Friday, 16 December 2016

16th December 2016 - New Year, New Me!

So, here we are, NEW YEAR NEW ME! Except it’s not the New Year is it, it’s late November, early December, mid-December (it’s taken me a few goes to get this blog out) but we’re all systems go trying to get back to it on the new me part.

My last blog was almost 3 months ago, after the last National of the season. A few weeks later, with the race season all but finished, a group of us headed south for a weekend of fun at BikePark Wales & Forest of Dean. After a season of pushing myself & trying to do everything as fast as possible I was pretty excited to just ride my bike with my mates & have a laugh. 90 minutes after arriving though I was heading back home. Back in July I tweaked my back lifting some flight cases out of the back of the van & I’d chosen to ignore it. With a packed calendar, I had no time to be injured so I kept on training & racing. But on that wet Saturday morning my body just decided I was taking the piss & it’d had enough. 2 of the 4 runs I completed were done so with tears streaming down my face, so I bailed.

Over the next few weeks both the Dr & Physio suggested I’d slipped a disc but I’d need an MRI to confirm. No chance of getting this on the NHS anymore though, unless you’re incontinent. I wasn’t, although the first time I hit the Val Di Sole road gap back in September I was pretty close, but they determined this was unrelated so I was looking at roughly a £1k bill including a consultation. It wasn’t the money that stopped me proceeding (it was agony), more the thought of surgery, which to me is always a last resort & I hadn’t even tried to fix it. Also, the surgery wouldn’t be available on the NHS so we could be looking at anything up to £8k (OK, it was the money) & I wouldn’t be riding for at least a year. Willing to give anything a go I went to see a Chiropractor & started doing some Yoga. To cut a long story short, after many nights spent alternating between Dead Pigeon & sitting on a red spiky ball, my back improved to the point that I managed to start training again a few weeks ago. Massive thanks to Jordan at Dynamic Chiropractic & Ellie at Om Is Where The Heart Is for sorting me out.

So, where to? Well, we’ve pencilled in a Portuguese National as our first race of 2017. Binnsy did it last year & despite obliterating his back wheel on a gap jump in his race run he’s keen to go back. The plan is 4 days riding with RidePortugal & then racing on the Saturday & Sunday. That’s the first weekend in March, so I’d have 14 weeks to get myself together.

So, training. I decided to ease myself back in gently as I really didn’t want to rush into it like a bull in a china shop & end up screwing the back up again. Firstly, the weigh in. During the 2 months of doing sweet FA I’d also given up on MyFitnessPal. The first example of my “100% or nothing at all” character trait; if I’m not training I’m not tracking what I’m eating either. I was pretty surprised to see I’d only put on a couple of KG’s, which made me optimistic about my fitness levels too. The first test I set myself was a couple of laps of my local training loop on the CX bike. Essentially, the loop is a climb up the steep side of a hill & then a roll back down the other (not so steep) side. Sometimes I run it, sometimes I ride it. The first time I ever ran it, a cyclist over took me just after I’d started the climb & we had perhaps the most "Yorkshire" conversation I’ve ever had:

Him: You planning on running all the way to the top?
Me: Yeah, gonna try!
Him: We call it The Pig. You’ll see why.

And then he rode off. No tips, no good wishes. Henceforth I’ve always called it The Pig & he was right, it’s hard work. The up part is 1.4 miles long, during which you climb 540 vertical feet. The descent is obviously the same drop but it’s spread out over twice the distance. If I’m running it I do it once, if I’m riding it I do it 2 or 3 times, a warm up lap & then a fast lap & sometimes a warm down lap. So, brimming with confidence, off I set on the bike... I was soon thwarted. On the warm up lap I stopped twice on the climb & it just got worse, to the point that the warm up lap became the fast lap FFS. Anyway, when push came to shove it turns out my times were 20% slower than they’d been 2 months earlier. 20%. In 2 months. It felt like a whole other person had set those times.

Over the next 3 weeks though I got right back at it, running on some flatter roads before setting a respectable time on The Pig. I also managed to throw in a few PT sessions & I continued with the Yoga, but then work went up a few notches & I’ve done nothing for the last 10 days. Producing events & videos you go through lulls & then intense spikes, usually around the delivery point, where you’re working from the moment you get up until the moment your head hits the pillow. Again, the “100% or nothing at all” gene kicks in & my head isn’t into training & it all falls apart. Add to that a couple of boozy Christmas do's & here we are, it’s mid-December & although I’m not starting all over again, I’m nowhere near where I wanted to be.

The plan was to work on getting stronger in November & December & then try & focus on getting faster in January & February. So, I’m just going to have to do the whole bloody lot together. Over Christmas. On the plus side the back’s feeling good & Portugal is now only under, let me just check, 10 weeks away. Shit. Put the mince pie down George, it’s only 10 bloody weeks, 10 more weeks until we go racing. Woo-ha! :)

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

21 September 2016 - BDS @ Llangollen

Final Race Report of the season from the BDS Rd 6 at Llangollen.

We’re leaving Llangollen disappointed. We shouldn’t be, but we are. You see what happened was…

Saturday was an amazing day. The track was a bit greasy in the morning but it soon dried out & we put in some decent times without even trying. 5 of us were riding together, Andy Horsburgh, Greg Kerr, Jason Holland, Binnsy & myself. 5 blokes in their 40’s & 50’s giggling like children & buzzing off riding bikes down a hill in the sunshine. Does it get any better? 

By the end of the day we all had a time between 2:39 & 2:41 without really even trying, with me & Horse being separated by 0.005 of a second, much to my amusement. No pedalling on the straights, no fancy lines... Well that’s not strictly true, Binnsy tried some, but after crashing 4 times on one run & sending me out first to try some on the next run & me also crashing we soon went back to what we knew. So, on Saturday night we walked the track thinking we could get deep into the 2:30’s.

But Sunday came & it all went a bit pear shaped.

Mist descended on the track & left it greasy again for practice. First practice run down I had the first of 2 incidents at Marshall Point 5, a flat right hand turn that I just couldn’t seem to get right. The bike’s been brilliant all season so I don’t want to criticise it, but it’s so long & so slack that despite weighting the front wheel I just couldn’t stop it drifting off the track & I went sliding 12 feet down the banking. Second practice run was a bit better & I went into seeding thinking the crash was just a one off with me being a bit cold & the track a bit slippy. So, I went for it in seeding & was on a good one until the same bloody corner. Went in far too fast, I don’t remember it even drifting this time I just know I did 2 somersaults down the bracken, ending up 15ft below & upon my return to the side of the track the marshall said it was the best one he’d seen all weekend. Shame they don’t give medals out for that, although having decided to wait (for what seemed like an eternity) at the end to see Binnsy receive his medal for winning the series, there was a point at which it felt like they might. I was pumped for seeding because, well, within the Vets there’s several groups of riders. Due to the fact I was sitting in 7th in the series & the people in 4th, 5th & 6th weren’t racing, I had Andrew Titley starting 30 seconds behind me. Now, the final 3 riders, Andrew, Mark Weightman & Will Longden are at a different level to me. They might be Vets now but they’ve all raced at Elite level in the past & they’re all pushing for the win. With a 30 second gap I didn’t think they’d catch me on a 2:30 track but a couple of mistakes and well, anything’s possible. So, laying in the bracken on my seeding run I just let them all go through as I didn’t want to spoil their runs by trying to force my way back on to the track. 

The result of this was that I was last in seeding, which was OK because it meant I was off first for my race run with a clear track ahead of me. Binnsy also stacked it in seeding on the corner after Marshall Point 5 & this left us with a bit of a conundrum. We could see the track was drying out, surely it would be like Saturday afternoon again by the time we started racing? We could push on, glory was there to be taken... But we didn’t. We thought of the overall & we both backed off & took it steady. So steady that it actually felt like I walked past Marshall Point 5. Binnsy ended up 2nd in Grand Vets with a 2:40. I was 13th in Vets with a 2:46.

Why shouldn’t we be disappointed? Well, Binnsy won the Series in the Grand Vet category which is a bloody massive achievement (photo below) & I came 7th in the Vets, having been 21st last season. Those times were also the fastest we’ve ever raced down Llangollen which shows that we're making progress. Oh & I got to sit in the hot seat whilst the next 4 or 5 riders came down. But we’re still gutted. It didn’t quite go to plan for any of the Revolution Team really, with Louis coming 8th in Juniors & Jack 6th & Riley 11th in Youth. Better luck for those guys next weekend in the final round of the Pearce Series. Massive congratulations to Jack Reading on taking the win in Elite though, bloody amazing skills.

So, that’s it. Another season down. 6 months of graft, rain & dark nights ahead. Oh & Cyclocross. Yep, I'm doing some cx races over the winter. I know... I'll be terrible but it'll be a laugh.

Thanks to everyone who's helped us out this season. All the guys & gals at Revolution & on the Revolution Team, Alex at Ticky Bikes for keeping my wheels turning, Richard at the Fitbox for keeping my legs turning & Jack for the training. And to Binnsy for constantly telling me "I think this is your race" all season & then turning it on & beating me on race day (except at the Mega). It's been such a top laugh. 3 highlights spring to mind... Crossing the line in seeding at the BDS at Ae & hearing the commentator say "and George Thompson goes fastest". 5 words that I've never heard anyone say before or since; making the Pro race at the Megavalanche, I've never put myself through that much physical pain before & everything about the Masters Worlds in Val Di Sole.

Right, best get some work done...

8 September 2016 - Masters Worlds @ Val Di Sole

Race report from Val Di Sole. It's a bit of an epic, you'll probably need a brew & a couple of Hob Nobs...

They say "if you want to get faster, ride with people who are faster than you", so yeah that's what I did; I went out & raced the Masters World Championships with some of the best non elite / junior riders Britain has to offer. I say non elite, not currently elite might be a better description for some of them. That or "playing the same game as me but on a different level".

So, what is the Masters Worlds? Well, each year the UCI organise a World Championships for each cycling discipline from road through to track to BMX to trials & of course DH & they have a male & female World Champion in every 5 year age bracket 30-35 etc. Next weekend will see the elites & juniors race, but with 300+ of them & 300+ of the other categories they can't do it all on one weekend so the weekend before they hold the Masters Worlds on the same track. Anyone can enter so long as you have a race license, so I guess the only thing stopping everyone having a go is mainly the fear of embarrassing/hurting yourself.

So back to my original point, if you want to get faster... We're now in our 3rd season of racing & we're improving month by month. Last year I was a bit out of my depth in the BDS & although I'm not pulling up any trees this season I'm currently sitting 7th in the Vets with one round to go. Richard Binns raced Worlds in Andorra last year & it's back there next year & the Andorra track looks amazing so I thought I'd go to Val Di Sole in Italy this year to try & get a bit of experience.

We arrived late Wednesday & the other guys had already been up & done a track walk so first run Thursday we're hitting it blind. There are some tough tracks in the UK & we've raced most of them over the last 3 years but nothing like Val Di Sole. Out of the start gate, round a berm & over a 20ft road gap that's far bigger than it looks on the telly, a couple of small drops & big blind one & that's the easiest bit of the track done. Then it's into the woods & 4 or so minutes later you emerge out into the open at the bottom. There's nothing in the woods that's too difficult to ride, it's super steep in places but you could get down it all on a trail bike with a bit of skill; racing it though is a different matter. 

By Sunday it hasn't rained (thank god) but the whole track is filled with wheel size holes that are covered in dust so you can't see them & if it's not got dust on it it's a root or a rock. What you can see is why it's the pros favourite track. It's all natural & there are so many possible lines everywhere. And herein lies one of my problems. By Sunday, Mark Weightman knows every single line on every corner & he keeps talking about them & I just nod & agree with him. I go into the woods, I remember bits where I've messed up on previous runs & then I come out of the woods & by the time I get to the bottom I can't remember any of it in sequence. Binnsy is also struggling with memorising the top section but everyone else seems to have their lines dialled. The problem we all share though is how rough & long it is. By the time we get to seeding on Saturday neither Binnsy nor I have done a full run yet. In fact I don't think we've done one with less than 2 stops. Arm pump like never before & for the first time in 4 years of marriage I've had to take my wedding ring off because it's digging into my finger & hindering holding on. Everyone's feeling it. Fast forward to Monday & I'm driving home having only done 14 runs in 4 days. We do 14 runs in a day sometimes in the UK.

Seeding goes OK. At the start of the week Christopher Karl Whitfield tells me he'll be around 4:30. If I can bring it in under 6:00 I'll be happy with that. I seed with a 6:02. Aside from a couple of small mistakes it was a good run. Binnsy does a 5:30.

Adam Smith tells me I've got to go 10 seconds faster in my race run, which I should be happy about as he's got to find 20 seconds. And that's what I love about DH. It doesn't matter what level you're at, everyone's fighting their own little personal battles. From the 69 year old Canadian doctor who asked Neil Wilson to tow him in on the road gap (he's only 3 years younger than my dad!) to David Wardell psyching himself up to launch the step down that Troy Brosnon probably does on every run. It's a psychological battle as well as a physical one.

With Alastair Maclennan's words ringing in my ears "REMEMBER IT'S THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS!" I found those 10 seconds & another 3 in my race run with a 5:49, finishing 35th/54. I did it in the main by not touching the brakes on the straights & pedalling wherever I could. I learned so much in those 5+ minutes that it was worth the 1,000 mile drive each way just for that. But add to that the craic, which was on from day one & the encouragement, tips & help with everyone sharing everything they knew & it was definitely the best experience I've had on a bike.

Thanks to all those not mentioned above who were part of it... Dave Ingleby, Jethro Whitfield, Peter Walton, Lee Cowen, Graeme Cocky Cochrane & anyone else I've missed; & to all the guys & girls at Revolution Bike Park Racing for the support this season, Richard Lockett at The Fitbox for getting me fit, Jack Reading for the coaching, Alex Bennett at Ticky Bikes for sorting my bike out & of course to Rachel for keeping everything together at home & continually telling me how lucky I am.

There's a bit of chest cam footage of me following Binnsy on the team page

Training starts tomorrow for next year*

*Next year has not yet been authorised by my leader & is dependent on hundreds of factors, starting today with the installation of 2 bathroom cabinets :)