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!


  1. A great race report Derek, and well done ! The amount of training and effort you're putting in is certainly paying dividends :-) Chuffed for you !

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