Friday, 9 September 2011

Scottish Champs

Last time Chris and I were at Drumlanrig Castle in the Scottish borders we were towed to and from the venue after my car of the time gave up the ghost. We spent the Sunday night camping in the field below the castle accompanied only by the race organisers and some friendly sheep. Both of us had really enjoyed racing the course though and that race inspired me to move up a category to Expert after a solid win in Sport. So in some ways we hoped this second visit to the spectacularly scenic castle would mirror the first but in others definitely not!

Venturing out of the tent on the morning of the race I was greeted by damp air and grey skies. But in Scotland you can never predict the weather and as we packed up the tent and ate our breakfast the sun started to burn though. At the castle the sky was looking even more promising and we quickly headed out to check out the course. It was very similar to the course we raced a few years ago. There were 3 major climbs which although hard provided much needed respite from the rough, rocky and rooty descents which characterise the Drumlanrig course. I was pleased to see a tricky rooty drop on a corner back in again and was reminded of the lesson in problem solving I was given at that point previously by South African, Hilana Marais. The course was generally quite technical and I hoped that this might give me the edge over a couple of road riders who were on the start list.

Heading off up the fireroad on the gun I settled in at around 4th or 5th wheel. I didn't want to go too soon as it was going to be a long race. Hannah Ferguson had a great start and shot up the trail like a bottle rocket. With my more diesel nature I plugged away and gradually worked through the field. Towards the top of the first climb there were a group of three or four of us following her. We all slid around in the mud a bit, and then as we hit the next fireroad section Eileen Roe (Team Leslie) and Jane Barr (Velocity 44) got in front and managed to pull out a little gap on me, and I pushed on from those behind. For most of the rest of the first lap and the next I could see all of them up ahead and at one point even thought I was closing down. However, both girls were so strong and had obviously been working really hard on their MTB riding and I didn't get back to them. I was pleased to be so close behind such classy riders and to go away with a bronze medal.

Congratulations also go out to Hannah Ferguson who rode a really gutsy race and took the Junior prize and also to Lee Craigie, who although not racing the Scottish Champs did awesomely in the World Championships in Champery. Shame she couldn't be at Drumlanrig to show us all how to do it!

As always thanks to Chris for the mega support and AW Cycles, Giant and High5 (finally sorted my cramp problems by racing with High5 Zero).

Sunday, 7 August 2011

SXC Round 5 - Perth

Having recently received the news that we have to move back down south to live in London, Chris and I are trying to make the most of our remaining time in Scotland. First on the list - a very hilly mtb race just over an hour from home! This, the final round of the Scottish XC series in Perth was also a must attend for me because I was leading the series and from our calculations only needed to score a second place behind Lee Craigie to win it.

The course was a real toughie with a munro's worth of climbing every 2 laps (or so I was told), along with lots of mud and roots and some steep, loose descents. In fact there was a real mixture of trail conditions as the previous day's sun had dried out the top of the course but the trails under cover were still very soggy. The only thing I really did not like was the slightly downhill start, since I am not very good at close fast racing - the next thing to work on!

Nice view (shame I was racing too hard to notice it!)

When we lined up at 11 for our start I noticed that Lee was not racing (turns out she was in Holland preparing for the European MTB champs by racing a few road races) however the Ulster cycling team was over en masse and Ciara MacManus and Irish elite racer was in attendance so the pace was still going to be high at the front. When we did set off, my nerves about the speed and number of riders meant that I was overtaken by quite a few of the youth, junior and masters riders and had to run the start of the first techincal climb. I made up a few places once the climb opened up and going into the series of steep descents was back on the wheel of second placed rider in the elite/expert race Morven Brown (Dales Cycles). I overtook her at the start of the next, and biggest climb but made a mistake, overshifting into my spokes and lost the place again. After sorting that out and getting going again I slowly pulled back onto Morven's wheel again and decided to sit in an recover rather than going for another overtake. It was a good wheel to follow and I'm not sure I was any faster through the muddy rooty section of the bottom of the course.

Coming into the start finish I got out of the saddle and had a bit of a dig. I was pleased to gain a few metres pretty easily and when I hit the climb again I was able to increase this advantage. I knew I could not make any more mistakes though so tried to be smooth for the rest of the second lap and then the rest of the race. I finished the race the same position as I did lap 2 - second, a few minutes down on first and similarly ahead of Morven in third place. The last two laps are somewhat of a blur, a battle between my body and the hills. At the time I felt like the hills had won, but it seems to have pushed me on again in fitness and mental strength. So... with another lovely slate trophy on the (imaginary) mantlepiece it's back to training with one eye on the Scottish Champs at Drumlanrig in September and the other on the 3 peaks cyclo-cross. Time for some running/walking up steep hills with a bike on my back!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Perthshire Hills

Recently we've been shown some amazing long routes in Perthshire. The first was an MTB ride with Marty Steele around beinn a ghlo. The weather, scenery and company were stunning.

Then this weekend Chris and I gate-crashed the Moulin 200. A 200km road ride from the Pitlochry area. In just over 7 hours (by far the longest I've ever been out on a bike) we cycled 181km, climbed 2100m and in my case got sunburned arms. Thanks to the boys from VC Moulin for having us along.

MTB XC National Championships 2011 - Aske, Richmond Yorkshire

Last year I was 9th in the National Champs - my best ever result. I was disappointed though because after a puncture on the first lap, I simply rode round and finished. I was lapped, I wasn't really 'racing' and I think I muct have been the last finisher. This year I finished 10th - but the race could not have been more different.

The National Championships rightly seems to attract a wider range of racers than the National Series races, This year it seemed to be even more extreme than normal. All the non-UK citizens who usually race our National Series were off racing their National Champs but there were also a handfull of riders who race abroad/ primarily on the road/ primarily cyclo-cross. The field definitely seemed stacked than the last two times I have finished a National Champs (in 2008 and 2010). Notable additions were the Scott Contessa riders Nicky Harris and Gabby Day both international cyclo-crossers and Catherine Williamson international road racer. There are also two riders who have moved up from Masters this year. There were also a couple of riders who I had never heard of or seen before - a great thing for the sport!

The course had been talked up as a bit of a disappointment, but on arrival on the Saturday we headed out to check it out and were pleasantly surprised. I had an eventful pre-ride, falling on the first technical descent and the sliding down the next muddy one on my bum. The climbs inbetween these techy bits were also pretty brutal so by the time we made it to the second part of the lap which was twisty, muddy and rooty singletrack I was actually quite relieved. The Giant Anthem was perfect, climbing like a dream (those Fife hill reps have helped  us set up perfectly) and floating over all the nasty little roots! Liking adverse conditions Chris and I silently prayed for more rain overnight and the heavens obligingly helped us out.

Not racing until 2.30pm Chris and I had an unusually relaxed morning. Our only activity apart from eating and drinking was to switch up for a mud tyre each on our front wheels. Come race time I lined up on the 3rd row and managed to get onto the right hand side which we had earlier identified as less risky and rutted. Now I just had to fulfill each of my aims:
1. Not to get lapped
2. To pace the race well
3. To be in the front group at the start
4. To ride smoothly

As the gun went I succeeded in just making the front group - hurrah one aim met. I didn't want to break number 2 though so set my own pace up the first climb letting a few girls pass me. Successfully navigating my way around the lap twice and I was already working well on aim number 4. At this point I came across Anna Buick riding well in 3rd in the U23 race so decided to tow her up a long drag into the wind at the back of the course and make sure she could recover and maintain a good position. At the end I was really proud to have helped her a bit towards getting her excellent bronze medal.

Leaving Anna to her successes I continued to gain positions until the last lap, when the heavens opened again. It was like riding in many small muddy streams and I could hardly see. In was so insanely wet it was hilarious! I was fighting cramp by this point, but pushed away from Ruth Owen-Evans who I could see behind me. When  finally crossed the line in 10th place, just under two hours after the start, I could not have been more exhausted or pleased with myself.

Thanks to Jo and Mel for bottling for us as we were both racing at the same time and well done to the AW boys - 11th, 14th, 15th and 36th in the men's race.

Mountain Mayhem

A concerted assault on Mountain Mayhem saw the AW Cycles team of myself, Simon Ernest, Tim Dunford and Steve James take 3rd Elite Mixed team. Chris was amazing as a pit crew, washing bikes and keeping us all going. So much so that he fell asleep mid sentence in the car on the way home! I'd like to thank the boys for all their hard work. We even made the front page of - you know you have made it when....

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

My day in photos - Fife Coastal Path Shell Bay to Crail and home.

SXC Round 3 - Comrie Croft

When we visited the Hairy Coo trails in February the sun was shining and the trails were dry and loose – it was glorious if a little cold. Fast forward to the end of May and the third round of the Scottish XC and when there should have been blue skies it was overcast, muddy and blowing a gale! Seeing the rain on our short drive over (what a luxury to only be 1.5 hours away from an event venue) Chris switched the tyres from his bike onto mine. Saving his legs for the Trans Germany this week he didn’t need traction for his lap with me before the race.

The top of the Hairy Coo trail back in February

The course was most of the Hairy Coo trail with some added grass switchbacks and a couple of tricky sections through the trees at the bottom of the hill. For someone who usually hates cycling across grass the switchbacks were a surprisingly welcome addition; providing a break from the long dirt track climb. Once you did reach the top the technical descent had a burn crossing, a drop, and some rattley rocky runs. In the mud I don’t think anyone stayed on their bike 100% of the time. My spectacular off was in practice when a rock slab I had easily cut the corner on when riding in the dry was too slippy in the wet - good time to try out my tuck and roll skills.

The drop before it got slippy

I was the only pre entry in the Elite women’s race so was happy to see Lee Craigie (TORQ Performace) and a couple of other riders for the Elite/Expert race. As the race started my aim was to try and stick with Lee for as long as possible but despite getting the hole shot, once she got going on the hill there was no chance I was going to stick on her wheel. Another rider was also climbing faster than I could manage but on a hill that steep you just have to find your pace and stick with it. A couple of slippy moments on the first climb and I was tucked in behind Kim Craigie and Ann Murray who set a nice pace and were good wheels to follow. Not for long though; the gradient of the final section of climb seemed to suit me more and I passed Kim but could only get past Ann on the drop where I decided to take the B line which appeared to be faster. Once past I put my head down and motored along.

On lap 2 I could see that I was gaining on the lass in second on the descent, although she was still climbing better than me. After a few encouraging words from Chris I caught her on a grassy downhill section and passed by jumping off and running in the mud through the trees. Game on, now I just needed to minimise her advantage on the climb. She caught me on the grass switchbacks and sat in behind, before passing once we hit the wider track. I knew I could not climb any faster so had to let her go but pushed as hard as I could to keep the gap as small as possible. Through the top singletrack section I managed to get back on her wheel and then past again just before we hit the descent. Telling myself to be smooth and safe I negotiated down the hill before (and not too soon as I had started cramping) the last little climb to the finish. Having not seen Lee after the first climb I was second – but the gap is shrinking and for me it is a great improvement.
The Elite Women's Podium

Thanks as always to Chris Pedder for cheering and bottling and and Giant for the perfect bike.

Friday, 13 May 2011


Been a bit slow on the old blogging front recently. Life got in the way for a while. Asthma now being treated successfully so hopefully there will be no repeats of Dalby anytime soon and had a incident free race at Enduro6 - finally. I have had job interviews, assessment days, done 2 days as a receptionist and am now officially a Dr. It's been epic!

Had a week off the bike to recover mentally for more riding and am about to hit the hills again this afternoon. I did however spent a 12 hour stint on the other side of the race tape as pit crew for Chris and Simon at the UK and Euro 12 hour champs. It was soooo stressful and Joolze Dymond has some awesome photos of my High5 stall (sorry Joolze for not buying any - when I am gainfully employed again and we are not poor as church mice we will show you some photo purchase love). Neither of the boys had a brilliant race but I'm proud of them both for showing real team spirit, grit and determination.


Enduro 6 - aka battle of the mixed pairs

Although trips down south are exhausting and time consuming for us now the fact that I had to go south for my graduation on the same weekend as Enduro6 meant we just could not resist entering the event. Chris and I have raced this one twice as a pair before and last year he a Simon Ernest raced the men's pairs (whilst Simon''s wife and I celebrated finishing our respective PhDs with bottles of champagne). This year Si was racing with Steve James so Chris and I reinstated the fedder-penton dreamteam Brighton Big Dog Champions 2009.

We had ideal preparation for this event - NOT! A long drive down from Fife, followed by a long day in high heels and Harry Potter garb made for a tired and underprepared team (just to confirm Chris did not wear high heels but his shoes did pinch apprently). We had no time to recce the course, breakfast was a bit ad hoc but it was so lovely to see lots of our friends that we quickly got over it! The course was pretty similar to previous years anyway right? We piled our crap in the pit area we had been designated - opposite Verity Appleyard and Anthony "Chuck" Morris and just along from Anna and George from Salsa and Sally Gabriel and Roy Davies all of whom we knew to be great riders. It was going to be a tough competition. Bring on the battle of the mixed pairs!!

Chris "volunteered" to do the run (obviously there is no point in the GIRL doing the running bit and hectic first lap!) and all the mixed teams seem ed to have decided on similar tactics - 2 laps per rider to start with knowing that around 1 minute was lost in pitting and changing. At the end of lap 1 Salsa came through first, with Gabriel/Davies just behind and Chris and Chuck together a bit further back. When the boys came into the pits the informed us they were leaving it up to us to decide the result - great no pressure then. So, Verity and I went out together, I had a dig, she had a dig on one very steep climb (kudos on having the strength to power up that). As I came back up to her wheel I was just about to suggest we worked together to try and reel 2nd place in and decide our result later when disaster struck. Verity seemed to slide off the course (turns out her back wheel fell out). I had a quick look back to see if she was ok - she was so I pushed on. The podium was effectively decided at that point since we could never quite get back to Sally and Roy (although Chris did amazingly well to pull it back at one point) and the Salsa team employed a more male dominant race strategy and won by a good margin. They would have won anyway mind as George Budd has some good form at the moment.

It was a good result for us considering the preparation and a great day for the AWCycles team as Si and Steve got 2nd in a very close men's pairs battle. The only disappointment yet again came at the podium ceremony. Now don't get me wrong I don't race my bike for the prizes and I understand the costs involved with putting on a bike race. However, when the primary sponsor of an event, a big cycling retailer provides vouchers as prizes (vouchers cost the retailer far less than their face value because the actual COST of the goods to them is obviously less than their sale value) and these cover less than half the entry fee for the 3rd place prize it feels a bit like a kick in the teeth. I don't know what else they were providing to the organiser and they do support a number of riders, but still I think a little of the profit could go to those making the effort to provide an exciting race at the front!

SXC Round 2 - Aberfoyle

My racing teeth were cut at the student championships. In 2004 I didn't finish. In 2009 (my last ride) I finished 2nd. These race courses are typified by a big climb up one side of a hill and a steep descent down the other side since the DH champs are held at the same venue. To say the second round of the Scottish XC series at Aberfoyle reminded me of these events would be an understatement - if there is a DH track nearby the organisers of BUCS should come up here! I loved it the course - every minute of it.

Our team mate Simon Ernest and his wife had come to visit so we dragged them along to the race. It is always good to race on different territory and the SXC (Scottish) and SXC (Southern) could not be more different. A quick potter around the course confirmed that heart attack hill was indeed steep and chest pain inducing and that the descent was slippy and steep requiring some hanging off the back of the saddle - fab.

First time up the climb I was in the second group back. I tried to keep the same pace even with changes in gradient and was only a few seconds or so behind Lesley Ingram the race leader as we went into the descent. Unfortunately this is where it went a bit wrong. Somehow I lost my balance a bit and ended up leaning against a tree which was all that stopped me from tumbling down the hillside. Annoyingly pretty much the rest of the field then streamed past me, essentially trapping me there. When there was finally a gap I unclipped and was able to get going again. Then... on a slippy section with two lines another girl accidentally T-boned me. I went straight over the bars. Scrabbling to get going AGAIN, I realised that my front shifter had snapped off in the crash. I decided to carry on riding even though I only had two gears because the course was just soooo fun.

I was limited a bit on some of the flatter sections and faster fireroad descents because I was spinning out but otherwise I could ride as I would normally have. However, I ended up 3rd despite the problem and was pretty chuffed. Hannah Barnes (MTBCut Orange) was 2nd and Lesley Ingram (Innerleithen MTB) won. It was lovely that the walkers who were using the fireroads to do a bit of rambling were cheering us on as we passed them. It would be great if this happened at more venues rather than the conflict we sometimes see.

In the pits

I then headed for the pits to help Mel out for the boy's race. Although not before accosting random people to acquire MTB shoes for Simon to race in after he accidentally packed his road ones - thanks to Paul Newnham for coming to the rescue! Once they got going Gareth Montgomery (GT) went into the lead with Simon just behind him. Chris was in the mix a bit further back which considering how bad he had been feeling earlier in the week was pretty good going. The hilly nature of the course meant that gaps were increased steadily as the race continued and the rider order on the course didn't change much. Simon kept the gap to Gareth constant and even managed to reel him in a bit at one point which considering his one ring set-up was pretty impressive. So 2nd place for Simon and 8th for Chris.

Both Simon and I were pleased to walk away with a cheque which covered our race entry fee and a lovely slate trophy - other organisers take note we will pay higher entry fees for good races but there also need to be rewards! Another great race organised by the SXC folk. One tip though - it would be good to be able to find my way around the course on a pre-ride without asking random people on the course which way. A few more signs please! Thanks to the Squadro Porcini guys for a great course though.

Post race stretching in tandem for the AW boys

Elite/expert men's podium - prizes presented by Danny McAskill who raced the sport race

Also as always thanks to, Giant, High5 and Chris for providing bottles and cheers!

The boys at Dalby

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Dalby demons

There are lots of people with demons from the Dalby World Cup track. It's not as hard as it looks (I'm told) but I still have trouble psyching myself up to ride the two major technical sections. When we visited last weekend for the second round of the BMBS I actually enjoyed the course a lot more than I have done previously. I managed to ride up a big rock slab - which DEFINITELY looks a lot scarier than it actually is and did all the drops (bar worry gill which fills me with dread). I am definitely going to try and find some time before next year to go back and work my feeble brain around the final two sections. Chris and I walked them this time looking carefully and I think with a bit more time (and no race) I could quite enjoy them.

Unfortunately the race didn't go so well. I had a great start - the main aim of the day for me and was in the pack. I flew down the Worry Gill gully with its loose rocks hardly noticable on my lovely Giant Anthem. However I got a bit over excited climbing up out from Medusa's drop and I managed to go so far into the red I started having a bit of an asthma attack. My inhalor was a help but seems to have fallen out of my pocket heading back into the arena so when the wheezing started again I was stuck. I did another lap but every time I pushed on the wheezing started again so it wasn't really a race as such. I stopped after 2 laps and sat in the feed zone recovering and watching the excitement. I was most pleased to see Mel Alexander ( properly overcoming her Dalby demons to finish 6th and Maxine Filby (Baines Racing) did an awesome ride to finish 8th.

Switching into support mode I was pleased to see the rest of the AWCycles team ride strong races - the elite men all in the top 30, Chris 23rd in the Expert race and Mart Hutt and Steve Jones 3rd and 30th respectively in the Veterans race.

I even had time to take a couple of photos of the boys at the finish. So now I need a new inhalor before the SXC at Aberfoyle this Sunday and an asthma check to see what's actually going on next week.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Goatee of Filth

Yesterday Chris and I were invited to join the guys from Velo Club Moulin on their annual road jaunt coinciding with the Ronde van Vlaanderen - 60 miles of Fife road riding taking in as many cobbles as possible. Although slightly concerned when I realised I was to be the only girl there the ride turned out to be a real blast. Chasing the guys up all the hills was exhilarating and has left me feeling super keen for my next race - bring on Dalby. The icing on the cake for the day was watching the exciting finish of de Ronde whilst eating an amazing spread put on by Martin and Susan including real icing on real cakes! Thanks guys it was awesome - can we come again?!

Goatee of Filth from martin steele on Vimeo.

Photostream courtesy of dRj0n via Martin Steele.

BMBS 1 - Sherwood Pines

After a broken down car thwarted my attempt to get to the first round of the Super Six series a few weeks ago, this weekend I again attempted to race on the road - well it felt like it anyway. Sherwood Pines, the venue for the first round of the British Mountain Bike Series, often ends up being more like a road race than a mountain bike race. A combination of wide, flat fireroads and tradition for unseasonable dry weather tends to make for close, pack racing. If you lose the wheel in front and let the gap open it is near impossible to close it again.
This year the course was a little more interesting than usual with a few new singletrack sections. Some of these were great to ride - flowing ups and downs which required full attention and quick reactions. Other sections consisted of tight turns which were difficult to maintain any kind of momentum through. The combination of the two with fast fireroad inbetween made for a testing course. 
Of course the first round of the BMBS is also rather like a school reunion. The first time all us XC racers have been in one place a good five months. I always seem to leave with a sore throat and a big grin on my face. This year was no different.

Shiney new kit! - photo by James Milnes
We arrived at the venue on Saturday afternoon and met up with the rest of the AW cycles team. A mass of new kit, bike bits and energy food was thrown out of the van at us and we quickly fitted the new USE carbon bars and stem. A couple of laps of the course to make sure everything worked and we met up with young, up and coming photographer Jacob James to get some shots for our team launch press release – coming soon! We then retired to our luxury accommodation where Mel Ernest cooked a fabulous feast for us.

Race time for me arrived far too early, after the onset of BST lost us an hour and the new early start time of 9.30 for the women’s race another half an hour. Before I knew it I was lining up on the second row of the grid behind some real stars, including GB rider Annie Last (Halfords) and regular world cup star Lene Byberg (Specialized). I didn’t have the best start and was trying to make up distance before the first corner. As we went into the singletrack I was back on the rear of the pack but it was already too late and I was soon floating a little distance off the pace. I put in a few efforts on the open fireroad sections and tried to be as smooth as possible through the trees and towards the end of my 5 lap race I was apparently making up some time on the girls just ahead of me. At the front of the action Annie and Lene were tearing strips out of each other, with the British National Champion eventually succumbing to the speed of the surging Norwegian. At this stage of the season, with very little speed in my legs and on a course which really does not suit my strengths, I was simply pleased to finish on the same lap as the winners. This turned out to put me in 17th place in the Elite women. However my laptimes indicate that I could have raced harder so hopefully some work on my start and some more interval workouts will help me get my race head on for the next round at Dalby.

A quick turnaround and I was standing next to the start taking Chris’s warm up top and leg warmers. He seemed quite chipper despite the fact that he dislikes Sherwood even more than I do (too fond of the old hills us two!). A good start and a sprint up the first climb and he headed into the singletrack mid-pack. From my feed-zone viewpoint Chris had a good strong ride moving forwards in the field during the race and riding very consistently. He finished in 28th place with some good friends and very handy riders around him for company. Predictably at the front of the Expert field it was all change from last year (more than the usual number of riders deciding to put themselves up to Elite to play with the big boys). Lee Westward (Raleigh UK) put in a stormer of a ride to finish first, however second place finisher Ryan Henry’s (Mountain Hardware) high finish was not a surprise to those of us who have seen him race at the Friday Night Summer Series. In 3rd place was ex-National Hillclimb champion Matt Clinton – just shows how hard a discipline MTB XC is!
All in all it was a great weekend. Thanks to AWCycles for all the new kit. I have to say the shorts are the most comfortable (and flattering) I have ever owned.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

5 lessons

I could write a standard race report from this weekend’s Scottish XC race at Kirroughtree but it’d probably just end being either a boring and dispassionate narration of the race, or a list of excuses as to why I was 20 minutes off the pace. But for 2011 I am trying to think about races in a different way. I have never been very good at analysing my racing – I tend to either ignore errors and tell a positive story no matter what, or collapse into a depressed stupor about how badly I am doing. So... here is my attempt at avoiding these traps. 5 things I am taking away from the race.

1.      You can eat too many carbs!
Because we had to set off at 6am in order to get to Kirroughtree in time to pre-ride and race we had 2 breakfasts – one before we left and one at the venue when we arrived at 9.30. I then pre-rode the course (boy was I glad of my full gore-tex outfit given the rain of the previous night) and had some energy chews. After a less than auspicious start but a good first lap I started to feel really full. I have never been very good at drinking enough during races, so knowing this was going to be a long race I conciously guzzled energy drink down on every climb. However I clearly took in too much carbohydrate and my stomach was unable to do anything about it. It’s not the first time I’ve done this, but it’s normally a 12/24 hour race problem and I just stop drinking energy drink and take all my carbs in gel/bar form. Unfortunately on this occasion there was no water in the pits and I was getting cramp from all the climbing and running (well walking, I need to do some running training) through one hideously muddy section, so had no choice but to keep on drinking. All I could do was stop taking gels and hope I felt better as the race went on. So, lesson to take away from this, have some High5 zero (no carbs) in the pits as well as standard High5 and High5+. Hopefully this would help with the cramps too.

2.      Steep and techy – less brakes = more control.
Rocky descent on the Fife coastal path near Elie - the scene of one of my attacks of nerves!
Recently I’ve been struggling. When training on the MTB with Chris I often get to certain sections of trail which rationally I know I can ride, and have ridden harder sections in the past, but something clicks and I just cannot make myself go over the edge. It’s all in my head and I’m freaking out. This weekend I didn’t give myself any options I just rode my bike. It felt great, natural and I realised I’ve simply been worrying too much. You just need to let go of the brakes and let the bike do its thing. I fell off a few times on the slippy steep descents and it was uncomfortable, I’m a bit scratched up, but didn’t really hurt and I know that if you hang off the back of the saddle enough you can’t go far wrong anyway. Lesson #2 – I can ride steep stuff and if I do fall off I know how to stop myself getting injured. It’s all about that safety position.

3.      Start fast, get faster.
There aren’t many photos around of the Kirroughtree race but I do have a video Chris took of the women’s start. Looking at this video I realised quite how slow I am out of the blocks (I’m the one in the yellow and blue). This is relatively new, a couple of years ago I used to storm off and get the hole shot without much problem. Last year however in my first elite national race I was racing with new pedals, missed one off the start and was immediately 100 metres behind the rest of the girls. From then on at every race I was always 100m off the back. I now think it was probably a confidence thing and over the winter I did a bit of practising clipping in and getting up and going. I plan to keep doing this when I’m out riding my mountain bike. The video shows me in the pack, but I missed the split and didn’t make the leading group so plenty of work to do. Not such a problem in hilly Scottish races but for the BMBS this is much more crucial.
4.      Motivation brings determination (and a faster lap!).
As I came round to start my final lap Chris said “If you want some company there’s a rider 20s ahead”. I wasn’t sure how helpful this was, as far as I was concerned I couldn’t go any faster up the hill than I was. However, when I started to see another rider up ahead I realised I had nearly made up that 20 seconds in the first quarter of a lap. Once I came up behind her I remembered the lesson I’ve always been taught about overtaking: if you are going to do it, go full gas and make sure the rider you are overtaking thinks you are finding it easy. So I gathered myself, paused for a minute and went for it as hard as I could. I thought I’d have to stop after I was out of sight but I kept going harder than I thought I could for longer than I thought I could. Yes, I was going faster on the steep descents so I slid off, but I simply got back on again and rode it like I stole it for the rest of the lap to make sure I didn’t get overtaken again. Thus I now realise that I could definitely have gone harder for my middle 2 laps. It might hurt more but I could do it and did on that last lap. Time to stop being a pansy! As the saying goes “pain is temporary, failure lasts forever”.

5.      Lovin’ them hills.
SXC courses are fab and are clearly going to be hilly - not something I felt very positive about last year. But... I’ve been doing the right training and it feels good to be climbing okay. I remember what it feels like to be riding uphill hard and my Giant Anthem is the perfect machine for the job. Careful set-up and comparison with my usual training bikes, as well as the shorter cranks that Giant kindly supplied with my bike mean that I’ve managed to get the perfect position (I no longer feel like I'm pedalling a reclining bicycle). The suspension is also adjustable enough that it doesn’t sag loads whilst climbing but soaks up the bumps in the trail and allows for speedy descending.

And my final conclusion? It really is worth thinking about the positives and negatives of a race. I already feel inspired to work on my weaknesses and to try and get the most from my training and racing. I’d advise anyone to make this an exercise that follows every race.

If anyone is actually interested - I was 4th Elite behind Lee Craigie (Torq Performance), Elke Schmidt and Leslie Ingram. I'm actually quite pleased with that result especially given everything I've been thinking about!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Interval training - indoor trainer or out on the trail?

With the race season fast approaching most of us have started moving away from base training and started doing more anaerobic and lactate threshold intervals. I've been spending one or two evenings a week on the turbo trainer doing just this for about 3 weeks now. I get quite a lot out of these sessions - hard at the time, hard to motivate myself to get on the bike but I feel fabulous once its done! The joy of training indoor on the turbo to do such sessions is their replicability and fact that you can maintain a very steady and consistent power/HR. But it is mentally tough to push through the pain, especially for me since I find it very hard to get a comfortable cadence/gear indoors and even with 2 fans get significant heat fatigue. With this in mind I decided to try some hard efforts outside.
Indoor trainer workout

Same session outdoors
Rising up from one end of our village is a steady climb of around 130m vertical gain which seemed perfect for the sort of session I wanted to do. I repeated the intervals I had done 2 days previously indoors and the difference was noticable. There was less pain in my chest than on the indoor trainer and I could breathe more easily and most importantly perhaps, it took much less mental toughness to get through the session. In addition it is probably more like the feelings I will experience on the race course. There were some downsides however, it was much more difficult to sustain a consistent power and I also have a tendency to initially massively overshoot the power I am aiming for out on the road.

My conclusion? I plan to do a mixture of indoor and outdoor sessions from now on. Indoor hard efforts are good mental and physical training but it is good to mix things up and make sure you aren't so burned out from training that there is nothing left for racing.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Fife MTB

It's been a hectic few weeks but we're now settled in the East Neuk of Fife. Chris and I managed to take our Anthems out to two local riding spots.

The first of these was Blairadam Forest. Just under an hour away and the venue for the Scottish Student Champs which we were racing as alumni the following weekend. It has a mixture of rooty singletrack, some steep little run ins down to a river valley and then if you climb all the way up to the top there is a looooong descent through the trees. This is pretty awesome and it will be a shame when the forestry fells this section as it is marked up to do. This however, is the price we pay for having access to such forests. They are grown in order to produce wood which must eventually be sold! Just provides an opportunity to build some noew singletrack in another bit of forest.

Chris in Kemback woods - badly taken photo hill is much steeper than it looks!
Our next riding venue was Kemback woods. This is much closer - maybe 20 minutes by car and ridable from St Andrews when there is more light in the summer. This place is amazing! I don't generally like steep descents although once I get my head in I can get quite good at it - this place is going to help me a lot! There are numerous runs down the steep hill. Bits of trail have been built and its obviously a well looked after riding spot. When we were there in pretty nasty drizzly rain there was a guy raking the trails and another couple being video-ed on their DH bikes. As usual the Anthem's were really good. Point them down get off the back of the saddle and they go where you want - just what the MTBer ordered!

Mud Smile

Just found this. Reminds me just how much I hated Cambridgshire mud and how much better Fife mud is!
This ride involved Sarah and I pushing our bikes up the hill and then realising we couldn't even ride at the top and pushing them back down again.

 (Unfortunately the camera decided not to take Mud Phone!).
My bike after the ride. It was a day for cross bikes!

National Trophy - Rutland

From the end of the summer I had big plans for this race. It was going to be my first big race in colours and I wanted to see what I could do. Life conspired against me a bit and in the end I spent the two weeks before the race going to a family funeral and packing up mine and Chris's things before the move north of the border. It transpires this is not good preparation for a race and I didn't really get the result I was hoping for. Even two days in the spa at Celtic Manor (look out for their Sunday evening offers if you are near South Wales) couldn't refresh me enough.

Despite all this I really enjoyed the race at Rutland water. The organisers had done a good job with the course and despite the horrendous rain in the preceding week it wasn't that muddy. Chris had treated us to some Dugast tubs and I had his prized Michellin Green mud on the back so even where it was muddy I had superb grip. For the first time perhaps ever I warmed up properly and had a plan of what I was going to do with time to do it on the turbo trainer. This seems to work! I had a great start and went into the straight mid pack. I made the mistake of not changing into my big ring however and just spun out losing valuable places. I went into the next section with Anna Buick (Salsa Factory Racing) and Ruby Miller and together we were going pretty well through the technical turns. Unfortunately I then slipped on a stone which had been uncovered in the previous veterans race, on a corner which had been covered in soil and grippy in practice. I landed heavily on my side basing my knee and hip in the process. Swearing a little inside I picked myself up and got going again but I had lost a few more places and struggled to motivate myself again.

In the end I finished just behind Louise Day. She was clearly much stronger than me on the flat but less good in the techincal bits I just couldn't quite get past. Not my best day in the saddle and ceratinly not what I had hoped for but I enjoyed myself and learned a few things in the process. Thanks to for the support and the guys behind the Rutland event. I'll be back again and better prepared!

Monday, 10 January 2011

XRT - Elmy Cycles Supercross

Having been feel rather under the weather over Christmas (like most people) it was a last minute decision to go and race the Elmy Cycles cross at Ipswich on 2nd January. This was a bit of a baptism of fire since I'd not ridden a bike for a few weeks but hell there is only 2 weeks until the Rutland National Trophy so I knew it was my last chance for a warm up race.

The course was good, a mix of wooded twisty sections and an open out and back. I was happily able to ride a downhill off camber corner that others were struggling with but for some reason not able to get over what in retrospect was a small log! There was something funny going on with the gridding and I ended up quite far back with one of the best riders I know Corrine Hall ungridded completely. When the gun went we had to content with the varying vet riders. I decided to save my energies for later but Corrine did an amazing job of zipping past all of us and evenually making it into the top 10 overall. I could see Anna Buick just ahead so knew I wasn't in a terrible position! The rest of the race was pretty fun, I definitely lost time on the log and even though I was initially able to ride the nightmare corner it cut up too much and I took a couple of falls on it. In retrospect I should have run it - would have been faster. In the end I finished 4th woman a minute back from Anna. Not amazing, not terrible but has given me a few things to think about before Rutland on the 16th.

Riding the nightmare corner