Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wicklow Way Record Attempt - Part 3

Having reached the half way point and already covered the most technical and mountainous terrain of the ride, I had thought that the second half of the Wicklow Way would be about the same as the first effort wise. The terrain and riding would be easier but I would be more tired so evening out to be about the same. I started out climbing up Slieve Maan and it seemed like that. Mel had ridden the climb earlier in the year (everything from this point on was new to me) and warned me of a right turn off that is easy to miss. At 67km into the ride I found it which took me to a steep hike a bike climb in the mud. The climb looked like it would be a lot of fun as a descent and I think I'll come back here some day soon but today it was much to wet and muddy to even try. Up up up, filled the next 30 minutes as I made my way to the top of Slieve Maan where Mel was waiting in the car. I briefly stopped and checked the watch – 5 hours in, another 3 ish to go... I remember telling her that I'm starting to get tired.

Slieve Maan

The next while was pretty uneventful, I had to take it pretty easy on the descents to make sure I didn't make any wrong turns and even had to consult a map on a few occasions. The rain was getting worse but it didn't bother me much as I was warm and pretty concentrated on getting around the course.

Descending down some fireroad

At one point I was riding up a tiny road that was more like a mucky fireroad when I hit an unmarked turn. It was basically at a derelict farmyard. I stopped, took out the map and started to figure out where to go. At this point, I heard a rumble behind me to find Mel driving up the road – I couldn't quite believe it. We chatted, took out the colour map and figured that the left was the right choice (I was pretty paranoid throughout about making a mistake).

I left Mel and headed down the hill towards my next turn – a river crossing which was pretty cool and I started out on a long traverse around Garryhoe and Collafunshogue hills. I remember looking at the OS map beforehand and felt that I would be 'bombing' along on this section. If you had to pin point an exact location where this long ride became a real challenge for me, this was it. As part of my training for racing I do a lot of climbing, I like climbing, and in hindsight, I would have much preferred climbing up and down Glendalough 3 more times than the 'flat' course that remained. The thing about it was that the traverse was on a grassy track – the type of thing that during the summer (or I should say, after a long period of dry weather) you would ride along quickly at 20kph. Fun, fast and maybe even flowy. Not today though – the ground was completely saturated and keeping myself moving on the bike was very difficult – I ended up having to walk lots of it. That was what got me down – physically I was pretty tired but okay – just having to walk, in the rain, in the mist on super slompy ground, it started to play with my mind. Anyway, I trudged on and after about 10 gates to jump over and some nice short descents I got back to the road. Unfortunately for me, the road didn't last very long – fortunately for me though Mel was right at the corner before the next off road section pointing me in the correct direction. I remember saying, “this sucks!” as I passed by...

The river crossing :)

If the last section was the part that it started to get really difficult, this next part was the bit that practically broke me... For the next 3 kilometers I was basically riding on a boggy path that a hundred cows had milled over. Again, lots of bike pushing. I mean, it's one thing to push a bike up a hill – but this was pretty flat. It was raining hard, everything was misty, I was tired and walking through a swamp that was going half way up my calves – this really does SUCK. After what seemed an hour I reached the road again – but this time I was a broken man. I don't think I have been in this state before – I was not physically exhausted – but I was mentally 'cooked' – I had had enough and wanted to stop. If I was in a racing situation, mentally it would be very different. You have people to race against, or a known course, or a difficult time to beat. This ride had none of these things to mentally keep me going.

The start of hell...

So why didn't I stop, well, there were a few things that kept me going from this point on.

  1. I REALLY don't want to do this again so I better do it now, I have already invested a lot of time.
  2. Mel has been a star helping me all day – I can't not finish
  3. Both Mel and I took days off work to do this, it's costing me money!
  4. I announced on all the forums that I was going to do this – I thought that I would be a wuss if I didn't finish.

With all that in mind, I rode on. Thankfully, much of the final 30 kilometers was on roads and fireroad (although all the fireroads where either muddy or had freshly placed stone that rode like treacle). Apparently, it was supposed to be mostly 'flat'. That it was not, I still remember climbing a lot. After my final meetup with Mel I turned up a road climb that looked like a wall. I have to admit that not only did I drop the gears into the granny ring, I actually contemplated walking! and it was tarmac! I thought better (it would be even more energy walking up it) and continued on the bike.

Me at the last stop - incidently, that Assos ClimaJet jacket is amzing!

With darkness starting to fall, and my brain functions slowing down, the final 20 kilometers were a bit of a blur. It was easier than that final super boggy section but I really had enough of it all and wanted to be done.

Arriving in Clonegal

At 6:39pm - 8 hours, 17 minutes and 19 seconds after I left Marley Park I reached the placard in Clonegal. I broke the previous Wicklow Way by bicycle record by almost 4 hours and was happy to be finished. The weird thing was that I actually wasn't as physically tired as I expected – mostly, I think the difficulty in the final sections was mental. Too many people told me that I would 'bomb' the last section while in reality, my average speed turned out to be almost the same as my speed over all the big mountains earlier in the ride. Mel took a few pictures and I cleaned up a bit – needless to say I was pretty hungry so I had some recovery drink and a bag of Haribo and we headed home with the aim of finding a restaurant on the way. A fine Indian in Tullow called Krish was exactly what I wanted. Never is my life easy as by the time we got back to Dundrum we had to quickly pack as we were off to the London Cycle Show early the next morning.

At the finish

So at the end of all that I think I had the most interesting job of the day – I have to say a HUGE HUGE thank you to Mel for being my support (in every sense) for the day. I'll admit that for the first half I was fine but the final 50 kilometers you really pulled me through (which you probably didn't realise, as afterwards you thought I was fine throughout). It is not nearly as glamorous a job as what I did, (if you can call riding through rain and mud glamorous) but is just as important – thanks :) I know I will have to return the favour at some point.

Stats from my Garmin Edge 305.
Time: 8:17:19
Moving Time: 8:09:46
Distance: 130.2km
Climb: 3900m
Average HR: 149
Max HR: 180

Drink: 4 liters of various flavours of TorQ Energy
Gels: 6 TorQ gels
Bars: 6 TorQ bars, a flap jack, a muesli bar
Calories used: 7709 (taken from Ascent Software)

Lots of records for me.
Longest bike ride time wise, longest off road ride, biggest day of climbing (just about), most calories burned in one day, most TorQ bars eaten in one day and lowest mental point I have had on a bike. Probably more too...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Time Machines...

I hate Turbo Trainers - there, I said it. 99.99% of the time, even if the weather is foul outside, I still prefer to ride my bike outside and get soaked than get onto a turbo trainer.

Even when I set up a laptop with a DVD to watch, it's the same and goes something like this.

I mount the bike, HR strap is on and the power meter is working. I start pedaling to warm up and the clock starts...

Pedal, pedal, pedal, spin, spin, spin... good, my legs are starting to warm up...

... riding on the turbo feels more intense than on the road ...

pedal, pedal, pedal....

... man, I'm getting thirsty, better take a drink ...

pedal, pedal, pedal...

... I must be going a while ...

pedal, pedal, pedal...

... I think I'll do some intervals ...

interval, interval, interval...

pedal, pedal, pedal...

... I wonder how long I've been going ... WHAT, 00:02:49


For me, this is why I call them time machines - if I had an hour to live, and I needed to make it last, I would find myself a turbo trainer.

So, having said all that, I'll get to my point. I've been asked a lot about Turbo Trainers recently, and as you can see I have a pretty specific relationship with them, but, as with most things in life, there is a time and a place. I have actually found them useful for warming up for races when there is no easy roads etc... close by and some times you really do want to spin the legs but can't/won't go outside. Actually, using them outdoors does not seem to bad, but unless you are warming up for a race, what is the point in that?

For those special occasions I use a Saris Fluid 2.

I have used a few magnetic and wind trainers and I found this fluid based trainer to be the closest to riding on a road. Also, living in an apartment, it's got one other important trait - when using it, it does not sound like an aeroplane is about to take off.

So, I don't like Turbo Trainers, but if I have to, I use the Fluid 2.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

MAD Beginners Spin

On Saturday morning ,almost 30 riders were out for the fourth round of the MAD beginners spin series. A few days of dry weather meant the trails were pretty dry and not too slippery but with the location being Djouce Woods, the trails would offer a tough challenge for everyone! (Including me, I had not ridden some of the trails that were used in the Irish NPS race which clashed with a British NPS).

Most of the riders with Powerscourt Waterfall in the background

A regroup in the sun

Some riders climbing the "Fox and Glove" climb

The new folk handled the conditions really well (the trails really are technical) and I think we will have a lot of new MAD members soon.

... for the more intermediate/experienced riders, I think I will have to organise a 'racers introduction day' soon enough...

Friday, October 17, 2008

A morning spin

The final part of my Wicklow Way report will have to wait another day - before that, I wanted to post these few photos from a ride this morning.

At the moment I'm only doing exactly what I want to do (and then about half of that) before I start getting ready for next season again.

Today, I rode around the leadmines and just had fun :)

All taken with my iPhone so the quality is not great.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wicklow Way Record Attempt - Part 2

Leading on from my last post, I started to pedal along the Wicklow Way. I followed the first sign, then followed on along, a little bit more, hey wait – there are no more signs. I had taken a wrong turn – in Marley Park. Not 150 meters into the huge ride and I made a mistake (which I noticed a few minutes later). I returned back to the parking lot, reset everything and at 10:22 I started off on my trip to Clonegal.

The trip through Marley Park went fine the second time along and I started up the Kilmashogue Hill Climb. The climb had been rerouted since my sub 12 minute time trial up it last year, needless to say, I was not going to go very fast up it anyway. It would be the first 300 meters of elevation gain over the whole 4,000 meters and really my warm up. The previous few days of rest meant that my heart rate rose up pretty quickly and I felt pretty good. The extent of the ride that I was hoping to accomplish was still only hitting me, but at this point, I felt pretty good. A nice morning and an epic ride in front of me.

I rode across the side of Two Rock and really tried to dodge the puddles – I really didn't want to get my feet wet and looking back on that, it's kinda funny (more on that later). As I descended down to the road from Johnny Foxes to Cruagh I met Mel standing taking photos – she asked how I was, but 40 minutes into the ride I had no issues. Life was still good :)

This actually is more technical then it looks ;)

I'm the little red dot in the middle of the picture

The pass over Prince Willies was unremarkable – I would usually try to ride as much of the newly laid slab path as possible but as I had a long ride ahead of me which was against the clock, I took the safest and quickest option and just walked the top section. I used to really love that descent but I now find that I'm a bit of a chicken on it since it was 'resurfaced' – hopefully, if I get a non 'whippet' bike I'll ride down it a bit quicker.

Mel on the way to our meeting point at Lough Tay

At the bottom of the descent Mel and I met for our first designated stop. It was simply a quick hello, a new bottle, bar and gel and off I went. The following section was uneventful to the goats track that runs alongside Djouce mountain. The last time I had ridden along it, about a month ago, it was a real joy. Reasonably dry and fast – well, fast enough for a mostly uphill trail. Today, it was wet and soggy – hopefully not a sign of things to come! I ended up having to walk a few sections but got through it okay. I met a few groups of school children hiking along the way who had a great laugh at my “Eat Me” shorts – I don't think they got the whole TorQ Bar side of things. When I hit the boardwalks, the thing that had almost stopped my attempt before it started hit me, the wind. Previously it was just an annoyance – now, riding along the narrow boardwalks, it was pretty dangerous. I took it pretty easy and half way through it, when the boardwalk turned further south the wind moved to being a direct headwind – controlling the bike became a lot easier at that point. At Lough Tay I met Mel for the second time – again, a fresh bottle, another gel, a gel there and then, but no bar this time (I still had one in my pocket). I had covered 34 kilometres, 1350 meters of climb and was only 2 hours 20 minutes into it – the most technical terrain was behind me. I knew all these trails very well so it had not really felt like I left home yet. The next 25 kilometres or so I had ridden twice before, and from there on it would all be new to me.

Lough Tay

After a quick road descent I hit more fireroads and cruised along towards Oldbridge – pretty uneventful really. After Oldbridge and some dual track climbing I hit what was probably my favourite sections of the day. A fast open grassy descent and lots more twisty quick single track that eventually drops you down to Glendalough. A real pleasure to ride and worth the trip in itself. As I arrived in Glendalough, with about 3 hours 30 minutes of riding in my legs I thought that this would have been a great spin to just stop there, have lunch and get a lift home. Not today though, the 30 minute climb out of Glendalough awaited.

Just after a 'field' section

Mel was following me in the car for this road section

I took it pretty steady up the climb and enjoyed my surroundings. This region of the world, really is beautiful and I was so glad to be in the position that I could go out and spend time in it – I really am lucky and so thankful for my health. The trees where changing colour, it was not too cold and it wasn't raining...


Food, glourious food...

As I started on the boardwalk section above Glendalough the wind (and rain!) picked up and it was the first time I put on an extra layer above my base and jersey, a Gilet. The boardwalk and the following grassy section and super technical descent was much tougher than the last time I rode it but I reached the fireroad with no incidents so a fast descent down to our third meeting position was upon me.

I arrived down to Mel in Glenmalure, 4 hours, 20 minutes into the ride still feeling pretty fresh. My legs felt okay (considering), I was eating well and although it was raining a little and windy, I was pretty warm. I had covered around two thirds of the climbing which was on the most technical terrain – a sub 8 hour seemed to be on the cards and I felt good. Again, a bottle, bar, and gel with a quick kiss good luck and I passed the half way point of my task and started the climb up Slieve Mann.

Half way

Moving into the second half of the challenge, and hitting 1,000 words is a good point for me to stop, and leave the next section until another day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wicklow Way Record Attempt - Part 1

[This was going to be a pretty long post so I'm posting in three parts]

I had heard about the Wicklow Way long before I got into cycling or properly into outdoor activities. To me, it was basically a super long walking trail that people hiked over 6 to 7 days covering some of Irelands most beautiful terrain, indeed, one of the first outdoor activities Mel and I did together was hiking a 6 hour chunk of the Wicklow Way together.

A couple of years ago when I did get into cycling the idea of doing the whole thing over a day or two was hatched. Upon further research I found out that a quartlet of talented Irish riders (Beth McCluskey, Eoin Keith, Paul Mahon and Peter O'Farrel) held the record at 12 hours and 4 minutes. At this point, my longest ride had been a tiny 2-3 hour ride covering only 30-40km and the idea of covering the complete thing in a single day was astonishing! An idea was there, but it would be a while until I did anything about it.

It was the start of this year when I really started to seriously think about riding it in a 'single serving'. I had been getting pretty good results in marathon type events and liked the idea of attempting a challenge that would really push me physically and mentally. When I'm riding well in a 'short' cross country race, I push myself as far as I can physically and mentally (if I'm not asking myself, why am I doing this?, then I'm not pushing hard enough!) but I felt a super long challenge would push me in different ways. Since the course is so long and demanding, I knew that I would not be able to attempt it during the season as the time to recover would be simply too long – as it was, I took part in races most weekends and felt that I would need longer than a few days to feel fresh again afterwards - so I forgot about it...

On Sunday the 4th of October I completed what was going to be my last race of the season. A Marathon World Cup in France (report coming soon). After that, I went into 'off-season' mode and started to enjoy a few of the things I mostly stayed away from over the last few months, pastry breakfasts and beer mostly :)

By Wednesday I was pretty relaxed and recovered from the marathon and the weather was nice – an idea popped into my head, what about doing a Wicklow Way record attempt on Thursday. I had not really planned anything for it but I was still very fit, the weather looked okay and Mel (who would be my support) and I were flexible enough with our jobs that we could free up the time to go for it. 15 minutes of writing up posts on various forums to make the attempt official (stating start time and projected times etc...) and I had backed myself into a corner where I had to do it :)

Final prep

I keep my bikes in race ready mode (I'm very particular about having everything perfect) as much as possible so getting the nutrition ready for the attempt and going through maps of the course was really the only preparation that I needed to perform. Mel was going to meet me at 7 locations along the way for food support and probably a lot more places to take photos. I headed off to bed for a relatively late start from Marley Park at 10am (The park only opens at that time) - the last thing I did before I slept was ask myself - "Am I mad?"

The course itself is best described on this website – but basically, it is almost all off-road with a large amount of climbing – around 4,000 meters over the 130km course. I had ridden the first half several times and was very comfortable with it but the second half remained a mystery. Apparently, it was the 'easy' section – or at least, a great deal less climbing than the first half.

Mel had many tasks, feed support, photography and timing

I felt very lazy as Mel drove me over to the start of the Wicklow Way – it's less than 10 minutes from my home on the bike but I thought I should conserve energy as much as possible. We arrived, I set up my bike and we hung around taking a few photos. The first section would see me weave through the park before I tackle the first climb – the Kilmashogue Hill Climb. Technically, cycling is forbidden in the park and I had tried to contact the ranger in relation to this to let him know my plans and seek advice – unfortunately, I was unable to get a working number. My plan was then to ride very slowly through the park (a slow jogging pace) and dismount and walk if I meet groups of people – there were more than enough kilometres in front of me that this was never going to be an issue in the long run.

So which way should I go?

Mel and I

Really, am I mad?

I grabbed my first bottle of TorQ Energy, a bar and a gel (I planned to consume about that much every 1 to 1:10 hours) and off I went.

And off I go

More to come...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Reports soon...

Once I get back from the London Bike Show I'll put up my reports for the Marathon World Cup and my record attempt at the Wicklow Way...

I'll be seeing little yellow men for weeks!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

2008 Irish NPS Round 6 - Castlewellan

The final race of the Irish NPS was being held in Castlewellan park this weekend after the earlier date had to be cancelled due to extreme weather conditions. The Castlewellan course is one that I really like but for some reason I wasn't really able to get mentally prepared for the race. For me, a huge part of doing well at a race is having my mind in the right place leading up to it – I guess 26 races into the season I was feeling a bit raced out and I was more focused on the Marathon World Cup the following weekend. To tell you the truth, if Mel was not going I probably would have trained at home hoping to better my performance at the World Cup instead.

The race started with Robin Seymour, Peter Buggle and I cresting the major climb (about 10 minutes in) together, at this point, my lack of time on the mountain bike recently showed and I allowed a gap to develop on the technical singletrack. I have raced on the course 5 times now and I think this was easily the most technical version. As I mentioned earlier, I was not really in the right mindset for the race so I changed focus a little and deciding to take the race relatively easy and focus on riding the singletrack smoothly (hopefully getting in a good training session for the following weeks big race). I didn't push very hard but ended up enjoying the course a lot – I simply made sure I did enough that no one caught me but as I wasn't in the race for an overall placing (despite my two earlier wins in the NPS, I missed too many races due to races abroad for me to be in the running in the 6 race series) I wasn't focusing on a higher position.

After 5 laps and a little under 2 hours I finished up in 3rd to find Mel had a bad crash in her race but yet pushed through to finish. Upon chatting to her we decided to head straight home (she wasn't in a great condition) so unfortunately we were not able to hang around and chat before the prize giving.

As usual, the course was amazing, it's just such a pity the NPS has to be spread out over near 5 months...

Race and series results are available here. There is also a questionnaire with regards to XC racing in Ireland (for both racers and non racers) - if you have not filled it out yet, please do so. The link is here.


I arrive home from France to find Mel has made me this :)

Best girlfriend in the world??? :)

2008 Scottish XC Round 7

It was all a little last minute -I was talking to Robin on-line and he was asking me about what other races I had planned on going to for the rest of the year. There were not many XC races left and he mentioned a UCI C2 race that was being held in Scotland as part of the Scottish XC league. The race was going to be held in the famous 7Stanes MTB park so my interest was perked and Mel and I went and booked flights and a car.

A few days later we arrived into Glentress. On the drive there I was getting scared, I seen car after car with nice mountain bikes on the back driving in the opposite direction - were we missing something. When we actually arrived at 7 Stanes MTB park all become clear... We had actually arrived at a mountain bikers heaven. I actually have never seen so many recreational cyclists in the one place before (that were not part of some big event). It was amazing – all shapes and sizes on all forms of bikes from tiny kids on miniature mountain bikes to the strangest looking (normal) bike I have ever seen. It was a small jump frame with a massive downhill fork. It looked like a chopper!

Anyway, back to the race at hand – a preride of the course was had. Basically a big climb, (fireroad and singletrack) followed by a long, very wet and mucky descent, another climb and then another descent back to the start finish. The final section was down a freeride/jump park style track so there were lots of jumps to launch off. I liked the course, I didn't feel fast on the schlompy sections but the profile suited me.

Race day arrived with the usual “why am I doing this” sort of feelings. Regardless, I warmed up and got to the start line with plenty of time. My UCI points meant a front row start. At 2pm we were off. Gareth Montgomery lead us up the long climb (about 8 minutes) with Robin and I trailing a second or two off the back. My legs were feeling great and I was very comfortable – could this be the day for me to get a podium at a C2 event. I started the muddy traverse and into the descent, a slight gap grew to Robin (who seems to float over this kind of thing – I also think my tire choice – Racing Ralphs – for these long muddy sections was very bad – if I knew what it was going to be like I would have put a Nobby Nick on the front – ahh well, you live and learn). One guy passed me about half we down the descent and then towards the bottom another took an 'interesting' line trying to get by me and promptly crashed in front of me taking me down too :( I didn't notice it at the time, but his 44 tooth big chain ring left some bad cuts on my left leg. This wasn't too bad and once we got untangled I descended the final section, it was only when I hit the fireroad that disaster struck – my chain was completely messed up. I spun around the bike and started to try and fix it – my Garmin tells me I spent about 100 seconds doing this. All the time watching rider after rider passing – damn, that podium. I got back on the bike and decided to push hard hard on the climbs and just enjoy the descents. So for the final 100 minutes of the race that is what I did. The race actually felt really short and I enjoyed it a lot, the final few sections of single track were a real pleasure to ride and the single track climb towards the top of the major climb 'flowed' really well.

Riding up the climb from the start - pic from here

As the race progressed I picked off riders every lap and eventually finished off in 5th place – my last lap being my fastest (damn, I really need to learn to push harder) – I was closing in quickly on 4th and 3rd at the time. Considering, I was happy with the 5th but a bit frustrated that I blew my chance at a better race. The few days before the race my legs felt great and I had hoped for an even better result.

Lessons from this (and you'll see in my next race report too) – I really need to spend more time on the mountain bike going fast descending, since the Epic Blast (where I badly hurt my shoulder – it's now a month later and I'm still going to the physio) I have mostly been on the road bike. My feel for riding quickly on technical terrain really left me – it was frustrating, on a course like that, you can make up time on the climbs but the descents really did kill me.

View from our B&B

I have to say thanks to Alex of the Colnago Ergon team for providing support for both Mel and I and also the Millburn House Bed and Breakfast for a really pleasant stay. One last thing, I think this race was possibly the best organised and marshalled race I had ever been too. Commentary as you passed through each lap (telling you your position), digital timing with results up as you finished and more marshals on the course on the practice lap then I would see during a normal race! Excellent and thank you.

Mel won her race - her first UCI C2 win and her report is available here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Weather in Ornans

14C and a 45% chance of rain! That sounds worse than Ireland.

Reports from the last two weekends of racing on the way soon - damn my busy life - 'off-season' will be here soon.