Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Cooley Thriller XC Marathon 2010

This will be a short one :)

The Cooley Thriller is an MTB XC marathon race. I entered last year and won the Master category so was really looking forward to getting back up there and having another go this year. The course spanned 52km's across the Cooley Mountains with plenty of climbing thrown in to keep everyone honest. When we arrived the place was buzzing and it looked like a much bigger entry than 2009. The weather was not too bad - blustery and a few showers coming in but nothing too bad. As I was on holiday for the week leading up the normal pre-race preparation was out the window so I was not sure how the race would go.

After registration we got ourselves together and after the pre-race briefing we were escorted out of the sailing club and up through Carlingford village before starting the climb into the forest. There was no official start, but once we hit the wide fireroad the pace went up. Myself and Oisin got a little caught in the narrow lanes, but made up ground quickly - both of us were keen to be as far up front as we could for the first singletrack section.

We made it through easily enough and then hit the road for the climb up the masts. This was aserious climb - 6 or 7 km with the gradient hitting the mid teens on the top sections. Once I figured out the best gear I got into a comfortable rhythm. To be honest I felt crap for most of the climb and it was not until the top did I start to feel properly warmed up and a bit of go in the legs. As we progressed up the hill we began passing riders and close to the top we got a time check of 90 seconds from the leaders which was great to hear. I had no plans on competing against the elite riders, but it was still nice to hear.

Unfortunately that was the highlight of the race for me. Coming down the first descent I took a bad line down a super steep section. I managed to keep it together until close to the bottom but ended up sliding out on the wet grass. It was a nothing accident, but I think it was at that point I managed to break two spokes on the rear wheel. One of them wrapped around the wheel causing the freewheel not to work properly, so basically if I stopped pedaling, I'd get a chain suck type effect and it would lead to the chain dropping up front.

I kept going not realising what the source of the problem was, but on another descent when I did freewheel again, the chain hopped off the chainring and got lodged between the granny ring and the bottom bracket, totally locking the cranks, and in the process twisting the front dérailleur around by about 45 degrees. So I stopped for a bit to pull it out and set off again, but I knew there were big problems. So a little further on I stopped again and fixed the dérailleur. I wanted to quit as this point as I noticed a missing spoke and a buckle in the rear wheel, but I had no idea where the nearest road was! So after about 10 minutes I decided to follow the course and drop out at the nearest road. That turned out to be the Windy Gap - about 3/4's way through the race! But thats what I did and cycled back to the car park on the road.

I'm still gutted about dropping out especially after a good start and feeling good after the first climb, but thats racing. It was the first major problem I've had all year so when you look at it like that I can't really complain. I did some more investigation on the wheel when I got home. On top of the problems mentioned above, the locking nut for the cassette had also come loose with only the quick release keeping everything together! Total disaster really.

But on the plus side it was a great 1-2 for MAD in the masters category with Oisin winning and Mark coming second.

The Cuchlainn lads put on a great show again and I plan to get back up next year to try again.

There's a whole month before the next (and final) race of the season - the XC Marathon champs. So my plan is to take a week totally off all bikes and try to sort out my knee thats been acting up a bit since The Bull Raid 12 hour race. Then one last push before cake, beer and social spins!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Bull Raid

It took a good week to recover after the twentyfour12, but I was still not feeling super. Did not do too much on the bike – a couple of spins to work, an evening mtb spin and a big road spin at the weekend – but the tank never felt full. But myself and Oisin had planned to compete in the first Irish MTB endurance race – The Bull Raid – hosted by Dundalk cycling club. Unfortunately, Oisin had come down with a cold which left me in a dilemma – try to find a partner to race pairs with, OR try the solo. I had sworn not to do another endurance race again after the twentyfour12, but as the pain receded I began to warm to the idea of doing it solo. So, with very little thinking I decided to go for it.

Preparation did not need to change – I just did very little. Unfortunately I had plans on the Friday night so instead of camping the night before at the site, I decided to head up very early on Saturday morning as the race started at 8am. To be honest I probably got a better nights sleep, even though I was getting up at a ridiculous hour. I had cooked up a mountain of pasta the night before and a quick zap in the microwave I had the perfect pre-race breakfast - well fueled for a good few hours anyway. Car loaded, and I was up the M1, making it to the race venue in Belurgan at about 6:45. I met up with the rest of the guys from MAD and began sorting out our pit area. I also had to re-register as a solo rider with the organisers. There was no time for a pre-ride and the only info I had on the course was from the guys who did the Leinster League race back in Feb, and that was not great. Basically there are serious amount of schlomp on the singletrack. The week leading up to the race was dry enough, but it had rained the night before so I was not too optimistic.

As we got everything organised in the pit, we got the call for the pre-race briefing. All commonsense stuff and straightforward enough – cycle for 12 hours and the person who’s cycled the furthest wins – simples.

The first difference from the twentyfour12 was the running start a la Le Mans.
So we all pushed out bikes halfway down a field, dropped them and walked to the ditch where we waited for the start. Once the bullhorn went we were off, trotting across the field to our bikes (sprinting was not on as all my tools and food would have been fallen out of the pockets and scattered across the course). I hopped on the bike and the race was on. Again, like twentyfour12, I had no plan in terms of pace setting, but thought it would be good to get a couple of fast laps in before settling down to a comfortable pace for the rest of the 12 hours. And that’s what I did, managing to keep with the 2 and 4 man team riders for the first couple of laps before dropping the pace. I had not planned on stopping much either. I was going to stop on every lap to pick up a bottle and around the 4
th and 8th hours pull in for some food.

The course itself was very impressive. Technical singletrack, tricky drops, tough singletrack climbs with switchbacks, tricky bridges and not much fireroad. Oh and a motocross track thrown in for good measure! The course did start out wet, but within a couple of hours the trails were dry. The land owners did a great job laying hardcore on the wetter areas of the initial singletrack climb, so my concern at the start of the race proved to be unfounded.

To be honest the hours slipped by pretty fast and before I knew it I was in for my ‘lunch’ which Aine got for me (free pasta all day from the organisers). I tried to steer clear of the gel’s and energy drink as much as possible but at about 6 hours in I was running out of steam, so started to take a gel every second lap, and alternate between water and energy drink each lap, with the odd energy bar thrown in. And even tho I was using them sparingly, after a few hours the familiar tummy pains started to kick in.

As far as the race went for most of the it I had no idea where I was. I had a feeling I was up near the front, but after a few pit stops it was hard to tell. Again, team manager Aine came to the rescue and after a chat with the time keepers she had the info I needed to hear – in 1st place up 1 lap on Paddy, my club mate, who was in turn a lap up on Declan McCabe. At this stage it was 6:30pm and using my feeble maths I came to the conclusion I just needed to do 1 more lap, and I could take it easy doing to too! I was delighted as after 10 odd hours I was hurting. I crossed the finish line 40 minutes before the 12 hours were up and after a quick chat with the race director I handed over my timing chip and made my way back to the pit. I had completed 13 laps. If I had to I think I could have managed 2 more, but there was no point in putting myself through that! I starting feeling pretty sick as I sat down and in general I felt like I was run over by a steam roller. It took a good hour to summon up the strength to stand up again. I managed to pick up my belongings and pack the car before heading up to the BBQ. At this stage I still was not up to eating so got a cup of tea instead! As we sat around the blazing bonfire waiting for the prize giving I started to feel a bit better and managed a burger. Later I felt much better and went to the local chipper for battered fish, half pounder and chips!

The prize giving was great – it was my first time on the top of an actual podium and we go some great prizes too. Unfortunately for me I left my winners jersey and other goodies behind, but did manage to hold onto the cash and trophy!

I went home that night and got to bed pretty late. But I was feeling OK the following morning so decided to do the Kildare 100 – bit silly, but I was at a loose end and had paid up a few weeks earlier… plus there was a t-shirt and burger at the end!

Again, the Pronghorn was perfect. This was a real Irish course, plenty of rocky technical stuff, but the bike did not have a problem - its rider on the other hand had the odd off the bike moment, but for the most part I managed to keep myself attached to the bike.

More info on the race and results on the official site

And race video:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bontrager Twentyfour12

Myself and Oisin had signed up for this earlier on in the year as neither of us had ever tried an enduro event or had raced in the UK. We decided to gradually ease ourselves in and go for the 12 hour race - as opposed to the 24 hour pairs.

But the first job was actually getting to Plymouth. Some of the guys from the club were planning on taking the ferry from Rosslare, but due to time constraints we went for Holyhead and then the M5/M6. In hindsight I think flying might have been a lot easier, as it took us 9 hours from getting off the Ferry to pulling into the camp site, totally shattered. We pitched out tents and had some food/beer before hitting the hay. Unfortunately we were located by the toilets, showers and floodlights so there were generators going like the clappers for most of the night. I probably got 2 or 3 hours sleep. It rained too, which had be worried as I did not fancy having to switch to the Toro in the morning.

We were up early and got signed in - getting our goodie pack also. Then it was lots more food, and preparation. We had not put a huge amount of thought into tactics apart from we would both do a couple of 1 lappers full on and see how things went. Next was the race briefing by the organisers and Keith Bontrager himself. Before we knew it Oisin had to line up for the start. As we had no time to do a pre-ride it was going to be a steady first lap and the see what happens after that. The first lap was a little longer to stretch out the field before the loop began proper. Oisin stayed up the front for the mini loop bit and came through the start/finish proper in a good position. I wandered back to the MAD marquee and sat around for a few minutes before I just decided to go to the transition area and wait for the hand over.

Before I knew it I could see Oisin dropping down the hill overlooking the arena. I got myself together waited for him to come in. After a couple of minutes he came into the transition area and I grabbed the baton (which was a headset spacer on a necklace). I trotted over to my bike and exited transition and off on my first lap. After leaving transition you had a short section in the camping area before crossing a small river via a narrow bridge. It brought you out to a small section of fireroad and through a field. Then a nice little drop, sharp right and onto a disused fireroad which had you climbing for 3 or 4 minutes.

You then hit the first singletrack section proper. It kicked up sharply up to the right and worked its way through a mature forest. Lots of roots and swoopy turns before dropping out and across an embankment which led you onto the only road section. It was a sharp left turn into a climb. Unfortunately, the start of the climb was greasy as you exited the singletrack and I came out a big fast, so as I turned nothing happened and before I knew it I was skidding on the concrete with my calf and finger getting a good old grating. I was not planning on getting road rash at an mtb race, but there you go. I quickly got myself back on the bike and pushed it hard up the hill into the next singletrack section and got back into a good rhythm. The singletrack flowed along and you were never on fireroad for long before you were back on swoopy, technical trails. The variation kept you alert all the time, and there were a few sections which brought you into the camp zone which was great also as you got plenty of cheers along the way.

I got back to the transition area and Oisin was waiting. There was no time to chat – just hand over the baton. We communicated with a notepad back in the marquee and passed on messages via Aine, our team manager/mammy J. I felt good after the first lap, as it was only a 35 minute loop so really was no problem. I stopped into the first aid tent to get my finger cleaned up and then back to the tent. I had some fluid, checked the notepad and before I knew it, it was time to get back to the transition area. Oisin came in and we agreed on doing another 1 lap stint each before switched to 2 lap stints. So after a couple of fast 1 lappers we decided to switch to 2 lap stints. This would allow the other person to have a good rest and get some food in or get bike cleaned up. So Oisin came in and I went out. The first lap was fast, but the second was tougher and I the pace was notably slower. I got back in shattered and had some food. Despite having over an hour to rest up, before I knew it I had to get back to transition for my second 2 lap stint. Same situation again, first lap fast, second lap a lot trickier. But despite the going getting tough meeting and passing people on the course took my mind off things. There were so many racing on the course you would be calling ‘Rider up!’ every few minutes.

By the time I got in after my second 2 lap stint it we were over half way through the 12 hours. And then it started to rain proper. Because it was a warm evening, it was less miserable than you’d think, but an hour after the rain starting the singletrack descents were getting sliddery and one rooty climb was just about rideable. At this point Aine told us we were in 2
place which came as a shock to me. I never really set any goals for the race and had been enjoying the race, but now we had something to defend it suddenly got serious!

It started to get tougher once it got dark. The rain had abated, but a freaky fog settled in the forest sections at the highest points of the course. And with lights on full power you could just about see 2 or 3 metres ahead. I guess it added to the challenge but it did not do my nerves any good. After a couple of more laps I was back in transition with the help of Aine trying to figure out where we were and more importantly were the guys in 3rd place were. We had figured out that the guys were about 20 minutes behind, so 2nd place looked good. Now the only thing I was worrying about was Oisin coming in before 12am and forcing me to head back out for 1 more lap, which I did not want to have to do! Luckily Oisin arrived at the finish line at 12:05 to my relief and 2nd place was ours.

Over the course of the race the Pronghorns performed perfectly, they were great on the climbs and had no problems over the technical stuff. And when things got schlompy neither of us had problems with frames getting clogged up with muck or branches etc.

We were both totally exhausted and in the mud and rain we all trudged slowly back to our tents. Unfortunately the majority of the other racers finished at midnight also so there was a huge queue for the showers. So we just decided to dry off as best we could, pull out our celebration beers and get some food. However we were so wrecked we enjoyed neither so tried our best to get some sleep as we had to leave at 9am the following morning to get the ferry. Unfortunately due to the general nature of a camp site and lot of generators around there was very little sleep. So I got up an managed to grab a shower about 5am and found a few people to chat to in the tented area before getting another couple of hours sleep before getting up for breakfast and packing up.

Despite the long distance travelled, lack of sleep and mucky conditions it was a great weekend – not just because of the 2nd place, but also to be a part of a big enduro event weekend. Ok, next year if we go we’ll be either flying or taking an extra couple of days to make sure we were not under any pressure. Plus, I think the night before the race I’d stay in a B+B to get a decent night’s sleep and then camp the following night.

More info on the race can be found on the official site