Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Not Quite Cross

It's not quite cross - you'd never see any 700c wheels anywhere near where we were - But with a 2 and a half hour carry separating the epic uphill and the best downhill I've ever done, it's as close to cross as I've come since I left Scotland.



The Moonlight - Croesus Tracks are in a tiny little place called Blackball, tucked into the folds of the northern tip of the South Island's West Coast, New Zealand. From sea level, you ride and stumble up to 1220m, then push, carry and occasionally ride your bike (these interludes on your bike are so good, they eclipse the pain of having shouldered your bike for the last 2 hours) across a ridge with seemingly endless peaks. Your goal, Croesus Hut, is neslted into a saddle, way in the distance, which never gets any closer as the ridge takes you in an arc away, and then back towards your target.

Once you pass the crux of the ridge, it's all downhill, literally. Pinch flats are a real risk, with the first 15 minutes of foot-wide track paved with cruel, square-edged rocks. It then smooths out just a touch, dropping into dense Beech forest... Roosty drifts into cornflake-covered corners.

An hour later, (8 and a half hours after you rolled away that morning) you're back in Blackball, for a half of coke and a half of beer. Smiles pasted to salt-crusted faces, exhausted and stoked on one of the best rides in memory.

What a way to break in a new bike - My Ibis Tranny handled it with grace (maybe more grace than it's pilot?). Oh yeah.





Thursday, 18 February 2010

rejigging things




























36 minutes and 40 seconds - my total ride time today. An unspectacular statistic if ever there was one, especially as I was trying my best to just pootle along.

Today though was my first time on a bike in exactly 1 month. 1 month of enforced lay off after finally realising that doing any sort of training with a chest infection was counter productive and that total rest was needed. It's been very hard trying to suppress the urge to train that's been niggling away inside me. That drive that makes you want to train to race to compete to ride as fast as possible.

Antibiotics helped clear up the chest infection but unfortunately i've slipped back into the way I felt through most of 2009 - run down, swollen glands and tight throat, a year pretty much spent off the bike.

So, i'm having to very much rejig my goals for 2010. Originally i'd planned to build my fitness and strength gradually through the spring and summer with several road races and crits plus a few mtb events thrown in, ready to compete in a full cross season (my main aim) including the National Trophies.

Now, the main aim is simply to get healthy again. Having felt better by last November, I know I can do it but instead of planning interval sessions, endurance rides and thinking about watts and lactic thresholds, my training is going to consist of lots of rest, good sleep, eating well, neovite, seeking out some alternative therapies and a very gradual return to riding.

If things go well i'd love to take to the start of the Goatee of Filth (albeit hiding at the back and looking for shortcuts) then gradually start training from there, to be in shape to ride a full Scottish cross series. Before then any racing will be an absolute bonus. Sorry to be letting the VCM side down for a second year running! Ros is convinced that i'll come back stronger than ever. That's an aim but not for this year at least.

Today though I felt great. The pedals may not having been turning in anything like perfect circles, my rear tub lost a fair bit of air and it was all over far too soon but the sun was out, I got to dance a little on the pedals, skitter down muddy singletrack and most importantly, feel like a bike rider again.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Back in the saddle

Saturday.
Hail and rain against the window, phlegmy lungs, but an afternoon of Chiltern Hills on the road was required so it was out the door before there was time to reconsider. I had a vague loop in mind, the idea to get in as many hills as possible in a few hours. Pot-hole dodging, roads covered in snow-melt filth and that hail reducing the views to tracing-paper layers of grey-green. Cut Chemist, Aphex and Four Tet helped out on the ups. Legs suitably calmed. Grubby fun.





Sunday.
Gorrick round one. Postponed as snow stopped play in January. Gorricks are always great; grass-roots feel, excellent courses which tend towards being short, technical (for a race course) through free-draining forestry. Lots of singletrack, short and steep ups, jumpy bits. Like I say, fun. Races are quick with laps taking approx 25 mins and 2, 3, 4 or 5 laps required depending on where you fit in between Fun and Expert.

First race since cross at Hillingdon in early December, so wanting just to get round (yeah, right). Light snow on the start line and that perfect semi-frozen grippy dirt that you get just a few times each Winter. An OK start and some steep climbs lead to a few places being taken before ominous slipping from the freehub - I've now tooled up to do a full-service, but recent fettling was clearly not enough to flush out winter slush, so free-wheeling forward (and the scrotum/stem flirting it entails) was increasingly a feature. Still, legs felt satisfyingly wrecked by the end and a strong desire to come back for as many of the series as will fit in the diary. 16th from 57 was OK, but improvement definitely required. Let's go.




Photo: Joolze Dymond


Friday, 12 February 2010

Nip in the air.



Some beautiful words and rides recently. Inspiring stuff, and so it was that I prepped to get some climbing miles done on the road bike on Monday last.

The aim was to follow a route posted recently on my blog by Marty and head from Glasgow into the Campsies, up the Crow Road on a timed climb, then over the top, round Carron valley reservoir and either fire over to Stirling and down the east side of the M80 then back via Kilsyth to the Campsies, or maybe take the Tak Me Doon road.

I've been on a steep learning curve, if not a steep fitness curve, with regards road riding: I planned the route, got up early and got the Solis Crema fired up to produce some go juice.



Then it was all about clothing prep. At minus 4, the windchill was going to be an issue. After an hour spent looking for my shoe covers, in a little bit of a fizz i'll admit, I strapped the hear rate monitor on, pulled the Roubaix knee warmers up and stuffed tubes and 2 sandwiches in my jersey pockets.

Dry fast roads lead me all the way to Lennoxtown, but the grit and road muck was pervasive. For some reason there is a lot of heavy traffic around and the trucks left me coughing on billowing clouds of dust as they screamed by. I was glad as I looked down at the computer, signalling the last of the busy roads for a while, before tackling the Crow Road climb. Made famous by Robert Millar, this climb starts steep but mellows before a further steep section takes you onto the top of the ridge the Campsies form. Unfortunately for me, the north easterly headwind that greeted me over the top cost me at least a minute leaving my PB for the climb (rolling start from footpath to Clachan of Campsie sign at the bottom, to vista point off road at the peak) at 19 mins and 45 seconds. Craven after the effort, I made heavy going after descending the broken tarmac and turning off to the next climb towards Carron Valley.

At the turrn off for the Tak me Doon road, I decided to fire on. I wanted to roll a little more distance and there are other days. Down through Haggs, and over the M80 motorway I hoped for a tail wind, and perhaps it was there, but it never seemed the equal of the wind on the way out. Nevertheless, I made good time and enjoyed a snadwich with views of Glasgow after climbing back north to Milton of Campsie. From there it was time to buckle down and pump the big meat. The legs were feeling tired, the Vastus Medialis under strain, but the bike was as comfortable as it has ever been and I was keen to push the speed as much as possible.

From Strathblane I could tell my left foot was completely numb. I was missing my overshoes, but there was no choice other than to carry on carrying on.

The road was covered in slime from the local quarrying activity, and the decent to Milngavie was again potholed and broken. 23c leaves no room for error when you are 92 kg and moving at speed, so I utilised the bunny hop to keep me safe.



Home and the realisation that my foot was in a bad way tugged painfully on my mind. Shoes off and the blood was sluggish to the skin. My 4th toe on the left foot was white and ivory-like with no capillary refill even after 20 minutes self massage. In the shower the hot water finally opened up the circulation and the pain started. I was half expecting to see the skin blister, but it was only nipped not frost bite.



100km: 26.4kph average, a serious hunger and a good sleep.

Next up is a group ride somewhere with my fellow VC Moulineers? lets get it on.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

It's good to be back on it.

January came and it went and having spent most of January working in Belfast it was ride less with the exception of actually riding my bike in circles around the inside of my workshop my first bike ride didn't come until last Sunday night.

A quick recy of the shed revealed the sorry state of my old trusty Kona Cinder which had been unjustly thrown in the back of the shed after choosing to break a chain on the last ride. So it was the cross bike or nothing.

Chain lubed,
Winter kit on
Lights son
Hipflask full and packed.

Onto the slow tarmac climb from the house up to the trail head that will whisk me down a lovely ribbon of single track past black spout falls and onto the high street of the Pit. I love the trails around the pit year round but at this time of year they take on a different look and feel, especially on a CX bike. The icy trails mixed with rubbish brakes and skinny tires can be a real leveler of ones abilities whilst at the the same time providing ear to ear smiles.

With the sun fading fast the lights come on and I have the trails to myself. The speed you can generate on a cross bike on frozen rock hard trails is amazing and if you get it wrong as I did hitting a pot hole in the trail which had me on the ground floundering about checking my collar bone was OK you can really do yourself some damage. Fortunately everything was OK even the bike was unscathed which was very surprising. I took a minute to compose my self. I took a swig from the hipper and I was on my way again.

Not long from here the trails end and it's on the tarmac climb to get under the A9 from here it is all up. With my lunges burning from 2 months without riding I reach the top and walk the final set of stairs. Even though my lungs and legs are aching I really feel privileged to have such trails and country side at more door step and I suck up the pain and press on for the final climb up Craigower. Thankfully the fire road climb which can be a downright sloppy drag was like hard pack and I am pleasantly surprised at how easy and quickly I find myself at the top. No time for stops I blast down the last descent and onto the golf course.

What a feeling riding bikes can give you, when your feeling rubbish or over worked, stressed or sad, the power of the push bike has a healing power which is really unexplainable. All I know is that it works.

Since Sunday I have ridden every second day and can feel my fitness coming back slowly and am really looking forward to a great 2010 of riding bike.

Get it out and get it dirty people, looking forawrd to seeing and meeting you all soon.

Mark