Monday, 28 September 2009

Ending on a high

Wow, it's the last race of what's been a packed summer season, and it came around surprisingly quickly. It doesn't seem all that long ago that the first of the spring greening was appearing on the trees, and i was riding through the dust of most of the Expert field at Sherwood Pines at the first NPS. A lot has happened in the last six months! So, for my final race of the year, i decided to go back to the three peaks cyclocross. In the twelve months since the last edition, the 46th one since 1961, i've managed to submit a PhD and find a job, in fact i handed in my thesis about three days after getting back from Yorkshire last time around. It wasn't ideal preparation, and my lack of cycling and running, and in fact fitness in general, told on my pretty badly as i crawled over the line in 238th place in 4hrs37. I hoped that this year, with life a bit more settled and a few more running and cycling miles in my legs, things might be different...

Rachel was heading off down to Newnham for the last round of the NPS, on what sounds like it was a fantastic course, and a fitting end to the year with something of a carnival atmosphere, but i'm sure she'll tell you all about that in her own post from the weekend. I, however, had had more than enough of Newnham at 24/12 - don't get me wrong, i liked the course, and it's definitely somewhere that plays to my strengths on a bike, but 14 laps does burn a course profile into your brain rather! Anyway, i digress. Rachel left on friday morning to head over for the team relay, but unfortunately her team from AW cycles pulled out at the last minute, leaving her with more than enough time to get ready. I stayed home and packed my stuff, made banana muffins (i'm getting better, but they're still not up to Fenton standards), and cooked dinner for me and a couple of mates who were nice enough to cycle out from Cambridge to keep me company. A few preparatory glasses of wine (one simply has to carbo load on a chateau la fite, dahling) a lot of food and a new, improved recipe Tescos sticky toffee pudding, and i was ready for my wee bed.

Saturday dawned overcast in Cambridgeshire, and i packed up the last of my stuff, and headed off Northwards at about 11am. After a long, but thankfully uneventful drive, i got to Helwith Bridge, in the beautiful dales, and amazingly not that far from the Lake District (my geography was sufficiently bad, i had no idea of this - shameful eh?). I pitched up my tent by the pub as i had last year, but without Rachel and Mark for company this time, and then headed out for a pootle on my bike to loosen my legs after such a long. On my way out of the car park i bumped into Jerry Turner, so the two of us headed off together for a little trip. Unfortunately, little did we know when we parted way that the bridleway that Jerry was taking would bring him right back to the campsite where i was pitched, so we could have ridden together all the way anyway. I got back, de-kitted, read my book for a few minutes and then made some dinner.

Post-food, or actually really during food, Jerry returned, and we headed to the pub with him and a chap i'd met in the camp site, my neighbour in canvas, and one of the guys Jerry was looking after during the race. A nice chat and a pint of the local micro-brew, and of course a quick fuss of the Clarke's rather sweet springer spaniel, and again i was ready for some shut-eye ready for the next days antics. I slept pretty well, and awoke a bit snotty (pretty standard for camping) and then got about the busy business of getting ready. I had my usual super-strength pre-race coffee, kitted up, warmed up, pumped up my tubs nice and hard (60psi i reckoned, i'm not that heavy after all), and before i knew it it was time to head out behind the pace truck.

I lined up on the 4hr line, with an ever-increasing number of people trying to squeeze in in front. Once we'd started to roll out, Owen and I ended up riding together in the slightly terrifying 500-strong peloton where there were almost constant braking waves, including one that very nearly had me off as i locked both wheels to avoid the guy in front. This continued until the pace began to quicken through Horton-in-Ribblesdale, and out the other side in antipation of the start of the offroad that leads to Simon Fell, Unfortunately, a bunch of motorcyclists decided they simply couldn't wait for the group to disappear onto the farm track, and decided to overtake all 580 of us behind the pace van - after last year when a guy on a motorbike broke his leg and had to be ambulanced away in the middle of the race, you'd have thought they'd have learned. On we went, and up into the offroad section.

Straight away, the difference from last year was noticeable - i rode much more of the run in, and even when it became a walk, i was able to keep a good pace, and put in the odd burst of a few steps of running - what a difference a year makes. The wall of grass on the way to Simon Fell wasn't quite such a shock this time, and i enjoyed the opportunity for a chat with the other guys around me, one of whom was wearing a bright red pair of sidis that got him the nickname Dorothy! The new widened stile was a nice suprise, and i was even more chuffed to find that i'd got to the top in pretty much spot on 1hr in 100th place. Things were looking okay! Down to Cold Cotes, and my lack of descending on a cross bike really showed, i felt very amateurish and unconfident, whereas i usually really like it when the course points earthwards. I suspect the dodgy brakes that i hadn't fixed properly (the springs are way too strong, which makes them really difficult to apply, even with suicide levers) and skinny tyres didn't help matters though. Onto the road section, i got into a nice little group that worked all the way to the foot of Whernside, where we were greeted by the dulcet tones of the commentator, a 3 peaks institution in his own right! So this is what i'd missed the previous year - mid race commentary. I got a bit of stick for belonging to a team with "Over the Hill" in the name - not appropriate for a team outside yorkshire apparently, and carried on up towards where the climbing starts on Whernside.

Surely bad brakes make you go faster, right?

The water station at the bottom was a nice surprise, as were the amazing number of people out to cheer - the support this year was second to none and really made you feel so great out on the bike, even when your legs were screaming at you to stop! I hiked on, still feeling good, and picked up a few more places along the way. There were a few people who didn't like being overtaken on the walking sections, and one particular guy sticks in my mind - every time i picked up the pace to pass him, he'd match me, and then walk alongside me poking me with various bits of his bike. This happened three or four times along the way, until i got thoroughly pissed off, and decided to take off at a run - when i got to the summit of Whernside, i couldn't even see him in the distance, so he obviously didn't have it in him to match me all the way - phew! Down the back of Whernside, and again my descending left a little to be desired although i was getting more into the swing of it, and occasionally getting carried away and slamming my poor tubs into the rock slabs - oops! I did have one spectacular "into a ditch" moment i front of a cheering family, who thanked me for the show, but made it to Ribblehead largely unscathed. Zipping along the road at the viaduct, surrounded by hundreds of spectators has to be one of my favourite memories of the whole year. And i remembered to take the man's line down the rock slabs too....

Along the road section i saw Jerry, and waved to him as he sat by the roadside taking photos. I still felt pretty good, probably in no small part thanks to my caffeine gel, and was well up for Pen-y-Ghent. This is probably the scariest of the three hills to me, as the riders near the front are hammering down at a great rate of knots whilst mere mortals like me are trying to hike and ride up. I saw Neal Crampton zooming down at warp speed, and clearly on for a great ride - i later found out he took up the last space on the podium after Nick Craig and Rob Jebb, closely followed by a largely wheelbase chasing bunch! It was a bit of a struggle to get to the top of PyG, but still not as bad as last year, although with my poor pumped arms, and naff brakes, i wasn't looking forward to the descent much. I made it down in one piece, and hit the road section, determined to leave it all out on the course, and dashed back into Helwith Bridge like my life depended on it - the timer on my watch had stopped and i hadn't a clue how close i was to making my aim of under 4hrs.

Still smiling on the way up Pen-y-Ghent - amazing!

In the event, i needn't have worried, as i made it back with 10mins to spare in 3:50! I was still 10mins off the pace of the first singlespeeder though. I have to admit, i don't really understand the mindset of entering events on a singlespeed, even if i do respect the results that people get. Singlespeeds are a great way to train in winter and not destroy your drivetrain, and they have their own events like the UKSSC and even a world champs, which is very cool, and very silly. But to enter an event like the 3 Peaks on an SS just seems daft, and even dafter if you're good - i wouldn't waste my fitness trying to ride a penny farthing or a unicycle over the 3 peaks after all! And if i did, you'd rightly tell me i was stupid!! Unicycling course record anyone?

It was great to do the race feeling fit, and i'll definitely be back again next year to try to knock a bit more off my time - i suspect i'll need to do much much more running, but i'm getting less averse to that in my old age, i'm even toying with the idea of some fell-running events, but we'll see whether that survives the rosy post-race glow! For now, everything hurts, and i'm definitely more beaten up than i have been after any other race this year. And the sickest thing is, i don't want to stop....


  1. Congratulations. I've entered twice and never finished. One day I will go back and tick this one off.

  2. Thanks - it's definitely a toughie! I felt so rubbish last year, if the weather had been anything less than perfect i'd have packed in, so it was good to finish feeling a bit less shocking! Looks like flat bars and v-brakes are the way to go though, if it works for Craigy... Best of luck with doing it - if you enter next year i'll see you there!

  3. Great read - and well done on going so far under the target time !

  4. Thanks for the contact on the 3 peaks blog - glad it inspired you - just a way of me offloading things !! See you next year.