Last year, I finished my XC season on such a high. It was my first year racing XC in the Scottish and British National Series (in the Masters category). In my very first race, I was over the moon to come 4th. Six months later, I finished 3rd in my last race of 2014, 3rd in the Scottish Championships and 2nd overall in the SXC Series Masters category. The season ended in the same way it began . . . on a high and so happy with my race performance.
My 2015 season has also ended in a similar way to how it began, but in a completely different way from 2014. I started 2015 ill and unable to train for about a month. This set me back significantly and I didn't start the season with the form I'd hoped to have. With the move up to the Expert category for my XC races, I knew I'd have to work hard and push my training to another level to have any chance of doing well, but starting the year ill didn't set me up for success.
I never really recovered from that setback. I struggled at my first couple of British XC races and never really worked my way up the field as I'd hoped to. I did get a good result, 5th, in the Elite/Expert category at the 3rd round of the Scottish XC Series at Laggan and was over the moon with that. My form was starting to improve and I also did well at the British MTB Marathon Championships in Selkirk, improving well on my time and result from last year.
However, not long after this, my health got in the way again. I missed the 4th round of the British XC series at my home venue of Cathkin Braes in Glasgow. I was fine on the Saturday for the practice but felt unwell on the Sunday and couldn't race. Then, at the next round of the SXC Series at Lochore Meadows, my hayfever got unbelievably out of control and I just couldn't race. I've suffered from hayfever for years and always managed to keep it from affecting my riding but this year seemed so much worse than ever before. I couldn't breathe properly, couldn't see, and hadn't really slept all week because of it.
I missed training due to this, which really didn't help, given my training had been behind plan from the start of the season. This set me back further and I went into the British Championships at Hadleigh on the Olympic MTB track not at my best at all. However, I still wanted to race and loved the track. Having never had a single mechanical in all of my time racing, you can imagine how I felt when an issue with my rear derailleur resulted in the chain dropping and getting jammed between the spokes, and in turn almost pulling the derailleur off the bike. My race was over on the 4th lap.
To add further insult to this, at the next round of the SXC Series at Badaguish near Aviemore, on a course that was without a doubt my favourite of the whole season (proper technical rooty off piste), I punctured on the first lap and had to withdraw. Another DNF.
Finally, to finish the season off in the same way it started . . . illness! I came back from our holiday in early September with an ear infection. I went to the doctor and neither of us thought much of it, until the next day when I had to go home from work with uncontrollable shaking and fever. My face and neck became really swollen and I was in so much pain I couldn't sleep or eat. The infection had spread to my lymph glands and I was wiped out for a week.
I missed my favourite race of the entire year, No Fuss Events Tour de Ben Nevis. Gutted! I hoped to be well again for the final XC race of the season, SXC Round 6 in Forfar, but my immune system clearly hadn't recovered fully from the infection and the antibiotics I had . . . I picked up a heavy cold during a trip abroad with work (planes are just such a wonderful place to pick up a cold!). I was struggling to breathe walking up the hill to the start/finish area at Forfar, never mind getting on a bike to race! At least my wife, Heather, made up for this by taking her first ever win! She won the Senior category race at Forfar and finished 2nd overall in the series having only done 4 races! I'm so proud of her and she's all set to race even more next season on the new Project One Trek Fuel EX9 she's ordered!
Heather crossing the line in 1st place at Forfar, about 6 mins ahead of the next racer in her category. This more than made up for me not racing!
So, how do I sum up this season? What has happened to my immune system? Have I just not looked after myself this year and that's why I've got ill? Or is it just bad luck? I have no idea and I'm not going to dwell on it!
What I do know is that 2015 most definitely did not go to plan. I missed so much training that I was never going to do as well as I'd hoped in the Expert category. Missing races doesn't help with peaking or maintaining form either.
I just want to put the 2015 race season behind me!
But before I do, it's important to learn. No matter whether your races or your entire season goes well or not so well, it's important to learn from it for next year. It's not all negative and I do have some positives I can take into next season, such as a great improvement in my technical descending - I don't view this as a limiter anymore for my XC racing. I've also realised my strength still lies in marathon and endurance events so that's what I'm going to focus on for next year.
I've also been so grateful again this year for the fantastic support from Alpine Bikes as my sponsor. They've helped me out so much in many ways and I need to thank all the guys in their Trek and St. Georges Cross stores for the continued support, plus the marketing, online social media and head office staff who have helped me out. Couldn't do it without you all!
As a quick aside, I'm talking at the Keep on Riding event at the Alpine Bikes Trek Store in Glasgow on Wednesday 7th October, giving some advice on winter commuting by bike. There's loads of other winter training and riding advice from other speakers too and the event is free, so check out the details here and drop the team an email to sign-up for it.
So, what's next for me? . . .
Well, I've done the analysis and I know what lessons I can take away from 2015. I'm already building my training plan for 2016 and that's something I really enjoy. Spreadsheets! (yes, I'm a geek!)
I've got some big plans for how I'm going to take my training to the next level over the winter and I'll share some training advice through a blog series on this site, so check back over the coming months for that.
The dates are starting to come out for the 2016 races and while XC will still be a big part of my season, I'm going to re-focus my training peaks for endurance and marathon events. I'm not missing my favourite endurance events like the Glentress Seven or Ten Under the Ben for XC races next year! I'll also be doing a few more road races next year and perhaps an Enduro or two.
I'm having a few weeks off training following the end of the season but I'm raring to go again after a good rest! The post-season break is often when a lot of riders have a bit of a blow-out, but for me it's the opposite. It's the time to rest up, get lots of sleep, eat really well, get my body back to its full fighting fitness and its normal strong immune system, ready for a winter of hard training! There's a strange part of me that loves the cold, dark, snowy, muddy winter training! It's good to suffer . . . and it's also loads of fun in the snow!
I've also had a few ideas for new content on this site, so watch this space!
I can't guarantee I'll never be ill for a race again. I can't guarantee I'll never have a mechanical again. But I've learned a lot from this season that I can build on for next year and I'm going to do everything in my power to minimise the risk of those kind of things affecting my racing!
The training plan is coming together and I think I'm more focused than I've ever been at this time of year. I'm setting my sights high for 2016 and I know I can achieve my goals . . .
. . . so bring it on!