Saturday, July 24, 2010

2010 Irish National XC Championships

I had done my homework, the training was complete, recovery ticked off and I knew the track well. I stood on the start line, my heart rate racing and ready to unleash hell (or at least pedal as fast as I could!). We were all lined up for the 2010 Irish National XC Championships held in Djouce Woods with the majestic Powerscourt Waterfall as the backdrop.

Epic MTB were awarded the running of the 2010 addition and it was an event they took on with the determination and organization that has characterized their events such as the Epic Blast which won Cycling Irelands event of the year for 2009. The track was 6.5km of pure mountain biking bliss with 200 meters of vertical gain per lap. Well known singletrack sections such as XTC and Gran Canaria joined freshly built trails such as the Supernova climb (one of my favorite around). Everyone had been giddy with the prospects of racing the course, so much so that Irish MTB legend returned to the nationals competitions to battle for another National title on his home turf. Epic didn't disappoint with the surrounding setup with a tented village, food vendors, bouncy castle and face painting for the kids – the list goes on. And despite a rocky last few days, mother nature even got the memo and decided to provide some sun and warmth.

Pre-race, I was pretty confident. I got a massage from Stewart Carr (more on this to come, Mel and I have been taking advantage of weekly rubs all year) and hopped on the turbo trainer for the final part of my warmup getting to the line ready for action. The first lap started pretty quickly – I felt comfortable and at around 2 hours, didn't get too stressed about having to nail it from the start. Coming down XTC on the first lap, I somehow lost the front wheel on a straight section and crashed reasonably hard – it was fine though, a few minor cuts, no real damage and the bike was fine. Got myself together and chased on after Joe and Robin just ahead. After the first lap, I was sitting in second 25 seconds back on Robin. (24 minute laps). I put the head down to close back in on him and at the midway point, I judged I was 8-10 seconds back. Concentrating on getting back to his wheel I made the second mistake of the race – coming off a very technical rooty section I lost the front wheel and went over the bars hard also burping the front tire. Pain shot up my leg and hip and I had difficulty grasping the bars again. Crap – this will make things harder. I got my C02 can out and put some air into the front and got back going. I didn't ride the technical course as well as I had been, I was, unsurprisingly, a little more cautious (not a thing you want to be when trying to chase down Robin Seymour!) and holding the bars tight was difficult. I stopped a few times to put more air in and contemplated changing wheels (I had spares in both tech zones). I tried to keep things steady for the rest of the race and with a few battles with Joe and Peter along the way, came in for 2nd position behind Robin.

Photo - Morgan O'Connell

2nd position was fine, but over the last few weeks I had been feeling stronger and stronger as I rode the MTB more. Robin would always have been extremely difficult to beat on this type of course but I would much preferred (and I'm sure he would have too) to have had a good battle along the way.

Photo - Alan Donnelly

Congratulations to Robin on his 16th XC title – must be some sort of World Record at this point! Also, Epic MTB put on an amazing show – everything about the day was planned and ran perfectly – tented village, live coverage from the course on big screens and even champagne podiums – thanks guys, you really upped the bar.

It's been almost a week now since the race and the body is mostly feeling back to normal – I still can't grip the bars correctly (so no mountain biking for another week) but nothing was broken which is the main thing. Even through all my martial arts days, I don't think I have seen myself as “black and blue”.

Many thanks to Stewart for the pre-race massage, Aine for being my feed zone angel and Alan for helping out on the day and everyone else for cheering me along!

Monday, July 12, 2010

2010 Irish National Hill Climb Championships

After the physical detonation that was last weekend, the training for the week before the national hill climb championships was pretty obvious – very very little. Recovery was the name of the game. I had overreached enough and my body wanted the time to rebuild and super compensate (those last two words I really like). I took it easy with only a few short sharp sessions to remind the body what hard work was and by the time Friday came along, my legs where itching to tear the pedals off the cranks.

I drove down to Tralee on Friday evening for the Saturday evening race – the plan was to go for a ride up the hill that evening but torrential rain (and rivers flowing down the climb) convinced me otherwise. The race was to start at 4pm on Saturday which meant lots of time for a spin up the hill in the morning to open up the legs. The climb was 3.9km long climbing 300 meters on a rough road surface. The first 1.8km averaged almost 8% but was pretty undulating. Then came a flat (2-3% gradient) 800meters followed by the final cruel 1.3km averaging 11% but again, very undulating with pitches of 20%. Pacing would be a little tricky as it was not a constant grade but with my Powermeter and Garmin 500, I knew I would be able to keep myself in check for the start.

With only a few seconds to go, I was held in place on the start ramp – my plan was simple, stay under 460W for the first 4-5 minutes and the rest of the 12 minute climb would sort itself out. Go hard on the easy (flat) bits, go harder on the hard (steep) bits. With the pacing strategy, the first few minutes where pretty easy physically and mentally, I perform intervals in that power range often at the 5 minute mark and the temptation would be to push a little harder – but I knew, 5 minutes is a hell of a lot shorter than 12 minutes! The pain would come...

Photo from Darragh Crowley

Knowing the climb would have helped and my only real mistake was taking it too easy on the flatter section – I finished strong with the last 90 seconds being over 500W (for your calculations, on the morning I was 72.5kg)

The Lightweight Wheels felt amazing climbing

You don't really notice as you race, or at least, if you are noticing, you are not going hard enough, but our climbs where held under torrential rain with a block headwind – record times for the climb were not going to be set on the day and I crossed the line a touch over 12 minutes after starting. I really wasn't sure if I had done enough for the win, the main challenger in the race, 5 time champion and defending champion, Paul Griffin, is based in the area and is one of the best Irish climbers in our generation.

After a good cool down on the bike, it was back to the signon venue and I found out that I had become the new National Hill Climb Champion. I edged out Paul by 14 seconds and am obviously very happy with the new green jersey.

Many thanks to the Earl of Desmond Hotel for the hospitality during my stay in Kerry, the Tralee Bicyle Club who ran the event smoothly and at a great venue and also to Paul Griffin. I have ridden with Paul on the road a lot this year, and every time I have learned something new – he has been a great mentor and a worthy adversary (last year he kicked my butt up in Donegal at the champs).

There is another report up with some photos here.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

2010 BMBS Round 4 - Dalby Forest

It's 3am, I can't sleep – my mind is racing, my body is shot – what happened.

Dalby forest – a personal history. In May last year, 500 meters from the end of the race I hit a tree stump propelling me through the air and into the ground hard breaking my collerbone. April this year, the World Cup, crash hard on my second lap hurting my leg, hip and back – I couldn't pedal anymore – strike two. Like a jockey thrown from a horse, I had to get on, get right back on, so I did – yesterday we had the fourth round of the British National Series in Dalby.

CRASH – but this time of another kind. Road Stage racing, criteriums, marathons, road races, cross country races – all in the last two months – I had raced in 4 countries (UK twice) in the last 14 days. Something had to give, I thought I had considered it all and rested appropriately, but I hadn't. Pop, crash, bang, whollop – that was me.

The race started with a slipped pedal – no big deal, I sprinted on and 4-5 minutes into the race was in around 12th position – a platform to work from. That was really it though – the body shut down, the legs stopped, game over before it really began. I hit the major climb on the lap, a steep 3-4 minute affair and pushed hard, my heart rate was pegged but a train of 10 riders rode by me like I was standing still – I couldn't do anything – nothing, climbing is usually my forte – it was tough, physically tough, mentally tougher. I rode on, barely turning the pedals, more riders past and I realized I was barely moving. As I came around to complete the first lap, I was fried, mentally, physically I was spent – the great form I had the previous week was gone – was it too much to ask for a fast XC race only a few days after the hardest race of my season?

Horses, getting back on horses, damn me – I had said before I arrived in Dalby that my only goal was to finish, to not be a DNF. Why did I say this, as I went through the first lap, the smart thing would be to stop, pull in, regroup ,fight another day – I was just destroying myself physically and mentally – I need to save these mental matches for when they count (eh, National hill climb and XC Champs in the next few weeks!). But I must finish – I soldiered on. A few more riders past me, I didn't care, apathy had taken hold with my only wish being for the ordeal to be over. I looked at my laptime as I go through the start/finish – I'm not much quicker than Mel today (usually, on a course like this, there is a 15% difference in our lap times – not so today).

I suffered, I hated it, but I did finish, I got through the race, I didn't crash (or at least, I didn't fall off the bike), no hospital trips and the horse was remounted. It was the slowest I have ridden in an XC race in a few years but I did get through it – my goal of finishing was met. Yeah, I was sick afterwards, couldn't eat and felt the worst I have felt in a long time – but sometimes you gotta latch onto the good things.

Postscript (bike nerdy stuff) – I always race with a Garmin bke computer which really is a treasure trove of post race analysis. The big climb on the first lap, it was terrible – I was climbing it at the same power as I was climbing the much longer climbs the weekend before at the END of the almost 6 hour marathon – I was also climbing slower than when I tootled up them on a practice lap the previous day – despite all that, my heart rate was pegged. There was something seriously wrong during the race – a case of over-raced, over-reached or sick. Afterwards, the only thing I could stomach for several hours was a can of coke – a thing that usually turns my stomach.

The next week is rest, pure unadulterated rest, well, if I can ever fall asleep...