Sunday, 30 October 2011

Baby Wipes at Whickham Thorns

Baby wipes have their uses. Useful for all sorts. Returning from a weeks’ holiday down south, I found I had some in the car, but today they were well out of their league and the clag that was stuck to all parts of the Ridley called for a small band of riot police with water cannon coupled with a couple of curling team sweepers with industrial strength scrubbing brushes...

Last weekend’s 5 mile road race in Milford, Bournemouth was followed up today with a 7 mile run before I peeled off from the Sunday gang and, faced with the possibility of painting the Hall, I opted for a cyclo cross race at Whickham Thorns, Gateshead. Two weeks earlier I had rode a different course in Gateshead that was bone dry. Not so today.

The race was part of the North East Cyclo Cross league and it was a mud fest. A very enjoyable one. On a hilly course perched halfway down Whickham Bank it was evident early on that there’d be a need for quite a bit of running (with your bike) on the uphill stretches and some proper bike handling skills were required. These, I’m afraid to admit, were sorely lacking in my display. I even hit the deck on the warm up lap and continued this unwelcome attention seeking behaviour throughout the hour long race. With around 60 starting, I was well to the back but before 10 minutes had elapsed there were casualties all over the course, men in muddy lycra leaning over their bikes, pushing tired and emotional aluminium and carbon frames and spooning sludge, grass and worms out of every conceivable crevice. I continued to work around the course at times jumping off deliberately to run or just laughing as I (yet again) picked myself up off the deck. I was passed halfway through by a rider from Malton who I presumed was leading and later a few more but not as many as a fortnight ago.

With a continued high drop out rate I was determined to finish and improve on my 54th place last time and despite going down more often than a racey metaphor, I ground out a ride.
When the bell went after 50 minutes I thanked the race referee for putting me out of my misery, but really it was a blast and I celebrated the last lap by staying upright all the way round the course. In any case I was keen to finish with the sun up there was a danger of me drying out and with the amount of mud on me I could have baked solid.
It took an hour to clean the bike when I got home and I ended up taking the wheels down to the river with a scrubbing brush like something out of the old testament. Much more of this malarkey and I’ll probably have to apply to the Environment Agency for a licence...(Later I found the Baby wipes cowering under the car seat)!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

CXNE Gateshead

I don't think it was nerves but the strawberry bonbons were getting a hammering. If I didn't hold off there'd be none left for the return journey. It’s been 30 years since my last cyclo-cross and today's one hour race at Gateshead Stadium was the first competition the Ridley (or 'the vicar' as I call it) had witnessed. The moth eaten bike gear was exhumed from beneath the bed and with the choice of suitable garments at rock bottom, I was forced to wear the jersey of a club that no longer exists. I had bought a new pair of ivory shoes going cheap earlier in the year. Not the best colour for this muddy, sweat- lashed pursuit. Part of the Cyclo-Cross North East seasons series of events, I don't think I looked too out of place among the garish lycra and fancy gleaming machines, chrome and alloy glinting in the early afternoon sun.

The idea is that you all start together and work your way around the grass course and after an hour or so a bell is rung before the last lap and if you’re not lapped you get a time; if you are lapped you also get a lap number. I was just trying to limit the lap numbers as a goal for the day.
The entry fee was a tenner and being unattached, I had to add an extra 3 quid for a day licence. We got underway and got through the first lap in around 8 and a half minutes. I was nearly at the back but not quite. Moving as smoothly through the gears as a learner driver on his first outing, I was lapped after 17 minutes. Not too bad I thought. I passed a few early on and spent a couple of laps with a rider from the Tyne Fire Service but then he was gone, blown out the back I mused by my raw talent and bike handling finesse. Me and the vicar were going well; better than I had hoped at any rate. Must have been the strawberry bonbons. I might try lemon next time.

I gawped at my watch briefly after a while and found out I'd been riding for 33 minutes and had passed a few buddies. While I couldn't offer much power in the quad department, my skinny frame and recent trips to the weights seemed to be compensating and I was soon gaining some confidence on the more technical bits. I remembered to slow down where the cameras were, but they kept moving around so not sure if they got my best side.
The course was very dry and there were several tight chicanes to deal with so the upper body was getting as good a workout as the legs. After 48 minutes I heard the bell go for the last lap as the race leader went past the finish line and by that time everyone was all over the circuit; some laps ahead, others laps down. I finished soon afterwards and collapsed on the grass in a heap.

After a chat with someone’s father (or granddad) mostly about the astronomical cost of some of the bits of kit (compared to a cheap pair of trainers, for example) I handed in my number and changed out of my ringing t-shirt and padded shorts. I felt as drained as a load of washing after a 1200 rpm spin, but not half as bad as some of the 10k's I've attempted in the recent past. The shoes and bike were still clean which was a bonus and I’m looking forward to seeing where I finished. It’s a tough workout but enjoyable and one thing’s for sure; you’re never alone for long in a cyclo-cross event.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Langdale Horseshoe Fell Race 2011

£6.50 to enter; £3.50 for a map (so at least I could get lost with confidence) and £2 for parking and a hot pasty at the end. There was only one thing lying between me and that pasty. Fourteen miles and 4000ft of rocky Lake District terrain. The Langdale Horseshoe Fell race was the race I have been training for. As I had raced hard last weekend I drove down past Grasmere and gave myself the day off. At that distance there was going to be time enough to enjoy it.

This was an English Championship counter which explained the appearance of 400 hardened runners. The kit-check was uneventful and off we went at 11a.m. in the drizzle and moody white mist that hung around the peaks like an unwanted friend. I had been pouring over the forecast in the last 48 hours and was dressed for winter, but as we ascended up the farm track and then up through a high steep gully on stone stairs, I was cooking. Beads of sweat dropping from my nose, so the hat and waterproof came off and I pinned the number on my top.
This was my first time at this Lakeland Classic so I had the camera-phone and bored all around me snapping here and there. The mist on the top came and went and somehow it was rockier, infinitely slippier and steeper than I had imagined. My shoes were like skates across some of the boulder fields and only behaved themselves on the coarser grey grit. Am I alone in wondering if the rubber compound on the sole is better in some shoes than others?
I had started working through the lower half of the field and had time to take in the nice views on the rare occasions that they presented themselves. After an hour I looked at the wrist and we had covered a stylish but dilatory 4 miles. The jacket went back on. The hat went on, the hat came off, the jacket came off. Mild behind each peak, windy, misty and cool on the top.
I was with a group of 10 and passed five, but when I looked ahead, there were still around 10 ahead, a bit like a set of Babushka nesting dolls. I suppose there were just so many people on the hill ahead of me. After 2 hours I had done 8 miles, had my second gel and wondered if the winner was in yet. I could smell that pasty from here. I came down on my left hand badly at one point but thankfully it wasn’t my camera hand! There was also an interesting moss bog on route - just for a laugh.
As we passed through the last checkpoint we were coming out of the mist and it was warmer but as the views improved with the sun behind us the camera had steamed up and it was binned for the remainder of the race. We came to a steep rocky scarp and the lads ahead stopped. As I ran up toward them I just caught a glimpse in my peripheral vision of a runner behind on the high ground going sharp right. He had grey hair and was moving confidently so I was off and followed him down a great line off the hill. Passing an injured runner I stopped briefly but help had already been summoned, so I tucked in behind an Arragon Tri runner and came down into the valley and down toward the finish through 3 or 4 kissing gates. Each wooden gate had blood smeared on the top which was alarming but it didn’t stop me passing a Bowland runner just before the end. Competitive streak. Sad, isn’t it!

Just before the pasty fest there was some unpleasantness in the car as my quad cramped but after the obligatory one footed hopping dance and matching facial contortions around the vehicle all was well. It’s a long way to run never mind race and I think the only way to manage some of these knee busters is to just to run them and enjoy them. Finished in 2:58 - 96th. Next time I might manage a beer afterwards.
(Photos in the gallery)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Och Aye, Venue

The last of the Scottish Hill Race Counters was Ben Venue. It's just to the north of Aberfoyle in the Trossachs. The Trossachs. Always sounds vaguely anatomical. The Proclaimers were on the radio singing ‘I’m on my way, I’m on my wa-ay from misery to happiness, uh ha- uha; you know the one and I was on my way from sunny warm skies to the dreich mist clad Trossachs for another lung buster. I would have been happier (and drier) dropping into the nearby Achray Hotel for a spot of civilised luncheon than changing into Walsh’s and squeezing down a gel in a saturated forestry commission car park before embarking on a wet walk in the wilderness.

I joined a handful of 'Hawks' who had come down from the City of Jute and Jam as we attempted to secure 2nd spot in the 040’s team competition. It was wet, but as we set off for the 7 .5 mile rumble through the misty heather jungle I felt pleased to be getting back up north and said 'hello' to a few runners as we clipped up along the tarmac. The route soon gave way to a gravel and pine strewn track beneath the pine trees. We turned right after a kilometre of two up through the woods and I saw a long string of runners ahead as we started the steep bit up the heather. Yep, it sure was steep and I was grabbing clumps of plant life on my way up as we made our way to the first checkpoint. I think I was passed by 5 or 6 going up.
We reached the top after 40 minutes of uphill and I was at the back of a group of 10. It was like hanging on to a whip, one minute desperately hanging off the back on the twisty rocky dips trying to stay in touch and then bunching nose to ‘erse as we hit the equally short, steep ascents. It was all going well and I was tucked just behind Des Crowe (Shettleston) and a Cosmic runner. A Carnegie runner kept coming and going (Peter Simpson, who I had tussled with in the past at the Black Rock Race). As we dropped down from the second cairn we met a string of other runners converging onto the path and I got that sinking feeling realising that we’d taken the tourist route (the long way round).
There was only one thing for it and that was to hammer down the hill. Despite my best efforts I lost contact with Des and teammate Craig Love as I tried in vain to outrun my legs on the steep slippy bit. There was plenty of falling around me in this Harem Scarem drop through the moss, wet peat and reedy grass and I was reminded of the descent of Ben Nevis in 2009 (for which I still wake some nights in a sweat), the boulders lying quietly in wait to strike.
As we hit the track again I (at last) got into a rhythm and lengthened my stride to pass a few on the way back down the track and into the woods. There was no more speed to be had but I was making full use of gravity and then, with about a kilometre to go and four runners just ahead, I began to cramp up on the series of short rises along the track and thoughts of any improvement in my position rescinded. It was only the Proclaimers song going round and round in my head that got me to the end and thankfully I managed with a shortened stride. The path near the end was narrow enough to ensure no one came past.

A bit bloodied, I towelled up and changing into some dry clothes, had a chat with some of the guys. The tea was lukewarm but there were plenty of sandwiches and the prize giving was prompt enough with the organiser confirming that Finlay had won from Prasad. I think Catriona won the ladies race. I’m not sure if we’ve done enough for the runner up prize but it wasn’t for lack of effort. For anyone wanting to witness the atmosphere of the 2009 Ben debacle here's the youtube clip: