Saturday, June 28, 2008

My first Mountain Mayhem :)

Finally I have some time to write my race report for the Mountain Mayhem :)

So this is how it all started: Early in the year Ryan was asked to do the Mayhem with his sponsor, the Torq guys, and since I really wanted to do it too but had no team or sponsor at the time, I signed up with Extra UK who were looking to complete their team with a girl. Ryan and me had heard so much about this biggest 24hour mountain bike race in the world - you'll always find somebody in your club to tell you their story of the race and it really seems to be one of those cult events you just will have to experience at least once in your life.

Unfortunately this event was an early flight followed by a 1.5hour drive, which always is more complicated than just stuffing all your gear and bikes into the boot of your car. So Thursday evening before the race was spent with our more and more efficient packing and preparation routine. When we finally arrived at the beautiful surroundings of Eastnor Castle in England on Friday, there was already quite a few tents pitched and we located the Torq RV to pitch our tent there. We built up our bikes and set off to do a practice lap in bone dry conditions.

The land was beautiful, the weather nice and sunny and the course was amazing. A lot of climb, a lot of virgin single track, off camber single track cut through man high ferns, grassy climbs and fast descents, a few fireroad climbs, woody single track, while not overly technical it had everything you could wish for in a course! The only problem was that my back brake didn't work - air must have gotten into oil cable when Ryan switched the brakes since they were the 'wrong' way round - I didn't want to risk getting confused with them....

After getting my back brake fixed in the free Shimano 'bike clinic' Ryan and me headed to find our B&B. We decided to spend the night in a nice and comfy bed rather than in our tent since we wouldn't be getting much sleep the next day anyway - and besides, we didn't have any matts and only one sleeping bag.... So, we found our B&B and woahhh - the bed was huge! It was bigger than any bed I have ever seen and could comfortably fit 5 people. And since the B&B was situated almost on top of one side of the Malvern Mountains, there was this amazing view over the plains and you could even seen the Welsh mountains in the hazy distance. In the evening we enjoyed a fantastic dinner in this Italian pizza place called Ask! where we sat outside in the back garden, just beautiful.

View from the Malvern Mountains

When we woke up the next morning in our oversized bed, we heard the sound of cars passing in the wet - opening the curtains there was nothing left of the view, instead the whole country was bathed in thick mist and haze and there was some 'spitty' rain. Thank god we had decided to stay in a B&B!

Ryan in front of the super sized bed

Reluctantly we got up and had a nice breakfast before making our way back to Eastnor Castle. I met with my team (Jamie Newall, Jodie Crawforth, Matt Barrett) and our mechanics (Simon and John) and we had our tactical chat. Since this was my first time doing the Mayhem, I said I'd do my 4 laps whenever they wanted me to. So the plan was to send the guys out for a few rotations of one lap per person before my first lap to gain some cushion of time.

We watched the start which is pretty impressive with 625 people running off for their bikes. Since I had lots of time left until it was my turn, I went between the Torq tent where Ryan was preparing and my team tent. Jody was our first guy out and returned disappointed with a puncture that he had almost from the start out - we are blaming Poppy, Jamie's young dog who chews through everything that comes near her snout! While the guys were doing their laps it was pretty uneventful for me. The weather was still misty, sometimes there was a bit of a drizzle. Then Jody had another puncture in his second lap which didn't help the mood since the Scott team and the SiS team were already gaining ground on us.

625 mountain bikers ready to go :) (Photo curtesy of Joolze Dymond)

Finally, it was my turn. I waited at the transition, got my baton, went off like stung by a bee and raced really hard. I was feeling good, going hard, my heartrate was way up and my legs were great. But then, in one of the singletrack bits I flew off my bike - the ground had become a lot slippier since I had done my practice lap the day before! I went back on and cycled on a bit more carefully. In the offcamber section I came off my bike another 2 times and I was having difficulty staying on the bike. I was trying to go too fast and was unprepared for the slippiness, so I just had to slow down to avoid coming off my bike again - I was loosing lots of time on this. I was happy to be out of the off camber part and the rest of the course went well. My lap was the slowest so far in the team with 48 minutes and I was a bit disappointed with my ride. The guys decided that they should now try and make up some time and that I wouldn't ride till the next day.

So I took it easy, had some dinner and hung around Ryan's pit area. With Torq starting so many riders (3 teams of 4 and 2 solo riders) there was always many people hanging about and it was good craic. When it got dark I went to try and get a bit of sleep in our tent. I didn't really sleep and heard that the weather getting worse and worse over night - the wind was howling, the tent sides flapping like crazy and then there was the sound of torrential rain showers coming down. Glad I didn't have to do any night laps myself and curled myself deeper into my sleeping bag!

At 2pm I was curious and had to go out and see how Ryan got on. I went to the Torq van and 'shock': I saw in front of me this person covered from tip to toe in a layer of mud and blood spatters on arms and legs - OH MY GOD! The people coming in from the night laps all looked like they were coming from a war front! I then heard the stories of that the off camber track had completely dissolved and the tracks completely deteriorated - supposedly you couldn't even walk the sections any more but had to slide them! There were stories of people taking more than 3 hours to finish a lap and jesus, you could barely recognize their bikes under all the mud! I felt so sorry for Ryan that I offered to clean Ryan's bike at the Muc-Off area while he was taking a hot shower. The queue for the pressure cleaners was meters long of mud coated people and bikes.... I had to queue for over 45min! Ryan finally came and washed his bike himself so that I could go back to my tent to try and grab another couple of hours of sleep.

I got up at about 4:30 when it was getting bright again to check out how my team had done during the night. They told me the same stories from the night, horrendous weather, trails transformed into huge mudslides, and Jamie had sustained a bad scrape from a person sliding into him and the chain ring of her bike scraping into his calf.

It was time for my next lap and was advised to not even attempt to ride the off camber bit. So I set off for my second lap, negotiating through most of the mud quite well on the way up, better than most people around me (all that bad weather training in Ireland finally giving me an advantage), came down well to the lakes and up the grassy climb - but wait, why can't I turn the wheel any more?? Oh flip! My rear derailleur hanger had snapped! Flip flip flip! I scraped off some of the mud to see what I could do, but there wasn't much hope. I tried to carry my bike, but with all that gunk and mud and grass encrusted on it it weighed a ton. I thought about single speeding my bike, but thought it would take too much time. In addition, this was still a slow lap - people walking, so I just thought I'd do my best and run the other 2/3 of the lap. On all of the uphill muddy and off camber bits I was just as fast as everyone else or even faster, but I lost lots of time on all the flatish or slightly downhill or fireroady bits since the wheels just wouldn't turn easily either because of all the mud. I eventually arrived about 1.5 hours after the start, off which I ran over an hour. This meant that we had only lost about 20min in that lap in comparison to other teams, so not all was lost and we were still in 3rd place.

While our mechanics took care of the bike (thank you soooo much!) the course was drying up quickly because of the strong winds, so the rest of the laps were getting faster and faster again. Then Jody had another puncture, his third! (That's why I run tubeless...). My last 2 laps were good fun, I really enjoyed the now almost dry course and we only had to stay ahead of the 4th mixed team since the Scott and SiS team were so far ahead of us that we had no chance to make up lost time. Finally, at 2pm the race was over with us finishing third, 3 laps behind the first two teams and about 15min ahead of the 4th team (Rivette).

The Elite Mixed team podium

So, this was my first Mayhem experience. I want to thank Extra UK/BMC for letting me ride on their team and for the kind lend of the BMC hardtail. Thanks also to Simon and John for washing our bikes after each lap and fixing them - this made things so much easier. Roll on next year!

Full results can be found here. Photos can be found here, here, here and here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Forever second..... Race Report British Whyte Enduro NPS Round 3 Grizedale, Lake District, UK

Ok, I have no idea how I do this, feeling all battered and tired from an XC race and then doing a 100km marathon the day after. But, when we lined up at the start line and there was no Sally Bigham, I was hoping it would be a little easier and I wouldn't have to kill myself, but then there was Jenn O'Connor there instead. She had finished a strong 2nd yesterday and was going to be my biggest competition.

The course from a bird's view :)

The course was basically the same as the NPS course from the day before with one modification: they took out the first technical climb to lead you further uphill on the fireroad, another singletrack section of the purposebuilt type, a fireroad linker descent that lead to another singletrack that eventually lead to the first singletrack descent from the day before.

The course profile - a lot of climbing!
We started riding and I kept with her for a while, but she was very good on the technical descents where she started opening a never again closing gap. I was close enough behind her for the first out of the 8 12.5km laps, but lost her sight more and more in the second lap. In the third lap I was feeling really crap, thinking "Why am I doing this to myself? I could just go for a ride instead in this beautiful countryside and enjoy the view....". By the 4th lap I got over it and rode on. It seemed as I was getting slower on the climbs (a total of about 2700m!!) I was getting better on the descents, starting to enjoy them more and more with each lap, with my favourite being the last singletrack descent. There were no girls around, so I mostly rode by myself or with some guys who were about my speed. Finally, after 06:05:37 I arrived at the finish, 11:24min behind Jenn O'Connor. Another second place.... but my time will come!!! ;)

The view from our car on the way to the B&B :)

Next weekend we are back in the UK for the Mayhem and I'm currently waiting to hear back from the German cycling body if I will be allowed to go to the World Marathon Champs in Italy. Lots more racing to come!

Full results, report and photos can be found here.

Some more pics by Rob Crayton can be found here and pics by Oliver Coat are here.

Race Report British NSP Round 3 - Grizedale, Lake District

Soo, last weekend saw the 3rd race in series of the British NPS taking place in Grizedale in the Lake District, UK. Ryan and me took the overnight ferry from Dublin to Birkenhead (just opposite Liverpool), which leaves at 10pm and takes 7 hours, meaning that you are woken for breakfast at 4:15am (not that I really slept anyway, with all that rocking!!) and leave the boat at 5am... We drove the 2.5hours to Grizedale to check out if the course is already set up, but at that time the organizers were just waking up. So we made our way to Hawkshead, a few miles away, where we would stay in a B&B. We thought of getting a coffee first and then check into the B&B, but none of the Cafes were actually open that early in the morning. So we wandered around a little like zombies in circles in this tiny amzingly beautiful and picturesque Beatrix Potter village, until we thought it late enough to be able to check into our B&B (about 9am...) and thank god they had our room all ready, so we just went in and went to sleep. A few hours later we got up, had an early lunch and made our way to the race course, where the car park had already started filling up with mountain bikers for the pre-ride. We put our bikes together and went off.

A view into a little road in Hawkshead - there were flowers everywhere!

The course basically consisted of fireroad climbs, linkers and flat sections mixed with technical singletrack climbs and descents. The most notable bits where 2 technical singletrack climbs and a single track section with a very steep and technical descent of the loose dusty earth and stone type with a short steep kicker climb. The singletrack was almost all purposebuilt hardpacked all weather trails with the fireroads being quite gravelly at times. I found it hard to get a good flow on these singletracks, as they weren't that smooth and lacked berms. One lap amounted to about 275m of climb, which is quite significant.

The course from a bird's view.

On the race day itself, all the usual suspects and then some found themselves on the start line. The most notable "new" rider was Kate Potter who had missed the previous 2 UK NPS races due to other race engagements and had placed 33rd in the Fort Williams World Cup the weekend before, so seemed to be one to watch out for. From the gun shot there was tight battling for places. The first tight righthand corner on hardpressed gravel just 200m from the slightly downhill grassy start lead to a bit of a messy turn. On the fireroad climb towards the first singletrack climb, there was more fighting for positions as was on the climb itself, leading to some girls getting a little stuck, which was the chance taken by Sue Clarke and Jenny Copnall to enter the singletrack descent first, followed by me. With no real overtaking opportunities on this track, we all rode nicely in line. Then Sue Clarke was struck by bad luck and punctured, having to stop to fix it. There was a bit more jostling for places on the top fireroad section and the tricky steep singletrack before the finishing order was already emerging with Kate Potter in front, steadily increasing her gap on Jenn O'Connor in second place, who was more closely followed by Jenny Copnall. At the start of the second lap one girl was still in 4th place, but I was able to catch her on the top fireroad section to move myself into 4th. For a while I could still see glimpses of Jenny, and I was hoping to catch her, but couldn't keep up with that speed. I rode most of the other laps by myself, finishing about 3min behind Jenny and about 6.5min behind Kate Potter. I didn't feel I was riding the course well, so I was happy enough with the result. Maybe I didn't push myself so hard because I knew what was coming up on day 2 of the event? ;)

Ryan and I in our new and shiny Torq sponsored gear :)

Full results, report and photos can be found here. Jenny Copnall's experience of the race are recorded here.

Some more pics by Rob Crayton can be found here and pics by Oliver Coat are here.

And I'm sure, Kate Potter will soon put her race report online here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Enjoying the break in racing

This was an almost ready post sitting in the pipeline, published now. Race report from the British NPS and Enduro Round 3 will follow soon :)

Ryan and me just had a 2 week stint of no racing before the next British NPS, a rarety really and much appreciated, even though it means that long necessary work like cleaning the kitchen and doing the washing need to be done on these "free" weekends. Similarly, they allow us to be a bit more social, so they are usually planned out with parties, BBQs and dinner attendences in the evenings.

Nonetheless, they also mean another thing: lots of time for looooong spins, preferably somewhere further away (this kinda feeds back to the dinner invitations, a long spin = lots of calories burned = lots of nice food can be eaten :)). So, on the beautifully weathered bank holiday weekend Ryan and me had decided to take the car down a bit into the Wicklow Mountains on Saturday, dropping Ryan off at Djouce and me then parking the car in Roundwood. Ryan would go do some of the Djouce trails, head up to the top of Djouce and then basically hit the Wicklow Way and head south on it till Drumgoff in the Glenmalure Valley. I'd be starting from Roundwood up towards Lough Tay, but turning left into the Wicklow Way south, going to Drumgoff, then call Ryan to see where he was and see if I should wait for him in Drumgoff or do another small loop till he arrived, then go for a cold drink together at the beautiful little pub there. So was the plan and off we went.

I can't believe how beautiful the weather was, sunny blue skies and hot. The best weather this year so far, just absolutely amazing. And how much it adds mentally to the enjoyment of a spin! I was rested anyway, but I felt I could go on forever and felt really strong.

The Wicklow Way from where I was going was mainly fireroads, with a few fun singletrack bits and lead me around areas I've either never been before which was a lot of fun. I also passed by the leg I did in the Wicklow Way Relay last year (from Oldbridge to Glendalough), it's soooo much faster and easier on the bike than on foot, of course! With the weekend being such a beautiful bank holiday weekend, there were hords of people around Glendalough, so not that great to pass through on the bike, need to find a different way through. Then the way up from Glendalough I met Greg and Grainne, recceing Grainne's leg of this years Wicklow Way Relay on their mountain bikes. This leg was also an area familiar to me, from last year's Rogaine with Fergal - only we had done it mainly in the dark - it looks a little different and a lot shorter in daytime and on a bike.

So I finally made it to Drumgoff, in only about 2 hours from Roundwood! Time to call Ryan, but... no reception!! I walked around with my mobile in the air looking for reception, but nothing. Hmm, we had made the plan that when one of us had no reception, we'd cycle on uphill till we have reception. Ok, judging from where Ryan was last when I heard of him (top of Djouce, me halfway between xxx Bridge and Glendalough), I thought I ride on uphill the Wicklow Way south towards Slieve Maan until I have reception. And you know when I got reception? Only when I was on top of Slieve Maan, i.e. on the very top of the climb, after having climbed for about 30min, checking my phone every few min to see if I had reception.... When I tried to ring Ryan from there, he seemed to have arrived in Glenmalure valley, since then I only got through to his answering machine.... argh!! So, I was riding around on the top of Slieve Maan trying to find the Wicklow Way again (since I had lost it on the way up, having missed a turn and having gone the last bit on the road), found it and started riding it backwards towards Drumgoff. Eventually I got a call from Ryan, he was back on the top of the Shay Elliott climb - basically on the mountain opposite me on the other side of the valley.... Ah well, we decided he'd do a bit of a loop around Mullacor, then return to the car and me to go straight to the car.

Since I was at the car 15min before Ryan, I cycled on towards home, so that Ryan would pick me up on the road. In total I had done about 83km cycling, about half of it offroad (mostly fireroad though) in about 4.5hours. What a great day and great top up for my farmer tan too!

Sunday was another amazingly hot and sunny day and I went on a long road spin. I felt great for the first while, made it in just over an hour from Dundrum to Sally Gap and in another 35min to Laragh, feeling surprisingly strong after the long ride yesterday. However, on the climb up from Laragh to Wicklow Gap my powers waned almost from one moment to the next and the rest of the 4.5hour ride felt pretty draggy and I felt powerless. I was really happy to finally descend from the last big climb back into Dublin. It was great timing that Ryan and me were invited on a dinner party that night - the amount of food we ate!!! No guilty feelings either when we ate the amazing heavy chocolate cake and cheesecake.... oh I love mountain biking even just for the fact that you can eat so much nice and tasty food afterwards without gaining a pound!

On the second weekend the spin volume was down to normal, so I did a 3.5hour road spin on Saturday:

On Sunday, Ryan and me decided to go to Djouce together and session a few sections together and race each other on a few sections, i.e. I would get a headstart and Ryan would try and catch me. I found that this is a great way for me to push technical riding comfort limits, also because you know you are safe if you crash. I always go a lot more careful when I ride out by myself. Roll on the races!!