Tuesday, 18 November 2008

[Insert ‘cross-training’ wordplay here]

Yep; it’s that time of year when ingenious ‘cross’ titles appear in magazines and websites everywhere! Well, no not here! No siree! But I have started doing ‘It’ and for good reason. Too many road miles, a gait like a guerrilla, and the realisation that a good Coast-to-Coast crossing will depend on far more than just spinning the cranks, have released me from ‘repetitive training syndrome’. With a series of severe bike carries on the Coast-to-Coast, I realised that I have to strengthen the muscle groups that we don’t use when seated on a bike. You know the ache you get in your lower back when you have a severe push / carry? Well, I need to mitigate against that; I must finish this section relatively unscathed if the sub 24 barrier is to be a possibility…

So what do you do? Take one big steep hill and a backpack with 8 kilos in it. Go for a nice walk! A few of these and lo and behold; I can feel the strength developing in my legs and lower back! It’s also a great way to spend the day with humans who are not obsessive compulsive (that’s Charlotte, that is!).

Another great activity for countering the negative physical impact of being hunched over bars is surfing and I’ll be doing plenty this winter. Pulling your shoulders back, arching your back and paddling all perfectly counter the impact of bike posture. Flexibility is key and comes naturally whilst surfing. Most importantly though, it’s flippin’ brilliant fun! Surfing is one of those activities that massively boosts your fitness, but you never feel like you are doing ‘exercise’. Winter is the season (!) in these parts and perhaps growing up surfing in The North Sea has contributed to my tolerance for physical discomfort….

Press ups, sit-ups, static stretches…. a bit of that too; it’s all good. Grab a couple of minutes here and there and it’s amazing what you can fit in. The sheer variety of my new ‘training’ approach has been thoroughly liberating; the massive rides are no longer routine and I’m feeling stronger all the time.

Oh, and last but not least there’s the CX bike I’ve just ordered…. Can’t wait to get some big half on / half off-road rides in during the endurance building phase.

See! Not a single bit of dodgy wordplay in sight!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Thirsty work

Here we go for another weekend in the lakes. It was serious stuff; The Team was in town! I arrived about 7 ish to meet Rob and Clive in Sienna's for a bite to eat. Thing is, I'd had a long hot day in the office... so the first pint didn't touch the sides. And erm, neither did the 2nd, 3rd, 4th ... To cut a long story short, it was a late finish...

Up at the crack of oh, ten ish, we drove through to Ambleside area and set off over Claiffe Heights. Nice rolling descent down to Hawkshead and then over to Knipe fold; some fun rock slabs to skitter across with the back drop of some great scenery. We then headed through Hodge Close, batted through 'Machine Gun Alley' and headed over past Tilberthwaite; it wasn't the first time I was impressed by Clive's technical climbing skill. (Well, I suppose it is just DH in reverse!) We then headed back round on the road to Ambleside and called it a day.

Dave pulled up in Keswick around seven, we had a good dose of my dad's chilli, Clive headed off for an evening in Manchester, and we headed (back) to the pub. Again the occasion got the better of us and we all ended the night fully hydrated... (well, we had to drink Josh's share as he was at home 'doing homework' apparently!)

Day two; the classic Skiddaw loop. The weather was perfect, the trail is a classic that I never get bored of. We headed up Dash Falls, past Skiddaw House and then hugged the right hand side of the valley. Once again Clive showed how great bike handling skills can apply to the ups as well as the downs by clearing the maze of rocks up the right side of the valley. We turned left at the Skiddaw car park, dropped through the ruts to the East of Lattrig and then headed back across the face of the hill on some fun woodland singletrack.

Plenty of tea and apple pie later (no really!) we went our seperate ways. The next 'training camp' is in two weeks... let's just keep it away from any pubs shall we?

Thursday, 6 November 2008

A Grand Day Out

Just had a corking long weekend in the Lakes in the good company of Genesis rider Paul Errington. The idea had been to make it a Big One and do some reconnaissance for the Coast to Coast. I know the Lakes well but the idea was to ride a large section of the Lakes Coast to Coast as it will be done on the day of my attempt; something I hadn’t done before.

However, Friday was an eight hour meander around Claiffe Heights, Hodge Close, Grizedale, Tilberthwaite….. etc. etc. A sort of ‘pick and mix’ of some great low level stuff (this was deliberate as the weather was ‘borderline’). Saturday was forecast to be clearer; perfect for going ’over the top’!…. (Which we royally did!).

We set off from Coniston, up the wall like climb that takes you to the start of Walna Scar Road. We were going for an out and back along the Coast to Coast route dependent on time. The descent down Walna is an absolute screamer; smooth and flat out for about a third of the hill and then you hit the gnarl at full tilt! And it’s looong! Classic stuff! Across the dodgy slippery stepping stones on the Duddon River and up and over Dunnerdale fell… boggy and slow going (we were going ‘against the grain’). Past the bottom of Wrynose Pass…. (Not today thank you!). Up behind Boot and on to Burnmoor tarn, where we stopped for a bite to eat and took the chance to soak up the stunning view of Wasdale Head. The air was clear with the northerly winds and there was snow on the tops…. Autumn is the best season! It had taken us four hours to get this far…. We turned around with the unspoken knowledge that we were going home in the dark…

Incident No. 1. On Dunnerdale fell, like particularly stupid lemmings we both rode into a freezing bog and ended up to waists in freezing water…. And the sun was going down….By the time we started descending into the Duddon valley it was lights on.

Incident No. 2. My old Nite-Rider light bulb blew! (I stopped making jokes about being eaten by bears at that point). Luckily Paul had two lights and we plodded on through the murky boulder strewn forest… The climb back up Walna is a beast…. And we were freezing; the northerly wind was howling by this point and as we were wet we really had to keep moving.

I thought the descent back to Coniston would be an exercise in caution and reserve. But something magical washed over me… I rode better on that descent than I have done in years (even on a warm sunny day!). It’s a long, steep, fast plummet with some gnarly tech problems thrown in. But I was just placing my front wheel to the millimetre…. picking through rock mazes at speed… dropping of slabs; lights pointing skyward leaving a big black void under me… (Have you ever had that feeling that you couldn’t crash if you tried?) I forgot I was on a bike; I was just flying through boulder gardens like I was on air. Miles below us fireworks exploded from a bonfire…. The surreal view just added to the intensity of the experience. These were some of the most incredible moments I have ever spent on a bike. We dropped in Coniston, both of us literally shaking from the adrenalin! Back to Keswick for a curry and a pint of Cobra… perfect!

Respect to Paul for turning up with an ‘OK, whatever you fancy’ mindset… That’s the spirit!

Steppping into the void

My non-24hour racing friends, (and surprisingly, that is most of them!) cannot get their head around what us 24hr racers do. Who can blame them? It’s ridiculous! Most importantly, you’ve really got to want to do it… ‘and why would you want to do it?’ they ask. I explain, that for me the main attraction is completing something that you were unsure that you could do before you started.

Well, I now know that I can ride laps for 24 hours. Endurance racing will always be fun and challenging for me. I know I can go faster and harder. But I know I can go the course.

The Coast to Coast in under 24 hours? I just don’t know if it’s possible. I don’t know what it will feel like. And that tingle of excitement, that uncertainty and ‘awe of the undertaking’ is something that I haven’t felt since completing my first 24hr race last year. And it’s so good to have that feeling back.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The birth of the Stupid Idea (SI)

From a young age I’ve been afflicted by SIs. Often, as people get older, (and frequently their physical ambitions becomes dulled by too much driving, TV, booze, comfort….) their SIs seem to diminish in frequency and scale. I consider myself exceptionally fortunate; nowadays I’m getting hit by SIs on an increasingly regular basis and, (as a result of 24hr racing?) the size of the SIs is also increasing.

One particular SI has been lurking in the shadows for a couple of years now. Something on the back burner that I might get round to eventually. Until now, I hadn’t considered giving it a serious shot…. But suddenly…


The timing of The Urge has also coincided perfectly with Rob’s 7DSs project and the direction of The Team and it’s this:

The Coast to Coast (the hard core Lakes, Dales, Moors one) in one sitting. Daunting! In under 24 hours? Who knows! Up for it? Damn right!

The planning has started!

The highs and lows of '08

It’s been a bizarre year – euphoria one day; despair the next. And my first ‘real’ race season. It went something this….

Signed up to Ironhorse-Extreme. Hurrah! Face planted the tarmac from the road bike… Doh! And Oooowyaah! Broken jaw… liquid diet… right in the middle of the key endurance building phase in my training. First race for Ironhorse-Extreme… pairs with Rob… great fun… whistling just inches past the trees in Sherwood Pines in the dark…. Not what the Doctor ordered! Wildboar…. Wildly Boring but met some cool characters. Mountain Mayhem…. intense, funny, hairy. 10 @ Kirroughtree… fun-tastic… punishing. Sleepless in the Saddle… like Mayhem but without the danger elements… and (even) more ‘bike walking’. Married the lovely (and extraordinarily patient) Charlotte. Tropical island honeymoon… surfing… lounging... relaxing. Came home… house sank in flood. (Saved the bikes though). Back to the drawing board in so many respects.

Ideas and opportunities blossom at the strangest times. The crazy year that’s just passed has truly been one of exceptional highs and ‘out of the blue’ lows. Fortunately though, the turbulence of recent times has bucked me off a slope I was slipping down…. Doing ‘what we’ve always done’ can be a dangerous thing. Imagination can be dulled and ‘riding to become a better mountain biker’ can so easily turn into repetitive and ineffective training (and even worse it becomes plain ‘training’ rather than Riding). So I’ve started to mix things up and I’m noticing the benefits already, both mentally and physically. Some crazy ideas that have lurked at the back of my mind for a long time are now jumping up and down in front of me. This time they aint going to go away unsatisfied…. ’09 starts here.