Monday, August 27, 2007

A Weekend of Hill Climbs - Kippure and Kilmashogue

This weekend turned out to be a weekend of timed climbing races. First off was the Team Worc Extreme Hill Climb. It was a handicapped, (small) group start road climb. The course wasn't a constant climb (see the profile) but was almost 20km long and had 748 meters of climb. Robin, James and I were the last to start so we had many 'rabbits' in front of us to catch. We worked well together for the first 'rolling' 30 minutes of the race and we started to catch some of the earlier starters from about 25 minutes in. The conditions were very windy up around the Military road so our time wasn't going to be setting any records. Into the wind for the final few kilometres before the turn off to the final ascent of Kippure I somehow ended up on the front – unwilling to put much work into the wind I cruised along at a recovery pace as we all tried to recover a little before the final steep (17% in places) ascent of Kippure. As we made the turn and accelerated towards the masts, it was James and I in contention. We ended up playing cat and mouse the whole way up... Unfortunately, I miss timed my final sprint (I thought the penultimate bend was the last) and James pipped me to the post for the fastest time of the day – with the handicaps in place, we were still a little off the overall win. The Irish National Hill Climb Championships are on in a few weeks so I might give them a go – hopefully I'll have my light wheels serviced by then as I had to ride my 'heavy' training wheels for this race.

A graph of the climb from my Garmin

After a false start on the morning spin (more about that in a later post) I ended up heading out on the Epic for an afternoon spin. This week has been mostly (race aside) about recovery so I was only going to be out for a couple of hours but I still wanted to do one hard short effort. Every time I feel like this it's good to give the Kilmashogue hill climb a go. I physced myself up for a fast time and rode half way up it for a warmup dumping my bottles and saddle bag in the ditch, rode back down and made a go for it. I went hard from the start but was careful not to over do it on the steep sections so that I would have enough in my legs to really hammer on the less steep sections. I was about 2:54 in when I turned off the road for the first time (I remember last year doing this when I was really happy if I was under 4 minutes at this point!), negotiated the closed barriers (another few seconds could be saved here) and hammered on up the hill. I tried to remain relaxed and not over cook myself but I noticed that I was riding fast – Big and 8/9 for the 2% 'flat' section. By the time I got to the quary I looked down at my watch and I was still under 10 minutes – I remembered reading a report by Robin from a few years ago when he said he was at 10:something at this point and yet he still posted the second fastest (recorded – as far as I can find) time up the climb (he did a 12:13 in 2001 - the record of 12:12 was set by Craig Brady in 1997). I put my head down and hammered the last second hopping to stay in the low 12 minute mark. I crossed the crest of the climb and hit the split button – I looked down to find 11:56 a new (if unofficial) Kilmashogue Hill Climb record. I let out a few cheers and then realized that I need to get my breath back before I fall over. My heart rate average was actually a little low for the climb (173 – my LT is usually around 178 – last year I averaged 190 up a 17min climb in the states) so I might be able to squeeze a little more time out there. The weather conditions were pretty much perfect though – dry with little wind but some fresh gravel and the closed barriers would have slowed me a bit. A great end to a recovery week :)

My HR versus the climb... The coloured bands are my heart rate zones

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dear Santa...

I know it's a bit early for Christmas but I think I know what I want...

It's the new 2008 Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL... Probably costs around 7,000 euro - but I can dream. Picture is from here.

The view from Kippure

Descending (and climbing) around Kippure today was crazy. One minute beautiful sunshine, the next, mist, cold and time for thermal arm warmers. At least it wasn't raining...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

2007 Outsider Annacurra Adventure Challenge

The story of this race started a little over a year ago when Mel and I took part in the first running of the race. After almost four and a half hours of racing and sitting in second place in the mixed category we ended up missing out on the second place due to a mistake I made – I missed two punched checkpoints... To say Mel was a little annoyed is an understatement.

A year later, and a lot fitter (well, I was, Mel was a little banjaxed due to her last Adventure Race and a lack of training due to her studies) we planned to return to the Annacurra Adventure Challenge and banish the ghosts from last year. First though, I had to get the bikes and gear ready, a process that started at 6pm on the Friday and didn't finish until almost 2am! Enough to almost push me away from heading down to the race at all! Anyway, we woke bright and early (why can't all races have a nice 1:30pm start?) to see a wet miserable day await us. Undeterred, we headed down to Annacurra.

At 10:30 the 50 teams (or so) started the race by a run around the local GAA pitch (to split us up I assume) before we got to our bikes to start the first 16km mountain biking section. From the very start, some of our preparation started to pay off. Due to the difference in our fitness levels we were going to use a bungee device between my bike and Mel's as much as we could. In the end, we used it for all non technical climbing stages throughout the event – even the running. This allowed us to pool our fitness and stay with the lead group for most of the first stage, just drifting off the back on a long slightly technical flat section.

By the time we got to the running section we were around six minutes behind the leaders. Me being a mountain biker, the running section was going to be the hardest on my body – the last decent run that I went on was this race last year... (Although I did do five short, low intensity runs before this event to lower the pain...) Wet conditions meant that the run was reasonably technical – it was short at 6.5km but it contained 575 meters of climb! Considering Mel's injuries (tendonitis in both ankles and the onset of cramping) and my allergy to running we didn't lose too much time on the run and started into the third stage very positive.

A climb just after the stage 2/3 transition

The third stage was a 25km mountain biking section. The section contained a lot more technical riding then the first stage and would have suited us more seeing as we are more mountain bikers then adventure racers. Throughout this stage I was very very attentive to our location and the location of the next checkpoint. It was during this stage last year that I missed the two punches that robbed us of the second place. After about three and a half hours we arrived back at the finishing area for the short course.

A quick refuel transition

After a quick transition (grabbed a few gels and fresh bottles from the car) we headed straight back up the hill for a long climb followed by a fast descent back to the finish. The bungee was vital here as Mel was starting to tire and the cramps were taking over. (I think I heard her curse more in the last hour then I had anytime before) For me, I put my head down and tried to remain focused on getting to the top of the hill as fast as possible. Funnily, about a kilometer from the top we caught Eoin Keith's elite adventure racing team. They looked to be in a bit of bother but I knew that they would catch us again on the running section so I tried to put as much distance between them and us as I could. Unfortunatly, they did catch and pass us on the running section and the final descent didn't give us enough time to catch them again (they were 20 seconds faster then us...).

We arrived back at the start to find out that the first and third (the one we had a final battle with) teams had missed checkpoints (the bane of last year) so we were actually catapulted into second position overall. In addition we finished first mixed team. All my goals for this race were met.

Big mucky smiles after the race

The event was very well run with the course marked out excellently – the weather was terrible throughout and all the off-road was shlomp – but thats Ireland this year... I know we had smiles on our faces throughout and I had to remind Mel afterwards that we rode through torrential rain at one point (she seemed to block that out).

A great feast was put on for us after the race (I think we must have looked like a swarm of locusts to the poor ladies who were helping out with the food) and we enjoyed chatting and sharing stories with our fellow racers. Overall, an excellent event and a great day out - many thanks from Mel and I to the Annacurra team and Outsider magazine and I'll be there again next year.

First and second placed teams

Photos are from here and results can be found here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Another reason to fly to California...

Not only does Palo Alto have nicer weather then here (On Tuesdays club race I wore full winter gear - two jersies, arm warmers and my thermal jacket!) but I also have a new niece to visit. My brother Kieran and his wife Cynthia just had their second child - Ella. Together with Orlaith the Sherlock family has been extended by two this year.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A short and long spin...

A short and a long spin made up this weekends riding. Saturday I rode around the usual spots concentrating on technique with a couple of laps of the Epic Club course thrown in at the end for good measure. Sunday's spin was a long MTB group affair. In the end I covered a few new trails and a good few that I have not been on in a while. While in Balinastoe I got to see the new purpose built mountain bike trails that Collite are building. They look awesome in the fast flowy sort of way. Very similar to a lot of the trails that I used to ride in California. Completely weather proof - something that I really look for in trails given the Irish 'summer'.

6 hours of active time meant it was the longest MTB spin of the year - I felt pretty good afterwards (infact, better then normal) but I think the chocolate milk, food and nap as soon as I got home did that.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A new frame - Giant XTC Composite

With the sale of my Enduro last week it was time to get myself in gear and pick up a hardtail frame. I had been thinking about getting one for a long time as I've all the bits I need hanging around to build up a nice bike. Initially, I wanted to pick up a 2007 Specialized S-Works M5 hardtail but unfortunately, Specialized UK are out of stock in my size. I then looked at getting a Salsa Moto Rapido but having talked to the guys over in The Cycle Inn I ended up going and getting a Giant XTC Composite. It was a little overkill for what I set out to do – build a decent hardtail for training on and using over the winter and is now turning into a pretty darned good race bike. (My Epic need not worry, it's still the best bike I've ever ridden)

At 1383 grams it's a pretty light frame with seat post collar and chain stay protector

The build is mostly XTR/XT and some carbon bits with the weight around 9.4kg...

All built up and ready to go - some minor changes to come

It had been a long time since I was riding a hardtail having sold my Aluminium Stumpjumper over a year ago but after the initial hour or two getting used to being bucked around I started to really enjoy the feel of the hardtail. I think the carbon made it a lot more forgiving then the old Stumpy that I was used to.

Another piece of kit that I have really gotten to love recently is the Stans NoTubes conversion kit. I started running tubeless earlier on this year with my SLRs but recently I converted my XTR/Mavic 717 rims to tubeless too – I use them as a backup in races and some training. I've put about 400km on them so far and there has not been a single issue. Well worth the investment.

Tires that I've been using recently:
Bontrager Jones XR Tubeless Ready 2.2 - great intermediate tire, rolls really fast and are pretty light (around 600 grams) for such a large volume tire
Maxxis Crossmark LUST 2.1 - very very fast tire on dry trails, a bit sketchy on mud but fine if you drop the pressure a bit. At 705 grams each, not too light.
Hutchinson Bulldog Tubeless Light 2.1 - great in all conditions except on loose over hardpack (or road with dust/stones on it) - had a nasty spill during the 6th NPS due to the front washing out

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Mel's Beast of Ballyhoura race report

It all started a few weeks ago when I got a phone call from Ivan Park (Causeway Coast Adventure Races) - asking if I wanted to take part in the Ballyhoura Beast - they were looking for a girl to complete their team. The Ballyhoura Beast is a non-stop 24-hour adventure race in the Ballyhoura/Galtee mountains region, including disciplines such as orienteering, mountaineering, mountain biking, abseiling, clay pigeon shooting and kayaking. The other two guys on the team where Paul McArthur and Rowan McMahon (Not the Sunday Run) - both mostly unknown to me. I had actually already decided to not take part but then I thought, what the heck, changed my mind and said: "Sure, I'd love to!". What did I get myself into.... Due to various other race commitments and them living up North, we didn't manage to have a single training session. A few e-mails back and forth we had all the gear sorted between each other and I made my way up to our lovely B&B with another team. Meeting Rowan and Paul in the evening for the first time for 5 minutes before we went to bed, we all woke up the next morning to a full Irish breakfast fry - mmmmmhhh. Might not be the best food from a nutritional perspective before a strenuous 24 hour race, but from a mind perspective it was exactly what I needed.

After the breakfast, we made our way up to the race HQ in Ardpatrick and then the kit sorting began. I had to get a puncture sorted on my bike - making Rowan the official bike doctor for the race. After the kit check and being each fitted out with an electronic SI card on an irremovable wristband, we were transported to the race start. A short briefing and we were off at about 12 o'clock for the first orienteering stage - closely watched by some TV cameras. A short sharp run along a river we retrieved our first orienteering maps from under a bridge and tactical discussions began. There were 8 mandatory points to find and each of them giving clue to an optional super control worth 40min as well as about 13 optional, closer spaced controls, each worth 10min. With jogging pace we made it to a ruin after fighting through some jungle, down to a river, over a river, down to another river, up that river, onto a saddle, down to the woods, down to another river, through some undergrowth, through some gorse (ouch!) and along some fire roads back to the orienteering start - having found all the mandatory and 4 of the optional controls. At the start we were awaited by a zip line over a river which was a fun bit - especially seeing some of the heavier folks bum skimming the water .... Unfortunately we didn't figure out the super control location correctly.

Ah well, we didn't get deterred by that and made our way towards the mountains for the mountaineering stage. The weather, which had held up beautifully until now turned worse and it started raining (and didn't stop for the next 14 hours.....). Anyway, we struggled our way up on the open mountain, through heather and some burned gorse. With deteriorating weather conditions, we all put on our warmer rain proof coating and arrived up on Galtybeg mountain in now atrocious weather conditions to be greeted by a poor marshal in a tiny tent guarding the control. As we were too late for the cut-off for the optional orienteering loop up here (thank god!!) we headed straight towards Galtymore mountain along the ridge walk in knee deep mud. One wrong step and you could have tumbled down a few hundred meters on either side. The rain was joined by fog when we tried to navigate our way after Galtymore towards the gorge where the abseiling was taking place. Due to Paul's and Ivan's excellent navigation skills we found the gorge even in deep fog with less than 10m visibility and were greeted by the abseiling marshals. So, after harnessing up, we had to abseil 50m down a river turning waterfall in a swollen riverbed on slick slippery stone with cold water streaming down on top of you as you were hanging down the edge of the waterfall.... Just as a beside, this was Ivan's and my first abseil.... Oh my god!!! However, after overcoming our fears, we arrived safely and soaking wet on the bottom of the waterfall and made our way down to the bridge to pick up the last control before the run-bike transition. Followed by the TV crew we sped along the road to the transition and were welcomed by a cheer from the support crew after being about 8 hours or so into the race.

After filling our stomachs with food and changing into dry clothes we got ready for our biking stage. At this moment in time, we had darkness breaking in. We followed a network of small country roads till we had to face some hike-a-biking up an overgrown single track along the Ballyhoura way (thanks Rowan for pushing my bike!), ending up in a dead end. Luckily we found the right way eventually and headed along fire roads to the clay pigeon shooting place. Earplugs in and gun loaded, we were given instructions and each fired our 10 shots (each missed shot was a minute penalty). Coldness and tiredness made it harder to aim (try and hold a heavy gun still after about 11hours of running and cycling!!), but we were pleased to hit about half of the fluorescent clay dishes. Back onto the bikes and into the relentless rain, we hit some formidable single track and followed the signs along the Ballyhoura way until we hit the Ballyhoura mountain bike park a few hours later. Greeted by the TV crew (who were BBQing and not sharing any of it!!!) and an ever energetic Vanessa, the main organizer we were given instructions on the next bit on the new and purpose built Ballyhoura mountain bike trails. Along the sheer endless single track which made it hard to concentrate after such a long time on the track, we were surprised by some glow stick enhanced masks, the beasties, some of which contained our controls. A crash and a "brufen" and some more single track later we made it back to the start of the trails after about 2 hours and 13 kms and headed on for the rest of the mountain biking stage which was mostly along fire roads with the day ahead dawning on us. Sounds easy? Not when there has been 12 hours of rain! The tracks resembled full raging muddy rivers and I was wondering why they hadn't added wetsuits as mandatory gear to this stage! After an unfortunate waste of time searching for a control near some ruins we were caught up by another team when we eventually found it, so we went back on our bikes as fast as possible and raced towards the kayaking transition where we arrived after a total biking time of about 12hours.

After exchanging the wet gear one last time, this time for a warm wetsuit and filling up on some food we headed down the overgrown and swollen river in sit on top kayaks. Oh - the rain was stopping now - of course, no rain needed when we were going to get wet in the kayaks! Under trees, over trees, over rapids, around rocks and again under and over trees and more trees and trees and trees and some capsizes and lost rucksacks later we had collected our last two points and even had had a bit of a competitive time with the other team that had caught up with us. We made sure to get out of their eyesight as fast as possible and kayaked down the river over and under trees and more trees and trees and did I mention the trees? A last fun section around the weir and we could already hear the drums of the finish at the castle. Spurred on by the near end we ran up the finish and were greeted once again by Vanessa and Co., drums and an amazing feeling of achievement. We took just over 24hours non-stop to complete the course. What an amazing and great race! I had soooo much fun on the race and am sooo happy with how we worked as a team, everybody supporting each other and we just "gelled" really well which was very lucky considering we had never raced with each other and barely or not knew each other. I really really enjoyed this race! Can't wait to do the next one! Hold on, is this pain that I'm feeling? And this and this and this..... Ouch and what is this? Chafing from my rucksack? Tendinitis on my Achilles tendon? Ok, I'll wait until I've cured my various injuries.... The post race scenario included lots of food, a hot shower (aaaahhhhhh) and a free sports massage (or bum grab as others prefer to call it). Unfortunately I was too tired and wrecked to stay on for the post racing party - so I only found out later that we actually placed third - a formidable achievement. Thanks to Vanessa and Outsider to put together such a great race and thanks to my team-mates for just being, well, a GREAT TEAM!


P.S. What I have eaten/drunk during the race:
15 Energy gels,
6 Powerbars,
2 bags of pasta,
1 bag of porridge with raisins,
2 sandwiches,
6 cereal bars,
2 bags of wine gums,
2 bottles of sports drink,
4 cans of red bull
2 pain killers
a big bite of cracker cheese
several liters of murky river water with nuun tablets

and my stomach was still grumbling of hunger at 8am!!!