted in a very sweaty nights ‘sleep’ that mostly had me wanting to dip myself in the bath.

After my evening sauna I was up at 4:45am trying to eat some food and failing. Some went in, most just sorta sat in my mouth and got chewed on with no real purpose. Eventually I managed half a bowl of breakfast before I gave up and started to ride the 6km to the start of the ride. It was beautiful riding over the bridge with an inversion across to Wales and the sun just rising. A great start to the day, already we were in jerseys and shorts only. No need for gloves or anything. At this point I realised I had probably taken to much kit with me.

Early morning bridge

The ride started out mellow enough, I got on the back of a nice group and just tipped along for a while. After the first set of rolling hills things started to splinter and I ended up in a group of three or four. Not much talking, not much else but pedaling and rolling through some beautiful Welsh lanes for the first two hours until I stopped for a pee and some food. I’d love to say I wolfed down some food, but in reality I managed to just about eat some bread with Nuttella and peanut butter…which is my normal race favorite food. This was a bit worrying, but I just ignored it and got back on my bike.

The first checkpoint came at 75km at a nice little cafe. I’d planned to bounce through this and get on my way, and did so, stopping only for water-bathroom-receipt. I hit the road after managing to eat another cereal bar, it didn’t taste like anything palatable and I realised that something was happening. May as well just ignore it and ride on… mistake #2.

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I hit the road with a chap called Justin and we started to ride out towards Rhayader and the Elan valley. Not that I’d planned to ride up it, but it was the plan for other riders. We rolled along faster than we should have and enjoyed the scenery.

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As we hit the main road I dropped off  our newly formed group and pulled over. At this stage I was having to stop to eat, not something I’ve normally had to do. I now realised something was going on and it was only a matter of time before it went pear shaped. I rolled into Rhayader and grabbed a Coke, sat in the shade and gave my legs and stomach 10mins to cop on. It didn’t help. I kept climbing up towards the second control at Nant Y Arian and had to stop a further two times.

As I made the control in Nant I knew the day was over. It took me 30mins to eat a single scone and drink a bottle of sparkling water. Normally two things I can wolf down in seconds. The game was no longer afoot. I was toast. After a bit of a man talk I rang Pauline and told her I was suffering, explained my plans and hit the road again. All the way down into Tal Y Bont my body shook, not from the cold, but because my muscles had nothing in them. It took all my mental effort to steer and brake on the descent when needed, forcing my hands to do as they were being told. At the cafe that came soon I stopped again and managed to eat a packet of shortbread with another can of coke. This time, I was trying to spend mental effort to keep it in my stomach.

As I rolled towards Machynlleth I started to think about bail out options. I looked at my GPS and saw that there was a train-station at Mach. but not one at the control at Dolgellau. It became a no-brainer as I rolled past the station and swung right into its open arms. I was done, another DNF.

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The train station attendant was amazing, found me the cheapest, fastest possible way to get back to Chepstow – told me how to get some food for the trip and got me on the train with my bike. A trail angel if I’ve ever met one. The next 5 hours were spend on a variety of trains and station platforms on my way back down south. I still couldn’t eat, but managed a cup of coffee and a Twix in those 5 hours. I just wasn’t hungry.

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Arriving in Newport it turned out to be faster to ride from there to Chepstow than to wait then to take the train. So kit back on and a nice 36km pedal back to the car in England.

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Sitting in a Burger King at 11pm in services somewhere on the M5 I finally started to get hungry again. The food still tasted like crap, but that was probably just because it was BK…

What did I learn? Honestly…I don’t know. I’ve no idea what caused this. Maybe just a case of the heat and lack of real riding. Maybe something else. Either way it’s a pain, but it is what it was. A long ride, inter-spaced with suffering and failure. Nothing I regret, just something I wish had worked out better.

Jun 022014
 

Ok so this is the deal: divide all my food for the ride into 4 piles; leave 3 on the table and put the rest in my back pockets. 2 bottles: same carb solution in both; exactly measured for body-weight and projected duration of lap. That’ll take care of lap 1 and there’ll be 3 more laps to come, hence 3 more piles of food. The lap is about 50 miles long, and has around 2500 feet of climbing, so it’s all kept simple: 4 laps = 200 miles and 10,000 feet.

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Today I’m riding on feel, so the powermeter has been taken off the bike. Why ride to feel when you own a powermeter? If I’m ever going to race again the chances are it’ll be on mountain bike, and I don’t have a powermeter on my mountainbike, so whilst I’d use a powermeter on the road I don’t have that luxury offroad. I need to remind myself how to pace myself. Maybe I should buy a powermeter for my mountainbike? Mmm… no time to think about that now, I’ll ride today on feel.

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Halfway around lap 1 and I’m travelling faster than anticipated. Engaged with the task at hand, riding comfortably, fuelling as planned and feeling good. It’s early morning, so it’s not yet warmed up properly, and I’m dressed up snug. Faster than planned mmm… should I slow down? It feels ok, manageable, let’s stay on it and see what pans out.

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Approaching 80 miles and the miles start to tell. Not much, but enough to know about it, over the main climb at mile 83 and it’s distinctly harder than it was on the first lap. Pace is still the same though and I’m approaching the hardest pit – 100 miles – will I drag myself back out the door for lap 3?

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110 miles, yeah I made it back out the door, and the test now begins. 100 miles on-pace takes focus, 200 miles just covering the distance takes persistence, but 200 miles on pace? I have to ask myself a few questions! Hungry now, and distracted, neck a bit sore, healing left arm very sore, stay focused and stay on schedule with my feeding. I’m wobbling over the energy precipice, trying desperately not to look down. “push one pedal down and the other comes back up” I stay on focus and ride the hunger storm, 115, 120, 125, 130, 135, 140, 145, 150… JUST ONE MORE LAP!

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The shortest pit-stop of the day as I know I’m right on a tipping point. If I sit down I’ll simply not get back up. Change my base layer, it’s starting to cool down outside and the one I’m wearing is damp. More chamois creme and pockets refilled, out for another lap, a mere 50 miles!

Still on pace, still focused, the miles pass under my wheels like clockwork. The last big climb stings all the way up, the view at the top seems greater than it was the last time I passed, and I’m the most pushed I’ve been for a very long time. The last remaining miles are all stomping, swaying, spinning and smiling, then suddenly I’m home, stage one of my training complete, endurance checked off the list, my test exceeded, feeling like I might just become a bike racer again…

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 Posted by at 1:00 pm