Tuesday, 28 July 2009

24 hours but not as we know it

Fi writes:

I was disappointed to miss the 24\12 this weekend. In my view it is the best 24 hour mtb race in the country and I am delighted the field has grown in depth since last year. The course is always fast and fun and the atmosphere fabulous.

However, this year I decided to head north to the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland to support my boyfriend Andy in his own 24 hour effort. He was racing the Open 24, a 24 hour adventure race involving mountain biking, trekking, running, kayaking, canyoning and abseilling. Oh, and of course navigation. You collect as many checkpoints as you can in each of the stages, timing each transition according to your route book and trying to gather as many points as possible.

I am out of running-action thanks to a nasty ankle injury back in April, so thought I'd marshal and then drive the boy home. I racked up a 13 hour training week on the bike in prep for the Trans Wales and was dead tired as I scraped myself out the tent on Saturday morning for the marshals briefing, (leaving Andy to repack his transition box for the nineteenth time and make final preparations to his race pack and scour the maps one last time).

But as I hung around the HQ drinking tea a friend appeared looking lost and sad. "My partner's dropped out. He's got swine flu. I really want to go and race with someone. Do you think any of the marshalls would do it with me?" I laughed and replied, jokingly, "well if you can put up with someone who can't run, I'll come and race with you!" Wry smile, twinkly eyes. Oh dear.

Fastforward an hour and a half and i've swapped my yellow marshall's bib for a numbered red one and I'm lining up with 100 other competitors under the start arch, race pack filled with borrowed food and inappropriate clothing.


So I raced my own 24 hour race this weekend. No laps, no commentary, no pit - just wilderness, tired eyes scouring the map, the satisfying beep of the dibber, the breathless fear after a 20ft jump into a plungepool, giggles as we abseilled down the wall of a castle at 2am, the Farne Islands at dawn, snatched sleep in a campsite laundry room, climbing without a granny ring, evil armppit-high bridleway grass and the ache of my feet as I drank coffee at the finish, under the incredible towering grandeur of Hogwarts (Alnwick Castle).

Then came the prize presentations. I suspected, but did not know for sure, that Andy and Kim had won the mixed pairs. They raced non stop, hard and adrenaline fueled for 23hrs, 59 minutes and 34 seconds. They never said 'it's only worth 5 points so let's not bother'. They raced intelligently and fast. They deserved their win and I had to choke back tears when it was announced. There are 3 races in the series and they have come 2nd in the first 2 (5hrs and 12hrs). This was a well-deserved and hard-fought moment.

Alli and I managed 5th in the mixed pairs thanks to the bike-heavy nature of the event. We had some strategical 'issues' which left us without any point collection for 4 hours (but lots of sleep!)Nevertheless we were both delighted with our result and thoroughly enjoyed being in such a staggeringly beautiful part of the world.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Writers' Block

There's nothing like being nominated as a must-read bike blog (yesterday's Observer) for emptying your mind completely. Happily Jenn was on hand to cover the weekend. Although I can't help noting that she didn't 'fess up to her teeny weep when we realised that Lorraine was going to finish in second place. Blimey, it's usually ME that cries.


back at it

2412 at the weekend. Raced 12 hour pairs with guest Minx Elaine and had a great deal of fun before, during and after. Good to give the new jerseys an airing, good to go fast, good to get the first race of the year for me done and dusted at last.

Elaine going fast, pic thanks to Kelvin

Bemused by those chewing on the wrong end of the stick, though. Racing is not an excuse to indulge your attention seeking inner self with endless whitterings about new forms of pain; if we only did it to hurt ourselves we'd all be spending our weekends sticking pins in our eyes instead. Efficient, cheap and makes the logisitics of watching the Tour finale between laps much easier. Sod that.

It is, as Trio said, about people. Waiting to cheer in a friend at the end of a full-fat 24 hour solo effort...
nervous waiting
(waiting for Lorraine)

Enduring nail-biting suspense waiting for a team mate who may or may not come in ahead of the team chasing hard behind...
rob appears
(Team Morvelo catch sight of last man in Rob, coming in ahead of 69ers to take 2nd overall)

Coaxing, bolstering and (honestly?) bullying a friend who's lost enthusiasm but you know will feel better for finishing that one last lap...

(Singular Sam struggles to the finish, picture thanks to Kelvin, bullying thanks to me, sorry Sam :-)

Standing around in the rain for an hour to show pride and respect for friends who have worked so damn hard to get onto that podium step...
lorraine - 2nd solo!
(Lorraine - 2nd place 24hr solo!)

No, it's not at all about the pain. It's all about the love.


Friday, 24 July 2009

A Mega Holiday!

Just back from summer hols with Hairyscary, les enfants and their daft Auntie Weezy. Highlights included The Megavalanche in Alpe D'Huez and the British Cross Country Championships at Innerliethen.

Breakfast of cold pizza at 5am without a hangover was a novelty I could have done without, but the family had scoffed the croissants and pains au raisins in the evening, forgetting that the Boulangerie wouldn't be open when I had to leave for the first uplift. Feeling slightly queasy after the pizza, consumed whilst being driven up the notorious 21 hairpins of the Alpe D'Huez road I made my way to the lift station.

Taking a 70 man telepherique full of great big downhill blokes complete with full face helmets, body armour and bikes was pretty daunting. We were marshalled by the lift operator to stand on the platform to await the lift in ranks of 10 or so, helmets on, facing each other, holding our bikes upright in front of us on their rear wheels. We waited like this, in trepidatious silence, wide eyed with anxiety, for the telepherique to settle into it's docking place. You hear stories from history of how young boys got swept up in parades of soldiers and ended up going to war with the big boys by accident. As the only female getting on this particular lift, I could imagine how that might have felt as I stood in line, dwarfed by them all. “Ahem! excuse me, I need to get off, I think there's been some mistake...”

For those of you who don't know, The Megavalanche starts at 3300 metres on Pic Blanc and descends via the Sarrennes Glacier (a black ski run) around Alpe D'Huez town and down to Allemont, at 720 metres, 37 km away. A doddle...

Most people try to go for a lighter medium travel bike; reason being that there are quite long sections that are level and pedally, quite alien to some of the downhill crew who would be entering. However, as I'm usually a jeygirl XC rider, I had chosen my biggest bike, a Santa Cruz Bullit, fitted with dual ply tyres and downhill inner tubes to protect from punctures on the sharp rocky sections. Rather jammily, I had a 'Gravity Dropper' (bought super cheap from the local buy-try-sell on geezer) this would optimise my position depending on whether I was on techy or pedally sections without having to stop and faff with my seatpost quick release. The Bullit wouldn't soak up the rough stuff as well as the 10inch travel bikes that some might be riding, but I hoped it would give me an advantage on the short sharp climbs and the almost level, undulating singletrack around the back of Alpe D'Huez town.

Speeding uncontrollably down a black ski run is somewhat disconcerting at the best of times. Take away your skis and replace them with a bike, and you have a recipe for potential disaster. Add in a mass start of nearly 60 'ladies' whooping and hollering and trying to maintain some kind of control over their metal mounts, and the result is quite bowel loosening. The men start in waves of 400 at a time (usually over 2000 of them in total) so I got off lightly really.

So gripped by the alien experience of riding a bike on steep snow and ice, I had a poor start and found myself amongst the back of the pack. Onward to terra firmish, I got into my stride on the loose but rocky stuff. Passing several women who were more unnerved by the rocky trails than the snow, I started to make up a good few places.

Close to Alpe D'Huez, a moderate climb on a landrover track was lined with spectators. Many riders push up this climb so I was cheered with many an "Allez! Allez! Go now!!" which helped me dig in deep. The road time trialling I've started doing with the local club and my cross country experience helped a lot on the flatter and uphill sections and I passed more riders who had gone for the heavier bikes for advantage on the downhills. It's difficult to pass riders once the trail gets onto singletrack and points down, so it was of more benefit to be able to power up and along.

Picking off another few riders steadily, I came to a long descending traverse across an alpine meadow where the vicious braking bumps began to tire my forearms out badly. I tried to shake out the arm pump as I came into the wooded section down into the valley and started to get into the flow of the tight, dusty and rooty switchbacks. Constantly on the brakes I went from single-finger braking, to two-finger braking, to whole-hand-grip-of-death-please-start-slowing-me-down-sometime-soon! braking. Coming up behind another, slower rider who was walking in this section I had a good close look and taste of one of the huge drifts of dust that were masquerading as berms as I had to brake on the apex of a switchback. First crash, last third of the course, nothing damaged on self or bike, I was lucky. So picked myself up, passed her and got back up to speed.

The lower part of the course emerges at a steel pedestrian bridge at the end of which I could see spectators cheering. My kids were there with my sister, yelling "go mummy!!" which brought a smile and a surge of power for the home sprint.I was delighted to find that I'd managed to make 26th place in the ladies' race overall, 8th woman in the 30+ category and 9th British rider. Angela Proctor was first lady Brit home in 8th place overall, one place better than her ride last year. The winning female rider was the incomparable Anne Caroline Chausson, 12 times Downhill World Cup winner and Olympic BMX rider.

Retuning to Blighty, as a cherry on the cake, I managed to cope with the drastic change from 7 inches to 2 and a half and from sunshine and dust to mud and roots to gain a silver medal in ladies Veteran category at the British Champs at Inners on my way home. Benefitting from being on almost home soil, and having ridden some of the course before during my first foray into downhill racing (yes, they used some downhill trail for the XC course! The cheeky people) I was amongst several Scottish riders who had an advantage on the day. Anne Murray, based in Inverness put in a storming performance on the stiff climbing and hairy descending course and took the gold in our category. Some holiday! When can I go back to work for a rest? :)
Jojo x

More fun in Morzine

Fi writes:

I have just returned from a week spent riding the Alps in preparation for the Trans Wales in August. I thought ‘perfect… 7 consecutive days of big mountain riding’. Should be spot on. Well, on the first morning when we saw the hundreds of downhillers with there eleventy-million inch travel forks and their full-everything padding I suddenly felt strangely apprehensive; what with my 22lb carbon-forked Kona Hei Hei and light-as-a-gnat’s-handbag helmet. And indeed, as we hurtled flat out down our first run (a ‘blue’ so easy…), narrowly missing two 4ft gap jumps, I was a little concerned I had bitten off more than I could chew. I didn’t read any trail guides before I went, but imagined meadows and cows and rolling rocky trails and lots of climbing.

There were cows complete with bells, and meadows, but the climbing seemed to all be done sat on your arse on a ski lift and the descending battered your body and your bike to the point we considered roasting marshmallows on our rotors. So at the end of day 1, over a beer, a plate of stinky French cheese and the Tour highlights, we scoured the map for some more ‘us’ trails. And the first 100km up and down day was devised, taking us over to the Col de Cou.

As the week proceeded our confidence grew and we tackled a lot of the descents (even a black, with an amusing ‘don’t make me’ interlude on a vertical mud slope half way down) and managed to find some serious Wales-style climbs – all big rocks, gushing streams and grunty granny-ring efforts. Perfect. More 6hr days followed and that feeling of earning the descent came back. (Mind you, our lift passes got some serious use…)

Thankfully the last day it rained so hard that we packed the bikes up into our slightly-too-small-to-take-a-bike boxes and headed for the pub to watch Wiggo rule the Tour and laugh at the new arrivals (too keen to say no) returning from the mountains with the cold look of sheer terror written on their mud spattered faces. Ha!

Having had a few days off to recover from the trip I’m back on the bike, picking up the mileage each day and creeping towards 16-18hour weeks in preparation for Trans Mudfest. I feel fit but disappointingly EVERYTHING still hurts, probably thanks to the 6 crashes I had out in the Alps. I currently can’t raise my left arm above chest height, have a broken-bone feeling in my already damaged ankle; I have skin on my calves like a scoured leather writing desk and a strange feeling that my pelvis isn’t quite where it should be.

I love our sport.