Monday, June 22, 2009

Kilbroney Challenge

Off they are!

When the cat's away, the mice will play...

Well, my coach was out of the country, so I took this opportunity to take part in one of my other favourite sports: adventure racing. I love adventure racing, but my coach is afraid of me injuring myself on the run, which is often on open mountain and technical terrain. And he is kinda right, especially since I don't really do any running. After a bit of last minute juggling, I teamed up with friend and fellow MADster Sean Downey. I knew he'd be a great partner, and that we'd be well matched on the bike and run, mainly due to college committments having slowed him down recently.

Sean leading the run through some tough terrain

The race was a bike (16km) - run (2km) - bike (14km) - run (10km) - bike (7km) - kayak event, over open mountain, fireroad and sheep paths and with the kayak section in Carlingford Lough. It was mostly waymarked, but a little bit of navigation was required to not miss any of the control points. The plan was to go hard on the biking sections and try to contain the damage on the runs, which would always be my slower discipline.

Pushing the bike

We started off at 10:30 with a neutral start and then almost straight into a hike-a-bike section followed by some fast fireroad. With Sean doing all the navigating I concentrated on just riding fast. We made it into the first transition in 3rd position, but lost a good few places in the run, with a few of the male teams catching up with us. The run was straight up a steep mountain and straight down on another side, mostly off road over technical terrain. Sean was leading on the climb and descent, while I gingerly navigated over the open mountain terrain, careful not to trip or twist my ankle.


We got back onto the bikes and went really hard. We started catching up with all of the guys who had overtaken us on the run, so that we came into the 2nd transition again in 3rd place. A bit of a blip of not listening to the marshalls carefully meant we ended up at the wrong mast, but master navigator Sean figured out the mistake fast enough and we hadn't lost too much time when we reached the correct mast. The next bit of run was a great descent along the top of the mountains on an easy path. This was then followed by a more and more technical descent to a river and a traverse to an old farm yard. At the farmyard we had to solve a riddle which we managed in OK time (well, we weren't as slow as the first team ;)). This was then followed by a long boggy and energy sapping section uphill and back to the transition.

Sean riding along the beach

I was soo happy to be back on the bike at that stage! A little bit more of a boggy walk-a-bike section, and we arrived at the top of the mountain to start the last long descent. This descent more than made up for all the suffering before, it was great singletrack on sheep paths between ferns, and a really cool twisty proper mtb singletrack section in a wood before dropping us out back onto the road. A quick trip to the beach before returning to the race start, where we had one more transition to the kayak. Due to strong winds the kayak section had been shorted to a few hundred meters only, which was great, because I was so scared out boat would capsize, such high were the waves. The way out was hard against the wind and the waves, but on the way back you only needed to catch a few waves that brought you back to the start. With a smile on the face (on my part) we reached the finish in 1st position of the mixed category and 8th overall (out of 35 teams).

Carrying back the boat

I love the after race atmosphere and watching the other teams coming in. A good time was had by all afterwards in the yacht club, with food and drinks. Thanks to Rowan MacMahon and the Not the Sunday Run crew for organizing such a great race. And of course thanks to Sean for teaming up with me and not killing me on the runs and for being a great navigator and just an awesome teammate!

Arriving at the finish :)

More info about he Kilbroney Challenge can be found on their blog.

All pictures from here.

Results can be found here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Race Report Irish NPS Round 7, Three Rock, Dublin

Up the fireroad (photo from Jarek)

It was a nice coincidence that my club's turn at organizing an NPS fell onto one of the weekends where I was actually at home. The race was to take place on my home training ground, 3Rock, which meant minimal preparation was needed (the start of the race was only a few km from my home). It gave me the opportunity to show my face again at the local race scene and catch up with everybody, since I haven't raced in any Irish NPS so far mainly due to other race committments. It was also a great opportunity to show off my new sponsored gear from Cycleways, which I picked up just the day before. I was also looking forward to ride my Epic for the first time in a local race, thanks to Cycleways replacing my rear derailleur + hanger on short notice - thanks Cycleways! Also thanks to Sean for adjusting the gear cable and gears the morning before the race.

Jackie, my competition (photo from Jarek)

I did my deed for my club by marshalling the sports race - which doubled as my practice lap. It was great to see so many new and unknown faces taking a shot at racing. The course was great, kinda barbell shaped, with some really tricky, rooty, flowy and in partly slippery singletrack on either end, linked by a fast fireroad section in the middle. It also took in a part of the mountain I don't usually cycle in, so it was great to add a few new trails to my repertoire.

Riding through the woods (photo from Jarek)

I was halfway through a building period, with a hard week's training behind me and another hard week ahead of me, so I was going into the race with already tired legs (and going to a party the night before didn't help much for recovery either). I was happy to see that at least one more competitor was signed up in the Elite women's race, Jackie O'Hagan, but she also came into the race with tired legs from taking part in a triathlon the day before.

Showcasing the new gear from our sponsor Cycleways (photo from Jarek)

Finally my race started. I knew I had a technical advantage over Jackie and started pulling away through the first single track section. My plan was to take it easy enough, but stay ahead of Jackie for the race - reacting to any attacks if she tried. Everything was going well and I was opening a good gap to Jackie. I really enjoyed the singletrack and was on the way back on the fireroad on my first out of 3 laps when disaster happened: my chain snapped! Damn, I thought, they had asked me yesterday if I wanted to replace my chain as well after the rear derailleur incident, but I thought the chain looked fine, so I kept the old chain. Well, lesson learned.

Just before a tricky climb (photo from Jarek)

Anyhow, while I started fiddling around with my tool to fix the chain again, all the Master riders started overtaking me, and finally also Jackie whizzed by. Eventually I got the chain fixed and I was back on track to chase Jackie. I was actually happy to have a rabbit in front of me now and put a bit more pressure on. I caught Jackie again halfway through the second lap on the technical singletrack and could relax again. I took it steady through the remainder of the race and Jackie didn't catch up with me again so that I came into the finish taking first.

Still smiling :) (photo from Jarek)

The best bit of these races though is the buzz after the race. MAD had put on a great feast of tea/coffee, sandwiches and cupcakes for the riders and even the downpour didn't dampen the mood when everybody huddled underneath the small MAD tent. All the riders seemed to have enjoyed the race, and I'm proud of MAD for putting together such a great race.

Big smile at the prize giving (photo from Jarek)

Pictures can be found on the following links:
Results can be downloaded here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Trek Marathon, Margam Park, UK

Margam Park Castle

Sunday was a totally different story. Since I am not eligible for the British National Marathon Champs, and we had to catch a ferry and I thought maybe I should take it a little easier, I decided to go for the fun half marathon option, 2 laps of 22km. I was feeling in much better form than yesterday and was looking forward to an "easy" race (all the good racers would do the Marathon Champs) without any pressure. I had absolutely no race nerves for it and even went for a last bathroom trip about 2min before the group of about 260 people riding the half marathon was set off, while Ryan was more concerned about me getting a good start position than I!

Thousands at the start line for the marathon.

So I didn't have the greatest start position, but was able to work my way forwards quite quickly. I wasn't aware of any female competition in my race that I could have a battle with, so I decided to overtake as many men as possible on the ride. The course was great and suited me very well, lots of long draggy fireroad climbing, just exactly my sort. I love getting into a rhythm and motoring up the hill. I had great fun on the descents and enjoyed this course a lot more than the NPS one. I was riding strong and had lots of "rabbits" there to overtake, especially once we started catching up with the other groups that had been set off before us. Since I hadn't pre-ridden the course before, I took the long last descent pretty easy.


Towards the end of the 1st lap I noticed a girl on my wheel. She couldn't have been doing the 25km, since they've been set off even later than us, she couldn't have been doing the 100km either, since I would have had to have overtaken her. So she must be doing my race! Who was she? I was in a good mood and now definitely up for a battle. She didn't want to take the lead on the downhill but stayed closely on my wheel. Then, in the second lap I decided to opt the pace slightly on the draggy uphills and slowly created a gap between her and me. Then I started catching up with some of the women doing the national champs course, I knew then I was going well. I was really buzzing when I entered the last long downhill section and the girl behind me was nowhere to be seen. I thought from now it's only downhill and I am not letting her catch me again on this. I raced down the downhill and then disaster struck. I must have been concentrating hard on the trail ahead that I went too close by a large loose twig.

National Marathon Champ Sally Bigham before the race.

This twig then got caught in my rear wheel and I thought the twig wrapped around my cassette. I slowed immediately and glanced down, but couldn't see the twig any more. Thinking I've avoided the worst, I gingerly turned my pedal and noticed my gears skipping, but then, oh no! I heard some crunchy noises around my wheel which then stopped turning completely and puff!!! all my air went out of my tire too. What had happened was that my rear derailleur must have been damaged by the twig and then wrapped around the cassette, broke a few spokes and the spokes pierced through the rim tape, causing the flat. It was clear that this was a show stopper. The rear derailleur was so badly caught in the cassette that I couldn't get it out. This meant I couldn't even roll down the descent! The thought of having to abandon a great race that I was leading and having to walk down from the farthest end of the course to the finish was really frustrating. So I made my way down, with all the riders that I had overtaken earlier catching up with me again.

Having fun at the start.

So, maybe now it's understandable why I was a little reluctant to update my blog?

Anyhow, I am feeling a lot better now and have decided to take racing a little easier for the second half of the season. I will mainly concentrate on the UK series, the German National Champs and the 2 Canadian world cups. My result in this NPS has given me the much needed kick up my bum and I am very motivated to do well in the next British NPS at Crow Hill. Bring it on!!!

Panorama of marathon racers

Results can be found on the TimeLaps website.

Race report available on BritishCycling.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Race Report British NPS Round 3 - Margam Park

Before the race.

A week ago Ryan and I made our way over by ferry to Margam Park in Wales, where the UK NPS Round 3 took place on the Saturday, followed by the UK National Marathon Champs on the Sunday. While both Ryan and I went over, it was only I who was to race, since Ryan is still recovering from his broken collarbone.

Beautiful bushes.

The course was located in a castle estate with the added feature of a few almost tame groups of deer who also seemed to have an interest in the trails. I pre-rode the course on Friday in the most beautiful warm summer weather, and the course was nice and dry. While the climbs where mostly on fireroads, the descents lead us either through some huge flowering Rhododendhron bushes or high ferns. And there was also a refreshing river crossing. It was all in all a nice course, all rideable, with the singletrack sections demanding a high level of concentration.

Elite women just started.

When I got up on Saturday, I knew instantly that I wasn't going to have a good race. I tried every technique of mental motivation, but my body just felt heavy and lame. I still think the stresses of the last few weeks are taking their toll. In hindsight, I should have just taken a week or so off training, because then instead of missing a training session and feeling bad about it, I would have been able to relax. Anyhow, with no desire to have to put my body through this exhaustion I lined up reluctantly at the start line. Lining up against Kate Potter, who has arrived with great confidence due to her amazing Madrid World Cup result and most of the top UK racers, I knew it would not be an easy race either.

In the field.

Kate Potter lead the race from the start, whereas several other riders contended for the next few positions. I was sitting in about 5th place for most of the time, still having the riders ahead of me in my sight, but also followed closely by some riders behind. Then, towards the end of lap 3 of the 4 lap race my rear tire had mostly deflated. I kicked myself because I had the feeling that it had lost air since yesterday already, but did not bother putting any more sealant in. Another valuable lesson learnt: make sure your equipment is in prime condition. Thank god Ryan's wheels were waiting in the tech zone.

Just riding along ;)

Exchanging the wheel took also a little longer than expected due to having to unscrew the only skewer we had and to pump up the spare wheel (and yet another lesson there), which meant I lost my 5th place. When I got going again I wasn't sure if I could accept my bottle from the tech zone in which I was in now, so just to be sure, I left it. It didn't help to be out of water in this hot weather either. Thank god I had about a mouth full left in my previous lap's bottle. I was now riding at the end of the fast group and had Lily Matthews riding in 6th place in my sight, but I didn't manage to catch her again. So I finished the race in 7th place, meaning that I just about kept my lead in the British NPS series by 3 points ahead of UK National Champ Jenny Copnall.

Deer crossing.

Race results available on the TimeLaps website.

Race report available on BritishCycling.