Saturday, 31 January 2015

The best laid plans . . .

In my last post, I mentioned that I'd been ill with the flu over the holiday period.  Well, I returned to work in early January, thinking I was set to get training again, only to pick up a stomach bug and end up in my bed again!  I guess my immune system was still a bit down from having the flu and the doctor said it was just bad luck to get both in a row, but his strict orders were more time off the bike!

So, by the time I was feeling fully fit again and re-started my training on Monday 19th January, I'd missed 4 full weeks of important winter base training.  I do love a good plan, but one of the most critical parts of planning out your season is to be able to re-plan when something goes wrong.

Around that time, the SXC committee also decided to remove the Masters category for the year ahead, following the decision by British Cycling.  Despite some of my views on this in my previous blog post, I'm really glad the SXC has done that as it keeps it consistent with the BCXC races. I've now got an Expert license (although I don't feel like an Expert!) and in some ways it has come at a perfect time.

Combining the move up to the Expert category and the 4 week gap in my training has meant that I've had to re-plan my entire season.  But it's better that it has happened now.  The key thing I've realised though is that my training objectives remain the exact same - to increase my top end speed, keep that speed going consistently over all the laps of an XC race, and improve some aspects of my technical riding.  None of that has changed.

My goals have obviously changed.  Aiming at more podiums in the Masters category would have been realistic but I've had to re-align my goals to where I may finish in the Expert field.  But I'll still be pushing myself really hard to improve this year and I can still measure that.  Measuring the achievement of your goals isn't just about your place in the race results.  It's about lap times, percentage time over that of the 1st place rider, comparison to riders you know, and so on.  

So, I've moved my training peaks out to later in the season and I'm still aiming to improve the exact same aspects of my riding as I was before moving up to Expert.  I'm almost 2 weeks back into training now and I'm loving it.  I've got a long way to go but it's just so good to be back out on the bike again, even if that is in the snow!

Note that's not my Trek Superfly race bike in the photo.  I spend most of my mountain bike riding at this time of the year on my Commencal Meta, with 26 inch wheels, dropper post and flat pedals.  This is something I'd strongly recommend if you've got the option.  Having a winter training bike means you can keep the race bike tucked up nice and cosy at home!  But it also means you can stick the flat pedals on and work on technique, undo any bad habits from using SPDs all the time.  The dropper means you can get the saddle out of the way to work on more technical descents.  And so on . . .

The other thing I'm trying to do this season is change my base endurance rides to involve more mountain biking.  I used to spend a lot of time on the road building up the base endurance but it's more about time on the bike than the kilometers covered.  So, even if I just head out on the mountain bike on the road and ride to a local trail, I'm at least on a mountain bike and getting a bit of trail riding in, despite most of the time being on the road to/from the trail.  It's still the same time and it has some mountain biking in it instead of being all on the road on my road bike.

I'm still doing a lot of work on the turbo trainer and the rollers.  I'm loving the rollers for working on balance and pedaling technique!

Speaking of the turbo trainer, it's about time I got myself on it this morning.  I've got some interval training to do on the turbo and then it'll be out on my Commencal Meta to some local trails to work on skills and for a general endurance ride.  It's still a bit snowy where I am but the sun is out! 

Before I go, I'm hoping to include a few product reviews on my blog this year.  So I thought I'd start with a couple of brief reviews just now.

As mentioned in my last blog, I've still got the fantastic support of the Alpine Bikes Trek Store Glasgow as my sponsor for this season.  All the products I'll mention are available in the store, so pop along if you like the sound of any of them.  The staff are really helpful and knowledgeable and there's a great range in store, or you can order things in pretty quickly if they don't have it.

Something I ordered in recently was the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger pump.

Wow!  This thing is amazing and I can't believe nobody thought of it before.  Well done Bontrager!  Those who run tubeless tyres will know it can be a bit of a pain getting them to seat on the rim and inflate initially.  It either involves a lot of hard work with a track pump, using a CO2 cannister, or home-made contraptions with plastic drinks bottles pumped up to high pressure.  Bontrager have basically made a production version of the latter.  Pump the chamber up to high pressure then flip the red lever and, hey presto, tyre inflated and seated on the rim!  I'd still recommend putting some soapy water on the tyre and rim to help it slip into place but it's the time and effort saved that's amazing.  I'd give this 9/10 and the only reason for not being 10/10 is that, unless I'm being daft, the pressure gauge only tells you the pressure of the chamber, not of the tyre itself.  So, you still need another gauge or pump to ensure your tyre is at the pressure you want.  But I had that already so not too much hassle at all.

I also just got a new helmet: the Bontrager Velocis.

While this helmet is aimed at road cyclists, it's also perfect for XC mountain biking.  It's incredibly lightweight - the medium I've got is only 229g!  And it also comes in the perfect colours to match my Alpine Bikes Trek Store kit :-)  I've not yet used the helmet so will post a more detailed review when I do, but initial impressions are that the fit is great and very easily adjustable, it's got great air flow ventilation, it looks great, the pads inside are made of an anti-bacterial material that will stop it smelling when I get sweaty, and . . . did I mention . . . it's incredibly lightweight!  I'll let you know how I get on using it this season along with some other kit.

Right, I have an appointment with a turbo trainer, so no more putting it off!

Saturday, 3 January 2015

New year, new challenges

Happy New Year!  I'm afraid it's not been a very happy one for me as I've spent most of the past two weeks in my bed with the flu.  I rarely get the cold or flu throughout the year but for some reason if I do get one, it always hits me at this time of year, which leaves me sitting at home feeling sorry for myself when everyone else is out partying!  It's at least given me some time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the 2015 race season.

2014 was, without a doubt, my most enjoyable and most successful year on a mountain bike yet.  I've only been mountain biking for about four years so, despite it being such a successful year, I also continued to learn so much.  It was my first year racing XC, my first year as a sponsored rider, my first year competing at national level.  I went into it with so many unknowns . . . would my foundation in endurance events carry over onto the shorter, faster XC format . . . could I still do well in endurance events despite my shift in training for XC . . . would I do my sponsors proud?

On that last point, thankfully I did.  I'm really pleased to announce I'll be riding for the Alpine Bikes Trek Store Glasgow again in 2015.  I've had some great support from the store over the past year and I'm delighted they've renewed my sponsorship for this year.

Despite some tough challenges and learning so much, I count 2014 as an absolute success.  I achieved more than I ever could have imagined.  I rode 9,322km for 508 hours, climbing 153,165m (that's over 17 times up Everest!).  I won my home race at Cathkin, I stepped onto 5 podiums, including 3rd in my category at the Solo 24 Hour MTB World Championships.  I came 2nd overall in the SXC Series, 3rd in the Scottish Championships, 18th in the BCXC Series and finished the season ranked 16th out of over 100 riders in the British Cycling national ranking for XC.

Those XC results and rankings were in the Masters category in which I competed last year.  It's an age-based rather than ability-based category for us riders aged 30 - 39 years old who are either relative novices like myself or perhaps people who used to race in Expert or Elite but are now a bit old for it.

However, British Cycling have this season decided to scrap the Masters category for National XC racing.  Their reasoning is that (they claim) the top 20 Masters are lapping in the same kind of times as the top 20 Expert riders.  They therefore are leaving age-based racing until you hit 40 (Vets category) and forcing 30 - 39 year olds to choose between moving up to Expert or racing in the Sport category (with the 20 - 29 year olds).  I've actually not got the choice of the latter - if you ranked in the top 40 Masters last year, you must go up to Expert.

Before I go on to explain this further, I have to point out that I disagree with what British Cycling has done.  Masters racing is very popular.  We put a lot of money into the sport.  And many of us are either too old or simply not good enough to ever hope of competing at the top end of Expert (never mind Elite, the level above Expert).  I disagree with their reasoning.  I finished in the top 20 in some BCXC races last year and my lap times are nowhere near that of the top 20 Expert riders.  In my opinion, it would have been much simpler to force up, say, the top 10 Masters riders to Expert, rather than the top 3 as they have done in the past.

But despite my disagreement with what they've done, I still want to race.  Even if I did have the choice of moving to the Sport category, where I would have placed in the top 10 in some races last year on comparing lap times, I wouldn't have made that choice.  The Sport category race is on a Saturday, which just isn't practical for me with some of the races being so far south in England.  Also, I would have felt like I was taking the easier (not "easy" but easier) option instead of going to Expert.  So, I'll be racing Expert at the BCXC races in 2015.  This is a considerably harder challenge than anything I've yet faced in XC racing and I guess I'm going into the unknown once more.  I will really need to take my training to another level.  I had set myself goals for this season based on Masters racing but I'll now need to re-assess them.

Another unknown remains with the Scottish XC Series.  British Cycling has added to the confusion by leaving it up to local and regional race organisers to decide whether or not they wish to keep Masters.  This has left the SXC committee with that decision and there's a good discussion thread running on their forum now about it.  Despite my disagreement with what BC have done, I just want them to make it simple and consistent.  So, I think the SXC need to do the same and scrap Masters.

The only complication with this is that at the SXC, they do not separate Expert and Elite racers.  So, again, I would like the SXC to keep things consistent with the BCXC - move the top Masters to Expert, let other Masters choose Sport or Expert, but keep Elite and Expert separate.  I really don't think it's fair to move us to Expert and then make us race alongside Elite riders, some of whom are professional and have competed in events like the Commonwealth Games!

I'm up for the challenge of Expert and it will be interesting to see how all of us Masters do in that category, but I don't think we should be forced to race against Elite riders.  I really do hope the SXC committee choose the simple, consistent approach and do exactly the same as British Cycling has done with the BCXC Series.

So, it's a new year and it's full of new challenges!  After a great long break and a nice holiday, I started training again on 1st December only to be hit with this flu just over 3 weeks into my training.  I've now not trained for almost two weeks due to it but it's more important to shift the flu and be fully healthy before getting on the bike again.  

After missing a couple of weeks of training, I'm then faced with re-evaluating my goals for this season, competing in a higher category and all the challenges that come with it.  The first race of the season this year is my home SXC race at the Cathkin Braes Commonwealth Games course again.  I won there last year in the Masters category, but I know that's not going to be achievable competing in Expert.  But all I can do is try my hardest, get training again as soon as I'm feeling better, and give it my all.  I've planned out my training for the season and I know what I need to do to take it to the next level.  I can't wait to get racing again, but there's a lot of hard work to be done in the coming 11 weeks leading up to that first race.

I'm up for it and I'm raring to go!