Stage two of the Carpathian MTB Epic started with the same route out of Fundata as stage one this gruelling climb hadn’t become easier overnight which was a shame as my legs pushed hard, body weight over the bars just to keep traction on the front wheel.
The route climbed a similar path up to the first feed station but today instead of turning left we went right a short sharp climb led to what felt like the roof of the world towering above the mighty Carpathian mountain range, standing still to catch my breath my heart beat was the only sound. The vast wilderness stretched out in every direction un-touched by humans, rugged and wild.
Now for the descent! The start was a grassy meadow, with a twist as it was basically a vertical drop, I opted for two feet! This came with the nuisances of flies, which seemed to think I smelt great. I’m sure I didn’t!
Once past the rather daunting top section the climb entered the woods and became a whole world of fun, loose earth, roots and switch backs made for technical riding. I kept my eyes up and picked my lines carefully as I swept through the forest my Specialized 29’er making easy progress down the mountain side.
We were at the bottom far too quick, a long an arduous gravel road climb took you straight from glory and back to the pain cave for what seemed like an age, as I made my way out of the tree line the rumbles of thunder got louder.
Finally seeing the red tent of the all too familiar feed zone I had made it to 25km in 3 hours 21 mins and passed the cut off for continuing into the most technical section of the course. As I started to climb the weather growled, thunder and lightning seemed to be surrounding me and the rain was coming down like someone had turned the hose on! Reaching the woods I slipped off the path and hurt my ankle, it wasn’t that bad, but in that moment I
decided that my head had to rule and to turn round and back to safety. Reaching the red tent I was surprised how far I had actually climbed. Not stopping at the feed zone I continued on through the rain and wind feeling so cold I just kept pushing, not noticing the time tick by… By the time I realised my lack of eating and drinking it was too late to reverse the damage I had done, it was if someone had switch the power off in my legs and the only gear was slow and painful, I crawled back into the race village.
On unpacking my stuff and reflecting it became even more evident why I was I trouble my full camelback told the story, I was so dehydrated my body was just running on nothing. It’s safe to say stage two was a steep re-education in looking after myself. Usually I am so good at refuelling but the conditions got the better of me and then I paid the price hitting the wall 10km from the finish.
Stage three I promised myself would go better, and it did!
To see more photos head over to my instagram.
This first stage had a total distance of 60km with an elevation of 2,700m (although my Garmin said 2,995m)
Friday was the first stage of the Carpathian MTB Epic. The day started with a hearty breakfast and plenty of procrastination on my part.
After what seemed like an age waiting in the starting box the music fell silent and the loud heart beat timer started our count down, I could feel my heart racing and tried to control my breathing. The starter sounded and the sounds of clicking pedals and gear shifts filled the air as we set off out of the race village towards, what for me, was about to be an awesome day in the saddle.
The climbing and heat hit me straight away as the other riders pulled further up the road, I knew I needed to pace myself after all I was here for the enjoyment and adventure not to ‘race’ but as a ‘racer’ that can be quite difficult to get your head round.
The course took us through some spectacular scenery we climbed up on to a ridge line, where the first feed station sat, at just over 12km into the race. It had been a mixture of ‘hike a bike’ and gradual climbing to get here up fire roads with horses grazing in the woods and loggers hauling huge trees behind tractors.
I looked up at the climb to the top of the peak and ate another date, I was going to need all my energy for this one! Once up this short sharp climb the course stayed high and traversed the sky line, the view was incredible! The first proper ‘descent’ felt very steep and loose.
The next few hours are a bit of a blur the course continued to be gruelling and amazing at the same time. The clouds had once again pulled in and the thunder in the distance worried me, it was going to get wet, very wet! I stopped and put my rain jacket on and continued my descent towards Feed Zone 2, reaching this I was right to put my jacket on when I did as the heavens open and within seconds everything was washed out, the next section was a road climb which seemed to go on forever, the road had become a river and the rain was making it hard to see.
I was relieved to be off the road and back to the gravel; even though this was harder to climb I didn’t have to worry about the cars.
The route meandered through the valley with towering rock cliffs on one side and the open meadows on the other, farmers and their cattle watched on as I slowly made my way around the course following a stream which then became a river to cross before tracking the valley on the other side. I could see little dots behind me, which I thought were cyclists and it felt comforting to know I wasn’t the only one!
The climb continued and on reaching the top the huge rock face stood in the distance, you’re going over there said the marshal, wow it looked far away!
Continuing along and down I was surprised to reach the rock face quicker than I anticipated proving that all you have to do is keep pushing those pedals and you will eventually make it.
The next climb was exhausting and I really began to question the ‘fun factor’, it was a grassy climb and in the wet my shoes kept slipping and it seemed to take hours to reach the marshals who were lovely, they said one little bit of up then it’s all down! That sounded promising.
Of course that’s not quite how it went it was more like up, down, up, down, up then down.
It was a spectacular descent now on the other side of the rock face and open valley to my left the descent was rocky and challenging I kept my wits about me as I negotiated the rocks enjoying the challenge. The trail led into the woods where I felt really at home working my way through rooty sections, looking for the best line when the trail was off camber and holding on for dear life when it got rather steep in more than one place! Sometimes the descents would be gradual and then turn steep and committing 100% was the only way to make it down, the descents pushed my ability and belief in myself but time after time I made it to the bottom without coming off.
The final 10km was hard work the descent for 4km to the road was a rutted field with steep sections that came out of nowhere the last 5km up the road was a killer, pain seems to be a prerequisite of cycling so I sucked it up and pedalled on. Soon enough the white archway was in site and I crossed the finish line.
Stage one down, two to go!
Since the Trans Alp in 2016 I have been really keen on riding another stage race. The Trans Alp was so tough both mentally and physically but the highs well outweighed the lows and I have been keen to find another adventure and test my body and mind against the odds.
The Carpathian MTB Epic seemed like the perfect adventure. 180KM, 8,100m of lung busting climbing in 4 days, through the land of Dracula in one of Europe’s last genuinely wild mountain regions.
How could I say no!
This year along with taking on this 4-day stage race my life is a little different to when I did the Trans Alp. Back in 2016 I had no dog to look after and I managed to reduce my coaching right down to just the kids club in order to fit in 12 / 14 hour training weeks. This year that wouldn’t be possible! Luna (my German Shepherd) needs her regular walks and runs and my coaching has been booming. I have this year introduced mountain bike retreats for adults as well as taking Pilates classes, so as you can see life is a whole lot busier than 2016 so 12 hour training weeks are a juggling act!
In short I have had to condense my training into one long ride and a sprints or hill session a week. I have also been running and doing kettlebells each week which has helped to increase my muscle strength. Pilates as always is something I do each week and is a great way to strengthen my core and upper body as well as help prevent injuries.
My tips for staying focused on long rides are:
- Set out with a planned route or goal in mind
- Have enough water and snacks for the whole session (If you cannot carry enough water which is likely then know when you can get some on route from a friendly pub or shop)
- Practice eating different snacks on shorter rides and use your favourites for those long sessions, have something salty
- Only focus on the hour ahead, this is especially important if the weather is bad or you’re feeling tired only think as far as the next hour that way you can chunk your ride down
- Use lampposts/trees as little sprint breaks if you’re feeling full of beans or just pick the pace up a little for 2 mins and then drop back down again
The Carpathian MTB Epic is a full-service event running from 16th – 19th August and is the perfect opportunity for an adventure, even for the time crunched like me. If you hurry up and register until July 29 you may catch a good deal as well. Last day for registrations is August 5, 2018.
I started riding in 2012, socially completing the Purbeck hill-a-sarus sportive which I really enjoyed. One day bored, at work I started looking for other events and came across 24 Hours of Exposure, a 24 hour solo event, so I entered, this was to be my first ever race.
Since then I have tried many different mountain bike race formats, including Solo Endurance races, Team Endurance races, XC racing, Marathon Racing and Multi Day Stage racing.
I prefer the challenge of multi-day events and the endurance events. This year along with some Stage Racing I am also doing a 24 hour solo race and a 12 hour solo race and maybe even some XC races!
Club La Santa International 4 Day Stage Race
This was my 3rd time doing the 4 day stage race at Club La Santa in Lanzarote, 2015, 2017 and now 2018, why do I keep coming back? It’s a great event, great value for money and something to aim for when its cold wet and miserable in the UK.
This year I had the best preparation I have ever had, at the beginning of October I started with a new coach, Sally Bigham, one of the best and most successful stage racers in the world. Sally has been working me hard and I have been putting a lot of hours training in mainly using my Wahoo KickR which is great tool for training especially when training on power and doing quite complicated intervals as it sets everything for you and all you need to do is turn your legs at the right cadence, drink and sweat, a lot!
At the end of September I went to the Torq Fitness HQ to do a Lactate threshold test and FTP. The Lactate Threshold was all over as I suspect I was coming down with a cold as I woke up the next day full of cold and the FTP numbers were quite low but I had hardly ridden since Alps Epic due to being away with work for a month, my FTP was 198 Watts, about 6 weeks later this went up to 212 Watts and then on Christmas eve I was out riding and everything felt good so I decided to attempt one out on the road, I was amazed, I had jumped up to 266 Watts, a huge improvement and was feeling really strong, then on the 2nd of January I suffered another Asthma Attack which took around a week to get over and my training in January really took a hit, after that I was away with work again and then busy moving house so prior to flying to Lanzarote I had barely ridden.
I had been told not to ride too hard as I hadn’t ridden much in the lead up to the race, I started out nice and steady on the road until we hit the dirt, I felt good so I pushed and pushed and pushed, everything felt so good the bike was great my legs felt strong so off I went, this stage was different to past years so I couldn’t really compare the times but my position amongst the other Brits out told me I had seen quite a lot of improvement so I was very happy. The conditions were tough as well, high winds and cooler than normal made things tough.
On Stage Two I decided to ride with my friend Sarah Hewitt, she was sat in 2nd place after Stage One and I knew there was going to be some tough sections on this stage with the head winds so I rode with her and acted as a wind block for her. I really enjoyed working together, we worked hard in tough conditions and she retained second place. About 5km from the end of the stage I had a mechanical, my gear cable had pulled through and I couldn’t shift out of the hardest gear, after a couple of minutes deciding if I carry on in the hard gear or fix it I decided to fix it, Sarah carried on so as not to lose any time, it only took a couple of minutes to fix and I probably lost 5 places by the end, I got back on and set about chasing down some of those that had passed me, I had passed a couple and had caught a British Army rider so I decided to sit in and recover before passing him as I could see Sarah not too far ahead of me, however I switched off a little bit too much and decided to have a lay down in some soft sand, fortunately no injuries bar some bruising to my hip and thigh and somehow I had missed any of the Lava Rock. Again this stage was different to previous years so no comparison could be made to previous years but I was happy with my performance and position and Sarah was still in second place in her category.
Stage three is the individual Time Trial, you start on the Beach in Famara and finish on the top of the cliff above. My start time was much later than everyone else so they all got the bus down in the morning and I decided to ride down later as this would act as a good warm up prior to the stage. Again I was still feeling strong and this was the one stage where I could have a direct comparison to previous years, last year I had completed the 22km in 1:38 so I set my self a target time of 1:30. I set off and was feeling strong again, I pushed hard all the way except on the descents, the cross winds were that bad I was being blown of the track and had to slow down and lost some time on these sections. The final climb was tough, with a strong headwind and it was cold, I actually felt very cold in the last 1/3 of the climb, but I pushed on and worked at my limit with an average heart rate of 181bpm and a max of 192bpm. I was over the moon when I crossed the line at 1:22, 8 minutes quicker than my target time and 16 minutes quicker than last year.
Stage four is the big one, 84.5km and the route was very similar to last year all be it 2km shorter. I rode with Sarah again which was really good, we jumped between groups in the headwinds, me working on the front as I know I could recover on the descents. My Santa Cruz Tallboy is the perfect bike for Stage racing, I nice position and I have fitted it with a dropper post which was great for the descents. Part way through the stage there is a 10km climb and leading in to it is a drag on a fire track in to a headwind, I knew what was coming but still pushed hard along here, gaining a few places and catching some riders that were up ahead, I knew Sarah would be stronger than me on the climb but I also knew I could catch her on the descent the other side so off she went into the distance and I plugged away, I was suffering with some lower back pain which didn’t help and the winds were still strong as we climbed, but even with all of this I felt stronger than I had before so pushed on. As I thought I caught Sarah on the Technical descent and waited for her at the bottom which gave me a chance to stretch which really helped and maybe something I should have taken time for earlier… We carried on the stage together and continued to gain places.
The last 15km or so were in to a strong headwind so head down and keep pushing, Sarah did say after that she moved to take a turn on the front, pulled out from behind, felt the head win and tucked back in, it was tough and I have never been able to work that hard for that long, as we pushed closer to the finish I spotted two riders ahead and was pretty sure one of them was the lady that was leading the category Sarah was in so I pushed harder, making sure Sarah was still with me but hadn’t told her that I thought her main competition was up ahead, we caught with about 3km to go and passed her and her friend very quickly but she had jumped on the back, the last few Km’s were tight and twisty so I was pushing but trying not to push too hard but also making sure that I hadn’t lost Sarah and was towing the other lady instead, I knew it would be a sprint finish for them so as we came in to Club La Santa I pulled over to the side and let them pass, Sarah took the sprint and the stage and finished second overall. My time for this year was amazing, last year was over 6 hours, this year was 5:12, so a huge improvement for me, would I have pushed so hard if I had been on my own I’m not sure, having someone else to ride for and ride with really pushed me on, now to convince Sarah we need to pair up for a big stage race like the Bike Transalp.
I am very happy with my results this year and have seen huge improvements thanks to my amazing coach Sally Bigham, my next big event is Transpyr in June which I will be doing solo, 800km, 18200m’s climbing in seven days.
Training for the Trans Alp is going well I have been working on my stamina doing long 5 hour steady rides where the key is working on my fuelling and also keeping a consistent pace. I am working on breaking the 100km in 5 hour barrier which is my goal!
There is only four months to go now which is really daunting and exciting. I have such a mixture of emotions as the Trans Alp gets closer, my fitness has improved and I feel stronger than I have ever done, but I still have weak days. Days when I don’t know if I can keep going and days when I question my motivations behind taking on such a challenge.
On days when I feel like this I find sometimes its good to just go and ride to remember why I love being on my bike and the freedom that comes with being out in the countryside on two wheels. Check out my latest training rides on my you tube channel and please subscribe it’s a work in progress!
Getting ready for a stage race is very different to anything I have ever experienced because there is a lot more pressure. Michelle and I have been working hard together to make sure not only our bodies are up to the challenge but we need bikes that can cope with big days of knarly trails and our heads can cope with day after day of keeping focused on being race ready. It has been really fun to have a friend and team mate to bounce off it makes training and nerves easier to deal with because someone is there who gets it.
The fun side of all this preparation has been designing our new team kit! It has been good fun and we are finally ready to give a sneak preview! What do you think?
This weekend I am off to my first cross country race of the year. I am keen to see how my speed has improved, I know it has but as I have been concentrating on endurance it will be interesting to see how I can perform in a cross country event.
I will let you know how it goes!