Auld Yins and Ladies RR, 2014

It’s been a while since my last up-date. It’s hard to believe its been 10 weeks since I last raced too – that’s the longest I’ve not raced for (during the season) since I first discovered my love of racing.

My back injury is taking a lot longer to settle down, and I had some bad luck with illness. Then just when I thought I was hopefully good to go, a minor insect bite put me on some strong antibiotics when it started tracking in my blood stream. Once again I was faced with the hard decision of racing or not. I opted to be sensible, mostly influenced by my back pain. My confidence has been knocked quite badly this season carrying an injury for so long and I’ve not enjoyed racing that much at all as a result of the pain. It has been very frustrating to know I have the fitness to enjoy racing and to recover in stages races but to be held back by back pain.

It was with pretty low goals that I prepped my bike and bags on Saturday for the Auld Yins and Ladies RR, around 100kms in the wind with some climbs and the men. This is usually the race I most look forward to every year. In fact racing with the Vet men on any road circuit is the racing I enjoy most of all and I always have done, even when I was just starting out racing and spent the entire racing getting dropped, chasing back on but managed to hang on to finish just outside the top 20. The vets and women’s races is usually amongst the safest I have seen and its fast, and I’m sorry there’s no longer a proper Vets and Women’s series in Scotland, with just two races like this left in the calendar.

I’d not been feeling quite right on the bike for a while but had put it down to my back but decided to check saddle height for some reason. I wasn’t particularly impressed to see it had dropped at some unknown time. I decided to take a risk and raise it, rather than leave it at the height I’d been riding with it at and had clearly got used to.

I tried to eat as much as I could at breakfast, knowing I’d need the fuel today, forcing down rice porridge, a banana and one of Osmo Salty Balls (these are simply amazing as fuel on the bike!) finished off with a double espresso.

osmo

The morning of the race was stress-free after I picked up Gen and it was a nice short drive for once. On the way there I drank Osmo Pre-Load and managed a full bottle of Osmo Active Hydration to ensure I was properly hydrated before we set off. Despite being August, there was an autumnal nip in the air, the strong winds making it feel colder than it actually was and dark rain clouds loomed overhead. I decided to be nice to my legs, making up my home made embrocation of Natural Hero Hot ginger rub and baby oil – it keeps my legs warm and the oil keeps the worst of the rain off my legs.

My warm up on the rollers didn’t go to plan as I couldn’t get my garmin to work properly and I ended up pre-occupied with that instead of just warming up to feel…it’s a bit scary how reliant on technology bike riding has become, but the neutralised start helped get my legs going. We had a storming tailwind for the first section which was a nice start to the race and I was actually having fun in a race and felt much more like normal.

There’s an exposed twisty section of road which leads round to the main climb in the race, Flanders Moss. It kicks up a bit, turns right, then ramps up more before crossing a road and into a descent. Approaching the climb I was full of negative thoughts and basically decided I was getting dropped on the climb (my confidence in my form with my back has really taken a knock) and unsurprisingly with an attitude like that I did. A mild bout of cramp in my quads didn’t help either – i’m assuming the cramp is from my saddle height being correct and legs unused to being able to extend properly. But out of no-where came some positive thoughts and I worked hard and caught back on again. After this my confidence slowly grew. I knew all I needed to do was get up the climb with the bunch the next time and I’d be fine as the rest of the circuit is rolling so suits me not being a pure climber or sprinter.

I was happy to find myself comfortable in the middle of the bunch, moving up through the middle of the field, even though I’d not raced in so long. I was also happy with some contact I had with some of the vets due to some sketchy riding over rough tarmac and a few near misses with touches of wheels in front of me. The roads were also quite busy and there was a continual squeezing of the bunch and riders on or over the white line forced their way back in so I was quite glad I felt confident moving up through the bunch, with the occassional visit to the gutter on the left if there wasn’t space in the bunch.

Just visible in no more, tucked away in the middle of the bunch

Just visible in no more, tucked away in the middle of the bunch

As the race went on, my confidence grew. Not only was i have fun, but i wasn’t finding the race as hard as i’d expected, feeling more than comfortable in the bunch and able to climb normally. Whats better is I had no back pain at all! At some point i realised i’d finish with the lead bunch and i was more than happy with that. With two miles to go the pace went up and then settled back down again after attacks were caught. Coming into the last corner, i knew the sprint would go from there and i also knew i wasn’t in a position to contest the win with 7 other women still in the main bunch and all of them ahead of me. I picked my way round those who’d blown up, crossing the line 20th, 6th woman. Truth be told I’m predictably annoyed with the result as I could / should have done better (previous years I’ve placed 3rd both times as the finishing climb suits me) but looking back with such low expectations and confidence, I’m glad I made the decision just to have fun and enjoy it as its done my head the world of good.

Congrats to Chloe Fraser for taking 1st woman, with second and third place going to Gen Whitson and Julie Erskine in a photo finish.

Up next for me is the final round of CDNW at Great Budworth before (probably) ending my season with the Kinross Vets and Womens road race.

The end of the road…?

I can’t quite believe I’m typing this as it all seems to good to be true after the last 10 months. After my last blog post I was pretty ill for 4 days and when I got better, my back decided to go into some sort of spasm. This was way worse than I’d been living with since stage 2 of the Ras na mBan last year – my back was in such a bad state that it was pulling on my pelvis and rotating it, meaning my hips were uneven height and leg length out too. Yet another hard decision about whether to race or not followed, in the end I decided not to as everytime I tried to climb on the bike it didn’t feel right with my leg being held at a funny angle from my hip.

I decided it was time to try something new and sought the help of an osteopath who has pretty much fixed me in 4 treatments. What a difference I feel after just 2 weeks – I honestly had no idea how rubbish I actually felt having learned to live with being wonky and got used to being in pain and I can’t believe I actually raced feeling so rubbish. It is a revelation to stand straight and normal, to feel all my muscles working properly when I cycle, and I can breathe better now the muscles in my back actually move instead of being jammed up and stuck together. The lower section of my back still doesn’t move quite as it should but its getting there, but other than that, I feel so much better and I’m now hoping for a better second half of the season…but to be honest, I just want to get back to enjoying racing rather than not enjoying it because I don’t feel physically right.

4 races in 3 days

Coming off the back of a big block of training and finally into some form is a great feeling. With 2 faster than normal chaingangs in my legs where I felt effortless on the bike despite the higher speeds, I was excited to be racing again although I knew 4 races over 3 days and a lot of travel would be a tough ask on my back injury.

First up was Holme Valley Wheelers 2 day 3 stage race. Traveling down on the Friday the team were lucky enough to have access to a top local sports masseur, Adam Hirst (@adamhirst_hirst), to waken our legs up before racing. For me after nearly 5 hours of travel this was amazing. I started on Osmo Pre-Load for hyperhydration and had this once a day for the 3 days and also ended up going through a whole tub of
Osmo Active Hydration. Well at least I was hydrated despite the changing weather conditions!

The first stage was a road racing on rolling roads with many potholes. Team mate Eve and I made the front group which was around 15 and initially contained the 3 Wiggle Honda riders before they attacked off and went onto win the stage.

The front group on stage 1. Photo credit @onthebanking

The front group on stage 1. Photo credit @onthebanking

Stage 1, top of a climb. Very scenic but didn't notice much of that! Photo credit Fusion RT.

Stage 1, top of a climb. Very scenic but didn’t notice much of that! Photo credit Fusion RT.

Unfortunately I punctured with less than 1 lap to go and neutral service was behind the next group on the road which was some 5 mins down on the lead group so I had to stand at the side of the road, watch my result and GC disappear in the blink of an eye. Then I had to watch the chasing group pass me before finally service reached me. When I crossed the line ~5mins down on the lead group and sitting 25th I was not a happy bunny. Eve took 9th in the sprint from the front group.

After cooling down, all of the team were looked after by Adam which was great – no foam rollering after a race is always a bonus! Eating my dinner at 10.30pm at night took a bit of forcefeeding as I’m never very hungry after racing at night.

On Saturday the early morning sunshine turned to mist and then rain. A complete contrast from the scorching day we had at this race last year! Having decided my GC was effectively over, I decided to ride the TT conservatively to save my legs for stage 3 and racing the Masters RR Champs the next day. I ignored my HRM and power numbers, riding to feel – a very comfortable feel. Bizarrely despite being on my road bike with no aero gear, I got 24.58 – happy with that for my third ever TT, and finished 20th. Dare I say it, I even enjoyed it because I was taking it easy (don’t worry, I’m not about to become a tester in a hurry!) Eve did well placing 14th, and Sarah 16th.

Then it was time to recover so whilst Adam looked after my legs and my lower back which had packed in during the TT (feeling like someone is stabbing you in the back during a race is NOT pleasant!), I drank my recovery shake of Osmo Acute Recovery mixed with almond milk and force fed myself “lunch” at 10.30am so it would have settled by the time the race started at 1pm. 10.30am is not a cool time to eat if you aren’t hungry! Stage racing mostly seems to be about eating as much as you can at random times even if you aren’t hungry.

All to soon it was time to start warming up again for the RR. It was still pouring so I was reduced like many of the riders, to warming up on my rollers in the changing rooms. I had a quick rub down from Adam and got him to use a mixture of baby oil and Natural Hero hot ginger rub on my legs and as I stood on the start line (sheltering under an umbrella), I could feel the heat radiating off my legs.

Stage 3 start, very wet. Photo credit Fusion RT

Stage 3 climb, very wet. Photo credit Fusion RT

This stage was my favourite stage of the lot. I was happy to feel good and make the split for the front group which was smaller today and contained the 3 Wiggle Honda riders. I get a real buzz out of racing in grim conditions, there’s just something that makes me feel completely alive when the rain is pouring and the roads are slippy and you are racing at high speeds. My brake pads pretty much died after a few laps and the long fast descent was possibly the biggest adrenaline rush i’ve had on a bike when racing. Our race was neutralised whilst the men passed us and a chasing group was able to catch us, boosting numbers for the last few laps because the neutralisation had only been applied to the front group. When the bell went with one lap to go I was feeling strong. I knew the finish climb suited me in a sprint finish from my podium position last year so I decided it was just a waiting game. Unfortunately an attack on the last lap just before this climb saw me lose contact with the lead group and I couldn’t get back on, crossing the line 14th. Overall I finished 15th on the GC. The results weren’t what I wanted but I was happy with my form and ability to make the lead groups on all stages. Eve wasn’t feeling well but still managed to finish 19th, taking 14th in the GC and Sarah 21st after working solidly for 3 weeks without any traning.

Then it was time to pack the car up and head further south to Milton Keynes where I tried to eat and recover as best I could in between trying to dry some kit out for the next day. Sunday came all too quickly and it was a much earlier start than I’d have liked. I was really sleepy having not had enough sleep but my legs felt good walking around the hotel. Stepping outside in hit sunshine at 8am was a complete contrast to the day before! I pretty much cooked during my warm up on the rollers!

The field for the Masters Road Race Champs was strong. I was again riding the route blind and wasn’t sure what to expect but other than the finish climb, there wasn’t much to split the bunch up. I made the front group again but had a bad 10-15mins coming into the climb with 2 laps to go. For some reason my body appeared to forget how to ride a bike. I was so uncomfortable and couldn’t get up the climb properly – i sat down, instantly standing again, only to sit down again and repeat. I lost contact on the climb and was left with 4 chasers and soon I was on my own. With roughly 15-20 riders in the front group my head went down a bit knowing my result was gone again. After the last 2 days of racing and a lot of travel, I was mentally tired and didn’t want to be out on my own so I was glad when Susan from Wyndymilla caught me along with a guy racing the mens race. I sat in for a while trying to get my head back and slowly I started to feel better and was able to work. By the end of the race it was just Susan and I left and I had begun to feel more like me and strong again, able to find a ryhtmn on the climb, albeit far too late and 8th in my age group.

All in all, not the results I wanted across the weekend, but my form is there, I set some new power PBs and I made the lead group with top riders on all the stages so I can’t really complain. Thanks to Osmo and Natural Hero for supplying me with products to get me through a tough weekend of racing, and to Total Cycle Coach for supporting Team 22.

Scottish National Road Race Series, round 1 and Scottish Road Race Championships

Scottish National Road Race Series, round 1.

It has been almost a month since I last raced on the road having opted for a solid block of training over racing on my winter bike whilst Trek repaired the damage to my race bike and wheel.

This race was my first road race this season on home ground and the first of the Scottish National Road Race series.

I had an early start, up at 6am, arriving at HQ at 8.30 to sign on and praying the rain would hold off long enough for me to warm up on my rollers outside. The race organisation was brilliant with full neutral service, and even better not only did we have timing chips, but our race numbers were small. This meant they didn’t take up my whole lower back and make pocket access tricky!

As I was warming up, one of the many helpers came round to say we’d all roll out to the start, some 6 miles away so I was able to catch up with a few people I’d not seen for a while.

There was a very short neutralised section – maybe 500m or so – and then the flag went down.

The course itself wasn’t exciting with a straight section into the wind and a very slight incline, round a roundabout, back down to the straight section with a tailwind to turn at the next roundabout and repeat 8 times.

The few first laps were broken up by a few attacks but the peloton was largely together. Around lap 3 an attack was enough to break up the field and a break went which included all the race favourites although it was a bigger break that I’d anticipated.

We worked well together, the pace of the chaingang going up as the rain came down even harder. At some points the rain was so heavy that I could hardly see, just able to make out the outline of the wheel in front. At this stage I was quite thankful that the course wasn’t challenging and there was very little in the way of potholes to avoid – all good points when the rain is so heavy you can’t see! I was also glad there was a lap board letting us know how many laid we had to go because (as usual I lost count) but also because it was so wet I wasn’t really focusing on anything other than trying to see through the rain.

Love this photo - it shows just how wet it was! Photo credit MikeBinfocus.com

Love this photo – it shows just how wet it was! Photo credit MikeBinfocus.com

I swallowed so much rain and road spray from the wheels in front of me. Definitely don’t recommend this as energy drink! I could feel the grit on my teeth. I pondering throwing my sunglasses at the marshalls but decided I’d be better with them on.

The break carried on working well until 1 lap to go when there was several attacks but the break weren’t letting anything go so it came down to a sprint finish.

I knew my position going into and out of the last roundabout would be crucial but…I mucked it up. Argh! Finding myself going really wide, this was the worst line I’d taken going round the roundabouts and to make matters worse, I was almost last. It was a case of damage limitation now and I got myself back on a wheel, only to realise the rider wasn’t going anywhere. The front 4 were ramping up the pace and I was blocked in with nowhere to go other than wait for the rider to my right to pass me and then move out (the comm had warned us that even in the sprint finish we weren’t allowed to cross the white line). Finally I got a chance to sprint but by now 5 riders had a gap so I was racing for 6th place which I took with a comfortable gap behind me. Not bad given I’m not a sprinter!

Top 10:
1 – Dani Christmas
2 – Chloe Fraser
3 – Rebecca Nixon
4 – Julie Erskine
5 – Jane Barr
6 – Claire Martin
7 – Gabriella Nordin
8 – Evgenia Ilyinskaya
9 – Anne Ewing
10 – Gillian Palmer

From here it was another 6 mile ride back to HQ to get dry and warmed up before heading home to recover for training the next day. My top tip for a race in these conditions is have your recovery shake already made up (make it Osmo Nutrition acute recovery with almond milk for the tastiest shake out there), have some baby wipes in your kit back to get the worst of the grim off and put on some of Natural Hero Hot ginger rub to warm up your legs and help them recover.

Next up was the Scottish Road Race Championships, held in Alford, Aberdeen, on a hilly 86km course with a sting in it – almost at the end, was the infamous Suie, a climb that is over 2km long and reaches almost 20% in parts.

The field was small but contained top quality riders and an early attack on a hill saw a group of 9 form and I was thankful I’d made this group. There was a lot of attacks, with only one attack gaining a big enough gap to make the 7 of us in the chasing group get organised enough to chaingang to catch them.

I’m still struggling to come back from injury, I am on the road to recovery but short term, I’m going backwards to go forwards and I’m not as strong as I have been in my last 2 seasons. This is incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking when I know aerobically I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, but my lower back, glutes and hamstrings are all still healing and building muscle.

Around the 2 hour mark, Jane Barr from Velocity 44 attacked and this turned out to be the winning move. It was also the time when my suffering lower back and hamstrings decided they’d had enough of a hilly windy race and I lost contact with them. Despite my best effort on the descent to close the gap and get back on, I couldn’t. I was caught by Rebecca Nixon who had been dropped a little before me and we worked together, frustratingly able to see the bunch in front for most of the time.

Suffering,... Phpto credit Denise Raikkonen

Suffering,…
Phpto credit Denise Raikkonen

Turning a corner Suie came into sight. Oh dear! I knew Rebecca and I were racing for 8th place and was confident we had a big enough gap on those who had been dropped earlier to pace myself up the climb. Falling into my own rhythm I opened up a sizeable gap on Rebecca, and coming over the top I knew I had to keep going so I forced my legs to turn to get me up to speed and tried to recover on the descent. I’d been expecting a long descent and then a short flat run into the finish, but no. At the bottom of the descent the terrain was undualting and into a headwind. Having not ridden the course before I had no idea where the finish line was from the bottom of the descent and I knew Rebecca was behind me so I pressed on, praying for the finish line. Thankfully it wasn’t too far and I took 8th place comfortably but rather disappointed.

Congratulations to Jane Barr for 1st, Julie Erskine for 2nd and Gen Whitson for 3rd.

Huge thanks to Total Cycle Coach, Osmo Nutrition, Natural Hero & 2pure for the support so far this season.

Living the dream….

Well to be fair, living the dream was only for 4 days but what a 4 days!

Having made the hard decision to withdraw from the Nigel Measom stage race due to no race bike, I was looking forward to a good training block. Easter in Scotland isn’t usually known for a heat wave; in fact last easter I was racing in Aberdeenshire past snow drifts and feeling quite ill from the cold weather. This easter the sun shone (my garmin showed it hit 24 at one point) and although I may have been lugging my winter bike around, nothing could wipe the grin off my face as I enjoyed 12 hours of training over 3 days in the sunshine. In a s/s jersey and shorts. In Scotland. In April. Epic! I even managed to sit outside eating a “recovery” ice cream.

Friday was spent mostly getting lost, just over 4 hours of ride time, around 120km, with a lot(!!) of hills and an accidental interval up Redstone Rigg. It was accidental because I ran out of road before my interval finished so decided I’d just push on and finish somewhere on the climb. Much to my surprise, I ran out of road on the Rigg too – I’m pretty sure that’s something that no-one has ever said before going up it – its a climb of over 8km, hitting 17%! My interval finished somewhere on the descent. I was pretty happy not to have noticed the extra weight of my winter bike, especially as I’d done a gym and core session before riding. I stupidly managed to get sun burnt as I hadn’t realised quite how nice a day it was going to be and soaking in a salt bath stung a little – I was glad to reach for some cooling Natural Hero peppermint spray to cool my legs down, and that I had pre-made my recovery drink so it was icy cold by the time I got in – Osmo Acute Recovery with almond milk and espresso. Nom Nom! Safe to say I was looking forward to that when I got home. Cafe stops: 1 (um, pre ride!) Shots of espresso drunk: 3 x double espresso. Bottles of Osmo Active Hydration consumed: 5. Home made cake eaten (made with quinoa its my ride fuel): 4. Hours of sleep 10.

20140425-093947.jpg

Saturday I headed out for my local chaingang and my usual group (dubbed fast 9.40) had a lot of 9.30 regulars in it (this is the bunch elite/1/2 men train in to put it into perspective and the one i’ve been trying to hang onto for the last 3 weeks with varying degrees of success ranging from a mere 4 mins – in my defence, i took 2 turns in the chaingang in that 4 mins and we averaged 45kph with a max speed of 56.5kph on a flat road with an incline in it – to a whole 30mins!) I was happy to have good legs today and to be able to contribute to the pace aside from one ill judged missed turn that led to Tom who was sitting on my wheel yelling “get on that wheel” as I thought about how much nicer it would be to sit up instead of suffer! It was a good motivation boost because if I got dropped, I’d be taking him with me so I dug deep, got back on the wheel and moved up. I eventually sat up at the turn at Direlton to head off for some hill power training on my own, getting home 3.5hours later with another 95km in my legs. Shots of espresso drunk: 2 x double espresso. Bottles of Osmo active hydrate consumed: another 5. Number of ice creams: 1. Ride food: 4 bits of quinoa cake and an eat natural chocolate and coffee bar.

20140425-095207.jpg

Sunday I woke up to yet more blue sky and sunshine. Perfect! 4.5 hours later, another hilly 120km later with some more intervals = sore glutes and hamstrings as I crawled painfully up the last 16% climb on the return leg home. I was dying for a coffee by this point. Tired but happy with the improvements – my glutes and hamstrings are now working most of the time on a ride which is a big step forward! Very happy to still also be able to sit on my saddle comfortably after 3 long hot rides – thank you Bioracer for brilliant kit! Shots of espresso drunk: 2 x double espresso. Bottles of Osmo active hydrate consumed: another 5 (15 in total over 3 days!) Ride food: 4 bits of quinoa cake and a banana. Number of gels / bars consumed over the 3 days: 0. It’s amazing the difference proper hydration makes to fuelling. Hours of sleep: 10.

Monday. The Edinburgh haar made an appearance but today was a recovery spin which I always do on the rollers to keep intensity low and controlled. I spent the morning in bed reading a book about power – so I can get my head round the different ways the Total Cycle Coach is using to torture, sorry, coach me with. :-) I put off my spin until the afternoon and then fell asleep! When I woke up it was sunny and I contemplated rollers in the garden but decided I’d live the life of a pro for one more day so carried on being properly lazy until bedtime only venturing out to the local cafe. Hours of sleep: 10. Cake eaten: 1 (chocolate and hazlenut) Shots of espresso drunk: 2 x double espresso. Cafe stops: 1.

The perfect weekend.

20140425-095734.jpg

Women’s Tour of Alexandria

If I’m honest I was rather apprehensive about the first of the British National Women’s road series – the Women’s Tour of Alexandria. Billed as the “toughest course in Europe” I was concerned about how my injuries would cope and expected to be grovelling at the back in pain on the climbs.

Much to my surprise my legs had been feeling really good in the run up to the race. Maybe its the switch to training to power or maybe its the fresh batch of Osmo that’s arrived so I can now use it for every training session… I was surprised because I had PMT and my legs usually feel awful – sore and like I’ve got no power on the bike. It was perfect timing to use Osmo Pre-Load the night before and morning before to see if it would help counter act that. A pre-race spin on my rollers in Hexham high street amused the locals who wandered past. I had a lovely chilled out session – my legs felt amazing, light, fresh and effortless. I was lost in the music on my ipod and the rhythm of my pedalling as dusk approached, looking at the daffidols in the park. 20140416-125855.jpg

Sarah arrived and joined me outside for a while on her turbo. I’ve obviously done my job as brand ambassador for Osmo well enough as Sarah was trying Osmo for the first time, so our night was spent drinking Pre-Load, using the foam roller and (for me) what seems to have become the norm to help my injuries – a cold salt bath.

20140416-130527.jpg

An early start was in order on Saturday, and we both drank more Pre-Load on the way there with our warm up starting at 8.15am.

I’d got to the assembly point early, only to then find myself right at the back by the time briefing had started. So as soon as we’d set off I set about moving up on the first climb which was a massive shock to the system as by this point I was stone cold.

The first 20mins of the race were one of the sketchiest 20mins of any race I’ve ever been in. I was mindful to keep moving up where I could as the bunch kept getting strung out and I expected a split at any point.

20140416-125728.jpg

There was some nervous inexperienced riders in the bunch and I tried my best to stay away from them but unfortunately one of them fell off going uphill(!!), knocking another rider, Karen from GB Cycles off and into me. I was lucky in that I stayed upright, managing to unclip and get a foot down, leaving my bike to take the impact. And take the impact it did; the damage list is broken spokes in my deep section wheel, possible damage to the carbon and it looks buckled. The mech hanger was ripped off, leaving a bent screw stuck in the frame and my drop out is bent. There’s not a mark on me.

That’s my first crash since I started road racing (this is the start of my third season) and an expensive race to boot – I work full time to fund my love of road racing and there’s little room in the budget for unseen expenses such as this. It was such a stupid crash too and I hope the rider who caused the crashes takes some time to learn to ride in a bunch uphill. Skill is something that a lot of riders neglect over time on the turbo for example, but is something that has been drilled into me since I started racing. Its just as important as being fit and strong. As I stood at the side of the road knowing my race was over after a mere 20mins, neutral service rolled up and then tried to work out what to do with me to get me back to HQ. At that point, Team 22 sponsor Ian from Padon Contracts turned the corner in his van. My saviour – so I was able to get safely back to race HQ and find my car key on route.

And back to Osmo my legs felt great in the brief time I was racing and not how they would normally feel with PMT at all – thank you! I think in hindsight the course might have actually suited me better than my pre-race worries but I’ll find out next year. Thanks to the organiser and helpers for putting on a women only race on closed roads.

I hit the road for home and went straight to Alpine Bikes to get my bike looked at. Big thumbs up to Alpine for helping out and sending my bike of to the Trek hospital where I hope they can fix it. Meanwhile I headed home to take out my frustration at a rubbish day on my winter bike only to find it had been stripped down and not rebuilt…it seemed something out there didn’t want me to ride my bike. I have had to make the hard decision to pull out of races in the short term until my bike situation is sorted but on the positive, I’ll get in a decent block of training even if its on my winter bike as everyone is switching to summer bikes, ouch!

Photo credit Padon Contracts

Racing bikes in the sun; my first win of 2014 and a hilly road race

It’s funny how things turn out. I ended up having a really fun weekend of racing down south in hot sunshine yet on early Saturday morning, I wasn’t even sure I was up for racing for some reason.

My journey down south was some what eventful and stressful. I sat in the car park eating my pre race snack of quinoa cake with honey and drinking Osmo Pre-Load. I’d opted for Pre-Load today for hyperhydration – ok so it wasn’t roasting hot, but it was warm and being a short aggressive crit, there’s little chance of fuelling or drinking during the race itself. It was also partly as prep for racing the next day at Capernwray which would be my first hilly road race of the season to make sure I didn’t end up dehydrated before the start line.

The warmth from Natural Hero Hot ginger rub felt good despite the sunshine and I got on with my warm up. Then I was reluctantly standing on the start line for the crit at Salt Ayre which was sponsored by Total Cycle Coach thinking to myself i’d rather be at home on the club chaingang.

That feeling only lasted for as long as it took me to get clipped in, then it was smiles. Eve went for an early attack and stay away for 18mins. I let the other riders do all the work and when the catch was made, I attacked. I didn’t think it would stick. I looked back and saw I had a decent gap as my team mates got on the front. Approaching the start/finish line, the bell rang for the prime lap so I thought i’d plug on and take that for the team. Much to my surprise I took the prime with ease. I felt pretty chuffed with that. The gap was bigger when I looked back.

All thoughts of keeping my legs fresh for the race at Capernwray the next day went out the window. There was only here and now. I’d deal with tomorrow when it arrived. I rode the rest of the race with my head. It sounds a weird thing to say, but all the marginal gains added up and each lap the time gap grew. I used the tailwind to add on more gears and up the speed, carrying speed into the hairpin and pedalling through it before dropping a gear into the headwind to spin my legs a bit more and delay the fatigue. I was mindful going round the course to take the fastest lines. The gap gew to 30secs. Two lines from songs randomly popped into my head: “You can go hard or you can go home” by will.i.am and Eminem’s Lose Yourself “if you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, one moment, would you capture it or let it slip away”. Focus. Breathe. I sat at my threshold HR because that it felt good and was enough to keep the time gap increasing without blowing up.

Pedal. Breathe. Focus. I looked at my garmin, 30mins of the race had passed and the gap was steadily increasing. I could see the bunch through gaps in the trees. I wished the comms had decided the race would be 40mins instead of 45mins as I started to hurt pushing into the wind. Colin who was at the finish line shouted (encouragingly) at me each lap to keep going, and the comms did a great job of keeping me motivated with the time checks.

Soon it was a 40 sec gap and I was gaining on the bunch. 40mins came and went. I began to suffer. 3 laps to go. My hamstrings weren’t used to this kind of effort and started to complain a lot. I did what I do best in racing and blocked out the pain. I was still increasing the time gap because there was no way I was easing up to enjoy the last 3 laps as I had no idea what was happening in the bunch. I saw Eve attack at least once. On and on I went, round and round. I was hoping moral in the bunch would have dropped when they realised they wouldn’t catch me and they’d start playing a waiting game with each other for the sprint. But I couldn’t count on that so I kept my effort on until I was about 100m away from the line – and by that point I was around 150m away from lapping the field! It was a great feeling! I’d also won the prime and prize for most aggressive rider so our team took away most of the prize money as Jess lead Eve out for 2nd place, Sarah 4th and Jess got 7th after her stunning leadout for Eve. I love the photo finish where you can see Jess with her hand in the air as Eve crosses the line. Huge thanks to Jess, Sarah and Eve for getting on the front of the bunch and letting me get away.

winning

The race had been a harder effort than I’d planned so I opted for Osmo Acute Recovery with almond milk before my cool down, then 2 hours later a second protein shake and a cold bath followed by Natural Hero peppermint spray. I’m actually a recent convert to the peppermint spray, usually prefering heat but the cooling effect on my legs was bliss!

Waking up early on Sunday morning (no thanks to the clocks changing for less sleep than normal!) I went through my usual race rountine. Anytime I squatted down to pick something up (i squat whenever i can these days to continue to build up my strength!) my hamstrings screamed in pain at me. Hmm. Other than that, i felt good. The hot ginger rub provided a lovely heat to my quads just before I got on the rollers to warm up. I actually could have done with some new hamstrings because during my warm up my hamstrings were tired and sore. No time to worry about that though.

The neutralised start took us to the top of Sunny Bank climb and it was during this time up it that I learned its not a climb that suits my riding style. At the top, the flag dropped, and Eve picked up the pace. The first lap saw several attacks, including one from Jen who was racing despite suffering from a wisdom tooth infection. A break of around 9 got away on the second lap but we didn’t really work together properly – sometimes we chainganged but then other times riders would come blasting through and attack or sit on the front. Eve told me there was a chasing group of 3, one of which included Sarah from our team. The 3 chasers caught us as a result of the breaks lack of organisation.

The break

The break

The race was uneventful other than the attacks – none of which were allowed to get away. Coming into Sunny Bank climb for the 3rd time I could feel my hamstrings start to cramp. I knew from the prime laps who was likely to win or podium and I also knew that today it wasn’t going to be me given the state my hamstrings were in – i’m delighted that they are working now but they aren’t used to working in hilly races yet! I grabbed some more to drink and hoped my hamstrings would settle down. I ignored them for the last lap but every climb really hurt and I mean really hurt. Cramp is evil. Coming into Sunny Bank for the final time, Jo and Karen from GB Cycles went for a long attack from the bottom. I weighed up my options and decided they’d both blow up before the top so didn’t go with them. The more I climbed, the worse my hamstrings got. Ahead I could see Jo and Karen who had opened up a gap, going on to take 1st and 2nd place. I was a rather sorry state grovelling up the climb with cramp but decided I’d grit my teeth one last time to see if i could take the 2 riders in front of me. I stood up to go and the cramp immediately got worse and I sat straight back down again to take 10th, having lost 30 secs on the winners in the final 1km climb! Eve faired better than me on the final climb, despite having put in an effort to take the primes and took 5th. Sarah got 12th and Jen 16th.

Crossing the line in agony with cramp about to fall off my bike

Crossing the line in agony with cramp about to fall off my bike

With the stunning weather and the first of the National Series races fast approaching, we headed out to get some more miles in our legs. It was a social ride, enjoying the sunshine, blue sky and looking at the lambs in the field. There was some muttering about the hills and terrain on tired legs from the race, most of it from me as my poor hamstrings and glutes wondered why I was trying to kill them but it was a great to ride in shorts and a short sleeved jersey in March!

Many thanks to everyone who has helped me on my path to recovery and full strength over the last 6 months including Colin, George and my other half Andy.

Thanks to Total Cycle Coach and Graham Atkinson for the photos.