Tuesday, 14 May 2013

24hrs of Exposure Solo MTB Championships

I had decided I wanted to ride this year's Exposure 24hr solo championships 'stronger' and 'harder' than last.  This would be dead easy of course, all I needed to do was improve on my fitness, skill and some of the more shabby areas of my performance from last year and I'd be able to go faster than before.  So easy in fact, even a two year old could tell you...

Number one - training
I've trained harder this winter than I did last year.  Given that last year's training competed with a long commute, full-time work alongside a PhD, moving house and other various life events it wasn't actually that difficult to improve things.  Plus I had Kate Potter of AQR guiding me through my training, after all if you want to do well in a 24hr race you should chose an expert 24hr-racer-turned-coach to guide you.  Training goal completed (well, there's nothing wrong starting with a nice and easy goal to make yourself feel good).

So onto the race itself:

Number two - the start
Whereas last year I pootled start to finish, this year I wanted to see if I could get off to a stronger start.  I did reasonably well with this and a couple of practice laps proved useful in hitting the right lines from the off.  It didn't quite all go to plan though and on my first lap I nearly got taken out by two deer running across the trail and burped a front tyre which was accompanied with a small tumble over the bars.  In my defense I felt I needed to leave myself something to improve on in the next 23+ hours.

Three - consistent laps
I had worked out by what percentage my lap times had increased through the race last year and was aiming to keep this down.  The huge deluge around 8pm put pay to that as the course turned into thick mud but having seen that I did laps 3-8 in exactly the same time and haven't yet seen my lap times for the rest of the race I've decided to give myself this one anyway.

Four - pits
I wanted to make sure my pit stops were as efficient as possible: rolling changes for bottles and gels as much as I could and take longer if needed but no languishing.  With the pit crew that was there to support me and fellow Cotic-AQR team mate Martin, it was hard not to get this one right. So good were the crew that they were only slightly flummoxed when the gazebo tried to take off in the wind and rain amid a soggy kit change.  Not bad you lot, not bad at all...
Cotic - AQR HQ
And five - food and drink
With shorter laps and a wandering mind I was finding it hard to remember whether I'd had my requisite gels and bars on some of the laps.  Energy levels were ok so if I did I can't have missed too many.  Once it started to rain and I donned the thicker waterproof gloves and rain jacket remembering became the least of my problems as I couldn't really get into my pocket for my gels.  Luckily whilst ferreting around I did find a Lipsil so I was able to ensure my lips didn't get chapped mid-lap.  Handy.  Given the lap wasn't that long I could get away with eating just once a lap and my pit crew took to squirting a gel into my mouth and sending me out chewing a bar each time I went through.  I just made sure my lips were kept well conditioned.

Finally, number six - ride efficiently
This course was not my friend - it had none of the bits I'm any good on and lots of bits I'm rather shady at.  Long, mind-bending slogs and techy descents I'm your girl; rooty, muddy, twisty, uppy-downy trails - no ta. Although bizarrely I enjoyed it, well, most of it most of the time.  The fact that the course played to all my weaknesses made it harder but more important for me to ride  efficiently.  I think I did pretty well until the rain and mud came.  Then for 12 hours I didn't make a single lap without at least one unplanned dismount.  My personal favourites were the backward somersault with clean double-footed landing and when I managed to take out pit-mate Rob mid fall.  That'll teach him to ride alongside me. 

Last lap glory

And that was it.  Despite a few hiccups I think things went rather well.  I can definitely say that I did what I set out to do and rode harder, stronger and 'faster-faster' than I did last year.  Throughout the race I held onto second place with first never far out of sight.  I've retained my national 24hr champion jersey which is a nice way to celebrate me achieving what I set out to.

It should go without saying the massive thanks I owe my pit crew for their support before, during and after the race.  It might be solo racing, but I couldn't have done it without them all.  Also thanks to SIP for another great event, it's a shame it doesn't attract the number of entries it deserves.  

Podium antics

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Second helpings

The thing about going back for seconds is they're never quite as good as the first serving.  The first time round has a reason; the need for a bit more isn't really defined.  Seconds never hit the spot in the way the first portion did.  And there's the risk that it's cold and congealed, stale and old.  At best you're underwhelmed, at worse you feel a sick and wish you hadn't bothered.
I've told you, you'll wish you hadn't
My first helping of 24hr solo racing was the 2012 Exposure National 24hr MTB Championship.  I had a couple of aims.  Firstly, could I do the training I needed to do get to the start line and to give myself a realistic chance of being able to complete a 24hr race? Number two, could I actually 'complete' a 24hr race without having to walk entire laps or have several hours kip mid-way through?  

And I did them both.  My first helping of a 24hr solo race achived everything I wanted to achieve.  What's more I won the race.  It was tasty, I was full and it had even had sprinkles on the top.  So, despite my tendancy to reach for the serving spoon for a bit more, this time I was done. 

Exposure 2013 - done and done
But that seemed a shame.  Surely it couldn't have been that good, surely I wanted a bit more, surely having seconds could achieve something that the firsts did not?  But no.  I'd done that before and going back had never been as good.  I remained satisfied with what I'd done as I embarked on this winter's base training to achieve some yet un-defined goal.  But the question of what I was hungry for remained unanswered.  And despite my reticence to any further 24hr racing, the thought wouldn't quite go away.

Then I saw it all a bit differently.  This wasn't about having seconds, this was a whole new dinner.  I didn't want to go back for more because I couldn't achieve my first 24hr race again.  I needed new goals, not a new event.  Working out what my goals has proved much harder than before.  It's obvious to say that I want to be stronger and improve on how I did last year but working out how I can measure this has been tricky.   Comparing numbers of laps and distance to last year doesn't work as it's a new course and different conditions. Other obvious things like retaining my title, getting on the podium or achieving a certain percentage of the male winner's laps are all relative; they have more to do with other people's performance than my own.  This is about what I can achieve, not how well I do compared to others.  

With less than a week to go to this year's Exposure I've finally worked out what my goals are - I have my new recipe.  I may not achieve them, my dinner might taste awful, but at least I've resisted that second helping. 


Friday, 3 May 2013

The Cotic Solaris and the Bike Building Baptism

A couple of months ago I was fortunate enough to acquire what was at the time one of the only two available small Cotic Solari(i) 29er frames and this weekend saw me build it up in my first ever start-to-finish bike build.  (The small Solaris is now in production and available from Cotic).

SolarisThe Solaris has had some great reviews from trail riders but would it work for a relative shorty on the race course?  Big rolling wheels have a great theoretical advantage for endurance racing but I'm unconvinced that at 5'6" I have the height to make the bike work.  Feedback from my coach Kate Potter who is the same height as me and who had been test riding the other small Solaris, had been really positive about its relative advantages.  However, I remained unconvinced that the benefits of smoothing the lumps and bumps would outweigh disadvantage of the lack of maneuverability and difficulty getting weight over the front end; a major negative for smaller riders and particularly for someone who possesses as much bike handling skill as Boris Johnson.  Conversely you could argue that as I can't move a bike anyway it would make little difference to my riding.

SolarisAfter a few test rides of the bike in a fairly burly build, I found a stem and seat post combination that seemed to make the bike work fairly well - changing to an inverted 25 degree stem made all the difference to the grip I was getting on the front end.  Yep, it was harder to move around than littler wheels but I was flowing much quicker particularly on loose and rocky trails where the stability was really noticeable. Given the relative success of my demo-ing I decided to go ahead and purchase my own components to build up a bike suitable to endurance racing and my non-aggressive riding style.

Perhaps it may have been more sensible to ask an experienced mechanic to put the bike together for me but it seemed that there was no better time to give this bike building lark a whirl and so went ahead unsupervised.  I'm happy to report that there were no major issues despite me almost cabling up my gears the wrong way round but it did take me hours. And hours.  Thanks to Cotic, Clee Cycles, Race Mechanic & Eurobike, Paligap, USE and Cycle Sport North for the components and to my butler for the supplies of tea and biscuits. 

Its maiden voyage went pretty well (I'm pretending the two face-plants had nothing to do with my new bike) and my seconded run out with adjusted position was much better.  Keeping the front end down on sharper climbs is perfectly do-able although I have found that I have to preempt weight and positional changes much more than on my Soda.  I don't see this as a bad thing, one of my big weaknesses is adjusting my body position to move and balance the bike, but it is going to take some getting used to.

As to what degree I'll move across to the bigger wheels on the race course at this stage I'm unsure except the to say the obvious, it will be course dependent - weighing the advantages of the flow against the decrease in handling.  I'll be taking both my 26" Soda and Solaris with me to 24hrs Exposure next week just to hedge my bets.  As for more relaxed trail riding, I can't wait to get it out into the Peaks and give it a blast!

Final scores on the doors
My sub 22lb Solaris- not bad for a steel frame with full complement of gears
Frame - Cotic Solaris small - thanks Cy and Paul at Cotic

Forks - Reba RL 100mm

American Classic Race wheels
from  Eurobike and Race Mechanic

AC hubs & KCNC rotors from Clee Cycles

XTR shifters, mechs and brakes with KCNC 
chain and cassette from Clee Cycles

Carbon bars from USE
Ritchey Pro stem from Paligap

KCNC post and clamp from Clee Cycles 
Sella Italia saddle from Cycle Sport North