Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Race - Mt. Hamilton Low Key Hill Climb

Well, I don't usually do much racing during the off-season, but Ryan has been raving about this low key hill climb (LKHC) series in California, timing his flights precariously according to the dates of the races (and winning most of those he managed to do), so when I arrived in California for the first time ever, I could not miss this opportunity to do one (actually the last one of the 2010 series) too.

Mt. Hamilton Observatory

The LKHCs are mass start events up some hill. There are no number plates (you get a little red sticker with a number which you shout out at the finish, similar to the Epic Club races) and announcement of the winner or awards ceremony, no prices, etc. as the name suggests. About 140 (less than usual due to very cold weather) men and women lined up (including a mixed tandem) and after a few words regarding safety and the word "GO" we set off up the hill. I knew from Ryan that the climb would be 29.6km and guesstimated at least an hour and 20min long for me, the women's previous record was 1h 21min, so I knew to take it steady from the start. Thankfully most men did the same and there was no crazy race off. It was important to stick with a fast group though, as the hill climb included two significant descents (about 4km descent after the first 10km climb and about 1.5km descent at the about 17.5km mark).

Mount Hamilton Profile

I managed to stick with the front group (the group Ryan was in!) for the first 10km but it broke up during the first descent. After the descent I tried to work my way up again to the front bunch, but couldn't make it. In the end I stayed with 2 guys that were about my speed. After a while one of the guys dropped back and the other guy and I were ding-donging until we were almost at the top. Then, with about 200m to go we had to take a sharp right-hand turn on a small road up to the Observatory for which I was not prepared and went straight ahead. The other guy (who knew which way to go) took his chance and attacked and came in just ahead of me, grrr! But I finished with a time of 1h 20min, a minute off the previous record. I was first woman and 17th overall! This also meant that I had beaten the existing Strava record and got a T-shirt! I had felt very comfortable on the climb and did not make myself suffer. Needless to say, I am very happy with how my climbing is coming along :)

Last push to the finish line

Ryan won the men's category :). The view from the top was amazing, the sky was clear and the sun was shining, but it was FREEZING COLD with snow lying about in places. I grabbed a few cookies and some juice and my Strava T-shirt and layered up to survive the looooong descent back down.

I also found out later that I was "the top single-climb scoring rider on the day" with the highest points of the season, not bad on a climb that has 2 descents! :)

Results and a report can be found here on the Low Key Hillclimb website.

Wheelsuck!!! (Pic from here)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter training

I know I'm due several blogpost updates, these will come when the Xmas craze and business has quietened down a bit. While not much has been happening on my blog, a lot has happened offline and I'm well into my winter season training. Luckily Ryan and I have been able to spend a good chunk of our long preparatory miles in good(-ish) weather in California so we were able to avoid the first big freeze that kept Ireland in a cold grip. Training over there went very well, warmer weather and good company made the long base rides so much easier and so much fun. I've been on a few group rides with some very good riders and I absolutely loved it! I really can see myself turning pro after my PhD. Even the really hard rides and long tough climbs don't feel that hard when you've got some great people around you pushing you on. But unfortunately our time in California was limited and we both had to return back to Ireland after a few very good training weeks. We were lucky to return when the snow had mostly melted in Ireland and only got stuck in London for 2 hours due to dense fog.

Current view from our bedroom

Anyhow, the fairly mild weather on arrival back home has given way again to the 2nd big freeze. With temperatures of up to -12 degree Celsius, snow and ice, training outside has become dangerous to impossible. I ventured out on my mountain bike once when the weather wasn't too bad and the snow had mostly gone, dressed up like a Michelin (wo-)man in thick layers of clothing and using my new ski gloves and insulated bottles with hot juice (they both worked fantastically!), but wiped out twice on frozen puddles on the mountain. Luckily I could find areas that were rideable, mainly within the forest and it was OK as long as you kept off the open mountain. However, I felt quite restricted in my clothing and reduced dexterity in the ski gloves wasn't helping for the technical bits either. At least I was kept warm till the end.

Saris 300 Pro Indoor Cycle

But anyway, with the snow back and the temperatures colder than our freezer I've decided to stick to training indoors, made possible to the recent, very smart (in hindsight) investment by my cycling husband into a Saris 300 Pro Indoor Cycle. This machine has revolutionized our indoor training. While Ryan claims he's bought it primarily with me in mind (he used to very much dislike using his turbo trainer), we now fight over who can use the machine! It's a really heavy thing and very sturdy and set up or change between Ryan's and my settings is minimal. In addition, it's so quiet that you have to stop outside the door and listen carefully to be able to hear if the other person is actually using it. This is a big plus for me because I was always worried of annoying our neighbours with the noise and vibrations that a conventional turbo trainer creates and so basically prohibiting early morning and late night sessions before. And the best thing: It comes with an inbuilt power meter, so it's possible to have really specific workouts. And Ryan thankfully also invested into a new fan (after battling with the old broken one for a while). So, while indoor training on a stationary machine will never beat the specificity and joys of outdoor training, this is one of the best alternatives I have found.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

2010 British Mountain Bike Racing Series Round 5 - Newnham Park, Plymouth

The last race of my season was the 5th round of the British Mountain Bike Racing Series, held in Newnham Park, Plymouth.

The line-up was impressive, with 17 Elite women from 8 different nations signed on, including Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (NOR), Rosara Joseph (NZL) and Amanda Sin (CAN). Word was also that my old rival, marathon specialist Sally Bigham would be riding this race. The fact that I was gridded 7th just showed the high calibre of women taking part.

On a beautiful sunny day we lined up. The 6.5km course featured two cold deep water crossings, two punchy granny ring climbs and two supersteep descents, a few bomb hole sections, some fast singletrack descent, a bit of fireroad and another bit of grassy flat.

We set off and the speed wasn't too crazy up the grassy slope and I managed to stay with the front group. However, soon Gunn-Rita and Rosara opened up a small gap, followed by Sally Bigham and Emmy Thelberg. I wasn't able to stick with them and soon found myself on my own. Lap 2 ticked by uneventful, but on lap 3 I was caught by Amanda Sin which I had to let go, but I could overtake Emmy Thelberg, so I stayed in the same position. Every lap I could still see some of the girls ahead on the grassy climb, but I couldn't close the distance, so that I finished the race in 5th place.

International podium: l-r: Amanda Sin (CAN), Rosara Joseph (NZL), Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (NOR), Sally Bigham (GBR), Mel Spath (GER)

While this is a good result considering the competition, I felt I hadn't left it all out on the course and had arrived too fresh at the finish. Gunn Rita won the race with a very close 2nd from Rosara Joseph, but the biggest impression was made by Sally Bigham who placed 3rd in her first ever national level cross country race with a gap of only 1min 15sec to Gunn-Rita. Another person to look out for since she's thinking of doing some more "just for training"....

And so the season has ended for me. I had planned to race in the Irish National Marathon Champs as a non-contender, but a college deadline had me firmly placed in front of my laptop on the sunny Sunday of the race. Well done to Cait Elliott though who found her legs and raced to another national marathon champs title.

Thanks to the guys from the WXC team for feedzone support.

Elite women top 10:

1 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Nor) 1:45:14
2 Rosara Joseph (NZl) 0:00:09
3 Sally Bigham (GBr) 0:01:15
4 Amanda Sin (Can) 0:05:59
5 Melanie Spath (Ger) 0:06:37
6 Lily Matthews (GBr) 0:08:23
7 Maaris Meier (Est) 0:09:58
8 Emmy Thelberg (Swe) 0:11:34
9 Melanie Alexander (GBr) 0:12:01
10 Elliot Caitlin (Irl) 0:13:24

Full results can be found here.

Thanks also to Martyn Salt and the team from InEvent for running such a consistently well organized and high-quality racing series in the UK. Pity not more of the Irish or mainland European racers are making it over for it - it's are well worth it. I'm already looking forward to doing them next year!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ras na mBan 2010 - Sneem, Kerry, Ireland

(l-r) Mel Spath (Usher IRC), Olivia Dillon (Irish National Team), Natalie Creswick (Shred Racing Rapha Condor)

When I signed up for the Ras ma mBan this year I tried to find my blog post from last years Ras and noticed that although I had them all written, I hadn't actually put them up because they weren't quite finished!

Anyhow, after a good race last year, I was looking forward again to this years edition or Ireland's premier women only 3-day stage race, again held in Sneem. Due to the tireless work of the women's Commission, led by Valerie Considine, the race is gaining on popularity and the number of race entries this year was the highest ever. Again, Louis Moriarty offered us a great deal to stay in his hotel, Sneem Hotel, so we knew we'd be taken care of to the highest level.

Riding along

This year the race organizers have introduced a new County Rider Classification, adding an extra incentive for the Ireland-based riders to do well. The stages were the same as the year before, so I knew what to expect.

Stage 1: Friday, 17th September, Road Race, 60km – Sneem – Kenmare – Sneem, map here
The main feature of this course is the long drag up to Moll's Gap and that's usually where the action happens. My legs felt good in the morning and the bunch stayed together until the start of the climb. My aim for this race was to do well in the queen of the hills (QOH) competition, so I went to the front and went for an early attack, but nobody went with me and I was soon caught again. The speed on the climb increased and more attacks followed, most of them short-lived. However, half way up the climb somebody attacked and a strong group of 6 people started pulling away. In this group were the US-based Irish National Road Race Champion Olivia Dillon (Irish Team), Linda Ringlever (Moving Ladies), Alli Holland (Shred Racing Rapha Condor), Matthysse Mathilde (PSUK Cycle Race Team), Natalie Creswick (Shred Racing Rapha Condor) and Gillian McDarby (Usher IRC).

At the front

That's when I made my first stupid mistake. Gillian from my team was in the forming breakaway, so instead of making it into the breakaway myself (which would have been easy since I was at the front of the bunch and they weren't far gone), I sat up, happy that Gillian had made it and that we had a team member in the breakaway. But unfortunately Gillian was dropped from the breakaway soon after, at which point I decided to try and chase them down, hoping I'd get to them before the climb was over. I didn't catch them before the descent and kept chasing, making it into within 22 seconds, but then my legs started cramping up and I had to ease off. Finally I was caught by the bunch and stayed with them to the finish. The leading group of 5 had created a gap of over one and a half minutes and my queen of the mountains jersey went out the window. I wasn't at all pleased with myself. At least Gillian had a good sprint and won the county rider jersey.

Results of stage 1 can be found here and a report here.

Tough road conditions on stage 2

Stage 2a: Saturday, 18th September (morning): Road Race, 80km – Sneem – Tahilla – Killarney – Sneem, map here
This stage is always my favourite since there is a lot of climbing in it, we climb the same hill 4 times, on a narrow windy country road with lots of gravel and stones on it. There was QOH points to be gotten on the 2nd and 4th lap. While there were a few attacks, the bunch stayed together during the first lap. In the second lap I attacked myself (too early) and was chased back down. I attacked again (this time at the right time) for the QOH and got over the line first, wohoo! The third lap there was a sprint prime that Alli Holland won, but the bunch was still together going up the hill for the last time. Towards the top though, Olivia Dillon, Alli Holland, and Natalie Creswick attacked and I was just at the right spot at the right time and managed to hang onto their tail.

Going for the QOH on stage 2

We quickly created a small gap and the speed was super high, so there was no chance for me to go for the QOH. I thought it to be better to try and hang on anyway, since it looked like we were increasing our lead. How exciting it is to be in the breakaway! We hurtled down the hill, again I had no clue when to chase and when not, I just stayed with them and hoped we'd stay away from the bunch until the finish line, because (although I think I'd have a good sprint) I am way too scared for a bunch sprint. And we did! I was superhappy with my performance, my heart rate profile showed I had a higher heartrate on the descent than on the climb, lol. The result meant I had now climbed into 6th place overall and was first county rider, with a lead of 17 seconds over the next few people who arrived in the bunch.

Results of stage 2a can be found here and a report here.

Stage 2b: Saturday, 18th September: (afternoon): 5km TT
The TT is so short that I was pretty confident that I won't loose my lead of 17secs. Olivia Dillon set an amazing time of 2min 53 secs, with the next closest rider at 3min 7secs, but as she's based in the US, she was no danger to the county rider classification. My time was 3min 10 secs, enough only for 12th place. I went as hard as I could, but I forgot to get into the drops and my legs were dead after this mornings ride, so I can't be unhappy with that.

Gasping for air after 3min of pain

Results of the TT can be found here and report here.

Stage 3: Sunday, 19th September: Road Race, 90km Waterville loop, map here
Since the QOH competition was pretty much won by Natalie Creswick, I was told that it would be the best idea to hang in there and try to defend the county rider jersey. This meant I had to leave the pain inflicting on the climb to the other riders, boo. But it made sense. I had to look out for Rita Boyle, who had gained 2secs on my gap in the TT and was now only 15 secs behind me. The other two dangers were Jenny McCauley and Catherine Devitt. To be honest, my legs were so tired at this stage that I was happy enough to just sit in. I made sure that I was positioned towards the front to be able to react on any dangerous attacks (I'm actually quite pleased with my positioning overall - it only took me 3 years to get there... ;)). One English rider managed to get away on the flat loop after the first of the two ascents of Coomakiste, but she was caught again on the 2nd ascent. The bunch fell apart on the 2nd ascent though, so that a smaller group formed on the descent on the other side. The Rapha Condor girls tried again and again to get away, as did a few others, even Cait went for it at one time, but all were chased down again quickly. I kept an eye on my opponents. I knew Rita was very strong on the TT and thought she might try to get away and time trial it home from the last little drag onwards. However, we stayed together and started descending on the other side.

Leaders before the last stage

But then disaster struck: A person in front attacked and Rita Boyle reacted a little too quickly and fervently and, after touching wheels with Olivia Dillon in front, lost control over her bike and went down hard. As I was just behind/beside her, I could see it all happening and prepared myself for a fall, or at least for riding over an obstacle, going into a defensive mountainbike position. Rita's handlebar and wheel went down just ahead of me and I tried my best to keep my bike steady when my front wheel rammed into her handlebar. I managed to stay upright and kept on rolling. Something felt strange though on the bike, a little too flexy perhaps, but I couldn't detect any fault, so I kept riding on.

Misty weather on Sunday's stage

There were a few more attacks on the slightly downhill home straight and I had to chase down Jenny a few times too. At the end again, I declined Olivia Dillons leadout offer (I know, my brain was really not working at that stage any more) and decided to go in front myself, as I am scared of bunch sprints. So basically, what I do is I just ride as hard as I can until everybody overtakes me to the line. Anyhow, my aim was to defend the county rider jersey that day and I had achieved my aim. I was very happy :)

Later on I found out that I had broken 3 of the carbon spokes and scratched the fork in that incident with Rita - thank god the bike held up!

Short results and a report of the last stage can be found here.

I took that cup home again

I am very grateful to Stewart Carr for lending me his amazing Lapierre road bike - I am so happy I didn't crash myself, the replacement parts could have been a lot more expensive!

Thanks also for Florence, my roommate, for the sports massage after the time trial - it really helped!

Thanks to the Usher team for their excellent support and thanks to Mick Usher for the useful advice.

Thanks to Louis Moriarty and the staff at Sneem Hotel who make our stay there a very comfortable and luxurious experience.

Thanks also for Declan Quigley and Eddie Lynch for the lift down to Kerry and back.

Louis Moriarty and me

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 Ulster XC Champs - Tollymore Forest Park, NI

The week of this race was meant to be my last hard (20h) training week, after building up from 16h to 18h the two weeks before, but halfway through the week my legs packed in, so I decided to take it easy for the rest of it and use the Ulster XC Champs as my last high intensity session before the Ras na mBan one week later. Ryan and I both went up to the beautiful countryside of the Mourne Mountains - memories of my Mourne Mountain marathon adventure welling up. And during the race I remembered that I raced mtb here years before, in 2006, as a non-contender in the open National XC Champs, when I was still a beginner....

Waiting for the start with the juniors (photo by Martin Grimley)

Anyhow, we arrived in the lovely forest park (why don't we have more of those around Dublin???) on a nice sunny day and got ready for a practice lap. Word of the mouth was that the course would have been fantastic in the dry, nice and fast and flowy, but the wet weather beforehand had made it into a muddy slidery course - damn, I got the wrong tires on my bike! The practice lap confirmed it, I think I washed out about 10 times and came off the bike about 5 times. There wasn't much climb but there were many corners, with the course sweeping and swooping around the trees, so it felt a little bit like cyclocross.
Mr. & Mrs. :) (photo by Martin Grimley)

Unfortunately I was the only Elite woman signed up, which is a bit disappointing, as I was looking forward to having to push myself hard. So my aim for this race was just to ride as smooth as possible, and practice clean cornering. However, when the race started, some of the later categories caught up with me and I had a bit of a battle with Mick from EPIC for most laps. The race itself was good fun, with me concentrating on my skill and I felt I was conquering the course more and more with every lap. Some nice features of the course included a steep switchback climb, that I almost made a few times and a fun bomb hole.

On a lonely podium (photo by Joanne Callum)

In my last lap I got an extra incentive to go a little faster when I saw Ryan catching up with me, so I sped up and made sure he didn't get me. While the racing was less exciting, I really enjoyed riding the course and still got a great workout out of it since the fairly flat nature of the course meant that there was not much time to recover. I'll do this one again next year, but hoping for more competition then!

Full results can be found here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Da Cooley Thriller, Carlingford

And now a report about my latest adventure: the “Da Cooley Thriller”, held last Saturday in the Cooley Mountains around Carlingford. I was a little reluctant to go racing up there again, painfully remembering getting lost on its course (as did many others) due to poor marking a few years ago. But a long time had passed since then and I had a 4 hour mtb spin in my training plan, so I decided that doing the race would be making the training that little bit more interesting. And so Oisin, who gave me a lift up, and I arrived early in the morning in the beautiful picturesque village of Carlingford at the race to some very breezy and quite fresh weather.

After the briefing the ~200 riders for the short and long course set off through the village towards the ominous looking mountains. It was a bit of a rolling start and I wasn’t quite sure where the race proper started. Unfortunately I was stuck somewhere in the middle of the stream of riders squeezing through the narrow roads of Carlingford, mainly keeping an eye on Cait Elliott, who was my main competition in this race. I should have been positioning myself better to the front, so that I didn’t have to fight through or be pushed around by a mass of overexcited roadie-goobers in world champion gear and with funny dangerous bar ends. Finally the people strung out a bit on the first bit of climb and I was able to work my way up through the riders. But then we hit some simple single track and the people ahead of me started walking!! It turned out that there were a good few roadies doing this race – not one I would have chosen for my first mtb race experience because I knew it was becoming a lot more technical than that!

Oisin and I (photo by 'manuel6b')

Once we hit the tarmac it was important to keep with a group to be sheltered against the strong headwinds up the hill. I managed to stick onto a good group for a bit, got dropped on a climb, fought my way back on and kept going with them up towards the masts. We were making good progress on the windy road. My legs were feeling fantastic and I knew that this race would be a good one. Just before the last off-road ascent towards the masts I stopped at the first feedzone for a handful of haribo provided by the organizers. I overtook a few more people on the ascent, grabbed my bottle from Dave and started the long downhill section. I had a lot of fun and witnessed two spectacular looking (but harmless) crashes of two riders. The weather kept up mostly, the trails were sweet, the climbs were hard and my legs were pedaling without effort. I really loved the singletrack, just technical enough to keep you on your toes not too scary so that I was even able to enjoy the spectacular views around the Cooley Mountains. Time flew by and I had to watch my clock to not forget to take a ZipVit Gel (new recipe flavours are fantastic) every 45minutes. There was so much nice singletrack that it was hard to find a place to even drink!

The last descent back down to Carlingford (photo by 'manuel6b')

Finally, after endless amazing singletrack I arrived at the second feedzone station at Windy Gap, where Aine provided me with another bottle and I gobbled up another handful of sweets. Then it was up the last climb – I remembered it to be long and draggy from the last time I did it, but today it was over in no time and I found myself on the last long and fun descent through the ferns towards the finish. I couldn’t believe that it was over when I arrived after 3h19min of riding, as first Elite women and 9th overall. I felt so great I could have done another lap. I wish I had had those legs during the World Marathon Champs. Married life is good for you!

I really really enjoyed this race – maybe I should switch to marathon racing? The trail marking and race organization were perfect, with free and tasty pasta provided after the race, and early results were even up that evening with full results the following day. The ghosts from a few years ago have been well and truly chased away and I definitely will be doing this one again next year!
Thanks to the organizers for putting on such a great event on such great trails, thanks to Oisin for the lift, thanks to Dave Gill and Aine Conneff for feedzone support and thanks to the weather gods for keeping the rain at bay.

Results can be found here.

More photos here and here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gym Time

Due to time constraints and changeable weather I’ve recently spent less time on the bike while I increased my time on the treadmill in my local gym. It was often easier to fit in an hour run in the gym than a 2hour bike ride in the rain (although the weather is all lovely now again). I also love the complete control one has over a training session in the gym – no winds, rain, coldness or darkness to endure and no thinking about which way to take – it makes it easier to “switch off” and just think of nothing. And if I can’t find a zen state I can at least watch TV (this is something special for me since I don’t have a TV at home)!!

A week ago I decided to try out my first spinning session which the gym offers free of charge for members. Thought I could show my fellow spinners what a great cyclist I am...... haha....

Anyhow, the music was put on and the (quite cute) instructor shouted instructions at us, “Warm up on a low resistance”, “Put up the resistance”, “Pedal faster”, “We’re going up a long hill now…”, “SPRINT for one minute!!!” etc. all to the beat of dance music. We basically climbed a 20min hill at a low cadence and out of the saddle – and I couldn’t stand up for the whole time! I know cycling while standing isn’t my forte, but my-oh-my, I have never cycled up such a long steep hill! All the other girls were able to keep it up – thank god I didn’t tell them that I am a cyclist! (I have the suspicion though that my resistance level was a little higher than the ones of my fellow spinners….). I was barely able to complete the sprints and was completely wrecked when the session was over. I cannot believe how hard such a spinning session can be and I also cannot believe the buckets of water I sweated during this session.

I am definitely adding spinning sessions to my bad-weather/darkness/coldness/winter alternative training repertoire.

For more information check out Rockfitness Gym and check out the special offers page for great deals!

Friday, August 20, 2010

We will!

Best cake topper ever!

One of the other reasons why we've been so busy is because Ryan and I got married on the 19th of August. We were very happy how everything worked out on the day (including Sky Diving incidents and Wedding dress DIY disasters). Our wedding was a very special few days full of joy spent with our families and friends.

Just married :)

Monday, August 9, 2010

2010 World Marathon Champs - St. Wendel, Germany

I know I am a little behind with my blog updates, but the last while has been super busy and I am only now starting to catch up now with “normal” life. Here's my first update:

After the fantastic experiences of the last two Mountainbike Marathon World Champs Ryan and I were really looking forward to this years edition. It was even more special to me since it was going to take place in my home country, in Germany. However, this years profile could not have been more different from the last two races that took place in Italy (2008) and Austria (2009).

Race Profile

While the previous two years featured huge climbs up big mountains with just as long descents (over some amazing single track each time), this year’s course was characterized by countless tiny ascents and descents. The course maps also looked very different – this year’s looked like somebody had eaten spaghetti and gotten sick all over a map – it was very compact and consisted of tons of little loops that seemed to use every fireroad there was. The pre-ride showed that each climb was not more than a few minutes and that most of the course would be on fireroads – up AND down…. Not something that fills a true mountain biker’s heart with joy…. It looked to be a very fast (road) race.

2010 World Marathon Champs Course

I was still hoping for my legs to come around for race day – they hadn’t been great all week (I still haven’t figured out this whole peaking thing) and even on the day before they were just feeling heavy and leady and full of lactic acid. On race day then we lined up and were off. And I knew from the start that my legs weren’t happy to go hard. The fast nature of the course meant that the girls stayed mostly in one big bunch and it was important to stay with them.

At least the pre-ride was fun!

However, I was struggling from the word go, not enjoying myself at all. I stuck with them for as long as I could – thank god the speed wasn’t that high, but then a lapse in concentration meant I was spewed out at the back. Just like in a road race there were gone instantly and even though I could see them just a short distance ahead of me I could not for the sake of it close the gap. And so I had to content myself with riding around the very long and not all to interesting fire roads around the woods. I wasn’t too happy with it, but my spirits were dropping even further when I noticed I was running out of drink around 20km before the next feed station. It was a warm day and I was suffering badly, not a situation you want to be in.

Walter, Ivonne, Mel, Werner

I finally arrived at the 2nd last feedzone, completely dehydrated, happy to take on the bottle from Walter. I was hoping to finish before Ryan, but he eventually caught me with about 7.5km to go. But I wasn’t the only person to suffer – I caught another female rider who had completely blown her lights 3km before the finish and couldn’t answer any attack – I doubt she even noticed what was going on around here, so I wasn’t even the worst off. I was glad when I arrived in the finish. I finally placed in 31st place out of 43 starters, a few places down from the last two years in a smaller field, so not a result I am proud of. But unfortunately my legs just weren’t up for it. Now 2 weeks of recovery and social time with my wedding coming up!

Thanks to Ivonne Kraft for being so nice and organizing superb feedzone support for Ryan and I in form of Werner and Walter.

Selected Results:

1. Esther Süss (Switzerland) 4:33:47
2. Sabine Spitz (Germany) +0:01:57
3. Annika Langvad (Denmark) +0:02:54
4. Elisabeth Brandau (Germany) +0:07:51
5. Birgit Söllner (Germany) +0:07:54
6. Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway) +0:08:12
7. Kristine Noergaard (Denmark) +0:08:59
8. Sally Bigham (Great Britain) +0:09:56
31. Melanie Spath (Germany) +0:39:42

Full results and report are available on cyclingnews.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

2010 German National Championships - Bad Salzdetfurth, Germany

11th place in the Germany Championships, 2 places down from last year and about the same percentage off the winning time as last year. Am I happy with that? Hmm, not really. I had hoped to improve, get an 8th place, or at the very least I had hoped to be in the top 10 again. But it wasn't to be. I went into the race mentally unprepared. Traveling around Europe each of the 3 weekends beforehand for racing and college didn't help either. It also didn't help that the race was on Saturday and not on Sunday as in previous years. I only found that out shortly a few days before the race, long after I had booked the flights, so that I arrived on Friday evening with the race on Saturday afternoon. There was practically no time to get adjusted to the German heat (35 degrees on Friday), but at least on race day it was a little more bearable. The afternoon start time (4pm) made it hard to time the eating correctly too. I also let myself intimidate by all the big racers who arrive in their big personalized vans with a big tent put up in a special "star" area, with their entourage of supporters - masseur, mechanic and coach, parents, friends and family, their warm-up bike on a turbo and giving out autograph cards to anyone who asks. I arrived by myself, in my rental car, after a flight and a long drive, building up my bike myself and trying to sort out my rubbing brake pads using my tiny multi-tool, running around until a few hours before the race in the hope to find somebody I know that could do my bottles, warming up on a deserted road at one end of the village, being held up by some other star's photoshoot on my way to the start line. At the start line I am trying to find Andy, Elisabeth Brandau's coach, who had agreed to do my bottles, to give him my car keys.

When the race was off our "neutral" start turns out to be a scramble for positions. My head is not in the race and I find it hard to push myself. I am already falling back in my first lap. It takes me about 3 out of the 6 laps and Mona Eiberweiser falling back into my sight for me to finally switch on racing mode. Every lap I can see a few people ahead of me on the long climb. Finally I overtake Mona in the 4th lap. My racing head is finally screwed on and I focus on the next person ahead of me - Nadine Rieder. I come close to her on the climb in the 5th lap and know I can get her in the last lap. But when I come through the feedzone at the start of the last lap, my feedzone person had left with all my bottles. I was completely dehydrated in the hot weather and needed that last bottle more than ever. On the last climb I came really close to Nadine, but couldn't close the distance before she went into the long descent and out of my sight.

So, I got 20 UCI points out of this race. Was it worth the expense (~500Euro), time (4days) and effort involved? Not in this instance. Maybe I'll skip the national champs next year and do something fun, like riding around the Alps, Sauser-like. Now at least there is a bit of a breather till the next race, so there will be less drills and more fun in my spins.

Full results are available on datasport.

P.S. The course by the way was great. It was mostly dry, having dried up again after some earlier rain. I really liked it and would ride it again out of competition - some of the climbs were fairly steep, but most of them were manageable. The downhills were not overly technical, but good fun - bermy with a few little drops. We even came down the hill into a resident's backyard, with the course going through his house and out the front door! There was also lots of obstacles - several bridges and humps and steps that added to the fun. In Germany the courses tend to go straight through a village, so loads of the locals were out in the sun enjoying a beer and cheering you on. It also helped that they print your first name on the race numbers - feels like you've got your own fan-club and I have to say that the German spectators were absolutely fantastic, cheering on everybody on the course.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

2010 British Mountain Bike Racing Series Round 4 - Dalby Forest, Pickering

Photo by Michael Grainger

This is now my third visit to Dalby and much in contrast to Ryan I've always had pretty good races here, placing 2nd in last year's BMBRS race and a good performance in the World Cup opener in April. I like the course, technical and challenging with lots of flowy single-track, and the forest park and surrounding villages are just picture-perfect postcard places.

The course was basically the same as in the World Cup, only that Dixon's Hollow, the BMX track was taken out. While this made the course a little shorter I think it added more consistency to it. The conditions were mostly dry, grippy and fast, and it was a pleasure to revisit the likes of "Worry Gill", a slippery "Puncture Alley", the tricky "Bus stop" and "Medusa's Drop". My confidence in technical riding has recently received a boost after taking a skills course and I rode all the technical bits without blinking an eye-lid. And the great thing is, the more confident and controlled you go down these things, the easier it gets!

Medusa's Drop (Photo by Michael Grainger)

The Elite Women's group benefited from notable absences of some key racers, such as Annie Last and Lily Matthews who were off to Israel to prepare for the European Champs. The favourite for the race was New Zealand's Rosara Joseph who has recently had some very strong results. My plan was to hang on to her for as long as possible and aim for 2nd place but there were a few other strong girls who all could have had a good chance for 2nd place. So we set off at a blistering pace. Unfortunately I couldn't get up to speed fast enough so that I got into the single track after a bunch of people. This was basically the chance gone to hang on to Rosara, who opened up a gap almost immediately. As soon as we got out of the forest again I passed all the people ahead of me to get into the singletrack first behind Rosara, who had already gone out of sight. Both Cait and Lee were chasing and breathing down my neck, so I focused on riding the technical bits as fast as possible and opened up a small gap.

Negotiating roots at Medusa's Drop (Photo by Michael Grainger)

After the first lap I was half a minute up on Cait (and down on Rosara by 1.5min), so I kept the pace up and worked on increasing the the gap. It all went well for the next two laps which I rode mainly by myself, taking the climbs easy and concentrating on having a technically clean and controlled ride on all the descents. In the 4th out of the 5 laps my calves started cramping up, so it was all about keeping up the speed and pedaling smoothly, avoiding to have to put the feet down. It was still all going well, but when I climbed up towards Medusa's Drop on my last lap, I could see the green jersey of Cait coming to the bottom of the climb - she was catching up! I started making mistakes, cursing myself and having to walk up sections with Cait approaching below me. With screaming legs I went up hard the long climb for the last time. I kept looking behind, but I managed to keep her at bay. I finally finished in 2nd position, 50sec ahead of Cait and 6.5min down on a flying Rosara my best ever result on paper :)

Results from the XC race can be found here and a report on British Cycling here. Thanks to Rob for doing the bottles.

Podium (l-r): Lee Craigie, Mel Spath, Rosara Joseph, Cait Elliott, Maddie Horton

On Sunday Ryan and I took part in the Yorkshire Enduro Event - a great way of getting your training in after a hard race. The course was 4x15km laps of yesterdays XC course with a long extension in the middle that featured some nice bermy descents, a beautiful singletrack switchback climb, a good bit of fireroad, a nice long boardwalk section with little drops, a fast rocky and slippery gully descent followed by a rocky slippery gully climb. I rode most of it at endurance speed, feeling yesterday's race still in my legs and finished off with a hard last lap, finishing first women of the 4-lap event after 2h 50min.

Results from the Enduro can be downloaded here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

2010 Irish NPS Round 6 - Dunmore Mountain, Co. Down

Focussed (photo by Owen McManus)

This course was last year's Irish National Champs course. This means Cait knew what to expect and from what she told me it was going to be my kind of course.

I arrived with just enough spare time for a practice lap. It was a great warm summer's day, but also fairly windy. The course was on an exposed open mountain, with just a few shrubs and lots of grass, rocks and dirt tracks. The course went up and over and back and down and over again the same mountain several times. I have to admit, they really used the small area well. Most climbs were short and sharp power climbs, with only one prolonged climb in three stages. Cait was right, it was my kinda course :)

Lovely dry trails (photo by Owen McManus)

Only Cait Elliott, Valerie O'Neill and myself had signed up for the Elite women's race. I was looking forward to a good battle with Cait, who has progressively become faster over the last while. I myself wasn't so sure how I would do today. My training has been sketchy last week with the last 2.5 days spent in hot (33 degrees!!) Madrid for a conference, only having arrived back late the night before. But as soon as we went off I started enjoying myself. My plan was to take it easy, stick with Cait and then attack on the last out of the 5 laps. But when I went up the hill I felt good and so I decided to try and put a gap into Cait and dug a little deeper. I managed to get away on the long climb. The open exposed course meant you could easily see where your competitors were. So I could see that I had put a good few seconds into her at the end of the first lap. After that first hard lap I took it easy and went a comfortable speed, concentrating on riding the course well.

I could see that I extended my lead lap by lap so I could relax more and enjoy the course and concentrate on applying the things I had learned in my skills session the week before with Robin. The course wasn't overly technical apart from a few nice descents, but a good flow and good bike handling skills on this course could definitely shave off a few extra seconds. And the more I think about it the more I liked the course - it was so much fun to try and ride it well!

On a lonely podium :) (photo by Owen McManus)

After a fun 5 laps I arrived in the finish as first Elite woman, about 3min ahead of Cait. Looks like my trip to Spain meant I was a lot more recovered than usually going into a race. Now I just have to keep up my fitness for next weekend's British NPS in Dalby!

Thanks to Shona for doing a perfect job of handing me my bottles and taking care of my amazing Specialized sun glasses and thanks to the pit crew crowd for the motivation.

Results can be found here. Thanks to Dromara CC for putting on a really well run event. And as Cait has pointed out, the names of the climbs helped breaking up the pain a little bit :)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Skills course with Robin Seymour

In my whole mountain biking "career" I have never had any proper skills training. I just blagged my way through single track, roots and drops. I can't even do a proper bunny hop and my attempt at a wheelie would embarrass a 5 year old! Shocking, I know. So I decided to get some skills coaching. Who better to ask for this then technical rider extraordinaire and 15 times Irish XC Champ and 3 x Olympian Robin Seymour who has more than 20 years of experience and is one of the most technically skilled riders I know. He makes riding a bike look easy. Riding a bike over supertechnical terrain that is!

Anyhow, Cait and I both signed up for a skills course with Robin in Djouce Woods. Now, those who know Djouce know it's one of the most versatile woods for mtbing. It's easy to see why Robin is this good - he's got the best mtbing playing fields practically right in his back garden. Djouce has something for everyone, fireroads, draggy climbs, steep climbs, technical climbs, great views and some of the best deluxe singletrack hand built by above named individual. If XTC, benchcut, GC and Bulldog don't ring a bell with you, then you haven't experienced some of the best trails in Ireland yet.

The original bunny-hop :)

Anyhow, we started off and did a few front brake stopping drills, trying to get a feel for your rear wheel lifting and the force pushing your body forward. I couldn't really do it, due to a traumatic experience when I tried it once before, crashing and hurting my thumb so badly that it took over a month to heal up again. After that we did some singletrack descending. Cait and I got all the corners on benchcut perfectly, the dry weather just hiding my lack of skills. Riding over roots and line choice was another interesting topic. Soon we moved on to some climbing technique, ending with Cait and I trying to see who gets furthest pedalling up an almost vertical downhill trail. In almost perfect hovering position we both faltered at the steepest bit, with Robin bouncing up and down the trail effortlessly and making us look like total beginners. After some more fun singletrack and out of the saddle climbing, climbing using your speed, and descending like pros and going down steep drops (elbows out!) we finally arrived at my most fun bit: riding over a log. It is unbelievable that I never really knew how to lift my front wheel over something - using the pedals to pull your front wheel up - I just didn't know how it was supposed to work. But after a few attempts and detailed instruction I finally understood what I was supposed to do!!! I couldn't stop riding over that log, so happy was I that I finally knew how to do it.

And on this high we concluded a very useful and informative session. I can only recommend doing such a skills course, even if you consider yourself an experienced rider. What I got out of it most was that it's all the little things that count, a little tweak on the climbing position here, a better line choice there, your weight more to the front there etc. It is all those saved microseconds that add up in a race, as well as riding more efficiently so that you've got energy left for when you really need it. And somebody as experienced as Robin can easily see where your own personal weaknesses are and how you can improve on them. Now where do I get a log for my back garden......?

If you are interested in a skills course with Robin give him a call or e-mail me if you don't have his details and I'll refer you on.

Monday, June 14, 2010

2010 Bundesliga Race Round 3, Albstadt, Germany

My trip to Germany to take part in the Bundesliga race of HC category in Albstadt, Germany:


Waking up aching, nose running, eyes hurting, throat raw, lungs covered in slime. Spending day on the sofa feeling crap, sipping lemsip. Going for a ride in the evening, 10m sight up on Sally Gap, misty, windy, cold. Trying to do some efforts, failing. Getting cold, putting on all my clothes I have with me, feeling worse for wear afterward, waiting for another lemsip to kick in. Deciding I'll go to Germany anyway, frantic last minute bike packing.


Arriving at airport, downing another lemsip, meeting Cait at gate. Flight boring, arriving to 33 degrees and sunshine in Memmingen Airport in Germany. Lemsip wearing off. Airport wants 2 Euro 20 for hot water. Deciding I can deal with headache. Picking up rental car - got an upgrade, instead of a VW Polo, they gave me a Mercedes Benz Viano (wohoo!), automatic, with SatNav, Aircon and big enough that our huge bike bags feel lonely inside. Driving small roads towards Albstadt, pit stop for a pretzel and another lemsip.

Arriving at race place in early evening, temperature perfect for a bike ride. Building up bikes. Nose still running and sneezing still present. Local riding groups are meeting up and going for a spin, including about a 10 people strong female group. Meeting some other Elite riders out for a ride. Weather fantastic, ground bone dry. We catch a ride with some of the local organizers who show us the trail. First impression: easy course. Grass field start, very steep fireroad climb followed by very steep but fun and bermy descent, more fireroad climb, then the boring bit: 1km flat traverse on easy single track through wood, turn around, 1km flat traverse back on easy singletrack parallel to previous one. Finally some really fun and curvy descent and a bit more single track back to the finish. Climbs are too steep for my taste and height is lost too quickly on the steep descents - that's European mainland race courses for you. Loathing that first climb, loving that last descent. Bit more cycling about, then calling it a day as lemsip has worn off again. Cait got a pinch flat.

Shopping for dinner in Lidl, driving to cost-effective guesthouse in neighbouring village. Enjoying a shandy and makeshift dinner with plastic cutlery in beautiful evening warmth and peace. Another lemsip and time for bed.


Feeling better in the morning. Still hot and sunny here, 28 degrees. Driving to Albstadt looking for somewhere to eat breakfast. Walking around market, amazed at the percentage of old people in Germany (median age in Germany = 44 years, 35 years in Ireland). Having breakfast and yet another lemsip. Today is high intensity day for me, so going straight to race course before lemsip wears off. Choosing the steep climb at the start as place for my drills. Warm-up, 2x3min, 2x2min, legs and lungs are screaming. Telling myself that pain now will mean less pain later. Using climb 2 and 3 for 2x1min efforts. Heart rate not too bad considering, but not going up as much as I would like to. Sessioning descents.

Real Italian homemade icecream for recovery food. Buying bikini and towel in pound shop, going to Albstadt's naturbad - a man-made swimming pool/lake. Soaking up the sun, working on getting rid of tan-lines (and adding new ones), eating strawberries and reading books, relaxing. Great taste of the pro-racer life-style. Time for dinner in the guesthouse, another picnic and shandy. No lemsip required this time.


Eating cereal with plastic spoons out of tooth brushing glasses. Driving to course. Legs heavy and leady. Thank god for recovery days. Riding another lap of the bone dry course, tootling around and watching the marathon racers go off. German championship for doctors and pharmacists. Walking around the trade and food stands, talking to people, mingling, buying more food in bigger shop. Meeting Mike, Cait's mechanic. Driving to guesthouse, shower, change. Driving back to Albstadt, hanging out with Mike, watching Gerd Rube sing "Hotel California" at the race place. People milling about drinking beer in the setting sun. Driving back, having another picnic dinner, no shandy this time, "Apfelschorle" instead (a mix drink of apple juice and fizzy water). Preparing bottles, pinning on number. Watching some WWII documentary. Sleeping.


Race day. Waking up to clouds and rain. Has been raining all night long. Feeling good enough after the cold. Driving over. Warming up. Mizzle starting again. Going to the bathroom, going again, and again. Locating and placing myself into holding pens. Call up. Cait is called. I am not. Maybe my name is not on the list? I am being called up absolutely last of thirty-something women. WHAT??? I am gesturing Cait and Mike. Asking the commissaire, he's only shrugging. Nothing I can do now. 1min to go. 30sec to go. Anytime within the next 15sec... Whistle is blown, we are off. Trying to ride around the girls work up my way from last position, avoiding a pile up. Hitting the fireroad, overtaking difficult. Girls riding in 2 lines. Singlefile then at the first single-track descent. Girls sliding all over the place. We are walking/scrambling. It's very slippery. Trying to walk down the next descent, girls sliding into me. Me sliding down the trail head first, cutting open both knees. Covered in mud head-to-toe, blood seeping through where knees are. Back onto the bike, biting teeth together, pushing on. Sliding everywhere, even on the flat bits. Sliding out of corner on the flat. Sliding down the tricky descent. Taking back everything I said about the course being easy. Lap 1 done. Climbing up the steep climb in lap 2. Loudspeakers and hundreds of spectators on the climbs make it more bearable. Catching some people. Music to get you into the groove. Rattles to make you go faster. Accumulating gunk everywhere. Hard to clip in pedals. Tires slick. Descending faster when sliding on bum. Lap 3, Cait still in front, but in sight. Making up a few more places on the climb, loosing a few. No idea what position I'm in. People having mechanicals. Sliding everywhere. Lap 4. I can see Cait closer now. Getting her on the flat bit. Making a mess of the descent again. Sliding down off my bike. Shoe opens, too mucky to close it again. Chain down and stuck. Stopping and yanking at it. Loosing places. Freeing it. Back onto the bike. Mona Eiberweiser behind me now - must have had a mechanical. Riding with her through finish - hoping to be pulled, but no, we have to go on. Mona pulls away on the climb. Last time up, wohoo! Legs are screaming and cramping. Kajsa coming up behind me. She gets me on the 2nd last climb, I have to let her go. Last descent, only downhill from now on. PANG! Rear wheel exploded, side wall gash! Gas doesn't help, goes straight out. Put in tube or run to finish? Only downhill left really. Deciding to run. I run. Thank god for recent running training. Not being too much slower than cycling. Loosing another place or two on the flats. Reaching last grassy loop. Riding on the flat tire. Flippin slog! Arriving at finish. Collapsing.

Bikewash queue too long, cleaning bikes in river. Cleaning ourselves in river. Cleaning knees in river. Having shower. Getting lots of stares because of cut knees. Packing bikes. Packing car. Driving to airport. Flight delayed. Watching 1st half of Germany vs. Australia. Flight boring. Home at midnight.

Results found here.
Melanie: 19th place
Cait: 21st place

Thanks to superb feedzone and tech support from Cait's team mechanic, Mike from the WXC racing team. I'll be checking the gridding beforehand next time. Being German with an Irish license seems to confuse people. Knees still leaking, but getting better. Looking forward to the next race :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

2010 Irish NPS Round 5 - Killaloe

The Elite women's field

Thank god the weather was clearing up the more we drove westwards from Dublin towards Killaloe, so that we arrived in beautiful hot sunshine at the 5th round of the Irish NPS.

I knew in my warm-up pre-lap that this would be a hard race, with about 210m of climb per lap on a long and exposed fire-road climb, with a few steep kicker sections. The long descent through dark, rooty and slippery woods wasn't exactly playing to my strengths either. But every lap I looked forward to the great downhill track at the very end towards the finish.

Still smiling at the start (photo from Aine)

On the start line I was joined by Cait Elliott, Ciara McManus and Shona D'Arcy and there was a bit of chaos when the commissaire set off the Elite men road race style: 3,2,1 go! and we were meant to start then and there with the men! After frantically trying to clip in we chased the Elite men up the hill and I managed to get a tiny gap on Cait. We were still hanging on to the men when we hit the singletrack - no wonder I was feeling a little tired after that and made a right shambles of the rooty and slippery singletrack descent. I sliddered and slippered all over the place so that Cait eventually caught up with me on the last little bit of singletrack. I managed to get going again ahead of her and lit a fire to get away from her again.

On the last descent (photo from Aine)

My plan was to get a gap on the climb so that I could take it easier and concentrate on the descents. My second lap went a little better, but every time I looked behind, Cait was still in sight. So I kept up the speed and tried to concentrate on riding the slippery descent better.

In the descent of the third lap I then felt something wet spray into my face with every rotation - there was no puddles - oh no! I've got a puncture! I rode on carefully trying to avoid any sharp looking rocks and when I arrived at the techzone I checked my tire and it had sealed up again perfectly! Wohoo, long live tubeless tires :) And so I rode on without changing wheel (the slightly lower pressure was probably an advantage on the slippery descent). On the long fireroad climb I looked behind and again saw Cait behind me.

Elite Women's podium: l-r: Ciara McManus (3rd), Mel Spath (1st), Cait Elliott (2nd) (photo from Aine)

I kept the fire lit and raced on the fourth and final lap, really concentrating on not making too many mistakes on the descent and finally finished with about 1.5min to spare to Cait Elliott in 2nd place. I've included riding wet roots as a special task in my training plan.

Thanks as usual to Aine for supreme bottle support.

Results are available here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

2010 Irish NPS Round 4 - Magheramorne, NI

I didn't feel too bad after the ROAR and felt fine on Sunday too. It was a long drive up to the quarry in Magheramorne on yet another beautiful summer's day. Going by the last time I raced there I knew the course should be fairly flat, with just a few kickers strewn in. I had just enough time to squeeze in a practice lap before lining up with Cait Elliott, Valerie O'Neill and Shona D'Arcy, the latter having bravely stepped up to do the Elite race for the first time.

One of the many little drops (Photo from Shane Lavelle)

The course is unlike any other XC race I've done. It's flat over black earth and loose gravel, along dusty paths, some shrubbery and up and down old and steep earth movements and derelict buildings reminiscent of quarry activity. There was some tight singletrack with some steep furrows and a good few fast bombhole descents and a few nasty kicker climbs, but any pain was usually over in less than 10 seconds. With the course being so open some of the sections required tucking in tightly against the head wind and only the lukewarm water of that murky river crossing gave a bit of respite from the hot midday sun burning down on us (this is Ireland that I am talking about).

Splashing through the welcome river crossing (Photo from Rose)

We had to do four laps and set off leaving only a dust cloud, following the Juniors who were started with us. My plan was to go out front and get away. It's nice when something works to plan. I got to the front and steadily increased my lead, mostly racing on my own, passing the occasional rider and being occasionally passed. The course was very fast and it took a while for the other categories to catch up when I rode with some Masters and Vet riders. On the last lap I got a bit of a stomach cramp but there was no danger from behind, so I could ease off a little bit until I reached the finish in first place with Cait in second and Valerie in third.

Groupshot of the Elite Women competitors (Photo from Martin Grimley)

Thanks to Aine for being my feed zone angel.
Results available here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

West Wicklow ROAR

On Saturday last weekend I did the West Wicklow ROAR, a multi-sport adventure race combining kayaking, road biking and off-road running around Blessington Lakes. My coach doesn't like me doing off road running much due to the risk of injury, but I've just been longing to mix up my training a bit again and since I had no big races coming up I took this opportunity to get my AR fix in.

The race itself was broken up as follows:

2km kayak
11.5km bike
7km run
18km bike
7km run
16.5km bike

Confidently I put myself down for the Elite wave....

Photo by John Fields from ActionPhotography

I was a bit concerned about the running stages, since I hadn't done any running at all in ages, and decided to do my first run in ages by doing an IMRA race on the Wednesday a week and a half before the ROAR for some training (I am aware that this was a bit of a stupid idea....). This was more a test to see where I stand and to see if and how much my mountain biking fitness would carry over to mountain running (and also to enjoy the social side of it and meet some old friends). It was an 11.3km run, not particularly steep, but about half of it over pretty technical rocky terrain. I came in 7th lady, at 140% of the men's winning time. Not bad since this is the best percentage I've ever had in a mountain run, even when I used to run regularly! So I was happy with that, but not with the pain that I had to endure the three days after! My legs felt as if I had subjected them to a marathon with my thighs and calves giving out every time I tried to sit down or stand up or walk down stairs. I couldn't do any type of training until Saturday and had to take it fairly easy at the weekend too. Serves me right going out like this. I did a few more short running sessions to get my legs used to the sensation before the Saturday of the race.

Anyhow, Saturday came along with some glorious blue skyed weather and a heat wave and some of the other Elite ladies including old mountain biking champs Beth McCluskey and Jenny McAuley. I was hoping that all the time I would lose on the runs (I knew that both Beth and Jenny would be better runners) I could make up on the bike legs. How wrong I was....

On the 2nd run - Photo by John Fields from ActionPhotography

Well, it started off kind of on a bad leg. The kayaking leg. In this race we were provided with 2-person sit-on-tops and you just did it with whoever arrived at the boats the same time as you. I have to admit, my knowledge about kayaking does not extend much further than that it involves a kayak, water and a paddle and I've been able to get by with these basics through any adventure race (usually due to my partners having more of a clue and telling me what to do). That's bad, but the worse thing was that the person who was going to share the kayaking leg with me had as little clue as I. Anyhow, we made it back to the beach eventually.... Another mistake was to take off my shoes before the kayaking leg. I thought I'd be able to run back to the bike transition bare-footed, but all I could do was hop along the side of the gravel road to avoid the gravel digging into my feet. Next mistake was to use cleat pedals, meaning at each transition I would have to change from biking shoes into running shoes and from running shoes back into biking shoes etc. Well, I didn't have so much of a choice because my pedals have ceased onto my crank arms (I have already twisted two Allen keys), but if I was doing such a race again I will get this sorted and put on flat pedals and cut out the time of taking off one pair of shoes, tying them onto the rucksack, putting on another pair of shoes etc. Finally on the bike I was having issues with my chain not going into the big ring and had to stop to put it up manually - should have really adjusted them beforehand.....

Then of course I was running up and down the mountains with my 2L bladder full of water, although I did away with it on the 2nd run and decided taking out the mandatory kit and a bottle would be easier. It was, but my legs were still not used to this kind of terrain, some of it on the open mountain side and with wet shoes blisters were developing and the bottoms of my feet were starting to give out.

Well done to Jenny and Beth battling it out in front with Jenny taking the win only 2min ahead of Beth. Both were closely followed by Derval Devaney, a triathlete. I came in 26min behind Jenny with a time of 3h51min. I looked at the splits later and only my bike legs were comparable, I lost time everywhere else. Ah well, in the end it was a great way of spending a Saturday and getting some good aerobic endurance training in.

Results available here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Bike Details

Ryan actually went through the effort already to describe the details for our new 2010 race bikes on his blog, so this is taken almost directly from his blog. In short, for 2010, both Ryan and I are racing on near identical 2010 Specialized S-Works Epics. The bikes are basically the stock S-Works bikes with some modifications from our other sponsors: KCNC, Schwalbe and a little help from Stan at NoTubes.

The detail pics below are from Ryan's bike, but mine is virtually identical (I've got a white saddle though and slightly different disk brakes).

Outside of the paint work, the major changes on our bikes this year are:
  • Full SRAM XX drive train, we have a double (39x26) on the front and 11-36 on the rear. I haven't moved out of the big ring yet....

  • NoTubes Podium wheelset – from NoTubes, we are running the NoTubes Podium tubeless wheels – total wheelset weight is 1.26kg. Slightly heavier than my old ZTR 7000 wheels but the additional weight is in the ZTR hubs which, due to the flange spacing, will give a slightly stiffer (and more affordable!) wheel

  • The frame has been upgraded with a stiffer carbon front triangle and the liberal use of ceramic bearings for the bottom bracket etc...

  • The rear brain shock has also been updated – a slightly heavier weight in the inertia valve gives better terrain sensitivity. It is also now produced with Fox which should alleviate some of the quality control issues some earlier versions had.

KCNC components are used throughout to also drop the weight down to a hardtail beating 9.4kg (20.7 lbs). This is not showroom weight, but ready to race weight with tires, sealant, bottle cage and pedals. It feels light, very light.

Tires, we stick with our general purpose setup of a 2.1 Schwalbe Rocket Ron on the front and a 2.1 Racing Ralph on the rear. We use this exact setup for 95% of our racing and training.

Well, what can I say, I've ridden the bike a few times now and I love it. I have decided though to leave the bar ends off it for a while. I like the simplicity of not having them, it feels like another thing to think about while I race. I will probably put some on my training bike though and see if I like them more when I get used to them.

The above pic is actually from Ryan's bike, my seat post will be sporting a German flag. The pic with the wheel is also from Ryan's bike, I'd have turned the Schwalbe tires another half turn ;)

Many thanks to our sponsors for helping us put all this together - Cycleways, Specialized, Schwalbe, KCNC and NoTubes.

"His 'n' hers"