After detouring off-road on the cross bike with some mountain-bike-(ish) orienteering earlier this year, part two of bending the edges of my comfort zone was to actually race some cyclocross.
Wellington was first, in September; I’d fancied cross because of the potential, er, crossover with fellrunning. Wellington turned out to have about 20m of running between barriers… hey ho.
I did a practice lap and had to wipe the blood off after stabbing myself in the face with an overhanging branch, which reminded me of getting lost on the way to orienteering.
Loved the race though, especially once I’d remembered some of the training advice, such as looking at where you want to go rather than where the bike is pointing. First two laps, I kept on trying to wear a certain tree. Third lap onwards, my mantra was “don’t look at the tree Tom, don’t look at the seductive, siren, tree”. Miracle. As was my puncture saving itself for the last lap.
Someone said the course was fast and slippy, and I sort of half agree. My tyres stayed up this time, even if I didn’t.
Becki was supporting, if ‘supporting’ means laughing hysterically when I fall off. One or two slides round grassy corners were the normal sort of knockabout fun, but when I hit the sandpit for the third or fourth time, something went a bit more spectacular than I was planning.
I do know that sand is all about going in a straight line, so I didn’t consciously fling the bike left. That would have been silly, and would surely have meant that I would have done a sort of sandcastle-face-plant. And would have heard Becki trying to hold the camera still instead of rushing to help…
But, as my parents would say, “apart from that Mrs Lincoln how did you enjoy the play?”
Got back on, fell off a bit more, worked like a worky thing to try to get back up where I had been. The best races are sometimes where I cross the line with a big smile, a little bit of sick in my mouth, and maybe a tiny bit of wee down my leg. Tick.
I like a nice ritual (Catholic upbringing and all that), and all through the summer my reflective yellow winter running bib hangs on the end of the bannister, huddled against the sun, waiting for autumn to be in the air. It gradually gets covered in Stuff, before nudging its way forwards about the same time as the clocks go backwards.
Getting the yellow bib on is an annual declaration to me and the world (normally it’s only me listening though) that I’m still a runner. I don’t know when I became a runner; I wouldn’t call myself a triathlete – I’m someone that does a bit of triathlon. I wouldn’t call myself a fellrunner – I run on the hills sometimes, and I’m certainly not a racing cyclist, although I’ve raced(ish). I was definitely a smoker before though; the entry qualification for that seems lower.
Anyway, on with the reflective yellowbibness, and along the seawall with a moonlit shadow. It’s a plodding scrunch through the sand that’s escaped from the beach, but when I head towards the sea in search of firmer ground, it all gets even sinkier. A stop for a wee makes the sea bigger (and warmer for swimming in next year).
If I ran here all the time I might not notice the smells of seaweed and beach, woodsmoke and coalsmoke, driftwood and darkness. But I don’t, so I do.
While I was out I remembered that writing (and I’m not a writer either, see above) is like running. One foot in front of another, one word in front of another. Just get on with it.
Someone once told me that for effective training, I should always have a specific purpose for each run. But sometimes, I think that “going for a run” is quite specific enough.
It’s good to note that after some years of trying, I finally got round the Plymouth tri without my bike exploding. My time and position were mildly disappointing, but then again so were my training, so I cant squabble much about them.
I had the Saunders still in my legs, and a lack of swimming in my arms, and the swim and bike were just a hot and crowded waiting room for the run (“Mr Nausea will see you now”).
Will I race it again? Probably not. It’s not that I’ve slayed any demons - they just change shape and place – but more that I hated the run course so much. I always think a good running race route is one that you might pick if you were just going out for a run. Or, more selfishly I suppose, a route that I might pick for a run. Some sort of reason to it, some sort of journey. By their nature, fell and moor races tend to this (though some don’t, which may be why I’ve gone off the Grizzly a bit) but the best of road races and tris can manage it too.
The old course for Plymouth tri took you up Murder Hill (although my mother later pointed out to me that she used to push a pram up there when heavily pregnant, so maybe it’s not a hill at all), but then a brilliant stagger back along the coast path (no prams). The new one takes you twice up behind the Hooe Looes (Mont vent-Hooe), but is a dreary two-lapper with a draining out-and-back along Mountbatten pier. Maybe it was just too hot a day, but even my happy hat didn’t cheer me up on the run.
I think I need to get out on the hills.
For a few years now, I’ve had used a red cyclocross bike for winter training. It’s known as my cross bike to distinguish it from my beautiful red bike. The other reason that it’s been cross all this time is that the muddiest place I’ve previously taken it is the towpath, instead of proper mucky lumpy stuff. But, this year I decided to extend my comfort zone, and part one of this was taking the cross bike to do a bit of mountain bike orienteering.
Huge amount of fun, and didn’t fall off (well only a bit, on a sort of slo-mo steep muddy downhill where my front wheel ground to a halt in the deepest bit and the rest of me was too excited to stop). I got lost on the way to the event, and on the way back too, but for the rest of the time a home-made mapboard and a sense of adventure saw me right.
Roll on cyclocross…
My legs are still happily (it’s a pain-pleasure thing) reminding me about my day out on Saturday at the Anniversary Waltz.
Last year, on a slower amble, I went the same route up Robinson from below High Snab Bank, and was latched onto by a flock of sheep who thought I had something to offer. It started with a small flockette, until more and more joined, pursuing me in a rather lovely sheepy way for about half a mile until I shook them off by making a noise a bit like mint sauce.
This year, I had 150 fellrunners behind me, and another 150 ahead, and the sheep had had a better offer.
Hands on the ground at some points on the way up past Blea Crags, not by bending over, just by having the ground steeping up to meet me. My calves (legs, not more farm animals) were a bit shouty here, but I could also hear everyone else’s protesting in the communal pained silence. Back at the start, the wind had led to extended iffiness about how many layers to wear, and how long their sleeves should be. Now, people with long sleeves were finding them most useful to wipe the sweat from their eyes.
Heading up to the summit, I already had the lightning-twitches of cramp, but I was relying on my long girls’ socks to stop that getting worse. If someone called the fell-running-fashion-police, I was hoping I could out-run them…
I also already had time on my mind, despite there being no cut-offs on this race. A couple of days before, I’d looked up past results, and noticed that when I first did the race in 2007 there were split times recorded for each summit checkpoint.
I’ve never been close to my (still mediocre) 2007 result since then, but now I had the checkpoint times on my mind, and it was difficulty to ignore them as I went from Robinson to Hindscarth and Dale Head, chasing the elusive younger me. (And not even looking at the view, until someone else mentioned it, and then it was almost all I could look at; a perfect lakes day in the middle of some less cooperative ones).
Now I was at Dale Head, I had a decision to play with; seventh-time-lucky on finding a staggerable line straight down, or going with the potentially-flaky-but-reccied option of heading to Honister and remembering to turn left. I went with the excitement of the new, and headed off by myself trying not to feel too disconcerted at being emphatically by myself.
As it was, it turned out to be some of the nicest running in the race (maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough), with a sweep and a swoop down to the tarn across grass and bogs, and nothing even vaguely pointy to land on. More importantly, it got me down a sight quicker than last year, and with a smile too.
Should have tried harder on the climb to High Spy, but that’s something for next year, and while the cramp flashed and banged a bit over Maiden Moor, it never really set in to stay.
The threat of distant binoculars from Catbells was good to keep me running hard on the way to Hause Gate, and the promise of a kiss kept me honest on the last up before the last down.
Frolicking down over the rocks from the final checkpoint I made sure I was nice to walkers (although I did remind an elderly couple ‘don’t try this at home, kids’). My beloved spectator described the sensation of walking up the final stages of Catbells when it was ‘raining fellrunners’, and there are better and neater places to fall on someone.
Oh, and my younger me extended his lead from one minute at Robinson to seven minutes by the finish, but I’ll get him next year. I have the advantage of coming at him from behind, after all.
I gave daughter #1 a book of Saki short stories for Christmas, which dislodged the incantation ‘Let un sink as swims’ from the back of my head where these things huddle.
Anyway, I looked it up, and the story also has the phrase ‘and legs churned the water in a helpless swirl of flapping and kicking….the wildly bobbing body …rolled and twisted under the surface’.
Which brings me to yesterday’s swim. Becki and I went to the pool for a quick (ha!) bit of aquathlon practice.
I should clarify here that I never describe myself as a triathlete; in conversation, I will admit to doing a few triathlons, but I think there is a difference there. But, even people that only do a few triathlons should think about mixing a bit of swimming into their training.
In late September, I did a walrussy clamber on to the beach at the Dawlish Triathlon. In late November I splashed around a heavily-occupied hotel pool for five minutes. And, er, that’s it for my swim training in recent history.
I still didn’t think (I don’t know why) that I would be as slow and struggling as I was yesterday though. I have put the times in to shame myself; 10:05 for 400m, and 15:30 for 600m. I’m sure that’s slower than when I first started swimming. And got lapped by Becki, plus a bit more.
I did a hilly running penance afterwards, but enough is enough. I can’t be doing with writing any more about my rubbish swimming.
It’s time to get a grip, and do some proper training.
Starting from the day-after-tomorrow, obviously, let’s be realistic here.
#1 – cold and crisp at High Down, and Becki and I went for the direct route up the west face of Brat Tor to blow the cobwebs away before some mild Christmas-and-pasty shopping in Tavistock.
At the top of the tor I sometimes feel a little cross, and then it was on and up across mild tussocks to Chat Tor (which we agreed looks like a cow pat, in the nicest possible way).
We peered into the wilderness eastwards, and then it was back to breaking the ice on top of the bogs to Sharp Tor. A stumble-and-bump of a descent through the clitter (it’s not the rocks that get you, it’s the gaps where the rocks aren’t), and then a nice run across to Doe Tor for a look down on to the way home.
Stepping stones turned into a paddle across the Lyd at a pool that’s warmer in the summer, then a quick whiz back on close-cropped grass for tea and mince pies in the car.
#2 – dark and wet coming home late from work, and my prescribed 4x 1,000m round the track evolved into 4 x 4 minutes round the streets.
Being too clever by half, I set my shiny new interval-timing-watch to shout beepily at me when the 4 minuteses were up (and the 90 second recoveries too), allowing no hiding and no slacking.
This plan would have worked better if I had properly read the instructions for the watch. I’m used to the stretching effect that interval and turbo work has on time, and how the seconds get slower as the breathing gets faster. But even so, something over five minutes into the allegedly-four-minutes first effort, my oxygen-starved brain was realising that something was definitely up (and not just the hill).
As it turned out, I had set the watch for 4 x 4 hour efforts, with a 90 minute recovery between each one. Ambitious? Moi? Three rather shorter efforts later, and I was in front of the woodburner with some red wine (and some press ups, but we’ll explain that another time).
#3 – Tavistock again, but a work trip this time, punctuated by another diversion to High Down and a 35 minute threshold effort along the old tramway and back along rougher ground.
I don’t run hard enough when on the moors, so this was an eye-watering step in the right direction. It’s a long gradual pull up to the tram points above Lake Down, and the way back down had the wind against me to add some continuity of effort.
Unlike run number one though, there were no views! The hills were still there, and the valleys too, and the clouds were high and so was the sun. Didn’t see a bit of it though, just me and some grippy shoes, and a good attitude and the ground ahead. Good to be out.
Running down towards the secret waterfall today, below the one green hill, leaning forwards with fast feet and road-shoes happy on firm loose stones, my legs felt like I was a proper runner for a few moments.
I’ve had a shocking cold for the past few days (turbo allergy?), and the rest of the run was a bit treacly. But who cares about those bits, and who remembers them?
Day 17 in the #turbovember house, and so far this month I’ve spent somewhere between half a day (real) and half a life (feels like) on the turbo trainer.
For the uninvolved, the turbo trainer is a machine for taking all the best bits of a bike ride, the air and the blur and the journey, and locking them in a box while you sit on the bike in the kitchen, racing the slowest second hand in the world.
All of the push, and none of the whoosh…
It’s compelling though, which is why I’ve managed it every day so far this month. OK, some of them have only been 20 minutes, which is barely enough to begin a hot little puddle on the floor beneath me, but the enfs have got used to it, the cat is tolerating it, and I may even feel a fleeting sense of loss in two weeks’ time.
I even managed to tick(?) one off the evening after Dartmoor Runners last week, which had a certain bent charm. Must blog about that one too, tomorrow.
Cycling back from Dawlish in the morning, all red lights and hi-viz, my ears are telling me it’s autumn, with the wind clipping them tight. Headband soon, once it’s dark enough as well as cold enough. The brakes stammer on the cross bike (you’d be cross if you’d been stuck in all year), another thing I was going to sort out if summer had been longer.
Lifting my eyes from tarmac and speed-bumps, there’s a mucky sea beneath the goose-grey sky, and the horizon has pulled itself in a little against the north wind since the weekend.
When I ran on Sunday, the hills were still stretching out to catch the last of summer. The low afternoon sun was glancing across the earth; a warning shot rather than a warming one, skimming stones.
I was exploring. Long Lane was a good place to start, taking me away from the sea and back into beyond. There’s an abandoned car slowly melting in the woods, and it marks where an extra effort leaves the town behind. Further through the trees the chestnuts are hatching among the fallen leaves.
Across the fields, starting the sheep scudding, and I think about the flock that chased me in Newlands at the other end of the year (I’ve got some catch-up writing to do).
Through Pitt Farm and Mowlish, and there’s a village hall with faded bunting, where I didn’t know a village was. The poster tells me that the harvest fair has been and gone, but it’s still an industrious idyll as I run on through stubble, past ploughing and shearing. Later, there are rosehips in the hedgerow as the lanes deepen, ancient ways through banks several centuries taller than me.
I’ve turned now, and above the headland the air is all woodsmoke and seasalt. Across Orchard Lane there’s a sign in Eastdon Woods saying private, and while today I don’t have time to see what it says on the other side, I have plans for the future and there are more runners than me who will be making sure they push it just a little bit harder this next year, just because they can.
And there are eggs to buy on the way home, and stories to tell.