Friday, 8 March 2013

Here we go again..

What is the best preparation for a challenging 50k?
I guess the correct answer would be sleep, focused training, the avoidance of injury and a period of tapering in the week before.
I say 'I guess' because my preparation for the first event of the year consisted of illness, pitiful amounts of mileage off road and a three day business trip to Germany.
Sitting in the taxi as it screamed down the autobahn at well over a hundred miles an hour I had a short opportunity to contemplate the irony that as a rare amount of sun dried the trails in the UK, I was due to be sat several countries away unable to swing a leg over my bike to get some last minute training in.
Irony squared dictated that upon my return to Blighty a bloke with a beard will be collecting animals in pairs and starting sea trials of his newly finished Ark.
Wentwood sells itself as a tough event, when Al asked me what tyres would be good I suggested that if it rained tyres wouldn't make a difference as the whole thing would be an utter bastard. A few days of sun got me hoping that low levels of bike time would be countered by dusty trails.
You know I mentioned irony? He's got a big evil brother, who seems particularly happy when handing out colds, usually to the poor suckers who really don't want one (or even three, which, for those of you who may be keeping score is the number of colds i have currently had to date during 2013, that omits the fortnights worth of chest infection, in fact, whilst I have your attention and haven't as yet closed the brackets which is giving me this chance of an aside, I'm considering changing the miles ridden for the year to 'quantity of snot produced', number of the times I have said 'I hate being ill' or telling a cold to piss off and bother someone else, but, I digress, monumentally).
For the last couple of years my events calendar has been kicked off by the Goshawk Enduro, or Wentwood 50 as it seems to be alternately called.  Whilst the event as numerous names, it has only one goal, provide its riders a hell of a day in the saddle, early in the year over some fantastic, closed most of the times trails, ok, that maybe three, but read it quick and save me the job of choosing which two to delete.
My previous blog entries to the event will attest to the toughness of the course, a good showing on the day would set you in a positive frame of mind for the rest of the year (although this is a theory, as I am still waiting my 'good showing' at Wentwood).
I started the year with plenty of good intentions and goals, one of which was to arrive at Wentwood, storm round the course and finish in around 3 1/2 hours What actually happened was slightly more painful;
I lift shared with Al, and, on the morning of the event awoke to find sub zero temperatures embracing the countryside.  En-route to the event car park I made sure Al was well aware of my current ailments in what I like to consider an essential pre-ride ritual when not on top form.  Al meanwhile looked fit and healthy, brimming with confidence and proudly telling me of his ride strategy.. start slow, ignore his normal Jeremy Clarkson attitude of screaming 'POWER' and giving the first fifteen minutes full beans and to eat regularly, when he started talking heart rate zones I began contemplating whether he would notice if I opened the door and jumped from the moving car, rationing that it was likely to hurt less and be over quicker.
The car park was filling quickly when we arrived, the event's already legendary organisation was clear as helpers were laying straw in the carpark entrance to prevent cars later becoming stuck.
The car thermometer read -2 and, once we had registered we both made a beeline back to the car and its heaters to delay the inevitable freeze your nuts off bike prep that is essential regardless of how organised you are upon arriving at any event.
I love riding with Al, we don't do it often but every meet leaves me laughing far more than should be allowed when surrounded by fat middle aged blokes dressed in far too much lycra, he has an acerbic wit and happily drops into rant mode at the slightest excuse. Whilst we both sat watching bikers wrestle with kit and clothing we both complained about the weather and our decision to ride, to misquote Shakespeare, me think these riders doth complain too much.
Deciding that any race* strategy involving us requires a place on the starting grid just behind the bloke responsible for picking up rubbish we waited in the sub zero temperature, Al switching up another gear with excitement over the alarm set to chime every 20 minutes to remind him to eat the pre-prepared bite size energy bars and me to wonder whether I was wearing enough layers considering I had already lost the feeling in my legs below the point my 3/4 bibs ended and trying to calculate how many 20 minutes there were going to be in 5 hours.
With the starting gun came the 5 mile road warm up and the realisation from both of us that we should have had a piss before lining up.  Al proclaimed he had the prostate of a 40 year old and I had to agree I did too, well, I would of had I not been wondering exactly why I didn't visit the little boys room considering every time a crank reached the up position my thighs compressed my bladder enough to make my eyes cross.
Getting to the start of the off road section and it was quickly apparent that the organisers had swapped things round heavily. My mental map from 2012 was quickly outdated and I consigned myself to hanging on and enjoying what was in front of me at that moment, rather than trying to second guess what I would ride round the next corner I felt good hitting the first sinewy sections of singletrack and made good use of the undergrowth in overtaking manoeuvres best described as iffy.
I'll say it now, Wentwood is a bloody gem, the trails are fantastic on the whole and appear to have survived the harsh winter without significant damage, the only thing spoiling it for us were the riders we were amongst who hadn't realised that mountain bike events tend to consist of off road trails, we aren't xc racers but both of us are able to more than hold our own on trails and we found it frustrating to have singletrack spoiled by slow riders up front who seemingly have no understanding of the people behind them, seriously, what idiot would just randomly swap from one side of a steep muddy chute to another without at least some form of check over their shoulder? In my defence though, I couldn't see Al at the time and did apologise straightaway.
I have a hill in Wentwood which is my mental nemesis, this thing is a long drag up fire road followed by a brutally steep road section to finish, its held a place in my head since last year when I approached it with 45km in my legs. This year it marked the final run in to the 25km marker and as soon as I realised where we were and what was to come my mind defeated my body.  Arriving at the feed station a minute or so behind Al I was beginning to realise that my endurance had been severely affected by the seemingly endless rounds of colds, the full 50k wasn't in question but I knew that to get to full distance was going to involve a fair amount of pain.
I read a cracking two part mantra recently, 'No matter how bad you feel, keep moving forward', the second part goes 'When you can't race, repair yourself'.. in other words, eat and drink.. the stuff we ignore when the competitive juices are flowing freely and you are chasing down the riders in front.  Now was that time, I made an effort to eat the bars and gels I had in my pack, washing them down with water laden with nunn tablets. Al was waiting at the end of the section and pulled no punches in his summary of the trail, I seem to remember a willingness to slam his wedding tackle in a heavy door before roding it again.
Pain is inevitable, as the saying goes, suffering is optional. I was determined to keep on smiling but I could tell as the miles racked up that Al was being generous by dropping his pace to match my own. At around 35k I finally relented and entered the dark place which waits for us all during times of tough exertion. A long traverse across deep mud which seemed impassable sapped me of positive thoughts, reaching the halfway point I came across several riders who had simply stopped to rest.  This filled me with confidence so I took heart and plodded on.
The 50k had 1600m of climbing in it, the first 25 accounted for around 1200 of that. Technically we had broken the back of the climbing, I think it had returned the favour and I found myself reduced to a crawl on many of the climbs.  This years course kept on giving though and more singletrack repayed the struggle.
I had urged Al to go on, I could tell he wanted to test himself and I was feeling increasingly guilty about holding him up. He showed the chasm in fitness which separated us and quickly pulled away.  Now left to my own thoughts I was determined to finish in good spirits.. 15k.. 9 miles.. I was running that a few weeks before and not feeling it the following day.
I was going to feel this though.
2013 for me has been plagued by illness, I had a similar few months after starting my last new job, I put it down to living in two areas of the country and being exposed to so many bugs, now I think it was down to tiredness and stress.
With mounting distance came mounting struggle, my body was succumbing to yet another cold and there was chuff all I could do about it but grin and bear it.  Succumbing, but I wasn't beat, I could see a group of riders behind me, my mate might have left me in his wake but I wasn't going to get done by a bunch of strangers at this stage.
I reached a lad stood in the forest dress in hi-viz stamping his feet and hugging himself against the cold. 
"I'm the last marshall mate, keep it going you're nearly there"
How many have come through I asked? I was trying to salve my pride
"Dunno, not many" he replied, "I reckon that's the sweeper though".. he nodded down the trail to the yellow jacket wearing rider that had been tailing me for the last few miles
'Kin 'ell.. kill me now, I've been slow before but never fucking last, my nano second of analysis of my piss poor performance and potential sale of all biking kit once I got home was interrupted by an update..
"Actually, scrap that mate, i can see a good half dozen riders behind him"
I thanked him, for the good news and the stirling event and pressed on.
A final climb and the glorious 5k descent to the end which is trademark Wentwood.
Into the carpark once again and Al was sat in the car, with the heaters on, he helped me load the bike whilst I wearily changed and we were soon on our way home.
Al was full of excitement, this was proof that all of his hardwork was pushing him in the right direction, I remained quiet, a mixture of disappointment and extreme tiredness enveloped me as Al pointed us homeward.  I was pleased for him, recommending an event which requires a mate to hand over cash is a risk, I was glad he liked it and would be back again, I didn't mind the weapons grade kicking he or the course had given me.
There'll be other rides and other years, lose the battle, win the war
*its not a race I insisted, far bloody from it as it turned out