Sunday, August 30, 2015

2015 Mongolian Bike Challenge By The Numbers

The race, which I'll write about in more detail soon (with photos) was a pretty unique experience - not like a road stage race, not a true mountain biker (i.e. very technical) stage race either - something in between but very very tough. Staying safe on the bike, healthy, recovering and still riding fast was my focus each day. But enjoying the incredible scenery and great camaraderie snuck itself in :)

This is a brief breakdown and full files (including power/hr etc...) for the stages. I'll go into more detail later, but the first stage I didn't feel great (altitude, 12hr timezone flip in 2 days and heat (30C+)?) and from 10km into stage 3 I was nursing a very bad gash (6 stitches) just below my left knee which required a course of antibiotics - I was a bloodied mess when I finished that stage.

Camping grounds post stage 2 - stunning

Across the seven stages:

Riding Time: 31 hrs, 20 minutes
Distance: 840 kilometers
Climbing: 12,500m
Work/Kilojoules expended racing: 29,000 (approximately 135 Mars Bars!)
Average Cadence: 80
Amount off-road: 99.999% !
Punctures: 0 (Racing Ralph 2.25 front, Thunder Burt 2.1 rear)
Longest Stage: 176km, 6hrs 20 minutes (and I won it!)
Days with Internet: 0

Post stage 4 camping

Thanks Schwalbe, Selle SMP, NoTubes & Cycleways!

The race finish - 13th Century National Park 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

2015 Mongolian Bike Challenge - Day Zero+

A morning transport to the start location of the race. I have not really been to a place like this before (this is the 44th country I have visited, so I have seen a few) - stunningly beautiful, very remote and 100s of Prius cars everywhere...

Only a short spin today - this is probably the shortest week of riding I have done since the off-season while next week will probably (hopefully - please no serious mechanicals/sickness) be the biggest.

Panoramic photography was made for this location... (click on the images)

On the way to dinner

On the training ride

A few kilometers into tomorrows stage

Vast of nothing

Home for the night - luxury!!!

Lots of traditional and non-traditional shows

Bike with lots of survival (mandatory) bits on

Pano from the top of the horse

Friday, August 21, 2015

2015 Mongolian Bike Challenge - Day Zero

I have posts about the Czech MTB Trilogy (4 stages, MTB), Nationals XCO (ker splat) and the 7 day fabulous MTB Stage race The Sudety Challenge in Poland - but before all that (lack of time in front of a computer while not working) I'm going to start writing about one of my biggest racing adventures to date.

I'm racing the 2015 Mongolian Bike Challenge - it will be no where as technical as my previous MTB stage races but what they give up in that they take on in rugged isolated beauty and sheer length of stages. Think of the AnPost Ras (UCI 2.2 Irish road race most Irish folk know) - make it longer, add a lot more climbing, put it at (moderate) altitude, sleep in Gurts/Tents in the middle of nowhere and oh, put it all off road - this will be epic! (I say comfortably typing from the last night I'll be in a hotel for a while)

I have an internet SIM card (there is some mobile coverage, no wifi), so I'm going to try to update each day as it goes - please excuse the brevity and possibly incoherent thoughts - hopefully I'll add a few nice pictures and inspire folks to put it on their calendar for 2016.

Thanks to Schwalbe and NoTubes - 2.25 Racing Ralph on fron, Thunder Burt rear

Out on a leg opener ride - ehh, pretty

Climbing up here

View back to the capital Ulaanbaatar

Central Square

Post ride tourism

Post ride recovery - somehow I don't think I'll have frozen yogurt for another week!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Making Super Simple Bone Broth / Stock

I have been asked so many times about this so finally I'm putting together a video of one of the ways I make bone broth or stock. There is tons of information online about why to consume bone broth (aside from how tasty it makes things) - Weston A Price has some stuff about it, Mark's Daily Apple too, but believe me, it is worth the (very) small amount of effort.

I source the best bones (from animals that ate what they are supposed to and had a hopefully happy life - at least the ones I saw had), usually for free and the rest of the materials are simple to find. Bones, salt, an acid (apple cider vinegar), garlic, ginger, additional spices and veg if you wish.

I have used a pressure cooker, a pot but currently am using a slow cooker (purchase from around €25 and are great for making many things) to cook at a low temperature for a long time safely.

The resultant broth when used making other dishes adds a richness/complexity that is hard to describe and is usually only found in top restaurants - and it is super healthy. When anyone I know has sickness/injuries etc... it is the first thing I ask if they make. Enjoy.

I leave the cooker on high until bubbling then low/medium for the rest of the time.

Monday, June 08, 2015

2015 Beskidy MTB Trophy - Stage 4

Stages four and five (the trip back to Ireland) - I don't know which was more tough! The final stage of the Beskidy MTB Trophy saw us go up and down more steep climbs. Billed as being the most difficult stage, although the climbing was tough I found the descending and technical riding to be easier than the previous days (maybe I have finally left my roadie awkwardness behind) and although it was almost as hot as the previous days my body felt good and the heat didn't bother me.

As the other days, at 9am we rolled out on a few gentle kilometres of tarmac until we hit the real climbing. In the central part of the race they packed in almost 3,000m of climb across 60km so it really was either steep up or steep down. Like the previous day, on the first properly steep and loose section Ben and Torsten gapped me but on the descents I would get back closer. There were a few riders around me for the first hour or two but after I fixed my puncture (the only one I had in the race - an achievement on a hardtail (Thanks Stan’s Valor wheels and Schwalbe tires)!) I started to make progress to the boys ahead. 

At the base of the longest climb I was five minutes back but by the top I had pulled it back to three - averaging a pretty constant 12% all the way up it was more towards the steepness I liked. After the climb we were treated to some of the most fun descending in the whole race, super fast burmey single track - all the memories of how to pump the ground for free speed came back and I was hop skipping over roots and rocks with them barely touching my tires - I could have done this for ever. 

Like the other days as I got closer to the end I was approaching the front of the race - I got time checks of 1-2 minutes in the remaining kilometres but ran out of road finishing 1:40 behind the two leaders. Enough for 3rd on the stage and 2nd overall on GC (first in GC in my category).

One of the many wide rocky descents

I have raced many places around the world, and on most continents but I have to admit that the last 5 days (including the day before riding around) has been some of the most fun, challenging and beautiful racing I have done. The unseasonably perfect (well, maybe TOO hot) weather just added to it all. 

I wanted to wait until I got back home to Ireland safely before I said this, but from leaving on Tuesday to the race and returning on Sunday it was an almost perfect 5-6 days. Everything from the race organisers, track, general hospitality and our accommodation ( could barely be improved. As I sit back getting into a normal work day I really do have post stage race blues.

Thanks for reading and see you at the Sudety MTB Challenge??? 

Saturday, June 06, 2015

2015 Beskidy MTB Trophy Stage 3 - 2nd

Leading on from yesterday's post I am putting a few words together for UK XC News so I figure I'll also post it here about the Beskidy MTB Trophy


I have ridden many stage races, mostly on the road but I never remember feeling this tired after only two days when I woke up (and I have done 10 day UCI road stage races). Not so much the legs - just all over, more a general battering. Very different from the road. Three weeks ago I raced the 3 stage Belgian Mountainbike Challenge and although longer with more climb and a very high level of competition it just doesn’t compare. Both races I rode my hardtail but only in this one I really wish for rear suspension.

First climb of the day
Today was a little shorter then yesterdays stage at 68km but with almost 3,000m of off-road climbing and at times super technical climbing it would be another nail in the coffin. And to add to that, the unusually high temperatures (which has greatly diminished the mud for which this race is known for) upped their game some and creeped into the mid 30s at times. I have raced in South East Asia where temperatures hit the mid 40s but this is different - slogging up a 20% wall using every muscle in your body at 8kmph is a world away from cruising along at 40kmph with wind keeping you cool.

Like the previous day, we had a few rolling kilometers of tarmac until we hit the first off-road climb - from there, it was tough to the finish. I didn’t have the best feeling on the bike and the climbing was a suffer fest for me only split up by the crazy fun descents I have come to expect. At the top of the days major climb Ben and Torsten had a 3 minute gap on me and a few others but by the end of the (how many times must I say crazy, but yeah, crazy) descent I had caught up with Torsten but Ben was still out front. A couple of riders would come and go from the group but as we hit the final set of climbs I pushed on in pursuit of Ben. I went full out on the final climb and finished at the top empty on the finish line - good enough for second on the day but not close to catching Ben.

There was an eight kilometer roll back down to where the car was parked - I don't think I have ever coasted so much in my life - I was cooked, fried, well done. Only a 15 minute soak in a cold river got me back down to normal working temperatures and feeling somewhat human again.

Friday, June 05, 2015

2015 Beskidy Stage Race - Stage 2 - wohoo

Leading on from yesterday's post I am putting a few words together for UK XC News so I figure I'll also post it here:


Another day, another stage - man I love stage racing. Today’s stage was the queen stage of the race and now as I sit on my bed, my legs and lower back feel it. It was a 9am start (we had a 10am start the first day) and seven kilometres of tarmac until we hit the unending steep climbs and descents. We took a pretty sedate pace those first few k and I didn’t see anyone complaining. From there on, for the next hour and a half it was constantly up and down on fireroads, dual track but mostly single track. Groups split and rejoined but as we hit the base of the days main obstacle, a fifteen kilometre long climb there was about twelve of us together. 

If you look at the total length of the climb and the altitude gain (we climb to 1,300m) there was nothing too crazy (10% average) - it was just all those 500m sections of 20%+ gradient that killed me. Obviously, the race split to bits here and Ben and Torsten (1st and 3rd from yesterday) said good bye to me (for a while) and went off ahead. 

They left me (I'm the speck)

As I crested the climb in third, I remembered a section in the road book about the course -  

“ Then a descent that gives all you can wish for: technical singletrack, wide dirt road, and a very (very!) steep downhill with loose rocks, which later turns into gravel road cut by half a meter deep ruts.”

When someone puts an additional ‘very’ in brackets I know something is up (or in this case down) - I believe a DH bike with massive/tough tires would be the usual tool for this type of descent - not a skinny bike with light tires but boy was it fun - skipping, sliding and praying for traction down a 25% single track scree descent - I was happy to make it down in one piece without a scratch on me or my bike.

This was one of the easier sections of the descent
More roley terrain and I eventually caught Ben and Torsten. As we hit the final climb, on the steep section (10%, not the crazy 20% stuff from earlier) I upped the pace and dropped Torsten with only Ben for company. After this - more fun singletrack all the way back down. Ben had a mechanical on the way down and I rolled in for the win - wohoo!

Another beautiful days riding on incredible trails - when I returned for the prize giving four hours after I finished some riders were still trickling in - wow, hats off. It was a super tough day out.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

2015 Beskidy Trophy Stage 1

I am putting a few words together for UK XC News so I figure I'll also post it here:


After a four year excursion into road racing 2015 saw me return to the mountain bike, specifically MTB marathon racing. I had heard about the Beskidy MTB Trophy Stage race through British Champ Ben Thomas - four stages, lots of climbing and technical tough single track in the south of Poland - I was in.

Traveling to the race was straight forward, a direct flight from Dublin to Krakow, pick up the rental car and a two hour drive to a village close to the race. No more difficult than the many trips my wife (Melanie Spath) and I made to the UK for XC racing over the years - just a slightly longer flight.

Talking to riders who have raced this in the past two major things usually crop up - technical rocky descents and mud - the technical descents are very much here but summer recently hit the south of Poland and temperatures in the high 20s means little mud - wohoo.

After a leg opener session yesterday in glorious weather, some great local food (cheap too by Irish standards) and a good nights sleep I was ready for the 10am start (thank you to the organisers so much for not starting us at some ungodly hour!).

Todays course started out perfectly for a long stage race - a long steady climb that gets steeper as you climb - a nice way to break the legs in. After this, what followed where steep rocky descents, swooping trails skirting through summer flowers and usually fire roads to get you back to the top of the next rollercoaster. They were however some evilly steep climbs - sometimes cursing them carrying my 76kg up them (before when I mountain biked, I was 2-3kg lighter - spending a season racing on the flats in Belgium eating waffles makes you heavy!).

Fifteen minutes into the race, Ben stamped his authority on the front and opened a gap on our group - that was the last I would see of him until I was washing my bike afterwards (he would finish six minutes up on me). During the race I had several little battles with the riders around me but finally dropped my German companion Torsten Mutzlitz on a descent towards the end (I was on my hardtail bike - not my choice for this course as my full suspension Epic is being serviced - so I was happy with that - the Schwalbe 2.25 width tires and 29er Valor wheels helped me along though). I finished second.

It is now a few hours after the stage and I’m still buzzing about it - the trails really were incredible - I would even go as far to as I’m “stoked” ;)

Now to put the legs up and get ready for tomorrow's 85km stage with almost 3,000m of climb - we spend a large chunk of it in Slovakia - another country for me to add to my “being in” list.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

2015 Photos from the road/trail

A few photos from training/racing view recently (mostly Irish). All taken with an iPhone.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

2015 Roc Laissagais World Series MTB Marathon

It is five days before my first big race of the year and I am looking up at the ceiling. Things are turning white - kinda like when you slide the brightness all the way to the right when editing a photo. Please don't faint. I’m lying on a hospital bed while a doctor is stitching me back together - the ninth doctor I had seen that day. I ask, do you think I can race this weekend - he chuckles…

It actually took me quite a while (and the help of an x-ray machine) to convince them that I hadn't broken my leg - each doctor was convinced despite the fact that I had driven a car for four hours, walked around a bunch and had zero pain killers.

Why I was there - well, a stupid crash hours earlier in the final ten kilometers of Ras Mumhan. The race (other than some very expensive crashes) had been going pretty well. I was in good form and pretty relaxed about it - it was going to be my last road race for a while and although I would obviously try to win I hadn't put myself under any pressure.

Full gas - Pat Doherty

Stage 1 was fine - a bunch sprint with some crashes I was happy to avoid. Stage 2 saw me on the ground ten kilometres in with broken equipment (first ever Ras Mumhan crash). A hectic chase for an hour to get back to the front saw me only feel ‘good’ again for the final hour - small group sprint. Stage 3, rolling open windy roads - so much fun. The group splitting to bits all the time.  I almost got it right sprinting for third just behind two leaders (I got fourth, 23 seconds behind the race leader on GC). Final stage - as nervous as hell - great weather, no wind and a huge group rode along filling the complete road. We were an almost complete group when we hit the tough finishing circuits. With two and a half laps to go, I was towards the front of a reduced (about 40?) front group when a rider believed that it was important enough to get to the front (one row more forward) to risk riding on the verge. Splat - half the front group goes down. More broken bikes and bodies. I DNF (but am given a time as we were on the finishing circuit). My teammates pushed me home (I couldn’t pedal).

3rd/4th was close between Ali and I - MTB star Grant Ferguson just behind - Brendan Slattery Photos
Teammates - Brendan Slattery Photos
Back to the hospital - as the doctor works on my knee Mel is with me - we hadn't seen each other for a few days - 2am in St. Vincents - some “date night”. Having helped Mel home from hospital in London just over a week earlier I found it funny that she was now doing the same for me. My injuries were basically bruising everywhere, eight stitches on my knee and heavily bruised muscles on my right leg.

My first race I had focused on for the season was only a few days later - the first European round of the MTB Marathon World Series in Lassiac, France - Roc Laissagais. I said out loud I was 50/50 on being able to go but deep down I didn't think I could. I would give it a day…

Using every recovery trick I know, healing was rapid - scarily so and I even got out for a short easy spin on Wednesday to see how it feels. Okay - I'll go. Ryanair texts me - sorry, your flight is cancelled. Really - like seriously? I change the flight to Saturday which would mean no preride, hectic travels but more recovery time at home. By the time I leave early on Saturday morning, I'm feeling okay. 

Race morning and I'm nervous - different from road racing, or really most other racing I do. I'm nervous as I CAN NOT CRASH on my knee - if I do - it is skin grafts and plastic surgery. i.e. Not good. 

Gun goes and we are off - as always, people go hard up the first climb - I take the odd glance at my power meter and see that this is in no way sustainable for a 4.5 hour race. Sure enough, after 10 minutes I'm riding by a lot of riders. First descent - okay, don't crash and stay off the brakes. Bang, hit from behind - no biggie, chain is off, stop, put back on… I descend, something doesn’t sound right - the chain is clacking everywhere. I get to the bottom, start peddling and almost fall over - F*** - the rear derailleur is kaput. Basically, it has no tension on the chain. I spend the next 20 minutes on the trails going and stopping trying to figure out what I can do or what gears will work - in the end, only my big ring (40t) and the 3 biggest (as in easiest) gears on the back. Good for the moderate climbs, shit for everything else. 

Early in the day

I continued going as hard as I could when I could, riding easy on the flats (not because I wanted to - at the moment, that would be my strongest trait) and coasting the descents - oh, and having to walk some of the steep steep technical climbs. I’m sure I looked funny as I would rip by riders on the climbs only for them to catch me on the fire roads again.

The day wasn't my finest descending day by a long shot - having not seen the course I was on the brakes way (WAY) too much BUT, rolling over the finish line after 5 hours (90k, 3,000m climb all off road) I hadn't crashed and my knee was just as pretty/ugly as it was when I started. This alone was a win. Oh, I finished 47th (180 starters).

What did go well? My Specialised Epic was a joy to ride (had been training mostly on my hardtail) and the Schwalbe Racing Ralph on the front and Thunder Burt on the rear where perfect for the conditions.

I’m happy I went, frustrated about the mechanical (but it is MTB, these things happen and I have been fortunate that I have only had two or three mechanicals in all my MTB racing over the years). It wasn't exactly how I envisioned my return to MTB racing, but hey - I'm still in one piece! My next one is on April 26th in Italy - Tiliment Marathon. I'm looking forward to it!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 My Winter Training Week

There was a piece put up on Sticky Bottle about my 'average' training week - this is the extended original.

* * *

The only thing that is regular about my training week is that it is usually pretty irregular. Training, work, travel and racing means every week is different - I think the last time I had 2-3 weeks that looked the same together was back in January 2014 while I trained in Gran Canaria! Having said that, the follow week would be as close to typical as I could describe for this time of year (say November/December). It is all about enjoying riding the bike and not doing anything mentally taxing - no killer turbo sessions and switching in mountain biking if possible. For me, my body never feels particularly tired or fatigued - a few weeks taking it easy and everything feels good. But after a long season of racing and traveling (around 80 races this year) - I want to make it as mentally easy and FUN as possible.


As I have usually trained a lot over the weekend, Monday is a day I focus exclusively on the job that pays the bills. Both Mel and I work for a Californian based online antifraud/anti-money laundering company, IdentityMind, as software developers - we work with really great people who understand our cycling background and although we quite literally only work and cycle, it has been an incredible journey.

Having trained long enough, I have a good understanding of what my body needs to feel the best for the training later in the week. Sometimes it is simply a walk around lunch time or 30-60 minutes of easy cycling. If cycling, it is really really easy - people passing me on toy bikes on the Enniskerry road easy, 25kmph average max with my average heart rate being around 100 or less. With my job being an office type job I try to move around a lot and do not stay seated for more than an hour at a time.


This would be a moderate/easy day on the bike. I’ll get up early, have a black coffee and head out on the bike hopefully with Mel in tow. The first and last half hour would be pretty easy with some periods riding endurance/low tempo on the flats. The ride would be around 3 hours and I would do it without any food. Once I get home, rice and eggs for lunch and then back to work until late in the day. In the evening, three or four times a week I would do a 20 minute self massage with a torture device called “the stick”.

This would be a typical moderate flat spin

The first of the harder sessions. I love riding my bike - for me, biking and enjoying out doors came before racing and I love the type of riding I do this time of year. I sometimes use the Cyclops Indoor Trainer but only if the weather is really really bad or dangerous. Now I would typically go out, ride easy for a bit and take in a loop that has many longer climbs. Each climb I would ride tempo or sweet spot (basically 80-90% of my threshold power) - I will be going by feel though - if I feel crap, I’ll take it easier and maybe focus on cadence or some skills, if I feel good, a little harder - just enjoying the bike. Typically 3.5-5 hours depending on the weather and work schedule.

This would be a typical Gran Canaria tempo climbing day

Similar to Wednesday, except I may work a little more on some cadence drills (high or low) and tempo riding on the flats. Towards the end I would up the pace, maybe some criss-cross climbing drills (say 2 minutes low tempo, 2 minutes threshold, repeat) and throw in some sprints. If the weather is good - I would plan a long loop and let the terrain dictate the type of riding I do. If possible, I would do this on the mountain bike.

Another Sweet Spot climbing day example


Similar to Monday, work all day with possibly a bike ride thrown in. For many years I was fastidious about riding each day - now I’m more relaxed about it all and if work is very busy, I would go for whatever causes a less stressful day. I would still make sure to move a lot during the day though. Having a happy relaxed day is more important to me than having to ride on a recovery day.


Maybe a long flat ride on empty or a small fat based breakfast - I would then start eating carbs (home made rice bars etc..) from about 2.5 hours in. I would keep the power pretty constant and not too hard throughout - just solid endurance riding throwing in the odd sprint.


Another big ride - lots of hills and all ridden around Sweet Spot (for me around 355-375W) - maybe a few of the climbs I would up the pace for the last 5 minutes or so. I would also make sure to do similar tempo type efforts on the flats. Every couple of weeks I would throw in what is called a kitchen sink ride - these are long, hard training rides that works through all you training zones and typically takes several days to feel normal from. Think of racing the Des Hanlon and then riding back home to Dublin at a steady/fast pace.

In January, things become more structured but my main focus is still simply enjoying riding the bike but with very specific intervals thrown in.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Going long in California

I don't go super long training too often, maybe a couple of times a year. As I'm about to return back to Ireland and had no other commitments on the Saturday - a big old spin was chosen on some new roads.

This type of training isn't necessary for fitness... But I'm a cyclist first and foremost, and I simply love riding my bike.

The first two hours I took out some juniors on a loop (my brother, who is definitely not a junior on the back in the photo). Very pretty before we got into the hills (which looked, and were, wet).

Solo for the final 5+ hours. This is traversing across Big Basin Redwood Park to China Grade. To say this place is pretty (even in the rain) is an understatement.

With all the recent rain (California needs it badly) - many of the descents (and climbs) were a bit sketchy.

Going down here later (sorry)

My poor socks will never be the same again :(

I got home just in time for ice cream o'clock.

My current, slightly funky drivetrain - Rotor Q-Rings on a Duraace crankset with Garmin Vectors as the power meter.

Final evening meal - world famous (well, at least in the tech industry) La Bamba restaruant for Burritos. Burning 6,000+ calories on the bike made this one of the tastiest ever.

The ride on Strava