Friday, 20 June 2014

Hot, humid and hilly . . .

. . . is how I would describe Round 3 of the British XC Series at Margam Park, near Port Talbot in Wales, last weekend.  I've never come so close to giving up mid-race, as I really was suffering, but I'm oh so glad I didn't.  I finally broke into the top 20 in a British Series race with my best BCXC result yet: 18th!

Having learned from previous experience of doing the later practice session on the Saturday and then being too tired for the race on the Sunday, we got up at stupid o'clock on the Saturday morning so that we'd get to Wales in time for the earlier practice session from 12 - 2.30pm.  I did four practice laps of the course and decided that it suited me perfectly.  Some really tough climbs in it, which would definitely take their toll throughout the race, but that does indeed suit me.  It also had some nice wee singletrack sections, nothing crazy technical, but technical enough to keep your concentration through some slippy muddy rooty sections and a few tight turns.  There was also a fun bermed section to bring a smile to your face on each lap!  Overall, probably my favourite course of the British series so far.

There was also a good vibe at Margam.  Some good friendly chat between riders during practice and I'm getting to know a few more riders now through meeting people at the races so it was good to chat to some other people from my own and other categories.  It was also pretty cool to see Dan McConnell and Rebecca Henderson, both Australian champions who compete on the World Cup XC scene for Trek Factory racing.  They had been in Britain training and decided to take part in this race again as they did last year.  Not surprisingly, they both won their races on the Sunday.  I chatted briefly to Dan and was rather jealous of the Shimano XTR Di2 kit on his Trek Superfly!  We basically have the same bike, but it's just that he has all the latest toys on his!

After some dinner and a wee stroll along Aberavon Beach on the Saturday evening, it was off for an early night to catch up after the morning's early rise, all set for race day on the Sunday.

Not only was Sunday race day; it was also my first wedding anniversary!  I can't write this blog without mentioning that because I have the most amazing wife in the world for letting me race on our first wedding anniversary!  Don't worry though, I made up for it by taking her away for a nice romantic couple of days afterwards!  And as always, she was fantastic supporting me in the race from the feed zone.

A new addition to my warm-up routine at races is the use of rollers.  Being a relative newbie to rollers, here you will see what I call my "concentrate and don't fall off" face!

You may be wondering why I've bought rollers when I already have a turbo trainer, or indeed why I'm using either of these things for a warm-up.  The best warm-up I have had this season was at Cathkin when I took along my turbo trainer and a second bike.  If a race venue has a nice long flat road nearby then I can do the exact warm-up routine I have planned, but when it's a bit hilly then you risk cooling down too much on the downhills.  So, a turbo trainer or rollers let you do a really consistent warm-up and build up gradually.  The reason I've bought rollers is to save me bringing a second bike because my Superfly can't fit on a turbo trainer due to the bolt-through rear end.

So, following this warm-up I was feeling good.  It was really hot and humid, with the cloud having come in just in time for the Masters race, which is now later in the afternoon at 3.15pm along with the Vets categories.  There was a bit of light drizzle just at the start but it didn't really come to much.  Being Scottish, I knew I was going to struggle in the heat, but I felt good on the start line.

I got a reasonably good start but I'm still finding the pace in the first lap is just incredible at these British races.  I was gridded 18th and had slipped down to around 28th by the end of the first lap, despite getting a reasonably good start.  On looking at lap times afterwards, you can actually see that a lot of the top guys in my category do an incredibly fast first lap and then drop about a minute for their second lap, holding it at that pace for the rest of the race.  So, I need to work harder in training to really push it on the first lap.

I was held up a bit on the climbs in the first lap as we bunched up as usual and then someone made a couple of mistakes through the rooty sections which held me up further.

However, I soon started to work my way up the field and on passing through the feed zone at the end of lap 3, was told that I was about 20th.  Could I get into the top 20 for the first time at a British race?

Shortly after having this thought, my mind changed to thoughts of giving up.  The heat and humidity really hit me on lap 4 and I have never been so close to pulling out of a race.  I couldn't bear thinking about another 2 laps at this pace in that heat.  My legs felt heavy and I was really struggling.  I started to make silly mistakes on sections that I had ridden easily on previous laps and in practice.  My concentration was going.

But thankfully I got myself together and reminded myself that my base endurance was still there.  I kept drinking, had a gel, and focussed on the rider in front, Robert Cross from team Dyson.  I had a good battle with Robert during lap 5, but just couldn't catch him.  I kept him in my sights and at the start of lap 6 just decided to go for it on the first climb.

I used every last drop of energy and will power in my body to go faster up the first few climbs and then focussed on being smooth and controlled through the technical sections so as not to lose time like I have done in previous situations like this (namely, the Abriachan SXC race!).  I managed to stay ahead and crossed the line in 18th position, 20 seconds ahead of Robert.  We shook hands afterwards and had a good chat - another friendly face to add to the people I'm getting to know at these races.  Despite the fact that we're all racing each other, everyone is really friendly and sporting.  

Not only is this my best BCXC result yet as a position, but it was my highest result as a percentage of the total riders present, with there being more riders at this round than the previous round in Cornwall.  I'm sure you've already guessed it, but I'm so happy with this!  It was one of my season goals to get into the top 20 in a British race and so now I just need to keep building on that.  It's great to see the ongoing improvements as my training builds and as I gain more race experience at this level.

So, I ended my day with two things to celebrate: my first wedding anniversary with my wonderful wife and my first top 20 in a British XC race.  If only all race days could finish like this, with a wee glass of fizz and some luxury:

You didn't really need to see that, but I couldn't resist! :-)

So, after a nice break away for a few days, I've been back doing a bit of training Wednesday and Thursday this week in preparation for No Fuss Events 10th anniversay of Ten Under the Ben this Saturday 21st June.  It's a multi-lap 10 hour endurance race, and the kind of event I used to specialise in before switching to XC.  I'm viewing this one as a C priority race just to have some fun so I'll be soaking up what is always a great atmosphere at the No Fuss races and trying to enjoy the course rather than just all-out racing.  However, I'm sure when I get onto that start line I won't be able to resist going for it, so we'll see . . . !

The forecast is looking good and I'm looking forward to it.  There are over 1000 people entered, so it's going to be busy but I'm sure there will be a great vibe as usual and my money is on Greig Brown to win the solos.  There are 198 senior male soloists and I know what position I'm aiming for, but I'll let you know afterwards!

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