Monday 27 September 2010

it is what it is

As a fifteen year old boy I spent the night alone, high on Penyghent in a Gore-tex bivvy bag, living my dreams as a rough tough outdoor person. Well, that was the plan. In reality as it got dark I became more and more anxious - the beautiful summers evening gave way to murky dusk and I was acutely aware of every rustling of the vegetation, every sighing of the wind and every conceivable animal noise.

Predictably I cracked as night fell, and scuttled off down the Penyghent track with my tail between my legs, stopping to make the embarassing call to my mum from the Crown pub in Horton to come and provide a rescue service back to Long Preston. I had been coming up to the area since I was born, staying at my Grandparents just outside Long Preston, and although I was a London kid, the Dales and in particular the 3 Peaks were in my blood from the start. Further escapades as a young teen involved walking/jogging the Peaks solo, extricating myself (just) from a bog near Penyghent, having seen only sheep all day on my mid week jaunt. I lived to be out and about in those hills - it was such a release from the urban suffocation that was my Wimbledon home.

Fast forward 27 years and the same boy finds himself high on Penyghent again, this time in daylight but equally in a state of anxiety - riddled with cramp in the back of my thighs and facing the unnerving descent back to asphalt at the bottom of the PyG lane. It isn't so bad really, that descent, but in a strung out state it can take on a significance beyond its actual difficulty. I got down of course, and in one piece and puncture free - my preparation these days is fairly meticulous and technical skill improving year on year. But the brief flirtation with danger and actually bodily harm magnified the experience all the more.

Each year I do the Peaks, I fall in love with it more and more. This year was no exception and lighter and fitter I PB'ed with ease, squeezing under the golden 4 hour time barrier. I've listed the technical and physical preparations for that attempt at an elusive 'float' ride elsewhere - what I hadn't bargained for was the emotional effect of what was a nigh on perfect Peaks ride. It wasn't just that I was 'racing' rather than surviving the event for the first time in years - I had produced a top ten finish nearly 20 years ago, but that was in an era when the field contained far less strength in depth and I was a student and therefore full-time athlete. For me this year, it was the resonance with the event as a whole. The atmosphere, the terrain, the weather which allowed stunning views all the time. As I have become older, and perhaps less blase about some things I have begun to acutely feel and not just know, how special the event really is.

Photo: Nic Betrand - who I am sure will be wanting to enter next year....

The descent down to the haven of the road was difficult as ever but interspersed with people shouting my name and encouragement. And not just spectators either but other riders enduring their own private hell just as I had done shortly before, but still drawing breath to shout encouragement. Often I was too absorbed to look up and recognise the callers but it was all most welcome. Earlier on the climb to Penyghent, at the dogleg right before the final summit ramp, I had been distracted by a chorus of shouts calling my name and urging me on. I looked over to see what looked like a family of about 5 or 6 - I have no idea who they were but their support was most welcome.

This year I got to stick around a little longer after the event, hitting the Helwith Bridge ale and meeting and re-meeting some of those that had made the trip to the event, either to ride or support. It was the perfect end to a perfect day, and the comedown post-event is all the bigger as a result....

Thursday 23 September 2010

peaks bikes set up

The Saturday before the Peaks is always a big day - last minute prep and eating and for most a little shakedown ride to ease into the race the following day. Sat here this Saturday evening, I am quietly confident - I have been healthy all summer, lost 10lbs on last years weight and feel measurably fitter. Training too has been really Peaks specific this year and will hopefully pay dividends.

For my own Saturday preparations, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Konrad Manning, peaks devotee and columnist, and a local Burnley lad in days gone by. Konrad is now exiled to London but was back in his old hometown for the race and kindly showed me some offroad parts of the town I had never found, even in nearly 10 years of riding around.

Easy, ride, easy chat - a great way to get into full Peaks mode. I spent the afternoon prepping the 2 bikes I will use, so here for the record is what I am using for 2010:

Bike 1

Planet X Oom Johan XL frame, carbon forks
46/36 chainset with 12-27 cassette
Xero XR-1 clinchers with Kenda Cross Supreme at 65psi
Double bar tape
Bottle cage on seat tube

This will do Ingleborough and Whernside before being swapped at Ribblehead. Though I normally use tubs in the Peaks, I've been training on the Kenda £10 tires all summer and haven't had issues with punctures. They are as tough as Landcruisers but with very good side knobs that work well in stickier conditions, similar to the ones we usually get on Ingleborough early in the morning. The descent to Cold Cotes can also be peaty in places and the extra grip over say Landcruisers doesnt go amiss for me.

46 x 12 is fine for the swoopy downhills to Chapel le Dale. The bottle cage doesn't affect my carrying on such a large frame and is sensibly positioned very low down to keep it out of the way.

Bike 2

Planet X Oom Johan XL frame, carbon forks with less clearance
48/34 chainset with 12-28 cassette
Pair Wolber Profil 20 tubulars, 36 hole and handbuilt by Alan Gornall, with 34mm FMB Grifo file tread tubs @65/psi
Double bar tape
Bottle cage on seat tube

This is the Penyghent bike - fatter tires, lower gears and double bar tape to aid tired and sore hands. The fat white Grifo file treads might seem like an odd choice but there is no appreciable mud on this section, they are surprisingly grippy in wet, even muddy conditions and have a soft compound for gripping on any wet sections of the rocky PYG descent. They roll almost like road tires on the road too despite their large volume. Comfort is armchair-like.

So nothing fancy, apart from the FMBs and all tried and tested. The forecast is good, with temperatures nice and cool and I suspect the terrain will have dried out quite a bit despite soakings about a week ago. Good luck to everyone - see you in the pub for a well earned pint.

Friday 17 September 2010

final prep

Bull Hill, Rossendale.

Final, for me at least, 3 Peaks specific session. Cross race tomorrow then rest up and stay healthy.

Got the mechanical voodoos out of the way with punctures and brake block failures for 3 out of 4 of us.

Feeling good. I hope.

Monday 13 September 2010

2 weeks to go

I blame twitter. Even facebook can't cop for flak on this one. This year, even more than last, there is a buzz around, soon to build to feverpitch.

#3peakscx and #3pcx are the culprits as various Peaks entrants hone their form and reach new heights of anticipation.

In amongst this, nay right up there in the thick of it, is myself, one of a merry little band. (Others include @tikahuna, @aviemoron, @twinklydave, @steverile, @PhilHaygarth and @Mr_Terrahawk.) @DaveHaygarth's preparations though are even better documented with public Peaks sessions to whip him into shape, expert as ever and given spice this year by a slightly tongue-in-cheek but still relevant weightloss blog.

Dave knows how to 'Peak' for this event like few others and will no doubt toe the line in top condition. As for myself, this could be the year, actually. By 'the year' I mean a good ride, sub 4 hours and hopefully without a grovelling crampfest. Well, at least not one from the base of the Whernside climb onwards anyway.....

More running, more running with the bike, more walking with the bike and even, dare I say it, more riding the bike full stop have pushed me into new territory weight wise (yes me too) and form wise. I'm still not going to threaten 3 and a half hours but for a domestically and genetically constrained 40something, I may just surpass myself.

I returned to the theme of my last post on Sunday morning. Nearly Saturday night actually given the 5.30am alarm call to get up and sorted to meet with the keen Wheelbase duo of Dave and Lewis Craven. 'Intervals on a 40min lap' Lewis called it. More sufferance then. Crawling up the steep uneven Simon Fell-like bank toward Whittle Cross/Scout Moor summit, I once again mused on what is required for the Peaks. The ability to shut out discomfort/pain for long periods, mechanical sensitivity to avoid breaking both bike and subseqently self, technical ability on skinny and unsuspended tires and a keen understanding of pacing, measuring of effort and intimate local knowledge. I love it for all these reasons and many more.

Meanwhile a Whernside that was beautifully dry less than 2 weeks ago (above) will have no doubt turned into a boggy washout with not much sign of another significant dry period coming at the moment. Darn, I knew I was tempting fate when I glued on those 34mm file treads for Ribblehead onwards.

Expect more ramblings over the next fortnight as I attempt to calm myself, cram last minute training in and stay healthy for the last weekend in September.