Monday, 25 June 2012

Skedaddling Around Eastnor Castle - 3rd at Mountain Mayhem

Womens Open Podium - Saddle Skedaddle in 3rd
This is a bit of a long one, but then again, this was one EPIC race! I have finally found a MTB race that leaves my legs feeling properly tired!

In the middle of a looooong 14hr day of work a few weeks ago I found out the name for our mountain mayhem team 'Need a Skidaddle Holiday Now!'. Quite fitting  really!

Last weekend I raced for Saddle Skedaddle with Steph Fountain, Iwona Szmyd and Emila Zielinska in my first 24hr MTB race - Mountain Mayhem.
There have been a lot of firsts this year, but this one was the one I had least clue about. I knew I could keep going for a long time, for days in fact, but going, then stopping, then going again was a new concept. How fast could I push it and still be able to get out of the tent in the middle of the night to ride again? That was what I was about to learn!

One thing I had learnt from BUCS however was that muddy conditions really do require mud tyres, so I made sure I had some fitted! There had been ample rain in the last week or so and the weather forecast was for rain from 10pm to 4am...lovely

After a brief discussion about who could run, it turned out I the decision on first lap rider was sorted. I set off without knowing exactly how far it was, but knowing it was long enough to not be a sprint. I felt comfortable with the pace, but glanced at my watch after a while and was suprised to see I'd passed through a mile in under 7minutes, in a swamp, with a hill, in bike shoes! Too fast?
No, I jumped on the bike at the 1.2mile mark and felt good, phew. Also, I assumed job done as far as getting a reasonable position to avoid queueing at the single track goes, as Nick Craig was announced as crossing the start line as I reached my bike, 100m from the line.

I was 1st woman after the run but lost a few places on the stretch over  to the 'Kenda Klimb' and was sat just behind the first womens open team at this point. I was pleased to stop the flow of overtaking and take a few places back up the steep climb, staying with the woman ahead. The first bit of single track slowed everything down a bit, but the queueing wasn't terrible, I have now officially learnt where to start in a race after Kielder 100 - not at the back :-)!

Mountain Mayhem Route for reference:
This was going well, it was good fun! Then we hit 'Wiggle Woodlands' and I wish I'd never thought that....Here I found the 'Mud of Doom' which clogged my wheels. No worry, I scraped off the mud with a stick and set off running again, keeping the bike to the side to avoid the mud. 10m later I cleared them again...10m later I cleared them again and snapped the stick....10m later I cleared again...'insert rude word here'.

I shot backwards down the field, unable to move more than 10m in one go. The one womens team ahead turned into ALL the womens teams ahead, anyone with 1.95 tyres or less could still get by riding, riding with 2.1s like me and you were screwed! I slogged on thinking 'what if it's all like this, I am literally going to be here all day and be writing the whole race off'.
Thankfully it wasn't, I got out of the woods eventually, cleared the wheels one last time and got back on the bike, hooray!

I came through half way in 65mins including the run and headed off up the 'Niterider Grinder'. Legs back in it now I was on the bike I overtook and overtook again all the way up :-), this was more like it! The descent from 'Hope Shit Shifter Summit' was ace! The 'Weldtite Washout' at the bottom was a different matter and here started the chain suck of destruction...

One bottle of water over the chain/mech  later and the situation had not improved for more than a minute at a time. Water gone I was on the hunt for puddles to avoid snapping my rear mech. With none in sight I did a fair bit of pushing again. After a couple of puddles in the woods at the top I attempted to ride again. A badly timed bit of chain suck on a corner then saw me do a super man into the brambles much to the amusement of everyone behind me - I like to keep people smiling! Eventually I reached the final descent and had great fun down that and into the finish in 2hrs4mins! Wow that was a long leg!

Whilst Steph, Iwona and Emila rode I hunted down some thinner tyres and the wonderful Saddle Skedaddle support team had them fitted in no time! Iwona had flown round in 1hr36 and there were rumours it was getting nicer to ride...then Emila handed over to me with the words 'OMG, its horrible!'.

So off I went with no expectations on my second lap at all. Reaching 'Wiggle Woodlands' again I took a deep breath and got ready to dismount. Then turned the corner and found it rideable! Go 1.95 tyres! And thanks to all those nice people with wider tyres who suffered with me on that first lap, removing the worst of the mud and taking it with them!!

This made life much faster! I was through half way within 45minutes and off up the hill, where I even had enough time for a short chat with Rickie Cotter.  Then I found out what Emila meant....this side was definitely not as nice as before. Still, for a while I was moving well and it looked like I'd come in in a similar time to Iwona's last lap, but the chain suck of destruction hit again, earlier this time. The water ran out. By the end it was 5 pedals forward to 3 back to try and keep moving...however still a BIG improvement on the first lap (1hr48)! By now we were no longer last and were in fact 3rd! All to play for!

Skedaddle Corner! Beautiful conditions....
Dusk had hit as Steph went out and the heavens opened not long after. Met office was spot on with the forecast!
In a way this was a blessing in disguise. The whole course became wet mud and my 3rd lap at 2am was probably the easiest to move through. Slower on corners but a welcome relief from the treacle during the day!

I had a sing along with a guy in the woods and heard him move on from 'if your happy and you know it' to 'wild rover' at a doubling back of the course later on.

After coming through half way in an hour (which I was a little disappointed with) I suddenly realised why I was dropping off the pace. The tell tale signs of bonking arrived, I couldn't really concentrate on anything and keeping my legs moving was an effort, let alone engaging them in a coordinated manner. All I wanted to do was sit down. I stopped and crammed half a bag of sweets in my mouth, sit down? What was I on about, that was a bad idea! I then started pushing my bike, hoping my legs would follow. I'm not sure how long this lasted but  I managed to get back on the bike at some point and ride most of 'Niterider Grinder', even if my vision was a little bit wonky..whether due to the lack of blood sugar or lack of a left contact lens I just don't know! But I do know why the grinder name exists now.

I stopped half way up to eat the other half a bag of sweets. By the top they kicked in and I was away, enjoying the downhill, getting through 'Weldtite Washout' and up the hill without incident as long as I remained in my granny gear, loving the night riding! Given all of this, this was my slowest ride yet (2hr9) but it was great fun!

I finished at dawn, just as the rain stopped :-). This was where it all got interesting. The commentators announced us as leading, none of us could work out how? We checked the leader board, it confirmed it! Had both the teams ahead had mechanicals? An hour later we were demoted back to 3rd....our chip had somehow registered twice for Stephs

While Emila was out we worked out it looked like Iwona would get back at 11:40 after her 4th lap, so here came the decision - who to do the last leg? Neither me nor Steph were that keen so we left it to the brake pad gods. If a new brake pad could be found for Iwona's bike then I would ride the last lap. If not, Iwona would ride my bike and Steph would ride the last lap.

The brake pad stall was shut - yes! The saddle skedaddle team produced a quick fix - doh! At 11:58am I set off on our last lap still in 3rd. If either of the two teams ahead didn't complete this 14th lap, we'd move up! Always worth a shot!

With Mandy Faint from Big Bear Bikes and the quad bike back marker hot on my heals I rode through the wet mud after a quick manual gear change (front mech useless for changing down now) and up 'Kenda Klimb'. The first bit of forest we hit, which had been fine earlier, was now aweful! Mud clung everywhere, clearing it was impossible, my wheels didn't turn, 1.95 tyres now no longer doing the trick. I dragged my bike through the forest and attempted to clear it at the other side. I asked the quad bike driver what the second half was like, the reply: 'I don't want to tell you'....great! Nice then! He also confirmed these were the worst Mountain Mayhem conditions ever! I decided grudgingly that it was time to head back...

Then Mandy appeared having corrected a slight route detour...and when I asked if she really was going all the way she didn't even blink and replied 'yes, theres no rush for me to be back!'. Ok I'd carry on! It takes a lot for me to quit!

20m, 3 attempts as breaking my rear mech and 2 attempts at clearing my wheels later, a guy emerged from 'Wiggle Woodland', the worst part of the first lap, yelling 'Don't do it! It's not worth it!'. Alright. I turned around and straight lined it back, crossing all my fingers that the other two teams had completed 14 laps....

They had, we finished 3rd with 13 laps! Woooo!
Thanks to the great team of Steph, Iwona and Emila and team 'I'd rather be on a Skedaddle Holiday' for making my first 24hr MTB race a memorable and enjoyable one! What an epic introduction to 24hr MTB racing! And thanks to Saddle Skedaddle for all the support! It would have been a whole other story without their bike washing/mending and rider feeding facilities! 'I'd rather be on a Skedaddle holiday', including adventure frog, finished just behind us in 4th, so a great weekend all round!

Mandy rode in during the prize giving after an incredibly long lap! Hats off to her, I thought it was actually going to be impossible! (I think somebody needs to tell her that its ok to not finish a lap if you already know your position on the podium is not going to be altered by it :-P). Edit: Worth the effort to make sure they secured 3rd!

Adventure Frog

I can't finish without mentioning Julia Hobson winning the solo women's race. Amazing riding, 11 laps in 24hrs, with time to spare! The mental determination to do that in those conditions is astounding! Well done Julia, I would have sat down in the mud and not got up again well in advance of 24hrs!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Riding Without a Board - 4th at BUCS XC MTB

Erlestoke 12
A couple of weeks ago I took a deep breath and removed the map board from my mountain bike. It's been well over a year, maybe 2, since I raced a pure MTB race and the Erlestoke 12 would be my 4th attempt at it!
Me and my friend Becky were racing in the 6hr race as a female pair under the name 'Shé-velo'. I rode around the course early in the morning to get a feel for it and it was excellent. Dry and fast singletrack for the first half, then a big climb followed by a huge bomb hole and swoopy singletrack wiggly technical riding down (and up and down again) to the change over.
By midday and the start it was roasting hot! I set off a bit too low down the field and spent my lap sprinting the open sections then settling in behind a queue of people on the singletrack. Still - this proved to be my fastest lap in the end.
As the afternoon wore on it got hotter and hotter! By the end of my 3rd lap we knew we were in the lead (not the most populated race catagory tbh) but it was looking more and more likely I'd fit a 4th lap in within the six hours as Becky was coming through consistently strong! The 4th lap was tough, by the up/down singletrack fun my back was wrecked but I only dropped a couple of minutes all told and we held onto the lead :-). A good start to racing without a board! 

Such a fun weekend and great to see Pete and Andy (Becky's boyfriend) fight it out in the 12 hour race to come 2nd and Tom and Andy pull off 11th with only one working bike and the most layed back transitions I have ever seen (including time for a cuppa...well almost)! Great efforts all round!

After a week of excessive work I was ready for a holiday. So it was a good job we had one planned, after a quick trip to Horton-in-Ribblesdale it was off to the Isle of Man. 

80-100miles of cycling and a lot of tea, pub and watching fast motorbikes ensued. The only bit of proper MTB we fitted in was on our hunt for a pub on Monday - race day! We rode 14miles, found some fun descents, an indistinct river/ footpath, 1 inaccessable pub (whilst the roads were closed for the TT races), an ex pub ( close) and finally an open pub! One mile from where we started...

View from The Railway - Union Mills. A pub 1mile from where we started looking for a pub.

 Thoroughly relaxed I arrived back in Sheffield in time for my second MTB race without a map board in 2 weeks! The British University MTB Champs at Birchall Golf Course. I had no clue what to expect (except a wet mess after this weeks weather) or how to race it. The recce at 9am revealed a wet course but not impassible given a bit less tyre pressure. 2 races later...well..

This was the first time me and Helen would race each other without a map, it was going to be interesting. 4 laps but if you were lapped by the leader you finished on their 4th lap.

Helen shot off and I immediately realised I was in the wrong gear - massively. Rode the start probably in about 12th position. But then we turned the corner onto the golf course and I overtook very quickly - back past Helen and another couple of girls.
We set off about 2 mins behind the guys so caught them up just at the start of the killer hill. So boggy at the bottom it was miles quicker to run - which allowed me to overtake again.
The singletrack at the top was congested so I hung back accepting we weren't going to be able to overtake all the riders ahead until the short bit of open. The Manchester girl behind me thought otherwise and started yelling 'riders coming through'. I let her past to deal with the guys ahead.
She made it about 3 guys ahead. Then there was deep mud and running and I was right back on her tail. Somewhere in this mud fest singletrack she got a minute on me (according to lap times). I had real trouble with non mud tyres - own fault though!

Really enjoyed the last bit of the course with the bomb holes and proper downhill fun! Even got the comment 'your riding it better than a lot of the guys' hehe. I might have to admit I am a mountain biker one day soon...

If possible lap 2 was muddier. I was still in touch with the Manchester girl going up the climb and planned to dig in and try and stay with her at the top - then I got distracted by somebody saying they thought I had a flat (turned out not - just running low psi) and the few seconds stopped to check was enough to lose contact. Another girl overtook in the gloop at the top which I had had to dismount for. That put me back in a bit of a race mode and I overtook her and put distance between us quickly. Still, no sign of Manchester anymore.

By lap 3 the course had deteriorated badly - churned up unridable sections now clear though so I knew where to dismount and where to push through. No sign of girl ahead or behind. Towards the end I started to expect the first girl to lap me and when my chain came off in a bog I thought it was over. But no, got through finish without being lapped so off on lap 4...

The mud was now no longer wet mud but sticky mud. Got the dismount sections firmly in my mind but had to stop a few times to clear mud to keep wheels turning. Tyre tread completely saturated - just like riding slick tyres! But no sign of girl ahead or behind so dug in and enjoyed the descents at the end for the last time.

I was amazed to learn at the finish that I was in 4th overall! This is way more than I expected. Rode all the technical downhill well and only messed up the row of 6 bomb holes once when my tyre slid out on the mud on lap 3. Needed less than a min a lap to reach the podium (cough:mud tyres/being less clueless) - next year :-).