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Posts about events

An Epic ride

It started with a beer, maybe several beers, and the conversation ended up with a discussion about how we (Pete, my riding mate) needed to do something more than ride our local trails. We ride them most weeks and they aren’t much fun. Fields and bridle paths with bits of road to join them up. We have Cannock chase an hour away and we head to a Welsh trail centre or two twice  a year with a bunch of mates.

All good in their own way but nothing EPIC and when you’ve had a few beers doing something epic seems like a good idea.

This was about 18 months ago I think and I’d recently found out that the Grand Union canal that passes very close to my house goes all  the way to London. I’ve ridden the canal occasionally, head towards Birmingham and there is the Hatton Locks cafe and Waterman pub, a bit further Shrewley tunnel and you can do some circular routes. A couple of mates ride the canal regularly but it’s all a bit, well, boring.

But London. That’s a long way, a bit silly to think about riding there. So think about it we did and the plan was hatched.

Let’s ride to London for a beer! On the tow path. On our new rigid singlespeed bikes. The canal is largely flat anyway so how hard can it be ?

The idea brewed for a while and on talking to fellow cyclists we were met with comments about it being very difficult, so in June 2014 we did a test. On the SS’s heading towards London, 90 mins out then turn round and come back. A nice 3 hr ride to see how hard it really was.

The reality ended up being it’s quite hard. We felt broken, arms, hands, legs, back, neck. It all hurt. The canal may be flat but it’s not all maintained and a rigid bike batters your body or makes you work really hard to be out of the saddle a lot.

We did some research. We’d estimated it at 100 miles so I mapped it out in detail on Strava. It came in at 120 miles. 20% more than we’d expected. We found a few people who’d ridden the route over 2 days with a B&B break overnight. Reports talked of long unmaintained sections that were very hard work with it getting easier nearer London. This was the sensible option. So we stuck with our original plan and decided to train for it.

A year passed and we’d done no training. Not singlespeed on canal training. Bugger.

A decision had to be made. “Postpone and train”, “forget it and have a beer locally” or “have a go anyway – how hard can it be?”.

“Have a go anyway – how hard can it be?” won.

Thursday night saw a phonecall to discuss the details of out departure the next Saturday. We sensibly decided to not attempt it on the rigid SS’s but to use full suspension. It’s a long way and we would not doubt have more chance of success if we were less beat up. A departure time of 5.30 was agreed, lights would be needed and the last train home was 10.08 pm.

Departure

My alarm went off at 4am. I went back to sleep. My second alarm went off at 4.30 and I crawled out of bed. Said hello to our new puppy and sorted him out, sorted breakfast and headed out in my riding kit to the garage to to the last minute fettling that seems obligatory before any sort of ride. I’d decided to take my largest Camelbak as it had the largest bladder – 3l and it was full. A waterproof and a few tools plus a dozen or more gels, some Clif bars and a bag of peanuts were inside yet it felt really heavy.

Pete arrived at 5.30 on the dot just as I’d finished my fettling. Nervous words and laughter followed then we headed off to the canal.

The first few miles were on ‘maintained’ tow path and although we’d agreed to aim for a 10mph average we were going along at 16mph or so. We were both having the same thoughts of making good progress while we were fresh and all the dog walkers were in bed. It didn’t take long before we hit countryside where it’s grassy, bumpy and hard going. We thought the recent rain might soften it up but it was fine. We also thought the grass may be long and hard work but it wasn’t.Lovely day

We reached Braunston at around 20 miles and I was starting to feel saddle sore. Not a good feeling with 5 times that still to cover. I wondered if I was going to make it. Pete was also feeling it and I wondered if he would make it.

Proper food just after midday

Proper food just after midday

We stopped every hour for a quick 5 mins to eat, take stock and have a bit of respite from the saddle and around 12 midday and 50ish miles (I think) we decided to stop at the first pub that was open for some food. The sun was out, got an outside table, food came quickly and we were soon back on our way.

From this point on things we started ticking the miles off in 10’s. Getting to 60 was good as every mile meant we were nearer to London than home and were therefore pretty much committed to making it. Hitting 70 sounds like you’re a lot nearer with only 50 ! miles to go. 80 is two thirds of the way there and 90 is almost 100.Taking a short break

Just before 100miles and around 4.30 we decided it was second big stop time for coffee and cake. First option was The Bear on the Barge pub which didn’t have either but given we’d stopped we settled for a pint of Pepsi and a chat. Which raises an interesting point of talking during the ride was quite difficult as you’re usually single file.

By this point it was the longest we’d both ridden and we knew we would make it. Resuming however was very painful and it took a good 5 minutes for the pain to subside and the rhythm to return. The next milestone was 100 miles then the Paddington branch turn. These seemed to take forever and felt like the longest miles we rode all day. When the turn came the end  was 13.5 miles away and we encountered more people, increasingly so as we got nearer the end. All to be expected and actually a welcome relief as people mean getting out of the saddle for yet more relief.

We did it

We did it

The last stop was 5 miles from the end for a quick gel and a bit of pain relief for Pete’s knee. Then a trundle into the Paddington basin and slight disbelief that we’d reached the end and in a time that we hadn’t thought possible. Total elapsed time as just over 12hrs with around 10hrs of ride time and a 12mph average speed.

Photo’s were taken, Facebook updated and we headed to Marylebone. The sports bar and grill is next door with outside tables so we settled ourselves down, ordered some food and drank that well earned beer that was the goal of the ride. We got a train around 7.30 and I was home by 9. I don’t think we stopped smiling on the train.

These were  well earned

These were well earned

So that’s it. We weren’t that confident we could make it as it was quite a bit further than either of us had ridden but in the end it felt easier than I expected. We agreed that if we had to we could have done another 2 or 3 hours (so 30-40 miles) if we had to.

For me the biggest point I take from this trip is that we are all capable of things we’re not sure we can do, able to ride distances we don’t think we can and that giving yourself no bail out option means you put up with things you’d normally stop for. Now we need to work out the next epic challenge.

Mayhem, again

This will be the 8th Mayhem for me this year and I think I’m finally getting to grips with it.

Only feeling slightly nervous, no need to buy more stuff, just need to give the bikes one last fettle and I’m ready.

The course is the same as last year, a first I think but a good idea. Last years course improved on the one from the first year at Gatcombe park and it rode really well. All we need now is some decent weather, which may be a bit much to ask of the UK summer.

This year we have 9 teams camping together, the most ever, with around half being newbies. There will be competition amongst the Mayhem veteran teams while the newbies just try and survive so it will be interesting to see the contrast of the riders as the event unfolds.

Personally I’m nowhere near as fit as I was last year having not been feeling well for ages and having lost my mojo for a while.  After last weeks Batchburner both fitness and mojo seem to be coming back, a bit late but it means a steady race for me this year I think.

Lets hope the post race report is a happy one.

Mayhem 2014 Review

Having looked at the draft posts I have I realised I never posted last years Mayhem report – oops only a year late

 

The biggest 24hr race is the first entry in my calendar every year and this year was my 7th and probably the most enjoyable. Gatcombe Park is a great venue and having learned from last years inaugural event there it was a lot better.

The weather help of course. From early morning Friday to well after the event we had glorious sunshine which led to dry fast trails, no bikes to wash, smiles all around and lots and lots of great riding.

Friday

I always take the Friday as holiday so Pete and I trekked over to Coventry to pick up a van, we loaded all the gear up and off we headed around 10.30. I took my Ti hardtail as well as the

Packed and ready to go

Packed and ready to go

Yeti ASR so I had a spare bike. We took several event shelters to make sure we had enough cover as we were camping with 3 other teams as usual. The LWB van looked big enough until we put everything in, despite us both deciding to try and pack light this year.

 

 

We marked out our area in camp site A and put up all the shelters and tents. Sun shone

Carbo loading on Friday

Carbo loading on Friday

down and with no clouds in the sky we decided to opt out a sighting lap and concentrate on carbo loading instead. With a dry short lap to ride we were all going to get lots of laps in so no need to waste energy so early on we thought.

A trip to the arena to register and check out the stands was as active as we got. Shiny bike parts were admired, nerves built, food eaten and much banter was exchanged.

All in all a very typical and enjoyable start to Mayhem.

 

Saturday

I was, by default, down to be first rider out as the others refused to run so after a relaxed breakfast and bike tinkering I headed to the start. I jogged very gently around the run course and set off at a medium pace knowing there would be hold ups at some point and plenty of time for a faster lap later so no need to get worked up at this point.

The course was, in my opinion, the best we’ve had in many years. Fun in places but not too mad for the newbie riders. Steep and challenging in places but all ridable if you had the legs. The run in through the camp site with a fast section and a bit of a jump after a path crossing made it a run run back the arena.

Sunday

The race was one of the smoothest we’ve had, aided by very good weather and fast conditions. This means, of course, that lap times were quick and more laps were there to be ridden. I managed to ride all of all my laps with no unclipping and physically I felt better than I’ve ever probably done.

Result

We managed 27 laps coming 38/80 in Sport men. I did 8 laps sneaking in a final one at the end and could have managed a double had I got back in time. Looking at the results it would have only moved us up one position.

The weather makes such a difference and the new course with trackside camping was a much needed improvement. We will of course be back next year.

Riding the Headlands

Summer holidays in our household are usually a last minute decision thing with busy work lives meaning we tend to put off the sometimes drawn out process of the three of us working out where we would like to go. The past few years we have visited friends in the south of France. Having moved out there 6 or so years ago to an old farmhouse, we rarely get to see them and it’s a holiday that has something for everyone. My wife gets sun sun, culture and peace to read, my daughter gets to see her friends and engage with the animals and I get to ride my bike in the sun as often as I like (pretty much).

This year, however, we decided on our holidays back in April and I’m not quite sure how we ended up deciding on San Francisco. Ellie is now 13, so long haul is not going to be a nightmare and there is a lot of culture out there to keep my better half happy. As for myself, the headlands in Marin County, just over the Golden Gate bridge is the birth place of mountain biking.

I had hoped that I might be able to hook up with some locals, to guide me around some of the trails but a few posts later on Singletrack and a US forum shows that this seems to be a very frequent request and I got one offer from an MTB legend – repack rider or Charlie Kelly. It turned out that I didn’t get to meet him as subsequent posts and emails went unanswered.

So the plan was decided. I would sneak off for a day, hire a decent bike when I was out there and bobcat signride on my own. I’ve talked about solo riding before here, so I decided to take my Sidi shoes, some XTR SPD pedals and my RLSCC riding kit and work it out when I got there.

Bike hire was easy as there was a local Blazing Saddles right near our hotel. All you need is a credit card deposit, fill in a form and off you go. I took a town bike to the Columbus Ave branch where they kept all the decent mountain bikes and as I rode the local branch phoned ahead so they were expecting me. They had the choice of Marin bikes – very appropriate – and I decide on the 26in quad link full sus Mount Vision – about £40 for the day. Pedals were fitted, bike was checked and after a discussion on what map to take I was off.

A typical SF misty day

A typical SF misty day

The day before I had been in bed ill, so I decided to take it easy, soak in the sights and see how I felt. I’d hoped to ride up Mt Tamalpais but that was going to be pushing it after feeling like I might not feel up to any sort of riding. I bought some water and a couple of Clif bars from a local shop before I hit the Golden Gate Bridge.

Once into Marin County I was glad I bought a better map from the shop. I rode on the road up  to the start of the Coastal trail and chatted to a local roadie on the way up the hill. After a brief stop to admire the

Just before the real fun starts

Just before the real fun starts

view and sneak a photo, I was off down the singletrack, grinning ear to ear. I had told myself to take it easy as I was riding solo and hadn’t seen any other off road riders but to be honest the bike felt so good, the weather was warm and I was feeling the best I’d been in 48hrs.

 

 

I’d planned to ride the Bobcat trail but it took me ages to find the start of the trail. I took 2 or 3 wrong turns before finally getting onto it. I knew a lot of the trails were fire roads and so I wasn’t surprised to find myself slogging away for 20 mins up the trail. Just as I was starting to get hot I

The Bobcat trail

The Bobcat trail

rode into the typical San Francisco mist and was cooled down. Normally I would have pushed myself up the climb but not today so I took my time and admired the view.

 

 

Once I got towards the top of the climb I had a decision to make. Do I push on to a longer loop or ride back down the Bobcat ? I couldn’t quite work out some of the intersections and I pondered for quite a while as my heart wanted to ride on but my head said to not push things. In the end I decided to head back down the Bobcat and reverse the route I’d taken as it was approaching 3pm. We had planned to eat out and I didn’t want to get back very late.

I’d seen video clips of the original repack riders flying down the fireroads and flying off on the loose gravel on corners. I’d put this down to the bikes and over ambitious attitudes but I soon found out that coming down the trail at 25 mph into a loose fast corner that it’s not as easy as it looks. I tried to use the cornering techniques I learned with Jedi but the front kept washing out and my 2 wheel drifts made things exciting.

Looking back across the bay to San Fran, the weather had brightened up, I paused to take in the

Riding the Bobcat trail

Riding the Bobcat trail

sights before heading back across the bridge. I had a gentle pootle back along the beach, stopping for a coffee at a nice little cafe before tackling the hill on Mason street back to the hotel.

While I sipped my coffee I reflected on the days riding. I had mixed feelings.

Positives

  • I’d felt like death 24hrs earlier so I was relieved to have clocked up 30 or so miles and 300ft of climbing
  • I’d ridden in Marin county on the trails I’d read about 20 years ago.
  • The exercise was welcome after a week on holiday.
  • The views had been amazing

Negatives

  • I’d really wanted to ride further
  • I was irritated that I wasted time trying to work out where I was some of the time
  • Most of the riding was fire-roads and not as challenging as I’d have liked (but I knew it was mainly fire roads so not sure why I’m disappointed)

Overall
I had a cracking day out and it would have been nice to have spent a much longer day riding. San Francisco is such a great place that we will be going back at some point and I will be making an effort to ride a lot more when we do.

Wiggle Mountain Mayhem 2013 Report

It’s done for another year and on the forums it seems like the jury is out on whether it was a success or not.

Here is my memories, thoughts and experience of this years event – my 6th.

Lead up and Preparation

I usually travel to Mayhem with a team mate but this year he couldn’t leave until lunchtime so I planned to arrive first to reserve some space for the 5 teams that were going to camp together. I decided to pack most of the car the night before so I could get off early. Typically I’d been feeling really good until midweek when I picked up a cold so I wasn’t feeling in top form.

Gatcombe Park

It’s easy to get to and find, well signposted and I marked out a suitable area  before putting up my

Home for nearly 48hrs

Home for nearly 48hrs

own tent and sending messages to the rest of the team members on where we were. This year be brought 2 Coleman Event Shelters with us for the communal area I managed to get one up before others arrived to make the rest a bit easier. We also bought some poles to have a proper bike rack for a change so they could be inside the shelters, secure and easy to get to.

Decent Bike rack

Decent Bike rack

Friday night is one of my favourite parts of Mayhem. Excitement levels are high, the banter is flowing and everyone arrives to warm greetings.

This year we decided a sighting lap was essential t get a feel for the course so at 5 ish a group of 6 of us set of for a pootle around. Initial thoughts were that it was pretty good, quite short, fun descents and a lot of hard climbs – Would have been nice to have some more technical singletrack but it was my sort of course.

Food and beer were consumed before we retired.

Race Day

We persuaded Pete, a veteran of 10 previous Mayhems, to do the run for the first time and despite his protestations he lined up just before midday in reasonable weather.

We usually have an informal little inter-camping group competition  as to which team will do the best and this year Morgan brought some young IBM chaps in the form of ‘Team Spongecake’ to challenge the 3 Capgemini teams of ‘Lightly Lubed’, ‘Well Oiled’, and ‘Crude Oil’ and a group of ex-NHS colleagues ‘Cognoscenti’.

Pete was the last back from the run and he set off for our first lap.

I was due to ride second and while waiting for his return the heavens opened. Hard rain and a strong wind saw waiting riders pushed back into the tent at transition so avoid the freezing onslaught. I wasn’t looking much to my lap yet when Pete entered the arena, you feel a surge of adrenalin and after a quick handover I was off.

The course

Mayhem 2013 course

Mayhem 2013 course

From the arena you head out through the solo camping area into a small wooded section that leads to the Kenda Koffin descent. It’s not really that steep for anyone with a reasonable amount of experience and on the sighting lap this was fun. However, after a downpour it was very slippy and many people were not used to this sort of challenge. There was no grip to be had and it was a ‘fun’ descent with 2 or 3 sections that were steeper and needed commitment.

Next was some wooden trail, fast in the dry and hard in the rain as it turned to mud.

If I remember correctly the Wipperman climb was fine for the first part but then wasn’t ridable due to the steepness and lack of traction.

From here it was average normal double width trail with a few fast fire road descents leading to the lakeside trail. This was singletrack with a few passing places and was dry and fast all race.

Onto the Clifbar climb – a long grassy, steepish climb that was ridable when dry and if you had the strength and skills it was a place to make up a lot of time.

The FT2 dip was a tricky fast descent due to the camber which rose into a climb that was ridable if you attacked it but most people walked.

The Redbull timed section was a fun, fast section with several turns and a short steep drop with hard and easy options. Great fun to blast and no doubt saw many people over-cook the corners and come off.

The Unior climb was a long slog that I cleared once but turned to slippy cobbles after the loam was worn away. Mentally though as this was the last proper climb it wasn’t that hard as you knew you were near the end of the lap.

The Singletrack singletrack was rather short but good fun at speed followed by a fast run in to the arena.

My first lap was horrible with the mud sticking and clogging up the wheels, the lack of traction meant

Yeti after my first lap (teams second)

Yeti after my first lap (teams second)

a lot of pushing which stops the mud being flung off. Tyre choice became a headache as mud tyres might have been OK for a few sections but would have been horrible for the rest. I was glad to enter the arena to hand over to Jason.

After your first lap of Mayhem you get into a routine, well I do anyway. Get a drink, and a recovery shake then sort out the bike. The latter took quite a while and I made it ridable rather than clean.

Then it’s time for food and a rest, a bit of chat about the lap and the course and, waiting on riders to come back to see how the course is evolving. It’s common to feel very tired and that you can’t ride any more laps. Not sure why this should be as it’s not very far, nor very difficult riding but I’ve learned over the past 5 years that mentally you need to put the physical feelings behind you and commit to another lap.

Talk about muddy

Talk about muddy

Over the next couple of hours things were looking good as riders came back cleaner and cleaner in faster times so I was feeling optimistic when I went to wait for Pete. He managed a sub-hour lap and looked in decent shape as he hammered around the arena to hand over.

I set off on my second lap feeling strong and as soon as I hot the Kenda descent and saw a dry line down it I gave the lap everything I had. For the 5 years Pete has always had the fastest lap, no matter how our training had gone and I struggled to find form in the race to backup my improving fitness. This year I was determined to have a real go for the fastest lap (amongst our teams) so rode all bar one hill and kept pushing all the way.

I made it back to transition ahead of time and Jason had only just arrived. My Garmin showed I’d have done a 51 min lap which lifted my spirits and set the tone for the rest of my race.

I did a dusk lap with lights and a dark lap in the middle of the night – both of which felt great. An early morning light was a bit harder as the mud became stickier and my legs more tired.

As we hit 20 laps and worked out we might have 2 or 3 more laps to do and I set out on lap 22 with 75 mins left. I had been lapping in under an hour and no-one fancied a last lap so I had some fun. I blasted the fun sections and rode very slowly on the rest to avoid too long a wait at the end.

I managed to cross the line 15 secs after midday in milf drizzle so I was happy to not be in the

Crossing the finish line

Crossing the finish line

middle of back to back laps in the rain.

Results-wise we aim to come in the top half. We all get to train once a week usually and are never going to challenge for a top spot. We beat the IBM guys by about 30 mins to retain our record of the fastest campsite team.

We came 39th out of the 122 teams in Sport Men. A result we are thrilled with. In Vets we came 35th out of 151 – similarly chuffed.

My second lap was the fastest in our campsite and I feel that I rode pretty well – unusual for me at Mayhem where I usually feel disappointed at how I rode. Roll on 2014.
My lap times were :
1: 1:04:11
2: 0:51:34
3: 0:56:55
4: 1:00:16
5: 1:02:00
6: 1:12:30

 The Event

A new venue is always going to have teething problems but Pat and his crew had very few in my view. The venue was supposed to cope with wet weather better than Eastnor and to be honest while the campsite might have done the course didn’t. It’s difficult to think of anywhere that’s not a purpose mail trail centre that would cope well with rain and thousands of wheels without being un-ridable in places. To be fair it dried up very quickly and laps quickly got faster. Next year might be better as there will be less soil/loam on the surface to start with

We were asked not to wash our own bikes to keep oil and products off the land – fair enough. But only 6 wash bays was nowhere near enough so people did resort to doing it themselves. Most oils and cleaners these days are biodegradable so there shouldn’t be any issues but this will need addressing if the weather looks bad next year.

The atmosphere wasn’t as good as the course didn’t go through the campsite but the layout means there’s not a lot to be changed here. The campsite ended up large enough and it was better for being a lot closer to the arena.

HRH turned up to do the presentations and had I known I would have gone along but it seems it was a last minute decision on her part.

Overall I think it was a bit of a success. Highlight was the course which I think was well designed. It’s hard to get something that is enough of a challenge for decent riders and ridable for novices. It was short enough to allow lesser teams to do more laps and fast enough to challenge the speed demons

Well done Pat and his team. Fingers crossed he can get the support to keep this amazing event going strong.

Weather Obsessions

The last few days before Mayhem always see an increased number of emails and forum posts about a number of specific subjects

Weather seems to be the top of the list and this year is no different with rain being forecast at some point over the weekend. Fingers crossed it’ll be still and dry Friday morning to get the tents and communal shelters up. After that it can do what it likes.

With weather talk comes tyre talk and the dreaded mud tyres. I’ve got a pair (Medussa’s) and have used them on my local trails a couple of times and soon took them off. To make them worth while you need a lot of deep mud for a lot of your ride. Any tarmac, like on my local loops, and you feel like they are so sticky and energy sapping that it’s hard work. On hard packed ground they feel nervous as the tread moves around but in mud they are immense. Last year I rode them at Mayhem as it was perfect conditions for them (and as a friend said – the right conditions for mud tyres are when you shouldn’t really be riding)
This year I’ll choose the tyres based on whether I want to ride the Tuareg or Yeti. Racing Ralphs and Nobby Nics will be fine so my choice is full sus or HT.

The new venue brings with it new unknowns – One new aspect is that there appears to be less camping space with warnings on reserving too much space. We will have 5 teams so 21 people and probably 20 cars and tents plus the communal stuff – fingers crossed we can get enough space.

With 2 nights to go I’m almost ready – Bikes have been cleaned and fettled, clothing assembled and lights charged – just got to make some pasta and round all the other bits and pieces then 8am Friday it’s Gatcombe Park here we come,

The run up to Mayhem 2013

With less than 11 days to go until the 2013 Mayhem it’s the time I start to get nervous and excited.

This year it’s so long Eastnor and hello to a new venue at Gatcombe Park. After last year Pat really did have to move the venue after the course just couldn’t cope – mind you not many places that are fun to ride would have coped. Staying at Eastnor would have seen a large drop in numbers, especially given the crap weather in the run up to entries being opened. It also means a lot more unknowns as the course was always very similar. The video preview looks good and despite the usual moaning on singletrackworld it looks like a decent venue. Shame about no trackside camping  as the banter and cheering was one of the highlights.

I’ve already done a fair bit of preparation as we’ve sorted new communal area kit this year. Borrowing a tent or marquee large enough for the 5 or 6 teams that we will be housing isn’t easy, so we’ve bought 2 15ft Coleman Event shelters and are attaching them together. We have groundsheets, walls and doors and a plan to sit/cook in one of them and put a new bike rack in the other. The communal area makes such a difference to the atmopshere and fingers crossed the shelters will stand up to the weather.

Camping-wise the tent has had an outing and I’ve got to replace a mantle and get more fuel.

Training-wise I’m feeling faster and stronger than I have in the previous 5 years and recent personal bests seems to reinforce that, so if I can work out why I always seem to feel crap during the race I might do some decent lap times.

Bike-wise I’ve trained on both the Yeti and Tuareg so I’ll be taking both. I reckon the Tuareg is faster on a single lap but I take more punishment so I’ll switch to the Yeti after a couple of laps. I run Ralphs on the Tuareg which are fine on anythign up to moderate mud and Nics on the Yeti but with limited mud clearance. Both are tubeless so  I hope I don’t have to swap either.

I’ll be heading to Gatcombe early Friday to get all the tents set up and have time to do a sighting lap.

Bring it on.

 

Singletrack Enduro 6

For a while now I’ve wanted to ride an endurance event solo, but having ridden Mayhem in a 4 for the past 5 years and the Enduro 6 in pairs the past 2 I’ve always told myself that it hurts in a team so to ride solo is just plain stupid.

I’m not quite sure how I ended up entering solo this year. I think I got brave, alcohol may have been involved and I might have been encouraged by a fellow Mayhem competitor entering as well. It’s an itch I’ve been wanting to scratch for quite a while and it’s now all over.

The build up

I’m often nervous before events, making sure the bike(s) are in ridable shape, getting clothing and other kit sorted but not for this one. I only needed one bike, and a bit of food and enough water. Easy.

It was a noon start so I got up at normal time and arrived in plenty of time. It all seemed too easy.

The Race

I’ve learned my lesson with LeMan starts. I start the run slowly at a gentle jog and make sure I don’t go too fast. I’ve no pretensions of doing well so no point in killing myself on a run with so much riding to do.

The plan was to ride hardish for a couple of laps and see how I felt. I’ve been feeling strong and fit the past month so decided to hold back and try and ride consistent laps rather than set out too fast and die later. In previous years as a pair we did 2 laps before switching as it’s a shortish course so I promised myself a short break after every 2 or 4 laps depending on how I felt.

The weather was perfect, the trails were dry and it was a cracking course. I felt fine after the first 2 laps, had ridden well within myself and set of to do another pair of laps. At this point(ish) my mate Nigel had caught up with me and it was a slight surprise. We did a lap and a bit together and I wondered if he planned on making a break to drop me as he’d clearly done a lap or so faster to catch up. He seemed to be working harder than me but the climbs felt a bit harder and I dropped him on them when I rode at my normal pace. At the end of lap 4 we were still together so I decided I couldn’t stop as I’d be a few minutes behind him and having to chase, so I decided to ride until I ran out of water,

At some point during lap 5 I noticed he wasn’t with me and halfway on lap 6 I was out of water. I stopped for a refill and grabbed a banana. As I was setting off for lap 7 Nigel entered the pits so I pushed a bit to try and make a gap. I soon stopped and decided to pick a pace I felt I could finish the race at. I figured I was lapping at just over 40mins  a lap and would have to do 3 more so I was 2/3 of the way there already.

On lap 8 I rode for a while with the (eventual) womens solo third place finisher, Jo Holden. I passed her on climbs and she passed me on the fireroads. It was great to have a chat and I picked up my pace in the singletrack to keep up with her. She dropped me before the end of the lap and  I settled into a pace to get me to the end. As I went out onto the last lap I noticed another solo rider stop ahead of me for water and as we’d both been very close the past few laps I decided to ride the same pace to try and beat him back. It was good motivation to keep the same pace and not to slow down with the end in sight.

Result

The last lap was a bit of a blur as I tried to remember where I was on the course and to try and work out how far I had left. My garmin battery ran out and for the life of me I couldn’t work out which parts  of the lap I’d ridden ans which were to come. I just rode each section in front of me and enjoyed the experience knowing I would complete it.

I rode 9 laps and finished 35th out of 72 male solo riders. A top half finish in my first solo is the best I could have hoped for. I beat Nigel by 11 mins but the thing I most pleased with is that I rode for all of the 6 hours apart from the brief 5 mins I took to re-fill with water.

I had an aim to try and ride consistent laps and looking at the results I did pretty well. My lap times were :

00:41:32 00:38:20 00:38:05 00:37:58 00:39:50 00:42:23 00:47:33 00:42:07 00:42:12

The first 4 laps were all around 38 mins (lap 1 faster but had the run), I must have felt the pace at lap 5 as I was 2 mins slower and then I seemed to settle into 42 min laps (lap 7 includes the 5 min water stop)

All in all it was an amazing day, the bike worked well, I felt pretty good, rode the longest I’ve ever done without a break, probably the furthest on a mountain bike. The course was fantastic and the weather perfect. It’s days like this that make the dark, cold, wet rides worth it. Now it’s 40 days until Mayhem and I can’t wait.

How many is enough?

The past weekend I had the unusual situation of being on my own from Friday night until 6pm Sunday as my girls went away on a girlie weekend. This had been planned for a while so I had the weekend mapped out in quite a lot of detail –  Sort out Riding kit, head over to Plush Hill Cycles to pick up the Yeti, pootle up the Mynd and a plan to do a long ride at Cannock.

Spending most of the weekend on my own lead to a lot of thinkingand one thing kept recurring which was what size group do I prefer to ride in ?

I reckon I do a moderate amoung of cycling – i don’t commute anymore, I always try and get out on a Sunday for a longish ride (family stuff permitting) and when the weather is nice I get out midweek. Actually when i write it down – once a week isn’t a lot, but it tends to be hard riding with quality to make up for the lack of quantity. A couple of times a year I manage to get away with a larger group for the weekend and on the ride up the Long Mynd on Saturday 1pm ish I started to distract myself from the pain by thinking about which I prefer.

To jump to the end , the real answer is aIl love them all, it’s all riding and riding is always good no matter what bike, loationor how many people, but there are things I really like and dislike about them all.

Solo

There is a lot to be said about riding on your own, you set of when you’re ready, ride the distance that you want at the pace you want, stopping if and when you want. I tend to take an iPod with me and listen to music or podcasts giving me either motivation to ride faster (music) or a nice distraction (podcasts) but I really enjoy my own company, being in my own thoughts and making no compromises. Everyone should have some time on their own as it makes you think, pushes back the demons and makes you appreciate the people in your life that mean a lot to you. I can only think of one downside to solo riding and it’s one that I really miss when I am on my own. The moment after an amazing descent, where you rode like a god, picking the perfect line under perfect weather giving you the biggest grin – it’s really nice to share that moment with a like mind. Someone you’ve just followed or led down the trail – you’re buzzing and it just gets better when you can share that moment.

Pair

Most of my riding the past few years has been with Pete – just the two of us. We have similar levels of fitness and skill, so we ride the same sorts of distances at the same sorts of pace and we like the same sorts of riding. Most of the riding is on the local trails which is not that exciting but there are odd times we get to Wales or Cannock together. In lots of ways this can be like solo riding as you are often on your own with time to think but there is also, time to chat and someone to share those ride memories with.

Pair riding can also be good training  as the competitive spirit forces you to either try and drop the other person or hang onto them. We’ve found over the past year or 2 that we’ve rarely ridden together when we’re both feeling on top form – one of us always seems to be struggling with a virus or cold and the laws of riding with a mate means the other must take full advantage and punish the other one on the climbs – it’s the law !

Small Group

I think small groups counts as more than 2 and less than a lot. This is often the number when we head away for a day or 2 somewhere more exciting  than Warwickshire. It’s very hard to get 4 people of similar fitness and skill level to have little waiting but when you’ve got all day it’s not really a lot of hassle and what makes up for it is the additional banter yoiu get in small groups. it’s hard to beat a small group in a pub after a great days riding – reliving the days riding through someone elses excited description of their near (or not so near) misses.

Large Group

More than a small group is your large group – 8 or more people usually foe the weekend and an exaggeration of the small group. There’s always lot’s more fettling at the start so you never get off on time. Mechanicals and punctures are much more common and the banter in the evening is much greater. In winter I prefer anything else as waiting in the wet and cold is not pleasant but in summer when it’s nice and warm I’m quite happy chilling and chatting while we wait for the stragglers to crawl up the climb.

So there we have it – I pretty much like them all and I would never not do any of them. Does that make this a pointless post ? I think not as it got me up the Long Mynd, brought back memories of some great trips away and has fuelled the mojo and got me planning the next trip away and thinking about riding is part of the fun.

First Sportive

I’ve been riding a road bike for a few years now – I bought the Team Boardman on a works cycle to work scheme (when it was worth doing) and used it for sprint triathlons and quick evening rides in decent weather. I stopped the sprint Tri’s about 18 months ago when they became just too expensive to justify the cost – £50 is a lot for 1hr 20 of event time at most. Any longer events and I’d convince myself I need a TT bike so the Boardman has been used for training.

I’ve been seduced by road riding these past few years – I love the speed, response and handling of the bike plus it’s been a useful change from hacking around the local trails. I went out with a local club on a few rides which were fun, but given that they ride on a Sunday morning which is my only guaranteed ride time at the moment, I’ve not been able to join them as often as I’d like but I do want to get out on the road more this year.

I addressed this ‘road ride when sunny’ approach I’ve had by signing up for the Lupus 50 sportive late last year. You can chose 50km or 50m and, given that one of my usual solo rides is 30 miles, I had in mind to do the 50 miler.

Last weekend I managed to persuade two mates to join me and we all headed over to Rugely after a night of rain and high winds. Pete had a large hangover on top of 4hrs sleep and Chris had never ridden more than 21 miles before. A chat about which distance to do resulted in the unanimous decision that anything less than the 50 miles was wimping out.

The course had been altered due to lots of floods and there were a fair few riders ready and waiting for the 10 am off. The forecast was for sun and a bit of wind, but no rain until we’d finished and the first 5 miles were done at an average of 25mph or so. It hadn’t gone unnoticed that the wind was at our back and we’d pay for it later, The ‘halfway’ feeding stop seemed to be reached very quickly and we all felt rather good – which to be fair we should do as it’s well within what we are all capable off given that our usual rides are 20 miles off road.

The next 30 odd miles (as it turned out) were a lot harder. more standing water meant wet feet, cross headwinds meant little shelter and we all felt it in our legs. At 49 miles I decided not to wait for the other at the top of a rather long hill as I was feeling the cold and we only had a short way to go, so I set off on my own. As it turned out the course was around 55 miles so I had a longer than expected run to the finish. I tried to chase down riders I could see and only passed 2 – the other 3 I saw stayed around the same speed as my legs didn’t have the power.

Pete and Chris made it back shortly after I did, coffee and cake were had, the last few miles were discussed and we were all agreed that we need to do more longer rides like this. We averaged bang on 15mph and climbed 2500ft in 3hrs 37min. Not too shabby for our first 50 mile ride.

It’s 3 days since the ride and I have been surprised at how little my legs have been sore  – I’ll be looking for more local-ish events like this and planning a 50 mile route and maybe more from home.