Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Going from worst to best . . .


. . . in the space of two races!  My worst and best results this season that is!



I usually do a report on each race individually but I'm going to squeeze two into one here.  Those who read my blogs regularly know that I'm not exactly short and sweet when it comes to blogging but I'll try my best to not make this too lengthy since I'm writing about two races in one report!  I can't promise anything though!

Sunday 17th May took us to Fforest Fields in Wales for the 3rd round of the British XC Series.  Following my coaching consultation session with Rab Wardell of Dirt School just a few days earlier, I was raring to go.  Plus, to get me even more excited to race, I had a new steed!  I've now got the choice between a hard tail or full suspension Trek Superfly and after borrowing the hard tail Superfly 9.8 SL earlier in the season I now own one and absolutely love it!



I managed to squeeze in a set-up ride at my local Cathkin Braes track
the Thursday before the race - this thing climbs like a mountain goat!


Now having the choice between a HT and a FS means I can take both to race practice and decide which best suits the course.  I didn't yet have my FS back for Wales though (it's been away getting a new frame under warranty) but not having the choice didn't matter - I would definitely have chosen the HT for Fforest Fields!  Here's the view from the top of the climb to explain why:




With such a tough long climb, the HT made so much sense.  The rest of the course had a great descent, not technical in the way Plymouth was with the rock features but what I'd call "fast technical" - twisting off-camber muddy rooty descents through the trees.  It was pretty dry so it wasn't actually muddy but it could have been very slippy in the wet!


I felt the course suited me with the initial big climb and the fun fast descents, but it just wasn't to be . . . issues at the start yet again!  Not with my own start though - I got clipped in straight away and felt I was sticking with the guys in front but then, on entering the first bend in the start/finish area, I was knocked off my bike by a rider next to me.  I was holding my line, not barging anyone out of the way and simply had someone cut right into me.  That's just racing and these things happen, but I was definitely cut up!

I ended up completely unclipped as the entire field passed me - reminiscent of the British Championships at Hopton last year!  I was last to leave the start area and enter the first big climb.  I turned myself inside out to get back up to the group and overtook about 10 people on that first climb . . . but in a field of about 70 people I had no hope of catching back onto the middle of the pack.  A lot of the race was therefore spent on my own, but I can take away a positive about overtaking 10 people from the back on that first climb.


I was absolutely gutted to be lapped just towards the end of my 4th lap and so didn't get the chance to finish the whole race.  This was something I was determined not to let happen this season with the tough move up to the Expert category so I'm gutted.  I finished 56th and as a percentage, my worst result yet this year since I've moved up.

I really enjoyed the course, the bike was great and I felt I tried my hardest.  I guess I can blame a fair bit of this on being knocked off my bike at the start but it's not all due to that, so I've got some real hard thinking to do about what aspects of my training didn't get me ready for that race.  I've still to re-plan my training following that Dirt School consultation so I'll build my analysis of this race into it too.

I had a great weekend in Wales, and think it was the best venue and my favourite course of the British Series so far this year, but I'd like to just put the race behind me now!

With two race weekends in a row, I would normally keep training, being in the middle of a Build period at the moment in my training plan.  However, I started a new job last week and had a lot to focus on with that, so missed a few days of training.  I think it did me good - other than one intensive interval session on the turbo trainer on Thursday, I didn't train at all between Wales and heading up to Laggan last weekend for Round 3 of the Scottish XC Series.

Well, I may have liked the course in Wales, but I absolutely loved the course at Laggan!  Good big climb then a long, technical, rocky descent with big rock gardens and some fast flowing sections through the trees.  My kind of course!  I love the big rock sections!  I also just got my full suspension Trek Superfly back and just in time!  It just soaked up the rocks!  Definitely the right choice of bike for that course!

 
The view from the top of Laggan was a bit different from Fforest Fields but impressive in a more rugged Scottish way!


This is actually a downhill section of the bike park area at Laggan
but we climbed up half of it then descended the other half at the end of the lap

While I did a few practice laps on the Saturday afternoon, my wife Heather took part in the first SXC Womens MTB coaching session, with Diane Clayton.  This is a great initiative launched by the SXC and Scottish Cycling and only costs £5 for 3 hours of quality coaching on the race course to prepare you for the race the next day.  Having tried the taster category at Dalbeattie, Heather was all set for the Senior category following this coaching and really enjoyed her race the next day.  She even had a sprint finish with Diane, her coach, and almost caught her on the finish line!


Heather in action on race day



As I lined up at 2pm on Sunday afternoon, with a position on the front row of the grid, I was really psyched and itching to race on this fantastic course.  But, yet again, . . . yes . . . you guessed it . . . an issue at the start!

Completely not my fault though this time!  

British Cycling mountain bike regulations clearly state that countdown intervals must be stated by the commissaire at the start of the race, down to a final announcement of "anytime in the next 15 seconds", following a 30 second and 1 minute warning.  This happens at every BCXC and SXC race.  And it's the rules.

So, when the commissaire said "anytime in the next minute", this totally took me by surprise as I was still getting set up on the start line, zipping up my jersey and starting my Garmin.  I didn't register the "anytime in the next" part of what he said as that's simply not what happens.  We get a 1 minute warning, then 30 seconds then "anytime in the next 15 seconds".  I politely raised this with the commissaires after the race and they agreed there should have been the standard 30 and 15 second warnings.  I wasn't using it as an excuse for my race result, and I'm not blaming the commissaire, but what it did lead to was me missing the gun and ending up last out of the start/finish area yet again!

I don't think I've ever worked so hard on a bike in my life to catch back up again.  I actually got up to 4th place on the first climb but ended up sitting at or near my maximum heart rate for well over 5 minutes and that is simply not good for you.  At the top of that climb (about 9 minutes in), it was clear I had pushed it too much.  I was still struggling to breathe even on the downhills and was losing concentration.  I felt like my lungs were on fire and that I might be sick.  Not good.

On passing through the feed zone at the start of lap 2, I seriously considered stopping.  I had been overtaken on the descent on lap 1 and then got caught on the climb on lap 2.  I was hurting so much and really did not feel well.  I had simply pushed beyond my "red line".



I decided to push on but just keep an eye on my heart rate.  It eventually settled back down and I got my breath back in time for the descent on lap 2.  I actually felt human again and that I could ride my bike.  Other than one silly mistake where I caught my pedal on a tree stump, I was riding well.  I settled in and pushed on, taking back 5th place, which I went onto retain for the rest of the race.




I was really happy that my 2nd and 3rd laps were almost identical in time.  Was I finally getting the consistency I'd hoped for?  Could I push for negative splits in the last two laps?


Unfortunately not!  The effort of that first climb took its toll and I slowed by 30 seconds in each of those laps.  Thankfully I still managed to hold on for 5th place, and in keeping with my recent reminder of why I do this, I was really enjoying myself and absolutely loving the course.  I don't have any photos of the big rock gardens but I'll update the blog if any appear online as they are so much fun!  I'm tempted to get back up to Laggan again soon just to ride the red and black trails - if you've never been, get up there!  It's got great facilities (toilets/showers) and a nice cafe with good food.  I hadn't been for a couple of years and I need to go more.  The trails are so good!

As I crossed the line and finished in 5th place, I was so happy I kept going.  It just shows you what the human body is capable of - I really did think I was going to keel over during that first lap!  


I didn't feel great on the way home, but some good rest, sleep and recovery food has sorted me out and I was absolutely fine the next day.  In fact, despite there being no science behind it, the recovery ride I chose to do on the road the next day made me feel even better . . . and not just because of this lovely weather and scenery down the west coast of Ayrshire:


I realise there were a few "big names" missing from the start line in Laggan, but I'm not letting that take away from what was my best placing this year in the SXC Elite/Expert category, but my best result this year as a percentage (that's the best measure rather than just the placing!).  After what happened in Wales, it's lifted my spirits again and got me really focused for the next round of the British XC Series, which is at my home venue of Cathkin Braes!

I need to take my recent learnings from these two races, alongwith everything from that Dirt School course I did, and re-jig my training plan over the next 3 weeks as I build towards that race and eventually peaking for the British Championships at the Olympic venue of Hadleigh (can't wait for that one!).

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