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.
Today was a mixture of emotions standing on the start line I felt elated to have made it this far, with no serious mechanicals for both me and the bike! But unhappy that it was to be the last 54 km ride in this beautiful race.
After a dry start leaving Trento, we started the gradual climb up from 200m to 1700m. Starting on road, turning to forest tracks and gravel paths as we steadily made it to the top. I was feeling great today, no aches and pains and was actually enjoying this demanding climb. (Clearly I’m getting used to the Alps!)
Some sections were pretty steep and with all the rain over night rather slippy too and had to be walked. I joined a trail of silent cyclists pushing their bikes with a feeling of accomplishment that we all shared being there on the final day. Once the terrain was rideable I enjoyed the forest trails which were very like home in a way and the rain was certainly not dampening my state of mind as I looked for the lines ahead. The Era has been fantastic, apart from a few gearing issues caused by the 42t sprocket I put on for climbing. The low stand-over height and rear shock have given me confidence to try lines and go down singletrack which I know I would usually not do. I have relished in pushing myself out of my comfort zone and have found this whole week has been one long learning curve on bike handling, climbing, scrambling, nutrition and positive mental attitude!
The rain soon set in hard and I was so glad to have my Gore Tex jacket. The feed station at 19km was full of chilly cyclists sipping hot soup still with smiles on their faces.
I didn’t stop for long just grabbing some pineapple and a drinks refill before continuing climbing to the summit at 24km.
When I reached the top I felt relieved that my last big hill climb was behind me, but sad that I was nearly half way through the final stage. During this race there has been many highs and lows and I have learnt so much about myself, met some wonderful people and have fully immersed myself in the adventure, one that I am already looking to replicate by taking on another stage race, these thoughts filled my head as I soaked up the downhill. The first part was grassy paths through steep sided gulley’s, which in the dry would have been great fun, but the rain had made them like ice rinks and together with a group I cautiously made my way down these steep parts. Once we hit fire road, I enjoyed the sweeping corners singing songs with the word rain in them, as I made my way down to try and keep my spirits high as the rain tumbled from the sky.
The feed station at 32km came with a very welcome hot tea and waffles. I had two cups and carried on. Just up the road was my Dad, like a hot water bottle angel, he stood with dry gloves and arm warmers. I have never been so happy to pull on a cosy warm layer and this really helped get me up what was now my final climb in the Alps!
At the top of the climb Michelle was waiting huddled with Tom (her boyfriend). We finished the final downhill section together down some rocky singletrack which I really enjoyed. Now we were not as high, it was warm and damp, a little bit like a summer in Wales, so I felt really at home whizzing down the trails looking for the lines which avoided any slippy roots.
Racing into the back roads of the town, full of puddles and pot holes and through the final finishing archway was incredible, I felt like I was dreaming. After thinking of this moment for the last 10 months, visualising what it would feel like to have accomplished my dream it was difficult to describe how I felt, relieved to have finished climbing mountains for a while, exhilarated to have pushed my body out of the comfort zone both in descending and climbing and overwhelmed to now be able to say I completed the toughest Stage race in Europe! WE DID IT!
Thank you to all my family and friends who supported me. Thank you to Specialized for letting me use the Era, Thanks to Bike Fixers, Grip Grab, Food for Thought and Dogtag for supporting us on this journey of a life-time.
Day six, of the Bike Trans Alp, started with some nerves, I was worried about how my back would be after yesterday and felt rather emotional about being so close to the finish line.
Luckily sleep, Pilates and painkillers seemed to work okay and after the congestion created by the downhill start the long climb was okay and I felt alright if I stayed at a steady pace. Michelle is a better climber than me and at this point had disappeared into the distance; it was nice to see her walking back down to help me with my bike on a steeper section when I was struggling to push up. In a team event it is these little moments of support that keep you going.
After the feed station the fun stuff began, with an enduro challenge section through the forest on steep woodland single-track it was challenging yet fun, you had to keep an eye on your line to avoid boulders hidden in the leaves.
I enjoyed this section a lot and felt good by the end of it. Our path then stayed mainly off road and wiggled through valleys with short sharp climbs and descents. One of the highlights was riding through a very long dark tunnel where the temperature was so cold it took my breath away. It was really eerie riding from bright sunlight, into such a dark place. It seemed to go on forever! A small group of us stayed close together and you could tell no one wanted to be alone in this tunnel!
The path then continued to wind through apple groves and vineyards until the last final descent which was more like a scramble than a bike track! We had to carefully make our way down the rock face with our bikes it was super steep!
My body is handling the long days well, as long as I stick to a steady pace and refuelling regularly. Before I came away I asked Sally Bigham for advice which has been absolutely brillaint as I have been eating little and often fuelling with between 70 and 90g carbohydrate an hour to keep my energy levels high.
So far my bike had been amazing I changed my brake pads yesterday but apart from that no mechanical issues bar a few jumpy gears. Thanks Specialized.
The climbing has been a lot tougher than I expected but having never bike more than 4 days in a row before and the fact I live in such a flat country its been hard to train for such monster climbs, I am really pleased to make it to day 6! Bring on the final stage I can almost taste the Prossecco!
Distance: 88.24 km
Metres of climbing: 2,364 m
Saddles: Passo le Fraine (1,705 m)
Today was tough! I didn’t get the best start as my chain jammed 800m from the start once I had fixed it took ages for me to get going again because of the sheer number of bikers squeezing down this small Italian road.
This bad luck continued throughout the day, my back which has been fine for the last four days, really hurt sending pains down my leg and into my foot, not ideal on a day when you have 3,000m to climb!
I kept it steady and tried to break the day down into sections. I would not think further than the next water point or saddle summit this helped a little but it was one of those days when both mentally and physically I felt pushed to the extreme and had to dig deep to just keep going in the right direction.
By the top of Passo Gavia at 2,600m I was really struggling and there still seemed so much left in front of me. I got off and stretched out my back while Michelle kindly waited this seemed to ease the pain in my leg and foot.
Michelle and I then descended down the road to the Enduro challenge which was a mixture of dusty steep trail and rock gardens. I have been really enjoying the singletrack its been such good fun and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Today I got over confident at one point and ended scrapping my ankle down the rock which was not pleasant and reminded me that I needed to go careful with two days left to complete the race.
After the enduro challenge the route climbed steeply once more. By the feed station at 45km I was again in a lot of pain and felt overwhelmed by the fact there was still over 40km to go until the finish, I just didn’t see how I could keep going. It is in these moments we all find out the strength of our character, it was a lonely climb to the top of the pass and I battled a lot of negative feelings in those 5km!
I was relieved to see Michelle at the top who then helped me with my bike up a few steep climbs as she could tell I was in trouble.
The path was undulating and continued to climb further we passed a emergency helicopter and then were rather shocked when we turned the next corner to see a cyclist ready to be air lifted out, it put into perspective how even though my body was hurting I was still able to ride.
We pushed on once more every kilometre seemed to go by so slowly I was relieved to see the finish!
Distance: 86.32 km
Metres of climbing: 3,073 m
Saddles: Passo Gavia (2,621 m), Alta Via Camuna (2,393 m)
Yesterday was the Gorrick Summer Monkey, the race that introduced me to endurance racing last year. I was excited about going back to Ceasars camp and trying out my new endurance legs on the course!
On Saturday I had a long ride with Michelle and then went home to prepare for race day. I packed my snacks making sure I had 60g of carbohydrate per hour. I was trying a new snack my dietitian had mentioned taking which were pretzels instead of peanuts as peanuts high fat content can affect my performance. I also packed bananas, dates, malt loaf and some Torq energy gels.
Race day started at 6am getting up to have porridge before packing the car and setting off. I didn’t ride the course but instead spent my time making sure my feed so was stocked with water and snacks in an easy to reach place. I also had my second breakfast of mixed berries and Greek yogurt.
The race started at 9 and the new course was full of surprises, starting with a long drag uphill on fire road it soon turned back into the forest, where a bumpy downhill section dislodged my water bottle from the reverse rack, with riders behind me stopping was not an option, so I continued making a plan of how I would survive on small water bottles.
The course climbed further this time up to a high point near the reservoir, this was for me the hardest part of the course the sharp left bend at the bottom of a bumpy descent before a sharp climb up seemed to give me gearing issues every lap!
After this was my favourite part of the course as the singletrack twisted through the tress with loads of great corners, jumps and long descents, my top speed was 26.5mph.
Although the lap had been shortened it was really good fun because you would notice something new or find a new favourite section each time which you could look forward to next lap. Thanks guys for a brilliant course!
Eating every 45 minutes was hard as you could never guarantee whether you would be on a trail section where eating was possible, I think this led me to have a little energy dip at around 4 hours, as well as physiologically being around lunch time it is always slightly harder to focus.
I had an energy gel which seemed to cause me more issues than giving me needed energy. Instead I just got stomach cramps, I made a decision to slow down slightly which seemed to relieve my issues and then picked it back up again on the next lap.
All laps had to be completed within the 6 hours, I came through after my 9th lap on 5 hours 22 and felt like another lap was impossible, let along a fast one (I had been thinking my lap times were around 45 mins, turned out they were faster) But I had set out to ride for 6 hours so that is what I was going to do I started my tenth lap steady but soon was being overtaken by people clearly trying to fit their last lap in, this spurred me on to do the same, I was delighted to finish at 5 hours 55 just getting my tenth lap in. I had to really dig deep for this last lap and was proud to have achieved it.
I lost time having to faff around with re-filling water bottles after I ran out of small ones; this is something I need to work out before the Trans Alp! I also found out that pretzels are no good as they suck all the moisture out of your mouth, new savoury snack hut begins!
Altogether I did 59.69 miles over 5 hours 55. My average heart rate was 149 and max was 180. I think what yesterday showed me is, when I feel like there is nothing left in the tank its always worth having a deeper look, because I found the strength and speed to turn out another fast lap, as fast as my third lap of the day when I was at the beginning of my race.
Thank you so much to Bike FixersBike Fixers for getting my bike ready for the race, thanks to Specialized for my amazing Era and to Grip Grab for the most comfortable gloves I’ve ever worn over 6 hours.
- Lap 1 00:33:31
- Lap 2 00:33:56
- Lap 3 00:34:31
- Lap 4 00:35:25
- Lap 5 00:35:43
- Lap 6 00:36:04
- Lap 7 00:36:41
- Lap 8 00:37:48
- Lap 9 00:37:02
- Lap 10 00:34:19