It's already been a while since i wrote a post, and i swore this time around i'd be better, but to be totally honest it feels like i've been living at breakneck speed the last three weeks. After the spring marathon, i had hoped to have another good week's training ready for the Midlands XC race on my favourite course of last year at Hanchurch near Stoke. It's a great place to ride a bike, and the BETD/Goldtec guys helped by a certain Mr. Brookes always put on an excellent testing course, with proper climbs to test your legs, and tricky twisty descents to make sure you've been riding your mtb in the off season. Last year i had a less than perfect race when a catalog of errors led to me spending the night sleeping in the car (even at my height, a fiesta is not a comfy bed) and then having only milk to drink to stay hydrated in the hours leading up to the race. Feeling rather better this year, and with a slightly more cohesive plan in mind, i fancied my chances of improving my finish position.
Tuesday morning, and things were looking good - i did a turbo session in the morning before heading out the door to work, knowing that in the evening i'd be boarding a plane to Germany. I'd got it all planned out, i'd take my running shoes and do an hour's run around Werne on Wednesday, and fly back Thursday which would give me time to rest and recover. I saw the sights of Werne at 7am, the joys of a 1hr time difference being enough to get me up and out early before breakfast, and went jogging along the river on a pleasant spring morning. Thursday was the day to return and prepare. A friendly little country called Iceland had other ideas however. As the day wore on, it became more and more clear that i wouldn't be heading home after all - my colleague and I made plans to stay in Dusseldorf over night in order to get a flight early Friday morning. Finding somewhere to stay on Thursday evening proved more of a struggle however, as a "wire expo" (i seriously can't imagine who would go to this, or why!) had been on in the city, and thousands of other Brits were also stranded unable to fly home. We finally got into a slightly grubby hotel that was only a few years away from charging by the hour, and went to sleep.
Friday dawned to silence from the airport, the ash cloud has spread and now the German airports were closing too. We decided to cut our losses and head for Brussels - then we had the option of the Eurostar, a ferry from Oostend or a flight if the airports reopened. And it was a much better place to be stuck than Dusseldorf to boot. We checked into a rather plush hotel in the centre for what would be the first of three nights, and i got my first acquaintance with the running machine in the gym. On the train journey, we passed through several extremely picturesque villages and towns in the Belgian Ardennes that i'm very keen to go back and visit, in particular Verviers which was the location chosen for the 2007 world mtb marathon championships. Let's face it, a country obsessed with chocolate and cycling has to be my spiritual home! Once we got to Brussels, following the alternative train route suggested to us by a friendly Belgian man at Dusseldorf, and checked in, i have to admit a wave of relief passed over me. Annie, our star organiser had arranged some Eurostar tickets for monday morning, we had somewhere to stay, and things were looking up. It was only later that it occurred to me that getting back on Monday meant i would miss the Midlands race, and also not see Rachel for nearly two weeks as she headed up to the Dalby World Cup on Sunday.
The days in Brussels passed in a haze of foraging for somewhere to eat, trying to find out what was going on transport-wise and even a little sightseeing. It was pretty cool to go the atomium (http://www.atomium.be/) a giant exhibit for the 1958 world's fair in the shape of a body centred cubic crystal structure unit (oh my, i still remember some materials science!), and filled with exhibits from the 1950s and '60s. As i implied earlier, i spent a lot of quality time with the running machine in the evenings to make up for my lack of bike training, and also because it made the amazing Belgian stews taste even nicer when i was hungry from a bit of excercise. Finally, monday morning arrived, and after a nervous wait to collect our tickets (apparently etickets don't count!). After a mad dash to the platform, the actual trip back home was a bit of a blur. I got back to find i'd left my lights on in my car six days earlier, and needed a new battery, and then once i finally got home discovered my cat had been duffed up by the local bully and needed a trip to the vets. What a life.
Things have settled down a bit now, Rachel's back from working at Dalby, and training is back in the swing - in fact it even felt like i hadn't lost much through 6 days with no bike. I guess time will tell...