Sunday, 30 June 2013

Carry On Cramping - Thetford Summer Enduro 2013 Race Report

Yesterday was a rather nice day. Two years ago, Thetford MTB Racing hosted their inaugural Summer Enduro. I did the solo 10 hour race and had one of the best ever races I can remember. Sunny skies, fast trails and a party atmosphere made it a really enjoyable 10 hours on the bike. Last year, the enduro had to be cancelled due to a serious infestation of over zealous wombles in Thetford Forest. But it was back with vengeance this year.

Friday night consisted of camping, erecting gazebos and a pasta fest. The plan was to pre-ride the course, but the rain was lashing down and the motivation melted. Woke up early on Saturday, feeling a tad chilly, but it wasn't raining. Thankfully, it stayed that way. Hooray! Before I knew it, the gun went off and we were tucking in to some classic Thetford singletrack. Half way through the lap, I was really enjoying the course, then the long fire road sections started becoming a lot longer, and I lost touch with the main group I was riding with, but I kept the hammer down and after a quick transition, my partner was off. For the event, I teamed up with local legend, "Nibs" - who is essentially the cycling version of The Stig (except he doesn't wear a crash helmet, or appear on a TV series presented by and aimed at people with severe learning difficulties).

As the race went on, I started to feel pretty rough and was fading. Towards the end, Nibs put in a double lap to give me some much needed rest. I found doing pairs pretty tough, especially on a reasonably short course, as it didn't really give enough time to get proper food down (assuming you wanted to keep it in the stomach). Also, even tougher when your partner is monstrously fast and doesn't fade…ever.

The biggest problem I had during the race was cramp. To the point that when I left transition on the last lap, it took me a minute or so to be able to lift my leg up to clip in - much to the amusement of onlookers. I've found cramp to be a bit of the problem over the last month's worth of racing, so had a good chat with the Torq people at the end of the race about it all. I was pointed towards this article on the beloved electrolyte tablets (aka "anti-cramp" tablets). In essence, the science suggests that cramp isn't caused by dehydration/lack of salts, but over exertion. As the race progressed, I was pushing my self harder and hard to try and keep up with the pace set by Nibsm and was feel like a bit of a let down, but at least the cramp told me I was trying hard enough ;) Anyway, we placed 8th (annoyingly just a minute off 6th), in a really classy field, so not bad for a day's work.
Thursday, 20 June 2013

Mayhem, well sort of.

I’ve not done a 24hr in a team for a good few years a combination of focusing on the longer distances, a healthy hatred of sprint work and just a little bit of laziness meant that everything I did , I did on my own. But a last minute, well week, call up by Johnny from Loco meant that it was going to be another long weekend in a damp field for me.

If im honest the idea of  a new venue did not fill me with excitement, one that had not been used for MTB racing before only added to my trepidation – I will admit to being bias towards Eastor Park, rose tinted memories of growing up riding the Malvern’s, watching Warner, Peat and Lazenby having sneaked over the hills into the Classic, that and I actually enjoyed the obelisk climb. Yes I need help I know.

The campsite was noticeably smaller than Eastnor, hopes of a better atmosphere were damped down as it began to rain, a few beers later and an early night ready to ride the ‘new never been ridden’ course at first light. With the ever present danger of 1000's of riders trapsing over freshly cut tracks I hope Pat and his team had done a good job.

If you’d asked me on that first lap if I could pack up and go home I would have bitten your arm off, maybe I’m spoilt, maybe my expectations have crept up or maybe im just getting grumpy in my old age but the course really didn’t fill me with that ‘ive got to ride this’ feeling that I would hope for in event of this size. Both myself and Ian were feeling petty down about it all – driving most of the way across the country to ride round a damp field is not really the best way to spend the weekend. Having come this far it would be rude just to head home, and Johnny had some home made gel that needed trying so it was with a modicum of enthusiasm and a bucket load of caffine that I lined up for my first lap, third in a team of five. Well its amazing what some race bred adrenaline, a bit of mud and some riders to chase can do for a course, although there was no single track of any note (Trails you can get two bikes down side by side is NOT single track) and some of the hills were so steep that all but the very best were off and pushing it was good fun seeing just how fast you could throw the bike into the now bare bedrock corners.

As Ian has detailed the race progressed through the night with the course going from sticky to very sticky and back again, the final few miles actually reminding me of the time trial I did a few weeks ago, long hard pack climbs holding onto the middle of the bars with legs complaining.  I did realise that it was the first time I had ridden a bike at night since October last year, unfortunate this came back to me as I was heading into a muddy corner on the rapid side, somehow I made it through the other side…

We came 8th in the end which I’m quite pleased with, admittedly a lot to do With Gareth and Johnny from Loco turning themselves inside out but I like to think we all did our parts. Maybe if I started riding the MTB more than once every 6 months we might move up a bit more!

As usual great to catch up with Jon from Scimitar, thanks to the LOCO boys for the invite and Simon for bringing a back up gazebo at the 11th hour!

France next, one mountain bike, two cyclocross tyres, 985 miles, and eight days. Errrrrmmmm….
Sunday, 16 June 2013

Mountain Mayhem 2013 Race Report


Mountain Mayhem has always been on my hit list of events to do. One of the original 24 hour events, it's almost compulsory to do it at some point. A few weeks ago, Shergie asked me if I fancied joining a mixed team and having a crack - how could I have resisted?!

When I asked a bit more about the team, it dawned on me that I would be racing with some of the fastest endurance racers from South Wales. Gareth Evans and Jonny Williams both race for Loco Tuning and are annoyingly good at riding mountain bikes extremely fast. Hanneke Van der Werf joined us, racing for Torq / Qoroz is an extremely strong racer, and last year won the overall title in the Endurance Series. I knew from the start that I really needed to up my game.

On the Saturday morning, we pre rode the course, after the heavy rain throughout the night. We were met with a mudfest and felt generally disinterested in the course, the event and life in general. But, we had come to Princess Anne's estate for the singular purpose of racing, and we didn't want to disappoint her! So the race gets underway and Jonny goes off riding first (after a rather unpleasant cycling-shoe-hindered run. Gareth goes out next, and the heavens open. Whilst the faff monster attacks Shergie and his bike, I fear getting sent out next into the rain. Fortunately, the bike gets fixed and I was spared. 

Finally, the time comes for me to head out. After a slick transition, I go out on my first proper lap. Despite the muddy conditions, the course was a lot more interesting in race mode.

So back at the base camp, I decided to eat lots and rest ready for the next lap. Whilst I was waiting in transition, the word was that the course was drying out nicely and way more fun to ride. Shergie came in, gave me the wrist band and suggested I "pin it". I did accordingly and the course was a million times better. The 1000s of riders had carved out a line through the mud to the limestone beneath. I applied myself at pinning it, and came back with a lap time around 15 minutes quicker than before. I was chuffed, but cramp had kicked in on a few of the climbs.

More rest, and then it was going to be time for my..graveyard shift. As everyone was setting in for a night's sleep, I went out for a double lap stint. My strategy was to take it extra easy for the first lap, and then push harder on the second. This seemed to pay off nicely. However, feeling extremely tired, once I handed over to Hanneke, got back to the tent and got a few hours sleep.

Before I knew it, I was awake and cold. I felt pretty dire and would have been quite happy to never ride again in the race. But before I knew it, I had my CycleAid kit on, and I was drinking as much water as possible. Talk moved to caffeinated gets, and I had one stuffed in my hand. At the start line, waiting for Shergie, I emptied the sachet into my cake-hole and waited for the magic to happen. Before going out on that lap, I was asked my expected lap time (based on how I was feeling), and I went for an optimistic 1 hour. In my head, I knew that was going to be a tall order to deliver this late in the game. But as I started riding, the caffeine was soon kicking in, and I was feeling reasonable. I kept pushing as hard as I could, trying to drop a rider I suspected was also on a mixed team. I saw their weakness was climbing. So, naturally, I pushed as hard as possible to keep up the tempo on the climbs. There was a big, open, steep, grassy climb in the lap that was always my marker that the end was within touching distance. This seemed to appear much quicker than expected, but I didn't think much of it, and got on with turning the pedals until my legs cramped. Really digging deep into the saddlebag of pain, I just buried myself on the last 2 climbs. I knew I was pushing my body hard because I had even dehydrated my eyes and my contact lens was dry. Through blurred vision, I tore through the event arena and hammered it towards transition, to be met by….


That wasn't exactly in the script! After shouting the name a few times, my biggest concern was "what if I go back to the tents and he comes to the start via a different route?" Well, before procrastinating any longer, I tore off in search of Mayhem's next victim. Much to my relief, I found him straight away, and discovered I had somehow managed to pull out a flyer of a lap, almost 15 minutes ahead of schedule!! It felt so good to know that when I needed to really dug deep, I was able to turn out by far my best lap time - even when I was expecting to bonk. But my work was done, so I just collapsed on the floor, a steaming, shaking, sweating mess. My racing was complete. 

In the end, we managed to bag ourselves 8th place out of over 80 teams. All in a day's work...

Sharing the Tweed Love - a Glentress 7 Race Report

Couple of short and sweet little blog reports this evening. The first up is about a very, very enjoyable seven hour endurance race I did a few weeks ago up in Glentress. The unambigeously titled Glentress 7 offered mountain bikers the chance to race a really rather impressive 6.5 mile course, with over 400 metres of leg splitting climbing per lap.

Travelling up from Norwich to the Scottish borders is never really a quick trip, but the luxury of a big pick up truck and lots of nattering about general mountain biking helped speed it up on the Thursday. The mountain bike community of Glentress really put on a spectacular week of events under the Tweed Love banner. On the Thursday night, we were lucky to catch a cinema screening of a video competition for short films about mountain biking in the Tweed Valley, followed by the Red Bull-sponsored feature documentary Where The Trail Ends. This left us feeling rather inspired by beautiful cinematography of insane descending and the inside of numerous A&E departments. The two seemed to go hand in hand.

Friday gave us a chance to pre ride the course, but instead we opted to mis-read signs and, inadvertently, do an extended explore of some of the Glentress trails. This involved quite a bit of fire road work (yawn), and by the time we had reached the top, we weren't feeling particularly inspired or challenged. But then we found the main descent and were buzzing.

The following morning, when we set of racing, we soon discovered that the course was in fact a rather perfect mix of short, sharp fire road climbs (which were never particularly long - not easy - but not too long), then followed by awesome singletrack. This repeated until we reached the highest point of the course, and then that's when the magic happened. A set of swooping single track soon developed into a steep, tight, rooty, off camber descent to the arena area, routed through the dual slalom course.

This was my first endurance race since Kielder last year, so I wasn't really sure of my form, but I felt reasonable and notice a marked improvement on my technical riding at race pace, compared with previous years. All good! Until…

…one of the little single track sections that you drop in, I was "thrilled" to discovered that squeezing my rear brake lever no longer did anything to my rear brake! As luck would have it, the ground broke my fall, and my mouth expressed my mood with a set of historic phrases. I soon realised that my brakes no contained no pads - brilliant! I managed to cruise some of the way down using just the front brake. Another crash, and a failure of SOH, lead me to push the bike down a section. One of the marshals said they could radio in and it would be ok for me to go down the access road to the start. Turns out, the access road was about a billion miles longer and by this point both brakes had failed. Hmmm!!! At the area, I discovered a piston had gone missing from my rear, as had my motivation for more racing. When I remembered I was racing Mountain Mayhem in a couple of weeks, I decided there was no real point burning myself out for a decidedly average result, so I decided to save my energies for another battle!

Despite this, I absolutely loved everything about Glentress and have this event on my calendar already for next year.
Thursday, 13 June 2013

Ride UK24 - Manchester to London

A Team from QBE’s Norwich and London offices, comprising Samantha Howells, Karen Baker, Dean Pointer, Neil Sutton, Neil Higgins, Alex Fitzgerald and myself, Paul Whitlock took part in the inaugural Manchester to London Ride UK 24 cycle challenge on the 8th June, the idea being that you cover the 250 mile course within 24 hours by bike!

For me, the idea was to have a goal to work at and to try and get fit for this year, having always been a mountain biker that had never really cycled over 70-80 miles before, the idea of donning lycra and attempting such a distance I knew would be a really tough challenge. Training has meant that my wife has been a “cycling widow” and most of the weekends for the last 3 months have involved doing 100 miles sportive rides in an attempt to get ready for what I now know was the toughest 24 hours I’ve physically endured.

Despite it being a charity ride and even though the distance itself was a challenge, the organisers didn’t leave it at that, the very first stage comprised of some very long road climbs out of Manchester, across the Pennines and the Derbyshire Peaks and even at 185 miles into the ride the organisers placed in a gruelling Cat 3 road climb and they never took the easy option with the route.

For everyone that took part there were both physical and psychological highs and lows, there are points when you question why you are doing it and feel that you could not turn another pedal, but there are also points where you realise how far you have come already and that realistically you can make it if you can just keep going.

I think we all agreed that riding the opening stages in the sunshine and admiring the beautiful Peaks scenery  was amazing, the camaraderie between the riders was great and the event organisers were brilliant, often they would drive past whooping and hollering and giving you that little bit of a lift needed to keep going to the next rest stop. There were 6 rest stops enabling you to take on food and drink and at 4am they resemble something out of the Living Dead with lycra clad cyclists just trying to summon the energy to eat, let alone get back on the bike to ride the next stage. It does take real self-motivation when you have been riding in the dark for hours and have stopped in the warm for a half hour, to go back out into the cold knowing that you still have over 100 miles to go and have to navigate going across the centre of London when you can barely stand up and the saddle is the last place you want to sit!

It is an incredible event though, with 139 of the entrants of the 141 having finished and 129 of those within the 24 hours, I think that as a team we all did amazingly well and crossed physical limits we did not know that we could prior to the event. I can remember thinking during the night stages the elation I would feel at crossing the finishing line, but by that point I could barely muster the strength to stay upright, the elation came later after a few hours sleep, some food and that first pint and thinking “I have just cycled from Manchester to London in one go….!”

All in all, we will have raised over £9000 for Little Havens Hospices so the sore legs we feel now and have been worth it.

If anyone would like to still add to the fundraising, the link is here:

A few quotes from others:

Samantha Howells:  
Lows – “Being sooo hungry I was like Man vs Food at the food stops”, “6 hours in the dark country lanes with one good light between 3 bikes and bats flying round my head”
Highs – “Having a lovely young man accompany me the whole way because I was last!”

Neil Higgins:
Lows – “ Finishing Stage 2 which time we were 7 ½ hours in, still 35 miles from halfway and with the night cycles ahead. The finish seemed a mighty long way off at this point”, “not being able to keep up with a man on a weird gym bike thing”
Highs - “None!!”

Neil Sutton:
Lows -  “The unexpectedly brutal climb in the Chilterns at 3.30am had me swearing very loudly”, “being overtaken with a mile to go by a man on an Elliptogo”
Highs “..a very acceptable lasagne and focaccia at 2am in a school hall in Oxfordshire”, “crossing the finishing line and seeing my family waiting for me”

Alex Fitzgerald:

Lows – “Lying on the floor of a school hall at 1am not knowing I could sort my bike out, let alone finish the ride..”, “knowing that you’ve got another hilly 80 miles to go at 1am almost broke me..”
Highs – “Riding the Peaks, alternating between the beautiful views and the guy in front’s rear wheel…flying through some beautiful Midlands villages, many hosting fairs with bunting across the street”

Dean Pointer:

Lows – “Punctures! Riding through London after 24 hours on a bike with no sleep”
Highs- “ The climbs and drinking beer in London knowing that we had thoroughly deserved it”

Monday, 3 June 2013


Apparently people do a few years of 10’s and then maybe a 25 or two and if there feeling REALLY brave they might have a go at a 50. It takes a special kind of idiot to jump straight in to 100 miles having never used tri bars for more than an hour before.

Hello *Waves* I am that idiot, or at least I am in the eyes of the Icnield road club.  I left out the fact that I have actually done three time trials in my life, the Welsh 12hr champs, an interclub 30 and this 100; and I’ve figured it out already – are you sitting down? Time trialling is simply an exercise in pain management, as a friend of mine put it “Its that point where the stabbing pain in your legs is no longer a pain its normal” right then, glad that’s cleared that on up…

With a push off at 06.06 on a Sunday morning it became clear that a I would have to leave the very nice, warm and (Key point this) non saddle shaped confines of my bed very early, as luck would have it my housemates were on their way back in from a night out. Suffice to say breakfast was a surreal event – a combination of alcohol and lycra not normally seen outside of certain nightclubs…  Rolling in to the event HQ it became clear that I had missed the memo that stated I needed a full aero TT bike, silly helmet and skinsuit to be considered serious. I had not only got a set of clip on extensions but had managed to borrow a pair of wheels, the rear being a carbon tri spoke; how could this fail to turn me into Wiggo?

As I have said, pain management pure and simple, when it hurts keep going and if it doesn’t hurt then your not trying hard enough. Only when you have worked through the pain and reach the ‘zen’ on the other side do you know you have reach pure testing nivarna. Or a 25mph plus average on an E1/2…

I won’t go into detail about the next 4 and a bit hours, suffice to say I know the bit of A1 between Stevenage and Cambridge very well indeed. I rolled past the finishing line for the first time and stopped, unfortunately there was another 8 miles to go – this I’ve decided is one of the flaws of not having any form of milometer, after a few seconds, well minutes of faffing I realised that having got this far it would be daft not to finish. So knowing  that I had 9 miles left it should have been a case of burying ones self but after 98 miles and a stop it really took every last little bit of effort to get the legs turning never mind sprinting – I managed to catch one of the three people who had passed me during my faff but a *lot* of time lost…

The timekeeper reckons on about 4.31 without the confusion.
That’ll do Gromit, that’ll do…

Am I going to do another one? Probably.
Am I going to become a full time tester? Probably not.
Do I want a fully fledged time trial bike? Hell Yeah…




Blast from the past!

''XC Racing'', an element of mountain biking that I have passed by for the last couple of years, why, well a disappointment with the format of the races as they became more akin to a cyclocross race with some being over and finished in less than 75 minutes. There is the value for money aspect as well, paying out £30 for a short xc race or paying that for a 4hr plus endurance race.Contrary to popular belief I wasn't born in Yorkshire but it's really difficult to justify travelling halfway round the country, forking out on hotel (my other half doesn't do camping!), food, short race and then back home. Plus there was the fundamental point of my lack of xc race fitness, especially at Expert level.

Last weekend though saw a very welcome return of the WSSMTB xc series. In a previous life this was the Whipstakes Mountain Bike Series that ran back in the 90's when a privileged few had full suspension and I had a fully rigid Zaskar.....yes you young 'uns I said fully rigid! These were always well organised, friendly events on proper old school mountain bike courses on local farmland and woods, none of these manicured trail centre tracks here.

My last race in this series was in 1999 in Expert category, now lets be realistic here. Back then I was young and permanently attached to a bike, getting out on the bike now is based upon what time I get back from work, when the kids go to bed, etc etc. Two rides in a week is a luxury at present! So as I looked down at the riders in Expert category and saw Ian Field (GB cyclocross rider), Alex Paton (former GB academy rider) I quickly stepped back into reality and put my name down in Masters category....just one year till veterans though!

Now the Masters category only consisted of nine of us, hopefully more at the next round, but on the plus side I was guaranteed to get gridded at the next race as long as I finished the race.

The course went straight into a climb to get the lungs open, and a stairlift would have been beneficial as I assumed my position at the back, not by choice, more by fitness, or lack of. Now I had set myself some realistic goals for this race....number 1-Finish,.....number 2-Don't come last.

The course was a 20 minute blast through bluebell woods, farmtracks, couple of big bombholes before climbing back up along a rumble strip of a farm track that shook every part of you body, before back into the woods for a couple more bombholes and back to the finish. The On One Race 29er was ideal on this course, my tyre choice not the best on the greasy wooded tracks that involved a couple of semi stacks and 'contact' with the saddle. It was on this same part of the course that I came round the corner on the 3rd lap to find veteran rider Jon Lyons has parted company with his bike and had come down hard. After making sure he was ok and picking his bike up out the way I set off once more and passed another couple of riders before Jon came hammering by, fuelled by adrenalin and at the same time giving me a wheel to hang on to. As he pulled over at the finish with his laps completed' I headed off for my last lap with a guess that I was probably around 5th place, and just gave it my best effort, spurred on by ''go Daddy'' from my two little boys.

I passed riders on my last lap but wasn't sure what category they were in and it was only when I crossed the line I found out I was 3rd and about 40 seconds off 2nd with 1st place way out in front.

Mission accomplished and an enjoyable return to xc racing, and £22 in prize money for 3rd...bonus!

All in all a good day, the bike worked well, and I'm still impressed with the On One wheels that have taken a fair bit of abuse but perform and sound like they should cost quite a few quid more.

My only gripe being, where are all the xc racers? Oh yeah probably like me been put off xc racing. Well dust off your racing gear and get yourself up to the next round at Gravesend Cyclopark on the 23rd June. It's going to be a two race event in a superbike stylee...motorbike noises optional as you race...each of 45 minutes plus a lap, and double series points on offer. The bigger your elbows the less chance of being overtaken! Check it out at spread the word and see you there, as long as you promise not to beat me!

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