Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Playing Catch-up

The title of my post summarises how life has felt since i last wrote here nearly two months ago! Since then, i have done the Scottish champs off the back of my first conference as a condensed matter theorist, followed by eight days in the Hebrides, and then my most & least favourite race of the year, the 3 Peaks Cyclocross. Since then, it's been all-go, i've been trying to fix all the bikes i have incapacitated over the course of the season, glue tubs on cyclocross wheelsets, and clean, tidy and pack the house in anticipation of my second move in a year at the end of the month. Just the thought of all this is leaving me a little tired, and perhaps no wonder! So, let's begin at the beginning.

Up first, the Scottish Champs. I spent the week before the race in my old home town of Cambridge at a conference which involved days spent in seminar rooms, and several lates nights discussing physics (and maybe a few beers). I had initially hoped that i might be able to do the Kielder 100 for the third year on the trot, but the logistics just didn't work out - there was physically no way i could get to the event in time for the start! So my consolation prize was to be the scottish xc champs the day after at Drumlanrig Castle. And what a consolation - i love the venue at Drumlanrig, it's a beautiful setting for a race, and the trails are absolutely superb (even if the last time Rachel and I came here, we had some car-related issues!). The course was pretty familiar from the NPS there in 2008, with many of the same sections (the best bits) laced together in a different order. My only slight complaint would be that the chicken line for one of the tech sections was actually faster than the drop - surely the wrong way around!

Having watched as Rachel raced to a bronze medal in the elite women's race, being beaten by two Commonwealth Games athletes (albeit roadies, pah pah), i started my race with pretty low expectations. The lap was a long one, so it was just my hope to just finish the full race distance before a flying GT rider lapped me (although i didn't know which one...). I felt pitifully slow on the climbs, but was enjoying letting go with the anthem on the rough stuff, and aside from a particularly rude masters rider who spent a while shouting abuse behind me before shoulder-barging me into a tree, my race passed without much company and without much incident. The faster sport riders came storming past, politely i hasten to add, and i just avoided Dave H catching me for a lap to complete the full race distance, albeit in a maratho 2.5hrs! On the plus side, i did break my duck at a scottish race, i finished without mechanical incident, and without getting lapped. A result of sorts!

A fantastic holiday of walking, cycling and generally enjoying the great outdoors in the Outer Hebrides was next on the menu, and is probably the reason i'm not totally insane now. We were unfortunately spared the beautiful views from the top of the only Corbett in the Hebrides by the diabolical weather, but climbing An Clisham sounded like a good plan to prepare for the 3 peaks. Some fantastic sunny days followed, including one spent cycling around the isle of Harris (and buying Harris Tweed...), and getting caught up in a sheep-based traffic jam ensued, and whilst it might not have been perfect preparation, i felt like i was at least able to stomp uphills a little better for what waited next.

The 3 Peaks has been my traditional season-closer - by august, i'm usually sick of XC racing and yearn for something a bit different, which makes it relatively easy to choose between a long trip to Newnham (as great as the course is) and a shorter one to do what is almost certainly the most wacky bike race in the UK! This year was no exception, and as soon as the last round of the scottish xc series was out of the way in July, i told myself that i would concentrate on preparing solely for this race. Rachel and I had a go at hiking up hills with bikes on our shoulders in the Lomonds, and perhaps more importantly tried out our new mini-v brakes coming back down the steep sheep tracks, and through August things seemed to be going pretty well. I intended to start running again, but never really found the time with trying to get some serious work done in my research life, and Rachel's job with Fife council it never really came together. Somewhere in the midst of this i also discovered i was going to move again, this time to London. I'm not sure quite where my enthusiasm for riding my bike went, but certainly the fun in intervals and training hard seemed to have more or less totally evaporated by the beginning of September, and maybe i should have left it there!

Instead, i decided that i had taken an entry for the race, the least i could do (since the organisers returned 150 entries this year!) was to race as best i could so i didn't take the spot of someone more deserving! After a night spent in the field next to the Helwith Bridge pub, race morning dawned grey and overcast. I wasn't worried, both the 3 peaks races i have done previously have been grey and overcast mornings, and have turned into beautiful days out on dry, fast ground. A bit of rain saw us away from the start, and made the sketchy 6 miles on the road a little more nervy with a pack of 600 riders. In spite of much tinkering with my cross bike, i'd had to make a last minute switch of wheels to a spare set with less than appropriate 32mm challenge tubs on (my rear tufo t34 having inexplicably sprung a leak when i was cleaning the bike on saturday morning!). On top of that, the longer chain i had fitted to cope with the 50T front ring, and a 32T rear sprocket decided that the wet was reason enough to fall off. Repeatedly. Before the off road had even begun. Cue a few maternally disapproving comments from Isla Rowntree about the quality of my bike maintenance.

Once we hit the first offroad section at Gill Garth, it was clear that this year was not going to be like the previous times i had done the race. The ground was sodden, and the going very tough. It set the tone for the whole race really, and as fun as it was riding a hugely inappropriate bike through the tough terrain of the yorkshire dales, i just didn't have the drive i had two years ago. My lack of running fitness really hit home as i came across fellow twitterer Dave Haygarth on the descent off Pen-y-Gent; the final one of the three peaks and more of a "riders" climb. He had had an off on the slippery top section, and broken his collarbone, and in spite of spending a lot of time grimacing by the side of the track (you would hope, or he just wouldn't be human!) and then making his way gingerly down the rest of the offroad, he still came in at the same time as me - 4h10m.

Nick Craig made the most of the absence of Rob Jebb to take a runaway victory from Neal Crampton who bettered his previous best with second place. Within a couple of days, the soreness had subsided, and i found myself thinking ahead to next year, when i'll be a bit more settled, and it'll mark the beginning of my first ever "proper" cross season (as opposed to the odd race here and there...).

So time is ticking by, it's less than a month until i move south to start all over again, and it seems like there's an awful lot to do. Better get packing...

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