Friday, 22 May 2009

New Improved Blog! Now with Added Stuff!

Yep, I've got a new blog! It's a magical place full of pretty colours and nice pictures. From now on it's all happening at

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

English Coast to Coast. 7DS5.

First up, I want to clarify my route. I followed the unabridged Coast to Coast designed by Tim Woodcock. 210 miles of Great British Mountain Biking: warts and all. It’s an incredible route but far from ‘the perfect ride’. On a normal day, you would avoid many of the sections like the plague. But this wasn’t a normal day. The idea was to ride what I consider to be the toughest mapped version of this classic challenge, come what may.

I have investigated accounts of ‘The’ Coast to Coast being ridden in one hit in under twenty hours and found them to be variations on Tim’s route (and other coast to coast hybrids). I have still not found any evidence that anybody has ridden Tim’s route in one hit and unsupported. If anyone knows differently please let me know. If you would like a copy of the GPX file, please contact me and I will pass it on. This is the Seven Deadly Spins 5 challenge.

As things turned out, I don’t expect my ride time to present a great problem for the ‘usual suspects’ who may take this challenge on (and I hope they do; it’s a fantastic experience). Conditions were not conducive to a fast time. The weather played an ace by hitting me with a South Easterly headwind and plenty of rain; the absolute worst case scenario. However, with the 24hr Solo World Championships being so close, a postponement would have involved months of waiting and I had an insatiable urge to just get out there and get it done. So I did. It was a ride I will never forget. Put the kettle on, I want to tell you a story…

It was necessary for me to wake up and get up quickly on Saturday morning so Dave and Charlotte could drive me from Morpeth to St Bees. For me, this is one of the most stomach wrenching feelings involved in a day / night / day ride; knowing I won’t be reunited with my bed till Sunday night. At 7am on Saturday morning, bed felt a long way away…. The weather didn’t look too bad but I could see the high cloud still flowing in exactly the wrong direction.

As we cruised South on the M6 my now fragile optimism took a big kick in the shins. The sky went black, the rain lashed down and wind buffeted the car. I finally resigned myself to the cold reality that this was going to be far from perfect. The rosey coloured glasses came off and the adrenalin was flowing faster than the rain down the windscreen…

Reserved confidence returned as we hit the coast. White horses whipped across the Irish Sea but the cloud was broken and there was some warmth in the sun. We pulled up at St Bees car park with twenty minutes to spare. Quick scramble to get ready, and off!

Through the lanes and tracks towards Ennerdale I started to relax and remember I was out to enjoy this. How many people have the chance to do something like this? Recently, some friends and relatives have suffered some shattering health problems. I would absorb every minute good or bad, just happy to be fit and healthy. Did I want the ride to be ‘perfect’? What’s perfect? Did I want an Experience? Hell yes!

Cruising up the valley I prepared myself for the hit of Black Sail Pass. It’s my least favourite part of the Lakes section and I just wanted to put it behind me. But it was in front of me, a misshapen contorted ascent that has no redeeming features on a nice day…. Just as I started to climb, a weather front passed over. Suddenly the wind blew up and seemed to hit me from every direction at once. The rain came down in vicious swirls. It happened so fast I didn’t even have time to reach for my waterproof. Dragging my bike up the tussock ridden slope I felt pretty low. This was not a fun start. Over the top I dropped my saddle and stared straight down the now slick and steep rock steps. Gulp. The crags below Red Pike looked far steeper than I’d ever noticed before, sheer in fact. They were inky black and ragged swirls of rain clouds skittered around the horseshoe. Deep breath. And down… The heavy bag on my back lurched and tried to pitch me over the bars. Not only this, but it also seemed to ‘stabilise’ my weight, making it very hard to make the fine body movements required on such a technical descent. I felt something give on my bike and I slid to a precarious nose down halt. My saddle bag bracket had snapped. It was a big saddle bag which held the bulk of my energy bars. My back pack was packed to bursting. My pockets were full, but it’s amazing how creative you can get with space when you have to! Up my top, jammed hard into my backpack and down my shorts! I must have looked like some kind of deformed Michelin Man! Onwards and downwards…. I must admit at this stage to being completely unnerved. I was shaky and nervous. My arms were trembling. I fully expected to crash. Past the rocky gully and some semblance of belief returned. I popped out at Wasdale Head and felt a wash of relief to leave Black Sail behind me.

The grind and carry up towards Bulatt Bridge began. As the ground levelled I was hit by the true wind direction and it wasn’t good. This plateau gives an honest reading and it was straight in my face. The marshy ground was saturated and sucked my wheels in making me feel like I was dragging a small parachute… Surely things would get better….

Down into Boot the release of a rocky surface boosted both my speed and my spirits and I cruised towards Hardknott. Apprehension grew as knew I was traversing Harter Fell soon after. Another ‘bad bit’. Well best to get these out the way. And it was bad! A long carry and then across the flat… Sawn off tree stumps, ankle twisting rocks and unpredictable pools of treacle like peat continually tripped me up. Eventually it becomes mostly rideable down to the river Duddon but with my confidence and skills on the floor I was making a real meal of everything, over compensating for the dead weight on my back which seemed to neutralise and straighten my every turn.

Walna Scar loomed. I felt tired, weak and demoralised. Half riding, half pushing my head was down and I knew I needed something to give. I’m embarrassed to say it but I felt like pulling out (even though I couldn’t). Dark Thoughts Sir? After three and a half hours Sir? What was going on?! Then I got the boost I needed. The perfect boost for any rider; standing at the top of Walna Scar with my saddle down, not a person in sight and one of the best descents in the country snaking endlessly down in front of me! Cheeeearge! It all clicked and I nailed it; fast, furious and sketchy. Reserve went out the window. This type of descent is my strength and I wanted to make the most of it. Out and through Coniston my legs whirred away and I was in race mode. Through Tilberthwaite, down the rock fest to Skelwith Bridge and up the road climb to Loughrigg Terrace. It was deserted bar one person sitting on a bench. On a Saturday afternoon. Incredible! This is normally one of the busiest walking routes in the Lakes and rendered unrideable at any pace unless you’re up very early (or very late!). This was a common theme for the whole ride and part of my logic for choosing this weekend. The weekend before a Bank Holiday is always quieter in the Lakes as people are saving themselves to hit the place in a concentrated mass…. More the fool them!

Jenkins Crag was a grind and again my head went down… What was happening? My negativity confused me. Some kind of psychosomatic goings on I suspect… Onto Garburn and the rock was nice and dry, the spirits lifted once more and I chuckled to receive a text from a friend; ‘Fancy North York Moors tomorrow?’ it read! ‘I’ll be there’ I replied! Garburn is another favourite and again I hit all the lines. The brain was starting to engage. But again the cloud and darkness closed in. No signs of life anywhere. It was bleak. And time was getting on. I dragged my bike up Gatesgarth knowing that when the rocky surfaces ended and I hit the bad lands of Mosedale my momentum would fall once more.

It was horrendous. Like a bad dream. It’s a wet place at the best of times but this was truly awful. I literally dragged my bike through knee-deep marsh grass and at points ended up thigh deep in freezing black watery peat. One gate was virtually impossible to open because either side was three foot deep in water. The spectre of submerged barbwire, fence posts and rocks swam in front of my eyes as I hauled myself through the quagmire. Even going downhill proved impossible at times as the bike just dug deeper and deeper into the gloop. I pushed and dragged for a good few miles. Just before the descent towards Shap it started to go properly dark. The gloom was accelerated by an incoming black wall of rain and I knew this was no light shower. My waterproofs were on simply to try and keep warm but they were about to get a proper workout… The heavens opened and the daylight ended in a split second. Exposure light went on and its solid dependable beam gave me a much needed boost of confidence.

Down into Shap to a tap stop. Dave and Charlotte were there to tell me I had turned off my Spot tracker by accident! Nobody had known where I was! (Apologies to anyone who was following the early stages of my ride!) I stopped for the essential water stop and wolfed down a lovely bag of compressed M&S pasta. (Well I wasn’t slumming it you know!). I was shaking and freezing. I literally couldn’t stop for a minute longer than necessary due to my plummeting body temperature. I seriously considered pulling out for safety reasons. I was desperately cold and couldn’t feel my hands or feet. Grim. But of course Dear Reader, like a lamb to the slaughter I carried on…

The rain was relentless. I could hardly hold my head up because it stung my face and filled my eyes, even with my glasses on. I was in a maze of narrow country lanes, green lanes and bridleways. It was pitch black and unrecognisable. Thank goodness for my Satmap! I just whacked up the scale and followed the dots! There was no other way. What a fantastic bit of kit. It would have been impossible without it.

Climbing past Crosby Ravensworth my pulse quickened as I headed towards. Woofer Gill. This is a section I had been dreading from the start. After a few miles of gradual road climb I hit a track that petered out into soft grassy field, which disintegrated into waist deep marsh grass, broken gates, barb wire fences, angular rocks and cunningly disguised ankle twisting holes. The dreaded Back of Tan Hill! I pushed and dragged my bike across this army style obstacle course and felt the energy literally being sucked out of my legs. It was 2am. I realised I was half way. I was two hours behind my predicted schedule.

After what seemed like an age, I scrambled out of the steep grass bank and popped out on the road that led to Tan Hill. Again the relief of tarmac gave me a boost and to be honest, this was a bit of a turning point. Positivity returned (apologies if my account has been depressing reading so far – I am just telling it how it was). The rain stopped. The centre of the low pressure was obviously above me. Still calm descended as I rode down towards Keld. The ground was soft, but it had clearly not rained here as much as it had in the Lakes. A watershed. Down into Swaledale the descent is a classic; swooping and fast with some steep switchbacks to berm around. I was enjoying myself now!

Across the valley floor to the next killer hit; Low Houses Bank. This is one of the ‘warts’ I mentioned! There is no way you would ever usually take this route! A remorselessly steep grass bank riddled with mole hills and short greasy sheep sheared grass followed by a precarious boulder field and a classic steep marble strewn Dales bridleway up to Whitaside Moor. The sun was just coming up and the still calm air was freezing but clear. A brief and uncharacteristic moment of ‘Ah, aint it purty’ and it was head down once more. A fast descent and then over and down to Fremington.

My ride was unsupported but being an enthusiastic Coast to Coaster, Stuart from the Dales Mountain Bike had decided to wait up to cheer me on! What a gesture. Cheers Stuart! Dave and Charlotte were also there, simply to keep an eye on me, and they had spent a few hours in Stuart’s good company as I was way behind my predicted time. Quick hello and off….

Now I like wildlife and stuff but riding a bike in the early morning in the Dales is just plain hazardous. Rabbits flew like pinballs across the road at three second intervals or less. Animal collision is the cruellest fate… Besides that, it just made me jump every time! It’s the randomness that got me…

There are nearly as many gates in Yorkshire as there are rabbits and that is saying something. Rusted gates, jammed gates, immovable gates. My months of press-ups stood me in good stead as it was time for my upper body to take a bashing. As for the wall passes through Applegarth, don’t even go there….

Out through Richmond, the early sun disappeared and the fog came down. I was cold and damp again. My feet and fingers started to tingle and seize as the mist penetrated. The roads snaked their way towards Osmotherley and again I sensed the low pressure shifting… The South Easterly wind was picking up again and it blew the mist away. I knew this did not bode well for the North York Moors because much of my route headed into the steadily increasing gusts. Another deep breath. This was the final eight hour stint. I was twenty hours in. There were some brutal climbs to come and the hurt was happening.

Fortunately, the ground was pretty firm throughout the Moors. I say fortunately because even with decent ground the push out of Scugdale put me on my back foot, struggling to keep moving forward. This four hour stint was grim. Dark thoughts crept in again as I pondered over what I still had to do. My appetite had gone and I was desperately trying to force food down my dry and sore throat, knowing that if I didn’t eat progress would halt altogether. I dragged my bike up yet another bouldery, grassy and unrideable slope and onto flat moor top. The full force of the wind hit me and I had to stand in my pedals just to keep an eight mile an hour pace… the surface looked innocuous enough but the sandy base peppered with small angular rocks beats the hell out of you and saps energy.

But consistent with the emerging theme, a high followed a low. Traversing both Skinner Howe Cross Road and Cut Road were probably the best parts of the whole ride; boulders embedded in dry (yes, dry!) peat. Kind of trialsy. My ‘relaxed’ (pulverised) body allowed me and the bike to flow over the gritstone rocks like mercury. No dead end ‘dunks’ into angular rocks. No dabs. No messed up lines. I was riding like it was a two hour Sunday spin. When this happens after 24 hours it makes it all worthwhile. How does this happen? The body and mind are strange things.

Besides a few ups and downs, one major obstacle remained. The 33% road climb out of Grosmont. I had quite literally been dreading it from the start. It was more the humiliation of potentially pushing my bike up a road (horror!) than enduring the pain in my legs… But the red mist came down. I hit it hard. And just kept going. It was surreal. I couldn’t have climbed it any better on any other day. Weird!

My euphoria was dulled somewhat as the exposed road headed straight South. Standing in the pedals for what seemed like an age I reached the next stretch of bleak moorland bridleway. Riddled with motorbikes ruts, I wondered if my head could deal with balance and accuracy needed. Again, it was a dreamlike experience. Despite knowing deep down I was exhausted my body and mind were working in perfect unison. I balanced on six inch wide ruts like I had stabilisers! I rode in them without even clipping a pedal. I started to imagine I was playing that Operation game. You know the one; the hoop touches the wire and ‘BZZZZZZZ’!!! Your out! Well the hoop didn’t touch the wire and there was no BZZZZ! I started to get cocky. Bunny hopping in and out of ruts and crossing lines just for the fun of it. I could have stayed out all day! (Maybe I was going delirious). One or two patchwork fields to cross, a dip into a bit of slippery woodland singletrack and the last climb remained; straight East across the fells into more cold misty rain towards Raven Scar.

Onto the road, swoop down onto the railway track and on the final road stretch to Robin Hoods Bay. It looked just like an English Holiday resort should look like. Families huddled in doorways eating fish and chips, billboards flapped in the wind, rainwater streaming down the street. But to me it was Nirvana! I had made it in one hit and I realised that deep down I was always going to.

28 hours and 31 minutes of non-stop pedalling.

Char and Dave looked worse for wear though! I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again; being on the sidelines of a ride like this is harder in many ways than actually doing the ride itself. Whilst they didn’t support me in any way, they kept an eye on me (from afar, as much as they could). I can’t thank them enough. They know this.

My confidence is sky high for the worlds in two months time. My coach, Will Newton, has got it just right. I’ve never felt so strong. And after the mental battering of the Coast to Coast, I know my head can cope with pretty much anything!

The big question: Can the Tim Woodcock Coast to Coast be done unsupported in 24 hours? A good rider on a good day with a big dose of luck could do it. A lot would have to go right. It was certainly not possible in the conditions I experienced. Will I go for it on a better day? Maybe…

Perhaps the most amazing thing in the whole escapade was that I did not have a single mechanical. Not even a missed gear change. My Ironhorse Bootleg performed flawlessly. Beside the snapped saddlebag nothing went wrong. This is incredible considering that at 2am I was literally throwing my bike over dry stone walls and scrambling over and under barb wire fences in howling gales and lashing rain in the middle of nowhere… But you know what? Screw the time; I wouldn’t have had it any other way….

Friday, 15 May 2009

So close you can smell it...

No, I’m not talking about Dave’s Old Spice. The Coast to Coast is tomorrow! 7DS 5.

It looks like riding a fast time could be tricky…. ‘When the wind is in the East, no good for man nor beast’. That’s what they say in these parts…. Well, the wind is in the east; I’m a man and this is a beast… How often do we get an Easterly…. Grrrrr! The spectre of heavy rain AS WELL loomed for a while but it looks like showers could be the worst of it. To be honest, my only real weather concern is carrying stuff (on top of all the stuff I’m already carrying!). I have a superb super light Deuter hydration pack especially for the ride… but include waterproof pants and gloves and the capacity will be exceeded and a bigger bag may be required….

Anyways, here’s the deal:

* I will set off at 12 noon from St Bees with my back wheel in the sea at the bottom of the landing ramp (it’s a bit twee but people like that type of sh1t).
* I will receive no outside assistance at all
* I can collect water from taps or buy it from shops
* Or drink it from streams…
* I will carry everything I need for the duration, including all food and equipment.
* But if I kill it, I can eat it
* I will scream ‘Have It!’ at all I pass: walker, cyclist, rider, man, woman and child
* I will arrive at RHB some time later…. And ride into the North Sea. Unless it’s miles out. In which case I’ll just order a pint at the Bay Hotel


Here is the link to my web tracker. I’ll be pressing ‘play’ at 12 tomorrow:

Many thanks to Spot and Satmap for ensuring we all get where we want to be quickly and safely. And would you really use any lights other than Exposure on a ride like this....?

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The best laid plans...

From the conception of the one hit Coast to Coast attempt idea, I’ve been exceptionally (blindly?) optimistic. My planning has been meticulous and this has bred confidence. I’ve studied maps, reccied the route, and planned my water stops. I’ve measured, weighed and counted my nutritional requirements and I’ve kitted out my bike with, (what I consider to be) the perfect mix of components for the ride. Oh, and I’ve been training hard and specifically.

Despite this preparation there is one variable that is completely beyond anyone’s control…. The good old British weather! We’ve had a great Spring so far; very little rainfall, gentle winds and dry trails. It was set to get even better; gradually becoming more conducive to the perfect conditions for a fast time. Mid May has been looking ideal for the last month or so.

And then I looked at the BBC website last night…. Words like ‘settled’ ‘calm’ and ‘dry’ had, in the blink of an eye, changed to ‘unsettled’, ‘blustery’ and ‘wet’. Aaaargh! Surely they can’t do this? Are they not regulated or something? Why have a forecast at all?

I’ve had the opinion from the start that a sub 24 hr time may (just) be possible as a result of peak fitness, meticulous planning, luck (big dose of) and last but not least… firm ground! Soft ground could result in a huge ramping up of time. And then there is the possibility of dealing with bad weather on the day… Maybe I will have to rewrite that kit list… revise tyre choice… (Or toughen the **** up and stop panicking I hear you say!)

Or I could just ignore the forecast and carry on with my rosey coloured glasses on… when have the BEEB ever got it right anyway? And why do they always smile?

Thursday, 30 April 2009

A week of two halves...

It’s been another blur of a week... It’s just really dawned on me how close the Coast to Coast attempt is and how much there still is to do... The weekend was a bit more laid back though. Well, for me more than Josh and Dave (sounds a bit like some comedy double act! I will resist the cheap laugh here). They were racing the Kielder Enduro Avalanche and along with Rob, Zoe and Emily came to stay at our spacious and palatial residence... Both Friday and Saturday nights we furnished ourselves with the finest Indian cuisine (the takeaway round the corner) and everyone slept like sardines on the floor... perfect race preparation! Charlotte and I went to watch the prologue and I personally loved watching everybody getting all nervous and unnecessary for a change (I usually don’t go to races; just do them. A very different experience). After wandering around the course and watching Josh ‘n’ Dave floor themselves in four minutes of lactic turmoil, we headed back to Morpeth, kidding ourselves we would get an early night. I had a 6 hour training ride scheduled, with threshold intervals, so it was important that I ate well and slept.... ahem...

Rob and Zoe didn’t go back to Kielder on the Sunday and I suggested that, along with Charlotte, they headed up to Thrunton Woods where I would find them, briefly show them a few trails and then continue on my merry way. This worked a treat and I managed to follow my nose, as if in the boots of a stranger, and bump into them. Like some kind of tracking hound. We whipped round some of my favourite bits and had a jolly good time. It’s funny when you take others around your own patch it transforms into The Best Ride in the World.... Why does that happen?

Anyway, I boshed out my six hours at a good pace in constant undulating hills. The early intervals had their impact and by the time I pulled up at Morpeth Mansions I was bushed.

It was great to have the team up and have a bit of a social. Something that doesn’t happen often enough. Well, if they choose to live in the South....

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Road trip. Northern stylee.

What a wicked week! Had little time to write because I’ve been so busy riding! On Wednesday I met my good friend Dougie from Fort Bill up at Glentress. As I’ve said before, I’m not really a great fan of trail centres but if there is one that I always enjoy it’s Glentress. Maybe it’s the constantly evolving trails? Maybe it’s the café? Or maybe it’s because when I ride there, it’s usually a bit more of a social. Despite heavy damp mist crossing the border, Glentress seemed to sit in a bit of a pocket; not clear but not muggy and cold as it was when I left Morpeth.

It was good to catch up with Dougie and we meandered around at a steady pace chatting away. We then bumped into two couples and all ended up riding together. Maybe it’s the way when some bikers get together but we really had plenty to talk about and it was change for me to not be focusing on ‘Training’. Well, I say that… as time went on, one of the guys, (riding an SX Trail – you know who you are!) and I engaged in a bit of friendly ‘duelling’ on the descents and fast singletrack sections…. He was pretty quick and it took some big efforts and a dip into the lactic to occasionally pull away from him… A good rider and a great sport!

Managed to talk Dougie into a night and a day in Northumberland so we drove back down over the border. Thursday dawned and I wanted to show the big man some of the great trails around Thrunton. I knew conditions would be perfect as I imagine they have been up and down the country recently. It was perfect, and as usual for this little known gem it was deserted.

My plan for the week was to spend the weekend in the Lakes, and watching the excellent weather forecast unfold I realised this was going to be a classic weekend. (Not difficult to talk Dougie into another night or two!) I had big back to back rides pencilled in; 6 hours on Saturday and 8 on Sunday. This isn’t really Dougie’s scene so I sent him off round the classic loop: The Back of Skiddaw. He’d considered going to Whinlatter but I talked him round! The Skiddaw loop really is an absolute classic and gives an experience that could never be matched by any trail centre I’ve ridden. As Dougie had never visited the Lakes before, it was the right ride as there are virtually no navigation issues. (I set him round clockwise as you face Skiddaw from Keswick; going up Dash Falls. It always amazes me how many people do it anti-clockwise and loose all the height on the road towards Bassenthwaite….).

I set off up Lattrigg and headed out to Skiddaw House but with no intention of descending Dash. This has to be some of the best and most scenic singletrack anywhere. I continued out towards Mungrizedale along the flat but fast and fun trail that remains generally walker free due to the distances from Keswick and the roads. This is the type of place that is stunning on a good day but grim on a bad one…. Well today it was springy peat joy and the sun was already generating some real warmth.

I turned right and settled in for a few road miles. The next instalment was to head toward Matterdale End, turn off the Coach Road at and climb the ridge to just under the peak of Helvelyn. This climb is a beast; it’s the shallowest angle up to the peak but is essentially grass, peat and draggy moss that never seems to dry out. Friendly duel number 2 started! Mountain Biker versus Fell Runner! Despite an apparently un-athletic gait, this guy just kept going like some kind of remorseless running zombie… Regardless, his style was brutally effective and he pulled away from me as my wheels were increasingly pulled into the ground. It was really hard work for a good twenty minutes before the ground firmed up. As the ridge levelled out I caught The Running Man again… I commented on how hard it was to catch him and he gave me a knowing look. It was the type of cheeky grin that could only be made by those who are secretly aware of their magical abilities…. (I actually passed him 4 hours later in his car; sweat still glistening on his brow…). Respect to that man!

After desperately trying to look like ‘it was really nothing’ to go past him, I turned off left to head down Sticks Pass. Unfortunately the track has been sanitised substantially, (sorry; I meant to say sustainable improvements have been made) but it’s still a steep fast, slippery, rocky and sketchy descent all the way down to Patterdale. Next, I headed round the back of Ulswater for one of the best bits of trialsy singletrack in the Lakes. The bone dry and ultra grippy surfaces had me riding up and down things I didn’t think I was going to make on several occasions…. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden here and I totally forgot what a long road slog it was to Pooley Bridge and round the lake to start the climb back to the start of the Coach Road. Oh well, good to get the legs spinning after the stop / start / balance fun of the last section.

Up the road, past The Smiling Running Man, across the deserted and sun dried fell track (yes; sun dried!) and down the high speed rocky plummet to St Johns. Home. Curry. Relax!

A good early night set me up for Sunday’s 8 hour beasting…. Dougie was heading back up the coast and he kindly dropped me off at St Bees. The plan was to ride a solid section of the Coast to Coast just to get an idea of average speed and consolidate a couple of navigational issues. Out of St Bees, I joined the Coast to Coast cycle path. Surprisingly for me, I actually quite enjoyed this section! It’s a nice smooth path, the morning sun was slowly creating heat, glinting through Spring green trees and there were many cheery locals out walking. This will be a great warm up come the day.

Occasionally, I would catch a glimpse of the Lakes fells and it reminded me why I was here…. I dropped alongside Ennerdale water and in the distance Black Sail Pass loomed in the hazy sunshine. I breathed deep in anticipation of the big wake up call lying just beyond Black Sail Hut. Off the bike and carry. I have decided not to force these sections. Get off and push earlier rather than later. Conserve energy. Steady not fast. Save that for when it can make a marked difference. My pacing was perfect. In fact it took me forty minutes to get up and over. Well pleased with that! Next slog was up to Bulatt Bridge. More pushing across ankle twisting round rocks. The pedalling got easier past the bridge and the unpredictable swoop down to Eskdale began. Great fun, but plenty of random big holes to catch you out….

Slog number 3… over Dunnerdale. Even the flat on the top is unrideable…. Sawn off tree stumps and peat bogs make running the quicker option before the singletrack gets fast and fun again, down to the steeping stone crossing. Nice hot day; just jump in the water, wade, clear the peat of the legs and cool down.

I’m sure the short section of road to the bottom of Walna Scar has been placed to strategically intimidate…. The pass faces you directly and puts the ‘loom’ into looming…. It’s a monster. Long. Long. Long…. And just the sort of gradient that has you spinning the granny ring, fighting for traction, getting off, getting back on… But a focus on good pacing had me cresting the pass having exerted just the right amount of energy… Not too fast. Not too slow.

Then the fun began! I love this descent! Fast, steep at points and the odd major feature thrown in for good measure. Bizarrely, I did not see a single person all the way down! Weird on such an amazing day. Seat down and sliding round corners in blazing sunshine it was a far cry form the last time I rode down here with Paul Errington in the pitch black… Both great in their own way.

Through to Tilberthwaite. Up the road to the Loughrigg descent but I chose to dip left into Grasmere, (and then back on the road to Keswick) rather than attempt The Terrace on a sunny Sunday afternoon. My years of working in Grasmere and Ambleside taught me that that is a no no… So far I had ridden for 6 and a half hours. I calculated that I would have reached Troutbeck about forty five minutes later if I had continued. This bodes well. 55 miles of gnarl at about 7.5 miles an hour. The average I need to achieve for a sub 24 crossing is 8.75mph. My speed will pick up once the Lakes are behind me. Some days I think ‘Yes’ it’s possible. Other days I say ‘No it’s ridiculous’. Today was a ‘Yes’ day. It can be done in under 24 hours. Will I do it? I hope so. If I don’t, somebody will crack it eventually and the best of luck to anyone who decides to give it a one hit run. I’ll be happy to complete it no matter what happens. It’s an awe inspiring and intriguing challenge that has really caught my imagination. So many variables to consider. The calculating and wondering will get its final resolve next month. I can’t wait.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Another quick one.... had such an amazing week. Coach let me loose on some big endurance rides (without the hard efforts apparently! Ho! Ho!). Just check this view back from the bottom of Black Sail Pass. Try getting to this spot without blowing a fuse!

Mountain biking means many things to many people. We all have our own ideas about the 'essence' of the activity. But if you asked me to describe what I love about riding, I couldn't express it in words as well as this picture does.

More about an amazing and enlightening weekend soon.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Home on the range

Sun streamed through the bedroom blinds... there was not a cloud in the sky... Marvelllous! Quick cup of caffeine. Out the door at seven.... and into baltic temperatures. This is when my Skins come in useful; you know it's going to heat up eventually and a heavier tight would leave you cooking mid morning... but then you actually stay cool. Clever. It actually stayed pretty chilly for a good while as I headed off up the road on my mountain bike and in the direction of Harwood forest. This takes about 50 minutes. The plan was to ride through Harwood, over Rothbury Crags, into Thrunton Woods and then back along the road, after boshing out some intervals in the middle. About 4 and a half hours.
Recently, I've ridden away quite a lot on my mountain bike or locally on my road bike so I'd kind of forgotten how good the Northumbrian trails can be. It's a funny place; often overlooked but this is really unfounded. Thing is, you just have to spend some time digging around as the good riding is not so obvious or well known. Today I decided to string some of the 'best bits' together and also I did them in reverse. The weather was perfect and the ground just the ride side of bone dry; peat is always better with a bit of spring in it. Turned out to be a cracking ride with great variety and plenty of challenges (check the pic of root alley). Funny thing is, I've ridden down that in the middle of winter in the pitch black.... no-one for miles and and hour from home... bit spooky...
Heck I'm missing winter already.

Just a quickie...

I'm going to the 24hr Worlds. In Canmore. In the Rocky mountains. Soon.


The end.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Reality bites

It's very hard to estimate just how long the Coast to Coast is going to take... There are a number of reasons for this. My reccy missions have been of varying lengths and differing paces; some were short hard blasts and some were all day sessions. The weather conditions have also changed; the descent off Tan Hill was hard and fast in a couple of inches of snow on one winter's day but the far flatter fields out from Fremington were soft, draggy and more energy sapping on another.

I have also been unsure about the North York Moors section; Osmotherley to Robin Hood's Bay. Surely, I thought, the hardest part was the Lakes and the Moors would be the final straight; the end in sight. Well; now I know better; it's going to take a deep breath and some real deep digging to pull through the home straight...

More on that in a while. This particular weekend of reccy was to be spent with Partner in Crime Paul Errington and was billed as two days plugging two huge gaps; Saturday was Shap to Tan Hill and Sunday was the Moors.... I manage to convince Paul this was relatively straightforward. Paul blindly follows me on my missions. Paul might not do this again...

Saturday was a fairly uninteresting ride technically. Quite a lot of road with some pleasant green lanes but quite a lot of wind and cool showers so fairly hard work at times. The climb up the back of Tan Hill is pretty consistent though.... and long. And then it turns to muddy farm track. Which then turns to just mud. And marsh. And becomes completely unrideable. Here is one bit that will keep me on toes come May.... When the track finally run out you end up on a huge soggy plateau criss-crossed with hidden streams, many covered by long grass... which hides slippery angular rocks. Nice. Thing is, the bridleway points straight across this martian landscape, (Marsh-en, get it?) and then turns left up a huge rock strewn bank onto a road. This was hard to read and do in broad day light. What will it be like in the middle of the night!!!?? (I've woken up in the middle of the night since this reccy staring at the ceiling pondering this problem....)

Anyways; it'll come good I'm sure.

Sunday dawned an altogether better day. It was warm and sunny but still a bit windy. We set off from above Osmotherley, both looking forward to a day of Moors singletrack. Didn't quite work out like that. All the climbs were real slogs. Some were uber steep. Some were uber long. Many were unrideable. Almost all gave no return. A mile of steep as you like woodland singletrack... Must be good over the top? Er, no; wide moors access tracks. Technical trialsy climb out of Scugdale... surely a sweeping vista of bouldery bridleway will greet us? Wrong a again; a road. Going up. This was the general pattern for the day. Even the down hills were draggy, slow and hard pedalling. It became apparent that our average speed was wanting... Then, the highlight of the day; Cut Road Path. Gritstone boulder embedded in dry peat. My favourite! Superb technical riding and with a stunning backdrop of the steep sided valley below. Where is everyone?? You don't get this at a trail centre! Wonder how I'll deal with this level of technicality after 20 ish hours in the saddle? Like a drunk pinball probably.

Besides this highlight we were both feeling pretty worn down by the relentlessly tough but generally unrewarding riding. Then the real fun started! We dropped down off the moors and into a sequence of brutal road climbs. But I got my mojo going and steamed up a 33% hill chatting away to an increasingly quiet Paul. My how he laughed when I told him we had taken the wrong turning and I thought we should go back down! Well, actually he didn't think it was funny at all... Thing is, he really was not laughing and it was only my rose coloured glasses, (well, light enhancing anyway) that prevented me from realising that I was seconds away from an emergency forced sprint... I just told him he would be at work on Monday wishing he was on the hill again...

Anyway, the clock was running down... and we still had a loooong way to go. So we cut it a bit short dipping out right at the bottom of another 33% climb that I had to crane my neck to stare up. Kind of made the Kenda climb on the last lap of Mayhem look flat....

Oh dear.

A few more road miles and we shot down the road to Robin Hood's Bay. Not the most inspirational day's riding. Pretty grim actually. And quite sobering.

Not to worry; I will uphold my blindly optimistic outlook on this ridiculous endeavour and say that on a good day, with good winds, good luck, and an attack of super human qualities IT IS possible in 24 hours...

I was feeling pretty good after 8...

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Whinlatter Challenge. Whinlatter Forest 29th March

The first race of the year is always a funny thing. You think you are well prepared but deep down you know that nothing you have done during the winter is going to set your body up for the shock. This is an accentuated experience for an endurance racer doing an XC race...

Well, I say XC; this was funny one. 36 miles of big hills over two laps. A long XC race but too short to really be an endurance event. As it panned out, this is exactly how my body reacted.

Over 400 had registered for the event. Despite the start being on a wide fireroad, with that number of people, (and the associated 5million megatrons of nervous energy) enclosed by high walls of fir trees it all felt pretty claustrophobic... I was under no illusion this was going to be easy as many of the Lakes best riders had turned up for what was essentially the first race of the summer.

A blast of the horn and we were off! It was fast and it was up... and up. And then up some more. In fact it generally went up for about oh; ten vertical miles at least. (Glad I had some gears to go through, eh Paul?). I wasn’t just breathing hard; I was tearing the lining out of my throat! It felt a bit like swallowing razor blades as the air was clear, crisp and cold. Getting clear of the mass was the aim and the hard effort paid off; whilst a leading group slowly pulled away, I had good clear track and a number of us lined out. This was a merciless and clinical way of sorting the field out!

I haven’t mentioned the weather yet have I? It was quite literally out of this world! Not a breath of wind. Not a cloud to be seen. Not a particle of dust in the sky; it was beyond crystal clear. One of the guys from Wheelbase hit the nail on the head when he stated, ‘If you don’t enjoy this then sell your bike’. Never a truer a word spoken. As we crested the first climb the panorama of Skiddaw opened out to our right; a light dusting of snow capped the peak making it look like a clichéd child’s picture of a perfect mountain. Far below Bassenthwaite Lake sparkled bluer than any photo-shopped holiday brochure. It was literally breathtaking and that is coming from somebody who rides in the Lakes a lot. In fact the views made it quite hard to focus on the track!

Start line nerves disappeared and I tried to settle into a pace. Except that didn’t quite happen... The course had a kind of general pattern to it; up steep long climbs, across technical man made sections and down either more of the same or super fast fireroad. Then the climbing would start again... Bottom to top! Now I’m not a fan of fireroad but strangely the sections in this course were interesting due to their largeness if nothing else! The long drag out from the back and West of Whinaltter is a beast; (coincidentally, this is where I first learnt the meaning of ‘oxygen debt’ as a teenager on a mountain bike!) and following this crest we went straight into one of the more challenging man made sections. The course was unrelenting and my heart rate was rocketing! Through the first check point I heard that I was about 12th. Ok, still time yet. The second lap was going to feel mighty long for a lot of people and I hoped my endurance ability would kick in... But my legs were screaming and that sickly feeling had grasped my stomach by two hands! Nevertheless, I had pulled a couple of places back. I knew I needed to go if I was going to claw further through the field but it was that, ‘Will I cramp if I push one watt harder feeling?’ so I kept it steady (well, ‘ish’).

Two big climbs to go... and then ‘Ping!’. It was like a switch had been flicked! My heart rate dropped, (and not in bad way) my breathing calmed down, and my legs whirred beneath me like the proverbial hamster in a wheel. That’s better! I span easily past a rider who was wrestling his bars just to keep moving forward... but it was too late. I’d ran out of track. Doh! One more section of man made across the tops (eye now well and truly ‘In’) and then a fire road plummet down to the finish. I finished 9th and rued not ‘going earlier’. It’s all about experience and I’d gained a bit more so I was happy.

It was a great day of hard fought racing, but most memorably, it was a fantastic ride with good company and in stunning surroundings. The season has started!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Right under my nose...

The focus has very much been on cardiovascular fitness recently. It's taken a good deal of effort and focus to do the 'proper' training thing and the skills have taken a bit of a back seat. Well, the last couple of weeks have been a concerted effort to redress the balance. With the trails drying up, I have the option of a great 20 mile singletrack route to work. It's flattish but has some great technical sections and is a welcome change form the road route. I've being doing some of my interval sessions off road too.

This Sunday I went up to Thrunton Woods in Northumberland. If you haven't ever ridden there then I would put it on your list of Places I must Ride Before I Die. No really! I've been riding there for years, and it's not a huge area, but I still find new trails and new areas of wood each time I go. The trails have been kind of built and reinforced in places but they ride more like 'really well worn in' than constructed. And it's got that unpredicatable natural edge that you would never find at a trail centre. The choice of trails is huge too... you could spend all day here easily. And that's what I did. There are plenty of steep fireroads to give yourself a beasting on and then you can dive off down some of the slippery peaty chutes, which seem to descend for far longer than they should, twisting through tree lined tunnels. Perfect for intervals with a twist. Whipped myself into a right frenzy in fact.... charging up the climbs, sketching it down moss covered rocks and pinballing through root mazes. Four hours later terminal velocity was reached, the computer said no, and over the bars I went, missing a particularly immoveable looking tree by inches. A bit like the child who has been told, 'Stop it now before somebody gets hurt' I decided it really was time to call it a day. Well, all afternoon hairing round in circles was probably enough anyway... My arms felt like they'd done ten rounds and my legs felt like they'd done ten laps. A Very Good Training Session. And the funny thing is, I had found just the right location for one the most challenging days riding in a while just up the road from my house... Nice.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

How hard can it be?

First off: what a fantastic weekend! Best in a long time for a host of reasons. To start with it was impromptu. Life has got back to some degree of normality recently, enabling us on Friday to say, ‘Let’s sling the bikes in the car and head to Keswick’. So we did.

Up at the crack of ten o’clock, the plan was for Char and I to plug in a small gap in the Lakes section of the Coast to Coast that I’d missed on previous reccies. It would be an out and back, over to Sadgill, left along the valley, up Gatesgarth and onto the saddle above Mosedale Cottages. On the map it read as about 10/12 miles all in. Saturday was planned in as a rest day but at a gentle pace with Char I figured it would work as ‘recovery’ after a high effort week. 10 miles. How hard can it be?

‘Very’ is the answer… (Well, you know relatively speaking). The wind was absolutely howling. It was on our back to blow us over towards Sadgill. The decent down into the valley is rocky, loose and fast. The middle section is also pretty steep with a tricky entry and hairpins interspersed with eroded water breaks. Already, Char was loving the romantic weekend she had been promised…. (‘We could go for a nice walk or a gentle bike ride dear’).

As we dropped into the valley and turned left, the full force of the wind hit us. Even though the trail was only climbing slightly, the valley acted as a huge funnel, which sucked the consistent gale force wind though like a vacuum and made progress very draining.

Then it went up. In my naïve optimism, I’d looked at the OS map and not really clocked that this was a serious climb… The trail winds up to the right as the valley head closes in and it gets increasingly steep…. The surface changes from small round, loose and slippery rocks to the eroded and ancient paved bridleway which makes these Lakes passes so distinctive. And then… it got steeper again. Like a wall in fact.

This is the thing with the Coast to Coast; because the ‘headline’ Lakes climbs spring to mind, (Black Sail, Walna Scar Road, Garburn Pass) it’s easy to forget the ‘smaller’ climbs. I’m thinking of places like Carter Fell, Jenkins Crag, the road up to Loughrigg Terrace, and this monster… It will be so interesting to experience the physical impact of these huge successive hits… How will this effect proceedings further down the road? What is best pacing strategy? How will I feel ten hours later?

Desperately trying to keep my heart rate down, I got off my bike and the pair of us walked. This was a serious slog and the higher we got, the more we were hit by the full force of wind. And then, unusually for such a huge climb, we popped out at the top. Almost like stepping over an erm… step and onto a plateau. I did a quick spin up to the right to confirm Mosedale Cottages were where I thought; the ground changed from solid rock to boggy and soaked. Yuk. Rock I can deal with, no matter how steep, but wheel sucking and soft is my most hated surface. There were the cottages. Job done. I turned back to rejoin Char who was sitting behind a dry stone wall with some water and a banana. (Well, I had promised her a picnic with stunning views…)

We headed back down the incredibly steep rock cobbles. I like steep stuff but how it looked from through Char’s eyes I can only imagine… It’s a good job she doesn’t suffer from vertigo. To her credit, she rode most of it… We had to resist the wind constantly trying to push us too fast, and then as we approached the valley floor, we could finally let rip and surf through the loose pebbly stuff. Great fun!

It literally took minutes to gun through the valley. That put us back at the start of the climb from Sadgill. I knew this would be hard work. I was getting tired (we hadn’t eaten anywhere near enough) and fatigue finally got the better of Char. The push through the rocky sections was tough but by the time we got back to the car the hard bits had began to fade into memory and the spectacular valley views remained.

Despite her concerns that she was slowing me up, Char was seriously impressive on what was a very physical ride. The fact that she never spat the dummy lead me to a couple of conclusions:

(1) Char really should race endurance as she has the ability to put one foot in front of the other… just to get through the present moment (a core endurance skill).
(2) Regardless of our level of fitness, we can all do more than we realise. It was interesting to be alongside someone pushed to their current limit… and then doing a bit more.

Sunday was my planned training ride...

I got out around nine-ish and rode out into probably the warmest day of the year so far. Bootiful. I’m not really one for trail centres (especially when in the Lakes!) but intrigue got the better of me so I headed up to do the new South Loop at Whinlatter. And I had some intervals to do and figured they could be integrated into a trail centre better than a loop of Skiddaw (for example). I got stuck right into the road climb out of Braithwaite.

I was struck by how many cars I saw going up there with bikes on the back.... Come on people! I’m sure most were just coming from Keswick... Anyway, I really like this climb; steep turn at the bottom; nice steady gradient for a while and then it ramps up again through a few turns, and then provides great views across Bassenthwaite Lake to Skiddaw. Great warm up. After a chat with the guys in Cycle Wise I climbed up to the start of the descent. Fun I suppose but give me sketchy ‘is there a line.....?’ Lakes descent anytime over a downhill BMX track! Once in the hill valley I found a long climb that ramped up slowly. Perfect for my intervals. Six times up and down that a full steam and I was well and truly warmed up! Another quick couple of laps of the climb / BMXy descent and I was a happy man. It was more fun with fully pumped legs!

Back to base for a huge dose of mushrooms, scrambled eggs, toast and tea. Marvellous. We then sat with credit card in trembling hand to finally commit to the Worlds.... Went on the advice of Mike Cotty and booked a couple of weeks in the Quality Hotel Chateau Canmore. It looks spot on; an apartment (as opposed to a room; my dad is coming too) and a short ride from the race HQ. A quick search of some Google images for Canmore sealed the deal... British Airways also got the Barclays treatment. Tis done.

However, before we left to drive back to sunny Northumberland, we made a pact to never discuss the price again.... unlike a great weekend, some things are best forgotten....

Monday, 9 March 2009

You really couldn't have made this up....

Now I don’t like driving at the best of times. I particularly don’t like driving any distance for a one day ride. It makes me nervous. What happens if… My shock blows? I forget one shoe? A freehub seizes? Well, to mitigate against these ride wrecking possibilities on day trips I load up the Volvo of Eternal Storage with every conceivable spare part, tool, and item of clothing I could possibly need. This Sunday was no exception and, fully loaded, I headed down to the Dales to do some Coast to Coast reccy to the east of Grinton.

But do you ever have that nagging feeling that, no matter how well you have planned, something is going to go happen…?

I pulled up in Reeth town square. It was Baltic. As I was getting changed the sky turned that steely bluey grey that shouts INCOMING SNOW. (In fact the first flakes coincided with me taking my top off to don my lovely new Skins). I leaned my perfectly prepped bike up against a small monument thingy. Hurriedly, I layered up… shorts? Check! Overshoes? Check! Two pairs of gloves? Check! Today’s 3 OS maps, covered in highlighter? Check! I congratulated myself with my exceptional organisation.

Out of the corner of my eye and to my left, I registered movement. It was a car. IT WAS A CAR!!! ‘Nooooo’ I screamed! The car kept moving. I leapt forward to grab my bike. Too late. The car rolled into the front of my bike. It jammed the handlebars against the little monument thingy, pushed my machine over to 45 degrees, rolled up onto the front wheel and jammed the bike between the ground and the monument thingy. It rendered my lovely IH immovable. !!!!!!!!
In a panic, I tried to pull the bike out. No way. It had the full weight of the car on it and, (despite my Herculean 56kg frame) there was no way I could push the car back (it had the gravity of the slight slope behind it). In a cold sweat, I looked around the deserted car park. There was nobody in sight with an age below 100. What on earth was I going to do???? What a ridiculous situation! I wrestled with the bike, got the quick release open and yarked the frame free. The wheel whacked flat against the ground. If I did get it out, it was surely wrecked! Kneeling down I thrashed around trying to release the wheel. And then I realised that if I had managed to release it, (a) I would be run over and crushed (b) the offending car would have rolled into the lovely shiny BMW it was aimed at. B*llocks. So there I was. Unable to do anything; immobilised by some tw*t that forgot to pull the hand brake. I was there for about half an hour before someone below OAP bus pass age walked past. Lucky for him! His help was instantly enlisted (I didn’t give him an option). I ran off and found some bricks. We pushed the car back, released the wheel and chocked the car back. Phew!

Amazingly, when I inspected the wheel, it was perfectly true! My DT XC1800s have taken some thrashing in the rocks of the Lakes and come up rosey. I’ve really been impressed with these hoops. But it’s some testament to their strength that the wheel was not totalled after this abuse!

So off I set. I didn’t expect this to be a desperately exciting section and I was right! Minor roads and tracks… the off road was not desperately technical but was sodden and muddy. Most of it was the archetypal ‘muddy field’ riding, the conditions were atrocious and navigation was tricky (why are field networks so hard to navigate???). Sleet, snow, mud, maps and howling gales don’t mix…. I rode out past the A1, did a bit of road and turned back.

Anyway, it’s confirmed a few of the things that I already had began to suspect about the Coast to Coast:

- The rocky Lakes passes are fairly constant variables relatively unaffected by conditions. I can deal with that.
- If it is wet, even flattish sections like my Grinton ride are going to be energy sapping and time swallowing (they are more intimidating than the big passes in this sense)
- Prising open rusty gates / climbing over walls (aka Westgarth area) are very strenuous elements that need to be considered in energy expenditure

The ride was also valuable for another reason. I haven’t ridden for more than 3.5 hours for quite a long time now (on advice from Will my coach). Maybe like others who have changed their training strategy from high mileage to intense quality, I’ve been unsure how a longer ride would feel…. Well, I boshed out 6 hours at a good pace in rough conditions and was full of strength on the final climbs of the day. It’s coming together…

I dropped in to the Fremington based Dales Bike Centre on the way back to Reeth ( I’ve wanted to have a nose here since I heard about it. I just caught Stuart the owner before he left for the day and we had a good chat. We talked about the Coast to Coast and I got the feeling he was slightly intrigued by my one hit attempt…. He offered me use of the bike wash and taps as a pit stop. Just what I’ll need as I plan to be in the Dales during the night. All this knowledge helps. I think the Bike Centre is a great project and really hope it does well. Who knows, if I hadn’t got that wheel out from under that car, they may have been able to save the day…

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

I'm back!

Yes folks, I’m still here! Had a crazy month or so, hence the silence. Some of you may know that we were flooded out of our home last year… we (naively) chose to project manage the whole reconstruction / reinstating process ourselves. It’s been like a second job… but we’ve got back in. (Despite the carry on, it was probably worth doing it ourselves as many of our neighbours are still not back in – pros and cons!). So normal service is resumed…

There has also been a ‘third job’ going on all the while…. Yep, training. And training hard. I’m completely focused on my May Coast to Coast attempt and of course The Worlds is shaping up to be the race of my life. Many aspects of home life have been compromised due to our house situation, but my training has not (I missed one session over the move week…). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Charlotte’s support is incredible. (Soloists aint really solo).

The intense effort training sessions have been REALLY hard. I’ve not trained like this before and I won’t lie; it hurts like hell! But the initial shock is subsiding. At first I cowered before a session; now I can’t wait for the big efforts as I can feel myself getting stronger all the time. You can get used to anything…

So much good coaching advice tells us to cut out the dross hours and maximise the quality. My coach Will Newton is certainly applying this principle. Beside the physical benefits, it’s also worked really well with the chaos of the last few months. I remember discussing riding hours with Rob last year and we talked about ‘freeing up’ time for other aspects of life, rather than spending hour after hour on the bike. Recent events were not what I had planned freeing up time for back then…. but I’m sure glad I adopted this training strategy because I simply could not have done the regular 6, 7, 8 hr rides I was doing last year given the circumstances….. and I’m fully on it for my main challenges (as opposed to being de-motivated by ‘not having enough time’). Funny how things pan out!

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

'Ouch!' and 'Yikes!'

Don’t get me wrong; I’m really enjoying training ‘Properly’, but flippin heck it hurts!

Functional threshold sessions feel more like A Journey Into The Death Zone and sprinting, (of the running variety) is just plain wrong. I know this to be true because the, ‘I’m being squeezed by a 20ft Anaconda’ sensation in my stomach tells me so.

On Thursday nights, I do a turbo session that leaves me struggling to get off the saddle (the contraption sits quietly in the corner for the rest of the week and is starting to develop the persona of a medieval torture appliance. I try not to look at it).

And now the positives!

I recover from these sessions far quicker than I would have imagined (when the hurt is on and I’m drowning in a pool of my own sweat). Pain is temporary blah, blah, blah… I finish feeling like I have REALLY done something. I AM getting stronger. I have the endurance ability so when this is combined with strength development I know I will be a faster endurance rider. Hurrah! Every minute spent on the bike now contributes to this. My weekends are no longer taken up with all day rides, lost on the northern fells…

Which at times I long for! Not to worry, Will is planning some of these rides into my schedule. The heart rate monitor will be left behind and I will be inviting my Partners in Crime to follow me into the unpredictable English countryside. The fish can only deal with so much routine.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Shap-ston Vasey

It was Charlotte’s birthday so we decided to have a romantic weekend in a B & B. In Shap. Heck, I spoil that woman.

It wasn’t just the romantic setting that drew us there. By amazing chance the Coast to Coast ran right outside the front door. Who would have thunk it.

Charlotte curled up with a good book in the window looking out over the beautiful white capped fells... whilst I went out and experienced the reality... half melted snow, sodden sponge like moss, and peat bogs that swallowed man and bike at unpredictable intervals.

I headed out past the reservoir and towards Mosedale Cottages. The climb up a sequence of hairpins was tough and it was a struggle to stay in my aerobic zone. Good pacing practice I suppose. The climb had a succession of switchbacks that would be great on the return... they’ll be even better come May. Surely it will be dryer and faster than this!

Dropping into Mosedale valley down peaty and rock strewn ruts, the words of a Shap local rang in my ears, ‘Hell, why you heading there on a day like this? It’s about the remotest spot in the Lakes....’ With swirling sleet and temperatures just above freezing it sure felt like a desolate place and the caution radar was turned on. Love this type of riding though; every sense is focused on riding cleanly, efficiently and precisely. I headed up past the cottages with the intention of heading over the saddle and towards Longsleddale. But the tussocks got thicker, the snow more compacted and tricky to negotiate, and it got flippin cold! You know how these days are; just above freezing so you get very wet. And very cold. Rough. I turned around.

The ride back was fun. Better this way than out. Which is just as well because this is the way I’ll be riding it in May. Yep, the hairpins were fun...

Anyway, we went out for a meal at The Greyhound. Highly recommended. As for the bed and breakfast... what an intriguing place... or should I say intriguing landlady. As time went on it became apparent that we were dealing with a perfectionist. Yes, it was twee, but if you looked beyond the style, the place was the work of an obsessive compulsive of the highest order. The toilet paper matched the porcelain tea service perfectly. Everything was in straight lines. The kettle in our room didn’t work and when we told her it was like a dagger had been pushed through her heart. She could not do enough to ensure we had everything we needed. The furniture was placed with feng shui like precision.

And then there was the breakfast... It was perfect (well, it would be after she asked us how we would like EVERY component element cooked). Presentation was exquisite. I complimented her on her creation, saying it was one of the best breakfasts I have ever had (which it was). The effect was akin to presenting her with an Olympic gold medal. But beneath the rapture was an expression that said, ‘Yes, I know it was the best breakfast you have ever had. That was exactly what I had intended’. It was like the film Misery but without the air of danger. I think.

She was intrigued by my Coast to Coast attempt and said she would do anything to help. I told her I would ring about 9am on the night of my attempt to order a cuppa. She will be standing outside with her gold rim porcelain tea cup filled with Earl Grey. I told her I needed to ring ahead as I couldn’t waste time whilst she boiled the kettle. She understood.

On the Sunday Char and I walked into Swindale valley. The steep valley head was spectacular with snow on the crags. The ground was frozen solid this time and it was incredible what a transformation a couple of degrees made to the ground and the landscape. A perfect unspoilt corner of the Lakes, clearly visited infrequently due to the lack of pubs and outdoor shops. Great.

An unusual and thoroughly enjoyable weekend. If you want a great place to stay in Shap, an unassuming town that has a really authentic charm, look up Brookfield House. Just don’t complain about anything; you might not make it out.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Riding cycles

You could say bikes are bikes. Riding a bike is just riding a bike. You could even say cycling is a repetitive activity. If this was actually true would we, (The Obsessive Ones) still be doing it? I doubt it! I often stop and think, ‘Hang on; this is a completely different experience to last year…. But I’m still just riding a bike’.

BMXing to school as a nipper, learning to bunny-hop. Crashing in the woods on my first mtb desperately working out how steer the thing across slippery roots (something I’m still working on!!). Doing some distance in the Lakes. Learning to read a map. Getting a road bike. Backcountry riding in big foreign hills. Pedalling fast. Focusing on climbing. Getting a REALLY fast road bike (not ashamed to say that really grabbed my imagination a couple of winters ago). Going back to those hairy Lakes passes that seemed unrideable in my teens and pinning them. Endurance racing. Hang on; best spend this winter focusing on technique… the cycle goes on.

It’s always a bike but the focus continually changes. Technique. Exploration. Bike type. Friends. Locations. Styles. This is what keeps things interesting.

Well, the next bit is called the ‘See What I Can Do’ phase. By average rider standard I think I’m fairly fast. Not surprising considering how much time I spend on my bike. But, (and it’s a big but) I can get a heck of a lot faster. This has dawned on me since I’ve changed my approach to training. Sorry, since I’ve actually started Training in a purposeful manner. When you just ride (and nothing wrong with that!) it’s easy for fitness to get stagnant. It’s easy to feel you aren’t and can’t get any faster…

Things have changed in just the last two weeks. Mr Newton has already encouraged me to push myself…. (100m full tilt running intervals after 40 miles commuting anyone….?) In the last few days I’ve started to feel real physiological changes. I couldn’t have guessed at some of the stuff Will has prescribed… and I’m sticking to it. To the letter.

I sense this has come as a bit of a surprise to my friends and team mates…

Going to Canada is an exercise in See What I Can Do. It would be crazy to take any other approach given the investment. Recent developments have been encouraging. No, I meant eye-opening and massively motivating.

A new phase. The cycle continues.

Needless to say the fish moniker will no longer be relevant folks....

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Mountain Biking makes you brave...

Before mountain biking grabbed my full attention, it was surfing. I surfed a lot and all over the world. Sometimes I scared myself stupid. Being milliseconds from going over the falls at 10ft Lakey Peaks is a heart stopppingly scarey experience... add to that the fact that you are only wearing a pair of shorts as protection from razor sharp coral and you can see it takes balls to commit to a big wave...

Thing is, when I got back into the surf in Indonesia this summer (after a long break) it seemed a little less intimidating. I remembered that 99% of the time, when you fall off a surf board you just get a good dunking and rolled around a bit. Even at Shipwrecks, a shallow ish break that was well overhead, I felt very confident despite having had many years off a surfboard. A few sessions and I was back to my old ripping self!

I pondered why I felt so calm. Was it because I had been mountain biking for so long now and that, in contrast to surfing, 99% of the time when you fall off a bike, (at any reasonable speed) it does flippin hurt? (due to the proliferation of sharp / hard / pointy things to merge with).

I felt smug with this Evolution of Surfing Bravery....

And then recently I found this photo. Look at it closely. Think about the weight and the power of the wave. Think about the reef below that is so near the surface it's warping the water to that extent....

Maybe I'm not so brave after all...

And yes; it did all go horribly wrong. Think I'll stick with the biking.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

New Beginnings

My third season of competitive endurance racing is on the horizon. I am pretty pleased with some of my results so far but there are too many minor places on my C.V. I now know I can get podiums… but I want to smash some big rides and races. This is going to be a big year for me; I plan to knock out killer rides on the Coast to Coast and at the Adrenalin World 24hr Solo Championships. These are my two objectives which I will not compromise by over racing or riding.

In ’08 my enthusiasm got the better of me. Three 24hrs in three months was way too much for somebody who wants to perform at his best. This came to a head at Sleepless in the Saddle. Without meaning any disrespect for my fellow competitors, it was by far the worst I have ever ridden and I have never felt so bad on a bike. I know now what a nightmare a 24hr race can be when body and mind collapse…. and I never intend to go to that dark place again.

So far I have ridden and raced by feel only. At times it’s served me well. For next year though I’ve decided to take the plunge and hire a coach. I don’t expect this to be a Magic Wand by any stretch of the imagination but I’m willing to try something new, and a structured approach will help me take the guesswork out of training. My coach is called Will Newton. He coached Rob in the run up to him winning his age category at the 2005 Worlds. Already he has given me some excellent advice. I am confident I’ve chosen the right man for the job…

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A Day in the Freezer

There is no better time to ride a bike in the Yorkshire Dales than the depths of winter. No really... stay with me here.

Many trails have a solid rock base, the huge skies seem even more commanding than usual and the bridleways are quieter than a Yorkshire man when it’s his round. Add some clear skies and permafrost inducing temperatures and you’ve got a recipe for A Grand Day Out.

Reeth has long been my base of choice for exploring the Dales and it also happens to be on the route of the Coast to Coast. So I arranged to meet Partner in Crime, Paul Errington, to have a weekend of reccy with the odd jar of Black Sheep thrown into the bargain.

We hooked up at 9am in Reeth village square. It was cold enough to induce rigor mortis...what would it be like on the tops! Desperate to warm up we looked for somewhere to grab a coffee... a conversation with a local shopkeeper (clearly for Local People) convinced us that freezing or otherwise, we were probably safer on the deserted fells...

We started climbing up behind Grinton. What a brutal start... The term False Summit was invented in the Dales and can be applied to descriptions about almost any hill in the area. After what seemed like an age we turned off right onto the ice covered bridleway. Pre cold snap water had obviously been welling out of the ground in such volume that it formed great pillows of ice. No way across. You just had to pick around the no go zones sometimes to end at an impasse surrounded by huge swathes of the slippery stuff. Once over the top the miles long downhill to Low Houses was generally free from ice... but belting down at full tilt there was always doubt in your mind...

The bridleway then joined a minor road before it doglegged further down the hill.... looked simple on the map. However, this is why reccy is so important on an epic ride like this... the bridleway was right in front of us... but could we find it? It took a heck of a long time to be sure of our route... the bridleway had actually been destroyed in a land slide and the maze of boulders were hellish tricky to clamber across when covered in ice and snow.

Heading up the valley towards the bottom of Tan Hill the rink size patches of ice increased in number…. The lower slopes were frequently unrideable and this set the tone for the slog up to the road and the pub. It was only the dusting of snow higher up that gave some grip across the ice traps…. far preferable to warm and wet though….

We realised just how cold it was as soon as we stopped climbing outside the pub… we dived indoors for a bucket of chilli and chips. Convinced that this would act like some kind of ‘Shield of Steel’ against the arctic conditions, we stepped back outside….

After a cosy fire stoked pub the cold hit us like erm… a cat or a badger! Within a couple of pedal strokes it was difficult to breath…. follow this with a couple of miles of road downhill and we were both virtually stunned into silence (in a kind of Tazer style).

The next bridleway turning had a nice big sign. That pointed straight down a rubble strewn bank and into long grass. Great. No sign of any trail. It’s days like this when you relish a nice long climb so we abandoned mission to continue another day, and turned back to enjoy the warmth inducing ascent back to the Tan Hill bridleway.

This is one really long descent made nice and fast by the rock hard ground. It won’t be like this in May and will be a really tough section if it is sodden. Unfortunately I had a mechanical and Paul had rear brake problems… we had to pick our way down. In retrospect, this was probably a good thing because with the amount ice around a full speed charge would have definitely ended in catastrophe…

Happy with another good chunk of reconnaissance under the belt we span back in darkness to check in to the Youth Hostel in Grinton.

However, due to the current economic climate and the importance of supporting local businesses, we dragged ourselves back down the hill to Reeth for a pint or two of local produce. I can live without Woolies but no Black Sheep is unthinkable.
Thanks to Paul 'Sharp Shooter' Errington for some great photos and chilled out company.

Friday, 2 January 2009

My 2009 Ironhorse Bootleg 3.0

In 2009 I’ll be riding and racing my new Ironhorse Bootleg 3.0. It’s perfect for an endurance racer who leans further towards the trail bike side of the fence. It’s a clean, elegant single pivot design that is light but not fragile; quick from A to B but not compromised in technical situations. The active rear end matches the Reba Race forks perfectly to give a velvety smooth ride.

This is roughly the build I will be running for my big rides next year; a 24 hr attempt at the English Coast to Coast in May, (St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay) and the Adrenalin Solo 24hr World Championships. I will also be riding this bike in some 10 – 12 hour races. It will need to be capable in a variety of situations. The bikes already been ridden on some seriously techy Lakes trails and around the sinuous singletrack of Kirroughtree; handling and balance is spot on.

I’ve pimped the bike up with some tasty personal spec choices. The emphasis has been firmly placed on strength, reliability, and durability to reflect the nature of the rides I’m planning in ’09; it is going to be punishing on bike and body.