Twinkly Dave – Mud splattered bicycle and pizza enthusiast Growing old disgracefully

October 27, 2014

The race bubble

Filed under: Racing — dgpowell @ 1:22 pm

You can’t train as hard as you can race. That, I find, is always the case. No matter how hard I try while slogging it up hills, or secretly sweating it out on the turbo trainer, if I do the same thing as part of an event, I can find an extra percent or two of effort. A few seconds less up a hill, a few minutes longer above threshold before having to back off, a couple more hours on gels before having to put something solid in my stomach, the race effect can make a big difference.
It’s not just physical, this effect. The extra focus a race can provide can be just as important, just as useful as any increase in wattages – reacting to how a race is progressing is as much a state of mind as it is a state of your heartrate. Going bar to bar with someone towards a bottleneck during a ‘cross race is all about believing you can get there in front.

People have mentioned to me, before now, that when I’m doing well in a race, I often don’t notice them when passing them – not out of ignorance, but simply because they’re just an obstacle, who they are doesn’t enter the little bubble of focus I’m in. They’re just someone to chase down, then someone to get past, then someone to drop.
In that race bubble there’s very little going on really, everything can seem very simple – you’ve got your targets to race against, you know how much time there is left to chase them down/drop them, you can get to the maximum effort you can give without fuss and stay there without any worry, you just – to put it simply – crack on with the job. And it’s a lovely place to be, provided nothing goes wrong you can bury yourself away in the bubble until the end of the race, at which point hopefully you can feel satisfied with the result.

The real trick, of course, is to be able to get back into that bubble when something does go wrong. Saturday’s ‘cross race in Liverpool tested my ability to do just that to the limit. A pre race lap showed a course that was good fun when you hit your lines, with lots of hidden tree roots lurking in the undergrowth for any time you missed. A few short ‘power’ climbs and, to make up for a lack of off camber slippery corners, the inclusion of this season’s first “circle of death” (which I despise, but never mind that).
I got a decent enough start. I wasn’t gridded at the front as I’ve missed too many rounds to be ‘up there’ in the league placings but was sat with the top 20 round the first hairpin bend and at the end of the first lap. I settled down after a few overly adrenalined corners and got into my bubble easily enough, started hitting my lines as bit better and began working my way towards the top 10.

One slight misjudgement of a rooty corner, however, pulled me back to reality quickly as my (admittedly riskily low pressured) front tyre hooked up on the tree root and unseated the bead. I made a judgement call to carry on past the pits, rather than call in and jump onto the MTB I’d brought as a back up, and hope that everything held together. I settled back into a rhythm quickly enough and started riding as if everything was fine with the bike. Unfortunately this didn’t play out well as, eventually, the tyre unseated properly from the rim, dumping me on my arse and, when I jumped back on and tried to carry on as before, blowing the tube out.

I ran about a quarter of the lap, very much out of any sort of ‘race bubble’, swapped to the spare bike, which felt slow and sluggish in comparison and started to stress about everything.
Thankfully, back in the pits Dave from Horwich CC and Angela had checked my bike over and sorted me a front wheel so, with two laps remaining, I was back on the cross bike.


Borrowed front wheel. Running out of time. Getting back in focus. Pic from Nathan Stirk

Back on the ‘good’ bike, even with an unfamiliar front wheel, I got back into the bubble and retook a few places, eventually finishing in 15th place. Not a great result, but as good as it could have been in the circumstances.

Sunday brought with it the National Hill Climb Championships. Which should have been ace. I’d done everything I needed to to ‘prepare my race bubble’ – I’d pre ridden the course a couple of times in the run up, to get an idea of what it would feel like. My bike was in as good a condition as it could be, the only thing that didn’t feel right was me.
Had the race taken place 3 weeks earlier – before the Worlds up in Scotland – I imagine I would have flown up the hill. In training I’d been setting PBs all over the place, winning races and generally felt competitive. Yesterday, although I didn’t turn up feeling sore, I could tell I wasn’t at 100%.
I warmed up as best I could, knowing what would work for me from previous hill climbs and arrived at the start line in as good a condition and as ready as I felt I could. I was, however, definitely not in my ‘race bubble’. Despite it ‘just’ being another time trial I think I got a bit caught up in the whole “oh god it’s the national championships” mentality and, as I powered away from the line, never got into any sort of rhythm.
My lungs felt unusually raw within seconds, I somehow convinced myself that I could feel yesterday’s ‘cross race in my legs and, rather than encourage myself with how I was doing, I found myself more and more certain that I was doing badly.


Pic from Neil Harris’ Flickr site

By the time I hit the halfway point on the course, a brief lull in the gradient as you cross over a bridge, I was mentally miles away from putting in a good time. Had there not been a massively supporting crowd all the way up, cheering and encouraging each competitor as they went past – me included – it’s quite possible I would have just stopped (if you were there and you were one of the shouting, cheering, encouraging people at the roadside, you were awesome BTW!). Instead I just ground my way to the top in 1st gear, feeling like a bit of a shambles.
I hung around at the race HQ to watch the times roll in as the ‘big hitters’ took their turn. It was, as you might expect, incredibly close at the top, with some utterly stunning times up the hill set – the winner eventually beating me by 35 seconds.

I ended up 39th (out of 176, in case you were wondering), with a time of 3.59.9 – under the 4 minute mark by as small a margin as you can possibly get. Maybe in future, if I can get in my bubble, I can get into the top 20 (20th place “only” being 9 seconds faster) and push on from there. I mean, 10th place was 3mins 41secs, I reckon I could do that, if everything went perfectly. Better preparation, a bit more weight saving on the bike, not racing and crashing the day before. It’s possible you know 😉

October 22, 2014

Sympathy for the devil

Filed under: Racing — dgpowell @ 11:21 am

Crashing out of the World 24’s the other week was a bit of a blow (pun not originally intended…but welcome), but hey-ho, life goes on and nothing got broken so I decided the best way to get over it was to get straight back out on the bike and get back to doing some racing I’ve been enjoying.

So far this season, all the ‘cross races I’ve done have been dry (well, dry enough for mud to not be an issue, anyway). Last weekend saw all that start to change though, as the 5th round of the North West league featured a few nicely sloppy sections. Nothing too bike-clogging, but a few two-wheeled drifts came into play round the wetter corners. Great fun and, despite still feeling a tad jaded (and sporting a fine collection of bruises and scabs) I got another good result (for me) – 7th. Chuffed! It was hard fought, with great, close racing from start to finish and hopefully a sign of what’s tome come for the rest of the season.


(Pic from the Weaver Valley CC website)

Finishing in the top 10 meant I was handed a lovely brown envelope of cash at the post-race presentation, containing almost enough to cover my entry fee. I couldn’t think of anything better to do with it than re-invest it in another ‘cross race the next day, so headed over to Skipton for a round of the Yorkshire series, that coincided with the Rapha Supercross.

Sadly that race didn’t go so well – multiple crashes on the first lap left me at the tail end of the field and, with over 150 people on the course, it became a day of overtaking whenever the course allowed. Saying that, I did bugger up numerous times in the following laps on some of the off-camber, slippery corners (more mud, y’see) so I can’t blame anyone but myself really. In fact I was lucky to finish at all – bringing just one bike meant that by the bell lap my rear mech was so clogged with grass and mud that changing gear was wince-inducing and back pedaling just didn’t work, how it didn’t jam up and rip off I don’t know!


(Pic from the Weaver Valley CC website…again!)

I ended up 46th. Pretty naff compared to how I’ve been doing recently, but it was still fun, the course was good and it was nice to catch up with people while I was there (also: pizza for post race lunch is definitely the future.)

More ‘cross this weekend with another North West league race in Liverpool – in the park that saw my 2nd ever bike race, back in the mid nineties and then on Sunday (insert doom laden music here) the National Hill Climb Championships. My fastest time so far up the hill being used wouldn’t get me in the top 50, had it been done at the time, so I’m not holding out much hope of a fantastic result there. Should be good experience for the future though…

October 15, 2014

.execute.

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 12:06 pm

It appears that we have reached the edge
That zenith where stimuli and comatose collide

Call it reckless abandon if you like. Call it a reaction to the utter sickness in waiting to get here. I would have called it a good idea. Get off the front on the first lap, going against everything everyone said to do, what I said I’d do and what most people would do. Get to the tricky bits before any groups snarl them up. Get it over with and get a clear run at them.
It works and I get through the rocks, round the switchbacks, off the drops after a summer away from mountain biking and the skills it creates free of accomplices. This speed is good. This speed is what I need. Say goodbye to comfort straight away.
Other riders join me, bathed in sweat. I’m not. I’m not gasping for breath. I’m flat out and happy where I am.

It’s taken so long for this race to start, to get here that I’ve given up training for it months before. Turned my attention to other things. Not forgotten about it, but come to regard it with a distant, cold, dispassionate sense of awe. It’s a huge undertaking that I couldn’t care less about.

That first fast lap turns into two. Three. Hours. Flavourless cold energy drink is poured down my neck as I cruise on. Fast up the hills, crap back down them. There really is not substitute for riding a mountain bike. I clip a rock with the back wheel and blow my feel out of the pedals, landing awkwardly, twanging something in my back. Stealing all my momentum. All of it. I call into the pits for the first time. Eat something and take a couple of ibuprofen to shut my back up. It works well enough and as the darkness descends I remain as removed from the physical effort as I can. I know I will soon feel rough. I always do. I await it.

We labor for pleasure and abhor the guilt of pressure

The halfway point passes and I allow myself a joke – I wish it was a 12hr race – so far the sickness hasn’t come, the bike is working fine and Phil has lent me his Reflex light, which is throwing out masses of light. I’m trying not to care but I’m feeling like this is going well. I’m suddenly telling myself I can do this. From a distance.

I’m overtaken by Ant White, but fight back for a few laps. Fighting the course as much as anyone racing on it as my crashes, trips and slips become more frequent. Tiredness sets in as the true darkness of the night closes in, in the early hours of the morning. The hard, cold chill of the air matches the unforgiving rocks making up the course as I stumble my way round each circuit, with every descent sending shivers down my spine.

The face of the earth is scarred with the walking dead

A thousand small crashes do not a problem make in these circumstances. Everyone one on the course is suffering. The night cannot hide it and I find some solace in seeing people pushing where I can ride, stumble when I clear a section and pull ashen faces that mach my own. I fail to catch my mind as it wanders while descending and, in a split second, I am flung as the bike ricochets away from a slab of granite. Off the brakes and drifting the tyres is instantly turned into grinding to a halt using my skin as the brake. An instinctive thrown forward hand is jolted painfully back towards my forearm as the air in my lungs is blown out by the force of the impact.
I leap up, realise I’m completely devoid of oxygen and slump back down to the side of the course, gulping and gasping, with my arm tucked in close and my leg freshly bleeding.
I don’t check the bike over as I remount. I can already tell I’ve fared worse than it as I limp to the bottom of the descent. I can’t pull the back brake, or absorb the impacts. I can’t counter the lurching steering caused by clattering over poor line choices forced by trying to use just the front brake and right arm to direct myself. I creep back to the pits.

After an eternity slumped in a chair I know that I need the numbness inside, towards the race, to be matched on the outside. I get some strapping wrapped around my arm by the medic and try another lap. I still can’t hold on. I can climb, but barely survive each drop back down. I try another lap but the answer is clear. I’m out. Off the pace and not willing to risk bigger crashes to crawl round chasing everyone elses coattails. Done.

I watch epic performances by people I’m proud to know, proud to have know me and beat them all in wishing for the race to be over, no matter how hard they try.

Thank you to everyone who helped me during the race – everyone in the pits, everyone who recognised and encouraged me during the race, everyone who commiserated when it ended and everyone who worked to organise it. It was once of the hardest, and hardest fought, 24hr races I’ve seen. It, and everyone who fought it, deserves respect. If you were there, in any form, you can be proud: Pit crews battled as endlessly as the riders. Marshals and organisers kept the flow when everything could have ground to a halt and, even from a distance, it was truly world class.


Pic by Toby Gregory

October 6, 2014

Tactics

Filed under: Racing — dgpowell @ 11:28 am

One of the most important parts of racing, tactics. In something like a ‘cross race you’ll be wanting to conserve energy where you can – sheltering out of the wind, getting in front of anyone you’re having a close battle with before any sections you’re not too good on, saving a bit of energy for the frenetic last lap. Always thinking.

Except for yesterday. Yesterday I wanted to get up to threshold and stay there. That was my tactic. Flat out. Admittedly (and unsurprisingly) my start was unspectacular. Slow, even – I glanced up seconds after the start gun went to see a sea, nay, an ocean of riders in front of me, despite trying to put the hammer down. But that didn’t matter too much. I got up to “out of breath” mode and set about chasing everyone in front of me down.

A strong wind was blowing across the more exposed parts of course, with riders trying to shelter behind each other whenever possible. Not me though. I just hammered it up to the any group in front of me, then set my sights on the next group. No let up. No interest in anyone trying to jump on my wheel. Chase down everyone, overtake, let everyone behind get dropped. Repeat.


Budge took the pic

30 minutes in: No let up, no pacing, no keeping anything back for the last couple of laps.
40 minutes in: Still no let up. Almost brainless, flat out chasing, catching, dropping.
50 minutes in: Last lap. You can probably guess the tactic. 🙂

I crossed the line for the last time feeling like the race had gone well. I’d made up somewhere in the region of (according to Budge, who had spent the race shouting encouragement) 30 places (I actually finished 6th, which is my best finish in a ‘cross race to date!). Perhaps tacticless (brainless?!) racing is the future 🙂


Budge took the pic

(I even threw in some ‘proper’ flat out cyclocross remounts – skillz!)

October 2, 2014

Give it the beans!

Filed under: Racing — dgpowell @ 12:27 pm

Crikey, this is supposed to be the end of the season, but it’s race central round here at the mo’!

Not only is cyclocross kicking off (loads more rounds of the NWCCA coming up) but there’s hill climbs happening all over the place and the little matter of the WEMBO 24hr World Championships to consider too!

Hill climb news first: Last Sunday saw Lancaster CC’s annual grovel-fest up their local mountains*. I missed the first of the two climbs that make up their event but got an entry in for the bigger of the two – up to the Jubilee Tower near Quernmore.
After heroically refusing all the cake on offer at sign on, I set about some highly unscientific warming up on a nearby, smaller hill. Lots of people were warming up on turbo trainers and roller in the car park, which is probably the more controlled thing to do, but I just fancied having a little look around the countryside before my race run.
Warm up done (kind of, I don’t think it’ll go down in history as the most professional approach ever!) I got to the start to find a headwind in store for the vast majority of the course. This was a bit annoying, as I wanted to have a “proper go” at the course and see how my time in a race compared to all the “big hitters” who’d ridden it before (and see how close I could get to the course record). Oh well!
Suffice to say I gave it the beans as much as I could. I didn’t get close to my max heart rate, which was a little disappointing, but remained (un)comfortably in the red all the way up, just about matching my best time in training, despite the wind and setting what turned out to be the fastest time of the day, woo!
Obviously the prize money was immediately taken to the nearest cafe for brew and butties 🙂

jubilee
White socks make you faster up hills.

Next up, hill climb-wise is the National Championships (provided my entry is accepted, of course). (I’ll miss a few local events due to the World 24hr Champs). Eek. I’ve ridden the course now, so have a vague idea of what’s in store: it’s not so steep as to have you hanging over the front of the bike (shame, I like it like that!), but thankfully it’s not one of those courses where aerodynamics will play a part either. At around 4 minutes long it’s a length I’m used to practicing on in Bowland, so hopefully it would suit me really well…if I didn’t have a 24hr race 14 days before it 😮

Cyclocross stuff: Another race this weekend, after missing the last round of the North West League I’m heading over to Manchester to get muddy (hopefully – I’ve not got to use my nice new mud tyres yet!) and try to move further up the results sheet. A better start should help – no lingering at the back this time!
Pretty much one a week after that – you need to do 9 rounds to get a final league position, so it’ll be a case of fit as many in as possible and see where we end up!

The Worlds!
This has sort of snuck up on me. Am I ready for it? Well, I certainly got sick of training for it a while back, if that counts, so a big part of me wants it out of the way. I don’t want to sound overly negative about it though – it’s going to be ace having loads of the fast UK riders ragging round what I already know is a great fun course (and the mini holiday up to the Highlands is always welcome!). So I’ll give it the beans and see what happens 🙂

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