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

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 /
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 /
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.