10UTB 2015

10UTB last weekend, very pleased with finishing 6th (out of 29) in male trios category with Tich + Jacob. My training had largely consisted of laps around Arthurs Seat, as usual, with two or three longer rides thrown in. But the 10UTB course certainly feels more “uphill” than “downhill” it served me well.

I did the opening lap, which involves a mass rolling start then a dash as the track narrows. From prior races, I knew it was important to start near the front to avoid the inevitable holdups as a quart of mountain bikers tries to squeeze into a pint-size singletrack. I was in the front 10% as we rolled down the road behind the motorbikes and didn’t suffer any real delays as the real racing started. This year I didn’t have time for a practise lap, so enountered everything for the first time at race pace – including the gorse bushes lining the side of the track, ouch! The 10UTB course is less technical than most – a good thing, given that it’s a 10h race – but there’s still plenty of roots, rocks, river and mudchutes to contend with.

Doing the first lap also meant I did the final (my fourth) lap of the day. Between laps, I relied on my favoured PBJ bagels + bananas for energy, washed down with Lucozade Sport. Between laps 3 and 4, I cooked a decent meal of pasta+pesto to refuel properly before the final effort. It wasn’t a hot day, but each lap I drunk about 0.7l of water. In my camelback, I also had multitool, chain tool, tyre levers, pump and spare tube. It’d be heartbreaking to get a mechanical out on course – not to mention the length of time it’d take to walk back.

As it happens, I was reoiling my chain prior to lap 4 and luckily happened to notice that my chainring was loose. Like, all bolts loose and all rings wobbly. I hadn’t loctite’d them when I installed them, thinking that doing them up to the right torque would be enough. But the 10UTB gives the bike a right hammering as you come downhill and they must’ve vibrated loose. So glad I caught that before heading out!

It’s a tough race. Jacob came back from his third lap looking white as a sheet. On my third lap, I tried sprinting the last bit of fireroad, and my quads cramped up – something I’ve never had happen before. The climbing seems to go on forever. In particular, you reach a point where you can see people starting to go back downhill, and you think the climb must be over. However, the trail actually goes up for another half mile or so above that before turning downhill. So it’s a psychological blow if you’re not expecting it. I was pretty pleased with my technical riding. I rode all the tricksy downhill bits, and only had one inelegant slide on the 90 degree right at the Auction Mart gravel road with no ill effects.

Camping was an “experience”. The usual midge-ridden grass field was out of operation after being trashed by World Cup Downhill car parking. So instead the camping was moved to the overflow carpark. This carpark was made of compacted gravel, impossible to get tent pegs into even with a hammer. Not ideal at all. I ended up weighting my tent down with rocks. And the midgies! Oh, the midgies! I’m not that bothered by midgies – the bites don’t get itchy – but they were just everywhere. Falling into my cup of tea, biting any exposed skin. A lot of people had midge hoods on, might have to get one.

We were lucky that Carolyn had brought a gazebo with her which was a great addition to the day (once anchored to the ground with rocks). It gave us a shelter from the wind and occasional drizzle and generally made the day much more pleasant.

Laggan SXC

After (somewhat embarrasingly) tasting success in the 2 lap “taster” SXC race in round 1, I felt duty bound to step up and actually enter the full 4 lap race at the next available event, which was this weekend at Laggan Wolftrax close to Dalwhinnie. Haven’t managed much in the way of full-on training recently, but I’ve been doing laps around Arthurs Seat whenever I have the chance.

I managed one sighting lap before the race, which revealed that the course consisted of a relentless sustained climb up, followed by a descent back down over a lot of rocks, a little bit of woodland and some fun fast swoopy jumps’n’berms hardpack. It was substantially more brutal than the Cathkin Braes course, and for the first time I felt my hardtail bike wasn’t up to the task. The best thing on rock is to carry momentum so you mostly skip over the tops. The moment you lose momentum, you start hitting each individual bump and it’s energy-sapping. I would’ve gladly swapped out for a full-suss bike!

Onto the race itself. Usually in a cyclocross race I participate in the initial bunch sprint, perhaps 2/3rds of the way down but certainly staying with the pack. At Laggan, the gun went off, I started sprinting with everyone else … and then suddenly the pack was off into the distance at a speed I couldn’t imagine sustaining. I looked behind, and there were two stragglers behind me but everyone else was flying up the ascent at about double what I could realistically do! Ah well, so much for racing. So I settled down at a pace which I thought I could sustain for the planned four laps and went for an afternoon ride. In the end, I was lapped and so only did three laps (about 1h20m riding).

So that was sobering. Out of 22 people in the ‘sport’ category, I finished last out of the 20 finishers (and two DNFs were faster riders than me too). Best laps for other rides ranged from 17 to 23 minutes, whereas I was out at 26 minutes.

So what happened? I think the ‘60% down the field’ results I got in cyclocross are flattered somewhat by the large mix of abilities in cyclocross races. My lap times are typically 50% slower than the winner’s pace, but there are plenty of people slower than me. In this weekend’s MTB race, my lap times were the same – 50% slower than the leaders – but there’s wasn’t a crowd of other computer programmers to keep me company. Everyone else who’d made the 2.5 hour drive to Laggan for the Sport category race was actually really rather awesomely good!

The other new thing for me was the longer duration. Cross races are about an hour so there’s no need to eat or drink. But beyond the hour mark, I need to eat + drink. I realised this just as I was falling asleep the night before the race – one bottle wasn’t going to be enough. So, lacking any helpers, I left took a second bottle and left it on the ground in the feedzone. At the start of lap three, I did a quick exchange-of-bottles and got underway again. That bit worked out fine!

Still, I’m glad I did the race. In some ways, I got more out of finishing last in the sports category than I did from winning the taster category. If it wasn’t for the SXC race, I wouldn’t have thought to visit Laggan, and it’s substantially different from any other MTB place I’ve been to. The vibe at the races is great with noisy spectators and without exception the fast guys who lapped me were friendly and encouraging. I also continue to be amazed the levels of fitness + skills on show at these races. My main reason for doing the SXC races is to keep my fitness vaguely up for Ten Under The Ben, which is now less than a month away. So perhaps it’s now time to do a bit more Serious Training!!

T – one week

Next weekend is round one of the SXC race series. It’s at Kirroughtree, roughly west of Dumfries.

Do I think I’m well prepared? Hmm, probably not. I haven’t been to a trail centre since last year. Glentress has been covered with snow since January, so not much opportunity to practice technique.

However, I have been riding the long route to work (vaguely offroad) twice a week for the last while. Plus, I’ve managed a 30 mile offroad ride at the weekend twice, and I cycled back from Kirkcaldy (about 28 miles) today on the road which felt pretty straightforward. So I think my stamina and fitness levels are pretty good, but it’s been a while since I went down anything steep and twisty.

So if the Kirroughtree is all about climbing hills and keeping a fast pace, I should be okay. But if it’s a technical course with lots of roots/rocks .. well, it’s going to be a steep re-learning curve! Fingers crossed. 🙂

Cross country training

This weekend I was up at Leanachan Forest (Fort William) checking out the route for 10 Under the Ben which is at the end of May.  Much to my surprise, all my LEJOG training has put me in pretty good stead for this.  The course largely consists of long energy-sapping climbs on big wide roads!  Hurrah, that’s the course for me!  Having said that, there’s plenty of weaving through trees (yay!) and the odd heartstopping (potentially literally) rockstrewn descent.

The drive up to Fort William took us across Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe, which is the route I’ll be cycling during LEJOG.  Awesome scenery, but nowhere to shelter from the wind.  So, as an experiment I’ve borrowed a set of aero bars for my bike (thanks Tim!) which I’m going to try out over the next few weeks.  It’s 600g extra weight to carry, but the reduction in drag is significant (when you can use them).  I’m not too sure whether the posture will give me a sore back, so I’ll try them out for a while and see.

I have now ordered a 22 tooth sprocket for my road bike.  The internet suggests that you can switch them over just using a screwdriver, so my plan is to take a 20t and a 22t sprocket and switch between them as required.

A huge thankyou to all the people who have sponsored me.  I got an email from the Sick Kids hospital the other week saying thanks for the fundraising, and so I wanted to pass that thanks onto all of you who’ve donated money!

ObRandom:  Whilst scouring flickr today, I found this.  It’s not a staged photo.  This guy really did cycle Lands End to John O’Groats on a unicycle – read about it in his blog.

– Sponsor me at http://www.justgiving.com/andrewbirkett_lejog


Team Epic Fail (Jeremy, Frank and myself) headed down to Glentress for an early evening blast around the red route, in preparation for 10 Under The Ben in late May.  I took about 1h15m to get there, via the congested bypass.   The BBC weather forecast had been proclaiming doom and gloom for days.  But Frank was wise and told us to ignore them.  And it was just as well we believed him, because we got a great evening of riding.

This was the first time I’ve been back to Glentress since they added the singletrack ascent up to the top car park.  I didn’t mind the old road too much, but the singletrack is certainly more interesting, with lots of switchbacks and a few extras to jump and hop over.  I set off at what felt like my ‘default’ hill climbing pace – enough to be breathing heavily but still a pace I could sustain for a long time.  But it turns out, that’s a pretty unsocially fast pace uphill.  I was pleasantly surprised – it seems that all my road training has given an unexpected boost to my off-road climbing skillz, yay!

Unfortunately, my descending skills leave a lot to be desired.  Dropping down Pennel’s Vennel, I was too tense – not helped by clip-ins and muddy conditions.  And Spooky Wood didn’t flow very well until I made the discovery that sitting down whilst riding the berms made the bike feel waay more stable.  Normally, I stay up off the saddle on berms – but I always feel like the bike and me are hinged in the middle, which is a degree-of-freedom I could do without.   However, with my new patented sit-down-on-berms technique, suddenly everything comes together and the bike and me become one solid unit.

We opted for the blue return route, due to fading light.  Even though, the dense forest sections were getting seriously dark, leading to many ‘use the force, luke’ comments.   We dropped down off the road onto the soberingly fast motorway section (there really is a motorway sign there).  The last bit of the blue, back to the freeride area, was my favourite bit of the day.  It’s a mix of flat and uphill, snapping left and right, and Jeremy blasted away making for an irresitable target to chase after.  He was faster, but it was a lot of fun to chase a challenging target.  Lots of grins.  We rounded up with three or four trips down the freeride area and, for the first time, I started to get the hang of getting air .. it’s not about being a passenger on a bike which is going airborne .. it’s about going airborne yourself and bring the bike along with you.  Stand up, and imagine that you’re going to fly, and you will.  Mindgames!

A good ride! 🙂

Also, Epic Fail

Also, a week after I finish my Lands End – John O’Groats ride, I’m going to be doing a 10 hour endurance mountain bike race called “10 Under the Ben“.  Team Epic Fail (myself, Jeremy and Frank) will be doing a relay team, racing around the Fort William XC mountain biking track (as used at the mtb world cup!).  We’re just doing this for fun, but if you want to come up to Fort William and cheer us on, we’d love to see you!  It’s on May 30th.

This means I’m cutting my road training with stints on the mountain bike, going to work on the muddy offroad trail along Silverknowes and through the Dalmeny estate.  In April, I’m going to head up to Fort William to check out the course – the bikehike site shows a few good 100m climbs in there.  I read a riders review from last year talking about lots of people walking the rocky sections – but now I have no idea whether that means they’re scary huge or ridable.