Friday, 17 October 2014

A long race to end a long season

It's been a long season.  It didn't just start in March with my first race of the year.  It started way back on 25th November 2013 when I kicked off my training plan for the season ahead.  A training plan that was focussed on XC, not the longer endurance races I'd focussed on in the past.

I have to admit that a couple of weeks ago, before reaching my final race of the year, I was already set for the off season.  I needed a rest.  I've really enjoyed it.  I am over the moon with how successful it has been.  But I just needed a good rest and a break from training.  I was verging on "burn out".

Probably not the best frame of mind to have going into the final race of the season on 11th/12th October: the WEMBO 24 Hour Solo Mountain Bike World Championships!

But you can't go into a 24 hour solo MTB race with anything other than the strong determination it takes to get through one of the toughest things you can do to your body.  Fitness gets you to 12 hours . . . but everything thereafter is all in the mind.  Just one more push, just one more effort, I knew it was not time to give up yet . . . 

. . . and this just shows you what that determination can do:  A bronze World Championships medal in my category!

I didn't think this season could get any better!  But it just did!

I've competed in the No Fuss Events Relentless 24 Hour race for the past few years, but this year No Fuss were hosting the WEMBO World Championships.  WEMBO was formed to keep 24 hour solo racing going at an international level, with the past two years' rounds taking place in Italy and Australia.  It's off to California next year and New Zealand in 2016, but this year, in October, riders from 23 different countries arrived in Fort William to brave the Scottish weather and a very tough course.

As well as the Elite category, the rest of us mere mortals were split into age categories and I have just recently crept into the 35-39 category as it goes by your age in December . . . can you tell I'm clinging onto being 34?!

On setting up my pits on the Friday before the race, I could already feel a great vibe around Nevis Range, the home to many No Fuss events.  The team at No Fuss always put on great races, but this just felt bigger, more official, and even a little bit overwhelming.  My sponsors at the Alpine Bikes Trek Store had kindly provided a gazebo and flags to give my pit area an even more professional feel and this all just added to the sense of excitement on Friday night as we headed over to the Nevis Range cafe for the race briefing.

I don't know if it was the recent burnt-out feeling, or the fact that I'd spent the Friday up there on my own setting up the pits and doing a practice lap, or the fact that I hadn't trained for 24 hour races this year, or just the overwhelming nature of competing in a World Championship event . . . but I was starting to feel quite nervous by the time my pit crew arrived on Friday night (i.e. my wife, my dad and my mum!).

I don't usually get that nervous before a race.  I guess it was just a mixture of everything above, but I had planned my preparation and race strategy well so knew I just had to stick to it.  I got a practice lap in on Friday afternoon and knew that one was enough.  I know the trails really well at Nevis Range so there was only one section I hadn't ridden before.

The course was tough.  Very tough.  It had some fantastic fun and technical descents, which really suited my riding style, but you really had to earn them with 468m of climbing in a 13.4km lap.  And some of those climbs were pretty steep thigh-burners!  It was tough, but it was my kind of course!

On Saturday 11th October we were led off up the forest road and onto the trails by a pipe band.  A great feature for the riders visiting from all over the world!  The sun was even shining!  

They must have wondered what all this fuss was about with Scottish weather!  In fact, the weather for the entire race was great.  It only rained once, and while I'm told it was quite heavy in the pits area, I just experienced it as a light drizzly shower around midnight.  I didn't even need waterproofs.  Just some good thermal clothes for during the night.

As the pipe band peeled off and the lead-out motorbikes left a gap between us and the elite field in front, we got up to race pace up the first climb.  This is where my experience of 24 hour races set in and I knew not to go at XC pace up that climb and hit the red zone when the race had only just started.  With people from so many countries, the only other rider in my category I knew was Martin Graham, recently crowned Scottish Masters XC Champion, having won the last SXC round at Dalbeattie in September.  I know Martin is faster than me so I wasn't going to try to keep up with him on that first lap.  Just settle in and ride my own race, which is what I did.

However, that first lap soon turned into a bit of a disaster.  As usual, it was really busy when we hit the first section of singletrack descent and I let my frustrations get the better of me.  I tried to cut by a few riders on a corner and took a stupid inside line which led to my front tyre washing out on the gravel.  Down I went.  Cut elbow and damaged pride, but I picked myself up and got on with it.

I continued to be held up by slower riders on the descent who just didn't seem willing to let faster riders by.  This was disappointing as there's usually good etiquette at these races and I always let faster riders by.  Thankfully this was the only time this happened in the race but it lost me several minutes on that first lap.

I soon got by and made up time, starting to catch up with other riders later in the lap, but I had to slow down on a few descents as a piece of kit let me down.  I can't believe I'm saying this, as I'm usually a slave to the brand of Oakley, but my new Oakley glasses really let me down.  Having recently broken a pair of Oakely Radars, I replaced them with Racing Jackets.  However, they steamed up so badly I couldn't see for the last few descents of the first lap and was having to ride painfully slowly!  I handed them to my pit crew at the end of that first lap and rode the rest of the race without glasses.  Something I'm not happy doing being a contact lens wearer, but I had to risk it to be able to see!

Thankfully, by half way through lap 2, I was actually starting to enjoy myself.  The course was so much fun.  Yes, the climbs were tough and I knew they'd really start to hurt in the early hours of the morning, but the descents were fantastic.

I settled into my routine for nutrition, with hand-ups from my wife ensuring that I didn't need to stop at the end of each lap and could save a few vital minutes.  My brother had arrived by this point too so it was great to hear my wife, dad, mum and brother all cheering me on at various points throughout the laps.

Most 24 hour racers will tell you that their lowest points are probably around the half way point at midnight or the dark early hours of the morning.  Well, I had my low point around my 5th or 6th lap, before it even got dark.  I was absolutely hating the final climb of each lap, which was up a section of trail that is usually a descent.  It wasn't that steep but it just felt like it went on forever and it was starting to wear me down.  I wasn't feeling great and perhaps had eaten a bit too much so switched from my carb drink to plain water for a couple of laps to help.

You have to break 24 hour races down into sections or you will never get through them mentally.  I break them in 4, with stops planned at each 6 hour quarter point in the race.  The only way I got through those 5th and 6th laps was knowing that a stop was approaching soon.

I stopped at around 5.30pm as that's when we were not allowed to start a new lap without lights on, just in case it got dark during the next lap.  I had completed 6 laps by just before 5.30pm and was going well.  I was in 4th place in my category, although I knew I was likely to slip back to 5th with the pit stop.  But this is all about the long-haul so I had plenty of time to make that back up.

While my wife fed me and helped with a change into warmer clothes and gloves, as well as putting my lights on the bike and my helmet, my dad quickly got to work cleaning and re-lubing my drive train and cleaning my brakes.  This made such a difference having a larger pit crew.  I've done these races with no support or with just one supporter but this saved so much time - and it also ultimately can save your bike and your race.  Keeping the brakes and drive train clean every 6 hours can mean the difference between your bike lasting or not lasting the 24 hours when you're riding the gritty Scottish trails at Nevis Range.

And off into the night I went, currently sitting in 5th place . . . 

Within a couple of laps I'd soon made up the 15 mins I'd lost to Michael Novak from the USA and was back in 4th place behind Martin Graham in 3rd, Cristian Ragnoli (Italy) in 2nd and Craig Bowles (England) in 1st.  By midnight I was over 30 mins ahead of Michael and the gap was growing.

I was loving it!  I can't believe I'm saying this but my favourite part of this entire 24 hour race was the 13 hours in the dark!  That climb at the end of the lap that I hated in the daylight . . . well, I loved it at night!  It may have just been the illusion of speed with the lights on, but I even felt like I was descending faster.  I was genuinely enjoying myself!

I've re-discovered my love for night riding.  You end up in a little bubble of a few metres, in your own little world.  Just you, your bike, and the section of trail lit up by your lights.  It shows every feature on the trail in a whole new light (or shadow!) and I quite enjoy the solitude of it all.  There wasn't as much of that at this race as most 24 hour races.  I think that's because it was all solo competitors and we were all competing in a world championships.  At most 24 hour races, it can get very lonely at night, sometimes going 20 or 30 minutes without seeing another rider as some team members go for a sleep or take a break.  However, even though with us all being solos I did see more riders than usual at night, I still got those nice quiet times on my own; just me, my bike and my thoughts.

Often those thoughts turn negative at night but I managed to keep them positive.  I was doing surprisingly well considering everything I've already mentioned and I was enjoying myself.  I was keeping myself going by breaking down the time, singing to myself, chatting to other riders I passed (including a really nice guy from Portugal telling me it was 30 degrees back home!) and even starting to write this blog in my head!

When it got to 8pm I thought "a third of the way through".  When it got to midnight, the No Fuss team set off a firework and we all knew it was the half way point.  A great trick at this point is to start counting the hours down rather than up . . . 12 to go, 11 to go . . . the next thing you know you'll be in single digits!

I had a break just after midnight and 12 laps in.  I still had a good gap from Michael back in 5th place so I felt confident I could maintain 4th in my category, which I would be pretty happy with!  My dad got to work on the bike again but as I went into the campervan to change my jersey and base layer and get a new battery pack plugged into my lights, I suddenly felt really faint and dizzy.

It could have just been the pressure relief from removing my helmet.  Or stopping after moving for so long.  Or a sugar/caffeine low.  I was told to sit down but I knew I couldn't.  If I sat down I wouldn't get up again.  I had a strong coffee and some food and just had to get going again after a 10 minute stop.

Thankfully, the dizzyness went away and I soon got into my rhythm again.  At this point my wife, who had been amazing all day long, went for a well deserved sleep, while my dad did the nightshift.  I don't think some people appreciate how difficult the support job is at these races.  I've got mountain biking to keep me amused but with my lap times at just over an hour overnight I don't know how my wife or my dad kept from getting bored!

One thing my dad did was always stand at a section of trail where I came by the back of our pits to let me know how I was doing from the live results.  It was then about 15 or 20 minutes until I actually came back round into the pits so this was good to know and I could tell him what nutrition I wanted for that lap.

At about 2am or thereabouts he told me something remarkable . . . I was in 3rd!  It had to be some mistake.  I wasn't planning to stop on that lap but I did, quickly, to find out what had happened.  It looked like Martin Graham had pulled out.

I found out in the morning, on seeng Martin as I passed his pits, that he had a knee issue.  I don't know if it was a crash or just an injury that flared up over time.  I'm really gutted for Martin and I hope he recovers fully but I'm sure he'll agree with me that it's all part of racing: your bike, brain and body all have to last the 24 hours so I can't feel bad that I moved up a place due to him having to pull out from injury.

As daylight came, I was on a high from knowing I was currently sitting in a podium position at a world championship event!  But my mood got even higher due to my favourite part of any 24 hour race . . . 

Many people ask why we do it.  Yes, there's the challenge.  There's showing what the human body can be put through (they are amazing machines, aren't they?!).  There's the satisfaction of crossing the line after 24 hours.  But my favourite part has got to be sunrise.  It feels amazing knowing there's about 4 and a half hours to go and seeing a view like this:

It made me happy!

I stopped at around 7.30am to remove my lights and change my base layer and jersey one last time.  I had about an hour to spare back to Michael in 4th and soon lapped him.  I just had to keep it smooth and controlled, keep the bike going, no mistakes, and I was guaranteed a medal!

My dad gave the bike one final once-over before going for a well-deserved snooze and my wife got me going again with fuel and dry clothes.  

I had some real ups and downs in the last few hours though.  I started to hate that climb again at the end of the lap.  My legs were burning on every single climb.  The blisters on my hands were burning too.  My stomach was churning with all the sugar.  I didn't want to eat anything else but I knew I had to.  I forced down a caffeine gel and some jelly babies.  Anything to get me through those last few laps.

I actually got a bit faster again on my 21st lap (probably from the caffeine and sugar) and I knew that I didn't really have to do a 22nd lap to guarantee that 3rd place.  But I'm a "completer-finisher" and there was no way I was going to stop at 11:25 when I knew I could fit in another lap (as long as you start your last lap before 12 noon you can finish it, by 2pm).

That 22nd and final lap was horrible.  I put on a brave face and a smile for all the marshals to thank them - they were amazing and we couldn't do this without all their help and encouragement.  But on the rest of that lap I was like a zombie.  Just staring into space in pain, blocking out everything . . . "no pain, no pain, no pain" . . . 

After 24 hours, 36 minutes and 16 seconds, after 22 laps, almost 300km and almost 10,000m of climbing, I crossed the line.  I'm sure I'm trying to smile . . .

Happy doesn't even begin to describe how I felt, but all I needed was a wee seat and my finishers beer!  Thanks to No Fuss for the beer and the bobbly hat, and for putting on an amazing event!

Well, what else can I say? . . . 

3rd in my category, a podium, a bronze medal at the 24 Hour Solo MTB World Championships!

I was 28th overall out of all 146 riders in all categories (including Elite) and if I'd entered the elite male category I'd actually have finished 15th out of 30!  Not bad for an amateur who hasn't trained for 24 hour races this year!

I do need to explain the lady on the male 35-39 podium . . . Craig wasn't feeling great so was having a lie-down when the ceremony took place so his wife collected his medal and winners jersey! :-)

 I'm currently battling with that good old question . . . will I do it again?  I'm honestly not sure.  I don't have anything else to prove with 24 hour races and I'm really focussed on my XC racing now and want to take that to another level next year, but we'll see . . . !

After 46 weeks of training and 8 months of racing it's time for my post season rest now!  I've not been on a bike all week.  I'll start cycling to work again next week and I'm looking forward to just riding for fun for a few weeks.  Then it's a nice relaxing holiday to complete 7 full weeks off training.  I'll start to put my training plan together for next year soon and I'll be back raring to go in December!  In the meantime, I'll probably still blog a bit so watch this space.

Thanks so much for reading this and for reading any of my blogs this season.  I hope you've enjoyed them as much as I've enjoyed writing them.

I just need to finish with a massive thank you to everyone who helped me not just for this race but for the whole season.  Thanks to my sponsors, the Alpine Bikes Trek Store Glasgow for all the kit, support and bike maintenance that led to not a single mechanical the entire season.  Thanks also to them for the gazebo/etc for WEMBO.  Thanks to my in-laws for the use of their campervan - it makes such a difference at these races both for the support crew and for me.  Thanks to my dad for staying up all night, cleaning the bike and feeding me at WEMBO and also for cheering me on.  Thanks also to my mum and brother for coming all the way up to Fort William to cheer me on.  Thanks to my friends who have come along to support me at other races too this year - it really pushes me on to hear your cheers.

And, finally, the biggest thanks of all to my amazing wife Heather for everything she has done.  Helping me through the highs and lows of training, pushing me on when I wanted to give up, going all over the UK with me and giving up her weekends to help support me at all these races and kicking my bum out of that campervan at midnight to get on with completing WEMBO!  I simply couldn't do it without her!


I didn't want to fill the whole race report with kit reviews but just a few brief highlights to call out for anyone who is interested:

  • I ran Bontrager XR2 tyres (29 x 2.20) front and rear.  They were amazing as always - no punctures and loads of grip
  • Overnight, I wore Bontrager Race Windshell gloves.  They were so warm and cosy and I'd highly recommend them
  • I would not recommend Oakley Racing Jackets - they steam up so easily.  I'm switching back to Oakley Radars
  • Exposure lights - fantastic as always. I ran a Diablo on my helmet and a Toro on the bars
  • Endura Baa Baa base layers kept me warm
  • And by far the most amazing piece of kit that has revolutionised 24 hour races for me: Ergon GS1 Grips!!!  Last year after Relentless I had nerve damage in my hands that meant I couldn't open bottle tops or hold a pen properly for about 2 months after the race.  This year, I was absolutely fine the very next day.  I still had blisters from holding the grips, but the big difference was the ergonomic shape meant no nerve issues or grip issues afterwards and no hand pain at all.  Simply amazing!  I'll go back to foam grips for XC but will now always use Ergon GS1s for endurance races

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Tour de Ben Nevis

A couple of weeks ago, I read this great article about goal-setting in marathon mountain bike races by Imogen Smith.  It contains some great advice, which led to me setting myself the following goals for my 3rd No Fuss Events Tour de Ben Nevis on Saturday 20th September 2014:

Outcome goal: Top 10 in my category
Performance goal: Sub 4 hours for the overall route
Process goals: Smooth and fast on the technical sections, beat my times on them from last year and faster up the hike-a-bike section

Well, I'm pleased to say I achieved every one of these goals!  I finished 9th in the Senior Male category (of 114 riders) and was the 8th fastest rider to complete the whole course, out of roughly 300 who took part.  I finished in 3 hours 49 minutes and improved my time on every one of the special stages.  Hence the happy face afterwards, despite how hard I'd worked:

The Tour de Ben Nevis is a marathon mountain bike race with a difference.  Not only is it an epic adventure into some very remote areas of the Scottish Highlands, with minimal course marking and minimal support, it also contains 4 special stages for which you receive points based on your time.  A bit of a mix between MTB marathon and Enduro.  These stages are combined with your points for the overall race and so the winner is not necessarily the first rider to return (and usually isn't).

Weather plays a big factor in a race like this, so I was pleased to arrive to a lovely view like this on the Friday night, as we set up the campervan and headed along to sign-on:

The forecast for Saturday was dry with sunny spells so this added to my excitement the night before.  All No Fuss Events are fantastic, but this one in particular is so popular due to the epic adventure, with everyone from serious racers, to those just out to have fun, taking part.  As well as the overall route, the special stages are:

Stage 1: The technical, rocky descent down the West Highland Way into Kinlochleven
Stage 2: A 3km climb from the old Mamore lodge hotel to Loch Eilde Mor
Stage 3: A climb that is mainly a "hike-a-bike" due to its unrideable nature, up from the river crossing and down to a bothy on the other side, where those who are in it for the fun and experience are welcomed by a burger from the BBQ at the Bothy (yes, you're right, I skipped the burger in the interest of my race result!)
Stage 4: The Blue Crane technical descent at Nevis Range and on down to the top of "Nessie", one of the technical features in the Nevis Range trails

I did get some strange looks when I hopped onto the rollers in the West End carpark in Fort William at ten past nine on the Saturday morning to get warmed-up: 

This may have seemed strange to some people, as it's something you expect to see at an XC race rather than this type of event, but this race starts up a steep tarmac climb and I immediately felt the benefit of a good warm-up.  As my perceived exertion on the bike had already been raised in my warm-up, the climb didn't feel as hard as it would have otherwise, and it helped me stick with the top 10 lead group going up that first climb.

The race start is quite unique for the TDBN: we are lined up on Fort William High Street and marched along by a pipe band!

I ensured I got a place on the front line, as we start up that first tarmac climb on a public road and you can end up being forced onto the wrong side of the road if you have to overtake people on the climb.  

This, along with my warm-up, worked out really well for me and I stuck with the lead group most of the way up that climb.

As the climb hit the West Highland Way, and the true off-road epic began, I was clearly hurting a bit from the climbing but really happy I was in the top 10 as we entered the "wilderness":

As we worked our way towards Kinlochleven for the first special stage, I managed to overtake a couple of riders on the rough old military road that forms that section of the West Highland Way.  This is where you really do see the benefit of 29er wheels (and full suspension) come into play on a race like this: the track is so rough but they just swallow it up, enabling you to pedal more smoothly and make better progress.

The scenery in this part of Scotland is absolutely stunning and I'm glad I've done this route before at a more leisurely pace as I didn't have time to appreciate it this time round.

You definitely don't get the chance to enjoy the scenery if you're trying to do a good time on the Kinlochleven descent.  It commands full concentration.  This is one of the smoother easier sections of it but it contains some challenging rocky sections and some loose steep sections:

There's no rest at the bottom of this descent as you essentially have to climb back up to the same level before then heading out into the most remote section of the whole course from Kinlochleven towards Spean Bridge.  This is where they have one of only two feed stations on the course.  It's too remote to have anymore.  I quickly filled up my bottle with High5 4:1 and got going.  I'm glad High5 are involved in this event as it means I can just carry one 750ml bottle and fill it at the two stations as they supply the exact product I use!  

It's worth mentioning that most people do use a backpack with spares/clothes/bladder for fluid/etc in a race like this, due to its nature.  However, I've found that you can get away with a bottle and things in your pockets if you plan it well and use the feed stations for fluid.  For those who are interested, I carried:

  • One 750ml bottle on the bike
  • One spare tube, tyre levers, 2 CO2 cannisters, tyre boot and patches (strapped under my saddle)
  • 6 energy gels, 3 flapjacks and a bag of jelly babies in my back pockets (and I didn't actually consume all of this)
  • A small waterproof/windproof jacket, mobile phone, lightweight multi-tool and CO2 connector
I've found that I can get all of this on the bike or in my pockets and the only reason I took the jacket was in case I had a mechanical and would be stopped for a while up a hill with a cool breeze.  If I was going to be out for longer, I'd consider a backpack and more gear, but I really do think it slows you down with all the extra weight so I go for the minimal approach and take the risk with this to help me go faster.

Anyway, back to the race . . . 

The next timed stage is a 3km off-road climb, and while I improved my time on this from last year, I didn't feel as fast as I'd hoped to be.  I did get a good result (9th fastest on this stage) but I know I could have been faster.

Then comes the river crossing!  But what a difference this year!  I've crossed this river when it's been over my knees but it was barely over my socks this year thanks to the long period of dry weather that led up to the race day.  Some people may stop to take their shoes and socks off, and I've done that when doing this route for fun, but when you're going for a good overall time, you just walk through and hope your feet will dry out on the next section . . . the "hike-a-bike"!

I was determined to vastly improve my time on the hike-a-bike this year.  While some sections of this 3km climb are rideable, most of it involves you pushing or carrying your bike.  I hear you wonder "why the hell would you want to do that in a mountain bike race?" but it's all part of the challenge!  This year, I had a caffiene energy gel at the bottom of it for a boost of energy and then set off, determined to jog as much of it as possible.  It worked!  It was really tough going as usual and it feels like it's never going to end but I improved my overall time for the hike-a-bike and the descent down to the bothy on the other side by 10 minutes.

Splashing through the second river crossing as I approached the bothy:

After another quick refill of the water bottle and a quick hello to crazy dancing lady, I got on my way for the fast landrover track descent towards Spean Bridge.  Unfortunately there were no tunes on at the bothy so there was no dancing from crazy dancing lady.  She was still in good spirits and cheered me on though!

As I headed back into Leanachan Forest and towards Nevis Range for the final stage, I knew this was where I had to really push to achieve my goal of a sub-4 hour time.  It hurt, it really did, but I was so determined to achieve that goal and everything had gone so well so far.  Another gel, a piece of flapjack, a couple of jelly babies and sheer determination got me to the top of the Blue Crane descent in a time that looked very likely to be under 4 hours for the whole course.

This is a section at the top of Blue Crane:

The picture doesn't really do it justice - it's pretty steep and technical.  However, I just seemed to "click" on it this year and improved my time by over a minute for this special stage.  It almost felt easy!  I'm not saying it is easy, but after a season of beating myself up for my technical skills, everything just fell into place on this descent.  I was flowing; my bike felt amazing; my tyres felt amazing; it all just worked!

I have to mention my tyre choice at this point . . . I deliberated for days leading up to this event about whether to run Bontrager XR2s or the tougher, chunkier XR3 tyres I used at this event last year.  Given the risk of punctures on a rough, rocky course like this, I had been swaying towards the XR3s.  However, Bontrager yet again proved just how good their tyres are!  I went for the XR2s in the end, which saved weight and rolling resistance.  This helped me a lot on the climbs and I just ran slightly higher pressures than normal to reduce the risk of punctures.  This would normally sacrifice some grip, but since the course was so dry, I still had great grip on even the technical descents like Blue Crane.  And not a single puncture (or mechanical for that matter).  The tyres and my Trek Superfly, were perfect!  Thanks yet again to Andrew at the Alpine Bikes St.George's Cross Store, and my sponsors the Alpine Bikes Trek Store, for keeping the bike running perfectly!

I later found out I was a minute faster down Blue Crane than the previous year, despite not having ridden it since then, so I was over the moon with that.

After Blue Crane, it was down Nessie and then a bit of fireroad before finishing on the cycle path that heads back towards Fort William.  I couldn't believe it!  I'd done it in under 4 hours and knew I was in the top 10 riders back.  I didn't realise at the time I was actually 8th fastest overall.  

To put in perspective how happy I am with my improvements on the previous year, here are my stage times and positions from this year and last year for comparison.  I was 9th in my category this year compared to 30th last year.  The positions listed here are overall out of all 300 riders, not just in my category:

Overall journey: 03:49:39, 8th (Last year: 04:26:20, 36th)
Stage 1 (KLL Descent): 00:04:33, 61st (Last year: 00:05:21, 139th)
Stage 2 (Climb to Loch Eilde Mor): 00:14:48, 9th (Last year: 00:15:04, 20th)
Stage 3 (Hike-a-bike and descent to bothy): 00:42:20, 15th (Last year: 00:52:45, 92nd)
Stage 4 (Blue Crane descent): 00:05:03, 23rd (Last year: 00:06:10, 76th)

This is a great indicator of what a hard structured training plan can do in a year.  I don't need fitness tests to measure this improvement - it's so clear in these times.  The thing I'm probably most happy about is that my technical descending has improved in a year when I didn't think it had.  I've still got more to do, but it's a great improvement.

Tired, but happy, after almost 70km in some of the most stunning scenery in Scotland:

So, there's just one race left this season.  I really can't believe it's almost over.  I started training back in late November 2013 with my first race back in March.  It has all passed so quickly but it's been amazing.  It culminates in just under 3 weeks from now with WEMBO: The World 24 hour Solo MTB Championships (also incorporating the UK championships).  This is also being run by No Fuss Events here in the UK so I know it's going to be a great course, with competitors coming from all over the world.

I've been focussing on XC racing this year so I'm not sure how I'll do at WEMBO.  I clearly still have my strong base endurance, going by my results last weekend and earlier in the season at the 10 hour "Ten Under the Ben" with a podium at that.  So, while I've not trained specifically for WEMBO, it's the kind of event I used to do more of before switching to XC and I'm still hopeful of a good result.

I'm having a week off training this week and just riding when I feel like it, before a couple of "peaking" weeks to get myself tuned up and ready for the challenge of 24 hours of riding.  No matter how many of them I've done, they are still so tough, but I'm really looking forward to it (along with a long break from training and a holiday afterwards!).

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Ending the XC season on a high

Back in March, the title of my race report from the first round of the SXC Series at Forfar, my first ever XC mountain bike race, was "A good start to the season" . . . with a 4th place in that first race.  Well, what a season it has been, with a rather good end too!

On Sunday 14th September, I finished 3rd in the Scottish XC Championships and took 2nd overall for the whole year in the SXC Series (Masters).  Needless to say, I'm just a wee bit happy with that for my first year racing cross country after just a couple of years competing in a few MTB marathons and endurance events!

Sunday was the fifth and final round of this year's Scottish XC Series, at Dalbeattie in Dumfries and Galloway.  It also doubled as the Scottish Championships: rather than host a separate one-day race, they used the final race of the series as the one-off championship event for those with a British Cycling race license.  So, there were 3 podiums up for grabs: the day's race, the overall series podium for the year and the Scottish Championships . . . and I walked away with a place on all 3.  I've got my 3rd place SXC mug to complete the 1,2,3 set, my medal for 2nd place overall in the whole series for the year (based on your best 4 of 5 races) and 3rd place bronze medal in the Scottish Championships (all Masters category).  I just can't believe it!

I could launch off into a post about the whole season, but I'll save that for another time.  I'm sure this single race report will be long enough as it is, and even though that's the XC season over for this year, I have two races left of the marathon/endurance format I started out in before this year.

On Saturday, as I headed out to start my practice laps on the Dalbeattie course, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  I know the red trail at Dalbeattie 7 Stanes really well but wasn't sure how much of it they would use.  What I found was an absolutely fantastic course, but one that was only perhaps one third made up of trail centre singletrack.  There were a few long fire road sections but also some absolutely wonderful off-piste sections, both ups and downs, to really challenge us all.  It was an old-school "proper" mountain bike course.

While I would have had a great advantage if it had more of the man-made 7 Stanes trail in it, I couldn't be disappointed.  The off piste sections were fantastic.  I'm just glad it was dry though!  They would have been even more challenging in the wet!  It was nice to have a dry SXC race for once - the first since Forfar - so I think we deserved the weather!

Not only were there some lovely flowing, rooty, steep downhill sections through the trees, there were some really tough steep off-piste climbs too.  I loved them!  That's one thing the SXC courses have had this year: a good amount of technical climbing as well as the descents.  Overall, I'd say the SXC have out-done British Cycling this year as the Scottish courses have all been fantastic, while there have been two really poor courses in the British series.

I got 3 practice laps in on Saturday and was feeling good about the course.  It was long, at 8km; over 2km longer than the usual format of modern XC courses, so it was going to be tough and energy-sapping.

I got a good rest on Saturday night, the usual dose of pasta, some stretching, a bit of time on the foam roller to ease out the legs, and an early night in the campervan, all set for the next day . . . 

We rose to another dry day, a bit cooler than Saturday (not a bad thing when racing!), but it made me so happy to know it was going to be a dry dusty course!  One thing I got an insight into at this race, given we had spent the night in the campervan in the Dalbeattie carpark, was just how early the SXC committee get to work!  These guys and girls do this voluntarily and we could not race without them.  They were up at first light, setting up gazebos and generators and so on.  And they don't get to go home until we're all gone!  Hard work and I can't thank them enough for this!

After the usual morning dose of EPO (Extra Porridge Oats!) I had a really nice relaxing time before my race at 2pm.  This was one of the best things about already being on-site and not having to travel.  It really lets you relax and focus on the race ahead.  Some family and friends joined us later on, which was nice as it kept me relaxed and stopped any nerves kicking in!  After watching a bit of the morning races it was just after 1pm and time to get warmed-up.

At 2pm, we were gridded on the start line, with Scott Logan, myself, Craig Webster and David Glover lined up on the front row as current series positions 1 to 4, respectively.  To be honest, I hardly remember the start gun going off.  I seem to have got my balance of focus and calmness just right when we got the 15 second warning and just reacted instinctively to the bang!  I got a good start, with only Scott slightly ahead of me as usual.

As we turned the first corner, I put my pre-planned race strategy into force: lead out the first lap.  I tried this at the last round of the SXC but a poor rear tyre choice led to me losing places at that one before fighting back into 2nd place there.  This time, I was determined to enter the first section of singletrack, which was raised boardwalk, as the leader of the group.

I got by Scott before this section and soon realised that it was me, Scott and Martin Graham settling into a lead group of 3 as we gradually dropped the other riders.  I'm not sure how far back the other riders were or when we opened up a big gap, but I knew Scott and Martin were on my wheel.  Martin hasn't raced in the series this year, but having checked out the results last year, I knew he was a really strong contender, along with Scott, to take the win and become Scottish Champion.

I kept the pace as high as I could that whole first lap, but kept it smooth and controlled so as not to make any mistakes.  I got down all the technical sections and cleared the steep technical climb successfully.  As we completed lap 1, I crossed the line in 1st place, with Scott and then Martin right behind.  

As we then passed through the feed zone, I was going so fast that I just knocked the bottle out of my wife's hand and couldn't get a hold of it.  I didn't let this affect me, as although it was a warm day, this has happened before and I was well hydrated before the race.  Think of the positives I said to myself: less weight to carry up the climbs!

Martin made a sprint past me and Scott just after the feed zone.  I wasn't sure if he was just having a bit of fun or if he thought we should take turns in front but again, I just wanted to keep the lead where possible in the singletrack sections.  So, I sprinted on past him again and entered the first boardwalk section in the lead again.

Then, for some unknown reason, I lost my concentration on what is a really easy and wide piece of boardwalk and my front tyre slipped off it.  By the time I got going again, I'd lost about 15 seconds to Scott and Martin, now in front.

I spent the whole 2nd lap trying to catch them but soon realised that I'd actually gone too far into my "red zone" on that first lap.  I wanted to find out if I could hold pace with these guys and the simple answer was "no"!  While I'm really happy with the first lap pace, and I've been doing really good consistent lap times in recent races, this race involved me just slowing and slowing as each of the 4 laps went on.

This wasn't just because of my daft mistake on the boardwalk.  I just couldn't catch them again and had lost a good couple of minutes by the end of that lap.

Thankfully, I maintained the couple of minutes gap I had to David and Craig behind me in 4th and 5th, and this lasted for the rest of the race.  At some point in the 3rd lap, Martin got away from Scott and went on to take the win, becoming Scottish XC Masters Champion.

While I didn't realise how much I was slowing in laps 3 and 4, I could definitely feel the pain of pushing it too much on that first lap.  My legs were absolutely screaming going up that steep technical off-piste climb for the last time.  But I got up it.  And I also kept my focus on the downhill sections and was really happy with my speed and flow on them.  Hearing my parents, in-laws, brother, friends and wife all cheer me on each lap really kept me going and kept me pushing.  I knew I had a bit of a gap to the others behind me but I couldn't be complacent and if you've read my blogs from earlier this season you'll know I have a bit of paranoia about losing podium places on the last lap!

As I came to the end of that last lap I knew I just couldn't have matched Martin or Scott's pace for the whole race.  Was I kidding myself on that I even had a chance of the win?  Well, given this was my last race of my first season racing XC, I had a lot to look back on and be very very happy about.  Yes, I couldn't quite maintain that first lap pace to match Scott and Martin, but look what I'd achieved . . . 

I was crossing the line in 3rd place in the Scottish Championships, taking my 3rd series podium (including a win), and taking 2nd place overall in the Masters category in my first season racing XC, after only a couple of years competing in a few marathon and endurance MTB events.  I couldn't be happier!

I got the chance to climb up onto the podium twice on Sunday, once for my 3rd place in the race, receiving my Scottish Championships bronze medal and my 3rd place SXC mug (to complete a set of 1st/2nd/3rd!) and then a second time to collect my overall SXC Series 2nd place medal for the whole season.  Who wouldn't be happy with this for their first year racing XC:

(the bronze championships medal is off being engraved so I'll take another picture when I receive it back!)

I can't thank my friends and family enough for coming to support me.  It really does make such a difference to hear them cheering me on.  Yet again, massive thanks to my amazing wife for all the morale support, encouragement, feedzone bottle hand-ups, putting up with all the hours training, and all the moaning when I'm tired and hungry from training!  I just could not have done this without her!

Although I've got a couple of races left this season, of the endurance and marathon variety, that's my first XC season over and it has been simply brilliant!  I've loved every minute of the racing, even when it's tough.  I've learned so much and I've met some great people.  The SXC organisers have been fantastic and we've had some awesome courses.

Finally, I need to thank my sponsors: the Alpine Bikes Trek Store Glasgow.  I couldn't have done this without all the support, kit and servicing.  I particularly want to thank Jon in the Trek Store and Andrew, the manager of the workshop at the St.Georges Cross Alpine Bikes store.  Andrew serviced my Trek Superfly before every race and had it running absolutely perfectly.  It has been flawless.  Not a single mechanical all year thanks to his great work!  The support from both stores has been very much appreciated.  Thanks guys!

So, that was yet another one of my lengthy race reports but I hope you enjoyed reading it.  I'll probably do a review looking back over the whole season at some point, but it's not over yet.  I'm really excited about this Saturday's No Fuss Events Tour de Ben Nevis - one of my favourite events on the calendar each year.  A 72km remote mountain bike marathon with special timed stages.

Then it's time to focus on WEMBO: the World 24 Hour Solo MTB Championships on 11th/12th October (also organised by No Fuss Events as it's in the UK this year).  And after that, it'll be a very well-deserved rest I think! :-)

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Rocky Cannock Show

Now that's what I call a rock garden . . . 

And I absolutely loved it!  Who says XC courses are not technical?  Okay, two of the British XC courses this year have been flat, boring and not very technical (Essex and Sherwood), but Cannock Chase more than made up for it for the last round of the Series on Sunday 17th August.  They saved the best for last . . . and I also saved my best British National Series result for last too!  

The course at Cannock was great.  Not only did it have this really challenging rock garden (which attracted the crowds, and believe me, the picture does not do it justice!), but it also was a lovely flowing course with a bit of everything.  Not too many hills, but just enough (127m climbing per 6km lap), a couple of drops and rollers, some nice descending, a few tight twisty rooty sections, some nice descents along the side of hills through the trees and some enjoyable switchback climbs where they took us in reverse up some of what would normally be the bermed trail centre descent.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon after what would be the final trip down the M6 this year.  I've really enjoyed my first year racing in the British National XC Series.  It's had its ups and downs and I've learned so much, but I was glad to be making a long journey south for the last time.  I really do hope British Cycling put a Scottish round in next year . . . it is supposed to be a "British" series after all.  We've had 4 in England and one in Wales this year!

After signing on around noon on Saturday, I got my number board on and got out on the course for 3 practice laps.  I immediately fell in love with the course and stopped to session the rock garden a few times.  It took me a couple of attempts to find the right line but I got the hang of it and did it a few more times to be sure.  My Trek Superfly was perfect for this kind of trail feature, with its full suspension and 29er wheels.  I also felt great myself after nailing it, and even in practice there were crowds there watching.  Both in practice and the race, us riders got a cheer or even a round of applause when we made it down this section!  

So, skipping forward to Sunday, I was feeling good.  In fact, I'd say this was the most relaxed I've felt about a race all year.  I'm not sure if this was because I put more pressure on myself for my home races in Scotland, or just because it was the last in the British Series and I had nothing to prove, but I did still want to do well.  I set out with a target of top 50% and I achieved it!

After a good warm-up, using my new warm-up routine for the second time at a race, I got to the start line for gridding.   I'm really happy with my new routine and will be continuing to use it from now on.

I was gridded 19th in the starters list and my focus was to not lose too many places off the start as I often do in these British races.  Well, that didn't quite go according to plan . . . you can see me just next to the start flag in this picture:

I actually got clipped in immediately and felt like I got "out of the blocks" quickly, but ended up losing over 10 places in the short start loop!  But I know why . . . It wasn't speed.  It wasn't a silly mistake like at Hopton.  It was simply because I'm not aggressive enough!

I need to get my elbows out and barge my way through!  That's what everyone else did to me and it's something I just really need to focus on next year.  With so many riders all fighting for space, you need to just squeeze your way through and get those elbows out to block others.  I can't afford to lose this many places off the start line next year if I want to do better at these British races so that's something I need to work on next season.

So, on entering the first section of singletrack, I had lost over 10 places and was maybe even sitting below 30th.  The first climb allowed me to claw a couple of places back but I had to give it my all if I wanted to achieve my goal of finishing in the top 50%.  43 riders had signed up but with the usual pull-outs, I think there were about 36 to 40 riders on the grid.  The results only show 32 riders but that's because if you pull out on the first lap, you don't get a time at all and don't even show on the DNF list.

Anyway, I had my work cut out to get back up to that top 50% target!

Those who have been reading my blog most of this season will know I've been beating myself up for my technical skills.  I've been losing time on tricky technical sections and really trying to improve that area of my riding.  Well, what a confidence boost this race gave me!

On entering the woods approaching the rock garden on my first lap, I saw 5 or more riders in front of me all choose the "B line".  For those who don't know, these races often have A anb B lines, where the A line would be something difficult like this rock garden and the B line lets you avoid it if you're not confident doing the A line.  The penalty is that the B line is often much slower.

Well, as I confidently rode down the rock garden, picking a perfect line down it, these 5 or more riders all lost about 15 seconds (or more!) to me as they chose to take the easier, but longer option.  And on I went to stay in front of them for the rest of the race!  This gave me such a boost!  If that happened every lap I'd take well over a minute out of those riders in the whole race, assuming we were even on the rest of the course.  I've never taken a B line this year and that's why it's worth practicing the A lines the day before the race as it really can cost you time to choose the easy option.  Plus, it's a mountain bike race and I'm there to have fun too and challenge myself on these difficult sections!

Even in the twisty rooty sections through the trees later in the course, I was flowing so well.  I'm much stronger on rocks than roots, so the rock garden advantage didn't surprise me, but I received another psychological boost to find myself catching people on the kind of section I usually struggle on: tight and twisty through the trees.

I tussled with a couple of other riders for the first two laps as we swapped places a few times but I eventually settled into around 19th or 20th place come lap 3.

Things were going well and other than one wee mistake in the rock garden on my 2nd lap (not a crash thankfully, just had to unclip as I missed my best line), I didn't have any incidents other than the usual bumping into the odd tree on the tight twisty sections due to my wide handlebars!

I was climbing well, descending quickly and smoothly, and keeping the riders behind me from catching up.

On passing through the feed zone to start my 5th and final lap, my wife told me I was in 18th and that I had to go catch the guy in red and white in front!  And that's exactly what I did!  After the race, checking my lap times, I was really happy with how consistent they were, but I was even happier to see my last lap was faster than my 3rd and 4th.  I had fuelled well and my endurance was coming through to help me catch that guy in front.

He also took the A line at the rock garden so I didn't have that opportunity to catch him there.  I kept him in my sights on the descents that followed, and kept things smooth and controlled as a heavy shower had made what had been a dry dusty track just a wee bit slippy for the last couple of laps.

As we climbed the switchbacks through the trees I was starting to catch him and gave it a massive push up the final fire road climb to get onto his wheel.  I got past him just as we entered the next descent and kept on pushing right to the end so as not to lose my place.  

On approaching the finish area I caught up with another rider but realised I was unlapping myself with a vet rider who had previously lapped me so there was no need for a sprint finish!

I crossed the line a very happy man!  17th may not seem that great a position to be happy about when I've had 3 podiums this year in other races and I'm currently sitting 2nd overall in the Scottish XC Series . . . 

However, I set out into the unknown in XC racing this year, and in particular really did not know what standard to expect at the British National Series races.  The Scottish races are hard, but the British ones are on a whole other level and I was even just happy with a top 30 at the first few.  When I then broke into the top 20 at Margam, that remained my goal for the rest of the season.  I do plan to move up those places next year now that I've witnessed the exceptionally high standard of racing and know what I need to work on, but I'm over the moon with this 17th position in the final race.

I loved the course, I rode well, and I couldn't have tried any harder on the day.  I know what I need to work on over the winter so that I can work my way further up next year and at least I won't be going into the unknown.

We've done a lot of miles this year getting to these races, but I've really enjoyed them, even the ones with my low points!  They are all learning experiences.  I have finished 18th overall in the final British National XC MTB Series standings out of 64 riders who took part in one or more races throughout the season.  In my first year moving to XC racing I've got to be happy with that.  And I most definitely am!

I've now got a 4 week break until my next race and it's hard to belive there are only 3 races left this season.  It feels like only yesterday that I was itching to get racing back in March!  That next race is the final one in the Scottish XC Series and also doubles as the Scottish Championships, so it's an important one!

I'm on a rest and recovery week now, meaning it's reduced volume and reduced intensity before a 3 week peak in my training to tune up for those Scottish Champs at Dalbeattie on Sunday 14th September.  That four week gap will be good and will let me have a good break from racing before the champs, as well as a really focussed period of training to get myself ready!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

I knew I should have swapped that rear tyre!

Picture this . . . After messing up your start at the last race, you get off to a fantastic start.  Clipped in straight away and a great sprint off the line.  You take the lead into the first section of singletrack and try to set the pace from the off and lead the race out.  Then, just as you turn uphill round a right hand bend onto an off-camber muddy section, your rear tyre slips completely from under you and you end up on your side, unable to do anything about the 5 or so riders passing you as you pick yourself up and get back on the bike.

Yep, that's exactly what happened to me on Sunday at Round 4 of the Scottish XC Series at Lochore Meadows in Fife!  But I still finished in 2nd place, taking my 3rd podium of the year (2nd of that series) and leaving me in 2nd place in the overall series going into the last race.

Novantae: SXC Rd.5 (Lochore Meadows) &emdash;

I'm really happy with that result and loved the race, but why oh why did I not change that rear tyre when I knew the course would be much slippier given the heavy rain?!  Doh!  Lesson learned!

After a break of three months for the SXC Series, it was great to be back racing on "home soil" again.  I feel like I've had so many trips down south and while I've enjoyed it, I'm looking forward to completing the final trip south of the border next weekend for the fifth and final round of the British Series at Cannock Chase.

The SXC events are always really well organised and have a great vibe, and Lochore Meadows in Fife was no different.  The event village had a great atmosphere with various tents around the start/finish and the country park location made it a great day out for supporters and family too.  Just a shame the weather was miserable!  Big thanks to my wife for the usual feed zone support and my friends who came along to cheer me on too!  Especially in that weather!

I did some practice laps on the course on the Saturday and was pleasantly surprised by it.  A few people had told me it might not be that much fun or technical but they were so wrong!  There were some nice twisty sections through the trees, not too much climbing, a couple of technical rocky sections to climb over and a lovely technical rooty and rocky descent towards the end of the lap.  It had a bit of everything and it became even more fun on the Sunday in the rain!  I was surprised how long the descent at the end was given there was only 110m of climbing per lap - a fair bit less than my last race at the British Champs at Hopton and yet you seemed to get a lot of descent in return for not much climbing.  Bonus!

Given the weather, I'd decided to run a chunkier tyre up front for more grip in the corners: a Bontrager XR2 (29 x 2.20).  I stuck with my usual race tyre on the rear though: a Bontrager XR1 (29 x 2.00).  I should have realised how much the course would change with the rain and within 2 minutes of starting my first lap I realised the mistake I'd made.  But it's all a learning experience and I just had to deal with it!

As I was sitting in 2nd place overall in the series going into this race, I was gridded on the front row alongside Scott Logan (series leader) and Craig Webster.  I got a great start and was really happy not to repeat my mistake from Hopton!

Novantae: SXC Rd.5 (Lochore Meadows) &emdash;

As we approached the first section of singletrack I felt I could actually push on a bit more, so although Scott was just in front of me, I decided to sprint past him and lead into that first section.  It's not something I've done in a race before (i.e. lead from the start), so I thought I'd see how it would go . . . 

Then, as I started to slip and slide due to my mistake of rear tyre choice, I knew I'd have my work cut out!  When the bike slipped away from under me, I had no time to beat myself up for the mistake!  As about 5 riders got past me, I knew I just had to get back on and get on with it!

By this time, Scott and Craig had got a decent gap of maybe 30 seconds or so.  I managed to overtake the other riders in between and settled into 3rd place on the first real climb of the course.  I still had them both in my sights so felt confident I was still in with a chance.

Novantae: SXC Rd.5 (Lochore Meadows) &emdash;  

On our first time down the long descent at the end of the lap, Craig had a mechanical and I managed to get by him.  Scott, however, was gone, and I later found out that he took about a minute out of me each lap.  I said this to Scott after the race: I really do think he was in a different class again.  I  just couldn't close that gap.  But I'm left wondering . . . If I hadn't slipped on the first lap, would we have stuck together?  Or is he a much better climber or descender than me and would have dropped me anyway?  I just don't know.  Perhaps if I'd stuck with him it would have pushed me to try harder and maybe, just maybe, I could have stayed with him.  I guess I'll find out when we next race together!

On the second lap, I managed to stay ahead of Craig for most of it until we hit that long descent again.  This is where Craig showed he was a far better descender and got by me.  I wasn't descending as well as I should have at this point - I think I was still worried about that rear tyre and didn't want to crash.  But I was probably being too cautious!

I spent the whole 3rd lap trying to catch Craig on the climbs.  On the main climb on that 3rd lap, Craig unfortunately had another mechanical.  I felt bad that this was why I got by him and even asked if he needed tools or anything as I passed.  But he soon got on the way again and started to chase me once more.

At this point I gave it my all to build up a bigger gap before the long technical descent, knowing that he'd probably be faster down it than me.  However, he didn't quite catch me this time.  I think I finally got my confidence on the descent, focusing on the lines, being smooth and carrying speed where I could, and using the grip points between the roots and rocks for braking.  I felt like myself again descending much smoother and faster!  One thing that definitely helped here was tyre pressure . . . After listening to Dougie Shearer's advice recently, I've been running much lower pressures.  Given the conditions for this race, I ran 23psi rear and 21psi front.  It really did help with the grip on these sections!

I got down that descent with Craig still behind me, but closing in.  As I crossed the start/finish line to commence my 4th and final lap, I grabbed my bottle from my wife in the feed zone and told myself I had to give it everything to build the gap from Craig.  I knew he had a damn good chance of catching me and I did not want to risk what happened back in Abriachan where I lost a place near the end of the last lap.  Although, at least this time it was 2nd vs. 3rd rather than missing the podium like at Abriachan!

Novantae: SXC Rd.5 (Lochore Meadows) &emdash;

Craig kept the pressure on me, as I continued to look over my shoulder, but I built up a good enough gap to keep ahead for that final descent and pushed as hard as I could all the way to the finish to take 2nd place about a minute ahead of him.  Scott finished first, about 4 minutes ahead of me, and I clearly had no chance of catching him after that first lap.

I have no idea what I'm doing with my face here, maybe my mouth was full of mud! But I was rather happy to cross the line in 2nd place: 

Novantae: SXC Rd.5 (Lochore Meadows) &emdash;

I sometimes wonder why I put myself through the pressure of racing, and don't just go back to riding my mountain bike for fun, but this race really reminded me why I do it.  I absolutely loved that battled with Craig for 2nd and 3rd place.  It was great fun, whether I was in front or behind.  It's all really friendly and we all congratulated each other afterwards, but it's so exciting trying to chase someone down, or looking over your shoulder in the hope that they're not catching you.

I have to thank all the racers for a great race, and well done to Scott on the win and Craig on 3rd!  The marshals were great, the course was great and, as always, the organisation of the SXC committee was perfect!  

I'm really happy with how the race went, despite my daft rear tyre choice!  I tried out a new warm-up routine and a new nutrition plan and they both worked out perfectly.  I felt that my descending was much better on the 3rd and 4th lap once I got over my fear of the rear tyre slipping and I don't think I could have pushed much harder, so overall a great result for me personally.

There's just one race left in the SXC Series this year, at Dalbeattie, and it also doubles as the Scottish Championships.  I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be a great one to watch and given it's the Championships too, there will be final series positions and championship positions to be announced that day.  So come along to watch some exciting racing if you can!  Sunday 14th September and there will no doubt be more details on the SXC website nearer the time.