Hi All! Had a few technical glitches with my blog but the guys at Union Room sorted things out for me pronto. Thanks to Glen and his team for their good work.
Anyway… I’m back! In a bikey racey kind of way. I decided that I didn’t want to end my season at the Kielder 100. As well organised an event as it was, as much of a physical challenge that it was, as good as the scenery was etc. etc. it simply did not get my mtb juices flowing… So, I did a quick scour of the events listing on xcracer.com and it reminded me that the Grizedale Challenge was on Sunday 20th September. 30 miles + of Lakeland trickery. Perfect!
I had done this event a good few years back and I remembered that it was a cracking course; big climbs, super fast singletrack and some steep, rocky sections. Just my kind of riding….
It became apparent that the event had grown substantially since I first did it… There were around 600 entrants on Sunday. That’s a heck of a busy start line! The opening fireroad was pretty narrow too so, like at the Whinlatter Challenge in Spring, the atmosphere was ‘cosy’ as the huge crowd got themselves into position….
I stood around two rows back and scoped all the usual Lakes suspects. Keswick Mountain Bikes and Wheelbase had a strong presence and other strong riders looked ready for a good end of season friendly dog fight.
The hooter went off and the pace was high. I did enough to get clear of the rabble but wanted to use this race as a pacing exercise. I had gone off too quick at Kielder and slowed up towards the end as a result. So this time I let a large group of riders disappear in a cloud of dust up the long first climb.
The race was two laps which turned out to be 17 miles per lap. I learnt at the Whinlatter Challenge (a similar race) that the second lap is crunch time… Many people slow up considerably. So I just hit a good steady but forceful rythme and enjoyed the technical sections and stunning scenery… The weather was perfect; clear blue sky and a light breeze. The views across Coniston Lake were as fantastic as ever.
And the riding was top class too…. these are the type of trails that keep me coming back to Lakes time and time again…. Two stand outs particularly; steep, big sections of random rock outcrops, multiple lines, super fast freefalls… I love this stuff! I was having so much fun on the techy sections that the race seemed immaterial…
I came through my first lap in 10th or 11th. Not that I was concerned. I picked up the pace and picked off one or two places. The climb began towards the top of my favourite descent on the loop… the super sketchy plummet with big rolling drop offs, and I saw a group of three or four riders who I chased into the start of the drop. The red mist came down and I just jungled it straight through the pack (who seemed to approach the section like it had a singletrack line as oppose to a big free canvass to throw yourself over). I gained about 50 meters on them in the space of about 1 minutes descending…. I haven’t descended like that in a while and I was having a ball…
Next I caught one of the Keswick mtb boys who I know is a strong fell runner…. just as we hit a long singletrack push up. I knew the only way to gain any ground on him was to run as hard as I could. It really hurt…. but I didn’t look back. Just got my head down and stamped upwards. As soon as the ground levelled I jumped on my bike CX style (something I’ve been practicing recently) and felt like lots of attention to detail like this was helping me make up vital seconds here and there. When I finally looked back I had opened a good gap on my pursuer.
And then, with about 3 miles to go, a spectator shouted, “Good effort third!” I had no idea where I was in the field so this came as a pleasant surprise. I crossed the line pretty pleased considering I had entered with no real expectations.
More importantly though, this was a great exercise in pacing and letting people go at the start is something I need to get comfortable with. My pacing was far more controlled than it has been at any other XC style race.
And I had fun! Brilliant course, good crowd, beautiful scenery. The perfect season closer. Just the kind of happy memory you need as you head into winter training.