Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Life is like . . .

 . . . no, not a box of chocolates! . . . A mountain bike race!

It's quite a few weeks since my last blog and rather than launch straight into a race report from my most recent race at the British XC Championships, it's worth explaining the peaks and troughs I've been going through for the past couple of months . . .

I may be lucky enough to be a sponsored rider, and although I'm racing in the British and Scottish National XC series, I'm definitely still an amateur and this is just my hobby.  It's a hobby I'm very passionate about but when it is just a hobby, life can often get in the way of that passion; and it has recently.

Life has a lot of similarities to mountain bike racing.  Sometimes, it's amazing.  Everything goes your way.  All your preparation pays off and it all works out.  It has its peaks and troughs, its ups and downs; some hills are harder to climb than others, and sometimes you have to carefully negotiate your way over life's roots, rocks and corners, just to repeat it all over again on your next "lap" as you feel like you're going round in circles!

Life has definitely been like that for me recently.  It's had lots of positives . . . I started a new job, I had a great holiday, I've had lots of fun.  But when you've got work, family, friends and a life to get on with alongside a passion that requires a lot of time and dedication, sometimes life takes over and that passion has to suffer.

It has also featured a few of those tricky technical bumps to get over recently, just like on the bike . . . I've missed two races due to illness.  Not a lot I can do about that, but where I didn't help myself is that they were both around the same time as many of the other things that were going on in my life.  I just didn't have the time, or the dedication, to fit all my training in around that.  I'm probably beating myself up a bit too much for it, but my training really suffered and I felt like I was going round in circles, just like in a race, but never quite getting to the finish line.

This resulted in me missing those two races, one of which was a British XC Series race on my home track at Cathkin.  I was absolutely gutted about that one.

Then, when finally back on the bike for the British XC Championships on the Olympic mountain bike track at Hadleigh, I just wasn't on form at all.  

I loved the rocky, technical Olympic course, and I gave it my best attempt, but on my 4th lap I suffered the first mechanical I've ever had in a race.  I've never even had a puncture in a race before.  Yet, there I was, standing at the side of the track, frantically trying to get my chain back on, having to re-tighten my rear derailleur and struggling to get my gears working again.  I pulled out at the end of the 4th lap.  Maybe I could have continued, but my gears were all over the place and I risked damaging the bike more seriously.  And maybe I'd just resigned to the fact that I wasn't on form and wasn't doing well enough.

In the meantime, during those peaks and troughs of life, illness, and training, I've taken part in my first two road races.  This is something Rab Wardell and I discussed in my Dirt School coaching consultation with him a couple of months ago.  I find myself fading towards the end of races and not quite having the top end speed of the best racers now that I'm up in the Expert category.

I've only been mountain biking for a few years and have not had those many years spent racing on the road like some of the top guys in my category.  So, Rab suggested I start training and racing a bit more on the road.

I took part in Crit Under the Castle, a fantastic road criterium in Stirling, which I very much enjoyed.  I was really happy with my result for my first road race and the multi-lap format of a Crit was perfect training for XC racing on the mountain bike.  It was really exciting racing on closed roads in Stirling city centre and the crowds were fantastic, especially cheering us up the steep cobbled hill near the end of each lap!  My new Trek Emonda SL6 was also amazing!  What a bike!  Stiff, lightweight and so responsive.

I also took part in a more traditional 50 mile road race, and while it was a good training session, I was dropped by the main group not long into the race.  As mentioned above, I've not been on top form, so it will be partly down to that, but I completed the race (unlike several racers who pulled out simply because they'd been dropped by the bunch!) and got a damn good training session from it.  I learned loads - including the fact that rules don't seem to apply in road racing!  Despite being told strictly not to cross the white line (it was not closed roads), loads of riders did so and forced others like me to the back.  I'm not saying that's the sole reason I got dropped, but it didn't help.  I don't see the point in having rules if they're not enforced.

So, it's been a tough old time of late.  I've learned loads from the road racing and I really do think it'll help my XC mountain bike racing.  I've also learned that sometimes you just have to put your passion on the back burner when other important things in life have to take priority.

You may be wondering why I've decided to share all of this, when usually I'm writing about my racing experiences and giving some hints and tips for training.  Well, I just want to show that we all have these peaks and troughs, whether that's on or off the bike.  We don't all have an infinite amount of time available for training, but we do what we can and you can too.  If you've ever wanted to try mountain bike racing and just thought you don't have the time, there's always a way.  We can't all do as much as we'd like to, and you might even have to miss some races too, just like I did.  We'd all love to give up the day job and the chores of life that get in the way of the fun stuff, but sometimes you have to navigate your way around those features, and sometimes you can just jump right over them, just like the roots and rocks you'll find on the trails!

After the struggles of the past couple of months, I'm back training again and focusing on my next two races.  I'm still not on form, and I'm unlikely to be back to peak fitness again before the end of this season, but I'll focus on the main reason I do this - because I enjoy it!  I'm really looking forward to racing at Cannock Chase again in a couple of weeks' time for the final round of the BCXC Series and then it's off to a venue I've never ridden before, Badaguish near Aviemore, for the Scottish XC Championships on 23rd August.

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