Friday, 26 November 2010

The Search

It’s early, the first rays of morning sunshine are fighting their way through dense leaves to deposit golden pools of light all around me. It feels as though I’m sharing the beauty of this early summer morning with no one but Marley, my young boxer who skips happily through dew covered grass at the side of the path..

This dawn walk has sat in my mind for the last few days, it’s voice becoming gradually louder as excitement mounted. An internal alarm sounded that woke me from my sleep and I lay in bed for a few minutes thinking about the coming day, after quietly dressing I coax the reluctant dog from his bed and gather my kit. Slipping out of the house and transferring bag, dog and self to the car I drive the few miles to my planned parking spot.

Today I’m the hunter, this walk is the quiet planning and preparation for coming rides, I have the skills, time spent in a Rescue Team has left me equipped with the knowledge to achieve my goal.. my instructor on a search skills course was a tracker working for America’s Border Patrol, he used ancient skills to capture those entering America illegally, my skills are normally used in helping to save lives but now they have a selfish application. I look where I will find clues; track traps that will show who has passed by.. his words sound loudly in my head.. “Every contact leaves a trace”.. I ignore the sign of animals, I’m looking for the mark of Kenda, Panracer and Schwalbe.

Preceding weather will dictate how I search.. I’m lucky, rain has left mud that welcomed passing traffic, tracks were carved that set in recent hot weather, leaving dinosaur print like signs to show that I’m getting close.

My quarry is well known to mountain bikers, we crave it’s company and I live in an area where it is abundant. It’s those trails that swoop through trees, singletrack that presents you with a challenge during and an immediate reward after, the stuff of bikers dreams that fill post ride discussions with excited chatter and mounting enthusiasm.

Usually when I look for new trails, the family are in tow in the form of a ‘walk’ that warrants rolled eyes from my wife, she knows the true motivation of these forays into unknown areas of the forest and I do little to hide my enthusiasm when I spy a likely trail heading off from the path we’re walking. These potentials are then filed in mind ready for an opportunity to ride them or, as in the case of today further exploration on foot.

Walking on I spot it.. a small opening in the undergrowth with tell tale sign leading into the trees, taking a mental image of the start point I whistle Marley and follow those who have gone before. Carving on ahead is a thin scar, its line easily distinguishable from the pine needles that cover the ground.

I picture the passing track accelerated to riding speed, noting corners and dips and how they flow from one to another, moving along the trail I move fallen obstacles and do my best to commit the feel to memory.

Smiling as I reach the end of my new discovery, I swap the quiet shade of the singletrack for the fire road, scanning the immediate area for a follow up, I push back disappointment as I realise this stands in isolation and move on..

Friday, 19 November 2010

In Defense Of Winter

My work mate, riding buddy and head of FKK Racing has recently posted about winter training. I'm assuming here that you'll disappear off to read his thoughts on the subject so I'll pause a moment to await your return..

Hello again.. this just be my take on it but he doesn't paint a very positive view of the season that Britain seems to spend 9 months of the year entering, suffering or emerging from does he?

I've got a different view on the subject. I have to admit, I didn't used to have, but my change of heart has been born out of numerous dealings with wet weather that saturates to the bone, cold that chills to the core regardless kit used and darkness that stubbornly resists giving way to daylight.

I've come to realise that riding in the winter is, to all intents and purposes the yang to summer ridings ying. It's nature's payback for providing us with dry trails, sunlight dappled forests and balmy evenings when rides can finish late with only shorts and t-shirts being required. People often moan at the start of summer that they aren't fit, the fact they spend the winter months slumped on the sofa watching Top Gear repeats on Dave seems to be lost on them. In the same way as I believe the best descents are hard earned by grafting an ascent, those summer trails are all the sweeter for seeing them at their worst

I have a friend in the army, he often says that if you can train in the harshest conditions, anything else will be easy. To back this up, my best year of competition followed a difficult winter of training in preparation for an early year half marathon. Slogging through the cold, the rain and, more often than not, the thick mud that covered my favourite trails saw me hitting the frictionless summer singletrack full of new found strength. I admit, Ad does have a point, pulling on running or biking kit when, just the other side of the door the visible countryside is being battered by wind, rain snow or sleet is tough. When you're there though, so what? once you're wet you're wet, if you're cold you can warm up either through effort or reaching home and the comfort of a warm shower. Mud washes off, skin is waterproof and, to the best of my knowledge, the fondest memories are forged when the going is toughest.

Getting out there in the dark months separates us from them.. whilst we pound pavements or nail singletrack, the fairweather athletes and, even worse, the non-athletes sit, stagnating, hollow-eyed and oblivious to the world outside their windows.

I'm even backed up by scientific evidence (I'll note now this will be a rare occurrence on this blog so don't expect it too often) Research done by the University of Northern Arizone has found that training in cold air teaches your body to be more effective in it's use of oxygen, further more, Peter Clough at the University of Hull here in the UK found exposure to cold helps alleviate stress.

A double whammy it seems, ignoring the elements will not only give you a well deserved mental edge over your summer riding mates who hang up their kit at the end of September till the following year in favour of an increased waist line, it will also, seemingly will give you a physiological one too.

Winter Training? I'd love to

Thursday, 18 November 2010


Me.. much slimmer and younger!
During my early twenties, I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time hanging from various rock faces around the area in which I live, during the winter, I would spend a not inconsiderable amount of time hanging from indoor rock faces in the area in which I live.

I'm not really sure why I stopped climbing.. not the real reason anyway, there were a few catalysts which stand out and I guess the multipliers of these can be attributed to me eventually bagging up my kit and storing it in the loft for the past five years.

Around the time I was climbing a lot, I was reasonably good.. lead climbing* routes of around E5.  I was pretty fearless too, climbing whenever I could and bouldering when a climbing partner wasn't available.  I guess I got a bit obsessed.

And then the first of those little events happened.. whilst climbing a route that was new to me I completely froze.  I was leading, about 40ft up and just below the crux move.  I didn't trust the protection that I had just placed and I couldn't see an obvious position for the next piece of kit.  I stayed there with gradually weakening arms and an increasingly frustrated climbing partner stood below trying to push me on.  I eventually moved, topped out the climb and went on to do another few climbs that day, but the experience stayed with me, previously the height didn't register once I was climbing, I focused on what I was doing and all else faded to grey, after that however, I always had a slight awareness of increasing height.

The second incident happened on a slab route I'd climbed countless times before, it had rained the previous day and the rock was still wet.  Like I said, I was obsessed with getting out and, confidently moving off I got to around 20ft and fell, it was what is known as a ground fall.. in other words, my protection didn't leave me suspended in air, I hit the deck.. hard.  I didn't break anything but I was pretty badly beat up for a few days after.

I also saw a lad fall from around 6ft, landing on his bum, he broke his coccyx.. I can still hear the screams he made when the paramedics gently loaded him into an ambulance.

Needless to say, it's been about 5 years since I last pulled on my harness and dipped my hand into a chalk bag so I was naturally a little apprehensive when a mate asked if we could go climbing.

We climbed for an hour or so, ticked off some short routes, gradually increasing the technical grade and then, in a final act of bravado, headed for the bouldering room to round the evening off nicely.

You know what? I loved it, the feel of climbing, the smell of the chalk in the air, the heavy bass from the music reverberating through the building and the satisfaction of reaching the top of a challenging route. 

I felt hardwired into the old climber in me, sure, I didn't have the endurance to climb all evening then boulder til closing and steering on the drive home may have been slightly more difficult than I remember but I'll definitely go again..  Sitting here typing with sore fingers and aching arms I've got a smile on my face and I guess that's what it's all about.

*Lead Climbing involves climbing a clean route, putting in protection as you go

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Mind Blowing

I guess that's the only way to describe the skills of Scottish rider Danny MacAskill..

He shot to Internet fame when a video he recorded with his flatmate was released back in April 2009..

His eagerly awaited new video is now out and causing similar levels of excitement..

Go take a watch.. I bet you'll not believe what you're watching

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Back To Real Life...

We've spent the last week on holiday with Kates brother Rex, his wife Sam their daughter Esme, Sams family and few friends to celebrate Rex's 30th.

We all made the journey to Centre Parks in Longleat for a weeks holiday and I can say with some certainty that much fun was had by all.

I think 'holiday' is probably stretching it a little as we seemed to be constantly on the go, but that just made it more fun - how much can be crammed into each day.

A lot as it turns out, Center Parks, whilst time off work is definitely not a restful holiday, our chalet was pretty out of the way and we ended up walking around 5 or 6 miles a day.. me with a rapidly growing boy on my back in his carrier.. I didn't mind, it's easier than a pushchair and I can kid myself I'm getting a sly workout in.

We didn't spend as much time in the pool as I'd have liked, but when we were there Callum loved every moment and I turned into a 8 year with the prospect of water slides to throw myself down.  I even jumped into the outdoor plunge pool whilst everyone debated who should be the idiot that goes first.

Talking of slides.. check this out, that's Callum (aged 12 months) being sent down the slide meant for much older kids.  We got a few stern looks from the other parents until they all noticed that Callum was laughing like a loon.  We knew he would be ok.. he's liked swings and slides from the age of 4 months.. I think he has his parents love of fun..  Apologies for the pictures by the way.. taken on a rather rubbish disposable

Coming home and my thoughts turn inevitably back to preparation for the half marathon. I think I', in reasonable biking shape at present but I know my running needs a lot of attention to get anywhere near where I want it to be, especially with the number of running events I'm eyeing for 2011.

So, Gym last night and self induced beasting on the treadmill.. I really should get a schedule put together

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


A couple of years back, just around the time that we were mid wedding plans it occurred to me that a lot of what I do in my free time involves being alone, usually isolated and often in areas where mobile phone reception is sketchy, to say the least.

This realisation was given further weight through my membership of the local lifeboat / mountain rescue team, where I often attended shouts to those injured in remote areas.  The first 60 minutes of any serious injury are vital, known as the 'Golden Hour' this is the time when the casualty living or dying is often determined.

Upon reaching an injured person, one of the first responsibilities, along with providing suitable medical assistance, is to gain an understanding of who they are, any relevant medical history, allergies and next of kin contact details so that medical treatment further down the line is correct in nature.

I became aware that I should really have some form of ID on me whilst running, biking or hiking.  Investigating the options available I was initially taken with a dogtag system that was being targeted at motorbikers.  Building on the bombproof technology of details stamped onto a metal disk, it contained a small usb stick that you could input details on.

A great idea, but I knew from experience that the average Jo wouldn't have his laptop handy upon discovering some mud caked bike laying face down in a puddle of snot, blood and forest mud.  Neither would it occur to most that the fancy necklace lying in said pool may contain important medical information.

At this time I discovered a simple, U.S product.  RoadID.  Designed by a Mike and Edward Wimmer (a father and son team) back in the late 90's it came about from Mike being concerned at his sons exposure to pedestrian oblivious drivers, Mike urged Edward to carry ID with him whilst training for his first marathon.  After a near miss (hit?) with a truck the idea of a simple effective worn ID system came back to Edward with a vengence.

The idea took off and the RoadID was born. 

Scrolling through the multitude of grateful (if not unlucky) existing RoadID users, and how their ID tags had spoken for them when they were unable to speak for themselves I realised this was the product for me.

Looking at the options I quickly dismissed the fabric wristband.  I knew from owning various canvas strapped watches they would soon become rather obnoxious once washing and sweat had worked their combined magic.  I opted for the RoadID elite.

The options open to a purchaser are impressive, with RoadID offering a number of sports related images that can be added to the id plate, they also offered brain melting array of different sayings and text layouts.  Much dithering followed but I filled in my details and placed the order.

Only a week or so later (lets face it, fantastic service considering they are in America and were shipping to the UK) my RoadID elite arrived, I trimmed down the bracelet to fit my stupidly thin wrists and put it on.. That was two years ago and it's been there ever since.  Accompanying me on my 3 peaks weekend, numerous bike races, swims, runs and even to a wedding.

It's a bit scuffed now, but I think that adds to the look of it, besides, being loaded into an ambulance isn't a fashion show and as long as it remains legible, I see no reason to replace the info plate.

The site has grown and grown in popularity, with several big names adding their weight to the cause, they also sell rather nice clothing, they don't however, seem to have lost their approachable nature, with the Company owners replying to e-mails personally.. how many companies can you say that about these days?

My e-mail to ask about getting the banner you can see at the top of the page was answered, same day, by two people.. RoadID, I salute you...

If this feels like a sales pitch, well, ok.. maybe it is.. but I wouldn't lace up my trainers or swing a leg over a bike these days without knowing I've got my guardian strapped to my wrist