Thursday, 6 August 2009

Day 8 - Careful Now!

Andalo to Riva del Garda.

So this is it. I've dreamed of this day for months. We're still in the competition. We haven't thrown in the towel, or broken a collarbone, or fallen out, or fallen off at 50mph on a gravel road, or broken a bike fatally, or come down with West Nile Hemorrhagic Fever... Better than all of these things, we're still in start block B and we've been climbing the table every day going from results in the high 80s to 54th yesterday. We're getting the measure of the thing. I almost don't want it to end, except that there's nothing I want more than to be speeding over the finish line and running into Lake Garda.

There are murmurs of a scary descent on today's stage, but it's just hearsay since we missed the evening briefing and went out for pizza and beer instead. I'm feeling uneasy in the start pen, partly a bit of a hangover and partly the fear that we may get complacent. One more routine climb with some pushing and we arrive at the Passo san Giovanni and then it's all downhill to Riva. It's an insanely difficult downhill where riders queue at the turn off from the gravel and peer over the brink. We ride straight on through. It's a steep, rutted hillside to begin with and we can pick our way through the walkers until it narrows to an endless series of steep, slimy switchbacks. We ride what we can but there are just too many people in the way to get a good run at it. Dave gets ahead and I keep him in sight for a while but get bogged down behind knots of walking riders. I'm in a group who ride where it's clear enough but we keep running into scrums of others who won't even attempt it. Frustrating, but I'm content to arrive intact at the bottom.

Dave is waiting at the timing strip along with the other Brits we've been riding with all week, Geoff and Steve the other Kinesis riders and Army and Navy, whose names I never did find out. The rest of the stage looks like road all the way, except for the steep gravel-covered concrete stuff which I hit too fast and unprepared having mentally switched off. There's more rocky singletrack late on and then we have a fast procession along cycle paths through orchards. There's no energy left in my tanks but I hold on grimly on Dave's back wheel. A marshall shouts "Zwei kilometre" and suddenly we're in Riva. Around a corner we see the Jeantex arch and we're at the finish line. The emotion of finishing overwhelms me for a moment and I have a wee blub like a lassie.

Suddenly it's all over. It has been an amazing few days and I'm all out of superlative adjectives. The vision of running into Lake Garda which has sustained me for months of training in the dark and wind and pishing rain actually comes to pass. We finish 51st on the day and 65th overall in Masters from 118 finishers. Solid mid-table mediocrity!

Lake Garda

(Thanks to everyone who dutifully followed this drivel and apologies for not updating things on the day. In mitigation, it appears that Italy doesn't have an internet, but now that I see how consistently beautiful Italian women are, I can understand why they might not need one...). I'll post final thoughts and some photos in a final roundup in the next few days and then I'll move on with my life.



Day 7 - wibble...

Kaltern to Andalo.

About 5 minutes into the climb I realise that, not only have I forgotten to pack some ibuprofen but we didn't have any for breakfast. There's only one thing for it - blind panic. Our main food groups for the past week have been painkillers, rehydration salts and pizza (and, laterally, beer). The prospect of a day without the anaesthetizing effects of those little pink tablets brings me out in a cold sweat which only exacerbates the dehydrating effects of the hot sweat pishing off my brow in the 30 degree heat of the early morning.

Ten minutes into the climb I've become acutely aware of the callus on my left buttock. It's a bit like the Princess and the Pea, if it were re-written with the Princess riding a bike with half a pistachio shell stuck inside her shorts. Rounded side down. Man, this is going to hurt. The main climb of the day is a now-routine 1400m slog up a gravel road leading to more stunning singletrack, scary, sketchy gravel with cooking brakes and over-cooking corners. Miles and miles of this kind of stuff:

All good things must end and we're soon back in the crippling heat of the valley, riding up through apple orchards and seeking out the spray from the irrigation hoses. Further on we don't notice the village of "Toss" but we do spot "Lover". Great place names for the UK. The last few kms to the second feed station are just back-breakingly hard work. We keep running into pockets of super-heated still air, grinding endlessly uphill under the fierce, relentless sun. I'm dizzy by the time we get to the feed station and I feel an almost overwhelming desire to lie down in the shade and sleep. I just want it to stop, but we still have another 5kms climbing before the finish line. Luckily we have the shade of the trees so it's almost bearable. My arse hurts, my legs hurt, my hands hurt, my head is throbbing and I have to admit defeat on one of the steep concrete sections and get off and push. It's not far, but it's one of those sections where the gradient is too steep for a gravel road and they have to anchor the whole lot in place with concrete. Very hard to climb and terrifying in descent.

The climb is over soon enough and it's a mercifully easy run in down some nice dusty trails into Andalo. I have some stern words with some arse who tries to push into the queue in front of me. He sees the mad look in my eye and backs off, muttering.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Day 6 - The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul.

Sarnthein to Kaltern.

Scarcely believable, but today's riding is even better than yesterday's. Harder too, due to all the "wee" hills. 75kms, 3173m up and 3783m down. I fail to pay attention to the wee climb just before the finish line...

So off we go again. Start line banter, "Highway to Hell", unseemly argy-bargy to get going, up, up, up, up, down, up up up. Bit of singletrack which has a big queue of pushing riders which we bypass by riding stylishly through a river (well, Dave manages without a dicht) then a climb on gravel where I feel very one-paced. It doesn't last long though before we get to fast undulating gravel and then a brilliant wee climb. We see it coming and take the grassy shortcut onto it while others resort to pushing from the start. Apart from two very short pitched sections we ride it all and then we have a lovely open hoot along narrow, dusty walking trails with lots of fast corners and languid cows grazing either side. More climbing and more brilliant singletrack where we reel in lots of teams before a final steep haul to the day's high point.

From the high point we chase down a couple of German girls who Dave passes early but I can't get the measure of. They're too quick over the open, rutted meadow-land but I spot my chance on the inside of a sharp bend with lots of rocks and roots. The next section before the feed station is absolutely outstanding riding down rocky chutes and over dusty, rooty trails way high up with fantastic views over to the limestone peaks on every horizon. I have a wee tumble over the bars after some risky manoeuvres to pass a hesitant rider but the adrenaline has me straight back on the bike and raring for more. Hands hurt, toes hurt, but it's too much fun to hold back.

There's more to come after the feed station and then we're in another valley where the heat is staggering. It's another long, long climb with salty sweat pouring into our eyes. Each day we've managed to forget something fairly crucial - today it's the Nuun tablets which replace the sweated-out electolytes. As if this isn't bad enough, I'm so addled by the time I get to the last feed station that I omit to fill my Camelbak, or my bottle. There's still 30kms to go with lots of sharp climbs and some bone-shaking descents. I run out of water in short order. Dave has a little left, but he needs some of it himself. There's a section where we have to carry the bikes up a steep path over roots and mud. Dave hates these bits but I find they are a bit of a rest. From the top it's mostly downhill but I'm so dehydrated that my brain seems to be rattling in my skull. I'm thirsty for water, but the limestone hydrography is keeping it all to itself.

This is desperate. My head is throbbing from the effort and even the downhills are painful. The day finishes with a very fast plummet into Kaltern am See or Caldaro al Lago - I can see the lake through gaps in the trees and it's all downhill EXCEPT for the last bit. I've piled on the pressure at the head of a chaingang only to find that the last couple of kms are uphill into the town. I have nothing left. We get over the line in around 6 1/2 hours but I'm exhausted from the sustained effort without proper hydration. There are only two days to go but I'm struggling to do even the most basic of tasks. Washing my bike and fixing my loosening rear hub take a supreme effort of will and I struggle to make sparkling, witty conversation over dinner.

Tomorrow we'll probably forget the ibuprofen, or something equally perilous.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Day 5 - this just might be possible...

St. Christina to Sarnthein.

Sore legs this morning. Today's stage would look easy were it not for that yawning chasm in the middle. 82kms, 3300m ascent, much of it in one mofo of a climb over 30kms. The first climb is over fairly quickly and it leads us up to some stunning high Dolomite pastures with some beautiful singletrack riding. We get to the first feed station at Seiser Alm in short order then it's a fast road descent. I like these bits; I can almost relax. We pass lots of people and then there is no-one ahead. A sense of unease begins to set in - have we missed a turn off? The penalty would be an agonising extra climb back up a steep road so we slow down. Other riders catch up and before long we spot the reassuring orange arrows sending us off the apex of a bend onto fast singletrack where we see the "unfall" warning triangle - rider down with two medics in attendance. Not a nice sight but they are in good hands so we keep going.

The downhill gets very steep and it becomes progressively more painful on the hands. As usual, there are lots of riders walking down perfectly rideable terrain. We barge on past, gaining ground but probably losing friends - "Excuse me!", "Rider left", "Rider right", "RIDER!!", "Get out of the f***ing way!", phrases understood in most languages. The terrain is fantastic for mountain biking. Steep zig-zagging trails littered with rocks and roots which is a joy to ride. It goes on for so long that I have to swap braking fingers to alleviate the pain in my hands and my toes are sore from the pressure against my shoes. Eventually we are spat out onto more steep tarmac taking us down to the Brenner highway at Waidbruck. This is the major road between Italy and Austria but the race is so well organised and marshalled that we just sweep on through to the start of the climb while the traffic is held at bay by the Carabinieri.

The next climb almost defies description. It is relentlessly steep and the sun is cooking our brains inside our skulls. Locals hose us down as we pass which helps for a few seconds but can't disguise the pain and suffering. Sweat is pouring out of my helmet. There is a brief respite from the torture when my back tyre explodes. We're inching uphill when there's a loud bang like a gunshot. Sealant is fizzing out and there is no chance of any of it plugging the two inch gash in the sidewall. We lose 5 minutes in tearing off the tyre, emptying the remaining sealant, cleaning it up enough to stick a tyre boot inside it and the re-inflating it with a tube inside - how primitive! Then it's back to the grind. After what seems like hours, with the valley far below in another realm, we get to the feed station. There's still a long way to go before we get to the top. How do you train for these climbs in Scotland?

The remainder of the day is a bit of a blur. I remember a fast but short downhill on gravel before another climb then some magical singletrack late in the day, alongside a river, with some utterly brilliant trails. The hand pain can't detract from the sublime riding. There are some tough wee uphill bits before some more superb singletrack. We miss a turnoff down off a gravel track and waste a couple of minutes before we realise and turn back to pick up yet more technical stuff down to a meadow on the edge of town. The day finishes with a fast ride through narrow streets to the finish line in Sarthein. This is the town I was most concerned about beforehand for accommodation. We'd sent many emails but had not a single reply and had envisioned an Italian Royston Vasey, but not a bit of it; it's a beautiful Tyrolean village full of life. It has been an amazing day's riding. Utterly absorbing and intense through fairytale mountain scenery. I'm too happy to be tired.

We drink beer that evening.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Day 4 - The Turn of the Screw.

Brixen to St. Christina.

On paper, this one looked like trouble. 84 kms with nearly 3700m of climbing. There are 4 very distinct climbs with one or two blips along the way. The day starts with a fast peleton out of Brixen which grinds to a messy halt at a handlebar-width footbridge 5kms out of town. Lots of riders sweep up on the outside to jump the queue which leads to a lot of shouted insults. We now know how to say "bawbag" in 40 different languages.

It's nice to get a fast, easy warm-up but we're soon into the climbing for the day. It takes about half an hour of puffing and panting to establish the climb's rhythm; to reach the point where the breathing is nice and settled and the legs don't hurt. After this it's more a psychological battle to keep the pedals turning and to focus on keeping the body fuelled with food and drink. By now I've got this bit sussed - unwrapped Clif bars in the back pocket to nibble on and a couple of litres of water with Nuun hydration tablets keeps me going to the first feed station where supplies can be replenished as we gorge on water melon with the decadance of Caligula.

The second climb is a tough proposition and it's steep right out of the feed station. It's a very hot day so shade from the trees is a welcome relief. Dave is ticking off the kms on his bike computer and after what seems like hours of continually steep gravel switchbacks he reckons the climb is almost over. Sure enough, things start to level out a bit and we've emerged from the trees and it has the feel of an Alpine pass just around the next corner. But my mental fortitude has buckled under the strain of hopeless optimism and I've forgotten the golden rule - every summit is a false summit until proven otherwise. Round the corner lies a sight that knocks the wind from our sails. The trail rears up at an impossibly steep angle and zig-zags up to a pass seemingly up in the heavens. It's maybe only 2kms away but it will be a push for much of the way. Dave rides what he can because walking hurts too much. I walk most of it because riding hurts too much. We get back on the bikes just before the Schlutterhutte and ride to a stile which marks the high point. I'm dizzy from the effort and need Ibuprofen to soothe the pain in my buttocks and shoulders.

From here the scenery changes dramatically. We're no longer in steep-sided tree-lined canyons where we get the occasional glimpse of the scenic grandeur around us. Now we're up high on open grassy alps with impossibly dramatic Dolomite peaks crowding the horizon. It really is breathtaking. There is a short section where walking is compulsory (park rules) then it's onto a mental-fast descent on gravel tracks and tarmac all the way to Campill where the locals cheer the riders on and we get a cheery "Bit hotter than Scotland!" from an old lady.

More climbing, more descending and we get to a fast uphill bit to the feed station. Chain-gang time again. I'm struggling to stay on the pace until most of the riders break off to fill water bottles at a drinking trough. We keep going. The feed station isn't where it should be. We press on. I've no water left and I'm feeling pretty done in. No sign of the feed station. Have we missed it? Eventually it comes into view. There are a lot of busted-looking riders lolling in the shade of a wall and we join them. I'm finding it difficult to walk and the all-over body pain washes over me once I'm off the bike. Dioralyte and Ibuprofen are needed, but we don't resort to Heather Graham just yet...

There is one more big climb ahead of me and I'm having big doubts about my ability to manage it; to shake off the fatigue and keep going. Somehow it all falls into place. Better than that, I feel really strong on it. There's some fireroad, a bit of singletrack then miles of switchbacking tarmac up to the Passo Gardena. Dave and I get on the back of an Italian pair but we soon leave them behind. We overtake lots of others too, climbing fast and well in the middle ring. From the top we have a road descent for a few kms then it's off road for some steep, loose gravel and chuckies. The day finishes with a steep singletrack section where the only technique is to hang off the back and drag the brakes. Most people are walking it so we pass lots of teams. Dave punctures but it seals quickly enough for the final tarmac run in to St. Christina. It's been 7 1/2 hours in the saddle with some very tough climbs and some stunning descents. I'm pretty done in but manage to recover enough with the aid of water melon and pizza to do it all again tomorrow.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Day 3 - Highway to Hell.

Mayrhofen to Brixen

Today's stage is the longest in the race. 95kms but only 2122m of climbing. The catch is that pretty much all that ascent is concentrated into one single climb. It's a pretty stark reality - ride uphill for 30kms then ride downhill for 65kms. There are one or two "blips" on the downhill where the trail goes up for a wee while, but apart from that it's pretty much like freewheeling all the way from Inverness to Invergarry, albeit reaching speeds of 84km/h on some of the steeper bits.

Of course, being a race, no-one is much bothered about freewheeling and we spend most of the road sections tagging onto fast chain-gangs to maximise speed and minimise effort. The descent is initially on fast gravel tracks which Dave seems to thrive on. I try to go as fast as I dare but the penalty for messing it up on the loose corners is always at the back of my mind and I find myself holding back a wee bit. The danger is the front wheel breaking away on the loose stuff and the skill is to trust the traction through the racing line where the road has been swept clear. Dave is good at this - I'm not, lacking the necessary flow.

The climb gives a good insight into how to pace ourselves for the week. It's on tarmac initially then onto steep gravel switchbacks. There's even some singletrack but everyone is off their bikes and walking creating a huge bottleneck. All a bit frustrating. Eventually we reach the dam below the pass at Pfitscherjoch and there's a feed station. Beyond this it gets steep and rocky; great technical riding which we manage quite a bit of despite the legions of pushing Europeans getting in the way.

The stage finishes in the Cathedral square in Brixen and it feels good to barrel into town through the cheering crowds. Longest day done, but Hell is just around the corner on the next stage...

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Day 2 - the race gets underway.

Reith im Alpbachtal to Mayrhofen

Today is the day. We will finally get to ride our bikes. There is a lot of nervous fidgeting in the start corral, particularly from the Johnny-come-latelies at the back (that's us). The day starts with AC/DC "Highway to Hell" being pumped over the PA system and that is our cue to saddle up and ride. Except we have to stand around for 5 minutes while the 1000 riders in front of us who are faster or better at getting up early make their way across the start line. The stage starts with a steep climb on a gravel road and it's all very slow as riders jockey for position for the first hour. Because the weather had been diabolical the day before and we're expecting snow higher up, everyone is over-dressed. Before long we're slogging uphill on a scorching Austrian summer morning with too many layers and too much kit in our packs. The riding is still slow but it has progressed beyond the trackstanding of the first few kms. We stop to fill camelbacks from a roadside stream and to peel off arm and leg warmers. There's another team doing the same - Scots, of course.

The first climb ends on tarmac and is followed by a brilliant road descent. We weave our way past lots of riders who seem hesitant to take the racing line. In my mind I'm riding like Fabian Cancellara chasing down the TdF peleton, cutting inside riders on corners and enjoying the traction from the Bonty tyres. We're soon onto the second climb of the day and it's a tougher proposition. The field has spread out a bit more and we've made our way through to a group of similar-paced riders who slog up the steep gravel tracks. Writing this over a week retrospectively it seems like one of the more trivial climbs of the race, but I remember feeling a profound relief when the feed station came into view. Feed stations become the subject of some very, very intense focus on a race like this. Each one is an sanctuary from the suffering and some are the most welcome sights of one's entire lifetime. Today's one is a chance to stuff far too much food into already over-filled back pockets and drink far too much High-5 energy drink. The climb is soon over and it didn't hurt too much.

The last descent of the day is mostly on gravel roads with a bit of fast singletrack. Dave is much faster than me on the gravel downhills and seems to be immune to the gnawing uneasiness that grips me on off-camber ball bearings. There is more tarmac which takes us down to the valley at insane speeds and then a few kms of undulating roads to the attenuated stage finish. Dave phones his daughter Katy to find she has become British Youth XC Champion - a superb achievement which knocks our 88th place out of 147 Masters into a cocked hat- so he allows himself a pint that evening. We chain-gang it up the 30kms of cycle path along the floor of the Zillertal Valley to the proper stage finish in Mayrhofen and fill our bellies with cheese and ham rolls and watermelon.

I feel much better for completing a stage, but still apprehensive about what tomorrow might bring.


Saturday, 18 July 2009

Day 1 Historical

Stuarts words were "if it pisses of rain is freezing cold and a bit of snow we will win"

We were kept awake by the rain all night the tent leaked and the gazebo had a pond feature inside it. It was freezing we get soaked packing up and there is snow on the hills, so its all looking good for the win:

We get a good soaking cycling into mittenwald to find that for the first time in Transalp history the stage is cancelled. Gutted.

We are now at the start of the next stage and will start our race in Reich. It hasn't stopped raining and at the highest point planned for the day there is 40cm of snow. So day 2 will miss out the 2200m peak and we will be timed for the first 55km before cycling another 34km to the stage finish village at Mayorhen. We will have sno to cycle thru at the earlier peak of 1700m.

Tonight we are sleeping in the van, thank god we have the gazebo to put all the stuff in. It is supposed to stop raining at midnight. if it doesn't tomorrow will be grim its as cold as Scotland in November

Friday, 17 July 2009

In Mittenwald.

Arrived in Mittenwald on Wednesday after a 30 hour journey from Dunfermline, though this did include a 5 hour rest stop in Peebles to allow Dave to do all his packing.

We have managed to get signed on for the race and we´re now just hanging around the town feeling increasingly nervous as Zero Hour approaches tomorrow morning at 10am. Having the "Scottish Cycling Team" van is attracting a lot of attention, particularly as it is being driven around town by three out-of-shape looking middle-aged blokes. Duncan, driver and team manager, is enjoying the Weissbier as Dave and I sip from water bottles and try to stay out of the sun.

All the other racers look impossibly fit and honed. I´ve got The Fear.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Annusol and Vaseline

I had my first dream about the Transalp and it had nothing to do with Annusol or vaseline, more on that later.

Stuart and I had arrived at the finish of the first stage and I had forgotten to pick up a ticket from the start which would allow me to check in. I couldn't finish the stage and I was frantically trying to find a solutiuon that didn't involve cycling back to the start.
There are of course no tickets required, it was, I think a stress dream. 6 Days to go and counting..........

Back to the Annusol and vaseline. Friday, Stuart and I meet up at Costco to buy provisions for the trip with bulk bags of pasta and cereal bars bought it was time to concentrate on the mdeical side of things. We had the trade packs of Ibuprofen and Paracetomal(with more than enough to off ourselves if it gets too much) but there was the secret lotion that Transrockie competitor Lesley had told me about. After my complaining about the pain experienced during fit your butt to the saddle Lesley had passed on the Transrockie secret potion given out by the medical team for those suffering in the nether region. Hamerroid cream mixed with vaseline offers an anasethetic soothing that no other cream, lotion or spray can match.

So it was that stuart and I ended up at Sainsburys pharmacy asking for Annusol cream to numb the area and vaseline for lubrication!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Not even a raised eyebrow from the assistant our school boy humour was not shared, we were in Edinburgh after all.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Steep frowning glories.


Chris and I did a circuit of Dark Lochnagar today. Starting in Braemar, we ride out of town on the road practising our "through and off" technique in a 1:15 ratio - 1 minute at the front for Chris, 15 for me. This takes us to Invercauld Bridge and then up into Ballochbuie Forest past some languid toffs watching a group of young stags and seemingly unimpressed by our vulgar presence. After a bit of navigational laziness, we get on the track out to Gelder Sheil and then up to the start of the path to Meikle Pap. I spot a pink dot in the distance and have to chase it down. It's a husband/wife combo and we soon leave them churning in our wake.

Chris suggests that we take a contouring trail around to pick up the path from Glas Allt Sheil rather than carrying bikes all the way up to the plateau. This looks a bit doubtful from afar but it turns out to be 100% rideable and takes us to a recently-surfaced path leading to the summit. We manage to ride a lot of this though one or two of the drainage ditches are just too wide to bunnyhop going uphill in the second lowest granny gear. There are a couple of steeper pitched sections where we are more or less compelled to carry the bikes, but we arrive quickly at the summit plateau, just in time to be enveloped in a rain shower. I'm glad that I've packed a waterproof and that the rain doesn't last, lest I be found out for being woefully under-prepared for a day in the mountains...

"Have you got a map, son?"
"Spare clothing?"
"First Aid kit?"
"Does piriton count?"

The way down from Lochnagar has some brilliant riding over sandy/rocky/peaty paths. There's another short push before it begins to head down to Loch Callater. This is one of those descents where you have to stop periodically to shake out your forearms. It's really absorbing biking, down steep rock-gardens and slabs, over drainage ditches and through some serpentine singletrack before spitting us out at Loch Callater Lodge.

We get back to the Glenshee road and consider the possibility of tacking on an ascent of Morven to round out the day. Were it just an ascent, the idea would be dismissed out of hand; however there is a pay-off in the form of a steep dotted line on the map which brings us right back to our starting point in Braemar. We start up Morven...

I'll not dress this bit up in fancy-dan prose - the climb up the land-rover track to the summit of Morven is a complete bastard. Probably not too bad in a Land Rover, but on a burly 5" full-suspension mountain bike, it's a complete bastard. I don't know how long it takes but it just seems to go on forever; never slackening or steepening particularly but just maintaining its complete-bastardness for many hundreds of metres. The sun has come out now and it's giving me a bit of an insight into what Transalp climbs might be like. Pleasingly, my legs don't hurt from the effort though I do start to develop a niggling ligament pain in my left knee and my right shoulder is aching like a ... complete bastard.

The summit of Morven is like a moonscape, albeit with a great big mobile relay tower pumping out gigawatts of microwave energy which further cooks my flesh and my brain. The descent turns out to be worth the suffering to get to the top and in what seems like no time we're back in Braemar buzzing from the adrenaline, or the microwave irradiation - hard to tell the difference sometimes.

(Apologies to languid toffs everywhere, including Lord Byron)

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Two and Half minutes

2.5 minutes its a pitiful time for any endurance sport but this was going to be my work out. It had to be at maximum effort, its going to make up for my inability to get out for a long ride and the poor week I've just had and its only 150seconds so how hard can it be? Very........

The Trans Cairngorms weekend made my total for that week 23hours but by Sunday the following week I had managed just over 2 hours. Travelling to and from Bournemouth for a British XC race in two days hadn't helped making me knackered without having done that much. At least I get to ride the course as Coach Dad. I'm begining to realise that fitting in training around life is as much of a challenge as physically doing the riding.

My bold plans had been to make amends and go out for a long road ride on the Sunday after recovering from 8hours travelling the day before and a late night. Suited and booted I leave the house to get my bike only for it monsoon down. I can't face going out in it and make an excuse of not wanting to get ill. The only thing for it is the 2.5 minute work out.

Some bods have done research that found that by doing a workout that consisted of five 30s maximum efforts with 5minutes rest in between gave the same aerobic benefit as riding for 2hours. It sound really easy warm up then ride at max for a mere 30seconds rest for 5 minutes and repeat. Riding the turbo you need a goal to make it bearable

The radio is on in the shed and warming up is a pleasant process. As the start of the first 30s approach I move onto the drops and shift into the big ring ready to start. Accelerating up to full speed my legs are a blur, I'm focused to get the max out of this workout I've been going for ages and I quickly check to make sure I don't do too much. 5 seconds have past and I am struggling to read the garmin as my vision is blurred after 10 seconds its a real struggle and I battle through to 20sseconds at this point my legs are screaming my heart is pumping and I'm getting slower. I now wish I had gone out in the rain. Finally its over and I flick the gears to as easy as possible just keeping my buckled legs turning. How does Chris Hoy sprint like this time after time? The minutes in between gives me times to adjust the Garmin display to have the time as big as possible so I can read it when I go cross eyed in pain. Only 2minutes to go.........

I manage the last four sessions the 5minutes rest are as much a time for mental recovery as its for physical. If only I had Heather Graham cheering me on. I think Stuart and I have found our official mascot for the Transalp

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Just testing...

This is posted from my phone. Which is nice; I'll be able to send daily updates from the race. Not sure if I can post photos, though the blog editor only seems to work in HTML mode so I might have to do some swotting.

Did an intervals session today, only because I was too damn lazy to get out of my bed early enough to go anywhere. Five sessions @ 5mins with 2 mins rest between them all at 85-90% intensity. Pretty tough but more manageable and no lactic burn. Anaerobic threshold must be getting pushed back.

This thing has taken over my life, but I guess it's a healthy obsession, unlike the one I had for Heather Graham. No wait - that one's still simmering away under the surface.

Saturday, 27 June 2009


I spent today in my shed trying to eradicate all the creaks and squeaks and rattles which had been plaguing me for the past month. Bike ones, that is.

The Kinesis, despite being a fine bike, has been suffering from intermittent ghost-shifting for a while. I thought I'd solved it by replacing the cassette and chainrings as well as a new chain and new jockey wheels but it was back with a vengeance last weekend. I'd also noticed that there was a lot of play in the rear hub. Closer inspection revealed loose chainrings and a bottom bracket so worn that there was 3mm of play at the end of the crank arms. Cumulatively not conducive to clean, crisp shifting.

So, new Hope BB, strip-down and re-assembly of the rear hub, a tightening of the chainring bolts as well as a quick look at the headset bearings and everything is nice and tight again. A quick birl around the neighbourhood and it all seems fine.

It's only three weeks until the Transalp starts. My training goes well some weeks, but stalls on others. Last week I clocked up 22 hours in the saddle, but this week I'm only on about 6, although the purchase of some Lusso gel shorts has made them more comfortable than last week's hours. My head is starting to swim with all the things we have to get prepared before we head off two weeks on Wednesday. Hopefully the bike is sorted. The body will just have to do. I'll maybe get to the end of the hundredpushups program and I'll get a few more hundred miles in the legs but I'm not going to become radically faster. I can certainly manage two 8-hour days in a row, even carrying a great big rucksack containing every piece of equipment that might possibly be needed for every conceivable circumstance and weather permutation on a June weekend in Scotland.

The next big dilemma is which outfits to take. Do Trinny and Susannah have a website?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Fit your Butt to the saddle

Stuart Conquers the First Climb

The program says 6 hrs followed by 5hrs the next day to "fit your butt to the saddle"

Stuart came up with a route round the Cairngorms 200Km and 4000m of climbing over two days. I think he was going for 11 hours in one day just to get it over with.

We started at Blair Atholl on the Saturday aiming to meet up at Glen tilt car park and leave at 9am. I slept in depsite the fact I was camping in Blair Atholl. Stuart had been pacing the car park questioning our meeting time and place until I woke up at 9:30 and called him. A quick drive to the car park and I was hurriedly getting ready while apologising for being such a plonker.

Bags packed and weighed down with enough clothes food and water for our trip we headed off up the old A9 from Blair Atholl. Its not comfy, the back packs extra weight make sitting dwon pedalling literally a pain in the butt. Stuart assures me that from his experience of a similar trip this will soon go away and we won't notice it. Oh how wrong he was.......

More immediate on my mind is that I realise I feel crap and Stuart seems to pedal away from me on every slight upward slope. Theres no oomphh in ma legs, the tank is empty, I am fecked before we start. Its role reversal from our last trip and Stuart reminds me its good practise for the Transalp when we'll both be knackered at different times and have to ride at the slowests pace.

Reaching the end of the road section we cross the A9 at the end of that "fast dual cariageway" and head into the hills. It starts raining and we pop on the waterproofs only for it stop raining as soon as we put the backpacks on. The butts are better now, Stuarts predictions seems to be working out and we optimistically start thinking about lunch at Glenmore lodge.

Its a steady fireroad type climb to start with and we make quick progress with a aquick photo stop at the top of our first climb. From here its a bit of a blurr I am in survival mode just riding keeping a steady tempo. When we stop I just want to lie down and sleep, I do lie down every time we stop. Stuarts is skipping along offering words of encouragement and Nuun Tablets . Part of the problem is I am dehydrated a combination of poor hydration the day before a 2.5hr road ride in the evening followed by a couple of pints. Its like a lesson in what NOT to do before a big day out and one that is being stamped in my head and body continually on this ride to be remebered for the Transalp. Nuun tablets I hope are going to allow me to get back to normal.

The riding changes into singletrack and we follow a fantastic route along the side of a loch. Its engaging riding twisting and turning with rock obstacles and the occaisional peat wheel sucking pit of doom. There is no better type of riding you have to think ahead all the time and we both get into our flow. Well Stuart does....I am still surviving.

The weather by this points has decided to play ball and relpicate the sunny warm conditions we hope to meet during the Transalp. If its raining freezing cold and there is snow at the top of very mountain pass of the Transalp there might be some Scottish winners this year as the Euros seize upo in the cold.

Popping onto the road above Ruthven Barracks we stop for a snack and some sunbathing before practising our road thru and off riding to Feshie Bridge. getting back on the bikes after a stop is a reminder of the pain in the butt. Its worse on the road where there is no respite of moving around on the bike but at least the ground is smooth.

From Feshie bridge we are back off road and after a short fire road section we are on some fantastic fast flowing singletrack. The sun is out and there is just enough wind to keep the midge at bay. Its the best riding you can get anywhere. By now we are getting closer to Aviemore/Glenmore lodge and lunch is looking more like dinner.

Loch Morlich comes into view and we are both on silent running, meaning we are tired and in need of food. With only a few kms to go we start talking about what we are going to order and the speed picks up a bit.

Scottish hospitality? Glenmore Forestry Cafe doesn't seem to have quite got the concept. Seeing the cafe we cycle quickly up the hill to the cafe and lean the bikes on the stand quickly congratulate each other on getting here before the cafe closes at 5pm. Walking into the cafe we are both fixated on the cake stand and at first miss the large sign which says the kitchen is closed. The woman behind the counter tells us they close in 15minutes and no they can't do any soup and really the impression we get is that they don't want to do anything because they want away at 5pm on the dot.

Disgusted we head down the hill to the cafe beside the campsite. They are the opposite of the forestry and despite having run out of soup offer to heat up some tinned soup and make fresh rolls up. So if you are in Glenmore avoid the forestry cafe and head to the cafe beside the campsite.

Refueled and somewhat rehydrated on my part we head out of Glenmore to our final destination of the day Tomintoul. As we hit the trails going out everyonelse is heading in for the evening. Its one last push onto Tomintoul.

Its fast rocky wide highland trails and we eat into the miles. The evening sun is out and its an idyllic night. At this point of the day it becomes a mind game to keep going and push on. We have several heart sinking moments thinking we have to ride foreboding tracks that go sharply up off into the horizon until we check the map and find ours isn't quite as bad.

The final section to Tomintoul shows a track following the river we have dry feet at this point. The track then proceeds to cross the river 12 times along the valley floor.

With wet feet we squelch into the best B&B in Scotland, well it feels like it. Argyll House in Tomintoul is highly recommended. Bike wash when we arrive luxury breaksfast choice and friendly hospitality. Its worth every penny. A quick shower out for something to eat and then we head back exhasuted for an early night.

Breakfast is kingsize, with special creamy porridge plus a full coooked breakfast. Maybe not the best choice but delicious. We decide that a walk to the village green is required to settle our food and work up to the day ahead.

Getting on the bikes is a sorry affair. The body is sore all over so even lifting a leg over the bike is a challenge at first but its nothing compared to sitting down. Every small bump is amplified by a bruised butt and the back packs are at their heaviest with full water bladders. Riding up the river Avon in the sun does make up for it in some way though.

We have just adjusted to riding Tarmac and sitting dwon when we hit dirt road and its like being continually kicked up the rear end in the same place, ouch ouch ouch ouch. The singletrack by Loch Builg is a relief in many ways and its tempting to go and sit in the cold water to numb the sore area.

At this point we meet a group riding from Tomintoul to Ballater to raise money for British Heart Foundation. We stop for a chat and find that some of them are not regular cyclsists which explains why they were walking the singletrack. We carry on and hit the major climb of the day. Its a challenging climb(those non cyclists will have a long walk) with the hardest part sitting down on all the bumps to keep traction. From there we descend down onto the road to Braemar with a slight hike a bike detour through the forest after our first navigation error.

Refueling at Braemar we are in good spirits heading for Linn of Dee and the final stretch down through Glen Tilt and back to the cars. Getting on the bikes is worse now and we pick up some ibuprofen to numb the pain for the next 6 road miles. it takes about 10mins for the pain to settle down while sitting.

The highlight from here is the fantastic singletrack at the op of Glen Tilt to the falls of Tarf. I last rode it on my Pace hardtail with 65mm of fork travel, it felt pretty extreme then. This time its lot easier less heart in mouth and more pure fun. We both take it easy with the Transalp only 3weeks away we can't afford to fall off.

Glen Tilt appears to go downhill to Blair Atholl but every time I have ridden it, it feels hard work and there is always a head wind. Stuart and I team time trial it down the Glen replicating the type of effort we will have to do at the end of the Transalp.

Back at the cars we congratluate each other and conclude we could ride again tomorrow.

The butt has definately been fitted to the saddle.

My butt is now the perfect shape of the specialized Phenom saddle

Tuesday, 9 June 2009


I once had a conversation on the tube in London which went something* like this:

Cockney Geezer: "Awlroight sahn?"
Me: "Yup. Good. Yourself?"
CG: "Nahhh. Worried abaht me 'ealfh, ain't oye"
Me: "Your ELF?! You have an ELF? What, er, seems to be wrong with it? Do you not need a licence to keep an ELF?"
CG: ....

I've been paranoid about my 'elf for the past six months. I haven't had a post-Christmas cold for the first time in living memory, but being a bit of a malingering hypochondriac, I'm convinced that every slight sniffle is going to develop into West Nile Hemorrhagic Fever and the Transalp would become a distant dream. I'd managed to convince myself that I'd developed some kind of exercise-induced asthma as a way to explain a mild but persistent cough which was bugging me after bike rides. Convincing my doctor was less straightforward and I somewhat overlooked the fact that he is a professional sceptic who was never likely to indulge my feeble bleating by giving me lots of performance-enhancing steroid-based drugs. Instead he listened patiently before prescribing me with a peak-flow meter and a grid to chart it on. When I told him about the Transalp, he decided a chest X-ray and an ECG might be a good idea too - best to be on the safe side, eh?

I had to measure peak-flow at rest and then one minute after strenous exercise. A discrepancy of >15% could be an indication of an asthmatic type problem. My readings were 720 l/m before and 700 l/m afterwards. Doc wouldn't buy this... He called me in for a chat about the ECG and the X-ray but only because the ECG technician had been worried that my resting heart rate was too low. 50bpm - hardly Miguel Indurain. The irony of this wasn't lost on me as I ran the gauntlet of grey patients smoking outside the hospital, all seemingly determined to accelerate their demise. Doc patiently explained to me that what had been troubling me was an exercise-induced cough.

This weekend had given cause for new alarm. I'd been feeling a bit crappy at work on Thursday and Friday, but I'd put it down to gorging myself on a kilo of cherries on Wednesday. I still managed 3 hours riding at Pitmedden on Thursday evening, but by Saturday I was starting to feel like someone had set about my kidneys with a baseball bat and I was peeing like a racehorse. This persisted until Monday with little sleep and a great deal of moaning. Things feel a lot better today and, all being well, I'll be back on the bike tomorrow, but I suspect I'll be hectoring the Doc again just in case I've got an exercise-induced kidney malady:

Doctor: "Yes Mr. Campbell, what is it now?"
Me: "Well doctor, I'm worried abaht me elf..."

*This conversation probably never happened, but why let the truth stand in the way of a long, rambling blog post?

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

A photo from the weekend

Originally uploaded by stuartie_c

Stuart looking awesome-ish at 10UTB.

Monday, 1 June 2009

10 Under the Ben.

Watch the video. I'll write something once I've finished building the workbench in the shed.

The next day...

Finished. Looks good too, hinged so it can be folded out of the way. Must get a vice.

Last Saturday was Ten Under the Ben at Nevis Range. Chris and I had entered Vet Pairs hoping to improve on 10 laps and 18th place from 2 years ago. Of course, "10 Under" is a bit of a misnomer. In the early days it was a 10 mile circuit and the race lasted for 10 hours, except you are allowed to squeeze a final lap in provided it starts before the 10 hours are up and finishes before hour 11. Saturday's circuit was also quite significantly different to previous years. The main lap was in fact 11.2 miles in length and they decided on a prologue lap which really went round the houses and weighed in at 17 miles.

I was very pleased to see that the spirit-crushing climb up Lazy K had been left out (it was part of the descent on lap 1) but in its place was a climb up one of the downhill sections of the World Champs course. They had also included some nice rooty, muddy sections which most people couldn't ride (bread and butter to me after a winter of riding in local forests).

I did the first lap and spent most of the time battling past slower riders to find my natural place in the field. There were up to 480 riders out at any one time and this made for some close quarters racing in places, particularly at the usual bottlenecks like the watersplash near the top of the circuit and the drop down to the road near the start. It took 1 hr 30 mins for lap 1 and as usual I've gone out too hard. I try to rehydrate while Chris does his first lap but I've got a bit of a sore head from the effort and the "Powerbar" carb drink is making me a bit naseous. This persists through lap 2 so I eat lots during the downtime and switch to Nuun electrolyte tablets. They have a dramatically positive effect and on laps 3, 4 and 5 I feel pretty good; strong enough to sprint up the first long fireroad section in the big ring.

We finish on 9 laps in 10 hrs 41 mins. 39th place out of 186 pairs which is OK considering it was a very strong field (our time would have won the Quads category outright!). I felt like I was passing lots of people on my laps but didn't really notice other riders passing me (apart from the usual Glencroft Rabble blur). Average lap time for me was 1:06:37 and my times were pretty consistent on the main lap. I felt like I took it easy on the last lap but it was only 2 minutes slower. I cannot imagine what one needs to do to put in a 50 minute lap like the fastest riders...

Calories: 5337
Distance: 99.19km
Height: 1940m
Falls: 1
Max HR: 193bpm
Temperature: 28 C

"You like numbers, don't you Gregory?"

"Numbers make the world go round"

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Pain is just weakness leaving your body.

Getting to grips with interval training. Tuesday is intervals day according to Boot Camp. One straightforward approach to this is to do a warm up ride to Alloa and then do the interval sprints on the way back which is gently uphill. It's easy to control the heart rate because the surface is smooth. It takes about 40 minutes to warm up and I get one 5 minute interval in before the turn around. 5 minutes seems like a very long time when you're trying to maintain your heart-rate at 85-90% of the maximum. For me this is around 172-180 bpm.

The intervals on the way home are really tough: 5 mins on, 2 mins off to get the HR back down. The theory is that intervals make you faster and increase the anaerobic threshold. All the time I'm thinking that I don't need to be fast for a race like the Transalp, but it would be a handy attribute nonethless and there is the enticing possibility of finishing in 18th place rather than 19th in an SXC race to motivate me onwards through the pain.

Monday, 18 May 2009

SXC torture.

SXC round 3 was at Laggan yesterday. It's showery on the way up the road and I haven't slept very well.

After registration/faffing(on my part), Dave and I do a part-lap as a warm up before gathering at the back of the start corral. By the time the countdown reaches zero for the "auld 'uns" to go I've cooled down again so it's a rude shock to the system to have to sprint up the hill to catch Dave who has managed a better start without getting boxed in. I catch him on the first corner having overtaken what I imagine to be most of the Veterans' field.

I hang on to Dave up the long fireroad but I'm suffering from the initial effort. There's a lot of jostling for position as most of the Veterans' field pass us again, I imagine. After a few minutes I regain control of my breathing and swap places with Dave to try to reel in Sandy Wallace. The climb is OK and takes us up to the top of the Laggan Red trail. We catch Sandy on one of the corners on the first descent and then we're on to familiar, fast descents. There's a short singletrack climb before the long descent which Dave loses me on. Either he's too fat or I'm too skinny, but either way it favours him (I suspect there's a skill differential in there too, but I'm not going to consider that as a possibility).

We regroup on the fireroad after the finish line and try to keep the speed up on the climb. Laps 2-4 have a bit of mossy/rooty/muddy singletrack thrown in on the climb which is slow but is a nice break from trying to sprint up the road. Dave is starting to pull ahead on the climbs as well as leaving me on the downhills and I'm suffering a wee bit. We overtake one or two and a couple of the Elite females overhaul us. We try to stay with them for the view, "Might as well follow someone..." Dave notes.

The climbing hurts a bit but the whole experience is nowhere near as brutal as I imagined. The downhills are great fun and by the time we cross the finish line I'm tired but feeling pretty good. Maybe Boot Camp is having some kind of benefit after all. I manage the 4 laps in 1hr 34mins. Dave is 40 seconds quicker and the majority of the Veterans' field have been in for some time - Iain Nimmo wins in 1:16. Dave and I bag 17th and 19th place respectively from a field of 37 starters, which I'm fairly pleased with. Most of all, though, I really enjoyed myself and I'm hungry for more.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Boot Camp - week two.

I was a bit lax with Boot Camp last week. A mix of other commitments and a growing aversion to being cold and pish-wet through meant that I didn't do my 12 hours. Chris and I had a couple of hours at Glentress on Saturday which, for a Saturday, was strangely deserted. I think everyone else had gone home because it was raining and windy again. My car was aquaplaning on the way over to pick Chris up (no fault of my new "Goodride*" tyres which were hastily shoved on it to get it through its MOT). We put in a solid two hours at the end of which my bike had turned a uniform grey colour and we looked like mud-men effigies.

This week I've been much more diligent and I've really enjoyed my riding. Tuesday I rode to and from work and went exploring on the homeward leg. The wind has been pretty strong all week, from the east which means it's a bit on the cold side, but it blew me home via some excellent new commuting options which reduces the road:off-road ratio to around 1:4.

On Wednesday evening I met Dave at the Water of Leith carpark in Currie and we managed a good 3 1/2 hours in the Pentlands. The wind made it really hard work in places but it was a beautiful sunny evening. I felt really good and strong on the long hills like Monk's Rig up from Ninemileburn to West Kip, though still made an arse of the Green Cleugh climb, almost colliding with Dave ahead of me. We finished after sunset with the now customary descent of the Poet's Glen in the gloaming, using The Force to negotiate the last bit before the road.

I'm pretty confident in asserting that Scotland is the windiest country in Europe (which is enough to make it a fact), and the same wind is present on Thursday evening as well. Once again the sun is out and the local trails are lovely and dry. I get home at sunset, feeling a contentedness that not even the MP's expenses row can unbalance.

Friday. Rest. Tick.

Today (Saturday). Rain. Tick. Boot Camp demands 4 hours of flattish road riding with 2x45 min sessions at 80% intensity so I head out in the afternoon to tour the neighbourhood. An easy warm up takes me west to Allo-a where it seems to have rained more than it has in Dunfermline. I manage one of my 45 min sessions on the way back but I spend all of it cycling into the rooster-tail of muddy surface water thrown up by my front wheel. I'd dressed optimistically since it was quite warm and sunny when I left, but this has left me pish-wet through and cold. My feet are numb. It's mid-May, for crying out loud...

Unlike the rest of the week (and my new car tyres), today wasn't a good ride. Tomorrow is SXC torture at Laggan. I wonder what that will be like?

(* I'm too lazy to Google it, but wasn't there a James Bond lovely called something like Felicity Goodride?)

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Boot Camp begins.

This week is the beginning of the 11-week plan. Day 1 went perfectly - rest. Day 2 was meant to be speed work - 4x5 minute intervals at 90% intensity. Instead, I spent the evening lugging breeze blocks from the pavement up to the back of the garden which left me feeling exercised, even if it wasn't very speedy.

Tonight called for a long easy ride; 3hrs with 3x10 minute sessions at 80% intensity and hills at the end. Dave and I head for the Pentlands. I spend all day expecting/hoping for a text to say "Weather too pish. Not going" but it doesn't arrive so I get changed and head across to Currie to meet Dave. I've got a sore back from the breeze block "speed work" and I'm doped up on ibuprofen. And it's raining and windy. The ride starts with a nice warm up through the trees to Balerno but before long it heads up onto Exponential Hill and my heart rate is too high even in a very low gear. The training plan counsels "back off from the burn", but to do that I'd have to get off the bike and sit down for a while. It seems to take me ages to get properly warmed up and we're up the Red Road and onto Hare Hill before the strong wind is at our backs and I'm starting to feel comfortable.

The climb out of Green Cleugh is as hard as ever and I make the usual mistake of going at it in too low a gear so that I can't generate enough torque and my back wheel spins out. The fast descent down the side of Black Hill is pretty sketchy with a thin film of mud in places which causes some barely-controlled high speed drifts. When we reach the road at Glencorse we've only been on the move for 1hr 20 so we turn right up the road and into the wind, battling past Loganlea Reservoir and back towards Green Cleugh. The wind is being funneled through the narrow defile and we take 15 seconds each at the front to spread the workload. By the time we make it back to Exponential Hill, the "3x10 mins @ 80%" plan has gone right out the window so we enjoy the singletrack descent down beside the road and a quick return to the cars via Harlaw and the Poet's Glen. We're soaked to the skin and the bikes look like they've been on a typical winter ride. Boot Camp takes no prisoners.

I felt strong at the end of the ride, despite taking an age to warm up. Average HR - 159bpm. Dave's - 129bpm! I must have some hummingbird DNA.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Good Days and Bad Days

Good days the climbs are a breeze of swift pedaling clearing any obstacle that is presented and the descents are mastered with the speed of Steve Peat chasing that world cup title. At the end of the ride you feel like you could go on and on, there is a smug self satisfied feeling that it has been a good day.

The Knlochleven trip had been a good day the SXC had been a relatively good day. Today was not a good day. There are times when a drunk at the end of the night and a cyclist have a lot in common. Both are on auto pilot with the goals of getting home and getting food. The world looks different from normal and when you move your head from side to side the world moves at a different speed. This was how I had felt tonight for the last part of my ride. Low blood sugar is very like being drunk just a lot more painful.

The plan was for Katy and I to cycle on the road from my home to my mum and dads where we were to have dinner at 7:30. The route was round Cademuir along to Innerleithen on the back road then over the granites to Goredbridge before taking the retun road over the moor past Roseberry estate then onto the A703 through Eddleston. Google maps said something like 45miles I can't remember exactly and I am still in recovery mode. In other words it wasn't that long a cycle for someone who is doing the Transalp in July.

The training schedule Stuart and I are following for the 11 week lead up to the race says vary the pace don't ride medium all the time. So with that in mind I would do some 3minute efforts during the ride.

We eventually got away from the house at 5:15 then we had some faffing with my seat and the Katys cleats on her new bling shoes on our way to Inners. The wind was right in our face and this continued the whole way round our circular route. It was sunny so our spirits were high and we swapped the lead working together to share the wind like a Tour de France break away going for the finish line. Cresting the climb up the granites from Inners was the signal to start the first effort. Katy would follow in my slip stream with her restricted youth gears making it difficult to keep up with me.......well that was the theory. I lasted about 30s then my engine spluttered and stalled I let Katy slip in front and I watched as she disappeared of in the distance. I didn't know it then but here was a perfect example of a good day(katy) mixed with a bad day(me). I caught up after the 3minutes had passed and she slowed down.

We had some climbing after this and the ever present wind meant we were that Tour de France breakaway again swapping the lead. Only this time I was the guy you see on the Tour who is struggling never quite doing enough work and you know he isn't going to be there to contest the win its just a matter of when. Over the top its 3minute effort time, Katy shoots off and I grit my teeth and give it everything to catch her slip stream clawing my way slowly forward into the relief from the wind. After I recover and can see straight I notice we are flying down the hill despite this damned wind. I take a short spell at the front but really there is nothing in the tank.

At this point I feel okay although I know I'm not in top form. We follow a network of back road with very few signs using the Pentlands and Arthurs seat as navigation aids. The wind is relentless sapping every pedal stroke and the cold is eking away any energy that is left. There is nothing for it but dig in and keep slogging away. When we hit a short downhill followed by a short steep uphill Katy comes flying past me powering up the climb and it hits me I am done in,my legs are like two pieces of lead, I creep up the hill after her. At the top we stop so I can text my parents to let them know we are okay, its 7:30 we will be late for dinner. I shake my head and know all is not right the world is moving much slow than it should, I feel slightly detached and my legs are fecked.

The road crossing the moor from Gore bridge to the Peebles/Edinburgh Road(A703) is a great cycling road. Its quiet, the scenery is fantastic and its interesting with lots of turns and undulations. I don't care, it feels like a Siberian wind is cutting into me, its pushing me backwards, I just want to get home and more than anything I want to eat.

Katy and I do some swapping of the lead but the reality is that I do about 10% on the front just to give her a bit of breather and she drags me along 90% of the time. My legs somehow keep going and finally I see Cowieslinn quarry in the distance which is the other side of the A703.

Down on the main road the wind is less than on the exposed moor road and its time for the final 3minute effort. The cereal bars I had 20 mins ago must be taking effect because I decide to follow Katy keeping in her slip stream for the effort. She sprints off and its agony getting out of the saddle straining my muscles to their limit to keep up and get into the treasured slipstream. 500metres later both my legs lock up with cramp and screaming in agony I skid to a halt unable to get off the road or get off my bike. Katy comes back to check on me and eventually I can make enough small movements without the extreme agony of cramping locked muscles to get off the road. Once I have recovered Katy heads off for her final 3minutes effort while I concentrate on the effort of turning one pedal after the other to get home.

The look on my mum and dads face when we arrive is like the time I broke my wrist or fell of the roof and cracked my heal bone or the time I came off my road bike outside the house and took all the skin off my forearm and had a large hole in my elbow. Well you get the idea I didn't look well. Lindy was less worried having seen me in much worse states. I sat down immediately and ate everything put in front of me thanking Katy for getting me home. It was 8:30 we had battled that damned wind for 3 hours and 7 minutes

A bad day I hope I don't have any of them during the Transalp................

Monday, 27 April 2009



Dave was off racing at the weekend. SXC round 2 at Aberfoyle; 2 hours of maximum-intensity riding where you explode out from the start line like luridly-dressed greyhounds, except not chasing a rabbit. I had intended to be there too and Dave and I would ride together, slugging it out in the Veterans race (I've only ever done one of these races, so I'm not sure I'm really a veteran, other than by virtue of not being all that young anymore). However, a day's vigorous gardening, removing concreted-in washing poles and hacking at tree roots with a shovel, immediately following the Kinlochleven ride had caused my war-wound to flare up. Unlike The Major in Fawlty Towers, this isn't a white-hot shard of burning shrapnel embedded in my flesh, but a bit of a sore wrist caused by nothing so heroic as the defence of the realm, rather a hapless scaphoid fracture caused by falling off first a bus shelter and, later, a bike.

Riding to work last week was giving me a lot of pain, even though most of it was on smooth roads, so I baled out of the race. Not that I'd baled in in the first place, but the intention had been there. I decided on a weekend of long, gentle-paced rides. Saturday evening was a 2-hour local ride, taking in the best of West Fife's mythical singletrack. Everything is dry. So dry, in fact, that the climb up to Craigluscar Hill is actually rideable without stopping, sliding or vomiting. The gorse smells fantastic and the air is full of birdsong. The sun shines and a light breeze fans my brow as I zip along twisting, narrow trails over roots and rocks, dodging between trees and riding like a God. Even The Dean is dusty and the mud is parched and cracked, although I steer clear of the Heart of Darkness in case the spell is broken. In my exultation I compose paragraphs and paragraphs of utter pish for the blog.

On Sunday I pick Chris up and we drive to Peebles. It's breezy but sunny and I only put a jacket in my pack after a debate. We head out of town onto the John Buchan Way while Chris expounds on the Imperialist sympathies of the eponymous author. The trail takes us over Cademuir Hill with a lovely descent down towards the Manor Valley. We ride past Dave's house, stopping to admire his shed, before climbing into the forest and up to the reassuringly-named Dead Wife's Grave. There's a very fast, white-knuckle descent back to the Tweed Valley then a long drag up the road into the strengthening wind. Some off-road tracks lead us through fields alive with the calls of lapwings before getting back to the road. We shelter behind a hedge to eat some lunch and escape the worst of the effects of the fresh air.

I'm blithely ignorant of what is to follow. We ride on up the road past the (defunct) art-deco Crook Inn and then turn left. The track winds up through a farm and on into another plantation. Suddenly it rears upwards and climbs from 200m up to the summit of Broad Law at 840m. It's a remarkable climb which simply doesn't let up in all its 4km. I get into a low gear and sit at a comfortable cadence with my heart rate at around 140. I feel good, as though I could do this all day. Things steepen a bit through some switchbacks to reach the forest boundary and I stop to wait for Chris. Obviously it has started to rain and the wind is intensifying from that most cardinal of compass points, the side. There is one section where I have to stop and push because it's just too damn steep and rubbly, but after that I ride to the top and it feels OK. We eat some more and get colder and colder.

Our route from Broad Law follows the line of a fence over some bleak Borders hills. The riding is less than enthralling and before long we're reduced to pushing with cold hands and feet as the rain lashes us and drains any vestiges of warmth from our bodies. What started as a pleasant Sunday ride has suddenly turned into a gruesome death-march which makes me want to sell all my bikes and spend the rest of my life sitting on the sofa eating crisps and watching shite programmes on a 98-inch plasma TV. And so it continues over Dollar Law and onto Pykestone Hill. I've been here before, back in December, with Dave; we were cold then too. Darkness at Noon.

Weather can determine moods and when the sun comes out and the malevolent clouds clear we're at the start of the fabled 4-mile downhill back to Peebles. Dave and I failed to find this back in December, but today it is revealed to us like the path of the righteous. It takes a wee bit of navigation as well as a bit of faith, but it's there as long as you believe. It is sublime in places; a tenuous and almost invisible line through the heather. We ride as fast as we dare in the late afternoon sun. The lapwings and oystercatchers have emerged once more to herald our exultant return to warmth and light and... Peebles.

My wrist hurts from too much typing. Just stats next time.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Racing Hurts

The idea was for Stuart and I to race the SXC race at Aberfoyle together riding as we would in the Transalp. This would be a chance to practise under race conditions. However an old wrist injury aggravated by that punishing ride from Kinlochlevel put Stuart out of the picture. Unfortunately I had already entered and it was too late to pull out.

Its been over 2 years since I had raced a MTB. Aberfoyle had not been used as a race circuit for a number of years, I remembered it having a descent which if it was wet would be very tricky.

We arrive at the race venue and its raining oh no. Everyone says its a technical course so we head out on a lap recce. Its is technical, two fireroad climbs interlinked by a singletrack climb and short descent before the long descent down to the start/finish area. There are roots everywhere and its muddy and slippy. There is the descent I remember, it has a steady introductory root maze before plunging steeply down a rocky area into a corner that catapults you onto the final section of dwon steep littered with large roots all going down to the stream crossing. Hit this descent with too much speed and there is no way of stopping or even steering. I manage 2 clear runs out of 4 during the race.

I get a good start in the race in with the lead group up the first fire road section only to find I don't have the race speed to keep going and settle down to my own pace as people steadily overtake me on the fireroads. I then overtake them on the descents. This pattern continues throughout the race. The climbs are painful but I know that if I can keep someone in sight on the fireroad I can catch them on the final descent.

The race is 4 laps and I finish in 1hr 50mins about mid pack. I've gone as fast as I can but I could go on for a another couple of laps so its looking good for the Transalp which will be at a slower pace I hope. It was great fun and I'm looking forward to the next one I just need to work on my fireroad speed.

Oh and by the end of the race it was very very muddy.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Blame the bike.

Not fast enough uphill? Blame the bike! Not fast enough downhill? Blame the bike! Not keeping up with your mate on the level? Not having a good day? Having trouble on even the most moderate technical riding? Got a few aches and pains? Feel like doing some childish whinging? Blame the bike!

It's easy when you get the hang of it: just build up a repertoire of mechanical issues and pull them out of the bag whenever the heat is on. Here's a few basic ones to be going on with:

  • Tyres too soft/hard
  • Gears jumping/not indexed properly
  • Cables dirty
  • Seat too low/high
  • Brakes dragging
  • Suspension too hard/soft/rebound damping too slow/fast

There are many more creative ones as well which, unlike those above, can't be quickly and easily solved with nothing more elaborate than an Allen key or a pump. The real skill is being able to use all of these excuses on the same ride without getting a punch in the face, or some withering abuse at the very least.

Dave and I did a 74km circuit yesterday, starting in Kinlochleven. Kinlochleven is a funny town; the setting for Patrick McGill's "Children of the Dead End", it has a weird, cut-off feel about it, as though it existed in another realm entirely. It's hemmed in by big mountains which have lots of trails leading into them making for some outstanding descents on a bike. If you start a ride here, conversely, it means going uphill steeply for a long way. Our ride takes us up the road to Mamore Lodge and on to Loch Eilde Mor and then down to cross the Abhainn Rath at Luibeilt. The weather is perfect, apart from an easterly wind. We stop after the river crossing for some food and to drink in the splendid views. The onward route crosses a col before a (disappointing) descent to Lairig Leacach bothy. It's all really hard work. The surface is very rough and maintaining forward momentum is difficult (blame the suspension settings!).

We make good fast progress from the bothy into and through Leanachan Forest and on through Inverlochy to get to Glen Nevis and the start of the WHW back to Kinlochleven. It's a long fire-road climb and I need my bag of excuses again (gears jumping, brake discs dragging). We're greeted by a pretty French girl (probably) at the top who flashes us a winning smile and revitalises our flagging mojos. The last leg is unremittingly rough and punishing. The surface is strewn with loose gravel and boulders for mile after torturous mile until we reach the merciful sign pointing downhill back to the start. All my contact points are numb from the 5 1/2 bone-shaking hours in the saddle, but I manage to ride the rocky descent back to the road and actually enjoy it. My arms are screaming at the bottom and I'm very glad to be back at the van.

"So are you still going to ride the Kinesis in the race?", Dave asks.
"I'll reserve judgement until a suitable period of sober reflection has passed, but right now I just want to throw the fecking thing in the bin".

Now that was a proper mountain bike ride. I went through all three of my emotions (hunger, tiredness and disappointment) and emerged with a big smile on my face.

R1012415 Click the pic for more.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

18 hours? Every week?

Actually no...

I found the email that Dave had sent me detailing the 12-week plan for an MTB stage race. It's actually an 11 week plan AND it doesn't advocate spending 18 hours every week on a bike. Sure, some of the weeks involve somewhere between 15-18 hours, but most are lighter and key components are periodisation (whatever that is) and rest, which I'm really quite adept at. Lesson: read emails properly and listen carefully.

I managed to squeeze about 16 hours in this week... so here's a picture of a Yellowhammer.

Friday, 10 April 2009

The Sheildaig Effect

Today's ride (boiled down to stats and some terse ramblings because I'm too knackered to focus on a monitor)

Time: 4h 18m
Distance: 77.7 km
Average HR: 149bpm
Average speed: 18.1km/h
Height gain: 980m
Calories: 2834

Jaysus! How many calories?!

On paper this looked like an easy 5 hours over around 50 miles with little climbing. However the climbing was very deceptive. No big climbs but a murderous and seemingly never-ending series of short hills; what is known as the Sheildaig Effect, for the undulating road from Applecross to Sheildaig. The cumulative effect is physically and psychologically draining, particularly since the second half of today's ride is an out-and-back along the Great Glen Way beside Loch Lochy. The return is into the wind. Then it starts fecking raining. Again. My mood is black and I'm cursing all the extra weight I'm having to lug around to facilitate 5" of utterly superfluous suspension travel

On the upside, I did see a pine marten. And the gorse is in bloom. And the curlews are here. In fact, were it not for the awful bloody weather, you could be forgiven for thinking that Spring is here.

That'll do for today. I'm starving and must eat. So far I've had my dinner and anything else I can find that isn't nailed down; 3 cheese & onion toasties, bananas, crunchies, chocolate biscuits. If the cat's not quick it might be going to bed without its supper.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

10 down, 8 to go

I managed 4 hours yesterday.

Having watched the blustery showers come and go all morning, I set off from Glen Nevis at 2pm to ride to Kinlochleven and back on the WHW, reckoning on 2 hours each way. The first part of this ride is a slog up fire roads which just don't seem to get any easier. There is a grotesque new road bulldozed through the forest where the WHW used to cross a fence at the walk up to the old vitrified fort and this seems to go all the way to Lundavra. The trail proper ducks off to the left quite soon after the fence and I'm into some nice techy riding down steep, rocky switchbacks followed by tricky climbs up wet steps. All very involving. There are lots of cheerful walkers around, no doubt delighted that they are nearly at the end of the trail.

The ride to Kinlochleven is rough and there is a lot of surface water, but it feels quite easy for the most part. I ride the lovely rocky descent down to the Mamore Lodge road, but take it easy as it would look very foolish to injure myself here, alone and a long way from home. The road up to Mamore Lodge is very steep but it's over quickly. A glance at the GPS shows that I'm going too fast; it has taken less than two hours to get to the turning point. The wind comes to my rescue, however, blowing into my face all the way home. I'm relying on some energy chews to keep me going and although they are a disgusting "orange" flavour, they seem to be very effective because all the hills seem easy, even into the wind. The GPS runs out of power at the Clach nan Caimbuelach just on 3 hours so I remove a stone from the cairn as tradition dictates and dawdle home enjoying the nice technical riding in reverse.

4 hours car-to-car. Today is a rest day so I need to get 8 bike-hours in on Friday and Saturday.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Mission: Unpossible.

It's Tuesday and so far this week I've clocked up 6 hours on the bike. That's 3 hours on Sunday, 1 hour yesterday and 2 hours today. I'm trying to see just how feasible it is to fit in 18 hours in a single week, and the first week of my fortnight holiday seems a good time to conduct such an experiment. If I make it, I have all of next week to recover. If, instead, I reduce myself to a quivering amoeba, I have all of next week to recover.

My plan centres around getting two big rides in; 6 or 7 hours in a single day. The circuit from Spean Bridge to Fort William to Kinlochleven via the WHW then on to Luibeilt and back to Spean Bridge via the Lairig Leacach would be a good place to start. 66kms, 1800m of climbing taking in a circumnavigation of the Nevis Range hills, the Grey Corries and the Mamores. It all hinges on the crossing of the Abhainn Rath which can be un-possible in spate. I've been watching the local rivers to try to gauge how much water the hills are shedding. Most of the snows seem to have gone, but it's still the time of year when river crossings are a pretty hit-or-miss affair.

I arrange to meet Dave at Laggan this afternoon. He's been up north with his son Andrew, and Laggan is on his way home. I get there around lunchtime in April sun, with a backdrop of showers. I manage a couple of laps of the upper and lower red circuits before the showers become more than a backdrop at which point I retire to the cafe to drink coffee. Reasoning that caffeine is an ergogenic aid (not something you have to go to Ann Summers for...), I'm hoping that my performance will be enhanced by the time Dave arrives and the rain shower has passed. Alas, when he does eventually show, I've drunk far too much and have started to twich involuntarily. It's also pishing down. Thus no more riding of bikes takes place and the Abhainn Rath is swelling tumescently.

Twelve hours to go to meet my target... Hmmmm... This will be hard going when I have to fit in a 9-3:35 job. Ergogenic/performance-enhancing aids will be of little use if I can't thole a little rain. Maybe I need to prescribe myself 500mg of HTFU.

(Don't click that last link if you're at work as you might be fired. Also don't click it if you're easily offended. If you're at work and you're easily offended, HA HA!)

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Turps through a sick donkey...

I've not been riding for a few days. Last weekend was a family gathering at the Nest of Fannich to mark the 100th anniversary of the moment Duncan Campbell, my Great, Great Grandfather, died. My ancestral home is a sad sight nowadays since it was burned to the ground around 10 years ago. There are rumours of skulduggery surrounding its demise, involving a road installed by the new estate owners which cost around about the same as the Nest was insured for...

Anyway, I digress.

My plan was to ride to work every day of the last week of term, but laziness prevailed on Monday morning and by Monday evening I was feeling a bit shite. Two days of chills, fever and frequent toilet visits followed before I made it back to work on Thursday. A persistent sore head kept me from riding at all during the week, reasoning that I'd better let the bug pass (so to speak). So it was Sunday before I managed to get back to riding.

Time to visit the Lomonds. I meet Dan at midday and we head out on a loop from Markinch. I'm breathing too hard on what should be pretty straightforward climbs. Dan cleans the climb up to the East Lomond car park and I manage it with only one dab, but feel knackered, as though I'd not ridden for months. We get to Glen Vale, which is usually a fairly accurate facsimile of the first day of the Battle of Verdun, but today it is actually dry. The descent to the road is a delight as well - fast and swooping with the occasional two-wheel drift in the loamy soil. The payback is a grinding climb back up onto West Lomond. Dan rides an impressive portion of it as I churn in his wake with my bike on my back. Usually I can do this no problem, but today I just feel weak. No energy, aching back, sore head-weak. Even when we get to the downhill, I have no real go and my quads are cramping. Signs of something amiss. I think my stomach bug has depleted my mineral levels and I haven't properly replenished them.

Nevertheless, it was an excellent ride, taking 3 hours for 39km with 900m of ascent, but it wasn't anywhere near as comfortable as it should have been 3 months into the training. It's only two weeks to go before we start on Dave's Twelve Week Plan. This involves up to 18 hours a week riding a bike.

I've got The Fear.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Back riding and in a ditch

The chest cold has gone and finally after almost two weeks I am back riding again. I have had three ride in three days including riding with some fast kids and I felt good. One of the rides was at Drumlanrig the trails were amazing dry fast rooty and thoroughly involving, the sun even shone I was in heaven.

Today was a road ride with K and I crashed after 10minutes. I had noticed before that my road bike had a tendency to slip out when conditions were damp but I didn't expect a two wheel drift round a corner. I approached the corner at a moderate speed and leant over only for the bike to start to drift, a quick correction and then lean and slide again. I managed this twice including a bit of braking in between but with the corner on a steep hill I had little time and slowing down wasn't an option. I almost had it when I hit the verge and went flying over the bars landing in a heap covered in mud down one side with the bike flipping ending up in heap in the road. Luckily I was unhurt soft landing and so was the bike so we could continue our ride.

2hrs 15mins into a howling wind but I am just glad to be riding my bike again. Pic to follow.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

No Mates

Stuart's pals leave him behind.

I ended up doing a Stuartie-no-mates ride this afternoon after getting up at 7am to drive to the Sma' Glen near Creiff to discover a brake pad had parted company with the backing plate (I'll leave you to speculate on the make...). Being pretty disorganised, generally, I only had some Avid pads with me for my Shimano brakes. Doh! What an eejit.

So I had to leave the others to it and drive home to replace the pads. Consolation prize was a great (if rather short) ride in the Ochils from Tillicoultry to the Silver Glen to Ben Cleuch and then down the brilliant descent to Mill Glen.

This is half an hour from home - bring on the longer evenings now that the Vernal Equinox has passed.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

CRAFT moment?

This morning was beautiful. Slight easterly breeze, sun up at 6am, cool. I headed off to work at 7 and realised when I got to the top of the hill before Auchtertool that I'd forgotten the camera I'd laid out last night.

So you'll just have to picture the scene...

winding country road, a copse of beech trees to the left with the ever-present buzzard on a nearby fencepost; there is a wrought-iron sign for "Auchtertool Kirk" which sits beside the stark skeleton of a long dead oak and perfectly frames the view east over the mist-filled valleys to north Berwick Law and the Bass Rock in the distance.

I didn't beat my Dun -> Kdy time today, though I was faster to the Mosmorran roundabout; however coming home was superb. Light wind from the NE, sprinting up all the hills in the big ring before taking a detour to ride the singletrack from Cowdenbeath to Crossgates. I made it home in 1hr and 1min, 3 minutes quicker than my fastest time on the usual route which is 2km shorter.

Last post, I vowed to go slow and take some pictures. Double fail. Sometimes I Can't Remember A Fecking Thing...


Illness is a factor in any training preparation that is best limited wherever possible. Mine started last Sunday after riding with a Talent team rider. I had felt okay but suffered on the hills. It was when I got home and suddenly felt like I had to sit down and rest that I knew something wasn't right. My throat had been a bit hoarse in the morning but nothing of note. Monday morning and I was officially ill, by Tues it was a struggle to get up body all sore and my voice sounded like I smoked 40 a day. So i'm faced with enforced time of the bike, although I did manage a 2hour ride on Friday as part of my work mostly sessioning sections(mmmm not like work really)

With that time of my bike I have time to ponder bike setup and why my hands get sore on certain runs at Glentress. I phoned TF tuned and they tell me my forks rebound can't cope therefore the forks pack down. I've tried several different grips and varied the settings on my forks so this seems to make sense. So now the question is do I upgrade my Rebas with a PUSH upgrade or just sell them and go for seomething new????????????????????????