Wednesday, 28 May 2014

7 hours of perfection

Perfection is a strong word.  But I really can't think of any other way to describe Saturday's Tweedlove Festival Glentress Seven . . . The course, the atmosphere, the event organisation . . . my warm-up, my pre and during race nutrition, my bike, my tyre choice, my tyre pressures, my start, my race strategy and how it unfolded, my support crew (aka my mate Jamie!) . . . my result!  You might think the only perfect result is 1st place, but for me personally I just could not be happier with my 7th place, as it was higher than I ever could have hoped for!

(Photo courtesy of Trev Worsey. Read his article in Enduro MTB Magazine)

This was my 3rd Glentress Seven, an endurance event where competitors have to do as many laps of the 11km course as possible in 7 hours, either as a soloist, pair or team of three.  Each lap had 450m of climbing but some amazing singletrack descending too.  The past two years have been great courses but this year's was the best.  I'd even go as far as to say it's my favourite race course this year, and perhaps ever!  It still had a fair amount of climbing but a bit less than last year.  It contained most of the same singletrack sections from last year too but they introduced a couple of new bits, one of which was a nice technical chute, muddy, rocky, rooty, loose.  There was a great mixture of trail centre and off-piste natural terrain and a good mix of rocks and roots, mud and hard-pack, fire road climbs and a couple of slightly more technical climbs.  I wish I could ride trails like this every day but some of it is closed off again after the event and some of it involves riding backwards on the normal Glentress trails, or down walkers trails.  So you really should take part next year!  

Given the muddy, rooty, technical nature of some parts of the course, you'd think I'd be cursing again after my mistakes on similar terrain last week, but I seem to have my "mojo" back again!  I was so much stronger this week.  Yes, it was dry so there was more grip, but some of those sections were still pretty tricky, and I just seemed to have more confidence, flow, skill and speed.  It felt great.  I had one very silly wee off on a very easy part of trail where I lost concentration (insert embarassed face here, but thankfully only a marshal saw me and no other riders!) but in the 10 laps I completed I didn't come off once on any of the technical sections and so I'm really happy with my riding.  I was also really happy with the climbing as I didn't need my granny ring once!

It was an early rise on Saturday to get down to Glentress to grab a good spot in the solo pits area.  My usual support crew (aka my wife) was away this weekend so I had my stand-in support crew (aka my best mate Jamie).  We got set up in the pits area after sign-on and then chilled for a bit:

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know I was feeling quite unwell earlier in the week so I was worried I might not be able to participate in the GT7 this year.  However, I took a couple of rest days Tue/Wed, did a short training session on Thursday once I was feeling better to test out the legs, and I felt good to race again.  However, given I'd had an upset stomach I wanted to be very careful with what I was eating.  My pre-race fueling worked out really well and I felt good on the start line after a good warm-up too.  Not as long or hard as I do for XC races due to the duration of this one but it was just right.  We were ready to go at 10am after the race briefing and I was rather excited!

(Photo courtesy of Jamie Simpson Photography)

I got myself into the 3rd row on the start line as my plan was to stick with the top 20 or 30 riders up the first fire road climb that they use to spread us out (the initial climb is singletrack for every other lap so the first lap is a bit shorter too).  You have to remember that a lot of those riders up the front are the fast guys from teams of 2 or 3 but the amazing thing is that plenty of soloists do manage to stay with them (or beat them!) on the first lap.  And we were off!

(Photo courtesy of Jamie Simpson Photography)

I got away well and managed to stick with what looked like the top 20 to 25 riders up the first climb to the Buzzard's Nest car park, where we then climbed up one of the push-up paths through the free-ride area.  Obviously you don't go off as fast in a 7 hour endurance race as a shorter XC race but we were still going at a fair pace up that first climb.  My heart rate was up in the aerobic zone as it usually is on these initial climbs and yet I didn't feel I was working as hard as the start of an XC race.  This felt great actually!  This was when I knew my warm-up had been perfect.  I was able to maintain a good pace up that first climb without doing myself in!  There were 7 hours still to go of course!  

(Photo courtesy of Jamie Simpson Photography)

For those interested in heart rate data (something I always analyse after a race):
  • My lactate threshold heart rate is approx 170 - 173bpm (so this is my Zone 5a)
  • I usually average Zone 5a on an XC race, my highest average being 173bpm at Wheal Maid Valley recently
  • At the British MTB Marathon Champs recently (approx 5 hours of riding), I averaged 162bpm (Zone 4)
  • At the GT7, I averaged 159bpm (just into my Zone 4)
On analysing this afterwards, I'd say I got my effort just about right and I'm getting good at measuring my "Rate of Perceived Exertion", or RPE, which is simply a scale of 1 - 10 on how hard you feel you are working.  I'm usually up at 9 or 10 in an XC race but I'd say I was about 8 during the uphills at the GT7, which helped me last the 7 hours.

Anyway, enough of that and more about the course!  This is just one of the many fun sections, a small bombhole, and I'll add more photos of the technical sections if I can find some online as there were quite a few photographers around:

As I've already mentioned, I seem to have found my skills again!  There were some lovely grippy dusty sections where the roots were actually quite grippy, but there were still some slippy muddy sections too and I didn't make any mistakes on them.  I was also really happy with my flow and speed and cornering through some of the singletrack sections.  I just really enjoyed it and would gladly ride those trails all day long!  Well, I guess I did!

The other riders out on course were a friendly bunch.  Everyone was really encouraging to each other.  I had to let a few of the fast technical descenders past on a couple of sections and they always gave a friendly shout in plenty of time and thanked me for moving.  Similarly, I had to ask some people if I could squeeze by (and not just on the ups for once!) and they were always really encouraging as you passed, cheering you on.

The marshals were great too.  We just couldn't do these events without them and not only do they provide direction and first aid cover, but they cheer you on every single lap.  Special mention has to go to the fellow Trek owner who cheered on "Team Trek" (i.e. me!) every lap, Elvis at the top of the free-ride park (yes, it was the king himself I guarantee you!), plus the two marshals who gave me a big high-five on my last lap!  I always make a point of thanking every single marshal during my last lap and I really do mean it when I say to them "we couldn't do this without you".  They were brilliant.

The general vibe of the whole event (and Tweedlove festival) is great.  I also bumped into a few MTB buddies I've not seen for a while so it was good to catch-up.

So, back to the racing . . . You might want to make yourself another cuppa.  This is turning out to be one of my usual rather long blog posts!

At the half way point I'd completed 5 laps so I knew if I didn't slow too much I was on for 10.  Last year I did 8 laps and the previous year only 7, but I was heavier, nowhere near as fit as I am now, and didn't yet own a Trek Superfly!  The bike was great and I was so happy with my tyre choice: Bontrager XR1, 2.00 on the rear, 2.20 on the front.  I ran 26psi front and 29psi rear. 

The course was a wee bit shorter this year but not enough to account for even a half of a lap overall.  I'd say half a lap of my improvement on last year was probably due to the slightly shorter course plus my bike.  The other 1.5 laps improvement was defintely down to fitness and training over the past year.

One of my personal targets this year was to not be lapped as early by the race leaders.  Rob Friel, who went onto win the solo race, lapped me on my 6th lap, but he was just in a whole other world.  He's currently leading the Elite category in the SXC series too.

On my 9th and penultimate lap, I was lapped by Greig Brown, who I've got to know a bit over the past year or two as he is a well known face at these endurance events, having won the GT7 the past two years and also Ten Under the Ben.  The man is a machine!  I was pretty chuffed when Greig passed me and said "it's taken me longer to catch you this year!".  This may sound silly but that's an achievement in itself!  Greig was 3 laps ahead of me last year but only 1 lap ahead this year . . . I know I'll never be in the same league as him and Rob but I'm really chuffed to know that they are the only two guys who lapped me with their 11 laps while I managed my goal of 10.  Congratulations to Rob and Greig on their 1st and 2nd places.

I made it back in time for the cut-off at the end of my 9th lap and headed out to do my 10th.  I'd slowed a bit during laps 7 and 8 but that could have been from passing people or just perhaps I took it a bit easier.  I really pushed it on the last two laps, both on the downs as well as the ups, and probably enjoyed these two laps more than any others.  I actually got quite emotional on my last lap when one of the marshals said some very kind words to me as I passed him.  It's perhaps just the physical and mental exhaustion, but despite this year's focus on shorter XC racing, these are my benchmark events where I can really see my improvements year on year.  Heading down to the finish area on my last lap:

(Photo courtesy of Jamie Simpson Photography)

Last year I did 8 laps and came 24th out of 92 senior male soloists (the categories are Senior, Vet and Senior Vet).  This year, I did 10 laps and came 7th out of 70 senior male soloists and that really does mean so much to me (I was 10th out of all 142 male soloists of all ages).  It makes all this training so worthwhile and given where I've come from in my short mountain biking career, it's no wonder I got a bit emotional on that last lap!  But it was all cheesy smiles afterwards . . . 

 (Photo courtesy of Jamie Simpson Photography)

Everything had just worked out perfectly and one thing that definitely helped was my nutrition.  I now know exactly what I'll do for Ten Under the Ben (a similar, but 10 hour long, race in a few weeks time).

If you've been reading my blogs you'll know I've been experimenting with nutrition this year and have sussed out exactly what I need for XC races, but have not used much science (other than experimentation!).  However, this time I did the sums using the recomendation that you need between 1g and 1.5g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight per hour.  For an endurance event like this, I erred on the side of caution and went nearer the 1.5g end of this.  I weigh 68kg and so should be consuming about 102g of carbohydrate per hour during a race like the GT7.  The good thing was that this matched up with what I was already planning to consume before I did the science!  I guess it shows I know my body well now after all this experimenting.  For those interested in the nutritional side of things, here's what I consumed in the 7 hour race (well, 7 hours and 23 mins to be precise!):
  • 6 x 500ml of water mixed with High5 4:1 (carb/protein) powder
  • 7 x High5 energy gels (not the caffeine ones)
  • A full 150g bag of jelly babies (had one every 15/20 mins)
  • 5 of my homemade healthy flapjacks (let me know if you want the recipe)
  • 2 Banana Energy Bites (recipe on DeliciouslyElla)
  • 1 banana

Jamie did a fantastic job with my support.  A big difference from previous years is that I only stopped once, at the half-way point, just to have a banana.  Otherwise, he was passing me bottles or flapjacks on the move and I carried everything else.  This might only account for a few minutes in 7 hours but I think it made the difference with me making the cut off to complete my last lap.  We had to start our last lap by 4.40pm and be back by 5.30pm for it to count.  I started it about 4.35pm and was back for 5.20pm and I think those 5 minutes were genuinely due to not stopping.  My bladder was bursting for the last few laps too but I even held that in to save time!  Don't worry . . . there were no accidents . . . I made it to a portaloo after the race!

So, that just leaves me to thank all the very friendly racers, the incredibly helpful marshals and first aid teams, and the event organisers at Tweedlove for a fantastic race!  I'm looking forward to next year already!

Training-wise for me, I'm still in my second build period of the year but it's a Rest & Recovery week this week so slightly reduced intensity and duration with some testing at the weekend.  The build then continues as I do the BCXC Round 3 at Margam Park in Wales on 15th June and then Ten Under the Ben on 21st June.  Then we're off on holiday before working towards the British XC Championships in July.

A rather long race report yet again but I hope you've enjoyed reading it.  If you've got any questions about anything above like the nutrition/etc than please just leave a comment below, even if you would just like my healthy flapjack recipe!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Slippery when wet . . .

 . . . and, yes, that's tree roots I'm talking about!  The SXC, Abriachan Forest Trust and Ben Wyvis Cycle Club put on a fantastic course for us up at Abriachan, just south of Inverness on the West side of Loch Ness.  Not too much climbing, some hard-packed gravel sections, some technical rocky climbs and a lot of muddy, wet, slippy roots!  Especially with the overnight rain on Saturday night to make things evern more slippery on a course that felt half trail centre / half natural.

The long trip up north was well worth it for this challenging course.  We headed up Friday evening after work to visit some friends in the North of Scotland then headed over to Abriachan for a few practice laps on the Saturday afternoon.  The light rain on Saturday was actually helping to bed on some of the stoney/gravel sections and make them less prone to skidding but with overnight rain forecast on Saturday night I knew the roots were going to get even slippier.  I sessioned a few sections and was happy to have nailed what I thought was the trickiest rooty technical section.  There was one muddy corner still causing me issues but I'd be surprised if many riders got up it in the race without unclipping!

Skip forward to 1.45pm on Sunday and I was feeling great, lined up on the start line and ready to race.  I was pretty happy with my warm-up but have decided the turbo trainer is now coming to all the races with me.  I used it at Cathkin but at other races tend to just find a flat road or forest track for the first part of my warm-up routine.  Abriachan's forestry roads were either up or down so it wasn't ideal.  It's worth packing the turbo trainer from now on!

Despite this, I was feeling good.  While not peaking for this race, training had gone well in the week leading up to it and I felt I'd got my nutrition spot-on pre-race.  As current SXC series leader (ahead of Scott Logan by only 3 points), I was gridded on the front row and determined to improve on some of my recent poor starts.  Focus.  Get clipped in first time! . . . And we were off!

At last!  A good start!  I got clipped in straight away and was just behind Scott as we headed up the hill to approach the first section of singletrack.  Although going by this photo it was hurting already!  Yet again, must work on my race face!

Martin McGrath (a local Rossshire rider) just got past me into that first singletrack section but as we pushed on up the climb I managed to power past him, followed by Sean Clark behind me (who was 3rd at Cathkin).  I knew Sean and Scott were my main competition based on the last race at Cathkin and was determined to stick with them, but this just didn't happen . . . 

Based on the first half of that first lap, I don't think I lost them due to fitness, power or climbing ability.  I felt on a par with them in those respects based on this race and Cathkin.  But, yet again, my technical skills let me down, and I only have myself to blame for that!

We were held up a bit passing some of the "back markers" from the Sports category in front of us on entering one of the first technical rooty sections through the trees, but Sean just managed to get by me and then just kept slipping away.  Both Sean and Scott were lapping quite a bit faster than me overall and had built up a lead of over a minute by the end of the first lap.  By the end of the race (4 laps), they were ahead by 5 minutes, with Sean taking the win, closely followed by Scott.

I just was not in the same league as them in this race and I put that down to two things compared to my win at Cathkin:

1. My technical skills on muddy/rooty sections.  I much prefer technical rocky courses to roots.  Roots and mud let me down last week at the British Marathon Champs and the same happened this week.  I know I need to work on this so it's time to focus on it!  I'm not terrible; I'm just not as fast as these guys

2. My local knowledge of Cathkin without a doubt helped me take the win.  The course suits me and I know it really well.  Plus, any technical sections at Cathkin are rocky rather than rooty so I'm much more confident on them!

On my second lap I had two crashes.  Both really silly mistakes but, you guessed it, on slippy roots!  Not even on the most technical rooty section either - I made it over that every single lap!  I was about 30 seconds ahead of Martin McGrath on lap 2 but I reckon my crashes cost me almost a minute in total.  I also really hurt my left leg and it was in a lot of pain for the rest of the race.  This then made me a bit more cautious on the roots.

I was pulling away from Martin on the climbs on lap 3 but noticed him catching me on the descents and rooty sections.  This was partly my own lack of skill and confidence on those sections, but Martin was perhaps just a stronger descender with me the stronger climber.  Going by our lap times, I guess this made us pretty even.  Going by the club he rides for I'm guessing he's local too so perhaps he had the same kind of advantage I had at Cathkin.  But who knows, that's just racing for you!

On the 4th and final lap, I knew he was right behind but I again pulled quite far ahead of him on the two main climbs that made up the first half of each lap.  I was determined to keep this 3rd place and get on the podium!  He was catching me on the rooty sections again but didn't feel as close . . . until . . . 

Under a minute from the end of the last lap I hit the aforementioned corner that just didn't seem rideable.  I had to unclip and was just trying to quickly wheel my bike up it and jump back on when Martin came running by me with his bike on his shoulder!

Clearly, the same thing had happened to him on that corner but I didn't think this was a cyclocross race!  He got by me on foot, which seems really unfair to me given it's a mountain bike race, but I guess that's racing and perhaps I'm just a sore loser!  But I was so gutted at the time!  All that effort and to get beaten a minute from the end because I couldn't run as fast with my bike?

I was right on Martin's rear wheel up a final couple of short climbs.  I tried so hard to squeeze past but there just wasn't room.  There was no chance of catching him on the final descent.  While it wasn't technical, it was loose and gravelly so I didn't see the point in crashing out on the ragged edge just trying to get by him.  I eased off and settled for 4th.

Perhaps Martin would have got by me anyway on that final descent.  Perhaps he felt I was holding him up on the roots and he would have got by me if there had been more room.  But that's racing and he beat me to the podium so I need to accept it.

I really was gutted and just wanted to get back to the car and head home.  But I've had a good think about it during the journey back and need to stop being so hard on myself!  

It was a challenging course and clearly identified my weaknesses so I need to go work on them.  But this is my first year competing in any form of XC racing and I've had a 4th, a win and another 4th now.  This puts me 2nd in the series now at the half-way point so I'm still in with a good chance of doing well overall.  And I've already achieved my main season goal: to get on the podium at an SXC race (and it was the top step!).

So, in hindsight, I'm happy with my result and will continue to build on it.  I can't make the next round of the SXC at Glennifer Braes (not far from where I grew up!) in June as I'm on holiday.  This is also the Scottish Champs so I'm gutted to miss it but sometimes real life gets in the way of racing!  The good thing is that the overall series is based on your best 5 of 6 races so I've now got to focus on Round 5 (Lochore Meadows) in August and Round 6 (Dalbeattie) in September.

I'll miss the SXC until then as the event organisation and courses have been fantastic. This was no exception and I have to thank everyone at the SXC, Abriachan Forest Trust, BWCC, all the marshals, first aiders, supporters and all the other racers for a great race.

Next week sees my 4th weekend of racing in a row with the Glentress Seven (solo).  This is back to the racing I did more of last year before trying XC this year and I'm mainly doing it for fun so I'm really looking forward to it (despite it being seven hours long!).  Then it's a recovery week before focussing on my training for June and July with that holiday in the middle.

More from me after the GT7 next weekend!

Monday, 12 May 2014

Some mud and a wee bit of climbing!

75km.  2700m of climbing.  Mud like a rainy Glastonbury festival, but on slopes you'd struggle to walk down.  Rocky singletrack descents.  Slippy climbs with no traction.  Swooping fast trail centre descents.  A bit of tarmac.  More climbing.  A bit more mud.  A little bit more climbing.  Oh, and just a bit more mud.

That was fun!

Saturday saw several hundred mountain bikers arrive in Selkirk for the Selkirk MTB Marathon, and over a hundred of us were taking part in the British National MTB Marathon Championships.  I did this last year in the open "sportive" event rather than the National Champs.  It's the kind of event I've focussed on in the past: more about the endurance and long distance than the shorter, faster XC races I'm focussing on this year.  Last year was over 20 degrees (in Scotland, yes!) and we had dry, dusty trails, dehydration and cramp!

This year, I looked like this by the end of the race:

Just a wee bit muddy!  But, given the forecast was for torrential rain all day, we were pretty lucky!  Despite the recent rain causing a bit of a mudfest in some parts of the course, it stayed dry from the race start and we even had some sunshine as you can see in the photo!

If you've been reading my blog so far this season, you'll have heard me mention the "priority" of my races.  Given my focus on XC racing this season, and the timing of this race, I'd marked it as the lowest priority: C.  This meant I might not do it if I wasn't feeling up to it, and if I did do it, I'd use it to try things out.  

I was feeling good leading up to it and was excited about competing in the national champs this year instead of the open "sportive" version (which offers a 25km, 50km and the same 75km route as the champs).  So, I had to do it despite the weather!  I also decided to experiment a bit with my pace at the start and my nutrition, just to try a few things out in the lead up to some other long endurance events I'm doing amongst the XC races: the Glentress Seven on 24th May and Ten Under the Ben on 21st June.

We were lined up on Selkirk High Street just before 10am and they set us national champs riders off first, into a neutralised zone on the road until we soon turned off and up into Bowhill Estate where the racing really got going.  Remembering this climb from last year, I decided to really push myself on it, knowing that there was a nice descent afterwards.  I had done a short warm-up, but not my usual warm-up I use at XC races, as I knew the neutralised zone would give me time to warm-up in such a long race.  My heart rate got up to way beyond my lactate threshold, which means my legs should have been burning, but I somehow managed to keep pushing on.

There's no way I was going to keep up with the lead group - they don't categorise the MTB Marathon Champs like an XC race so we were all together: Elites, Expert, Sport, Masters, Vets - everyone from amateurs to pros.  However, I managed to overtake a few people on that first climb so was pretty happy.  I had two goals for the race: 1. To do a sub-5 hours time, which I felt was achievable, and 2. To come in the top half of male riders (this, I wasn't really sure was achievable).  I felt at this point that I might have been about half way up the field but wasn't sure.

On the descent after this climb, I was overtaken by a couple of people but I didn't mind - I'd rather take it easy at this point in the race and also look after my tyres.  There were already some people at the side of the track with punctures - these rough landrover tracks can be full of sharp rocks and are very rutted so it's easy to either puncture, or worse, get spat out of a rut and into the heather!  I was really happy with my tyre choice - the Bontrager XR2.  XR1s would have been far too light and prone to punctures on a course like this.  I did contemplate XR3s for a bit more grip but the XR2 was the perfect compromise.  It did spin out on some of the slippy, grassy, muddy climbs but everyone seemed to be in that situation on those climbs.  It had enough grip for most sections, stood up to the rocks and was fast enough rolling for the few tarmac sections.

I did, however, lose a few places on the next section as I struggled a bit on some of those slippy climbs and when I had to get off and walk some sections (which most people did), an old achilles injury of mine flared up a bit.  To cut a long story short, walking in cycling shoes is very bad for my achilles and calf so I always lose time if I have to do a bit of "hike-a-bike" in a race like this.

I lost some further time on some later descents, especially the ones that were like a river of Glastonbury festival mud.  This is an area I really do need to work on - I'm not the worst technical descender but I could definitely improve a lot so I'm going to focus on this in my training for the rest of the season and over the winter my plan is to go in search of slippy muddy descents!  I feel this often lets me down in race situations, losing places when it pushes me a bit out of my comfort zone, but at least it's good to know what I need to improve.  It let me down by more than just lack of speed in this race - I had a few silly crashes.  But I'm sure plenty of riders did too as it was more like surfing than cycling down some of those descents!  At one point, I had a complete rear wheel drift and ended up hugging a tree . . . it didn't hug me back but instead did this to my face:

Not the worst mountain bike injury I've had by any means, but if one more person asks me "did you cut yourself shaving?" . . . . !

Unfriendly trees and cut faces aside, one of the best things about this event is not just the challenging course, but the locations it takes you into.  Although, it was difficult to admire the scenery when my glasses were caked in this much mud!

At the foot of one of the descents I was caught by another rider and we ended up riding alongside each other for a while.  We'd actually been chatting on the start line and after finally introducing ourselves on one of the climbs, realised we follow each other on Twitter!  It was nice to have company for a while and ride alongside Finlay Strivens, who races in the Expert category at the SXC series.  I let Finlay go ahead on the next descent as I knew he would be faster down it than me and he was!  I was back on my own again and got the head down and got on with the next climb . . . can you tell there's a fair bit of climbing in this race?!

I probably hit my low point about then as I was struggling up this particular climb and was caught by another rider.  I also lost my concentration a bit on some of the next descents, but soon got myself switched on again after the next feed station.  Durty Events, the organisers, were running a bottle transfer service which I made good use of.  At XC races, it's easy to have a support team in the feed zone who can pass you a bottle every other lap or so, but on one large 75km loop in the middle of nowhere it's a bit trickier!  Thankfully, the organisers transferred bottles for us to the 4 feed stations and I was very glad of it being there at the penultimate station at the Innerleithen 7 Stanes trail centre.  I also chose this point, while climbing the red route climb at Innerleithen, to fuel up with some of the food I'd been carrying in my pockets and it definitely gave me my "second wind".  

I was much faster up that climb and enjoyed the following descent, especially knowing there wasn't long to go.  On reaching the final feed station for another quick bottle swap I knew there was just one more semi-serious climb and then it would be downhill all the way from the Three Brethren back to Selkirk!

As I glanced at my watch and started my final descent to the finish I knew I was cutting it fine to make my target of sub 5 hours.  But I gave it my best shot!  As I crossed the line, my own watch and GPS said 5:02 hours but the official timing has me at 5:08.  A few people did mention that their own timing disagreed with the official timing so perhaps they started the official clock a bit early, but regardless, I was just over my target time of sub-5 hours.

But, to put this in perspective, when I did the same course last year in the open sportive category, it took me 6 hours.  So that's a dramatic improvement and in a race where I had not peaked my training for it, was not prioritising it, had not trained specifically for longer events, and was experimenting with strategy and nutrition.  I finished 55th of 82 men, and as that includes all the pros as well as us amateurs, and given I was not far off my target time, I'm actually pretty happy with that . . . as can be seen in my cheesy finish line picture:

I don't often mention my bike in these blog posts but I have to say how good my Trek Superfly was in this race.  A full-suspension lightweight 29er is perfect for these endurance events and this kind of terrain and it performed flawlessly.  Thanks to Andrew at Alpine Bikes Glasgow for getting the bike in good shape for the race and for sorting it again afterwards after the beating it took on this terrain!  I promise I did clean the mud off though before dropping it in to get serviced again after the race:

As already mentioned, the Bontrager XR2 tyres performed well and everything else on the bike stood up to the Scottish mud and grit!  Despite being caked in mud, my Shimano XT gears were still changing smoothly by the end and the 100mm of Fox suspension on the Superfly was just perfect for this kind of terrain.  For anyone considering the move to a 29er, it's on courses like this with that amount of climbing when you'll really appreciate it . . . and it's great on the downhills too - it's my skill that runs out before the bike's abilities do!

So, in summary, I'm pretty happy with my result and time, I've learned what I need to improve on, and my nutrition/strategy experiment has given me a few ideas for what to do in some races later this season, especially Tour de Ben Nevis in September.

Even if you're not interested in doing the official British MTB Marathon Championships, just enter the open category of this event next year.  It's an epic course, really well organised and a great atmosphere.  Thanks to all the marshalls for standing out there all day supporting us and well done to everyone who finished it.  Whether you were the winner (Dan Fleeman) finishing in an insane time of 3:44, or whether you took your time, enjoyed the scenery and took 8 hours to finish, it's a tough course and an amazing achievement!

So, it's back to XC racing this coming weekend as we head north to the banks of Loch Ness for the next round of the Scottish XC Series at Abriachan.  I'm really looking forward to it as I've never been there before and I've heard it's a great course.  Check back here next week for my write-up of that.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

A different class

It's taken me a few days to write up my report from the BCXC Series Round 2 at Wheal Maid Valley, near Redruth, Cornwall.  I wasn't going to bother blogging about this round at all, as I simply wasn't happy with my result, but there are still positives to take away from it and the course was so good I feel I have to rave about it!

After my disappointment with the course at the first BCXC round at Codham Park, Wheal Maid more than made up for it with a rough, rocky "proper" mountain bike course.  Tough, loose climbs, fast flowing descents, steep technical sections . . . it actually felt quite Scottish despite my distance from home!  I loved it!  I sessioned the technical sections a few times on the Saturday practice and got 3 laps in.  I felt the course really suited me and with a higher gridding this time and having learned from my lessons at the last BCXC round, I was feeling good . . . 

. . . but that is definitely not how I felt at the end!  Despite working hard on my starts recently, I just didn't get away fast enough.  I got caught up as we entered the first singletrack section and basically had to stop and queue to get going again!  By this time, the lead pack was away in the distance.  I must have lost about 5 places just from the start line loop and then this didn't help.  I managed to make up some places on a couple of climbs again but lost one again on the second lap.

I ended up on my own for a while with nobody immediately in front to chase.  Perhaps this led me to not push myself as hard as I usually do, but on analysing my heart rate data afterwards, I averaged my lactate threshold heart rate for the whole race so my body was definitely trying hard!  But on looking at the lap times afterwards, this leads me onto explain the title of this blog post . . .

I ended up 22nd and while that's better than my 31st place at the first round, there were fewer riders, so it's about the same as a percentage.  I'm therefore pretty disappointed and to go from winning the last round of the SXC to being 22nd at the BCXC, it left me wondering if I'm really cut out for this at the British level.  On looking at the lap times afterwards, most of the top 10 to 15 riders in my Masters category are lapping in the same kind of times as half of the Elite field and most of the Expert field!  Hence, a different class!

Those who follow me on Twitter will have noticed my tweet afterwards considering dropping to the Sport category.  I've got the option to do that in the British series and had I been in Sport at the weekend I'd have been 10th out of about 30 riders.  But I've thought long and hard about it and why take the easier option?  Yes, I do feel that more of the top Masters riders should be forced up to Expert and it's pretty unfair on the rest of us, but it gives me something to aim for and to really push myself.  If I can even get in the top 20 this year in the British Masters category I'll be over the moon.  So I just need to keep on trying my best in that and keep my focus on the Scottish Series, which is absolutely my priority.

Well, I was trying to keep that a bit shorter than my usual long posts but it's maybe only a bit shorter!  I've been back doing some base endurance training over the past 3 weeks since Cathkin and that's building towards the British MTB Marathon Championships in Selkirk this Saturday.  It's back to the type of event I used to focus on (as opposed to shorter XC races) but I'm considering this a C priority this year as I'm focussing on XC racing instead.  However, I'm still really looking forward to it as the course was fantastic last year and, despite the weather forecast (rain!), it'll be great fun and I plan to experiment a bit with my race strategy, nutrition and so on, in preparation for a few of the longer endurance events I'm doing later in the season.  Full report on Selkirk to follow next week!