Monday, 1 October 2018

3 Peaks Cyclocross 2018

pic. Steve Fleming
See that face of concentration, that's because I've realised there's a faint whiff of a chance of a sub 3.30 time (which is a big deal in the 3Peaks world) and I'm hanging on for grim death trying quite hard to get off the final descent as quickly as possible, but without spleening it or puncturing. Both common occurrences.
I never ever thought I'd get near this, but a 3.31 in the end is cruelly just not good enough. Twelve minutes off last years time, so pleased as punch with that.
Preparation for this year went well; started training in good time, running / skiing though the winter, lots of early summer miles in, then settled into the Espresso Cycle Coaching schedule once again masterminded by David Lines. This is all designed around my busy work / family life and involves shorter more intense sessions, which seem to do the trick for me. Lots of indoor turbo stuff, unpleasant, but effective.
Form was coming on nicely with a win at the first Scottish Cyclocross race at Bute a fortnight before the Peaks and weight was right down at scrawny, malnourished look, perfect. Even time this year for a nice taper to get rid of the constant fatigue of heavy training.
I made a few changes to the bike, as a mountain biker I've always struggled descending on the drops so I raised the bars a bit, fitted a shorter stem and wider bars
Would still like hydro cross top levers - come on Hope!
Usual pre race plan; down a day early, set out cached bottles (this worked well again) then hook up with the fast Scottish contingent (Gary and Ewan) to scope out some lines off of Whernside - the hardest descent. This was a good thing, recorded an almost reasonable split time on this part.
Like last year, nervous the night before, but ate and slept well and arrived at the race venue nice and early for a wee pedal around to settle the nerves and wake the legs up.
That Start! It doesn't get any nicer, got a better start line position though and managed to get near the front for the key turn off the tarmac over the cattle grid (scene of many a crash) and onto the first of the off road sections.
First checkpoint after the horrendous slog up Ingleborough and I was up on time a wee bit, but by the checkpoint at the bottom of the hill I was well up on last years split. Grabbed my bottle on a cane (always a wee boost to morale when I see it's still there) and head down for a fast roadie bit to the next hill. No help on this leg, just head down and pedal hard.
The next hill, Whernside, is a real leg killer, with hundreds of stone steps at just the wrong height. However, time split on reaching the top was way up, it was at this point I stated thinking sub 3.30!
A cracking descent followed, following Gary MacDonalds advice of 'just batter down the slabs' passed loads of crashed riders or those dealing with punctures - my tubeless @45psi got through it aok though.
Down off the hill safely and the last bottle stash was collected from a handy bush near the viaduct, and unlike last years bottle cage fail, I was able to drink all the contents before the last climb (no point taking it up the hill)
The last climb is different to the first two in that most of it can be pedalled, well, with a 38x42 it can! Like last time great crowd support, really lifts the spirits to get cheered on, the crowds are what make this such a special event. Same has to be said for the marshalls, always cheery and they've been stuck out in the cold and the rain all day, not just for 3.30 hours!
 3.10 split at the summit. Aaagh sub 20mins to the finish! I know I can't do that, this descent rewards the fearless 'brakes off' types.
I can't descend like the best of them, the consequences of spleening it and being possibly stuck in a hospital hundreds of miles from home and family play on my mind too much.
These days I'm more safe and steady.
Anyhoo a minute quicker down off the hill than last year, then the final lung busting few miles to the line - saw some riders, chased them, caught them, didn't look back, heart rate here 183! 3.31 and a handful of seconds, delighted, but 4th in cat and off the old buggers podium. Damn.
Really don't know how I could go any quicker, don't even know if I'll do it again, it's such a huge effort to prepare for this race, but could I possibly find that extra minute or so....

Thursday, 7 June 2018

NC500 For Bicycles

I'm so rusty at doing these updates, I couldn't even remember how to log in.
Anyhow, once I was through the 'forgotten password' stage, I thought I might  as well get down my thoughts on a recent 'holiday'...
Quick update; hard winter, no trail building, thankfully loads of photo work got me through. Skiing was great, cycling not so - apart from the revelation that is a cross bike with studded tyres (Cheers David at Bothy) Summer kicks in like HOT, back onto trail building, 3 Peaks cyclocross entry off (fingers crossed) back on bike regularly, weather still awesome, need more miles in the legs...
So hatched a last minute plan with fellow Aviemoron Brian Fishpool to use this unusually amazing spell of good weather do the North Coast 500 in the time available - 5 days.
Now I don't do lots of miles, I get bored easily and don't usually have a lot of time to spare, so 60ish is normally my limit, but I reckoned nice and steady, with plenty of stops would see us right. Shame we didn't do that!
We were travelling as light as we could for an unsupported trip using accommodation; a bar bag, frame bag and small saddle bag (thanks Andy Toop for 'bike packing' *cough* advice!) and using our 'posh' road racing bikes, maybe not the best choice, more on this later.

Due to lack of accommodation in Applecross we decided to start there after an early drive over from Aviemore, then 'overnights' at Ullapool, Durness and Wick, with the last night of Inverness being a quick lift home to Aviemore from the missus, leaving the last day to do the final Inverness - Bealach leg without the bags. Sorted.
The first leg from Applecross to Ullapool is 117 miles and 7500' of climbing, we set out with the 'steady and lots of stops' idea, but with a strong headwind, dropped into the old roadie thing of 'bit and bit' two up for most of the day (this would become the pattern for most of the ride) We rode maybe a wee bit too hard, took not enough stops, nearly ran out of fluids and battered our selves into the relentless headwind and 26ยบ temps. We arrived in Ullapool at 9pm, completely knackered and after inhaling a fish supper, a packet of peanuts, jelly babies, a pint of milk, several cups of tea and all the hospitality shortbread, collapsed into a brufen and paracetamol aided sleep. Not pretty.
Day two dawned with two very sore cyclists devouring a full Scottish breakfast, filling our pockets with the free bananas and setting out for Durness, 98 miles away and another 7500' of climbing. This was the leg we regretted 'race' gearing and narrow tyres. 36x28 isn't low enough for roads with double black arrows and carrying overnight kit! And 25c tyres on very eroded tar and chip roads is a punishing ride.

Another hot and windy day, but stops at Elphin (great cafe) Lochinver (Spar) and Kylescue (lovely restaurant) saw us arrive at Durness slightly less weary than day 1 at 8pm. The staff at the Smoo Hotel were excellent, modifying their menu to serve up a huge chicken pasta with side salad. Good bike storage too. Cheers.
Day three, Durness to Wick, 108 miles, 6200' climbing, this is where it started to get a bit boring if I'm honest. The first part to Tongue is pretty, there's a nice shop / cafe there and unless you really have to 'do' the 500 I'd bale out south here and head for Lairg - Bonar Bridge - Nigg - Cromarty - Inverness for a nicer finish, but no, we cracked on, largely my fault as I felt I had to do the whole thing before I could comment on it.
The roads get busier, actually all the route has lots of traffic, but here they started passing more quickly! The terrain becomes less spectacular and in our case we were head on into that strong easterly, still v' hot too. A great lunch stop at a pub on the roadside at Melvich and we pushed on to Thurso (Tesco) to do that long distance cycling thing of sitting on the pavement eating sandwiches, crisps, chocolate and milk. Becoming less interested with the whole thing by now we put our heads down and simply ticked off the miles to John O Groats, didn't linger and fuelled by Haribo we ground our way into a dreary Wick. Both had sore knees by now (high gears) and we were in a hotel on the third floor - thanks. Hysterical laughter at dinner as we realised the menu was more 'haute cuisine' than was required by two very hungry cyclists! Thanks to the waitress that kept returning with the bread basket. Even the puddings were wee! Cheeseboards all round.

Day four, Wick to Inverness - ghastly! Just don't do this! Busy roads, motorists and lorries all IN A HURRY with the added danger of harr reducing visibility to a 'I'm scared' level. 95 miles of purgatory, 4700' climbing but at least a slight tailwind. The dreaded A9 was always going to be the worst day, and it was, this section had nothing to recommend it to cyclists, apart from a nice cafe in Helmsdale (on the seafront) which offered to dry wet jackets from the harr. If the ferry is running, dive off at Nigg to go Cromarty - Black Isle - Inverness, or, as we had to, the back road out of Tain to Alness and then Evanton, this is a lovely wee road.
My wife had been pre-booked to pick us up from Inverness and we were hugely relieved to see her (and my cheering young lad who'd sneaked off school early) for the run home to Aviemore. Finished this day quite quickly so had a little bit more recovery time that evening - long bath, big feed, washed kit, cleaned and lubed bike, etc.  Bliss. Knee very sore now.


Last day was with no kit and at last the benefit of a tailwind from that pesky easterly. Nicely 'pain-killered' up for the knee we spun out to Loch Carron averaging 22mph, dismounting for the dreaded Garve rail crossing (just do it) and a lovely cake and tea stop at the Hotel at Achnasheen roundabout. A quick ice cream and then onto the Beallach, which we both know well having raced on it and we still had the help of that delightful tailwind. Unfortunately, the outrageously fast descent to Applecross was ruined by endless huge campers either crawling down on their brakes or crawling up burning their clutches.
Bish bosh, back to the parked car after 75 miles and 4200' climbing (which all really happens at the end).

So, thoughts.

  1. The west and a bit of the north coast are the only bits worth doing on a bike.
  2. Don't ride on the A9.
  3. The roads are awful, potholed and very rough, fit the biggest road tyres you can and consider tubeless.
  4. There are some really steep hills, even with minimal kit you'll need lower than 36x28.
  5. If you're doing it in 5 days, unsupported, it's hard. Pack, then unpack and repack half of it.
  6. Take longer on it if possible. 
  7. Accommodation books up fast. We used the Royal Hotel Ullapool which was nice, Smoo Cave Hotel Durness, again excellent, good bike storage and reasonable and finally The Mackay Wick, lovely room, nice staff, good bike storage but tiny meals (from a cyclists perspective!) and my house, very nice, great facilities, excellent meals, fully equipped workshop. Fully booked!
  8. Food stops are available, never go by one! 
  9. There is lots and lots of traffic everywhere, deserted Highland roads it is not. There is everything from sports car exotica to old classic cars, to enormous motorhomes (waaaay to big for these roads) and the ever present motorbikes, which were no bother as most are cruising and waving hello. 
  10. Get your mindset right, we were neither stripped down unsupported record seekers, or cruising and sightseeing, but rather we treated it like 5 long hard training rides. This hurt. Should'a been more chill and enjoy.
  11. The NC500 is a marketing exercise, do it if you really have to, but get the maps out and plan something with a nicer finish.
  12. Don't ride on the A9. Got that. 
The knee is slowly recovering, I put it down to grinding big gears in relentless headwinds and possibly worn cleats with little float, never had an issue before, so hopefully it'll fade away.
it was harder than a Majorca training camp and I've taken days to recover - tired and still eating everything I can find in the kitchen.
Oh and shout out to Dominic, a cyclist we met along the way and bumped into several times, he had the right attitude, just cruising and enjoying being out on his bike.
Nice one Dom!
That's the winter road miles done, back to a summer of trail building, photography and 3 Peaks cx training....  

Monday, 25 September 2017

3 Peaks cyclo cross - done.

See that happy smiley face? That's 'cos Simons Fell wasn't killing me. That was a relief. My coach said "it's no a running race", so lets bin the running and concentrate on the cycling and you know what, he was right.
To be honest I had no idea how I would do in this race and the night before I was very nervous, more nervous than I think any other race I've done. I just didn't know how fit I was, I've never done 7 weeks on the turbo, could I go hard from the start? Or should I pace myself round so that I could at least finish?
Add that to the apprehension about the bonkers start and would my bottle caching idea work and I didn't sleep well on 3Peaks Eve!
I had gone down a day early, this was a good thing; I could recover from the 6hr drive (massive sleep in a massive bed)  recce parts of the course, get a wee pre-race ride in and sus out where to stash some bottles.
This all went well, I'm a great believer in recce-ing and checking everything in plenty of time, I hate last minute 'faffing about' - check it and forget it.
Even so, restless sleep, up really early, big Premier Inn breakfast and off to the race. Sign in, meet friends, hand over bottles - for hand-ups where possible, and try to look calm (wasn't).
The line up is mad, stand in a place you think might be near the front a good half hour early, then watch as loads more push in til you're no longer able to see the front!
Then the start.
How to describe the start?
It's like 650 totally wired and hyped up cyclists all trying to get to the front, utter madness.
My coach had 'reassured' me by saying go as hard as you can right from the gun, get up near the front (well, top 50-60ish) and just hang in there for the rest of the race. Gulp.
Heart rate straight up to max and bonkers riding all around me, going from hard on the brakes to stamping out watts that I should only ever see in 20 second intervals. I'm sure there were crashes, there was certainly lots of colourful shouting.
Even with all this effort we still hit the first obstacle - a cattle grid, bunched up and there's some impressive track standing to avoid unclipping.
I'll not give a blow by blow account of the whole race, but Simons Fell was over without too much pain, the first descent was very boggy and I grabbed my first cached bottle with shouts of "well done Paul Masson!" from those who had been standing near my labelled bottle!
Loved that.
Picked up a nice wee group on the first road section, everyone worked well together and pretty quickly it's off the bike and onto the second climb - Whernside.
Another trudge, but as on Simons Fell, I wasn't suffering too much and even managed to pick off a few people throughout the climb, this was starting to feel good.
Followed a 'local' on the descent, dunno if this was a good thing, ended in a bog and had to run onto the main track. Maybe not do that again.
Second bottle hand up went well, until I reached down to my bottle cage for a drink a few k's later only to see that I had half a bottle cage and no bottle. A thirsty last climb then. Hooked up with a handy time trial looking rider i.e. a good windbreak, on the road to Pen-y-Ghent and between us we towed along a good half dozen other riders. Thanks guys.
Pen-y-Ghent climb was fine, picked off more riders, legs still felt good, rode to where you should be able to ride - 1x11 gearing was grand.
Dibbed at top, saw the time and thought 'jeez that's good' then proceeded to ride like a right punter on the descent 'cos all I could think about was 'don't crash', 'don't puncture' instead of just riding like a rider that normally rides lots of rocky downhills (like I live in the Cairngorms) duh.
Anyhoo, out onto road, catch a few more riders who seem quite happy just to sit in, but I'm there now so use my last few watts dropping them. Up ya.
So a strong finish leaves me thinking could I have gone a wee bit quicker?
Dunno, but even now, one day on, I'm already thinking of next year!
Massive thanks to my coach David Lines of Espresso Cycle Coaching, he told me what to do and it worked.
Oh and not forgetting all those involved in the race, the marshals, the gang that help pass the bikes over the fences, the bystanders that cheer you on and those that thought I looked thirsty and offered me up drinks on Pen-y-Ghent, all these people are awesome and reaffirm your belief that most normal people are actually quite nice!
Til next year...

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

3 Peakscx Prep' Done.

That's it done. 3 Peakscx prep over. A very different build up phase than last time, or any other race prep' I've ever done before.
It all started same as normal, long rides, short fast rides, some hill running, mountain biking for da skilllzzz and cutting out all the nibbles. Weight was slowly dropping down to race weight i.e. the weight I was 7 years ago (last 3peakscx attempt) and the running was feeling good.
Then disaster; whilst on holiday I dived off a high board into Lake Annecy and burst my eardrum. That hurt. Lots. Worse than that though was it affected my balance and exercising made it agony (raises blood pressure? Dunno) Sore though.
Lost nearly 4 weeks due to that silly little thing and started to panic. So much so that I contacted my friend Gary Macdonald to ask about training advice, he recommended his coach - David Lines (Espresso Coaching). Davie and I then had a chat about 'everything' and once he'd seen my background data and FTP results decided on a predominantly indoor turbo based training phase for the time we had left - 7 weeks.
Now, I'm not an indoor training sort of a guy (I mean, I live in the Cairngorms!), but with the amount of hours I had available each week and the relatively short time left I saw the logic in it, gritted my teeth and did exactly as I was told!
I borrowed one of those modern 'posh' wheel-off direct drive trainers, hooked myself up for power, hrm, on line training software, tunes, fan and towels to mop up the copious amounts of sweat and basically left it all set up to avoid any 'putting it off' excuses.
I had on average 7 hours a week available and my coach made sure every minute of that time counted.
Sweet spot work, threshold work, strength endurance, VO2 max, tempo, long Z4 intervals, short and nasty flat out high gear max power intervals, you name it, I suffered it.
And suffer I did, some sessions made me sick and some made me fall off the turbo when finished and lie down curled up in a ball making really bad noises.
It was brutal, but effective, FTP has gone up 'a lot' and I now have veins and muscles on my legs.
No running, no hill climbs carrying the bike, virtually no outside riding, every minute was dedicated to chasing the WATT.
Weight dropped off shockingly fast, I'm normally 69kg, I'm now 64. I weighed that when I was running marathons at 21. Wife says I look scrawny and weedy. Perfect.
Power to weight is now 'respectable' for a mamil. HRM strap no longer gives me 'moobs' I've had to buy new jeans and some of my once very tight lycra - 'that' Castelli top, now fits nicely.
New outfits ordered.
My Stigmata also went on a diet; carbon everything, lighter cassette, silly light pedals, Cross Boss tyres instead of those awful 3peaks only Landrover tyres and it now looks as lean as me. 7kgs, hope it survives.
Am I ready? Dunno, nervous as hell this time round, really want to equal my old time which was just under the 4hr mark, but who knows - no plan survives first contact with the enemy...

Thursday, 6 July 2017

3 Peaks Cyclocross is 'go'

After a 7year break, I decided it was time to have another go at the 3 Peaks Cyclocross race. I entered with a vague feeling of 'I'll not get in anyway', but started training - just in case... 
Then I got accepted and it all became real again, not just something to talk about. I just sneaked in under the 4hr mark last time, I want to do the same again. 

There, I’ve said it. 
My colours are nailed to the mast. 

Ok, face facts, I'm 51 and too heavy, not by 'normal' standards, but by Simon Fell carrying a bike standards. So, cut out crisps, biscuits, cakes and all that non essential stuff, easy, doesn't cost anything, it's just willpower. Next, up the intensity, I can't train big miles, I just don't have time in my work/life balance. Nasty draggy hills, steep just do-able hills, long evil loose gravelly hills, techy should be on an mtb hills and some 'on the drops' speed work all go into the weekly itinerary. 
Running: I've looked back at my old split times and I'm going to have to speed up on the carries. So, more hill running, it's not about the miles, it's about steep ‘blood-tasting’ hills and letting my cyclists shortened hamstrings know that they've got some lengthening to do. Ouch. 
The fun bit was treating myself last year to a new cross bike. The ancient Kona Jake The Snake had been brilliant, but was now only fit for mudguards and winter miles. Time to disc up and go all 1 by. With an eye to maybe having another crack at the 3 Peaks, I'd decide on a Santa Cruz Stigmata - stable handling, vibration damping carbon frame, discs ‘obvs’ and 1x12 with a super wide ratio SRAM set up to try and get a little bit further up Pen-y-ghent. Tubeless Stans cross rims and tyres to be decided….
Now it's early July, I'm on family holiday in deepest France and confirmation has just come in (had to make an exception about checking emails on holiday) that my very ropey CV has somehow been accepted. This is a long relaxing holiday, time to unwind, drink wine, eat cheese and generally muck about a bit with the family in the heat. We always bring the mtb’s for a bit of Alpine xc/dh fun, but this year I'm also packing the nice roadbike and a pair of running shoes. Not ‘training’ as such, just grabbing some early morning road rides and the occasional run when I can - and avoiding crisps. 
Wife says I'm skinnier and yes I do look ridiculous in the obligatory French swimming pool ‘budgie smugglers’ - cyclists tan an all. Suits me.
I'll hopefully come out of the hols in some sort of shape ready to start ramping up the pain through August. 

Happy summer fellow 3 Peaksers! 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Coming out of the winter?

Oh for goodness sake
Oh no we're not...
Hell of a long time since I last posted, but that's modern life for you, somethings gotta give. To tell the truth it's all too easy to get out of the blogging thing.
So. Winter, bit of a damp squib really, never got going, with dribs and drabs of snow and a heck a lot of 'dreich' - shame it's decided to give it a really good go now, in late April, when trails need worked on and bikes need ridden. We skied a bit up the hill, but nothing really amazing until we went on our first family holiday to the Alps, which was, a lot. 50cm fresh on arrival, sunshine every day, no wind, beautiful pistes, lovely people, great food, I could go on, but I'll get too depressed. We've always conned our kids in to how good Scottish skiing is (ok, it can be good sometimes) but now the cats out of the bag and we can't not go again!

Not Cairngorm

The kids rode some of the 7Stanes in an Easter holiday trip to Dumfries and Galloway (an area well worth a visit) and what these guys are riding now never fails to amaze me. They love their riding and all too often it's me that is worried about letting them ride a feature whereas they just roll in and get on with it. They are at the fearless stage of riding, not yet at the age to worry about consequences - I do that - and everything is new and exciting and 'no problem dad'. Good times riding with these two, we're getting to the stage now where a ride is a 'proper' ride not just a wee pootle with the kids. In a few years they'll drop me and my work will be done...


Workwise, well, quite a lot. Trail work has been taken up a lot with Laggan which has had it's old Red route rather 'mucked up' (I'm being polite here) due to clearfell harvesting. I'm not going to go into this too much, as negotiations are still on going, but needless to say it'll never be the same natural feeling forest singletrack again. I think we will be working on it soon, so something rideable should be in place for the summer (whenever summer loads).

Not Happy family Masson

We also built a little something over at Fochabers, which promptly got rained on, a lot, like the sort of rain that washed main roads away in Deeside. It's ok, but the access track wasn't, which is getting beefed up as I type. Tarland which we built last year and had been weathering / riding in nicely got hammered too, but after heroic efforts by locals (neighbours with small machines, riders with handtools and our local top chap Chris Rogerson contracting and his big toys) is up and running again.

It rained A LOT this winter

Learnie on the Black Isle has been getting a bit of TLC recently, nothing major, just a spruce up for it's tenth birthday. Tenth! I've been at this trail building game now for fourteen years! and I'm still cleaning out ditches, cutting down trees, shifting rocks and raking dirt - albeit with a bit of a lunchtime nap these days. 
All these years and still digging ditches

Photography work has slowed down in the housing market, usual in winter, but I kinda get the feeling things aren't as good in the upper end market as they used to be, hmmmm. Luckily direct sales from the back catalogue are a thing now, strange when old pics pop back up and earn money! Even stranger for the people in them (usually mtb riders) who suddenly see themselves in print months later! New quite random areas of my photography business are opening up, I'll go with the flow and see where it takes me.
Pretty houses

Skiing legs got a rude shock in the Alps, telemarking at speed on the piste is hard work and after a week I had to adopt new strategies to deal with stairs! However, this has translated into good strong biking legs which have recently been given a further battering on the Aviemorons Mallorca training camp. This basically involved riding hard every day til we were all too tired to think properly and had to lie down. Base miles for us late starting Aviemorons (it's been a hard winter for road riding) but it's a start and just need to keep it going now through this late surge of winter into the summer proper which is hopefully just around the corner... 

Recovery pose.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

School hols are over.

Hols over, kit cleaned, van swept of sand, pics downloaded safe and sound and into a new term we go.
The kids summer hols flew by in a eyeblink; from watersports, to cycling, munro bagging, snorkelling, crab fishing, visiting family and even the madness of the Fringe.
I don't think there was a 'dead' week of "what are we going to do". We as parents survived to exit at the other end with deadlines ignored, inboxes full and clients to catch up with and reassure that all will be ok now. Such is the way of a family with two self employed parents.
Weather was 'Scottish' in its unpredictability, wetness and requiring of the usual insulated protective clothing.
The Outer Hebrides gave us just enough 'nice' weather to appreciate just how beautiful a part of the world it is. I have no doubt it will figure in our future again.
Some pics in no particular order...

 So, back to sorting out various projects both mtb and photographic, lots to fit in on the slippery slope to shorter days, not to mention trying to squeeze in bike rides whenever the sun shines.