Sunday, 20 October 2013

Brownbacks round 4

In my mind there was a kind of 'end of term' feeling about the 4th and final round of the 2013 Brownbacks race series. So, how better to acknowledge that than by racing in my lurid orange and lime green underpants? I must say that this was a far as the silliness went - I was still aiming to race.
There were 4 of us involved in the Singlespeed category. Donk had turned up on his 'blinglespeed' carbon fibre, Mick Rushton on his own build Ironworks 29er and one of his mates who seemed to be a bit of a hotshot racer. I couldn't see any of the V50 cat racers from previous events.
I took off for a recce of the course. I'd been advised to use lower gearing on the SS the night before so I was running 32:18. As it turned out I was glad that I was. The course was interesting and took in quite a few climbs and some of the 'old favourites' like the sketchy chute, the pump track but this time we did the full descent right down to the bottom and so had the full climb to do. Every lap. Doh! There was also a section across some huge, rough stone blocks. I'd ridden these in the past and found them a little tricky. After jibbing at the last minute I had to push on my recce lap. Hmm.
There was some talk of the start order being changed for this event and it turned out to be true. It ended up with every other category setting off before the V50's. All two of us...The other guy was a first timer too. On starting I charged off and pretty much blew myself up on the first lap as I tried to catch up to, well, anybody! Eventually i began to reach and pass people. The other Vet 50 was behind me so as long as he didn't pass then I had that sewn up. It was the SS cat that I had problems with. It got complicated as 2 of them were in racer category and 1 in V40. And they were all somewhere ahead of me!
 I tried to calm down a bit and keep it steady rather than the headless chicken approach. Reaching the Stone Slabs of Doom for the first time I bit the bullet and rode them. No worries. Onto the long swoopy descent and then the climb. Oof. I rode it all but by heck, it was tough!
I was getting some great support on the way round from marshals and people who knew me. I had my race face on though and didn't always get chance to acknowledge the shouts of 'Go on Mr Sparkle' and 'Well done Simon'. I was also getting a few laughs for the underpant thing, which was nice.
The second time onto the Slabs and I had the back wheel slide out and had to dab before I fell off them. They had become slippy due to the number of wet tyres crossing them. I knew that I would have problems riding confidently across them from now on. Racing on, I had now settled into a good pace and was passing quite a few on each lap. The climb became a semi push, I'd get off at the gate at the bottom and run for a while and remount about 2/3 of the way up. Judging by the speed of people who were riding it I wasn't losing too much time here.
I was clocking the 'laps remaining' board in the window of the 4X4 next to the impressive new start/finish arch and was pleased that I seemed to be gauging my effort well. There was still no sign of any other Singlespeeders though! At one point somebody shouted out that I was 2nd in SS. I thought 'How do you know??'
 Once again I was at the Slabs. I'd gone in pretty committed on the tail of a rider in front when 'Whoosh' his back wheel slid out and dumped him down hard onto the rocks. It must have hurt. I jumped off and managed to run round him once I'd checked he was ok. The marshals told me that loads of people had binned it there. Right, I running it every time now!
Down the swoopy bit once more and I was just thinking to myself how much I was enjoying it when I managed to lose the front and nearly did a low side. I slid the front for what felt like ages and then just saved it. If it had been deliberate it would have been really impressive! Giving myself a bollocking for not concentrating I continued.
Finally it was the last lap. I kept the pace up as well as I could and made it my second fastest lap. The climb to the finish seemed eternal and I was really gasping by the top. There is a short rise just as you reach the arch and I was straining to keep the pedals moving as I approached. On finishing I weaved off to the side and did the sort of dramatic lying on the floor gasping for breath thing that I always think looks a bit put on when somebody else does it. Not today though - I was properly shattered!
Back to the car for a quick change and a bite to eat and then it was presentation time. I always like to go the the presentation at Brownbacks - the prizes are really generous and it's good to give your appreciation to fellow racers. As this was the last race I knew that they would be dishing out lots of stuff. As well as the usual category prizes there were things like 'being polite' and 'having purple brake calipers' that won stuff. I got some Hope headset spacers for wearing the underpants!
And so the Category prizes that concerned me: I knew I'd got the V50 win and so I finally got presented with one of those really cool trophies made from a brake disc and a rock from the quarry. I was really chuffed! I was even more chuffed when I got presented with a Hope light as the guy who had won the V50 series hadn't turned up and so I got it by default. It didn't seem fair as he was a pretty good guy and had beaten me soundly each race but they had to present the prize and keep the sponsors happy so that's how it was.

In the SS category I knew that I'd be nowhere near the lad in Racer who looked pretty darned quick, but as I hadn't actaully seen any of the other competitors I really had no idea how it finished up. Donk had been hoping for a podium place as usually there are only 3 of us racing so he would have been guaranteed a place. Unlucky for him for the first time this year there were 4 and he was 4th. I felt for him. Mick Rushton got the 3rd spot and I was 2nd. Carl Draper deservedly won it with a fine 6 lap performance.

I made sure that I had a word with Paul, one of the organisers of the series, to let him know that I thought they had done another fantastic job and how much I'd enjoyed the whole series.
The prizes are nice but the racing and just the loads of great people at the races are what Brownbacks is all about. I hope they continue the series for years to come.
Results here

Saturday, 12 October 2013


In a massive contrast to last year’s race the weather was sunny and dry. The gales on the tops remained however. The usual manic start sent all 650 starters hurtling along the road towards a whole world of pain. The thousands of miles I’d put in training began to pay off on the trudge up the grassy wall of Simon Fell. It hurt, as always, but it was bearable. Summitting Ingleborough in under an hour I felt I was racing within myself. The descent to Cold Cotes was taken carefully – plenty of riders passed here but there were many who came a cropper too. A friend broke his collar bone here and two other mates had big stacks too.
I grabbed a gel from Cath and hit the road towards the Hill Inn and Whernside. I tried to ride tactically and use other riders but inevitably ended up heading a train of riders and yelling at them to take a turn in front. Off road again and onto the countless stone steps that lead up Whernside.  Again, shouldering the bike wasn’t too painful although I tried to push it as often as I could to save energy rather than following the herd mentality and carrying all the time.
The wind across the top of the hill was phenomenal and as I dropped off the other side I was blown across the track and for a while was trapped by my bike against a wire fence. I tore myself free and had to push some sections that I would have ridden easily ordinarily.
The section towards Blea Moor is one of my favourites. It’s comparatively flat and fast. I caught up with a mate and exchanged a few words. He was still talking to me as I had to pull over with a puncture.  I can’t complain – my 6th 3 Peaks and it’s my first puncture. A few problems resulted in a slow change of tube but eventually I was away. Ribblehead is always interesting. So many support crews and spectators cheering you on. Waving flags and people ready with spare wheels and bikes range along the track beside the massive viaduct.

My stop with Cath was a little longer this time. A gel tucked up my shorts leg, a bottle of energy drink and a top up of tyre pressure. Away again on the road and I got the first warning twinges of cramp. I’d been struggling getting a drink from my Camelbak and must have been dehydrated. I glugged from my water bottle to discover that the top didn’t fit well and I was sloshing sticky liquid all over my face. Just to compound the comedy when I got my gel I found it was partially ripped and I’d got it all down my leg. I was more concerned that I had hardly any gel left.
Pen –y-ghent has often been my nemesis on this raceand, despite all the training yet again I was struggling. I rode as far as I could but it felt all too soon by the time I was reduced to walking. The cramp left my stiff legged but I kept plodding on. It felt like an age to reach the checkpoint at the top. Riders coming back down towards you play havoc with your mindset here but soon it was me passing hundreds of battered looking riders as I descended.

Again I was pretty cautious – crash or a puncture here would been so demoralising. It was only at the very end of the lane that I could really let it go.  The last road section back to Helwith Bridge was tackled in time trial mode. Head down and pedal, heart rate at maximum. The cramp surged up my legs but I focussed on finishing. I passed a few riders on the way in and really judged my effort right – I had nothing left at the finish. I was 163rd in 4:12. My best finish since 2006. I think the puncture cost me a sub 4 hour finish, a PB and finishing in the prizes in V50 category. Despite this I was happy. I’d had a bloody good go at it this year and I’m hoping to have another one next year too.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Testing, testing

Cath's been training for an upcoming tri and has been riding to Bolton Parkrun, doing the 5k and riding home. It seems to have been working pretty well and I thought I'd have a go at this just to see how my 3 Peaks training affected my general fitness. So, one Saturday morning we set off. Well, I say 'we' but actually I was a bit underprepared and so set off about 10 minutes after Cath. Doh. My goal was to hammer it and try to catch up before she got there. Not an easy task believe me. I just saw her pulling into the park as I approached.
So, nicely warmed up knackered, I was all ready for the off... Andy Smith was there and after the Gala race I persuaded myself that I should be quite close to him. And, for part of the first lap I was! Then it all began to hurt and get really hard. I hung on though and felt pretty happy with my performance - 9th out of 233 in 19:56 which is my fastest time at Bolton on the present course.
Which leads us to the next day...
Brownbacks mtb race series race 3. I signed up for the series of 4 races with the intention of doing well in the Vet 50 category. I'd had 2 3rd places so far, which was ok but I felt like I was a bit fitter now. Could I improve on it? Cath and Will came along to marshal on what turned out to be a lovely day. The course had been billed as being fast. I pre-rode it and my initial thought was 'I don't like this'. Too many short steep uphills and no respite just what you don't need on a singlespeed! So, I rocked up on the start line to discover that I was competing on two fronts - there were only 4 in the V50 but (gasp) there were some more singlespeeders! First time this series I wasn't going to have it all to myself. Good news - I hate feeling such a div standing on the podium for the singlespeed prize on my own. Every time... The bad news was that one of them was in the v40 class and so set off before me and - even worse - t'other was in Racer class and looked the part, despite his protestations that he wasn't really a Racer.
Eventaully we set off and I had a stinker. Couldn't get any grip setting off and I had to get on and off about 3 times while everybody else buggered off up the hill. Finally I was off and fired up. I was soon up to speed and right with the guy in 2nd V50. The leader (and winner of the previous two races) was away in the distance. I was having a good race with V50 number 2 - guy in a Lyme RC shirt. I was right with him on one of the aforementioned steep little climbs when he had a bit of a stall at the top off it meaning I had to stop and get off. I guessed he had missed a gear and carried on. Further on there was a little rock step up through a gate, Again I was right behind him and again he did a bit of a stall and I had to get off and lose time. I now realised he was doing it on purpose and I wasn't a happy bunny. I passed Cath's marshalling point and told her what was happening. As we climbed the next section I went to get a good line of traction on the inside and as I 'undertook' we clashed bars. I had to get off on this hill anyway as my bike was geared too tall to get up it. So I ran. Ran!
The race continued and I was settling in. I was a bit behind Lyme RC by now but still in sight. After a while I glanced up to see him and a guy from the Racer cat on the floor. The Racer seemed pretty unhappy. he picked his bike up and then threw it down in disgust when he realised it had been damaged. I shot past while they were arguing the toss. I knew there wasn't much chance (read none) of catching the V50 leader so all I had to do was keep in front of my 'mate' from Lyme.
There was of course still the singlespeed category to contest. I saw the V40 bloke ahead. He was on a blue 29er that he had told me was 'homebrewed'. I started to reel him in and eventually passed him. I was feeling pretty good now and put the hammer down to make sure he stayed behind. I was getting some great support round the course - there were some kids at a marshal point who had some bike forks they used as cowbells and shouted out 'Mr Sparkle' in a Rod and Todd Flanders stylee every lap - and I always got a good shout out as I crossed the finish line. It really spurred me on.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the Racer guy who was leading the singlespeed category a distance ahead. He turned back at that moment and saw me. I thought to myself 'I'm going to have you.' On we went, dodging round people in other categories but just focussed on each other. He was a tidy rider and smoothly pulled away on the massive berms and whoops. I would reel him back on the climbs. Finally I was on him.  I really pushed on, feeling surprisingly energetic at a stage of the race I usually started to fade on.
Harder and harder I raced, my mouth wide open to hoover air in. Last part of the last lap. An uphill to the line. A kid in front of me, obviously no threat to me but I was hammering and we crossed the line next to each other. I'd done it! 2nd V50 and 1st Singlespeed! I was really made up.
  Me looking a plonker in the compulsory Charlie the Bikemonger t shirt smock
              Very happy with 2nd V50
I still felt good at the finish. So, thinking of the 3 Peaks I decided to ride home. It's not really that far but it felt good. 13 1/2 on/off miles in just under an hour after podiuming in a race. I felt like one of those 'proper' Enduro race heroes like Terrahawk or Twinkly Dave. Apart from the Peaks the miles in the legs would come in handy for ...
I've done the Mary Towneley Loop quite a few times over the years and I do ahve quite an affection for it. My fastest time was 5:04 many years ago when it was held earlier in the year (read better conditions) on my first SS. Thbis would be a true test to see how my Peaks training was going. It's 10 miles longer and has more total ascent (if not actually 3 mountains). I did contemplate using the cross bike to do it but ultimately decided to do it on the SS. Two reasons: I have suspension on the mountain bike and I didn't want to damage the 'crosser at this stage in the game.
The weather forecast was, frankly, dreadful. Heavy rain absolutely guaranteed. Smashing. There was a good turnout of people lined up at Fearns college despite this - over 190 starters. As yet the weather was not too bad. From the traps it was the usual sprint, after all there was only 47 miles to go. I'd got a lift there with Paul Julien and I knew I wouldn't see much of him after the start. He's in some form at the moment and won the v40 at Brownbacks the previous week. Budge was also there and I hoped that I'd be around his sort of pace. Possibly even quicker.
I'm not sure how I managed it but twice I went wrong on a route I've done at least 6 times! WTF?! I settled in and although I was finding it hard on some of the climbs into a headwind on 32:16, I churned on. Sections came back to me and I yo-yoed between riders out on the course. The weather finally set it's stall out and became worse and worse. The wind picked up and the rain set in. My core was warm but my hands began to get soaked and I lost feeling in my fingers. Damn you Reynauds syndrome.
I caught up to Budge around the half way point and we rode together along London Rd below Stoodly Pike and on towards Summit. I paused at the checkpoint to put on some dry gloves and eat chocolate while Budge carried on. I know the next stretch like the back of my hand as I've run it several times on the old Relay. Pushing hard I eventually caught Budge as we headed towards the 'Godforsaken Golf Course' as I have dubbed it.
Again we rode together. Budge was in good spirits and was keeping me going. I was starting to suffer now. The hard climbs into the wind and the cold (I couldn't actually feel the bars by now) were taking their toll. By the time we got to the notorious Rooley Moor Rd I was at a low ebb. I strained up the climbs and at times I just couldn't keep the bike moving so was off and running, at times. My arms felt like I was tearing them out of the sockets and I was hurting. I'd dropped Budge on the climb, probably due to him having access to lower gears. I neared Cragg Quarry, although it took me a while to realise due to the low cloud. It was now REALLY hard. Suddenly Budge shot past with a cheery word. On I struggled. Past the Cragg trails and out onto the highest section. The wind was howling and I actually got blown off the bike twice! Finally I reached the turn off for the last descent down to Cowpe. I was battered by now and minced down the hill. The rain continued to lash down as I whizzed down the road and on towards the final road climb on then - at last - to the finish!
There were some tired bodies in the hall afterwards. It had been a tough day. I felt sorry for the people who do it as a real challenge - the last rider home took ten hours and 40 minutes! Imagine being out for so long in those conditions! When the results went online I discovered that I'd come 16th out of 172 finishers in 4:50. Although I was a bit disappointed to not be closer to Budge (he got an impressive 4:37) but I was pretty pleased to finish so high up on a SS in those conditions. Oh and it was a new PB for the MTL for me.
Now for the 3 Peaks...

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The salvation of pain

My hands are rammed deep into the drops of a pair of wildly bucking handlebars as I try to scrub some speed and get back on the right side of control. I'm rattling down the rocky diagonal descent from Darwen Tower on the 9th of 10 reps that comprise a steep hill carry, fast descent and sprint across the 'flat' bit of the triangle. It'll take me just over 2 hours of hard effort to complete. Sweat and snot streak my face. Three Peaks Cyclocross sadomasochism.
It's my birthday. I'm 51.


Friday, 30 August 2013

Ol' blue eyes is back.

I've started running again. More importantly I've started running again and enjoying it. The past few weeks I've been going up to Dashers on a Thursday night and going for a run with the dog. We've both had fun and it's worked out well. I don't really feel up to going with a group as yet, mainly because I still feel slow but also it'd be hard work with Sam.
Anyway, as I say I've had a few weeks of running offroad so, me being me, I decided to have go at the Gala race. Not only did I decide to have a go but I also stated that I would in my Editorial for the August Dash. No jibbing out then.
I'm pretty fit at the moment as I've been really putting in the bike training for the 3 Peaks cx so I knew I could get round it ok. I also knew that my legs are far from used to the battering a fell race gives but that wasn't a big worry, I'd deal with that later.
I've done the Gala race many times over the years and I tend to use it as a yardstick to see how I'm going on. The last two years I got consecutive PB's which is kind of good and kind of not. I shouldn't really be getting PB's in my late 40's/early 50's. Just goes to show how crap I was before, I 'spose!
So I rolled up for the race in a bit of a strange frame of mind - this would be the first running race of the year for me and so I wasn't expecting to do particularly well. It's only a little race and so there was no pressure on me. Plus it's a course I know well and there's lot's of familiar faces knocking about to encourage/take the piss. And, above all that, you get a free pint (or two, or...) afterwards.
I'd opted to not wear my Dashers vest as
a. it was a warm day and I have a lighter weight unmarked vest and
b. I didn't expect to do the club justice, which sounds a bit lame but nonetheless it's how I felt.
Lining up at the start I found myself next to Andy 'Gadget legs' Smith who, as well as being a top bloke, is also bloody quick on his day. as we started I told him to have a good one and said 'See you later' expecting him to leave me in his dust. We got through the lower bit of the park and I was still fairly near the front. Crossed the road and into the second climb through the park. Hmm, can feel it in my thighs but I'm keeping going. Of course I am a one trick pony and that trick is going up hill but even so I'm feeling pretty good.
up to the tower and I have a bit of crack with Jonathan B and Mark W who are spectating up there. This encourages me to push on and trot down the (for me) painful descent to the foot of the moor.
Climbing again now. Good! I see Andy a few places ahead and another 5 or so places is Des who is one of our quickest guys. I catch Andy after a while and notice that Des has had a bit of a walk. 'He's cracking' I say to Andy and press on. I think I was getting a bit carried away here, with hindsight. I spotted Paul Livsey taking photos at the top of the climb and so, just for fun, I put a spurt on and dropped the group I was with and gave the trademark cheeky grin, knowing full well I couldn't keep that sort of pace up!

One of the people I passed was Graham Schofield from Horwich. I don't think he appreciated it as, when he repassed me he elbowed me out of the way! I sarcastically said 'Oh, sorry Graham'.
Across the flat bit and then onto the technical descent which I blundered down inelegantly. I didn't want to risk turning my ankle here. It's such a narrow bit of singletrack descent that nobody can get past. However once onto the wide path back down to the park it's a different story.
Andy shot past and I could hear footsteps very close behind and caught a glimpse of a blue vest behind me. Surely it couldn't be my nemesis Allan Hartley from Blackburn Harriers? I thought I'd killed him off on the climb out of the park! (It wasn't and I had, it later turned out)
Spurred on now I hammered as fast as my dodgy legs could take me, down through the park, across the road, down through the park again and finally in sight of the finish line. Ah, the old familiar 'running through treacle' sensation! I gave it everything and finished without being caught and one place behind Gadget legs.
I have to say I was really surprised to have done so well. When the results came out I was about 6 seconds off my PB, 15th overall and second Vet 50 in  29:07. Results here

 I think people thought I was hamming it up a bit about not doing much running training but it was all down to the bike training. My cardiovascular system is in really good shape and I got away with the crap technique.
A few beers were sunk later and I must admit to feeling pretty chuffed with myself. I'll continue with the Thursday night sessions at Dashers for the time being as it's good cross training for the Peaks. Hell, I might even do another fell race once it's over. Hmm, David Staff maybe...
Anyway next up, Ladies & Gentlemen, is the main event, the one I have trained for for 4 months solid (crazy for a race which will take about 4 1/2 hours!) - the one - the only - Three Peaks Cyclocross.
Cross your fingers for me.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Fell films, flipping freezing and (finally) fun!

Fell films

I worked hard on this project. Finding all the films by trawling through YouTube, Vimeo and various sites including the FRA. Once I'd found the ones that I really liked I had to contact the film makers and get their permission. One of the first films on the list was 'Naylor's Run'. I contacted Striding Edge films and Eric Robson's wife Annette immediately came back to me and said that they would be very happy to give permission to show their film as it was such a good cause (Bolton Mountain Rescue Team and Dashers). The Bedlamites film was another one that I was very keen to show and again the film makers gave permission straight away. The other films were Reflections on Sixty, Racing Time, the really clever cartoon Onwards and I was very pleased to get Mark 'fellephant' Birbeck on board and show a video that he managed to get finished just before the show.
Initially I wanted to have the show at Darwen Library Theatre but at £60 and hour and a minimum of 4 hours  hire then this soon became a non starter. I was put onto DACA as a venue by John East of Friends of Darwen Library and this turned out to be ideal. The hire charge was £50 for the evening and I managed to get sponsorship (from Lead On, Pro Sport Supplements and the Black Horse pub) to cover this so all the ticket money went to the charity donation. As well as donating the lion's share of the sponsorship money, my mate Baggy from the Black Horse also offered to put some sandwiches on for us in the pub after.
After an appeal for a photo to use for the poster on the FRA my mate Ady Nicholls, a Sport Sunday photographer, came up trumps with a great shot of a pair of running legs splashing through a puddle. Perfect.
I publicised the event via Twitter and FB, got in contact with the Lancashire Telegraph, put posters up and, of course, put a flier in the Dash.
Once all this was in place it was game on. I must admit to be being pretty nervous. I had no idea how many people would turn up to pay their £2.50 on the night. Would it turn out to be another poorly attended event like the Toy Run? Cath, Hannah and I headed down to DACA and started to set up. To make it more fun I decided to make it look like a fell race. I had a sign up at the desk saying 'Registration. £2.50. no kit required. No safety pins.' The way to the studio was marked with red and white barrier tape and the drinks for the interval was water and orange juice in Dashers race water containers.
Seven o' clock arrived and people began to trickle in. Paul Livsey and Jonathan Stubbs from Dashers had offered to help out. Livsey took some photos and Stubbsy manned the lights in the studio.
Clearing my throat I nervously stood in front of everyone and began:

Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to Fell! An evening of off road running films. Thank you for supporting the event. Due to the kind support of our sponsors – Lead on, Pro Sport Supplements and the Black Horse, all funds will go to Darwen Dashers and Bolton Mountain Rescue Team. The main feature tonight is about the inspirational Cumbrian fell runner Joss Naylor MBE but there is also a full support programme of short films. All about running, all very different. There will be a 10 minute interval part way through but let’s begin, in true Saturday Matinee style, with a cartoon. This is ...

Onwards by James Jarvis who incidentally is a 2:35 marathon runner. He says:
The film was inspired by certain personal experiences in running – a favourite run over Blanchland moor in Northumberland, being attacked by a crow in Singapore – and also by the transcendent, almost psychedelic experience of the simple act of running.

Reflections on Sixty
This short Award Winning film was produced during the 48 hour film marathon at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival. Shot, edited and produced by Toby Adamson and Richard Dixon as part of the Adventure Film Academy workshop run in the week leading up to the festival. The brief: to produce a 2 minute film from concept to final product in the space of 48 hours. Stewart Johnson, a fell runner from Kendal, proved a fantastic subject for the film. The film was given the AFA 48hr Film Marathon Award

Racing Time
Directed and Produced by Ra Page and Adele Myers Comma Films
A seventy year old fell runner travels across rough terrain and extreme weather conditions in pursuit of an indefinable target... Based on a poem by Chris Woods

And now we have a bit of a coup. This film is making its premier this evening.
This is ‘Fellraisers by a local fell runner and film maker called Mark Birbeck also known as Fellephant. He says: I’m a fell runner and I make fell running films when I'm injured. I usually put my films on the internet in the hope they get exposed to fell runners and anyone else who may appreciate them. Usually on Vimeo, Youtube or on my own fellephant blog. I try to make films which are different. Films which archive my sport from my own perspective. Filming fell races gives me the opportunity to combine my three favourite pastimes. Music, photography and fell running. For non fell runners in the audience this film is a collection of footage taken from a few different fell races over the period of a year. Some in Wales and some in England. The film footage is a mixture of events taken from these races in no particular order. This is an eight minute film accompanied by my own music. Hope you like it.

The Bedlamites
Shyla and Lukas Lee's recent independent film, the Bedlamites. The film explores the beautiful countryside of the north of England and the community spirit that goes hand in hand with fell running. The film features 5 times English Fell Champion Ian Holmes and is mostly about night fell running.

Naylors Run by Eric Robson Striding Edge
Filmed around Joss’ 60 at 60 run, as the Wasdale man attempted 60 peaks on his 60th birthday, in just 36 hours – from Walna Scar to Glenridding, a distance of 105 miles with over 40,000feet of ascent! The film also records Joss’ thoughts on his injuries, running longevity and his feelings for this magical area of the British Isles.

That concludes this evening’s performance. Can I just say thank you to John East of Friends of Darwen Library for his assistance in putting on the event. And thanks again to the sponsors of the event, namely  Lead On, Pro Sport Supplements and the Black Horse.
 I hope you have enjoyed it and maybe it has inspired you to run yourself if you don’t already. Please have a look at for details about the club and the 5 races we put on. And now why not come and join us in the Black Horse for sandwiches and some liquid refreshment?

After packing away we then headed up to the pub through a massive hailstorm. About 30 people joined us in the Black Horse for beer and sandwiches. I got tucked into a few pints and stayed talking to Jonathan B and Paul Julien for quite a while before wobbling my way home. Although the event had not been a roaring success I think it went well and people enjoyed the eclectic mix on offer. Would I do it again? Hmm, not so sure. It was a lot of hard work. We'll see.

Malham tarn Track Attack 28th April

Well, this turned out to be quite an event! I'd signed up for it ages ago after Craig Sefton pointed it out to me. £12 to do a 25 mile event? Not bad. I must admit here that I was a bit blase about it all and took it pretty casually. I think I still had Catalonian sunshine on my mind. I'd roped Dave Billi and Livsey in on it and we all travelled up in Dave's builders van. We used my sat nav to get us there and the journey turned into a bit of an epic in itself! We reached Malham ok but then the sat nav went a bit postal on us and sent us off into the wilds, culminating in us ending up driving along the Pennine Way! Eventually we reached the race start. the weather was a bit overcast and breezy and I began to realise that I was underdressed. Before we set off I managed to cadge a Buff off Craig and I donned the totally inadequate 'waterproof' jacket I'd brought.
We set off in groups of about 10 at 5 minute intervals, I think. To keep warm I set off at a bit of a lick and was soon mixing it with a few people. We got onto the big descent of Mstilles Lane and eventually popped out onto the road near Kilnsey Crag. We'd been issued with a map but a lot of people obviously hadn't bothered to look at it as everyone came to a halt at a T junction and began moaning because there was no marker to indicate the way. 
As we trundled onwards the rain started. I got into a brisk spinny rhythm along the road and stayed with a couple of fast guys, one of them being Roy Hunt who had taken part in the Dark 'Un. After a while we turned offroad and headed up. And up... It was too steep and there was such a strong headwind that I had to walk. I pushed for ages. When I did manage to get on a could only ride the singlespeed for a short period before it got too hard and I was off agian. The weather had properly closed in now. we were in clag all the time and the wind was blasting the rain into us. 
I was soon soaked to the skin and getting very cold. I had only got thin gloves on and my hands were soon completely devoid of feeling. It occurred to me that this was only part way round the first (smaller) loop of the course.
I battled on and passed a few. The way marking consisted of signs telling us to head for the next gate and some tiny little flags stuck in the ground now and again. I think I was quite lucky as I never actually got lost. Later it seemed I was in a minority. I got colder and colder. Finally I reached the highest point and headed back towards the start point. I was riding through a stream and the only way I could tell if my hands were on the brakes was from the grinding noise of pad on disc. This was not good. 
Through a gate and I completed the first loop. As I passed the marshals I was asked if I was continuing. I said 'Yes' and headed along the road. Within 5 minutes I ground to a halt. I was shivering so violently that I couldn't steer straight. A minute of mental clarity saw me wisely realising that continuing would be reaslly stupid. I turned back and told the marshals I'd finished. Luckily for me Dave had left his van keys at the start so I got them and headed for the van. I must have already looked a bit dodgy as one of the marshals came with me. I had to get him to open the van as my hands wouldn't work and I couldn't open the door.
Once he;d done this and checked I was ok he went and after I got in I realised I couldn't undo my helmet. Luckily Nigel Barnes appeared at that moment and I got him to do it. Right, now I can get changed into some warm dry clothes and get summat to eat, yes? No. Now I couldn't work the zip on my jacket. I was shaking like mad and freezing cold. I tried everything to get it undone. Even trying to pull it over my head still partly unzipped. No joy. It took me around 15 minutes to get it undone. Nightmare.
 Finally I could get my soaking kit off and struggle into dry stuff. I found a biscuit and crammed it in. My fingers were still totally dead and I was still shivering. Eventually Dave Billi appeared. he'd also pulled out. We started the van and got the heater blasting out. When he'd got changed he went and got some of the free hot drinks that the organiser provided. 
We sat in the van for a long time. It was obvious that Paul had carried on. I was impressed but I didn't envy him. Another hot drink and some food was tucked away. Much later Paul arrived. He'd had a rough time of it witht the cold and wet and some dodgy way marking had seen him go astray but he'd finished. It turned out later that about 75% of racers had pulled out so Paul had done bloody well. 
Driving home I reflected on what, for me, had been one of the worst days out on the bike for many a year. it was such a shame as the organisers had done a good job and in different conditions it would have been a cracking day out. I also kicked myself for being so complacent in not taking the right kit with me. With my poor resistance to cold and Reynauds Syndrone I had had a real mare and could quite easily have gone into full blown hypothermia. One to put down to experience and learn a lesson from, I think.

SSUK '13, Swanage, Dorset. 3rd - 6th May 
I'd been looking forward to this since signing up for it. It was going to be a bit of an unknown quantity as I was taking Cath with me. her first time at a singlespeed event. She was going to use Will's bike with the seat right down. It was also her first time on a singlespeed!
We'd had to wait for Hannah getting back from a college trip before we could set off. It was about 10.30am before we hit the road south. On a Bank Holiday Friday. Smashing. Initially we made good progress but eventually our luck ran out and we hit standing traffic. The motorway had been closed due to an accident and we had to head onto A and B roads. We got stuck several times on the way down due to the sheer volume of people heading away for the weekend. Ah well, at least the sun was shining,
We couldn't get on the main campsite used for the event, which was a bit of a shame. As it turned out we were quite a way away from it and no-one else from the event was where we were. The site was nice though. We had a reasonable meal at the restaurant that night and retired.
Anyway it was a strange do for a singlespeed event. Due to us being a bit removed from it all there was no getting hammered and talking crap for hours with like minded loons. Not a complaint really as it was nice to just have a mini break with the Mrs somewhere new - and sunny! Bonus!
We headed down to Charlie's shop with the intention of us both doing the Saturday ride. Fate stepped in and put the mockers on that one. We'd driven down and had to pay for a full days parking (£8!!) and by the time we'd got the bikes out and ready to go the large throng of riders that had been hanging out on the sea front looking all niche and that, had buggered off! Aaargh! We had a guess at which way they had gone and set off in pursuit but to no avail. However, it soon became apparent that Cath wasn't overly happy on the Inbred. It was too big, she'd never ridden a SS before and then the freehub started playing up. FFS. Taking this as a sign we opted to head back into Swanage, dump the bikes back in the car and have a mooch and a pub lunch. Hey ho.
That evening we went out for a drive to check out where the Sunday event started from. It was a lovely pub overlooking the sea and the Old Harry rock. We had our tea there. As it was still quite early we also checked out Corfe Castle as I knew the route passed through it. It was in a fantastic little village and there was some sort of crazy re-enactment thing going on there. I'm not quite sure what the theme was as there seemed to be Mongol hordes, Vikings, Saxons and er, a guy in a pith helmet with what looked like welders goggles on. Hmm.

Sunday dawned and yet again we went to Swanage. The event briefing largely consisted of Charlie telling us 'Don't be a dick'. Ok then. Everybody else rode up to the headland and we went back to the car to drive up so Cath could keep up with what was going on. We had a bit of a flap when we discovered the bloody battery had gone flat but eventually I got us sorted (tip - don't buy a car with a fecking electric handbrake as you can't bump it).
Up at the pub people were milling around quaffing pints before the off. Yep, that's pretty singlespeedy, I thought. As it wasn't a race and went through some popular areas on a Bank Holiday weekend we set off in small groups. I was soon up on the Downs (pardon?) and admiring the view out to sea on what was a gorgeous day. I bumped into a guy I know from Hit the North and hooked up riding with him and his American girl;friend for a while. This guy can ride a bit and despite him recovering from snapped tendon in his wrist he was hammering along. It was fun staying with him.
Eventually we ended up as part of a larger group dropping down to the midway point where upon someone uttered the immortal line 'Where are you headed for? For Corfe!' Think about it...
The place was rammed. Loons in various types of armour mixed with loons on one geared bicycles while tourists looked on, mouths agape. I tucked into a nice pint of bitter and bumped into Keef who I'd first properly met at SSEC t'other month. He introduced me to his lot including Tazzy the tattooed beat messiah and Keefs lad who was riding a 1940's fixie!! When we set off again it was apparent that they were taking a more leisurely approach to the ride so I kicked back and stayed with them.
The route was nice, and the weather made it even better. We had an extended stop to mend a couple of punctures and then we were at the finish. Surprisingly enough it was at a pub! We sprawled about in the sunshine and quaffed pints of bitter and cider and suddenly it was your typical SS do.
There was a hog roast and a Scottish poet (??) and eventually there was the presentation. Charlie had asked everyone to bring something with them to put in the prize stash - a belting idea, I thought. The 'winner' of the 'race' was eventually decided on and a very surprised looking girl got to choose something nice from the pile. Various other things were awarded prizes - worst tattoo being a particular standout! Eventually it ended up with 'help yourself to whats left'. I think pretty much everybody got something.
Cath eventually dragged me off before I got totally wasted - I had been in deep conversation about drugs  with a couple of mates from Brighton - and we headed back to the tent. It had been a great day.
After a bracing walk up a nearby hill in the morning we packed up and wended our way home. It only took 5 1/2 hours to get home!
It had been a great weekend away and Charlie the Bikemonger had put on a great event. Fair play to the big fella.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

SSEC '13 Singlespeed Euro's, Catalunya, Spain

'So it's a race then?' 'Er, there is a race but it's not really a race' 'Right, so it's a bike meet?' 'Well, kind of, but not really.' 'Party?' 'Sort of.' 'Sigh. So WTF is it then??' 'Er...'

A lot happened on this trip. So much so that it would take me forever to blog it all. Suffice it to say we had one of the best weekends ever. Here's a few tasters of what went on.

Catalonia is quite a long way away from Darwen. You're talking 16 + hours driving and several tanks of juice. So we flew to Girona which is right next to the town of Sant Gregori where the event was held, and hired a car to carry the 3 of us (Will, Paul and me) and our bikes and camping stuff. It was a bit of a logistical nightmare but Paul proved to be pretty adept at sorting stuff so it was all good. We'd arranged to arrive on the Thursday, the day before the event actually started. I got permission from Carolina one of the organisers, as it was supposed to be Staff only on the site then. We rocked up and got the tents up. We'd had the foresight to stop off at a supermarket on the way in and stock up on the essentials - largely San Miguel. This was to be a theme for the whole trip.

The weather was lovely - shorts and t shirt weather. Remember that? No, I'm struggling to as well. The camp was on an area of wooded parkland behind a sports complex who's facilities we had access to. Real toilets and hot showers. Luxury! As we arrived we met Carolina and Marcal and it was immediately obvious that they were both just really genuine, salt of the earth, lovely people. This proved itself time and time again over the time we were there.
Quite a few other had turned up early as well and set up camp. These included a group of Dutch lads. I knew them by sight but hadn't really spoken to them much in the past. I recognised Toby Fallon and a lad called Thijs. They went off to socialise and returned later once we had gone to bed. I was pretty knackered after the early start and the travelling and once the Cloggies rolled in in the early hours and then started shouting and carrying, on my patience was sorely tried. After what felt like many hours of them keeping me awake I could stand it no longer and shouted out 'OH, WILL YOU JUST SHUT UP!!!'
The next day was the official start of SSEC and more and more people rolled in.The Norn Irish lads had turned up in their amazing £100 caravan. It had had a respray since we last saw it in Floressas at SSEC '12.
The Godiva Trails lot had also rocked up en masse, including Martin and the ever lovely Leigh. Other Brits there were (inevitably) Sheldon and Ringo. Keef, who I knew by sight but hadn't really spoken to before and a scattering of others. The Belgians had their enclave and it was good to see Bruno and Lucas again. One of the absolute best things about these events is making friends with people from different countries, and as this was mine and Will's third, and Paul's 2nd, we now know quite a few. Eventually our two French friends Sebastien and Sophie turned up. They were pretty much the first people we got to know at our first SSEC in Maredsous, Belgium 2011, when Sophie joined me dancing whilst pissed (me, that is. I know - what are the chances??). They're a great couple and a lot of fun. Various other exotic foreigners were dotted about too - Pascal 'le super hero' (Grand Raid Cristalp finisher x 4), Dirk the Dutchie, Thierry the owner of a drop dead gorgeous Julie Racing Designs bike, and the two Swedes, amongst many others.
Talking of bikes, there were so many cool ssers that every time you looked round there was something to catch the eye. I think Paul got a lot of admirers for his new sexy On-one carbon 29er.

And there were more Fat Bikes than you could shake a (oversized) stick at. Needless to say Will was soon ripping round on other people's bikes and doing massive, and no doubt very expensive, skids on them.

The camp site as well as having 2 football pitches was also a mountain bike centre. I envisaged it as being like one of our trail centres but it wasn't really. There were some sign posted trails heading off into the wilds and on the Friday afternoon we decided to go for a pootle. We soon picked up some arrows and signs that we presumed were for the race course so opted to follow them. It was a pretty leisurely ride but we gained a fair bit of height and so we were puffing a bit. It didn't help that it was just after noon and baking hot too! The route was a belter. Some tough climbs but interspersed with lovely flowing singletrack and then chucking in the odd loamy, soily ultra steep descent. There were quite a few stream crossings and some stretches of nice quiet back country roads to get a bit of speed up. We couldn't work out where we had joined the course and I'm pretty sure we didn't follow all of it properly but we certainly rode the majority of it. God, it was good! We kicked up dust. Dust! Then it was back to the site to soak up some sun (and some San Miguel). 
The next day was race day. Despite having blown the froth off a couple the evening before I was pretty up for it. We rode out, en masse, a few miles to the start. Lots of people in fancy dress, as per. Some great costumes, it has to be said.  I'd arranged for us 3 to be all wearing our yellow On-one tops so that we looked really pro... and just to set it off I wore my Dr Peppers underpants again. It's a good look and I can see it taking off once the cool kids get into it.
There was the normal tomfoolery of us having to leave our bikes and then walk out of sight of them. Once the race started we ran (well, some ran...) back and then tried to find where the rascals had hidden them. They were all over the shop, some in trees, others in piles - I eventually found mine down a grass banking. As I say I was fired up for the race and put the pedal to the maximum gnar setting and charged off. We had actually ridden large parts of the course the day before, just not necessarily in the right order, as Eric Morecambe would have said. The lap didn't end where we had started from but was up a hillside near a church. They had set out some big tables laden (and I mean LADEN) with food - sausages, chorizo, chocolate, bananas, loads of drinks, but unusually no beer! WTF?
Anyroad, I was on one so just grabbed half a banana and sped on. On the second lap Sebastien caught and passed me. Just what I needed - a needle match! Excellent. We had a right ding dong. I've not really taken much notice of how well he could ride before but he's pretty handy - good descender (on a fully rigid with v brakes!) and pretty strong on the climbs too. I caught him and got in front a couple of times but he always had me back. In my defense I have to say that he is probably literally half my age! Time and again we'd arrive at the finish line where Carolina was officiating. There was a bit of a concrete step just as you crossed and I was having such a blast that I couldn't help pulling a wheelie every time I went through. Eventually I got passed by a couple of very fast looking guys in team strip on 29ers and guessed that I'd just been lapped by the leaders. As I came in the next time I was stopped from carrying on. I gave out a great 'Awww!' as I really was having a ball.
Still buzzing I made my way to the food and commenced reducing the calorie debt. Will was already there and, like the slacker he is, he'd only done one lap. He'd also discovered the beer and was tucking into his 4th... Paul rocked up after a bit and we all had a good yap, enthusing about the course. I can't overstate how good it was. After a while I suggested that we head back to base to try to get in the showers before everybody else was back, and we rode back, still prattling on about the race.
And then the drinking started. There was just something about the weather, the company and the whole ambience of the event that made it just perfect for keeping a beer buzz going. All the time. We had a bit of a group going - us 3, Seb and Sophie and two American guys, Peter and Greg. We'd been having the crack with these two for a while and I really liked them. Peter's a great big Frank Oz look-a-likey (oh, and he owns Surly bikes - the company, not just a couple of bikes) and Greg was just a complete loon. He became more and more like Jim Carey in the Mask the more he drank. Very, very funny guy. 'So what;s the difference between 'pissed' and 'leathered'?'
After more food it was time for the fun and games. There was the bike throw. Traditionally some crappy geared mountain bike gets slung about a bit and the person who chucks it furthest gets a prize in the evening. I noticed that someone did a 'ghost rider' with it and it was still counted. This seeped into my drink addled brain and I drew Sheldon Attwood to one side and explained my cunning plan. I stepped up for a go and mimed revving it up to do another ghostie when Sheldon jumped aboard and coasted it to victory! 

As the contest continued and the bike had more bits smashed off it, one of the Northern Irish Trail Badger lads had a go using the hammer throwing technique. His aim was a bit poor though and he managed to throw it towards us, hitting me right on my knackered ankle. Bloody hell it hurt. I was limping for ages after that.
There was a demo by a rather odd looking guy riding a fixie and doing tricks on it. Then there a competition for who hosts next years event. We all thought that it was a shoe in for the Norn Irish as they missed out last year so we were a bit surprised when Toby Fallon stepped up for Holland and an Italian for Sicily, as well as Rick from NI. Apparently people were a bit unhappy that it was agreed they had it rather than competing for it. Anyway, after several silly games the Sicilian withdrew and it boiled down to 'who can show us something we haven't seen before' whereupon Toby demonstrated the Dutch art of schwaffling and Rick threw his good bike down the bike throwing contest course to win it. Honour restored. So we'll be off to sunny Castlewellan next April, with any luck.
That evening was the after race party. These are generally the highlight of SSEC events as far as I can remember. I must make a mention of the meals that we were provided with here - they were bloody good. All local stuff and very tasty. We certainly weren't left wanting.
The format for the drink was that you had a card that was supposed to get ticked off every time you went up to get your mug refilled. This soon went to the wall and the barman was just pretending to cross mine off as I seemed to be seeing him every ten minutes or so. My God, it was going down. Paul hadn't joined us as he was feeling a bit rough. Probably very wise. I know I had a good time, I really do. Can I remember much about what was said? Er, no. Prizes were given to folk who had done well at the race. It turned out that me and Sheldon won the bike throwing. The prize was a free entry to the Singlespeed World Cup in Italy. I gave it to Sheldon as I wouldn't be able to go. There was a band on later. A Spanish heavy rock combo who all seemed to have the same hair style as Bill Bailey. I remember bouncing around to the Ace of Spades. I remember telling Carolina what a fantastic job they had done of the event. 

....and then I don't remember. For instance I don't remember this... If you look closely into my eyes you will notice it says 'vacant'.
I think I know why I don't remember it. Sooooo, I woke up in the morning and I was bad. And I mean BAD. I'd done my usual trick of taking a drink from my water bottle, not closing the top and then knocking it over. Hence the tent was soaking. Yep, that makes sense. But why was my English money out of my wallet and also soaking wet on the floor? Why was my phone cover in the tent and my phone on the floor in the porch? I crawled out of the tent and staggered to the bench and sat for a very, very long time with my head in my hands, whimpering slightly. Blimey.
There was a bike ride that day and it seemed there were two options - a dead long one and a shorter one. Seeing as I was like death warmed up I opted for Plan B. There was no way I was going to miss riding again round there so it was game on. Will and Paul emerged. Paul was better, but Will was worse. He jibbed on the ride but Paul was good to go. Seb and Sophie turned up. Seb looked in a similar state to me and wasn't going to ride until he realised that virtually everyone else was. I ate, dressed and tried to unstick my poor dehydrated tongue from the side of my head. 
Off we set and eventually we split up and set off in two groups. There was a bit of confusion about it all but no matter, we were off and riding and again, it didn't disappoint. There must be countless miles of sweet trails in these hills. Paul was riding with me and we were loving it. Although there were quite a few in the group we had spread out and were largely riding together with the others out of sight, just the occasional regroups. At one point there was a stop where the leader was saying something about going a longer way round to the food and drink stop. I didn't really twig what was going on but after a while both Paul and I began to realise that we'd been going for a pretty long time and that neither of us had much water left. Needless to say it was about noon by now and crackin' t'flags. The hangover didn't help. We came to a river crossing and people were having a go at riding through it. It was pretty rocky and I think only one made it without getting wet feet. I looked longingly at the water. Later I was reduced to looking longingly at muddy puddles. I am slightly ashamed to recount that I even cadged a few precious drops of water from a couple who were on a tandem (God bless them). The route was fantastic but my god, it felt endless. Suddenly we burst out from a bit of downhill nadgery onto a road and within 5 minutes we fetched up at the long awaited food stop. Talk about an oasis in a desert! Tables groaning with food again. Cold drinks, aaahh lovely lovely cold drinks. I sank one after another. Bliss. More and more riders arrived and waded in to the grub. Eventually it was time to go  and we massed up for a spinny road ride back to Sant Gregori, chatting away. 
More San Miguel in the afternoon as people began to pack up and head home. It was quite sad as I think everyone realised that they had taken part in something special. There was one last throw of the dice for us as we weren't going until Monday (well, not even then as it turned out...). Sheldon, God bless him, had arranged for all the stragglers to go for a meal with the very wonderful organisers and so that evening a bunch of us travelled in convoy to a very nice looking restaurant that we had spotted on the ride earlier in the day. 

Some travelled more comfortably than others... To summarise the night: food - plentiful and excellent, drink - likewise, company - the best, smiles and laughter - frequent. 
The toast to Singlespeeders, Catalunya, each other and many other things became very frequent but none the less heartfelt for that. The local drinking vessel - the porro - was demonstrated. How to do it:

Aaaand how to do it when you are very pissed:

It seems right to leave it there, still in the restaurant, filled with drunken happy people. Glowing from the booze but also our skin burned by the Catalan sun which seemed to premeate to our souls. This really was the best of times. I'll never forget SSEC 2013 Catalunya or the people who were involved in it.