Tan-Lines (Good). Line Choices (Bad)

Margam Madness has moved to a new home. Not a new venue, changing from Margam Park would make the name look a little silly, but a new date; this year it was held on the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. This was Wales, where it always rains. This was also a bank holiday, when it always rains. However, as anyone with a basic grasp of maths knows the product of two negatives is a positive, and the race was held on dry dusty trails under a most un-Welsh bright blue sky.

79 riders gathered on the start line at 1030, I was on the second row, just behind one team-mate, Phil Morris, and alongside another, Ant White. The race has been growing in statue since it’s inception three years ago and now attracts some big names, such as reigning and former European 24hr Champions, Iwona Szmyd and Huw Thomas respectively.

Rich Samuel right behind me

My first lap didn’t go awfully well, I fluffed the start a little, taking longer than necessary to get my right foot clipped in and was about 20th as we left the arena and headed out onto the course I got a few places back on the run down to the first singletrack section. A group had broken away at the front but half a dozen of us formed ourselves into a chasing pack and set off in pursuit. I swapped places with Huw a few times, which wasn’t expected, I was quite pleased to be keeping up with him. The first climb was the loose gravely one which people either love or hate, I’m actually one of the few who love it, followed by a descent down through the rhododendrons, with an interesting drop at the end. There was another climb, familiar to me from various National XC races over the year but this then deviated from the usual route with a new trail-centre type descent, all berms and drop-offs down to the river crossing.

The second river crossing was preceded by the long grassy climb and the traverse descent. Coming out of the river crossing I got a large stick through my drivetrain. This resulted in a lot of noise and a sudden decrease in forward momentum. It was removed, but then I had the problem getting clipped in again, by which time about five riders had come passed me. I survived the following drop off with one foot waving about and set off up the climb.

Winner George Budd. This is about as much as anyone saw of him all day.

The black-run descent should not have been difficult. I rode it without any difficulty about three weeks before the event when having a look at the course with race organiser Gareth Hayes. However, I had come off twice in practice the day before the race.

The first practice crash was a silly error, there was a tight left hand hairpin about half way down, but I took the wrong line and went too wide, my front wheel hit a rock and pitched me over the front. It was one of those crashes where everything happens in slow motion, where your brain actually seems able to keep up with events. I remember rolling over and over with arms and legs flailing around, my eyes shut tight. I came to a halt and in that moment when the brain is able to process information thought “Oh good, I’ve stopped.” I could feel pressure on the top of my head and realised I was actually upside down, and had merely paused rather than stopped completely and so over I went again, landing in a seated position with my legs either side of a small tree. Had anyone been watching it must have a looked a bit like I was break-dancing, albeit with a cartwheeling bike in the background.

I went back up to the top of the descent for another go, thinking that I should be able t ride it properly. However, the crash had shaken me a little and my concentration wasn’t what it should have been, I got the line wrong almost immediately and flew sideways off the bike and into the undergrowth right at the top.

In the race itself sailed straight over these two sections without any problems at all, keeping my weight over the back of the bike, keeping the speed under control with the front brake and sliding the rear around the tight hairpin before taking the line too far to the left and ending up in heap next to the rocks steps a bit further down, blood coming from my left shin.

Fortunately that was my only crash of the race and wasn’t a serious one. On the following lap the person I was chasing elected not to tackle that and headed off down the alternative route. I followed him, electing not to risk shedding more skin on the tricky section. Rich Samuel was right on my wheel as I headed down there, he turned right and took the conventional route. The trails merged again at the bottom and I just got ahead of Rich heading into the next climb, the two routes were exactly the same length, perfect planning by the organisers.

Rich still right behind me. He followed me around for ages
(he did beat me in the end though)

The battle with Rich continued for the next few laps, I have no idea how many times we overtook each other. There were two other guys there as well, but I don’t know who they were, it made for a good little fight though, it was a lot of fun. Every time I came through the pits Jay, who was doing a great job with the commentary, would announce me 4th 5th or 6th, the places were changing all the time.

I dropped back a bit after about 6 hours, the climbs were starting to get to me a little and I was struggling to keep the pace up, Jay called me at 7th at the end of that lap.  Rich seemed to have got his head into gear on the techie descent and had opened a bit of gap there over the previous couple of laps so I decided to be brave and head down that route again. I just took it steady and there was no further break-dancing nor loss of blood.
My team-mate Donna Morris 
Enough grass to hide a bike, but is it 26" or 29" tall?

Stuart was roped in to help with bottles and suchlike, keeping me well supplied with Accelerade during the race and also providing just the right amount of heckling to keep me motivated, helped by Ian and Corby amongst others. The heckling obviously worked, either that or the Accelerade really is as good as I thought, and at the start of what would be my final lap I was back in 5th, which is where I eventually finished, crossing the line in 7hr56m36s, just over 3 minutes inside the cut-off, perfect timing.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the event. It is deceptively tough, despite my incompetence on the main descent there is nothing too scary on the course but it just relentless, there is nowhere to get your breath. My GPS device had recorded my nine laps as having a total climb of 11,780ft, but when I uploaded the data onto Strava later on it only registered 7,662ft, which is a huge difference. From the figures others were reporting I think the former is more accurate, it certainly felt like it as far as my legs were concerned!

I would like to say a big thank-you to Stuart for looking after me mid-race and to Kevin Thomas for the photographs, but especially to Gareth and co for another great event.

This Week I have Mostly Been Doing

This week I have mostly been doing; Riding my bike

The title should really be read in the voice of Jesse from The Fast Show but as I can only write on here you will have to do your own voices.

As you have probably noticed the XCRacer/Scimitar team are taking it in turns to describe a week of their training, and this week you have got me. I was actually supposed to be doing last week, but someone who shall remain nameless (in order to avoid embarrassing Phil) can’t read a simple schedule and leapt in prematurely and nicked my week off me. I had almost finished writing it when I spotted this treachery and so rather than write a whole new one for this week I have just added this paragraph and kept it until today, so this is actually last week.

Unlike most of my team mates I am not married and have no small children to worry about so can pretty much just ride my bike whenever I feel like it. I tend not to plan things in too much detail, I find that takes the fun out of riding and fun is of course why we all do it. For the kind of racing I do, mainly longer ones such as 12 and 24hrs, just going out and riding lots is probably the best training anyway.

Saturday, 5 April:
This started as a fairly dry and sunny day and so, for the first time this year, it was time to crack out the summer road bike. Living in South Lincolnshire means that opportunities for riding mountain bikes properly are somewhat limited. A bunch of us all meet up at 8:30 on Saturday mornings to go for a ride. We follow what is, by Lincolnshire standards, a reasonably hilly route and then stop at a cafe to eat cake and tease the waitresses, before heading home again.
The ride to the meeting point is about 10 miles for me, and we usually do about 60 miles, at which point most people wimp out and call it a day. However, Richard and I carried on to his house afterwards. I refilled my water bottle there and then continued without him. It was just starting to rain by this time and so I got a bit damp and, more irritatingly, got the posh bike a bit grubby on the way home. What’s the saying? “Never cast a mudguard till June be out”. Something like that.
Total distance ridden:103.6 miles

Sunday, 6 April:
Today was a bit damp and generally miserable when I woke up, driech as they would say up north (my spell checker doesn’t appear to like driech very much. Why will it do American but not Scottish? I do find American spellings rather irritating.) Anyway, I decided to abandon my brief flirtation with the summer bike and head back out on the winter bike with it’s mudguards and sensible tyres, and a pocket full of waterproofs. I stayed fairly near home, just doing some circuits, in case the weather really did turn horrible and I wanted to call it a day. However, it actually turned out to be rather nice, not too cold and no significant rain. It was properly windy though, and whichever way I went I seemed to be heading into it, I spent the whole day riding into a head wind.
Total distance ridden 105.0 miles.

Monday, 7 April;
Unfortunately I do have to go to work every now and again, which is a shame as there are many other things I would much rather be doing, most, but not quite all, of which involve bikes. I just do some admin for a local accountancy practice so it’s hardly the most physically demanding job and the hours are the bog-standard 9-5. Reading Donna’s blog last week I don’t envy her her job! [Week before last – Ed] Work is just under 8 miles from my house, and it is mostly quiet country roads and then a couple of miles of A road at the end. Despite this the traffic in town means that it is about 5 minutes quicker to ride than it is to drive. I am usually cutting it a bit fine as far as time goes so I always ride in the short way.
I run at lunchtimes a few times a week. I had a fractured kneecap back in December 2012 (ice-skating, nothing to do with bikes. The other fractured kneecap of November 2006 was bike-related. Both were surprisingly painful for such a small chip/crack) It is only in the last couple of months that I have begun running again. I try to avoid tarmac, due to other previous knee injuries which I’m sure you don’t want to hear about, so I headed up the nearest ‘hill’ to the fields at the top. This is the biggest hill near the town but this being Lincolnshire it is under 200ft (no sniggering from the Welsh readers please!)
On Mondays I swim after work. I started doing this in November last year as something warm to do in the winter and have progressed rapidly from Completely Useless to Poor. I shall stick with it and hope to have worked my way up to Average by the end of the year. I have made some noticeable improvements already, for example I can now breath on both sides, rather than just my left and am generally a bit faster. It was mainly breathing we were working on tonight, and also some arm work using the fins to help us concentrate on them.
The pool is in a different town to the one where I work, and so I set off on the bike at 5pm. The weather was OK when I left but I quickly found myself attempting to outrun a rather large and very black cloud. I failed miserably at this and ended up absolutely soaked and freezing cold by the time I arrived. Getting dressed afterwards for the ride home my shorts were still wetter than my trunks were! I had brought some dry socks and a dry base layer but unfortunately not gloves or shorts. It had stopped raining by then though so it was a slightly nicer ride home despite the unpleasantness of putting wet kit back on.
Total distance ridden: 37.8 miles
Running: 35 minutes
Swimming: 1 hour

 It was still not as wet in here as it was outside!

Tuesday, 8 April
I rode to work again this morning. It amazes me how many of my colleagues who live two miles away spend their time whinging about traffic and parking, it would never even occur to me to drive if I lived that close. These are the same people who moan about never being able to lose weight, I wonder if these things may be related?
Normally on a Tuesday evening I would play badminton for a couple of hours. Like swimming this is a sport at which I am not very good at all but which I do just because it’s fun. However, we play in the sports hall of the local college and this was closed this week due to the Easter holidays so I went for a slightly extended ride home instead.
Total distance ridden: 23.0 miles

Wednesday, 9 April
This was a pretty similar day to yesterday, a short ride to work and then a slightly meandering route home again in the evening, albeit a slightly different one.
I went for a run at lunchtime, up the same hill as Monday but around some different fields at the top. It was a lovely sunny day here. The flatness of Lincolnshire does put most of my fellow bikers off the idea of living here but the weather is generally a lot better than pretty much anywhere else in the UK. We have had a lovely winter, only been cold enough for a frost half a dozen times and fairly dry. I have seen on the news that this hasn’t been the case elsewhere. We get on average 16” of rain a year here, about a quarter of what they get in North Wales.
Total distance ridden: 26.9 miles
Running: 36 minutes

Thursday, 10 April
I drove to work today. This is quite an irritating thing to do and means that I become one of those people who whinges about traffic and parking while doing my best to add to the problem.
The reason for this is that in the evening there is the Thursday night time-trial. Normally this would be a 10 mile race but the first two events are 7.75 miles as we are still a bit short of daylight.
I had a bit of a blonde moment and forgot where the start was, it was only when I arrived at the start line for the 10 mile races and realised that no-one else was there that it dawned on me that I was in the wrong place and I had to have a bit of a sprint to get the correct start line on time!
I felt like I rode pretty well tonight, there was a bit of wind but it never made it a slog. I only encountered one problem in the race, a car in front of me wanted to turn right and had come to a standstill waiting for traffic in the other lane to pass. For some reason he had stopped over to the left side of the lane. The oncoming lorry meant that I was reluctant to go around the outside of him and so I braked and headed for the very small gap between him and the kerb hoping to get passed without taking his wing mirror with me. Slowing from 25mph down to 18mph costs time, but accelerating back up to speed again costs more, I would guess that I lost about 10-15 seconds in total. Other than this the race went well and I was happy with how I rode. There was a decent turnout of 36 riders, I finished one place lower than last week in 5th but was 18 seconds faster, despite the slight delay.
On Thursday evenings there is usually the pub quiz, a rare moment of non-training related activity for me. The only other thing I do which doesn’t involve riding or running is tinkering with bikes in the garage.
Total distance ridden: 7.75 miles racing, 4.7 miles warm-up

Friday, 11 April
I could pretty much just copy and paste Wednesday’s bit in to here, such is the exciting variety of my life. The running route was a little different, as was the ride home in the evening.
Total distance ridden: 22.3 miles
Running: 34 minutes

Saturday, 12 April
Road riders don’t seem to do variety. This week was trip to the same café we usually go to on a Saturday morning. I had decided to try the summer bike again, hopefully without cursing the weather. Everyone else was out on the posh bikes too and so it was a reasonably quick ride, the café stop was very welcome. I am sure the waitresses were delighted to see us lot all piling in, they must miss us when we’re not there. I topped up with a toasted brie and kiwi baguette (don’t laugh, try it) and a chocolate roulade with some raspberries and ice-cream, which is usually enough to keep me going until the end. The others all called it day at about 60 miles again, leaving me to continue the ride alone.
Total distance ridden: 104.2 miles

Sunday, 13 April
An early start for a road ride in the sunshine. I rode up to Sleaford, just over 12 miles away, to meet the others. We then headed south east into quite a strong headwind taking turns at the front. We had a café stop at about 40 miles, a cheese omelette and a sticky toffee pudding and ice-cream for me. The ride back got a bit competitive, the tail wind made it pretty quick and the group split up a bit as the fast guys really put the hammer down. Occasionally road bikes can be fun. I had about 70 miles on the clock when we got back to Sleaford so I carried on and did a couple more loops just to bring up the century. It was a lovely warm sunny day and it would have been a shame not to.
Total distance ridden: 103.3 miles

So that is a week in my world. Other than the bits where I have to go to work it is good fun. Next weekend (This weekend – Ed) will be  (was - Ed) the Margam Madness 8hr race which will be held on Saturday 19th. (was held on. You really need to sort your tenses out! - Ed) This is all very exciting, I had a delivery from Scimitar Sports on Monday so this will be (was!!!) my first outing in the new XCRacer team kit. My race report will be up on here shortly. (OK, we'll allow you that one in the future tense)

↓Shameless Plug↓

Just to a quick post to let you all know that there are still some places left for the Margam Madness at, oddly enough Margam Park. Luckily Margam Park agreed to let them have it there after they had come up with a name like that. The event is this Saturday, April 19.

Entry on the line is available in all categories, Solos, Pairs and Teams and there is a choice of 4hr or 8hr races.

These will be run in the ‘short’ format, ie only laps completed within the allotted time will count so pacing yourself on that final lap will be all important. A lap is about 7.5 miles with about 1,500ft of climbing per lap.

Registration is from 0830 until 0930 with the course open for practice from 0900 onwards. All categories will start together at 1030.

Camping is available on both Friday and Saturday nights (£5/night) and this includes luxury items such as hot showers and flushing toilets

Last year's weather

The weather at the moment is looking most un-Welsh, it hasn’t rained there for ages and the course is lovely and dry. The forecast for Saturday is pretty good too. I’m wondering if the Met Office have got South Wales confused with New South Wales? If I see a deer with a Joey I’ll really start to worry!

The weather I have been promised for this year
Any questions about the event don’t ask me, I’m just the messenger! Gareth is the man in the know, drop him a message at ghayes1980@hotmail.co.uk 

Event sponsors include Clee Cycles, KCNC, Loco Tuning and XCRacer team sponsor Scimitar Sports.

Welsh Sunshine - Margam Madness

I do actually mean sunshine in Wales, not the stuff we usually mean by the phrase ‘Welsh Sunshine’. A couple of weeks ago I went to Wales and it was dry and sunny for five consecutive days (which beat the previous Welsh record for the longest continuous dry period by about four and a half days)

Day two of my trip was spent at the racetrack at Margam, the venue which will of course host the British round of the XC World Cup this year. I was there  to have a look at the track which will used for the Margam Madness race at Easter with race organiser Gareth Hayes and fellow riders Ian Harvey Read and Stuart Goodwin. But when is Easter I hear you say? Same day it always is! (The first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox) This happens to be 20 April this year. The race itself is actually on the Saturday, 19 April. All clear? Good. There are still some entries left so be quick and get yours in.

Ian had his camera with him so we made a short video to show you all a bit of the track, and prove to you that it was actually sunny. This has been edited slightly to remove a) the massive climbs, or ‘proper hills’ as Gareth calls them and b) Stuart failing to unclip and falling off his bike in a rather embarrassing manner. Now that this has been removed no-one will ever know he did it.
Anyway, I had a thoroughly good time and am really looking forward to the race on SATURDAY 19 APRIL. There are 8hr and 4hr options, solos or pairs. Enter over on the XCRacer website.
The more observant of you will have noticed that for most of this video I am riding my singlespeed but there are a couple of shots where I’m on Ian’s geared bike, my first time on a 29er. For those of you thinking of riding the event singlespeed it is doable, but a couple of the climbs will be interesting, the short sharp ones rather than the long gradual ones. I was on 34/16 and it was fine for most of the lap.

Find A Gear You Like And Stick With It

I am writing this on a day of great historical importance. Some of you may have noticed, some of you may not. Today something has occurred which has never, ever happened before. I have been in Wales for five consecutive days and it hasn’t rained on any of them!

Friday was spent riding at Afan Argoed (since when I have received lessons on how to correctly pronounce it) It has been a while since I last rode a singlespeed, and I was slightly concerned that the Welsh hills might not be ideal terrain for one, but I was pleasantly surprised. I changed from the 34/14 I use at home to a 34/16 and it was fine, although 4,820ft of climbing in less than 40 miles was still a bit of a shock to the system for a Lincolnshire rider, I’m normally lucky to get 2,000ft in 100 miles!

On Saturday I was riding at Margam, a sneak preview of the course to be used for the Margam Madness event at Easter, more on this to follow shortly.

The trip to Margam had been the reason for coming to Wales, but as always with these things I ended up succumbing to peer pressure and so on Sunday morning I found myself on the front row of the startline of The Goshawk Enduro in Wentworth forest, 400 other riders lined up alongside and behind me. I had never even heard of it until the Wednesday! This was just supposed to be a bit of fun, nothing serious, just a nice ride around the local countryside. So how come I was standing there between Matt Page, former European 24hr Champion and Gareth Hayes, former bronze medallist at the European 24hr discussing who had been doing what training over the winter? What happened to my nice relaxed Sunday ride? I blame Gareth.

The first four or five miles were on tarmac and so the pace was pretty quick right from the off. I got a good start but the limitations of the gearing immediately became apparent when it started to get steep and people began coming passed me.

The course itself was pretty good. It’s not an area of the country I’ve been to before, just somewhere I keep driving passed on the way to The Valleys. There was a good mix of fireroads, singletrack and the odd section of tarmac. Despite the weather over the winter the course was surprisingly dry, there were of course some wet and boggy sections but not nearly as many as I had been expecting. The majority of the course was singlespeed-friendly too, there were a small number of sections where I had to get off and run but most of it was ridable.

Since the first climb I had been riding along quite happily at the tail end of the top twenty, and had passed the first checkpoint in under an hour. However, about 15 minutes later I found myself in amongst the backmarkers. This was a little peculiar. I was overtaking people who I clearly should not be racing, there were two other guys with me with whom I had been swapping places all morning, but the three of us were flying passed everyone else, far more people than should have been ahead of us.

There were three options for the race, 25km, 35km and 45km, the longer of which was the one I was doing. I just assumed at first that the routes were completely different, even though I had seen no signs indicating where we would split and that our course was merely crossing one of the shorter ones. What had actually happened was that a couple of hundred people had missed a large section of the track and so those of us at the front suddenly found ourselves at the back again! This wasn’t anything deliberate, just a case of one sign not being as visible as it could be and everyone just blindly following the rider in front.

This did however mean that we suddenly had loads more people to overtake, which was a lot of fun, and of course this race doesn’t actually count for anything so no-one really minded, although it was a little frustrating for those of us who had been doing well.

We had no idea whereabouts we were in the race by this stage but having lots of people to chase spurred us on and we kept up a decent pace for the remainder of the race. The weather helped too obviously, it was just nice to be out in shorts in the sunshine again after all these months.

It might sound a bit odd but this race reminded me of how I began mountainbiking fifteen years ago, just going out and riding the local woods as fast as I could, linking up various forest sections with fireroads and country lanes, and the retro bike just added to this sense of nostalgia.

Those who did the shorter routes (the actual shorter routes, not the unintentional one) missed one of the best sections, there was some lovely singletrack at the end before the final road blast back along the side of the lake to the start. This final tarmac section was the only place all day where a singlespeed really felt inadequate, my legs were spinning madly but the guy I was racing just stuck it in the big ring and shot off into the distance

I eventually crossed the line 36th in the long race. However, when I uploaded my GPS data a couple of days later it placed me 9th of those who had done the whole thing, although this is probably equally meaningless as not everyone was carrying one. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the problems. It was a lovely piece of the country which I have never been to before and I am pleased with how I rode, I’m feeling quite confident about the rest of the season.

Those who did the whole thing should have ended up with something
which looks very much like this. 29.5 miles, 4,364ft of climbing

Monday and Tuesday were also dry and sunny, making the five in a row. I stayed a couple of days after the race to ride at Cwm Carn and then the Forest of Dean, two very different, but equally good places to ride. The new Cafall trail at Cwm Carn was huge fun but it was also just fun to head out into the Forest of Dean and explore, although it would have helped enormously if I could have remembered exactly where I had left the van...

So anyway, why a singlespeed? Aren’t singlespeeds outdated technology which makes what would otherwise be a pleasurable experience needlessly hard and difficult, when there are much better, faster alternatives available? The same could be said of any bike, ever since someone first attached an engine to one the humble pedal bike has been outdated technology. Doesn’t make it any less fun though!

Thanks to Ian Harvey Read for the pictures