Thursday, October 23, 2008

London Cycle Show

The day after Ryan's successful Wicklow Way Cycling Record breaking attempt, Ryan and I flew over in London to help out our 2008 sponsor Torq in the London Cycle Show. The show is basically an exhibition about anything to do with cycling (bikes, components, gear, nutrition) mainly for marketing/advertising purposes, although some companies are also allowed to trade, such as Torq. It was also interspersed with interviews from famous cyclists, such as the Athertons and Nicole Cook and other people, several cycling fashion shows and some cycling competitions.

Ryan and I flew to London early on the Friday morning and straight to Earls Court where the show was held to help out for 3 days. Because we arrived when the show was already opened for the day, we were thrown right into the deep end. Barely having had time to say hello to the other Torq people, we were in the midst of promoting Torq's nutritional products. Until 6 in the evening we were on our feet chatting to so many different people! From the weekend leisure cyclist over the daily commuter to the high level triathlete - people in all shapes and sizes and levels of fitness. In a way it was half work, half pleasure, listening to many iteresting stories from the people and at the same time educating people about the basics of sports nutrition. Going by the amount of people that were always hanging around the Torq stand it also seemed that the people liked the Torq products - some people kept coming back during the show to pick up another taster of the bars (or maybe they were just interested in any type of free food ;)).

Lots of tasty Torq bars :)

Obviously, the show was also an opportunity for us to have a peek at next season's bikes - heaven for Ryan! It was really hard to go anywhere without Ryan stopping and looking at this wheel and that crank and those brakes.....

I went to see the interview with Nicole Cooke who won both Olympic gold and the World Champs in Road Cycling this year and have to say that it was really quite inspiring. She comes across as such a nice and down to earth girl who still can't quite believe in her success!

The show was really hard work, getting up at 6:30 am every morning, being on your feet all day and chatting to people and only going to bed again at 1am, after eating dinner together and chatting till late at night, but also really good fun. And I am impressed with our team work - especially when we took down the stand after the show and packed everything away in record time - you'd think we do this for a living!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Off-season: time to reflect....

You know it's off season when I put on 2kg, don't do much sports, drink wine and beer and don't say no to a delicious dessert! This is the time where you do all the things you had to put off while you were concentrating on training and racing, such as actually have a social life and time to relax. And Ryan and I have been on the London Cycle Show to help our sponsor Torq promote their range of exercise and sports nutrition. This is also the reason why it's been quiet on my blog in the last few weeks. I just took a well-earned break from training and racing.

This also means that I had time to look back and reflect upon the past season and have a look forward to next season. These are some of the questions I am frequently asked and my answers:

re you happy with your results this season?

Yes, I am very, very happy with my past season and how it all went. I mean, what a season!

Here are some statistics:

Total races: 25
12 in Ireland, 11 in Great Britain, 1 in Germany, 1 in Italy
Off road: 20 (13 XCO, 5 XCM, 2 Relay)
Road: 5 (4 Road, 1 TT)

Podiums: 17
1st places: 10
2nd places: 6
3rd places: 1

My results totally surpassed all of my hopes and expectations by far. Ryan thinks that it really helped that I had an early "break-through" race, my first race abroad, the first round of the British NPS, where I was so afraid of making a joke out of myself or coming last, but eventually came 2nd. This race really helped me to believe in my abilities and boosted my confidence for the races afterwards.

Some of this year's glassware....

How do you keep so motivated throughout the racing season and where do you take the energy from?

Lol, a lot of people only see my good side, when I race and perform well, but it's just as hard for me as for other people. And it is really hard to keep motivation up for such a long season of racing, especially if you race this much. Training and racing takes a lot of hard work and no, unfortunately it doesn't come easy to me. And I am not always super motivated, my coach can tell you that. I do complain and question myself as well, it's not always rosy for me either, it's just that only my coach really hears me complaining. It is a constant mental effort to keep myself motivated and well prepared for a race and something I keep working on conciously. Everybody has their own tricks. I find music can motivate me on a long epic spin, or imagining I am chasing somebody in a race or just thinking of where I want to be and that this horrible hill repeat will get me there.

I found that the mental side of things is just as important as the physical fitness. I have had races where I was in peak physical condition, but just not mentally motivated, which showed in my results. Similarly, I have done races where my physical condition was crap, but just because I so much wanted to win, I was still able to push my body to its absolute limits and do well.

I also found that having a good race really boost my motivation and I usually train really well after a good racing weekend (which doesn't necessarily mean a win, but more that I have given everything mentally and physically or maybe that I had a good battle with another rider), so it's kind of a positive feedback circle, the better the race, the better the training, the better I ride in the next race - it's a win/win situation!! ;)

What do you like about racing?

The excitement, the adrenaline, the challenge, the chasing and being chased, the sense of achievement, the satisfying tiredness and achiness after a race, the food afterwards, the recognition....

One really nice thing about racing is that you end up going to some of the most beautiful places in the world and meet some really nice people. And the cool thing is you keep meeting these people again and again at other races. It's so nice to be part of such a lovely community. And with internet these days it's even possible to keep up over borders and timezones.

I also think that one can learn so much more in just one race than in any single training session, that's why this season I went and did so many races, especially abroad, where the level of competition is higher than locally here in Ireland, especially for women. I also find that I race a lot harder and push myself much more than in training and would ride technical terrain much more comfortably in a race than in training. Ryan just cannot believe that in a race I can be within 18% of his time, but when we go for a spin together I am so much slower and so much more of a chicken!

What do you NOT like about racing?

Travelling to races, especially by airplane, is a pain. The logistics and stress involved in all the planning and booking and driving and getting up early is something I could really do without, especially when you also have a full time job. At least Ryan and I went to most races together, so we could share the work of finding B&Bs, suitable flights and the cost of renting a car etc. One of the biggest pains in flying with a bike is bike packing and unpacking. The amounts of bubble wrap and insulating tube we use to protect our bikes for the flight is unbelievable. So hopefully Ryan and I will be able to get our hands on some easy to pack bike boxes for next season which would make things a lot easier.

What will you do different next year?

Racing takes a lot out of me. I raced 25 races over a period of 27 weekends (sometimes there would be 2 or more races in a weekend). 25 races was probably a little too much, considering that quite a few of them were not just cross country, but marathon races which do take more time to recover from. But my aim was to do as much racing as possible to gain as much racing experience as possible, so while it took me longer to recover from those, I think it was worthwhile doing the marathons this year.

There is only a very few races where your physical and mental condition are at its peak. I found it hard to keep up motivation and give it my all in every race over such a long racing period, especially when there was a string of races with lots of travelling involved. Travelling and racing can be rather stressful, especially when you also have a full-time job. There really is only a few races where everything is perfect and while I am getting closer at finding out what the factors involved are, it is still a bit of trial and error.

Another thing I learned is the value of having a support person at races. I have lost places and probably even a win if I had had the same support as the people who placed ahead of me. While I had been in races where I had to stop, fill up my water bottle from a neutral feed zone station, other racers where able to just whizz by and pick up their energy drink and gels from their support person, gaining valuable time on me. And I cannot thank all of you who have helped me out during this year in races enough, it is very very appreciated.

What's your plan for next year?

The plan for the next season is to shift the focus more onto cross country racing and to do less marathon races, since these just do take that bit longer to recover from which takes away from training intensity the following week.

Similarly, since I don't think it is possible for every race to always be in peak condition and give it all, for next season, I will pick out some races which are going to be my A races in which I want to do really good in, the rest being B and C (= training) races.

The main aim for both Ryan and I next season from a sporting point of view is to gather UCI points and also to gain experience on the highest competitive level by attending some World Cups. The stories you hear about how competitive and aggressive (in its physical sense) World Cup racing is are scary!! But you also hear about how much they help you improve, and we believe it's time to give it a try.

What's your off-season like? Are you doing nothing? Will you still be out on the bike?

My off season started after the last Irish NPS 3 weeks ago and will last one more week. My coach basically told me that I can do whatever I want sports wise, but I should try and do at least a little bit so that I don't loose all of my fitness and don't put on too much weight. I felt that I was really raced out after my last race in Castlewellan, which unfortunately didn't go so well, so I actually took time off the mountain bike totally (I still did most of my commuting on bike). I felt I needed the mental break. I am eating a lot of chocolate and ice cream and desserts, stuff I wouldn't eat during training and certainly not before a race or at least not in these amounts. I put on about 2kg, but I think I'll loose that pretty quickly again when I start proper training. It took about a week for my metabolism to calm down after I stopped proper training, but now I eat a lot less than I do when I train, which is a pity, because now I can actually allow myself to eat all the less healthy foods! I went for a leisurely bike ride yesterday and will go for a short run today, maybe go for a swim later in the week - so yeah, it's still quite relaxing for another week.

Race Report Irish NPS Round 6 Castlewellan

Sometimes things just don't work out the way you'd like them to. This race was to be my last race this season and I was hoping to win the Irish National Points Series and thought I had to come at least 2nd in this race to win the series. The course is one that always reminds me of when I started mountain biking for I raced my first ever mountain bike race in Castlewellan. I was also hoping to beat Cait Elliott, the current Irish XC Champ, who was also in contention for winning the series. But it wasn't going to be - it was to be one of my most disastrous races of the year! (That's also why it has taken me so long to write this report...).

The first thing that went wrong was that Ryan's alarm didn't go off so that we were in a bit of a rush to get to the race. We still arrived with plenty of time to go for a practice lap. The course was similar to previous races in Castlewellan: Up a steep climing fireroad with really technical singletrack loops off it, a bit of a fireroad descent and more technical singletrack descending and contouring around the bottom of the hill by the lake side back to the start.

The next thing that went wrong was that I fell off my bike twice (!) in the practice lap. The course was bone dry almost everywhere, but instead of having lots of traction on rocky bits, I found that they were even more slippery than when slightly damp. I felt I wasn't concentrating enough. Some of the singletrack bits were supertechnical and it didn't help that most of my recent training was on the road - I didn't feel comfortable.

Finally I went to the start to join the only other two ladies in my category: Ciara McManus and Cait Elliott. My legs felt fresh and my plan was to get away from Cait straight from the start. However, from the start the pace was high - why were we all racing off like eejits?? There was no singletrack until halfway up the fireroad! I couldn't motivate myself to kill myself up the hill - I only had to come second anyway and this was my last race, so I thought I'd just go at comfortable speed with Cait for the first two laps and then hammer the last lap.

However, halfway through the first bit of singletrack the third thing went wrong. I went down a technical bit, hit a rock with my front wheel and got hurtled through the air just to belly flap onto a big stone. It hit straight into my solar plexus and pressed all the air out of my lungs. I couldn't breathe - I had totally winded myself - and was in bad pain, I thought I was going to pass out. Eventually, after a few minutes of rolling on my back groaning and thinking that the pain would never subside I was getting my breath back and the pain was getting less. I thought of dropping out of the race, but so far I had never dropped out of a race and I was still thinking about winning the series. I knew I had to come second, so I only had to come ahead of Ciara. I wasn't sure if she had passed me when I was lying on the ground - I had no idea how many people went by while I was down - so I asked two guys who went by and it seemed she was ahead of me. I told myself to get my act together and forced myself to get back onto my bike. I thought if I can make it back to the start in one piece, I may as well try and do the other two laps to finish the race and hope to catch Ciara. I was so happy to see her soon enough on the fireroad climb and overtook her comfortably enough (can't stress the importance of hill drills enough.... ;)).

I don't know how many minutes I was down, so I didn't know if I had a chance to catch Cait in the state I was in. I tried to go a little harder, but my stomach still hurt and I wasn't breathing properly, so I quickly decided to tootle the rest of the race and take it easy, especially on the technical bits. If was lucky I would catch her, if not, then it wasn't to be. And so I survived the last two laps unlucky, finishing just under 3min behind Cait and about 10min ahead of Ciara. According to my Garmin data I had been lying on the ground for around 3min, which is the about the time difference between 1st and 2nd place.

After the race I felt really crap - I was still in pain from the crash and cuts and bruises (I think I had accummulated more bruises today than in the whole season!) and was feeling stupid having crashed so early in the race. It all came down to me then. This was definitely not how I wanted to end my season! However, trying to see the positive side of things, 2nd place meant I had still won the series - only Ryan told me then that I only needed to come 3rd today to win the series, so I needn't have bothered doing all three laps - grrr!

For a whole week I haven't touched my bike - I only realize now much I needed a break from racing - in a period of 27 weeks I had raced 25 races, 13 of these abroad - I was thoroughly raced out. Long live the off season!! :)

Thanks to Geoff Seymour for doing feed zone support. Results can be found here. Final Overall Standings can be downloaded from here.