Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Race Report Bundeslinga Round 3 - Heubach, Germany

It's always harder to write about a race that didn't go so well. At the same time, since Ryan broke his collar bone, time has been a precious commodity, what with driving him to various hospitals, doing all the cleaning, cooking, shopping, washing, bike stuff, work, college and training.

Anyhow, back to the Bundesliga race round 3 in Heubach, which was part of the "Bike the Rock" festival with downhill and XC races and a Trials Worldcup. On Saturday, I pre-rode the course with Swedish National Champ Alexandra Engen, which gave us a chance to catch up. Although it was mostly me trying to catch up with her as she blasted up that really long climb. The course can be described in 3 words: up, flat, down. In more detail, it was basically a long, in parts very steep climb on walking paths, some of it muddy and slick from the rain the day before (it was warm and sunny now), then a flat fire road/single track bit, followed by a long, pretty tricky descent. The descent basically swerved left-right-left-right... down a valley, bermed at each side. Then there was a little bit more climb before another tricky, switchback descent led us back to the start/finish area. The descent would have been great fun - if it had been dry. Unfortunately, it was super muddy, rutty and rooty and the more riders came down, the more it was being destroyed. Worse, it doubled as race track for the downhill race later that day, so the chances were that it would be even more ripped apart before we'd race on it the next day. My only hope was that it would dry out a bit more over night.

Profile of the Heubach Bundesliga course

The next day it was warm and the sun was out again - a welcome change from the crappy weather I had had so far in Ireland. We lined up and off we went. The climb had dried out a little bit more by that stage. I didn't have a great start, but was able to stay with Katherine O'Shea from TorQ Australia till the top and even overtook her on the flat bit before going into the long single track descent. The descent was as wet and slippery as the day before, just the mud had a slightly different consistency, and I thought it was even more tricky then on my pre-ride. I had been able to ride it OK in the pre-ride, but I wasn't quite prepared for the much higher speed I went down it now. And so I lost control over my bike at one slippy section, wrapping my bike around a sorry little tree at a very tight spot. There was a bit of chaos as the riders behind me got caught up in my bike that was blocking the trail preventing me to free it from the tree, and promptly I had lost a good few positions. When I finally got back on the bike I felt a bit of pain in my right hand, but went on and tried to catch up again with the riders that had overtaken me.

A few minutes further down I overtook Katherine again, who was trying to fix a mechanical problem on her bike. I went up the hill and made up one or two positions, but soon Katherine had overtaken me again. I tried to stay on her wheel, but my crash in the first lap had made me apprehensive and I lost a lot of time on the downhill section, I even walked bits of it!

Still, I had another 3 out of the 5 laps to go and tried to catch people on the climbs. I had a few more battles with some girls in the next two laps, but nothing major happened. Then the downer: At the start of my 5th and last lap I was stopped by the marshals. Perplexed I realized that I was being pulled from the race! I could not believe that I wasn't going to be let to ride my last lap! I was gutted. And my little sis was waiting at the top to take pics and was wondering why I wasn't coming through any more. I was soo annoyed! I had never been pulled from a race before. And I hadn't been lapped either. They had applied the 80% rule. Needless to say I wasn't in the best mood for the rest of the day. I just couldn't explain it, I wasn't in absolute perfect condition, but I didn't feel I was going THAT slow either. Anyway, I blame Elisabeth Osl for going so fast, she showed an amazing performance in the race, finishing almost 5 min ahead of 2nd placed Irina Kalentieva. Looking at the lap times, I was shocked at how slow I (or how fast Lisi) was going.

Well, one time is always the first time, but I hope it's not going to happen again that I am being pulled. Now I will concentrate on the UK NPS series and the national champs. Less racing also means more training. Last weekend was the first hard training weekend in a long time, with a short interval session on Friday where I met Arek to share the pain, a 3hour road spin on Saturday and a 4hour road spin on Sunday (thank god for the much needed good weather here in Ireland). The rest of the weekend was spent chilling and relaxing, something that had taken a back seat for too long in the last few months.

The next races now coming up are the UK NPS Round 3 in Margem Park this Saturday, followed by the UK National Marathon Champs on Sunday. I will do both races, but mainly concentrate on the NPS on Saturday, to try and defend my lead in the series.

Finally, as always, thanks to my sponsors Cycleways, TorQ, KCNC and Trinity College for their ongoing support and Ray from Australia for doing feed zone support in Heubach.

Results can be found on datasport.

My little sister tried to film while she cheered me on, here's the result: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5qictnMdZs.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Race Report British NPS Round 2 - Dalby: 2 x-rays and 1 broken collarbone

It's Saturday and I'm sitting in a hotel in the south of Germany, to take part in the Bundesliga Round 3 in Heubach tomorrow. Only now I have got a little time to sit down to report from our eventful weekend in the UK NPS round 2 in Dalby last weekend. Dalby was acting as a test event for a World Cup for next year to take place on the same course, so expectations for the course were high. And we were not disappointed. In our pre-ride we were confronted with lots of super-flowy bermy singletrack, heart-stopping drop-offs, breathtaking steep climbs and rooty grab-your-wheel-from-underneath-you descents. Names like "Worry Gill" and "Medusa's Drop" did not instill confidence either. But, although these descents looked scary, they were all ridealbe (given you've got the skill...) and with my new-found invincibility after having ridden the descents in the Offenburg-Worldcup I didn't even stop at any of them.

The Ladies waiting for the start

Well, my confidence might have tainted my judgment of my skill, because the 2nd time round this really nice course I took a line too fast at Medusa's drop and went off the trail and over my handlebars. I stopped my course of flight with my shoulder hitting a log and was trying to look like everything was OK when I got back up. But the pain in my shoulder! Smiling wearily at the concerned on-lookers I took the embarrassment and got back on the bike. Arggh!! Stupid something stabbing into my shoulder. Hmmmmm. Not good. I gingerly rode back to the start arena and got it checked out in the medical tent. I did have most of my movement (under pain) and no break was apparent, but was in bad pain from the impact (I must be such a whinger). And for some reason I had gotten a droopy shoulder, so just to be sure I was alright I was sent off to get an X-ray. I waited for Ryan to finish his lap and we went off to Scarborough. Thank god for pain killers. After 3hours of waiting for the X-ray and consultation, I finally got the result: nothing broken, just a bruise. Relief! Nothing that would keep me from racing tomorrow (with the help of paracetamol). Still in our cycling clothes we legged it back to our B&B, got changed and went for dinner in a nice Indian, Ryan giving out how much of a wuss I am. But it was good to have gotten the confirmation that everything was going to be alright.

Aussie talent Katherine O'Shea (Torq Australia) passing the feedzone

Next day we lined up at the start line for our 4-lap race. The star of the race was World Cup racer Australian Katherine O'Shea, who is currently touring through Europe to qualify for the World Champs in her home country. With Rosara Joseph and Kate Potter missing from the race, I had my bets on Katherine to take the top podium spot. However, adopted local NZ rider Jenn O'Connor (who placed 2nd in the first UK NPS) and local talents UK national champ Jenny Copnall, World Cup racer Sue Clarke and the up and coming Halfords talents Annie Last and Lilly Matthews all had their eyes set on a podium spot.

We set off on the grassy track around the start arena and I made sure to get a good position on singletrack entry. Katherine made it first, followed by Annie Last, and me in 3rd place. There were a few jostlings for places before disaster happened for a strong riding Annie Last: on jumping up a few steps into a single track section, she hit her rear wheel too hard off the rocks and immediately punctured. On hitting the Gill's Drop, the front 3 now consisted of Katherine O'Shea, Sue Clarke and me riding in 3rd position. While Katherine managed to pull away almost immediately, I was hanging on to Sue's wheel. Thank god my shoulder didn't bother me much on the tricky descents, only some movements (when I was going over steps or where I had to pull on my handlebar) caused a bit of a stab, but my legs were going well (the anticipation of pain was probably worse than the pain itself). I was hoping to be able to keep up with Sue Clarke, but soon she started pulling away as well. At least there was no immediate danger behind and I was hoping to catch up with her again on lap 3 and 4.

UK's Sue Clarke (SiS)

On lap 3 then, an unfortunate Sue Clarke punctured as well and forewent her 2nd place on the podium, and promoting me into 2nd. I knew that Katherine was too far for me to catch, so my aim was to keep my 2nd place. I was confident that I would be able to on a physical basis, but had to keep riding carefully so as not to puncture as well. Then, on my last lap, the cramps set in. I had almost no pain left in my shoulder, but my left thigh and both calves started giving me really bad cramps. I had to ride really smoothly and spin my legs fast to avoid getting bogged down with a bad cramp. I kept looking behind me, I was sure I was going backwards in that lap and that somebody would catch up and take my 2nd place away, but thankfully I made it to the finish line without being caught. I needn't have worried, my last lap was actually faster than my 3rd lap and the next rider in with a 3min gap was a very happy Lilly Matthews, who had reached her first ever UK NPS podium.

me :)

Then Ryan's race started. The men's field was high calibre with many top riders. The race was dominated by UK top rider Oli Beckingsale and Australian World Cup racer Daniel McConnell almost from the start. Ryan had a good race and was getting on well. After my last duty at the feed zone I migrated over to the finish line in the hope to get a few shots of Ryan finishing. I waited for a while and more and more riders finished. I was getting a bit worried when I saw slower riders finishing now too, and still no sign of Ryan. I was just thinking he would be really pissed off if he got a mechanical on his last lap when I was approached from one of the medics asking me to come to the medic's tent. Ryan had broken his collarbone - this time they were sure. And there he was, sitting in with his face in a pain stricken grimace, looking pale, with blood streaming down from his knee, elbow and back. Yep, now I really felt like a whinger after my fall the day before. Ryan needed medical attention fast and for the 2nd time we legged it (as gingerly as possible, Ryan screaming in pain in every corner and on every bump) straight to Scarborough Hospital.

Men's field lined up ready to go!

While Ryan was waiting to be seen, I had to go to the car park to pack our bikes, since we were still hoping to get the 8pm flight from Newcastle back to Dublin. As time went on it became clear that this option would probably soon not be an option any more and we called on our friends to figure out alternatives, while I was still working on packing our bikes. Eventually Ryan was released with 2 freaky looking x-rays, and a whole load of pain killers and we had to head to Leeds instead to try and catch the 10:20pm flight. Still in our cycling clothes we just about made it to the airport, bought the 2 of the 4 remaining seats on the 580£ Ryanair flight (VHI Plan D coming in handy there) and checked in, with about 10min to spare to gulp down a sandwich at the gate. With Ryan's arm in a sling and bandages around knee and elbow and me walking like an old granny since my back had seized up from all the lifting and bending down.

We finally made it back to Dublin and into bed, although sleeping was not going to be easy for Ryan in all his pain. A week later Ryan is now in a lot less pain and a lot more optimistic than in the first few days back, where he was basically reduced to sitting on the sofa and avoid any movement possible. It is still not clear if he needs surgery or not, he has got an appointment with a sports specific surgeon on Monday to see what he thinks. So, that was our eventful weekend, not one I'd like to repeat. But on a positive note, the 2nd place I got in the race promoted me into leading the UK NPS series and lifted me into the top 100 in the World Rankings - although just about: I am now ranked 99th in the world!!! :)

So, now I really need to get ready to pre-ride the course in Heubach.

Thanks as usual to our sponsors Cycleways, Torq, KCNC and Schwalbe for their ongoing support.

Results can be found on Cyclingnews.com or on TimeLaps for a more detailed analysis.

A report is up on BritishCycling and on IrishCycling.

Joolze's Photos can be found here and Rob Crayton one's here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Body shut down.

I had decided to give the world cup in Houffalize a miss, so that I could have a short break from racing and a long weekend (Monday was a bank holiday) of training and relaxing and catching up with friends and get done some stuff that just hasn't been done because I haven't really been at home for a while. The plan was to get in some really long training sessions in the Wicklow Mountains, because I haven't done any long spins recently.

Well, it wasn't to be. The few days after I came home from Offenburg on Tuesday I was still fine, and I started going out on Saturday morning on the first of my long spins, but an hour into it I started feeling sh*t. Every little issue started to get at me, for example my gears that skipped a little or me not being able to ride over a small rock, my choice of clothes (I was a bit cold), everything. I had absolutely no motivation or power left to go on. I sometimes get these periods of extreme tiredness, so I called Ryan and decided to cut the training short and go home, relax and have a better session on Sunday. But when I was home, I just felt so physically and mentally shattered, I was wondering why I was doing it all to myself.

Why was I pushing myself so hard and for what? Why spend all this time and money on mountain biking and racing? I was hoping a good night's sleep would fix it, and tried to go out on Sunday morning, but returned back home after 50 minutes. And I was supposed to do 5hours! I had totally and utterly run out of every ounce of energy in my body. I had bonked. My body had decided that enough is enough and had shut down. Sorry, engine has stopped until further notice.

I tried to figure out how this had happened? But there are sooo many possible reasons. Maybe it was just the accummulated stress and tiredness from organizing the trips and travelling around the world for the last few months to go to races and trying at the same time to keep my PhD supervisor happy with my progress. Maybe it was my vegan diet that could have brought on a protein bonk (it's hard to get in vegan protein in Germany where they eat meat with meat). Maybe I was low on iron. I felt that this tiredness was at least as much mental as it was physical. I just felt sooo run down!

So, the solution was to tackle this on all possible fronts. First of all I went out and had a huge portion of beef for the iron and protein (me veganism is not due to some ethical issues, more due to my belief that a diet avoiding animal protein, especially dairy is better on your health in the long term, but I think I haven't quite figured out the right amounts of the right sources of alternative non-animal protein yet), took some iron supplements (might just be a placebo effect, but I feel it helps), had a nice relaxing walk and chat with Ryan and had another really early night.

The next morning I was still not perfect, but some of my motivation had returned and I went out on my bike to do a drill which I know makes me feel good (it's a drill I don't do very often and it makes me feel good because every time I do it, I get further, so you can see improvement). Then I went on a run with my good friend who understands the pressures I put myself under. Nothing clears your mind more than a good rant among friends on a mountain run. She's pointed me into the direction of trying some meditation to combat the stress. I've done a bit of research and think it's definitely an important component that I need to add to my life to keep the balance.

Anyhow, the combined effect of proper rest, nutrition, and socializing has had the desired effect and I am now feeling stronger and better and ready to take on the next challenge, which will be the next UK NPS in Dalby this weekend.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Race Report World Cup Round 2 – Offenburg, Germany

Another airport, another wait – good time to write my report. I’m a little early at Karlsruhe-Baden airport, which is only about 40min from Offenburg, where the second mountain biking World Cup this year took place on Sunday. This time round I was by myself, which means that I also need to think of everything myself. My race start was at 10:45am, so I got up really early to make sure I’ll be there on time (see previous post about my rant of having booked myself into a hotel so far away). I was able to contain my nerves for breakfast – this is important, because if I’m too nervous before breakfast, I can’t eat, and it’s really important to get a good breakfast in before the race. Then I drove the hour and 10min to the race place.

The weather was beautiful: blue skies with the warm sun beaming down, it couldn’t have been better. And the course was bone dry. I deposed of my bottles at Ian Potter, who kindly agreed to do my feed and went to warm up. I was getting really nervous now and almost forgot my timing chip. This was going to be the biggest, highest caliber field that I will ever have raced against: 105 Elite/U23 ladies from all over the world were signed up to start. Of course all the big names where there. Offenburg has been awarded the “Best Worldcup 2009”, so it’s a favourite among many racers. The men’s field was even crazier, with about 240 Elite/U23 men signed up.

At the start line my heart rate was 105 – it usually is in the low 60s when I stand around…. Amazing how your mind can influence your body. I was gridded in 4th row, due to my placing 35th in the previous world cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Finally we went off for our start loop + 6 laps affair and as seems usual in world cups, the pace was crazy from the start. I was like going into a sprint with a pack in a road race! And there were so many girls! I don’t feel very comfortable with so many frantic riders around me and lost a few places in the heat of it.

Luckily the start loop and the start of the lap proper were quite wide, so the group had time to spread out a bit before hitting the single track. I tried to stay with the speed of the people around me, and was riding high in the red zone. I got through all the technical sections fine – there was no time to be scared now and went on to lap two in 47th position. I was still riding really hard in the 2nd lap, but knew I wouldn’t be able to hold this high pace for much longer. A few little mistakes meant that I lost another few places and riding in the red zone for so long was starting to take its toll.

At the end of lap two I had been pushed back into 57th position. Going into lap three I was spent. Dead. Bonking. I had gone so hard, I now felt like giving up. My legs were turning into dead weight, and I was suffering badly. At that moment I hated racing. Why was I doing this to myself? Why race? Why not go on a leisurely ride along a river, stopping by a café, have some ice cream… I had to reduce my pace totally to recover from my red zone effort from the first two laps. Another mishap along the way meant I lost a few more places (a girl stopped on an uphill, held up the group, I tried to ride slowly, hoping she would get going again, but then I went into a sand hill, the girls behind me obviously used the opportunity to get by quickly). But anyway, at that stage I was going backwards. I was really getting frustrated. One by one the girls started overtaking me. I didn’t even have the power to fight with the girls for the single track or to overtake them again later. I could only let them flow by.

After lap 3 I had gone down into 67th position. I was feeling so crap, all I could do was to decide to ride the race at my pace. So I rode on into my 4th and 5th lap. I still could see people ahead of me, and I was able to overtake another 2 girls who were suffering worse than I, but I did not have the power to catch up to the group of about 5 closely spaced riders just ahead of me. In my 5th lap the commentators were predicting that it would be the last time they would see me coming by, since the race leaders were closing in. Towards the end of the 5th lap I saw the 80% signs and was prepared to be pulled. I went around the start area, but nobody stopped me. I looked around, but no, seems like I wasn’t going to be stopped. I looked ahead, and there were a few girls still going, so I guessed I had to do another lap. I kinda had hoped that I would be pulled, but then again, this gave me another opportunity to enjoy another lap of this amazing course. I didn’t have very much power left, but decided to just hold my position and enjoy the last lap. I finally finished the race after 2hours 8min 33secs, in 65th position.

At first I was a little disappointed with my result. It’s kinda hard to be happy with 65th position, since my legs felt good in the morning. On the other hand, maybe my expectations were a little too high. I had hoped for a top 60, so I was 5 places off that. I had went out too hard in the beginning and had to pay for it later. I felt I had never bonked so badly in a race before. Looking at my lap times it’s easy to see how they deteriorated. I just can’t get used to the speed that these girls go at from the start – AND keep it up. I can keep up for a lap, maybe two, but then I’m spent, whereas those girls just keep up that high speed until the finish.

I’m happier now with the result. This was only my 2nd world cup after all, and one with the biggest and best field I’ve ever raced against. The next World Cup is next weekend in Houffalize, Belgium. I would love to take part, but I have to slow down a little with racing now if I want to last the whole season. I am gutted, since Houffalize is another “Classic”, but I know backing off now will help me in the long run. Also, it’s nice to spend a weekend at home for once ☺.

So the next race will be Round 2 of the UK NPS in Dalby in two weeks time, a nice short weekend affair. There is a Bundesliga on that weekend as well, but since Dalby is going to be a test event for a World Cup, I thought it would be a good idea to go there. Also, with the addition of world class rider Rosara Joseph doing the UK series, fellow world cup racer Kate Potter and Katherine O’Shea from Australian national team doing the event too, the competition has just become even more exciting. And I’ve got the chance to pick up a few points there too ☺.

All in all, my second world cup has been a very good experience. I feel I’ve reached another step on my technical riding ability by overcoming my fear of steep, rooty descents. I’ve learned that I have to pace myself better when I race against such good people, to avoid bonking. And the support from the 15000 or so spectators was amazing. Cow bells, whistles and even alpine horns! And shouts of encouragement lasting the whole race and for every rider. It’s such a different kind of atmosphere, it’s worth riding the race just for that.

At the end I would just like to say thanks to Cycleways, KCNC, TorQ and Trinity for their ongoing support and a special thanks to Ian Potter for helping out at the feedzone, for Specialized fixing a creak and for SRAM to fix my squeaking breaks.

Results, pictures and report can be found on Cyclingnews.com.