Thursday, 16 January 2014

2013- The Brecon Beast 2

Well, I've made an unpleasant discovery today. Re-training is much more soul-destroying than training from scratch! I made an attempt at Streatley Hill and to be fair, it was pretty damn hot as I didn't set off until about 14:00. Despite being ice cold when I left, my water soon become un-drinkable.

As with my TT route, I'm around 2.5mph average down on last years pace but the hill itself was a killer.

On my very first attempt last year, I was unable to complete the whole hill. I pulled into a driveway about 200m from the top and had a long swig of water before continuing. Well, this year, I didn't need to stop but I was literally doing 2.5-4 mph and feeling sick for well over half the climb.

Thing is, last year it was all good! It was all a pedal in the right direction and every ride felt like an improvement. Whereas this year, not only do I know how slow I am, but I also know how fast I want to be!

I'm sure there's a moral lesson here about patient devotion triumphing over faddish impulsiveness but I'm too tired to work it out. My neck, shoulder and arse were all miffed at being asked to do something too!

Lets hope tangible improvements come soon!

Well, after yesterday's beasting on S.Hill, I really didn't fancy it tonight. However, it had been on my mind all day and I suddenly found myself motivated despite a bruised perineum telling me not to.

So off I went on my TT route.

A few things I may not have mentioned before which are perhaps relevant. All my routes are inclusive of warm up time as in, I measure from door to door. So all my average speeds probably err on the unflattering side.

The one major climb on my TT route is also right at the beginning and whilst I have read that a good exertion during warm-up is a good thing, it does also have a negative impact on my time.

During this first couple of miles, things weren't looking great, I had a slight wheeze (I suffer from hay-fever linked asthma) and all my achy bits weren't settling down.
Luckily, I told myself to man up and crack on!

Halfway through the out-lap is the only other significant climb and as I reached the top, I decided to flick through my Garmin to the head to head screen which recognises if you've ridden that route before and compares your time. Now I'm not quite sure which previous time it was comparing as I've only had it since Xmas but I was 29 seconds up!! Another nice bonus piece of motivation!

As usual on this route, I was wind assisted despite no obvious breeze! Reaching my turn around point, average speed was a handy 16.8mph.

Now, my only pitfall was going to be stamina.

When I'm at my peak, I can add 0.5mph to that halfway average as the return route has no big climbs. I decided not to pace myself, instead I wanted to measure my stamina, so I maintained a fair old pace.
My good form lasted another 6 miles. Whilst I didn't quite hit the wall, I did have to ease up a bit. I even did a wee bit of coasting so I could stretch out my neck.

Anyway, I freshened up for the last big downhill and hit 33mph a couple of times.

Very pleased with my 16.5 average as if my stamina had held it would have been closer to 17!

Sorry for the geek-fest in this post but its why I love riding regular routes- you can make really meaningful comparisons.

One final note- cadence. I've never really paid much attention to it but since adding it to the home screen of my Garmin, I've spotted a flaw in my old technique- I hold onto gears too long. My optimum cadence for this level of fitness seems to be around 69-72rpm. Anything above or below this was noticeably less efficient.
Ok, so one thing lacking from last years training were longer stints. In fact, apart from about two rides, they were all pretty much 20 milers.
So today, I decided to piece together half my TT route with the uphill leg of my Streatly Hill route along with an extra few miles or so which I spotted on Strava (Streatly - Wallingford - Goring - Streatly)

The best difference would be that I would be hitting the killer slopes of Streatly at 30 odd miles rather than at mile 10.

It went really well! I decided, given the heat to allow myself one rest stop at whatever moment I decided I needed it. Unsurprisingly given my normal training distance, I hit the wall at about 24 miles. On the upside, my average speed at that point was 16.7 which I was pleased with.
It also meant I'd be adding around 1/4 mile to the actual climb as I was climbing all the way from the river rather than the crossroads.

The climb was tough! Not as tough as last week- definite progress, but still sick-in-your-throat, seeing stars type tough. I even hung my helmet from my bars and dribbled the camelbak hose down my polo shirt to try and lose some heat.

The great thing about massive climbs is that it makes the next few hundred yards seem easy.

Finished up at 41.7 @ 15.9 which was great as I'd predicted 15 to myself.

At one point, I was making good progress between Pangbourne and Streatly doing 19.2 and got passed by a roadie. So, I just eased into his slip stream and whilst I didn't get too close, I stuck on his wheel for the next mile. He got a right shock when he looked back and seen a broad shouldered, baggy shorted Mtb stuck on his wheel but unfortunately he turned off at the next junction so I didn't get long to compare progress.

I think I have made more progress in one week this year than I did last year, so perhaps the residual fitness was just hiding.
Well, back in the game tonight on the old GT which I managed to get back off my mum (made her buy her own turbo ).
The first couple of miles were a bit of an eye opener and I almost couldnt be bothered to carry on but then, once I was warmed up, I settled quickly back into the GT riding position.
I dont honestly think it was a great deal slower (it has got really light wheels and no discs) but didnt feel as fast. What did make a difference was the brakes and gears. The brakes were adjusted to within an inch of their life but still never really felt like stopping me at any point !
The gears are as well adjusted as I can get them and are very average. Its so much harder to commit to a hill not knowing whats going to happen if you suddenly need to sit back down and flick down three gears. You might get the one you wanted, or you might get two either side.

Another interesting point tonight was the fact I reached down after about three miles for a drink (I try and be fastidious about drinking little and often and not getting dehydrated) and realised I had no bottle or camelbak and hance no liquids. And i'd intended to do close to 2 hours and thirty miles.
The thing is, once I'd got over the mental aspect of riding with no drink- it actually made very little difference. I made sure I drunk a litre when I got back, but duiring the ride I was able to go as hard as I always can.

I did a new loop, based on my weekend 40 miler but with the Streatley - Wallingford loop knocked off. This meant I hit Streatly Hill at 18 miles.
I was a bit worried about over-heating with no water to cool off, so removed my helmet again. I wish I hadnt! Nearly at the top, I heard two guys shout something to each other and realised two roadies were steadily trying to pass!!! I stood up to regain my pride and whacked my knee on the helmet (hung from my bars) and nearly toppled over!
They'd given everything they had to the hill though and I soon passed them again as they weaved into a layby to regain some composure.

Despite being on the old wheels, I beat my Streatley Hill time but only by a mahooosive 6 seconds, all of which are attributed to my attackers.
Must ring the bike shop tomorrow and see how they're getting on- I certainly miss it.
Swinley today.
Rode the blue route twice and the red. Remembered a fair bit of the red from the Gorrick race.
I only got passed once all day by a proper skinny Xc looking guy.

Was a really interesting day and so glad we did it. Whilst I can see why the purists hate trail centres, I thought it was ace!
Seemed horrendously busy in the car park but out on course it was fine.
So what did I learn?
One that my general off road skills aren't too bad.
Two, that I am still slower than Lew downhill but not by as much as last year.
Three, that I know what my issues are now. They are comfort braking and target fixation on what I've just ridden past.
That said, I did make progress as the session wore on and got into some really nice flows. I managed to properly rail some of the berms on my second time through the blue.
Even in the narrow twisty rooty bits on the red, I never suffered for my SPD's even though I felt like I should be dabbing an inside foot every now and again.
Four, I learned that my road training does translate into short sharp bursts and delighted in blasting up some of the interlinking fire road bits.
Five, I managed to really pick my eyes up and look ahead today. (Even if I did then follow the massive stump I'd just avoided for too long)
Six, that I should probably just MTFU and keep my SPD's on for the beast.

I am quite good on a motorbike at not comfort braking so its quite annoying to have the habit at all. But basically, instead of just muscling the gert cartwheels through the corner, I'm dabbing the brakes and throwing out my entire entry line.

Another thing I noticed with the SPD's was that it was so tempting to capitalise on the instantaneous lift they provide and hoist the back wheel too high. There's one bit on the red where there's not much action for about half a mile. I shouted back to Lew that its probably because we're about to disappear over a cliff and that's what it felt like! I was endeavouring to push into all the jumps and keep both wheels on the deck but the high saddle height and pedals meant some cool tummy-tickling action as we slalomed down the hill. It was a good section to practice not braking though as there was too much steering going on.

All in all, for a highly concentrated dose of fun and practice, I had a really great time and thoroughly recommend the place!
Weight coming down nicely!
Back on it tonight with some gusty, soul destroying headwinds. So, I did the best thing I could think of, ignore overall average speed and chase a couple of hill-climbs where headwind would make bugger all difference.

First up was Streatley Hill and I set off with ideas of completing it all in the middle chainring! Ha! Fat chance
Made a fair old stab mind you. Heart-rate alarm set to 170 and quickly became irrelevant as I soon hit the dizzy heights of 184 and there or thereabouts is where it stayed.

My previous best up 'Streatley Hill to Carpark' was all the way back on August 01st on the GT where I managed a 5.1mph, 268watt time of 5min55.
Today's came in at 5.8mph and 329watts for a time of 5min10 which I'm very pleased with!

I won't bore you with all the other little mounds that I blitzed as I've never mentioned them before.

Lastly, I had a proper hard go at 'Drag out of Hermitage' because when I rode the TT course the other night, despite mapping my time up the hill, Strava didn't recognise the segment which is very annoying! So I had a score to settle.

As per the pic in the post earlier, my best time to date was a 13.1mph, 470watt effort for 1:36. Tonight, I decided to stay seated for the whole leg and just turn the gas up to max. Now I've got the muscles to back up my will, its really satisfying to feel the burn and yet not back off. I could feel my whole stomach and arms brace against the strain and still I didn't ease off.
Finished up with a 13.7mph, 526w effort for 1:32 which shows how tiny the margins are now!

Average speed was a 'meh' 16.0mph over 23miles but its one of those horrible routes where you seem to have a headwind the whole way.

Still can't believe someone averaged the long beast course at 15mph last year- insanity!
Well, with a week of meaningful training left before I ease off in preparation for the big day, time for a quick reflection.
My mileage total is higher than the 600 predicted and should finish up close to 700 but more than that, I've tried to make every mile count.

Weight is under 14stone which is great but I don't think I can push for 13.5 as I don't really want to eat any less and can't really train any more but its a weight I'm happy with and certainly better than carting an extra stone around.

My average speed on my 20mile tester is at an all time high of 18mph so I've done well there and might find a bit more yet if I manage to ride it one more time. Funnily enough, I've rarely used the three routes I originally intended to concentrate on as they're too short. I feel short changed by a 20miler now and usually ride 28-42 of an evening.

Whilst I haven't gone nuts on my off-roading, the two visits to Swinley were enough to prove to myself that I can push the pace if only I concentrate on the fundamentals and fight my urges to comfort brake. Definitely a case of going faster by slowing down initially and letting the pace come to me.
If it stays dry, I plan on doing some local singletrack in the three days leading up to the beast, riding deliberately slowly but focussing on my d/h concentration.

I haven't as yet practiced eating on the fly which is going to be key to my no-stop strategy. However, this Sunday I plan on doing 60miles of either Ridgeway or Salisbury Plain so will go in full Beast-spec for a shakedown. I intend to set up my Garmin alarms for every half-hour to remind me in the heat of battle to cram some calories down.
I've never eaten proper gels and don't plan on starting now so my jersey will be crammed with snickers and Rice Krispie squares.

I've got some new pads on order and just need to get a 29er tube for my pouch and the bike is ready to go.

I've really enjoyed this years spell of training and have seen real results. A four hour finish would have put me top 20 of the short course last year so that's still my intention.

I can't wait!

This time next week, it will all be over.
This year's training has gone better than I could ever have hoped. And whilst I was fairly sure the ingredients were there, I don't like leaving things to chance so I needed to prove to myself that my hope of a 4-hour finish were realistic and that I'd done all I could.

There were also the unanswered questions of Nutrition and Hydration to consider.

But how? How to get close to the Beast? If I couldn't replicate it, I at least needed to simulate it.

So, I looked at my favourite playground that is Salisbury Plain. No, it's not gnarly but from end to end I guessed (I've always been told its 26miles end to end as the crow flies) it would ride about 30 miles so there and back would give me 60 miles of near constant gravel tracks. Some of it smooth, some of it loose, some of it deep and some of it pot-holed but all of it a good test for the arms and the legs (fair bit more resistance than the smoothest roads in Berkshire that I normally train on ).

It's also surprisingly hilly for a 'plain' and if I'd spent more time route planning and done a few more road miles, I could have replicated the 5260ft of Beast climbing. As it was, the climbing came in at 3386ft so plenty good enough when combined with the 20 extra miles.

So what were the goals of this Shake-down?
1. To ride 4hrs + nonstop as per my Beast plan
2. To eat and drink enough to avoid a drop in performance
3. To practice general fire-roady type riding choosing the appropriate lock-out mode for the terrain
4. To see how my training translated into stamina, would I have pushed the 'cliff' far enough away that I wouldn't drop over it before the end?
5. To see how my bike-fit faired over a longer ride. Was that saddle height right? Should I get a longer stem? etc etc
6. To spend some time in one of my favourite places in the whole world and immerse myself in the simple act of riding my bike! The views from the Northern escarpment of the Plain are spectacular and todays (near) perfect riding conditions only added to it.
7. To get out of a whole load of chores for another week at least .

So how did it go?

The trouble with referring to 'massive headwinds' in the week, is that when I do encounter such a thing, there's no superlatives left to describe it. Needless to say, there's a lot less trees on the Plain than there are in Berkshire so the wind was truly savage.
Even up the first small climb, it was so loud, I could barely hear the crunch of the gravel and it only added to the scale of the days undertaking knowing that I had that for the next three hours!
However, I consoled myself with the thought that at least I'd be rocket-powered on the way home and that the reverse situation would be far scarier! So a quick MTFU pill and I was off.

It was amazing out there today, I've always loved the Plain and today it was strangely devoid of 'public'. In 60 miles, excluding Westbury White Horse car park, I passed less than 10 mtbs, less than 10 dog walkers and less than 10 motorbikes/4x4's. Where the heck was everyone?

I set my Garmin Alarm for 30minutes and assumed that was intervals (it was) rather than just a one off timer of 30mins.
The plan was to eat and drink whether or not I needed it each and every time.

I went with what the local garage had and bought a pack of 6 Cocoa Pop cereal bars and two Snickers-duo bars. On top of this, I had some strange Lucozade recovery stuff which tasted a bit like Barocca tablets and was fizzy not still as I'd hoped but it was lush and I really enjoyed it. So 750ml were added to my bottle and the Camelbak had a full 3l of water in it.

This is the first occasion I've ever tried eating on the fly (hence why I felt I needed to practice it) and it's bloody hard on gravel! I tried to pick the most convenient point within two minutes of my alarm so tricky descents or climbs would always be finished first. In the end, I had to remind myself that slowing down and sitting up a bit was still much quicker than stopping altogether and that made it much easier.
I'd had the foresight to tear all the corners from the cereal bars and it was still a bloody pain getting them out, more so because none of my teeth match up so it's impossible for me to tear stuff with them.
I got better though.

As some kind of quaint reward system, I decided that every half hour I would eat one cereal bar and a few mouthfuls of water and every hour I would add a couple of swigs of Lucozade. Then, roughly halfway I'd tuck in to the beautiful (I've eaten no chocolate in the past five weeks ) Snickers burning a hole in my Jersey.

I didn't rule out stopping, especially once I was past 40 miles but as it was, I never felt the need. I made a point of altering my pedal stroke / standing up at a low-effort pace for a couple of hundred yards every time I felt an ache coming on and I must say, my legs felt fresh right to the end.

I bought some padded shorts 10days ago and they've been a revelation too- worth every penny.

My feet ached a bit around the cleats but not enough to need any modification.

The relief at turning around half way was immense and the return leg was much faster. I did make a slight mistake on the way there and rode down a flag-dependent Byway near the back of the .50cal range at Larkhill and unfortunately the flags were up and to get back around would have meant a three mile diversion so I risked the wrath of the land wardens and took a chance up the track. Luckily it paid off and I was soon out the other side but it meant I had to ride a slightly different return route (as seen on Strava).

I'm not going to recommend Cocoa Pop cereal bars as a food of champions but they did the trick. As time went on, I got better and better at actually getting them down (amazing how un-hungry I felt) and as result there were no peaks or troughs- just steady, consistent pace.
I also still didn't drink enough (going on the colour of my wee when I finally got off the bike) but wasn't really dehydrated enough to affect performance. I only drank about 1.5l of my Camelbak and my 750ml of Lucozade so I will probably run a half-full Camelbak on the Beast and stop at the second rest-stop if I'm getting low.

All in all, I was very pleased with the ride today and can now say "I am ready"

My mileage guess was pretty close and I wound up riding 61.1 miles in 4h07mins (No need for elapsed time when you didn't stop). Overall average speed was 14.8mph HOWEVER......

I remembered to press the Lap button when I reached Westbury so to show you how bad the wind was:
LAP ONE: 30 miles @ 13.1mph average
LAP TWO: 31 miles @ 16.9 mph average

Like I said, rocket powered on the way home!


2013- The Brecon Beast

Official website here

Right then! It's time to finally get my butt in gear and start getting ready for the Beast. Those that read my post about last years effort may remember that this event is the sole reason for my getting back on my bike at the grand old age of 29.

Perhaps because I knew nothing would top the epic scale of the Maxx Exposure event, I've been incredibly lacking in motivation this year and am struggling to do more than a couple of days a month.

Its fair to say, that there is very little in the way of residual fitness in the tank and more than a little excess baggage.

So, what do I hope to achieve before the big day on September 8th?

Well, last year, I managed to fit in around 475 miles training in the 6 weeks leading up to the event so this year, with a couple of extra weeks, I'd like to do around 600.

I've got some aspirations to try and fit in more off road mileage as part of the build up too as I'm not a technically great rider and I feel there is time to be made up by riding the trickier parts with a bit more conviction.

I am also equipped with some significantly better machinery! Now whilst I normally agree that only a bad workman blames his tools, I had a serious issue with mine which were easily remedied with my fantastic Scott Spark 920
I think that alone will help me to improve my time.

With regards to my excess baggage, I did get down to 13st13 last year which is about a 15 year best for me. At the moment, I'm 15st00 so have got some serious work to do!

Other than specific off-road training days, I'm going to try and stick to my three local training routes. One is a fairly flat 10 miles there- 10 miles back TT that when I Garmin'ed it, is slightly downhill.
The next is Streatly Hill, which is again 10 miles there, 10 miles back but with a slightly different return route. When I get going, I'll probably add some reps to the actual hill part with once up standing / once up spinning.
The last is a 24mile loop shown to me by Weeksy which has some killer hills and some nice scenery.
Rotating between the three should keep me amused whilst also making progress easy to measure.

As for how I'll train, there's no real magic to it, I just go out, warm up, then cane my tits off! If I'm having an off day, there'll be less sprints and standing-up in the mix and more sit down and slog.

Having said that, I am really crap at spinning so I might do some low-resistance stuff on the Turbo as it is something I notice compared to other people.

My TT route will be my measure of progress (making reasonable allowances for wind) as at my quickest last year (actually, after the Beast) I did that route at a 17.1mph overall average.
So I would like to churn out a 17.5 in the 10 days prior to the Beast.

2013 pre-Beast goals:
*Get weight down to 13st something.
*Get my average speed for my TT route up to 17.5mph
*Improve my off-road (downhill in particular) bike handling skills
*Optimise bike set-up in the preceding days to ensure I've got best chance against the weather
*Practice eating on the move- I reckon I can knock 30mins off my time by not stopping.
*Make sure I arrive early again to ensure a first-20 place at the start.
*Train to hit the gas straight out the starting blocks- getting to the single track first could knock 30 mins off your time.
*Aim to knock 1hour 20 off of my time (depending on the course and weather being comparable on the day!)
oh, and
*Have a laugh on my bike!

2012- Gorrick Autumn Classics round 2 Crowthorn Wood

Well, this was to be the baptism of fire for my new machine. I was really quite hooked and the Brecon Beast and Maxx Exposure had shown up up some serious failings in my old GT.
So, thanks to a wonderful 0% deal from the local bikeshop, I ended up getting my beautiful Scott Spark 920 just three days before my first forray into XC racing.

Lewis and I had pre-entered the Sport Male category and we had no idea what to expect.

Well what a fun day! First up is a big confession though.
After riding the 'sighting' lap, Lewis and I were deeply worried about doing three laps with some potentially very fast riders. We thought we would end up looking too ridiculous! With another hour still to go until the start of our 'open' race (they'd added in a 20th anniversary race which had messed the times up) we spotted a load of mixed aged males lining up for the 2 lap 'male fun race'. At that moment, they called the five minute warning. So both having the same idea, we literally legged it to the caravan and asked the lady if we could change classes. She said no probs but we'd need to change numbers.

As they were announcing the 'one minute' warning, we were fumbling with palstic ties trying to attach our new numbers.
Literally with ten seconds to spare, we made it to the line of our new class and we were off!

The course was really quite technical. It was 80% singletrack and the rest was gravelly double track. There were two if not three climbs within the single track sections that were what I would now call 'SPD catchers!'. They were steep, loose and slippery and just too long to be able to clip out and ride up. On the sighting lap, I managed the whole course without clipping out. On the first steep climb of the first lap however, someone had got nearly to the top then toppled off to one side. Embarrasingly, I did exactly the same thing and landed on his front wheel losing three places.

The racing was pretty evenly matched amongst the ten or so people I was riding near. On the first lap, I was absolutely killing them on the double track, then holding them up in the single. I think it's a bit unfair to blame my 29er for my poor performance in the real tight twisty bits but I rarely caught anyone in these sections.

As I attacked the double track at the start of the second lap, I was feeling ok, having managed a bit of a recovery but I'd definately over-done it on the first. The course had gotten twice as slippery as when we did the sighting lap and I'd say the Rocket Rons were borderline- a mud tyre on the front would have helped with confidence. Hills I was powering up stood-up on the first lap were reduced to sitting and spinning on the second. It became a case of damage limitation rather than attack on this lap as people started to pass me. I got into a too and fro battle with a guy in purple but the bugger had saved enough energy for one sprint up his sleeve.

He got by me on the single track and I planned on nailing him on the last bit of double track as I knew I could hold him up from there to the line. However, it wasn't to be. As I climbed out of the saddle to attack him, I had nothing there. Well not quite enough to pass him anyway. I messed up a gear change on the last steep double-track climb otherwise I think I could have just pipped him.

I literally didn't see Lewis from the moment we set off and it turned out his problems were multiplied when he started to get lapped by insane racing snakes from the open race which had started in the meantime. I beat Lew by around 10 minutes and seeing the Open-class guys come by made me realise how much we had made the right decision to switch!
Great fun!

2012- Maxx Exposure SDW Overnighter!

For those that don't know, the South Downs Way (SDW) is basically a ridge of chalky downs thrust out of the otherwise flat Southern English countryside. For the mountainbiker, it contains a lot of climbing!

I was on a bit of a come-down after the Brecon Beast and only found out about this event a few days before.
My shonky old GT had done me proud in Wales so I figured why not give this a go.

The Maxx Exposure event is run by Trail Break and is a farily unique format. The plan is, you arrive at Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Winchester with your bike and your gear. Then you hop on a coach (and your bike hops on a lorry) and get taken on the worringly long coach journey to Beachy Head! Here you have two options. One, head out into the sea over the cliff like countless forloun lovers before you. Or head off down the chalky byway leading you off into the distance.

The event starts around 6pm and so soon you are thrust into darkness. I chose to hire the AMAZING Exposure 6-Pack light from the organisers and it was perfectly adequate on low and capable of 20+mph descents off road on high.

I was to do the race with a new friend I had met through the Cycling section of the excellent "The Rev Counter" forum.

The following write up was one I wrote for the forum which followed on from "Weeksy"'s write up.

It looks like I'm going to have to do a race-to-dakar style "we'll all tell our seperate tales from this point on" to fill in the gaps.
Firstly, Weeksy is right, the SDW definately rides at twice it's actual distance. So when Team TRC made their way down the first set of downs, I was honestly expecting a Control Point! Fat chance!

We'd decided to ride our own rides up the hills, then regroup at the top. Unfortunately, bad timing with a puncture meant Weeksy and Crust were stranded at the bottom and by the time I'd realised, I was a good mile away. A quick phone call to Weeksy and I decided to ride on.

Eventually, I reached CP1 in 3hours and learned I was 8th from last. I decided to not stop longer than necessary and just chucked some jelly babies and a flap-jack down my neck before carrying on. With a target time now in mind to hit CP2 at Midnight, I slogged off into the darkness. It was so surreal riding through the night with literally nobody around. The weather was perfect. It was mild but not too warm with a gentle tail wind and perfect visibility. I'm used to being out in the woods at night, but being up on the top of those rolling downs with high powered mountain bike lights stretching out some 10 miles ahead of you to the horizon, some busy climbing, some bombing down a hill and some not seemingly going anywhere was out of this world.

Eventually after what felt like a week, I spotted a light on the next climb that seemed to be going slower than I. To my utter amazment (everyone on the coach looked like a cross between a whippet and a racing snake!), I caught and passed him. Over the next 15 miles I passed 9 more! At this point I felt really good. A bit of a down point was when I was sure I must be half way to CP2 as it felt like I'd easily been riding 1h30mins. Looking at my watch, I'd been riding for 30!

Reaching CP2, which had our half-way bags there, I downed my Tomato Soup, stuffed in a Rice Crispies square, munched 2/3 of an apple and topped it off with a handful of Jelly Beans. Then, I took the spare Lucozade from my half way bag and used it to refill my bottle.

Not wanting to lose my addrenalin, I set off again. At this point, the emormity of the whole thing set in. I never felt tired and I never once yawned but it was the middle of the night for gods sake! This isn't natural. Not only that, but I'd just done 1 Brecon beast (only with more climbing and less rocks!) and had a whole other one to go. I've never ridden further than 60 miles either so who knew how I was going to cope.

Funny thing is, the pure madness of the thing is actually easily overcome by doing one simple thing- KEEP PEDALING
As Weeksy said, this stage was mental. Loads of crazy climbs. Anyway, coming over a canal Bridge, I embarked on a fairly long climb (remember this one for later). This then crossed a main-road, rolled up and down for a bit past a farm, then started a crazily long climb- easily an hour. At this point, it was 01:30 so I knew I was pretty much half way to CP3. At first, I was going to get to the top, then stop and eat M+M's as a treat to myself. Then I decided it would be simpler to get off and walk, keep moving and eat the M+M's at the same time.

Eventually I reached the top, then ended up on some National Trust land. At this point, the signage was very sketchy. A fair few had been pinched and there were a couple of hairy moments wondering if you'd taken the right path. I was totally by myself at this point, so there weren't even any lights to follow.

I then reached a crossroads with about 6 different options. I had no idea where to go. Looking in the dust, I could see bike tracks heading off to the left, so thas where I went. I was wrong. Following signs that said SDW on them, I began dropping down some fast long decents and before long had covered a couple of miles on this long straight track which turned into a tarmac lane. Now, it wasn't unusual to not see a sign for a bit, so I kept going. Needless to say, by the time I had realised I was wrong, I was a long way down!

Looking back, I can't understand why I didn't resign myself to back tracking. However, the madness of the situation means I made a bad choice- I carried on. I figured that I could go down to the next valley bottom, join the main road, then pick up the point where the SDW crosses over it. This I achieved perfectly- with one tiny error. I for some reason assumed the track I should have took was one further to the left. It was actually the one to the right.
So, as I reached the main road, I assumed I needed to turn LEFT to find where the SDW crossing was. I slogged up a long road climb and it's fair to say I was panicking. My mobile battery was too flat to get the contact numbers off of my emails, I had no idea what the road I was on was called and I had no idea where I actually needed to be.
Seriously bad times.
Anyway, after perhaps a couple of miles, a crossed the Arundal Castle roundabout and kept pluggin on. At this point, I spotted a big sign saying SDW. So, assuming I should have been coming from the left, I turned right, pleased I'd finally found it and threw myself with gusto into a big long fast decent. I never even questioned the lack of reflective signs as I'd by now assumed all this section had been stolen.
Then, my panicked despair turned to desperate confusion. There, coming towards me, were two MTB's with fuck-off lights on!!! Yep, you've guessed it, I'd just ridden down the climb after the canal bridge that I'd already climbed 1h30 earlier!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I can safely say that had there been a support truck with us at that point, I would have galdly thrown in the towel. This meant I now had about 2 miles of climbs and about another 2 miles of tracks to ride that I'd already ridden. I was a broken man. Luckily, the two guys let me tag along so thats what I did.

I sat on their back wheel for the remainder of the entire course. It was painful. I just kept going over the stupid mistake in my head, beating myself up for the fact that I should by now have been at the final check point. On top of that, my knee was really hurting for some reason and where I was compensating by limp-peddaling, the tendons on the back of my ankle started to hurt too. I can safely say though, that if I hadn't ended up riding with these two guys, there were at least another 3 occassions where the signs had been stolen and I potentially would have got lost anyway.
The final n miles from CP3 to the finish taught me a lot about myself. I still didn't feel tired, my legs still didn't ache, I still hadn't yawned, I still wasn't out of breath, I was deeply depressed at my error and my knee was about to explode but from somewhere, I found the resolve to keep going and keep up with these guys.
The relief to be finished was amazing but within 2 minutes, I was already thinking about next years event (which unfortunately never took place although it is due back in 2014)

It was madness! Addictive, pointless, stupid, crazy madness! But it is EPIC. The darkness, the imposing downs, the route, the climbs, the sheer distance (Weeksy's 150 miles of Ridgeway comparison is spot on) and the unbelievable sense of achievement. I highly recommend it!!
My time was 12h19 minutes but I can honestly say taking off the time for getting lost and 15 minutes waiting for the two guys I ended up with to have a drink every 2 miles, my true time would have been around 10h50 I reckon.
If I can get a bike thats not a bone-shaker with no brakes like my GT, I reckon 10h is achievable next year.
Sorry there's no pics, but my phone hadn't charged so I wanted to save my battery.

2012- The Brecon Beast 4

This bit too felt like Exmoor as we rode across the hilltop. Once more, it was peaty ground so lots of deep ruts. Route choice was critical here but also had a fair bit of luck involved as many seemingly good choices would suddenly become un-rideable and you'd try to bunny-hop across to the better ground, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. I saw a couple of people topple over here as they over-balanced trying to ride a smoother line along a kife edge. As the hilltop rolled over into the adjacent woodland in the next valley, another epic downhill bit began. Once more, I could do nothing other than slow down, pick the best line I could and try and cheer myself up with catching a bit of air here and there. At one point I switched ruts only to hit a rock face and stop dead! There was nothing I could do, and I nearly fell off. The guy right up my arse did however as he swerved to avoid me and shouted FFS under his breath.

This fun was brought to a welcome end by the second rest stop and a cheery attractive blonde ushering us to give her our bottles for a a refill- she was a welcome distraction from aching joints and my stiff neck!

Ok, with 40k down, I still felt pretty good. Lew's only concern was the "gap road" up across Pen y fan but he assured me that from there it was all downhill.
First up though, were some fun, smooth forest tracks. Settling in to a 9.5mph pace up one of the climbs, I felt fresh again so sprinted off. Lew never ever stands up and he says it was both funny and frustrating to see me get 100 yards in front, then have to settle back to the same pace. Besides, he always knew he'd get me on the gnarlies.

We crossed a road at this point and then set off up another long forest track, steadily climbing. I put in a couple of good stints out of the saddle here and overtook a few people (if only I knew) and generally felt great about life. The track then turned wet and started to drop along the edge of a wood. As with all the non-rocky bits, I felt good here. I saved a couple of front end slides and picked some nice routes. Then it got rockier and Lew caught me up. Another four-down-arrow sign appeared and it was probably the steepest bit of the entire route. In front, I cracked on into it. Locking the rear wheel solid, I feathered the front trying not to lock it on the wet rocks and rested my belly button on the saddle. I rode it well and felt good as I reached the stream bed at the bottom. Perhaps I had conquered the stones! There was a photographer there, so I will check if he got me or not. Anyway, then there was an equally sharp lip to climb and it was the only bit I felt I had to carry my bike as it was too rocky to even push it.
Now, Lews concern about the "gap road" become clear. There, casually stretching towards the horizon, was a mile or more of gently climbing but annoyingly rocky track. It was a fucker. It was never steep but always kept you blowing. Worse still was a constant challenge to pick the smoothest line. I aired down again here but full suspension looked to be the only cure. I was amazed here by the ten or so people that breezed past us on brick-sized rocks like they weren't even there. My legs and lungs were doing ok, it was technique and equipment letting me down. What a relief it is not a race!

Anyway, after airing my annoyance about my inability to ride rocky descents, Lew dropped a bombshell. The other side of the Gap, was a truly mental rocky downhill bit with rocks ranging up to the size of a bean bag littering the track. We agreed to stop at the top and regain some energy as Lew said the downhill was more energy sapping than the climb. We reached the top.

And as I stuffed my last few MM's down my neck and lowered my saddle by 6", I looked down the other side. I realise now that I had already predicted my demise at this point. I felt awful about the next leg. I had no idea how to ride it and I knew that before I started. Whilst i'm sure the right guys could probably ride it on a cyclecross bike or whatever they're called- I also knew that my machinery was not going to make my life easy for me. My neck, which had been sore in the week, was now really stiff and my fingers were aching a fair bit. And there, staring at me, and putting the fear of god into me was the last of the three-downward-arrows signs.

Ushering Lew in front, we set off. I assured him not to wait for me and to enjoy it. I was just opting for survival at this point. The track dropped sharply into the sea of boulders and then corkscrewed left. Whilst not as steep as the bit with the photographer, this was hardcore!!! Lew ran ride, slowed and stopped, pausing before the next punishing drop so I whizzed past him, feeling ok. I could do this.
On a loop, I gave myself commands in my head. Breath, relax, light grip, lean back. I dropped into the next bit and with that, my front wheel caught a rock the size of a breeze block. I swivelled around the front forks and crashed over the bars and to the left into a huge pile of boulders. All I remember is feeling totally helpless in the split second that time stood still and my adrenalin flooded brain looked for solutions. I also remember thinking i'd surely smashed my iphone and then feeling my helmet and right cheek crash into a rock and feel the majority of my weight go through my left hand as it grabbed out at the rapidly approaching stones.

As I came to a halt, I felt a mixture of pain and relief! Relief that that hell was over and pain as my stiff neck and worrying red-looking thumb/palm cried out in disgust at my ineptitude!
I felt myself over and recovered my bike. Reassured that I was standing, I started walking down and told Lew just to crack on- which he did without even a look back
As I hobbled down, I looked at the hill and tried to figure out ways of making it bearable. There was none. First chance I got, I got back on. It was horrendous. I was target fixating on every rock bigger than a loaf of bread and clattering into them. Each time, my neck and hand would cry out in pain. I tried to remind myself of the fun i'd been having and to look down to where the mountain levelled out- it was a long long way!!!
Slowly, my pace picked up again. The downhill boys were revelling in it. Its the first time i'd ever witnessed a need for 10" of travel and they made it look effortless. Even though some of these guys flying down the mountain were 10 years older than me, I suddenly felt very old! I'm sure the rewards are there but it all looked pretty unpredictable to me.

Anyway, I eventually spotted Lew waiting for me and he raved about how much he'd enjoyed that bit. The relief at reaching the 'bottom' was short lived and another spell of torturous rocks began although this bit wasn't nearly as long.
Then we hit some seriously steep downhill lanes and my lack of brakes become a genuine concern. There were walkers, dogs and other cars potentially using this road and I couldn't bring myself to commit. Once or twice, the steepness of the lane meant I was fully on both brakes and barely slowing down.

The lanes bagan to open up and started to climb again. I felt fresh as a daisy once more! My stiff neck was forgotton and my aching thumb wedged in the best position and I began to overtake people. At one point, a gaggle of fifteen downhill guys were making hard work of a climb and I breezed past them at literally 10mph difference! If only I knew what i'd just inflicted on them!!!!! The next bit was a steep, narrow, rooty, downhill section between two tree lined banks. Of course, my inferior equipment and technique meant I was doing my best to stay upright but also, couldn't stop. The guys I'd just overtook were gagging to get back past me but I could neither move over or stop to let them and one or two pulled some very sketchy overtakes to get past me. I regret holding them up but I honestly didn't know what was coming up.

Anyway, soon that was over and all that was left was a blast up through Brecon. I spotted a guy making good progress in the distance and picked off knackered guys behind him one by one. As we reached the last climb, this guy and I were neck and neck, forcing each other to push for the finish. I think he wanted a race across the playing field but I slowed up and looked back for Lew. I reached the tape but pulled over and rode a few small circles as I waited for Lewis to arrive so we could cross the line together and collect our sexy T-Shirts!

2012 The Brecon Beast 3

Just as a quick aside, our total time (going by our watches, I didn't catch what the Marshall shouted out to us) was 5h20 minutes. My speedo said our total rolling time was 4h40mins. This is a massive shock to me, as it no way felt like we spent 40 minutes stood about.

Anyway, I said to Lew at this first stop, "let's not stay too long, I need a wee really bad so lets get the road bit out of the way and we can stop in the woods before the next climb where there might be less people" so it honestly felt like we were there two minutes but blatently must have been more like 10. It gave us enough time to shove a handful of MM's and an apple down our necks.

Leaving the rest stop, I kind of knew where we were as Lew had pointed out the lane we were now riding down on the way here. It then joined the A40 as if heading back to Brecon before winding off to the left toward a canal thus losing every last ft we'd climbed before taking us up the valleys the other side towards the "gap road" that climbs up Pen y Fan.

Knowing we had a couple of miles of downhill road, I should have used it as extra recovery as after all its not a race. Its not a race. It is not a race.

I was off. In a semi tuck, in top gear, with none of the fear that plagues me off-road, I was doing 24mph before the hill really got going. The head wind meant I only hit 35 max but most people were taking this bit easy. Seeing as how its not a race, I obviously took no delight what so ever in overtaking dozens of people.

Soon, I reached the short sharp canal bridge and heeding the marshalls early warning, I was able to down shift in time to power over the steep bridge in style, further enhanced by the cheers of one of the marshalls crowd of kids and friends I felt like a dakar hero!!!

In fact, I felt better than that, my full-bladder was gone I know not where and my legs felt fresh and powerful. Looking back, I could see no sign of Lew, so I just cracked on! The next mile or so was a lovely smooth gravel track up though a wooded valley and steadily climbing all the time. One by one, I picked off more people, which; this not being a race and all gave me no satisfaction!
Thinking back to the sprints I attempted on my first training ride, I marvelled at how far i'd come as I steadily accelerated up the gradual climb.

I'll just say at this point that I might not have the exact piecing together of the route 100% accurate as I can't remember the exact order of the next bits (even though I remember ever yard I cycled!)
But basically, at some point in the 15k of this next section between rest stops, the smooth gravel track turned into basically a cobbled byway! Well at least thats what it felt like. Big, angry, relentless cobbles. This went on for around half a mile or more and one by one, the people I'd breezed past returned the favour! I just couldn't get the power down. I did air-down a bit at this point, but not having a gauge, I didn't let too much out.
Also, my bottle of Tommy Soup, in its cheap as chips cage was making a horrible creaking noise.

Soon, the track became more wooded and began a short sharp climb. I made it pretty far but eventually gave in just 10 yards before it levelled off and turned into another fun bit. A nice, boggy track through the trees with some cool puddle and the odd fallen branch or log that the course clearers had left for us to jump.
Next, I noticed some riders through the trees to my left and significantly higher. The track was about to double back and get a great deal steeper. As a revenge for the smooth tarmac and easy gravel i'd breezed those few miles ago, the route planners were now teaching me a lesson with more of my least favourite substrate, DVD box sized shale. As I climbed, I left a few people for dead and felt good again as a few easy lines gave me confidence. Then, the steps got steeper and the stones bigger and here I should have ditched my toe-clips. I didn't: I plugged on until I dejectedly gave up and started walking. My legs still felt good and I can walk pretty quick anyway so I didn't feel that much slower. The top of the hill seemed to be in sight so I resigned myself to another 100 yards of walking. Lew faired a lot better than me up that climb, and even though I couldn't see him, he was making up lost ground. The next bit was a proper mountainside with steep crevices and amazing views as we wound our way up to a pass. The wind here was really strong! Cutting through a pass to the other side of the hills, we wound our way up to here:

and I felt pleased with how I'd climbed. Lew had managed to ride a much higher percentage of the stony bits though and I almost jumped as I spotted him right back alongside me.

Monday, 13 January 2014

2012- The Brecon Beast 2

Pontifications over, it was down to business and with the sound of the Claxon, we were off. It's not a race. It's not a race. It is not a race. None of us are really warmed up and it is not a race.

The relief to be going was immense. My mind soon cleared and was able to concentrate on the job in hand- not having a crash! Like a GSXR owners club ride-out, this was hairy! Nobody was looking further ahead than the guy in front of them. Any attempt to maintain a good stopping distance just saw ten guys come flying past only to panic brake behind the next rider as everyone slowed for a bend. Anyway, I didn't see a crash and we wound our way through the lanes behind our police escort. 

The pace was fairly brisk as it was flat or downhill for a couple of miles. Then we started to hit the odd climb or two. Still only tarmac back lanes but more than enough to get the lungs going. At this point I started to realise that actually, I had no need to feel inferior to a lot of the field as I flew past them uphill. At least as many people of course were passing me at twice my speed but it was still good enough for a bit of confidence. 

The first bottle neck was a turning off of the lanes onto a couple of miles of farmland ridining across silaged grass fields. This was to lead us to the first set of proper off road trials and meant people were able to string out a bit. It also became clear who was doing the 100k (actually closer to 82 I believe) option. These lean, muscly legged whippets were becoming a spec in the distance already. 

We hit our first byway and I got a glimpse of how effective full suspension can be even on climbs.
I'd left Lewis behind as I did on every smooth climb or descent. However, there was enough variety over any given say 8k, that actually, our average speeds wouldn't have been far off and we always ended up back together after not too long.

Back on a short lane section, I was able to regain a few places over people that had passed me on the rough byway as I just outclimbed them up every dip and hollow. It is not a race!

Now, just as I trumphantly blasted past five guys pogoing up a short tarmac hill on their downhill bikes, we hit another bottle neck. The badly cattle-erroded and washed out track we were joining was causing people to get off and push the short, muddy climb. I don't care what the nay-sayers were shouting out (one of the few negative incidents all day) I reckon less than 1% of the entire entry could have physically made it up there. Anyway, after another 50 yard climb on to the heathery hillside, up which most people were still pushing their bikes, the trial turned into a lush bit of welsh single track. 

It was one of the wetter parts of the course with a few muddy washouts that I found impossible to ride through (although others managed with ease).
This was one of the rare gnarlier parts of the course that I gelled with. Mostly because of the lack of stones and rocks. I picked up a nice pace, was picking good lines, flowing really nicely and certainly not holding anyone up. I really enjoyed that bit. Gradually, the track wound up over the hill and soon became steep and technical. I pushed as hard as I could but ended up walking the last 20 yards through lack of ability rather than fitness. Lewis did really well here and caught me up through his superior bike handling skills.

The top of this hill was really good with some cracking views (as they were all day to be fair) and reminded me of Exmoor. It was one of those peaty bog tracks with 100 yards of firm easy riding followed by a 10 yard bog where line was critical. We rode together here and had a blast wheelying into puddles and taking the piss out of each other. We passed the odd person but it felt like a steady stream were passing us (as it did all day!)

Eventually, the hill top began to roll into a downhill and Lew left me for dead as he always does on the off-road downhills. I just haven't got the skill, balls or flow to crack these bits so I did my best to let fast people past whilst trying not to die! It started off shallow and fun with loads of different lines and the chance to catch a bit of air. It quickly became steeper and more dangerous with deeper ruts to catch your wheels and I frequently found myself with my body weight lined up on one route and the wheels in another! Each time this happened I got the pit-of-stomach-sick feeling that I used to get whilst trying to off-road my xt660z and I also knew I was doing the exact opposite to what I should be doing by tensing up. 

These personal arguements continued all the way down until we reached a new sign. Three downhill facing arrows, obviously implying a significant hazard. The last hill was a seriously steep, very rocky (actually, perhaps I should save 'very rocky' for later !) and very slippery drop which had an underground spring in it. I actually rode it well and slithered my way out onto the lane and the location of the 25k rest-stop.
This was fun!