Sunday, 31 July 2011

Cross Country Racing, eh?

Although I've been having a bash at racing for a few years now, I've never actually done a proper cross country race...until today that is.

Today was round 5 of the Scottish Cross Country Series in Perth, which is local (ish) so after some peer pressure from Katie, I decided to give it a bash.

I learned some important stuff....

1. Print out the map and don't try to wing it from memory and using the larger scale AA road map. Taking almost 2 hours to get to a race which is only an hour away isn't good race prep!

2. Don't ever ride to registration with a water bottle carrier slung over the right hand side of your bars. When you turn, the bottle carrier will shimmy along your bars, trap your brake lever, lock on the front brake and cause you to go over the bars in an instant, in front of all the other folks faffing and getting ready by their cars. It's not great to start a race with a bloody elbow and covered in dust from the fire road!

3. Singlespeeds don't always work on very hilly courses when you're racing with whippets. Yes, I can make time up on the descents, but there's only so much time you can get away with losing on the climbs because they're just that wee bit too steep to ride.

4. Trying to race after 2 weeks of gastroenteritis and not eating isn't a good idea...I don't need to tell you that your body needs a wee bit of food in there to be able to function properly.

5. Yes, recovery drinks are good, but ever better are Perthshire Burgers! Eat them after a race and they will help you feel better!

So, not my best ever race, but for my first XC race, it was a good learning experience. It was an Edinburgh podium in the slightly older than the whippets category and there's a new piece of silverware (well, slate-ware really) on the shelf.

I'm not sure if I'm an XC convert, but the SXC champs are at the start of September at Drumlanrig which is one of my favourite places to ride, so I might give it a bash again soon.


Back in the saddle

Vikki's post about taking the scenic route home reminded me of what I first liked about cycling : being able to travel under my own steam to new places, to explore the countryside and ooh and aah at cute villages. So when the boyf announced he had a race today in deepest darkest Kent, I decided I would ride down to spectate and cheer. New countryside, new villages in glorious sunshine - the perfect antidote to my recent motivational slump.

Kent was beautiful, filled with orchards bursting with apples, fields of strawberries which wafted their mouth-watering aroma across the road. Oast houses, villages of half-timbered and wooden houses. I loved it.

Whilst I loved the scenery and loved the sunshine, I did not love the headwind. And I most certainly did not love my Garmin which decided to only alert me to some of the turns that were required. And when I accidentally went on the wrong route, it then spent 10 mins re-calculating the route whilst I either pedalled in a random direction or whilst I tapped my heels impatiently by the side of the road. Most frustrating.

And to add insult to injury, the combination of start faffage + wind + garmin wait + detours meant that I finally arrived at the race only to see the race marshalls packing up. Fail! Fortunately I still had enough brownie points in the account to get a lift home...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Motivational Slump

After six months of being utterly focused on training towards the Marmotte, I'm feeling demotivated and struggling to get properly back into training. I feel bored with cycling. I'm also bored of rain. Bored of squelchy shoes. Bored of grey skies. Bored of laps of Richmond Park. Bored bored bored.

Clearly I need a new challenge. However I have used up all my holiday chips so it'll have to be a London-based cycling challenge and all suggestions would be very welcome. There are a few Surrey / Kent Hills sportives in the forthcoming months but that all feels like simply a continuation of my Marmotte training, riding up the same old hills in the same old rain. I don't fancy racing as I have the reaction-times of a tired slug and fear that I would connect with tarmac rather too often. Maybe time trials? The boyf dismissed them, saying they're dull and start at O'Dark O'Clock, but I feel sure this cannot be a universal truth. I know I need a target and I suspect I need training buddies. There's only so much masochism a girl can do.

While I work out what I'm training towards, I still need do to some sport, so that I can eat cake and still fit into my jeans, of course. So some swimming, perhaps, and some spinning classes. And let's hope that inspiration strikes.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Learning : heat & hills

I've learnt : How to manage heat.

I live in England where summer is a notional period in the diary rather than an actual indicator of hot weather, so learning to manage the proper heat of summer that you get elsewhere is kinda tricky. Some friends suggest doing all your training rides whilst wearing far too many layers. Another turbo trains in front of his fan oven. I, however, am a fan of less masochistic methods: wicking clothes and cunning hair solutions.

I have a huge amount of thick hair and find that a pony tail just sits in a hot clump on the neck, making you feel hotter by the minute. Instead, the Heidi look solves this problem. Wind goes down the back of your helmet and creates a wonderful draught of chilly breeze down your neck and back. If additional cooling is required, a quick dip of the head in the nearest horse trough and you've got a moving coolbox on your head. Genius.

I need to learn : How to descend.

I have always been crap at descending, but with my recent fall still fresh in my memory, I am now at whatever the polar opposite of warp speed is. I descend like a Granny with a cup of tea in her hand. And whilst in theory this doesn't really matter, (cycling not being my day job and all) I was pretty hacked off in the Marmotte to get overtaken by at least 50 people on each descent that I'd laboured past on the ascent. So cruel to lose those places just by being a scaredy cat. The boyf tells me that girls are often crap at it. So does anyone know of a course with hints & tips to teach us girls how to do this going fast down hill thing? Chalk lines on road showing lines to take and stuff?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Last weekend was the Black Mountains 3 Day race and it was a fabulous weekend. We were lucky with the weather and spent 2 long days riding gorgeous natural trails in the Brecon Beacons, plus a cheeky time trial on the Friday night. It was a great first-time event and I really hope they run it again. It was also good to be back pushing hard and feeling strong and able to give it some beans without being scared I was going to end up in bed with fatigue afterwards.

A massive thank you must go to the organisers. I hope they run it again...

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Monday, 4 July 2011

Marmotte Madness

As the big day approached I started to get more and more apprehensive about the task ahead of me. Tears were shed. Kit was organised. Re-organised. And then organised again.

The night before I woke up every half an hour and panicked some more, which helped a lot, as I'm sure you can imagine. But then, at last, 5am was there and we got up and on with the day. The pre-race organisation was a little, umn, Gallic, (ie no instructions and entirely up to you to ask people / work it out) but I found myself in the right pen and next to a lovely English woman to whom I could chatter to take my mind off the wait and the freezing cold (6oC in race kit isn't really the most fun thing).

And then finally our pen of 5000 - 9000 start numbers set off with a chorus of clicking cleats and swear words as various people proved, not for the last time that day, that they don't know how to ride in a straight line or at an even speed. The sun was up, the mountains were glorious and various lovely lovely people were lining the road at this unfriendly hour to cheer us off.

The first few hours were pretty stressful given the volume of cyclists, with people swerving, stopping, speeding up, shoulder barging and generally behaving like drunk people at a disco, but I stuck with a few French Velo club guys and tried to keep safe and keep ticking off the miles.

The feed stations were complete bedlam (see pic below of the queue at the first Col for the feed station) and unless you brought specially sharpened elbows you'd have no luck. I gave up and stuck to rural fountains and the food I'd brought with me.
As the Marmotte is a very long, hilly, sportive (174km with 5000m of climb), it was always going to take me A Very Long Time, so to take my mind off it all I resorted to my usual sportive games :
  • Guess the nationality (by the kit, the bike, the size of the rider and their tan)
    If the kit's pre 1984 and looks like an explosion in a kid's crayon box, they're French.
    If they've got a Eddy Merckx bike AND a tan, they're Belgian. If pale, they're English.
    If they're very tall and have a tan, they're Dutch. If v tall and no tan, they're Norwegian.
    If wearing Rapha, they're English and so on.
    Every time I got it right I got a point, if I got it wrong, deduct a point. The aim is to get to the top of the hill in plus numbers.
  • Bike Bingo
    spot a hybrid, a MTB, a hand-made bike, an old-school racer and someone with a pannier
  • Mental arithmatic
    eg ok so there's 17km to the summit. Divide by 8, multiply by 5, that's about 11 and a bit miles so at 6mph that's going to take me 2 hours etc etc
And that got me as far as Valloire and up much of the Galibier. And there I made my schoolgirl error of using untested foodstuffs. EPIC FAIL. I had forgotten to buy enough gels to take with me, assuming that I'd be able to buy the necessary out in France. Mais non. So I ended up with a different brand that, it transpired, my stomach he did not like. At all. So with many a lurchy UGH I'M GOING TO VOMIT I made my way up the Galibier. Very. Very. Slowly. Dolly Parton was called into service.

At the top I ate my last remaining energy bar that was pre tested and thought that as no mad efforts would be required on the descent, my stomach might settle down. I underestimated both the stubbornness of my stomach and the windy nature (both twisty and gusty) of the road. So at the bottom of Alpe D'Huez I was still feeling decidedly queasy. And yet I took the bizarre decision to have another of the stomach-churning gels (the logic was that calories = good, I think) before setting off. The 21 virages seemed to last for an eternity, with shouty rock music urging me on as I sobbed and churned the gears. I was utterly miserable and I don't think I looked at the view once! But I got there. And my official time is 9h45*. Getting round in under 10 hours with no tears was my target and I managed 50% of that, so I'm pretty chuffed.

The boyf (who'd finished 4 hours earlier) met me at the end with coke and crisps and a bouquet of victory flowers and despite being rather shocked by the sobbing and the lack of speaking (I am normally the chattiest person in any given situation) for "the longest time" he gently nurtured me back to good humour and laughter and even got me talking about ideas for my next challenge! It's amazing how quickly you forget pain...

*Official time excludes the descent of the Glandon. In theory to make people descend in a rational, safe, fashion, as the time it takes doesn't count. It didn't quite work like that in reality. Anyway, total Garmin time was 10h30.