Sean Wratten

Dec 022013
 

Here’s something to think about – I’ve always thought that a big part of cycling was about freedom. Freedom to ride whatever trail or road you want, legally of  course. The sense of freedom that being out in the open gives you. And the freedom to take it as seriously or as chilled out as you want. Everyone with me so far? Here comes the radical bit – in that case, why are there so many self imposed rules within cycling?

Most of these words have been kicking around on my laptop since the summer, but they kind of relate to what Jen alluded to a couple of posts ago with the whole stiff pole roadie thing.

Thankfully with the resurgence of road cycling, we’ve all but seen the end of the stupid you’re either a mountain biker or a roadie mentality. But I’m always hearing things like “you’ve got to run your stem as low as possible, you’re not riding with us if you’re using a seat pack,you’re not a mountain biker unless you’ve a peak on your helmet. Women shouldn’t ride bikes, your socks have to be this length or colour, you can’t wear long fingered gloves on a road bike, mudguards on mtb’s are for girls. Races are for serious riders only, your saddle has to match your grips or bar tape, you can’t wear lycra / baggies on a mountain bike / road bike (delete as applicable)”. You get the idea. And believe me, over the years, I’ve heard each one of these said out loud !

It’s always occurred to me that all these rules aren’t really in the spirit of freedom. Are they just some peoples need for sort of structure or code to follow? A need to belong to some sort of faction all abiding by the same sort of rules, or just some peoples need to show they’re more knowledgeable than the rest of us by claiming to know some long standing tradition handed down over the years with secret handshakes and . . . . . yawn ! Who knows? Believe it or not, but there’s even a website out there that tells you, in what shape to crimp your cable ferrules ! I mean, COME ON ! SHOW SOME INDEPENDENT THINKING  PEOPLE ! One thing I will say though, if you don’t know what a DCD is, you’ve never used downtube shifters or you’ve never clattered, screaming obscenities into a five bar gate because your mud clogged canti’s have failed to stop you . . . again, you may not be the right person to be making the rules in the first place. (was that dangerously close to making another rule?!?!).

Yeah, I have my own set of guidelines for how I like to ride and how to set my bikes up. But they’re mine. And I hope they’re not influenced by others opinions and they’re certainly not forced onto others like some, “you’re not cool if you don’t do this” mantra. Maybe this is just the inner Taoist in me coming out, but can’t we each make up our own minds how we ride and just enjoy cycling for what it is supposed to be .. Fun. In whatever form that takes.

Here’s a challenge, ditch the rules. Spend the time instead doing something revolutionary,  like riding your bike !

Yours truly, not a mountain biker, not a roadie, just a cyclist

 

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Jul 252013
 

It’s sat there…………….. in the fridge just next to the beers Michelle left. A box of after eights that’s been calling my name for about a week now. It’s been hard but I’ve managed to resist the temptation to gorge myself, something that’s not happened for a while. The reason for my admirable self control…. it’s less than 48 hours to my Bontrager 12 effort and I’ve tried to be as good as possible on the food & drink front. No alcohol or chocolate for about 10 days and no caffeine for weeks. God it feels like it’s killing me ! So around 1am sunday, I’ll be the one wandering around with a family sized pack of peanut M&M’s and a bottle of whiskey. Give me a kick if I’m not moving.

I’m really looking forward to this and dreading it all at the same time. Although I’ve already done a 12 hour solo, at Bonty last year, it still feels like a big ask of my body and determination. I’m a year older and more stressed. Then add to that, that I came 3rd Vet last year. Just like last year, no one’s going to expect anything of me. Except me. I know rationally that a podium will be extremely hard to repeat, and I’ve set my self a target of top 10. But there’s a bit of me that’s afraid that anything that doesn’t live up to last year will be an anti climax come Sunday. It’s not that I’m used to winning, far from it. I was one of those kids at school that never scored a goal, won a race or even connected with a cricket ball for that matter. I think maybe a lifetime of never doing that well at sport has left extremely determined, but not sure what to do after it’s gone well.

Oh well. The vans packed and I should be sleeping already. Or at least laying there trying to remember what I’ve forgotten. If that makes sense. So, off to bed for me. Here’s hoping the sound of the after eights doesn’t keep me up all night !

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Jul 092013
 

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Excited, sick and battered  !

They’re the main feelings I remember most from last years Erlestoke 12 race. Excited – because it was the longest race I’d attempted and for the first 2 hours I felt invincible. Sick – because at 2.5 hours the effects of pushing too hard and over-doing the energy product had me thinking I was heading for an early exit and a bush shaped toilet. And battered because the course was relentless. A course where pretty much the only bits of non singletrack are all up hill, means you’re either blowing or concentrating really hard the whole time. Add that to an abundance of tree roots and baked hard ground and i felt like I’d been kicked by a mule – a lot. I only did the 6 hour version, but last year  it was the first race I’d done that i could possibly put in the endurance bracket. Slightly dubious I know, but I’m clinging to it !! Last year it was all just training towards the overall goal of doing the 12 hour solo at Bontrager, but it was still the longest I’d ridden for, by nearly double. So with all that in mind, I was slightly nervous to be doing it again this year.

The second bank holiday of the year is always a busy time for us. It’s normally about the busiest week in the shop for repairs, with everyone wanting their bike in time for the weekend. We always do a shop stall at the event, which takes a lot of time to plan and put together, let alone the lugging it all in and out of the van. This year our wedding anniversary and youngest daughters birthday fell on the same weekend too. So in the space of three days I managed to fit in an albeit low-key anniversary, a shop sta

ll, and a kid’s birthday party, all with the Saturday itself bringing a 21 hour working day with a 6 hour race stuck in the middle of it. Not what you’d call ideal prep. All the same I wouldn’t miss this event for anything. It’s a great friendly event, run by enthusiastic riders rather than an events company, with a course that for all the reasons it seems so tough, is really challenging and great fun to ride. I’ve heard alot of endurance riders, describe it as one of the best 12 hour courses they’ve ridden.

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The course was yet again amazing and even tougher than last year. Mega-tight, tree lined singletrack all over the place, including a Red Bull timed section in an area known as “the rollercoaster”. One minute you’re zigg-zagging downhill through gaps so tight that it seems you’ll catch both ends of the bar at the same time, the next second you’re pinning it up a 20 foot bank you’d struggle to walk up only to turn 90 degrees at the top, dive back down and hurtle into more Return of the Jedi / Endor speeder bike type singletrack. Then throw in punishing grassy climbs, singletrack climbs with short sharp energy sapping ramps, and one steep tarmac climb which bizarrely enough I found a bit of a break, because you could at least switch your brain off for a couple of minutes. The weather, yet again was great and the atmosphere around camp was as ever pretty chilled.

My target for this years race was just to improve on last year. I had an idea of how many laps I’d hope to achieve, 8 as opposed to last years 7, but it was more about trying t o get more consistent lap times, listen to my body more and ride more sensibly, rather than start like a spaniel on amphetamines. My start was certainly more subdued and I definately bounced of less tree’s in the 1st lap this year. In fact, apart from an embarrassing mini-off in the pit, trying to grab a bottle from my table without stopping, I had no pranDSC_0426gs at all. Which for me is pretty good. The first few laps passed without any real incident. I was lapping in a time that satisfied my overall 8 lap target. I’d previously decided not to chase that lap time but once I’d worked it out, it was impossible to get it out of my head. A bit like when someone says don’t think of a purple elephant. The only difference was my bizarrely coloured pachyderm looked more like a stopwatch ticking around to 45 minutes. As per usual  I had a mini dip in form and speed just after the halfway point, but when I was told after lap 6, that according to Timeliness’s info I was heading for tenth position with 90 minutes to go, I found the imputus (and caffeine gel) to dig in and push harder than ever. My mid race steady tempo gave way to a no holds barred, blow a gasket pace in a desperate bid to get in those last two sub 45 minute laps. Either through some growing sense of familiarity, more gung ho attitude or better mental focus I seemed to be getting quicker and smoother in the tight singletrack that has always been my Achilles heel. Every time I went past someone it felt like a mini victory and spurred me on. On the flip side, everytime I slowed a little to let a faster rider come through, in my head I was screaming “for fecks sake you’re losing time you muppett”! Still what goes around, comes around.

I crossed the staDSC_0420rt line for the penultimate time with just under 45 mins til cut off. I was very aware I was going to have to pull out one of my fastest laps of the day to make it back in time. One of my fastest laps . . . . I was feeling more and more tired, the climbs were getting harder, and my pace and strength seemed to be draining out noticeably with every upward pedal stroke. I wasn’t 100% confident it would happen but what the hell, the 8th lap was what I set out to achieve so onwards and upwards etc etc. Even though every part of me was hurting by this time, I really felt good and enjoyed the last lap. The climbs hurt for sure, and my legs were well and truly pinging away in a, I’m going to cramp on you any second kinda way, but on the singletrack I felt as good as I had all day. I was taking more risks than before, cutting closer to the trees and carrying more speed into the corners than earlier, but it all paid off. I was really conscious of the time and knew that one prang or close encounter with a tree would probably rule out me getting back in time, but then I also knew that playing it steady would definitely mean all this effort had gone to waste. I came out the last bit of singletrack, into an evening sunshine and looked at garmin to see how long I might have left. About a minute and a half. A minute and a half to cover the last few hundred yards. Various slow motion swear  words went through my head at that point and I got out the saddle and pedaled as hard and as fast as I could. Which by now really wasn’t very hard or very fast and it certainly wasn’t just the swear words that seemed to be in slow motion. It felt like it was going to take an eternity to get to the finish. I managed to bundle myself over the line, not knowing if I’d made it or not. It turned out I had, by 17 seconds.
Thank god that last lap wasn’t for nothing!

At the time it looked like I’d nabbed the 10th spot, and that night (after continuing the stall til the end of the event, loading up and getting home at 2am!)  I went to bed feeling really chuffed with myself. A top 10 in a local event where all age groups were bundled into one category. None too shabby I thought for an old git who longed for a vets category. As it turned out, after a few timing issues were resolved, my actual position was 15th. Not quite the semi-glory of a top 10 but all things considered, I’m not too upset with that. A whole ten places better than last year.

Thanks have to go to James for helping run the stall and acting as impromptu pit monkey, Diego from Schwalbe for the kit and support, and to the guy who came over to check if I was alright after I flopped onto the grass just after the finish and led there still half clipped in for a few minutes ! And huge respect to the guys who managed a whole 12 hour solo on this course. Maybe next year….maybe.

Content, not that sick and satisfyingly battered. Not a bad way to end the day.

Mar 282013
 

“They’re chatting ! My lungs are hanging out and they’re bloody chatting !”

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That’s what’s being muttered under my breath as i desperately try and cling onto the coat tails of Rich Rothwell and Tim Dunford up another snowy climb at the Whinlatter trail, just outside Keswick in the lake district. This is the home of March’s Whinlatter Challenge. A 600 strong, early season mtb race / challenge around some of Cumbria’s best man made trails. I’m currently sitting 3rd, some 50 yards behind the lead two. This is a situation I’d normally be ecstatic about. Battling heroically at the front of a race with two of the best endurance racers out there. The problem is, the event was postponed yesterday due to the weather and there’s only 3 of us here ! When we heard the event was postponed, having already packed the car, got cover in the shop and booked a hotel for Saturday night, Michelle and I thought, what the hell and drove all the way up here with the kids anyway. A quick phone call to Rich and a “lets go out anyway” Sunday morning ride was arranged. I feared holding Rich up but when i saw he’d brought along a mate, i knew i was in trouble.

How did i get in this position? I blame Rich entirely. Not for anything that happened this last weekend, but for getting me hooked on wanting to do well back in late 2011, when i approached him to help me with some training tips, after i decided to enter my very 1st 12 hour solo race. I went from just wanting to survive a 12 hour to really wanting to compete at the best level i could. Just a few months after that i was trekking up to Keswick to do the 2012 edition of the Whinlatter challenge. My 1st ever proper race where i came a humble 104th overall and 31st vet. What i really remember about that race though (other than the cramp), was being overtaken on a climb by a twenty-something on a multi-linked full susser, wearing skinny jean cutoffs and trainers. To a forty-something, lycra-clad wannabe racer that’s not only depressing but downright embarrassing. This year i thought i’d return and try to iron out some niggles – i wanted to break the top 100 .  . . . Oh, and hunt down skinny jeans and trainers.

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The early seeds of doing, what seemed at the time, something near impossible like a 12 or 24 hour solo were first sown when Rob (Lee) worked for us back in 2007. Somehow the thought of riding for that long felt like a massive challenge alone. Nevermind actually trying to race. I always said that if i was to do one, i wanted to do it as the good guys did, not stop for a nap or a meal half way through, but actually ride, and push for the full duration. There was no way an average rider like me was going to do that without some help. Hence the call to Rich, who i already new through Rob’s old team. Rich coached me through my first season as a newbie racer. After Whinlatter i did the 6 hour solo at The Erlestoke 12. A local event to us. A fantastic course and a great, friendly event. Then came my target race, Bontrager Twentyfour12. All i was aiming for was to finish in the top 20% in the vets category. Some spectacular mud, a few no shows and a fair amount of bloody mindedness saw me pull off a podium place in my first ever 12. A result i still find hard to comprehend now. Michelle’s always tutting at me when i try to explain it away as a “freak result” . . . . ” but none of the big boys were there” etc etc.

A conversation with Rob over some bike building, led to a invitation for me to join The Bike Picture and here i am. Although i’ve always suspected Rob’s invite may have been a text meant for somebody else, and he’s too polite to tell me !

And that’s it really. Call it a midlife crisis, an excuse to get me out on my bike, what you will. That’s how a fairly average rider with a fairly normal lifestyle found himself getting up at 4am for training rides in the middle of winter, joining a team and getting beasted around a snowy trail centre by two guys in a whole other league to me. To be fair to both Rich and Tim they were great people to ride with and never once looked miffed at my comparative lack of pace. It was alot of fun and I hope to do it again someday. I can only dream of being that quick, but it’s not gonna stop me trying.

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As for the guy in the skinny jeans and trainers – you can bet i’ll be back again next year at Whinlatter trying to reek my revenge. I may have missed out this year but i’ve not forgotten.