Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Marathon Champs 2010 Report

The 2010 Irish Cross Country Marathon Championship was hosted by MBCC and was run over and around the Ballyhoura trail center on the Limerick/Cork Border.

I wanted to give this and the Cooley Thriller a really good go as it was the last 2 races of the season and I wanted to end it on a high. Unfortunately mechanicals put a stop to my gallop fairly early in Carlingford and the build up plans for the Champs were not going as I wanted either. A combination of bad weather (yeah I know), and being busy had reduced by training plans down to bare minimum, so I was not particularly confident going into the race.

We got down to the venue for 10:30 and after a bit of messing around found some decent parking. With the race starting at 11:30 there was not a lot of time to do anything other than get signed up and changed. The first climb would do as my warm up. So we all started gathering oat the start line. It was going to be gridded by category but it was to be a mass start. And considering in the first 4 km's we were climbing 250 meters, no one was worrying about being caught behind slower riders.

Myself and Oisin were chatting at the start and once the flag was dropped we were up the hill attempting to pass as many riders in front as possible and as the kilometers rolled by the fire-road began to empty of riders until all I could see nearby were Oisin, James McCluskey, Mick Jordan (Vet), Evan Ryan and Ryan Sherlock (both elites). There was also another guy I didn't recognise, but looked like he meant business - more about him later. It took me 15 minutes to reach the top of the first climb and I felt pretty good - even managing to catch Evan and get ahead of him for a short while.

However before the first feed station, Evan had pulled away slightly and James passed me and was just up the road, with Oisin just a little ways back. I tried to keep the James in sight while trying to take a decent drink. The plan was to stop at the feed station, but James didn't so I thought better of it as I still had enough in my bottle to get me to the next station at 26km. We dropped straight into the Singletrack section and I tried to keep James within sight. Oisin who would be much better at getting a good steady flow on the trails, got past me and pulled out a gap. Luckily for me, it seemed that at the end of every singletrack or techie section was a fireroad climb, so anything that the guys gained I could claw back.

A similar pattern followed for the next couple of hours, the guys would pull an advantage on the techie stuff and I'd get it back on the climbs. I pushed as hard as I could on the descents, but you needed your wits about you as they quickly went from being ridable double track to a strip of clay 6 inches wide with gulley's either side. There were also huge (and I mean huge) ponds of water to contend with. In fairness to the organsiers, they were marked well for the most part and you knew which was the shallow end! I did have problems with the mud/bog holes - one in particular on a corner which I went around the outside of only to find the front wheel sinking up to the axle!

Things went bad for me on one rocky climb. Very silly mistake had me over the bars and face planting the rocks. I damaged my finger which started to swell up straight away, but I also got some serious road rash on my left shin. It was the worst pain I've ever felt. I was convinced I smashed it to bits. Pretty sure I shed a tear in pain at that point and not to proud to say it either! I managed to pick myself up and hobble up to the end of the rocky section. Blood was starting to drip from my leg at this stage. My head dropped and was I was not sure about what to do - leg hurt, finger hurt, face hurt, halfway through a marathon race and I had no idea where I was. So after a minute or so I just got on the bike and tried to pedal. It hurt a lot at first, but the course flattened out slightly and each pedal stroke was a little less painful.

As we began climbing up again I could see a number of riders ahead of me working their way up the hill. As I got closer I could see another bunch stopped at the top and pointing in different directions, chatting away. Not normal behaviour in a bike race :) When I got to the top there was Ryan, Evan, James, Oisin, and a number of other riders. Turns out the course was not marked 100% correct and we had reached a dead end. The only solution was to going back down the hill to a turn which was marked off by ribbon. So we all went back down the hill and broke the tape blocking the correct route. A marshal confirmed that we were right and apologised. This detour added about 1.5 to 2km's onto our race and I think it was a good thing to happen for me as it totally took my mind off the pain in my leg.

So we were off again, descending at high speed, dropping in and out of singletrack and up climbing fireroads. I kept drinking and had a few gels and a bar (took ages to chew the bar but was a nice treat to have!) and felt pretty ok apart from on the kicker climbs which did take a bit out of me. At this stage of the race we had about 15 km's to go. Oisin, James and I were all together again and coming up on the last feed station. I went to get a bottle as muscles were starting to tighten up so cramp was not that far away. James did also, but Oisin kept going. James grabbed his bottle and chased after him. I just rolled up as I was sure there would be a hill soon enough to catch them on. There was sharp left turn shortly after which led onto a rough techie climb. I caught up with the lads fairly easily, so was beginning to thing they might be in a spot of bother (finally!). We rolled out onto a flat fireroad section and I decided to push things on a bit. Based on the distance traveled to that point I figured we had about 14km's to go with at least 3 of that downhill. So with some very fuzzy thinking and logical applied I picked up the pace a bit, passing James first and then Oisin. I had a quick chat with him and it turned out he was cooked.

We hung a left and onto the final climb of the day. I could hear a bike right behind me so kept increasing the pace gradually - there was no way I was going to jump out of the saddle and sprinting at this stage, would have ended up cramping my entire body! A few minutes later all I could hear was my bike and my heavy breathing, but I kept the pace up as it was all or nothing at that stage.

I got to the top of the climb and was directed down the singletrack. I thought I was only a kilometer from the finish line, but it ended up being closer to 3. I kept pushing it on the descent but did not enjoy it that much as I was hurting at that stage and I was also starting to think about the fella I saw at the start and who had been up front for most of the race. I began to think he was a master and I was just racing for 2nd place. So by the time I got to the finished I had resigned myself to that and was happy to settle for the podium. As it turned out he was a master, but was racing under a day license. It was afterwards I found out it was Anthony White, a top UK endurance rider. He came in 3 minutes ahead of me so I was quite chuffed with that.

So, in total I covered 64km's, had an average HR of 153 with a MAX of 167.

So, once it was confirmed that Anthony was not eligible for the title it was relief for me and I could relax finally. We had 2 podium appearances - one for the overall race and one for the national champs. So that meant a 1-2 for MAD in the masters champs with Oisin coming in a few minutes behind me. James DNF'd - I'm not sure why as he seem to be ok spinning back when I left him, and seemed fine when he rolled in.

To be honest the whole thing was a bit of a surprise - not just winning on the day but coming from starting mountain biking 4 years ago, or from 2 years ago when I started to take it seriously and train properly (well, when training could be fitted in) - its just been an interesting journey. And just in case I don't get me anymore of those national champ jerseys, this one is being mounted along with the medal!

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I've not managed to do much since the Cooley Thriller apart from the race in Mondello park. I came down with a head cold shortly after, so that along with my dodgy knee kept me off the bike for another week.

Last Saturday I thought I was on the mend so went off on a 70km south through Kildare along some rolling hills. It took a lot out of me but felt I could do a long one the following day. So I got myself together and headed off with a plan to do my usual 120km by Enniskerry, Djouce, Luggla, Sally Gap, Wicklow Gap, Hollywood. However when I got up that morning I knew it was not a runner - felt totally exhausted. So Another easy spin around the lake and a new plan which consisted of gradually getting back onto the bike.

So this week I did the commute to work again. Monday was disaster, got caught in the mother of all downpours and to make matters worse I punctured.

Tuesday I decided to head over to Robin Seymour's Cross training session in Ballycullen. I'd never ridden the Kinesis off road before and was not sure what to expect. There were plenty of people out and it was good craic. It's a lot more intense than I was expecting. Probably down to full on speed, jumping off, running up a hill carrying a bike and hopping back on and up to full speed again. I did enjoy it and will try to keep making the training and will defo do a couple of the races for the craic. I will need to get a 42 ring for the bike and a cheap set of wheels so I can keep using the bike for commuting.

I kept on cycling to work for the rest of the week, and on Friday morning I got up early for the big spin into work via the Sally Gap. It was a hard climb from Kippure House to the Gap. pretty cold and foggy, but the sunrise over the hills made it all the worth while.

Today I just took it easy and spent some time with the family... but also managed to replace the drivetrain and bottom bracket on the Giant. Tomorrow will be big spin day, then commute to work Monday, cross on Tuesday and maybe one more spin into work on Wednesday. Then its resting up for the Marathon Nationals. I'm not sure how I'm fixed for them to he honest - the time off was not planned and I think I could have done with another couple of big spins. Plus, by race day it'll have been 4 weeks since I've been on a mountain bike! Thats just the way it is right now though - where I'm based makes mountain biking time consuming and I don't have much of that to spare these days. Anyway, once this race is done, it'll be mtb fun times :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Almost end of season...

...but not quite...After the Cooley Thriller the plan was to take a week off and see if the pain behind my right knee cleared up. However while browsing irishcycling.com I saw that Naas CC were hosting an Open race at Mondello Park. It was too much to resist, so Thursday evening myself and Gene cycled out to the race track (its only a 20 minute cycle from the house so it would be a good warm up too). As usual I had not prepared for this like I usually would for an mtb race, but wanted to give it a good lash all the same.
When we arrived there was a good crowd already out on the track warming up, so after signing up we were out on the track. It was great to be out on the race course - nice surface and no oncoming traffic! The track was essentially flat with lots of interesting corners - some hairpins and double apex turns which would make for interesting racing. The race was for 50 minutes plus 3 laps and with the laptime at about 5 minutes it was going to be more like a criterium race.

Pretty much back on planned starting time we were off. There were about 40-odd A4's out with about 7 or 8 guys from Naas CC. I was not too sure how the race would play out - I was maybe expecting a few breaks, so wanted to try stay up the front just in case. However, the Naas CC guys went to the front from the start and kept the pace very high which, on the negative side removed any chance of a break, but on the positive reduced the chances of the A3, A2 and A1 cats catching us.

Despite my best efforts to stay up in the front 7 or 8, I kept finding myself slipping back down all too easily. One of the main reasons was my hopeless cornering. Pretty much from the start I could feel the front of the bike sliding away in the corners due to the speed. This totally freaked me out and I tiptoed in and out of the bends, which would then mean I had to put the hammer down to catch up with the bike in front. And that was pretty much my race in a nutshell - early and excessive braking following up leg burning sprints straight after - the perfect workout!

The 50 minutes went by pretty fast, and it was hard work - for the 67 minutes of racing we averaged 40 kph! My average heart rate was 164bpm, which is 2 bpm lower than my all time high in a race. In the end only 2 riders from the higher cats bridged across and the top 3 were all A4's. We wheeled in with the lead group 10-odd seconds behind the winner.

It was a great evenings racing/workout. Having access to the race track was fun but also added to the race also and I hope the guys will be able to host more open races there next year.

Photos here and here and race finish below

The marathon champs is still 3 weeks away, so now its a case of getting back on the bike after my weeks "holidays". The knee pain is still there, but I'm pretty sure its a minor problem and have had some physio done on it too so I'm happy to start kicking out the watts again :)