Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Misadventure Racing - Open5 Edale

I might have to go with a Friends-esque episode subtitle for this particular blog entry.
Unfortunately, that subtitle would have to be "The one with loads of Rookie Errors."

There are some races you relish and reminisce about, and there are some you just have to chalk up to experience and try and learn from: Edale was one of the latter. Some good bits, don't get me wrong, and no issues that weren't entirely of my own making. Not the worst score I've ever had on an Open5 event either, I think. But too many little things wrong..

I hadn't had the best of preparations for this one, not that that's an excuse. Not enough time on my bike over winter, and while I'd tried to do a bit more running after the December race, tearing my left calf just before New Year put paid to that. The weather's been awful, the motivation has been low, the pizza shop is oh-so-handy, all the usual cobblers. I'm carrying a few extra pounds, I know. I'm working on it...

First I drink the coffee, then I do the stuff. (Pic: James Kirby)
Being awful at mornings, I did the customary thing of booking into the nearest YHA for the night before the event. Edale hostel was plenty handy but very full, so a relaxing evening was spent reading a book and drinking a beer on my tod in the quiet entrance/boot room bit of the annex block. Got an early night but didn't sleep particularly well, though not due to a snorer in the room this time round. Early start, up at 6:45 just after another racer in the same dorm room had got up - I was awake anyway, and there was no way I was getting back to sleep before my 7am alarm anyway. Headed to the kitchen to put the coffee pot on admire the inches of snow that had fallen overnight while prepping breakfast. The sun was coming up, the snow was still coming down at varying rates, so it seemed like an idea to head down to Registration to have another coffee and a chat with Nav4 Joe on catering duty again. The usual confusion of trying to do some rough route-setting while still not quite with it, then back to the car to get kitted up and discover...

Rookie Error #1: When packing the car for a biking and running event, it helps to remember to pack your running shoes.

It wasn't just the running shoes, really: I'd neglected to load the drybag rucksack which is my normal transition bag. That tends to contain a small paktowl, spare gloves, spare buff, spare warm layer and bit of extra food as well as the trail shoes. Everything bar spare shoes I had in the car, including another dry bag, so that lot got made up into a transition bag. The shoes part was a worry though, even though I knew the run would be the smaller part of the day. The end solution was to ditch my normal stiff carbon-soled MTB race shoes for the pair of Specialized Cadets I fortuitously also had in the car - a more trainer-like, less stiff shoe that I only normally use for casual bimbling and commuting. They wouldn't be great across muddy fields on the run, but they'd be better than the race shoe for as and when I ended up pushing the bike as well.

Off early for once! (Pic: James Kirby)
That terrible decision dealt with, I got myself kitted up - not excessive numbers of layers given the conditions, but enough. Come 8:55am I was ready and ahead of my own schedule, ending up being one of the first to roll up at the start. I knew my time of trail-breaking wouldn't last for long as there'd be plenty of faster people starting behind me, but it was a novel situation to be in, as I rolled across the start line at 9:03am (by Jim's watch as the big race clock was on the fritz...)

Bike: 33.34km / 765m ascent / 3:54:24

I started off pretty well. The first couple of CPs were an easy spin along the tarmac, and both being high points they were a no-brainer. After that it was a split decision, whether to dogleg back along the road and commit to the climb up-and-over to the end of Ladybower reservoir or to stay on the road  and low in the valley. I opted to risk the climb and it was well worth it. The wind was behind me, which made it an easier go, and the snow abated briefly. James Kirby, the regular Open 5 Event Photographer (whose fine images adorn this blog regularly) appeared, so there's actually a shot of me on the hill for this race, unlike Coniston. A grin and a greeting exchanged, onwards and upwards. One easy CP on a gate at Jaggers Clough and then a second climb where the wind made itself known, glasses back on as scoured snow whipped into my face and stung. A few drifts to trap your wheels if you weren't paying attention, a few comedy offs, but soon into the shelter of the forest and a steep, nasty rocky descent to the reservoir that mainly ended up being a walk. On a social ride on a good dry day in summer I might have ridden a good chunk of it, but not on a cold snowy day during a race, discretion over valour and all that jazz.

First climb, wind at my back (Pic: James Kirby)
Down by the reservoir it was beautifully sheltered, and I think I got lulled into a false sense of security. A fast spin along the shoreline track, picking up another CP opposite the Ladybower Viaduct, then past the dam - the sinkhole roaring with overflow water - and down into Thornhill on tarmac, with a short zig-zag down and back to pick up another 15 points. Gentle road climb into Aston, chasing down the guy on the fat bike whose tyre prints I'd seen in the snow up on the top, and then turning south and across the main road into Bradwell and a short steep climb up to CP15 at the road end. A quick look at the map, slightly fuzzy through the melted snow and spray on the mapboard, down the road and start turn left onto the climb towards...

Rookie Error #2: Look at the map. Look at the map again. Really, really, look at the map. Seriously...

I'd half discounted CP10, or decided I'd climb up the road the south side of Hope Quarry and drop down to it before climbing back up to CP7. That seemed better than dropping back down almost to Hope village, going a decent way out of the way and descending further only to have to climb back up. What I'd failed to spot on the map was the neat, almost contouring bridleway through the woodlands at the east side of the quarry and into Pin Dale, which would have taken me nicely past CP10 on the way to CP7: no dog-leg out-and-back required. I don't know whether I'd missed it entirely,  or half spotted it and discounted the pink dashed line as a footpath, but I obviously hadn't clocked it as a far better route choice than the one I ended up taking. Steeper - the same height gain total but all in a shorter distance on the climb out of Pin Dale - but considering how my actual route went probably little difference in time and one extra CP to be gained. Ho hum.

Wintery hill, teeth gritted (Pic: James Kirby)
The climb was a slog, no two ways about it. A couple of inches of compacted snow, plus low-ish profile rear tyre, plus headwind, plus gradient meant off the bike and push. Not an issue in itself - I'd been vaguely proven right about the shoes - but slow going. A few attempts to remount and ride were fairly abortive, I'd get on, get clipped in, get a few yards and have to unclip and step off again: It was less faffy just to push. I got up to a decent point where the gradient eased a little and hopped back on, feeling better for some opportunity to actually ride for the first time in a while. The road was still covered in compacted snow, but was surprisingly ridable when the wind was playing nice. A few hard gusts and a few ruts meant a foot down intermittently, and while it was hard going into the direct headwind, it wasn't as bad as the climb - at least I was pedalling rather than pushing. As I started to curve northwards the block-headwind became a side-headwind, and started causing more problems, pushing me towards the hedges and ruts I was trying to avoid.

Just as I was resettling myself after a near-off, I'm jolted by a furious revving and honking behind me. I hadn't heard a car, and thought that any driver with any sense and anything other than a 4x4 would have stayed down in the valleys, but no, there's some numpty in a relatively sporty looking rear wheel drive Lexus slithering his way up behind me. I won't say I dived out of the way, but I did make sure I was well clear as he slid past, revving furiously to keep momentum up. He disappeared off around the curve, though I got the last laugh when I came across him 10min later, trying to dig himself out of a three foot deep snowdrift. "I've got winter tyres on, I thought it would be alright!" he moaned. I gave him a brief hand trying to push the car out while his partner sat in the driver's seat, but it was going nowhere and I wasn't exactly kitted up to stand around in the snow for too long, I needed to keep moving.

I made it to the junction of the tracks, opted not to drop down to CP10, the climb had taken me far too long, even without the RAC-stop. I met up with a few people making their way up from Pin Dale and turned back into the headwind toward CP7, fighting through the wind, trying to avoid the ruts, trying not to get blown off the bike again. Starting to feel a little the worse for wear and lashed by spindrift, I pulled my glasses back on and a Buff up onto my face to get some protection. Finally slogging over to Oxlow House and the top of Winnats Pass, I'd given up any thought of dropping down the broken road so hauled myself up to Windy Knoll and the notch at the end of Mam Tor. Looking on the map, there was one CP I could get on the way back...

Rookie Error #3: When you're handed the control descriptions at the start, cross out ALL the 'No Control' CPs.
And also...
Rookie Error #4: If you haven't done this, don't lose your control descriptions sheet on the hill.

I joyfully, wearily, hauled my backside up to the notch, and pulled over where the bridleway leaves the road, down to CP5. Checked my control descriptions - oh no, hang on. They're not in their usual location, in the mesh side pocket of my feed bag. They must have blown out or been dropped somewhere on the hill. No matter, I'll drop down to the CP, do a very quick check, and if I can't see it within 30 seconds, that's it. Get the hell out of Dodge.

The first 30 yards of the bridleway was ridable, the rest would have been more suited to a luge track, quite fittingly. Sliding ever downwards with the bike, laughing quietly at how idiotic this 'Dubious Mountain Judgement' was, to paraphrase Mr Faulkner. Slipping and sliding, I made it down to the junction of the bridleways and headed right through to the stream crossing where, utterly predictably, I couldn't see a CP unit. I searched around for a moment, but the utter lack of other tyre tracks didn't inspire any confidence, so I binned it and rode back as quickly as I could. I made it to transition in a shade under 4hrs, knackered and annoyed with myself. While I hadn't yet realised my error around CP10, I was annoyed I'd wasted time on the 'No Control' CP5 when I could have been back a good 10mins quicker if I'd just come down the road from Mam Tor. 'Fuming' didn't cover it

Anyhow, at least the lack of a change of shoes meant my transition was fairly swift, sub 2 mins, probably the only thing I took a Top 20 time for that day (16th overall in 1:54, apparently!). The lovely transition staff handed me a replacement set of descriptions, and I headed out the gate again with roughly an hour available for a short shuffle.

Run: 6.55km / 58m ascent / 1:08:39

The run route was pretty nice for me, despite the discomfort of running in biking shoes. The planner had very nicely located five CPs within a 1.5km radius of the Start/Finish area, so that gave a nice looking 6km-ish run with 120 points available.

First one was easy, just down the road from the transition. Trotting up the lane towards Ollerbrook Booth, chatting with another solo who had loads of time to spare having started well behind me. Perhaps I should have moved a bit faster and chatted less, but we got to the CP and turned left again back towards Edale. I should have paid more attention again, but I was starting to flag after the hard work on the bike, and missed a turning onto a slightly shorter footpath option, ending up going further north to emerge by The Old Nag's Head and Cooper's Cafe. Pulling myself together, I stopped myself from shuffling off down the Pennine Way and turned onto the right footpath, slithering my way acros s sodden fields south-eastwards to pick up another CP near Shaw Wood, then on to Barber Booth and a fourth on a footbridge over a the river but under a railway. One more CP to go and I could go home, but I was flagging badly...

Rookie Error #5: Even if you're blowing hard on the bike, remember to eat and drink. It helps keep you moving.

I'm told I look this p***ed off 60% of the time. (Pic: James Kirby)
I knew that was what had gone wrong. Thinking back, I should have been eating and drinking more as I was pushing up the hill out of Bradwell, but I hadn't, and I was starting to pay for it. I threw one of my 'emergency' gels down my neck and washed it down with the last of the Tailwind in my bottle, and trudged across yet another muddy field, munching down a cereal bar to try and render myself human, if only briefly. Strangely, when I'm having a bit of a low, I invariably feel too hot, so the skullcap came off, the gloves came off, jacket and gilet unzipped as I punched in at the last of my loop CPs and contemplated the return route. Continuing on the field-edge footpaths east then north down a bridleway was ever-so-slightly shorter, but I was slipping and sliding enough. retracing my steps to the road and trudging home on tarmac was maybe a little further, but flatter and likely to be easier. I turned tail and headed for the road, climbing the last stile and heading for home, alternating a jog-walk to try and hold pace but also avoid damaging my calf any more. The cleat bolts in the shoe sole made their presence felt more on the tarmac, but I trundled on regardless.

I'd love to say I put in a glory sprint, but I'd be lying. I jogged up and dibbed in, pretty well spent. I'd run slightly over time, a touch over 7mins, so took 16 penalty points to drop my score from 340 to 324. Again, that's not my worst score, but I could have realistically had another CP in there and no penalties if I'd not made the Rookie Errors. We all live and learn, though, and there's one more race in the series to try and correct a few of those, at Grassington in the Dales in March.

Until then!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Misadventure Racing - Open5 Coniston

As you may have noticed from the lack of 'Misadventure Racing' blogs last year, I managed absolutely none of the Open5 races in the 2016-17 series. Unfortunately, every race clashed with something else I was booked up for and couldn't reschedule - annoying, but such is life sometimes. To try and avoid the same happening again this year, my series entry went in as soon as they opened for '17-18! I know full well that  I need something other than just kayaking to keep me motivated and out over the winter, so three races (one every other month) should definitely help. Handily, this season's races are all fairly easy for me to get to as well - Lakes, Peaks and Dales are all within a couple of hours drive so relatively close.

Coniston was first up this year, and I was looking forward to it despite having had a very odd summer season. Early on I'd been in fairly good shape, getting in plenty of time on the bike at least, with bigger cross/gravel rides at the Kielder Cross in Feb and while working on Peaks Pioneer in May, two good days of mixed-surface touring on the Sandstone Way in April, a road century on Ride to the Sun in June, then good fun sportive rides of 30 and 70 miles on Cycle the Solway in July and York 100 in August. After that, unfortunately, it went physically downhill. September and October were very booked up with event work - all good fun events, but not as much physical work as I might have liked - November with kayaking and  social weekends (though I did get a decent gravel loop in while in the Peaks) and then... oh look. First race of the season, too late to get any extra training in. Here we go again...

To keep me honest and give me some extra motivation/competition/abuse, Steve H - occasional team-mate, some time support crew and general partner in outdoors crime - had entered the series as a Solo as well, so we shared transport, drove up and kipped at Holly How YHA to be able to get a decent night's sleep and not have such an early start from Leeds. The 'decent night's sleep' part of that got kiboshed by an extremely loud snorer in the dorm unfortunately, but we got the not-so-early start and a decent breakfast, and race base was then just a short trot down the road at John Ruskin school. Registered, coffee'd, planned and chatted with caterer extraordinaire Nav4 Joe, The Heb (and other things) director Paul and a whole host of others,  it was time to get going.

Bike: 33.62km / 844m ascent / 3:37:51 

Pre-race deliberation - Steve and I  (pic: James Kirby)
I opted to bike first as usual, and headed out just behind Steve who opted to run first. I'd eyed up a loop that crossed a load of trails we rode in a past Man of Porage event, so I at least had some prior knowledge (albeit in reverse for a few of the sections). Roughly, looping north from Coniston via Hodge Close quarry and Little Langdale over to Elterwater, then back via Skelwith Bridge, Iron Keld and Hawkshead Hill, all went pretty well. I've rebuilt my Scandal 29er hardtail to race on and in general it rode really well despite a decent amount of ice on the ground. A couple of slips since I'm running a very much summer/dry conditions Crossmark on the rear, but in general pretty damn good. I could have maybe saved a little time by taking a slightly different CP order early on - removing a loop and picking up one of the CPs on the way back to transition wouldn't have made much difference in terms of distance would have avoided some climbing. Otherwise the only real notable mistake/regret was my route from CP 11 to CP10 - a steep narrow singletrack that turned out to be sheet ice in more than a few places. Pretty much unrideable as a climb, a pain in the backside to push up in carbon soled MTB shoes, but with no easier/more viable access without a lot of extra mileage, I took 23 minutes on a 1200m leg, the shortest of my route. With 20/20 hindsight, it may have been better to skip that and give myself more leeway on the run. At least from there I had a fairly simple and clear run back to Coniston for the changeover.

Run: 8.52 km / 102m ascent / 1:15:03 

No pics of me on the hill, so have a pic of just the hill  (pic: James Kirby)
Back at transition in around about 3:40 - a little longer than intended but in the right ballpark - and time to sort myself out for the run. I was through transition pretty quickly, a shade over 5 minutes, just time for a couple of shots of coffee from the tiny flask I'd filled before the start, a change of shoes, ditching the gloves and the helmet and having a quick pore over the map and descriptions. Again, I'd half made my mind up about a route before the start, but had to change a little since two of the closest checkpoints turned out to be dummies. I set off south along the lake shore path, picking up three CPs and keeping an eye on the time. The intention was to get those then loop west and climb up from Little Arrow to get one or two CPs near the old quarries, but the little bit of time overage (and a lack of running fitness on my part) meant the high CPs would have to wait and I was in for a 3km dash back along the main road. I beat myself up a bit, thinking I was going to be over and incur penalty points, which it's been one of my main aims to avoid. I pushed myself steadily along the road, cursing my legs, my back, my lack of training, my lack of fitness (etc etc) with increasing regularity, and dibbed in to finish still thinking I'd gone over the 5 hours. Steve arrived home not long behind me, having gone hard on the bike and very nearly blown, knowing he was over by about 10mins as he'd tracked the whole lot as one on his Suunto watch. I'd split mine across bike computer and watch so wasn't 100% sure. On the negatives side, I need to do more running over the winter, just to get the time in the legs so I don't feel quite so lousy. On the positives side, the new Saucony Peregrines were bang on for the conditions (grippy enough for the loose wet bits but with enough cushioning on the hardpacked frozen stuff) and it looks like I actually plodded a fairly-respectable-for-me distance at a fairly-respectable-for-me pace. With greater time in the legs hopefully the pace might increase a little and the levels of cursing might decrease...

Anyway. A quick change into warm dry clothes and in to download and grab soup and chilli from Joe, and it turned out I'd got back in 4:58:12, so just inside time. 325 points all told, not my highest ever but a solid enough score for me. As I've said up above, a few things I know I need to work on, but this was a pretty good check of where the fitness is right now - not brilliant, but not completely appalling either!. February's the next race on the calendar down in Edale, plus I've a couple of other event entries in the calendar for March and April as well as the final Open5 in the Dales. There will always be more to do, but at least this has been a solid start to the winter season.

Until next time!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Misadventure Racing: Kielder Cross Challenge

The Misadventure Racing blogs are set to look a bit different this year. I'd planned to do the Open5 series again, since I felt like I'd enjoyed them and made a bit of progress last year, but unfortunately for me they've all clashed with other events. I'd been roughly planning to start trying some of the Gravel Rides, so decided to get some entries in to motivate myself over the winter. Come the first one, it had half worked - I had some fitness, if not as much as maybe I'd have liked, but I think that's always the case.

The Kielder Cross Challenge came up as an early-season possibility. 40km night ride, 60km day ride, based out of Hawkhirst Scout Camp on the side of Kielder Water. I stuck an entry in fairly early, got accommodation and meals reserved, so all that was left was  to get fit and sorted. That was all going reasonably well until an enforced fortnight off courtesy of a gig, a fall and a somewhat damaged shoulder, so after a couple of gentle weeks, one 'test' spin to see if the shoulder would hold up, I was on my way North once again. I landed at Hawkhirst around 3;30pm, got myself signed in, and sorted the accommodation - I was camping, so pitched my tent in the trees not far from the centre - and had a brew. Gradually, more riders started arriving, and soon enough it was 6pm and time for the off.

Saturday - Night Ride: 41.65km, 412m climb - 2:12:41

I did a bit of a silly. Well, I did a couple of sillies, to be honest. The first one was not switching my Garmin on before I actually rolled over the starting line, so the GPS trace starts part way out onto the course. The second one was that I got overexcited at smooth gravel trail and other people on cross bikes and went off a little bit too hard.

The Lakeside Way was a great bit of trail for a fast lap, undulating with lots of places where it was easy to carry speed. The only disadvantage of doing it at night was trying to brake in advance of the few dicey hairpins - I nearly lost it on a corner at least once, but generally managed to keep a rhythm and keep things upright. There were a few confusing points, a couple where maybe there could/should have been an extra bit of waymarking, but the route was generally really good. I'd set myself the target of remembering to eat every half hour, since I regularly forget to eat at all on events. I stuck to that, but cocked up in a couple of places and lost a lot of momentum stuffing food into face with my right hand when I also needed that hand to change gear on a climb! I still didn't drink enough, and had slight cramps late on - only carried one bottle, no drinks bladder, and didn't finish that one bottle. Things to work on, as always! On the plus side, I never felt like I was wanting for more lumens from my lighting - Exposure Equinox on the bars, with a small Support Cell to give a longer burn time if I needed it, and a Mk9 Joystick on my helmet

Night Rider (pic by Stephen Wilson / www.granddayoutphotography.co.uk)
With the start being in small windows rather than en-mass, I'd deliberately started as early as possible to give myself as much leeway as possible if I was slow, so ended up back not long after 8pm. That worked nicely as I had an evening meal booked at the Scout Camp, so I crammed down soup, pasta & meatballs, garlic bread, cake, and a couple of large cups of tea, then rinsed the bike and hit the hay early, tucked up in my sleeping bag. I read for a little while, but was soon dozing off and out like a light.

Sunday - Day Ride: 61.40km, 1056m climb - 5:02:30

I was up at 7am having slept really well. Breakfast, again at the centre, wasn't being served until 8, so I fired the stove up and made myself a pot of coffee to sip at while I sorted myself and the bike out again. Extra food packed - sticking with the same doctrine of eating every half hour. Hydration bladder filled and packed - learning from Saturday! Most comfy bike shorts on - that one's a no brainer. Soon enough breakfast time came, and while I wouldn't normally go for a cooked breakfast before a ride, I knew I'd probably need it. I'd said to myself all night that I was going to take Sunday conservatively, knowing I'd gone too hard on the night ride and would probably end up paying for it, so a bit of extra food and a bit of extra kit seemed like a good plan.

As I was back as the car getting everything finalised, my Dad rolled up, having driven over from home to say hello and to go for a ride round the Lakeside Way himself. I was hoping to see him again while I was out on course but never did. He'd been out for 3:30-ish and was knackered when he got back so headed off to Kielder Castle for food and a brew. Still, not bad at all for a man in his 70s!

Speed Trap (pic by Stephen Wilson / www.granddayoutphotography.co.uk)
Our route was a lot less straightforward than Saturday had been. More climb, some singletrack, one horrible boggy hike-a-bike up and more or less hike-a-bike back down, and (naturally) the longest, highest climb in the last 10km. I stuck to my game plan, spun steadily as much as I could, carried speed where I could, ate and drank on schedule on the move. I had a few short stops, pausing to stretch out a sore lower back at different intervals. Not sure whether that's saddle position, ride position or just core strength, but it came under 'irritating' rather than 'debilitating', so I carried on regardless. There were some really nice sections and moments, descents that ranged from 'fast and fun' to 'slow and sketchy', seeing sculptures and artworks in daylight that I'd totally missed the night before. Another nice thing was that every rider, MTB or CX, faster or slower, that passed alongside said hi at least. Especially nice was riding in some company on the last long fire road drag to the highest point, having a bit of chat with another rider on the way, helping to break up the monotony of the gravel drag. While he dropped me before the summit, I took my own break there to grab food and also (very geekily) to grab a shot of the Trig Pillar that sat 20 yards off the forest road. The last descent was all forest road and shorter than I would have liked for the time I'd been climbing! After that there was a fast spin along the tarmac, reeling in the two riders ahead of me just before the turn back into Hawkhirst, and down the access road to cross the line in just over 5hrs. Better than the 6hrs I'd prepped for and set off anticipating, so I can't complain. And hey, I bagged another Trig. These little things make my day.

Robin's Hut (pic by Pyro)
Trig! (pic by Pyro)
On the whole, a great weekend. Small negatives: poor pacing on Saturday, niggly back on Sunday, but nothing insurmountable. Big positives: better feed strategy, fitness a touch better than I thought it might have been, and my bike worked really well. No gearing issues, though squeally brakes need a tweak or fresh pads, I'm not sure which (if they didn't need new pads before Sunday, they almost certainly do now! I'm still tweaking my saddle position, which might alleviate the back pain a bit. Oh, and after seeing a dozen or so CX riders dealing with flats, I'm happy to say that having gone tubeless seems to have paid off. Hunt 4Season Gravel Disc wheels set up with 40c WTB Nanos worked well for me, the tyres sealed easily and held up nicely. They seemed to roll fast enough on the harder stuff and there was only one point (the clay-slick flat at the top of the aforementioned hike-a-bike) where I felt like I was wanting for grip, but since even a fat bike rider said they'd struggled there, maybe I'm not alone. I've longer and harder plans for later in the year, but this has been a pretty good start to the season and a pretty good indicator of where I am and what I need to do from here.

Many thanks to High Terrain Events for a brilliant couple of days out, Hawkhirst Scout Adventure Centre for accommodation and food, and Grand Day Out Photography for the two shots above.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Misadventure Racing: Open5 Todmorden

End of the Open5 series for this winter and we were headed to the steep sides of Calderdale, the land of dark satanic mills, packhorse trails all over the place, and the kookiness that is Hebden Bridge. As usual, I opted to stay fairly near the venue because I know I hate early starts, so first order of the night was to find my accommodation up at the Mankinholes YHA. Easier said than done, because even in a little Skoda Fabia with a fairly decent turning circle, there was at least one junction that required a 3-point turn to get round! No pre-race paddling this time either, but at least that gave me a Saturday free to do semi-domesticated things like servicing my bike, bleeding my brakes and getting some kit washed, so at least I had some clean stuff to race in and brakes that worked properly this time out.

Dinner was a nice Korean salmon stir fry, and after some dark chocolate and a beer or two I retired to bed early. I'd booked a private 2-bed room since there was a chance a friend was going to race with me, but he realised he'd double-booked, so I got a nice quiet room to myself for the night! Morning came quickly, as it does, and after a quick breakfast and the short drive down to Todmorden High School I was ready, if not raring to go. A misty start to the morning had started to burn off by about 9:15, so about 9:20 I punched out and set off.

Bike - http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/1421405855

I made a few nav cock-ups on the bike, wasting a bit of time that could have helped me get a few more points on the run. Two - one on a bridleway bridge and one on a bench at a reservoir inlet -  were a case of starting to look for the CP too early, and either not reading the map properly or just convincing myself I was in the right place when I wasn't. The others were just poor route choice given the terrain, taking a more direct line when a longer but better surfaced alternative would probably have been quicker. I cursed myself for one of those at the end of the bike leg, should have just used the more rideable farm lane and road grind rather than what turned out to be a humorously crap narrow muddy bridleway that I ended up pushing most of.

I'm pretty sure the way I climbed up onto the moor - up the main road to Cornholme then up past Shore - was a decent, efficient (if steep and sweary) way up onto the tops. I'm not sure whether the first 'inner' loop I did was genius or stupid, but it tagged off 3 CPs that would have been a bit more faffy to get at the end of the main 'outer' loop, although in hindsight I can see a way that could have worked. The first section of the Pennine Bridleway was one of the aforementioned nav cock-ups, and about 10 minutes of dithering. The next was another 10 minutes of dithering at the head of Cant Clough, though I think heading back down the reservoir and using the Pennine Bridleway again saved some time spent pushing and swearing if I'd used the permissive path up Rams Clough. The two dog-legs at the north end of the map both picked up low scoring, with the first one on Swinden Water requiring a lot of effort. Meeting Jeff, Eddie and Ben headed the other way there was a definite suggestion of "Ah, we're not the only ones who got suckered into this one..." Not sure it was worth the push back up the zig-zagging trail, but there you go. The descent to Widdop reservoir confirmed I was right to have ridden the Element, though, and I was very glad of a bit of rear suspension in places!

The run home was the site of the humorously crap push, and I do think I could have saved another 5-10 mins if I'd just exited onto tarmac, though that might have been debatable in the sense of the rules - farm track marked as footpath rather than bridleway, I think. Even without that, a daft choice and a lack of attention around some houses meant a detour I could have avoided, though at least it was onto a decent surface. The final CP was a 40 pointer and then it was a long, steep dive down back to the valley bottom, a minor-and-swiftly-corrected wrong turn at the roundabout in town, a final hammer down the road and into transition.

Run - http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/1421435849

There's not a lot I can say about the run. It was simply a token trot to the nearest (and easiest to find) CP to make sure my score counted. I'd got into transition with something like 28mins to go, so it was just a quick change of shoes and out. I contemplated going for one more - another very close one - but decided it just wasn't worth it going for a handful of points that I would then almost certainly lose in being a few minutes over time. Up the road, punch the CP, back down the road, finish. And with that, the series was over for me. Sound the fanfare, and let the fat bloke sing. What do you mean, 'he's lying down by his transition kit going "ouch"'? Typical. He'll want a beer next, I suppose?...

Punched in and done. Pic: James Kirby

As far as analysis of the season in general goes, I think the series comes under the category of 'learning experiences', however I can definitely say I'm glad I've got off my backside and got out. The winter's an awful time for motivation for me, and while I can't say I've ever got to the intended point of getting much 'training' in between races, I have got out for other rides (though not really runs) and feel like I've pushed myself a bit more, physically and mentally. It's a difficult thing to quantify, since the seasonal motivation has changed as the weather has (marginally) improved, but the last race of the season definitely felt easier, mentally, than the first and second.

Over the series, I've done 20 miles of running and 105 miles of biking over 24hrs 23mins total race time, taking in 4056m (13307ft) of total ascent (and, presumably, the same in total descent, otherwise either my maths has gone wrong or I'm hovering...). I've managed to avoid running over the allotted 5hrs each time, so have not taken any penalty points. I've made a good few silly mistakes, but I've also been to a few fantastic locations that I probably wouldn't have got to otherwise. Slaidburn had my longest run at 6.4 miles. The end of the season at Todmorden was my longest bike at 31.2 miles. I've ended up 29th out of 125 who've raced Male Solo over the season, 28th of 32 who've raced three or more for a full series ranking.

As a series, all the events I've been to have been fantastically good, so big thanks to James T as the series organiser and to all the various event planners and volunteers for making them worth getting out of bed on a Sunday for. My favourite of the season, and my best result, was out in the snow at Blanchland, where I managed a really good bike and a decent-but-short run despite a knackered calf. My worst, quite easily, was the first race at Muker, where I forgot a watch, ran for too long, made a bunch of nav errors, and had horrible mechanical problems on the bike. Oh, and the weather was crap too.

There are definitely things I can still improve on, aside from the obvious two of 'get fitter and eat less pies' and 'make less nav mistakes'. I've got better - and perhaps a bit more ambitious - at planning my race routes, but I still don't plan by score. With the score sheet give-out at the start, I tend to pause only to cross out the dummies and then head out to ride/run, so there can be a bit of awkward pausing to try and read a score sheet while riding, and I've often put a lot of effort into getting a CP only to realise it's a really low scorer. That's a tactical element that I could work on, maybe taking an extra minute to scribble the scores onto the map would help. Playing to my strength and biking first has helped for the last couple of events, though a bit extra fitness and speed on foot would have helped for those last gasp token run CP dashes.

Eating and drinking is another thing I had problems with at intervals. I'm not usually short of a desire to eat, but especially on this last race, I've been lax at keeping myself fed and watered. I've only carried one bottle, which isn't really enough, so need to grab a hydration bladder for my Macpac race pack to make drinking more convenient!

Overall, it's been a great series to race in and a decent enough season for me as a racer. In a way, I'm just glad to be back doing some racing for myself, instead of just taking pictures of other people doing it. It's gone more-or-less the way I'd expected, nothing spectacular, no heroic performances, no fireworks. It's been hard, frustrating and marginally painful at times, but mainly it's been fun, and that's what I wanted out of it.

Cheers all, 'til whatever misadventure happens next!


Back the other side of a camera. Pic: James Kirby

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Misadventure Racing: Open5 Askham

One more for the monthly Misadventure Racing series, and one more to go after this. Very unusually, there was no pre-race paddling this time round. My sincerest apologies to both my readers, and I promise to get back to normal shonky form for next month.

I'd love to say that the latest Open 5 from Askham continued my triumphant (ahem...) re-entry back into the world of Adventure Racing, but knowing the state of my racing, I don't think I'll ever fool anyone into thinking the triumph is on the menu. This minor resurrection has been about the same as my standard racing day; less sudden dramatic fanfare and leap through the curtain, more  slow, sweaty, sweary plod from the back of the auditorium to the stage. Hey ho.

I like my planning and logistics, but frankly the planning for this one was a bit shaky. I'd been asked to help out on the Mighty Deerstalker trail run/obstacle course event the night before the Open 5, and had said 'yes' having not checked the dates properly, thereby committing myself to an 'interesting' amount of travelling over the weekend. Since I'd landed myself in the s**t, I decided the best thing to do was to drag a few willing idiots friends in there with me, so roped three friends in to help me out with the Saturday night. I'd also failed to string it together as being the weekend after the National Student Rodeo, and obviously hadn't adequately accommodated for the contagion impacts of being around 1,000 students for a weekend, so had spent the week before being sneezy, snotty, coughy, shivery and several other lesser Dwarves. Sweary was definitely in there as well.

Anyhow, come the weekend itself and I had Sean and Ruth travelling up with me from Leeds and Rachel joining us from Edinburgh later on, so we were fully staffed. The Leeds trio headed up to my folks place in the Lakes on Friday and after a nice meal, a decent night's kip and a lie-in, Thunderbird 2 was go again and headed northbound up the M74. A quick briefing with Stu the Race Director, chats with a few old friends, and we were free to wander, so we went and stocked up on food and coffee before headed back to the main briefing and then filed as two pairs out to our assigned locations on opposite sides of the course: Sean and Ruth got the skinnies on Caddon Bank, Rach and I the roped descent on the back of Pirn Craig; Sean and Ruth were finished by half past eight, Rach and I were in place until the best part of 11pm. Joy!

Deerstalker duty done, the three of us skedaddled back to the Lakes, knowing that we'd be on an early start on Sunday morning. As typically happens when you really fancy an easy drive, it all went a bit wrong. Setting the sat nav to alleviate the amount of mental processing required led to it taking us on the 'fastest' route, over the tops via Tweedsmuir and the Devil's Beef Tub and down to Moffatt. That might well be the fastest route on a fine, clear day, but on a dark, foggy night, when visibility's down to 20 yards max, it gets a little bit slower. Eventually we got to the motorway, got back to Carlisle, then back home at 1:20am, just time for a handful of hours sleep before getting up to go race.

We got through to Askham, having taken a minor diversion due to closed roads and bridges after the last bout of flooding in Cumbria, dumped the car and wandered towards registration, only to be asked to move it straight away. I'd left Sean the keys so a bit of sign language later and the car was duly moved while I went and signed my life for the next 5hrs away. After a quick chat with Joe on porridge duty and a ramble out to work out where the hell the car and all of my kit was, I started getting sorted out and ready to roll out, grabbing food and drinks bottles and working out, well, what to ride.

The other bit of lax planning had been on bike choice and bike maintenance. I've just finished building up a new full-suss 29er, a Rocky Mountain Element, which was just about ready to go, but with the post-NSR lurghi I hadn't had a chance to actually have a shake-out ride and check everything was done up and functioning properly. My other bike, my On-One Scandal hardtail 29er was theoretically good to go, but hadn't been ridden or even cleaned and re-lubed since the snowy day out up at Blanchland, so it was a split decision of new-and-shiny-but-untested vs older-and-true-but-probably-squeaky. I'd thrown both onto the roofrack just in case, thinking I might have done a short ride on the new one on Saturday, but no joy. I pulled both down to sort out - I'd need to swap my map board mount and saddle pack over if I was using the new one anyway -  and after a quick fidget with a slightly-in-need-of-a-bleed rear brake and some extra air in the shock and forks, I opted for the Rocky.

Bike - http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/1386566967

The start was a short ride from the car, all uphill, so a nice little warmup. I hadn't looked at the map much before the start, and when I got to transition there were only a few minutes before the Solo riders start closed, so it was straight in, drop the transition bag, gloves on and ready to go. I opted to keep the same strategy as the Blanchland race, do a longer bike first then pick off a few run CPs with the time left, so up to the marshals and the normal start routine of picking up the points sheet, scribbling out the 'dummy' CPs and trying to configure a decent loop and I was off. First leg was the uphill struggle onto Askham Fell and over to the Cockpit, where James the event photographer managed to snap me looking, well, angry. No reason why, I was actually having a fairly nice day, I just look very unhappy to see him. Sorry about that James.

Angry Beard is Angry - Pic: James Kirby

The big split decision from the Cockpit was whether to go for the 40 point CP up on Loadpot Hill, committing yourself to 5km slog and 1000ft of ascent up the old Roman Road of High Street, which I decided wasn't worth it for me and the way I was feeling. The descent may have been awesome but the climb would have done me over, so I turned off right and onto the descent down to Howtown, loving the rear suspension and soaking up the hazy sunlight. Stopped by one CP by a stream crossing to slurp down the remainder of my bottle and top it up from the stream - always a lovely feeling in spring - and then down more before climbing from Howtown round The Coombs to the new(er) church at Martindale. As I climbed, the lad behind me, who'd been with me for a little while, says "Are you going to 17?"... Erm, yes. I wouldn't be going this way if I wasn't... "Damn. I wasn't planning to. Serves me right for tailgating I guess." Serves you right for not reading your own flipping map, pal!

The payoff for climbing to Martindale was the blast down the zig-zags down The Hause, though I did it forwards and carefully, not backwards on one wheel. The tarmac spin back to Pooley Bridge was despatched fairly quickly having caught up with another racing friend, Roger, and we chatted our way back along the road before I dropped off the back climbing up to Celleron and back towards Askham. I'd been looking at the map and evaluating my time, and decided I would go a bit longer on the bike, having only been out about 2:30 on the first loop. There was another shorter route I could do, mainly on tarmac with a handful of bridleways, so I headed south for Helton, then up onto the fell again, dodging tourists and their dogs out for a walk, down a short bridleway then looping round Rough Hill and back towards Butterwick and Helton again, and back to Askham on the road. Bumped into Sean and Ruth sunning themselves with a coffee on a bench by Askham Stores having been for a walk up onto the fell. They started making me jealous with talk of steak pie, so I headed off to transition and get a wee wander on foot in myself.

One bit of preparation that had gone right was my transition bag, and the secret weapon therein. I may have attracted a couple of jealous glances as I sat down to changes my shoes and pulled out my still sealed, still hot enough insulated mug of coffee, followed by two pain au chocolat. A veritable feast mid-way through a race, and yet I was still only in transition six-and-a-half minutes, pretty swift for me.

Run - http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/1386570359

"Where's the finish dibber?! I want to stop!" - Pic: James Kirby
The run was a typical short ramble, a touch over 6km and four CPs, lollipop style, heading up onto the fell end first, then up over Heughscar Hill, back through a channel between two blocks of woodland and jogging steadily back down the track to the finish. I finished on 375 points, which knocks one of my first two races off the 'top 3 scores' Series table. The best news was no mechanical issues on the bike and no twinges of the calf, so it seems like that's healed up okay and I know how to bolt frames and forks and such together, which is nice. I evidently just need to now start getting the fitness back in, something I've been saying since the first race of the series back in November! The jog downhill at the end felt pretty good, and I'm always saying I need to get time back in on foot, so now with lighter nights I'm hoping to start trail running a little more. We'll see what happens come the last race of the series at Todmorden in a months time, the steep Calderdale valley sides are not going to be forgiving if I've not done a little bit of hill work I suspect...

Monday, February 15, 2016

Misadventure Racing: Open5 Blanchland

Third race of the Open5 Series, with some things changed, some kept the same, and a faintly interesting end result.

The same: I'd been kayaking the day before. Come on, I'm not changing that unless I absolutely have to. We'd had a good day on the Leven, though I took another swim at Backbarrow, which seems to have become an annoyingly bad habit recently. Poor line and a failure to roll, the latter being the more annoying part as I've actually worked on my rolling recently and re-outfitted the boat to help with that, and in the end didn't even try, just panicked and pulled the rip cord. Something to work on anyway.

Different: I've been struggling with a calf injury since just after the Slaidburn race, picked up at a parkrun while trying to get some actual training in. I wasn't even pushing hard, heading for a similar 'around 30min' pace when, at the 4km mark, I felt like someone had stabbed me in the back of the leg. So since then it's been a case of rest, ice, compression and gentle functional movement to try and recover without making anything worse.

I stayed at Edmundbyers YHA overnight, with a few other racers. Got a decent nights kip despite at least one snorer in the dorm (probably two once I'd dropped off...). Driving into Blanchland in the morning was a little skatey and skiddy in places, and despite thinking I'd never been there before I recognised the village. Turns out an old kayaking friend got married there a long time ago, and we made merry in the Lord Crewe pub and then us poor impoverished student kayakers who couldn't afford hotels or holiday cottages slept in our tents on the village playing field, apart from the one who'd broken his collarbone biking the morning of the wedding who got given the groom's brother's bed.

Anyway, leaving the half-recalled drunkenness aside, there had been snow during the Saturday afternoon and evening and a freeze overnight, but the morning itself was bright and calm with the odd snow shower and squall. Joe Faulkner and Nav4 Adventure were providing the catering, so I grabbed a coffee and a Danish and settled down with the maps to delay my start a little bit. Early starters would have the joys of both trailbreaking through the four inches of snow on the higher trails and risking ice on more major tracks and roads. I set off about 9:25 and reckon that was about premium; the snowy trails were compacted enough to be firm but without having yet turned slushy and muddy, and any ice on the tarmac was thawing and becoming less of a hazard.

Because of the weather and the leg issue, I changed my gameplan for the day and biked first rather than running, reasoning that if I ran first and blew my calf up, it would knacker both disciplines, whereas if I got a good long bike loop done in a decent time I could take a token leisurely stroll round a couple of run checkpoints to validate that section and not risk further injury. That worked out well, and kit choice did as well, no issues again, with enough layers to stay warm without overheating. There was a pretty wide temperature difference through the day, alternating between cold grimaces while pushing through the snow squalls and enjoying the sunshine and blue skies between them. Technically, I had a couple of minor chainsuck issues late on on the bike, but I'm sure that was just mud and snow gunking up the drivetrain and nothing like as bad as the Muker race.

Bike: http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/1347038733/

Had problems with my bike GPS turning itself off mid-ride, think it twisted on my stem while I was pushing at some point and the power button pushed on the bolt for my map board, but this is the route and the relevant time. The route itself worked out well, did the major climbs on tarmac and/or good gravel track, descended on the rougher stuff. Could be faster if I was fitter, as always, but tactically and technically no mistakes this time, which is nice to say. Following some of the smaller trails would have been hard for the first off, the moorland singletrack would have been nearly indistinguishable under the snow. A couple of judgement calls about which direction to take certain loops worked in my favour and I cleared all bar one of the bike checkpoints in 3:42. The one I dropped looked like a bit of a deathmarch, a 3-4km of out-and-back moorland singletrack, worth 30 points but likely to have been slow going.

Run: http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/1347040565/

My transition wasn't too slow, sub 5mins, and the plan to take it steady worked out well as there were four CPs making for an easy sub-5km loop without too much climb. The tarmac up to the first two was patchy with ice, so taking it gently worked well, then a slippy, muddy field-edge bridleway linked across to the third, with tarmac and then a lovely clear wooded trail to the final one on a waterfall just outside the village. I jogged gently on the flat and down to test the muscle a bit, backed off if it twinged and just enjoyed the stroll. Made it back well in time, 4:48 in total, having enjoyed the day at a pretty steady trot.

Got myself changed and then headed back to the hall to download and eat (soup, chilli, flapjack and coffee, thanks again Joe!), and ended up surprised that I'd actually scored higher here than I have in either of the previous two races, obviously the enforced tactical change paid off, and I probably made pushier choices on the bike rather than playing it safe and dropping CPs. I just need to keep rehabbing the leg and try to build the fitness (as always!) before Lowther in March.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Misadventure racing: Open5 Slaidburn

Third race of the Open5 series, but second one of the season for me. I was entered for the North Wales event in December but had been suffering with a horrific cough that I couldn't shift, so decided to save my health and skip it. Kind of glad I did, as I only managed to shake the cough in the last week before Christmas after a fair amount of rest.

Anyway, lessons learnt from the first race of the season, I remembered my watch for this one. Not sure I was any better prepared, I threw together some bits of kit the night before, had at least tried to sort some of the mechanical problems I'd had last time out, and hadn't been out on the lash 48hrs before the start. I had been kayaking the day before, because some things never change and kayaking is fun. Kit worked out well again: Buff, bib shorts, 3/4 tights, base layer and a thicker jersey. Waterproof stayed on for the entire day, as a windproof layer more than waterproofing (there were only occasional showers), wool socks (Woolie Boolies) and my old Wave Harriers for the run, waterproof socks (from Mapdec) and my SPD shoes for the bike.

Run - http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/1305492129

'Run' is still a bit of an optimistic term, but this one went better. I neglected to wear my compression calf guards, which might explain the horrible tight achilles pain I had both during and after the section (and still have the evening after), but I shuffled around anyway. The best part for me was no nav cock-ups, and I was much more decisive about setting a loop and sticking to it. At the Muker race I'd been very vague and picked the next CP on the fly, which combined with the lack of a watch, meant I wasted time and didn't actually get very far. One positive, that'll do. I'm still not in any sort of shape (apart from 'round'. Round is definitely a shape), so I'm contemplating one of the 'Couch to 10km' programs to get my backside out and about and try and build into things. At least I got my timing right, 1:45 was pretty much bang-on what I was aiming for, so I was happy with that.

Bike - http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/1305725287/

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I made one major mistake, towards the end, that cost me a bunch of points and a lot of time and energy. The majority of the route was grand, the CPs configured so those not looking to clear the course could pick a route that was predominantly tarmac with various dog-legs and out-and-backs to pick up CPs. I'd written off some of the further out checkpoints in favours of setting a fairly reasonable loop that I felt I could do in the time, which was grand. The 'hindsight' part comes in because, with some extra information about trail surface I could have easily got at least two if not three more CPs further out on the course. That would have also occupied some time and prevented the daftness I had at the end, where I decided to try and push up a horribly crap bridleway onto Dunsop fell which would have been easier to kayak down than ride or walk. I'd got to my planned penultimate CP with over an hour still on the clock. The choices were to stick with my plan and finish 30 points up and probably 30-40mins ahead of time, which would have been fine energy wise but annoying planning wise, or to gamble on making the 35 pointer on the fell top. I gambled and it didn't pay off. The bridleway was so humorously crap that continuing would have put me out of time, and by the time I'd realised this and turned around, coupled with a much worse linking bridleweay than I'd expected and failing energy reserves, I was cooked. I finished just ahead of time but failed to get either of the two possible CPs. Not the best end to what had been a pretty good day, but my own daft fault.

I love the 'score' format of the Open5 events, because it's easy enough to pick and choose your own route based on your ability and inclination. Apart from the daftness at the end, my route picking was pretty good, and I'm happy enough with that. I said this series was me trying to re-develop some bits over the winter, and I'm going to end up learning some lessons, even if those are mainly how unfit I am. Next up is Blanchland, County Durham, in February, so on we go.