We're just back from racing round 2 of the Brass Monkey series, which was the first time we've put a number board on a bike in 18 months. There's no real reason for the lack of bike racing, it just got to the stage where nothing really floated our boats, and we'd inevitably be working on those weekends when anything piqued our interest. Occasionally we'd find something that was on a weekend we had free, looked pretty exciting and different, and we'd get as far as the 'enter now' page before inevitably snorting an emphatic "HOW MUCH!?", spraying our laptop with phlegm and bile. People have suggested events to us, encouraging us to go and do the 'Tour de Somewhere Expensive', but the entry fees for these races tend to be equivalent to several months of what you might call bike-packing, but we still call camping. When we use our traditional formulas, where hours driven are roughly equal to hours raced, and price per hour of racing is less than a tenner, the Brass Monkeys always come out as great value...as long as you finish the race.
We decided to race our rigid single-speeds, which we got a few months ago, second-hand in a dodgy deal behind a shipping container. We wanted cheap bikes that we could ride year round, not worry about leaving outside the co-op, and bikes that reflected the kind of riding we do now, which is more about cruising and exploring, happy to get off and walk when the going gets tough and the knees go crack. We ride them a lot, and still don't really understand anything about gear ratios, which seems to be vital to single-speeding, gear ratios and beards are de rigeur and we fail on both counts although Maddie tries hard on the beard front. You can't help but get drawn in to the ratio discussions, and being competitive you want to join in on the 'who's got the biggest ratio' competition, despite the fact that a) most of them are lying and b) the rest live in Norfolk and have quads like Chris Hoy. Our bikes came with really low, twiddly gears, we are spinning like a Kenwood Chef on anything other than a 1:4 climb, so I caved in and got a slightly bigger gear, a mere 2 teeth smaller on the cog, how hard could it be? First ride out, and having lost two teeth on the sprocket, I also lost two teeth from my head from grinding them off on the first climb. The hills go from comfortably hard, hill-climb grinders to eyeball popping, tooth grinding, quad rippers.
But the elderly among us have history in this area. Those that remember double chain-rings, and even triple chain-rings (oh, the weight!) and rode regularly in groups will have experienced the Battle of the Big Ring. There's no disguising the click of the left hand shifter (the weakling's friend). When I rode in the Chilterns for all those years in local clubs, every hill would see the unspoken Battle of the Big Ring or, if it was exceptionally steep, his younger, punier brother - Battle of the Middle Ring. We'd all start the hill on the same chain-ring, and conversation would stop as we all knew what was going on. Then it would be the man-test of how long we could stay in that chain-ring, without whimpering, before the humiliating, unmistakeable sound of 'ker-chunk' as you are forced to change down. There's nothing you can do to disguise the sound of shifting down a chain-ring, which even on the most expensive groupset has always been borderline agricultural in its subtlety. You can fake a cough, start talking loudly, or drop off the back of the group, but still everyone knows what you've done. Shifting down a chain-ring registers on the Richter Scale. It is accompanied by a visible drop of the head in shame and snorts of derision from your riding companions. You're left to dribble up the hill on your own in your little chain-ring, stand apart from the group at the top and though your knees might be intact, your self-respect is not.
But I was persuaded that big was better when it came to single-speed racing, failing as ever to learn from previous, innumerate mistakes. Some time back I went along to a local hill climb on my fixie. I took my fixie as it is my only road bike, and I thought perfect for the task. Now me and my fixie can get up anything, in our own time and at our own speed, and only occasionally needing a lie down at the top. Like walking a Jack Russell, you and your faithful short-arse dog will tackle all sorts of terrain at a leisurely bimble, stop at the top for a brew and a biccie, lovely. But ask you and Stumpy the Wonder Dog to cane it up that same hill and I guarantee that the dog will have wrapped his tits in within the first twenty paces. Come race day I 'happily' rode the hill to check it out, waited for my two-up start spot, the gun went off and I went ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE! I could happily grind up the hill all day long, but once I tried to whack in a big effort I blew my doors within seconds, coming to a complete standstill with quads on fire and resorting to zig-zagging up the remainder while my opponent was on his way back down. Riding home after the event, I rode away from everyone else on the hills, utterly bewildered as to why me and the bike couldn't muster a decent effort between us.
Come the Brass Monkey, and having no ability to learn from my mistakes, I pitched up with the bigger of my two gear options. Preferring to swan around the car park, chatting to equally old, bewildered friends than warming up or pre-riding, and relying on assuming that there won't be anything too technical in Minley Manor, I didn't see the course until lap one. All well and good, great course, steep climbs needing some grunt but how cool is it overtaking expensive bikes on a £200 hacker? Smug, moi? Lap two and three come and go with minor backache and worrying levels of leg tiredness. I've always reckoned that you've got a given amount of hills in your legs on any given day (x). At race pace, you can reduce that number by half (x/2), and clearly racing on a single-speed halves that number yet again (x/4). After two hours of the four I was toast, having already reached my x/4. I started walking up the hills started soon after, which is the kind of behaviour I have always abhorred and considered on par with make-up for men. I played those mental games we play -"ride the hill this lap, and you can walk it next lap" was a common negotiating tactic. With two laps to go I wanted to sit down and have a good cry, so instead I stopped for a snack, a back stretch and a stern word and off I pootled with the determination to maintain the drive time / ride time ratio, like the true tight-arse that I am. As we always say, 'anyone can do the last lap', apart from the single-speeder I overtook near the end of said lap, pushing his bike on a flat,grassy bit. It turned out that at the time he was the third place rider, an accolade I therefore inherited as I huffed and puffed slowly past him.
So we survived our first single-speed event. We learned a lot, but like Guy Pearce's character in Memento, I'll have to have the lessons tattooed onto me before they get mixed up in all the other nonsense. It's great that I can remember all the words to 'Bat out of Hell', but sometimes I wish I was wired differently.
I am prepared to admit that the weather outside is shocking. The wheelie bins heading off wind-assisted down the alley look like March of the Daleks, and they know they'll have the last laugh when their contents are strewn all round the hood, so the neighbours can see who among us has eaten the most shit over Christmas. I think it's what Jesus would have wanted, so I've done my bit by speed eating chrimbo cake since November. They say that you are what you eat, but no matter how many Heroes I inhale, it doesn't make any difference. I probably need the right situation to arise and I'll be on it like a tramp on chips; the first damsel in distress or cat up a tree, I reckon my inner chocolatey hero will emerge, but I'll probably be too fat to be any use.
As the magic reset button that is New Year's Eve passes, and we wake up the next day without magically becoming 20 years younger, fit, flexible and motivated, the wind lashing the windows doesn't exactly lend itself to pursuit of physical excellence. New Year's resolutions last only until the first news report of Storm Bernard with dire warnings to stay indoors, buy crap online and vegetate.
We're not much better. Our garage is full of bikes that we love to tell people are "ideal winter bikes", and indeed our rigid, single-speed mountain bikes and fixed road bikes are the perfect cheapo bikes for smug winter training. Unfortunately, we are still the weak willed, weather dodging cyclists that we were before we had those bikes, and with our determination never to sit on a turbo trainer or rollers again the net result is limited cycling, but no saddle sores. I might be cultivating the beginnings of middle aged spread, but at least my bare arse is more presentable than when I was riding a lot.
But sod the Met Office, what do they know? Today we went for a run, in the middle of Storm Elanor, which is the most miserable name for a storm so far this winter. Met Office give a severe weather warning, advise us to avoid exposed coastal areas at all costs so where do we go for a run? On the coast path if course! The thing about any kind of outdoor fitness is that it takes us back to those primal, chasing down velociraptors days. Even when you're mincing round that 4 miler on tarmac, round the block from your house, you're still channelling Conan the Barbarian. Add in some severe weather and there's no escaping the fact that you are one hard-core muddy funster, battling the elements when the rest of the Walter softies are rearranging their sock drawers. Go to the woods for a run at the moment, and you've got yourself a mud run whether you like it or not. You'll be up to your knackers in mud, water and something smelling a bit canine, jumping over fallen branches, on all fours up and down slopes, laughing like a loon. People pay serious money for this kind of action, you might not get a medal and a photo at the end but you won't get stung for a tenner for a burger.
The great thing about the UK is the weather. There, I said it. When the severe weather warnings happen over here, we can say with some confidence that it won't really be all that bad, The likelihood of a tsunami, hurricane, earthquake, blizzard or anything remotely life threatening is pretty remote, Carol Kirkwood can be totally earnest with her warnings of death and destruction and we can gleefully shout "Bugger off, Carol!" and head out the door into severe weather (by UK standards). Think about the poor sods in Dubai, who had to import tons of mud for their Tough Mudder event! Yes, they imported mud. We have this incredible natural resource that we spend most of the year moaning about and hosing off our legs, and they are paying a fortune for it in Dubai, presumably only for it to dry to dust and blow away within an hour.
The incredibly gullible Americans have developed yet another health-boosting theory called grounding or earthing. Here, the simpletons claim that exposing your bare feet or hands to the earth will have incredible health benefits while simultaneously draining your bank account as you need to be guided into earthing by a qualified instructor, probably called an earthworm. Again, those of us that brave the dangerous outdoors in the winter find that rather than consciously touching skin against the earth, the earth graciously comes up to meet you as it is sprayed up your legs, on your face and forced into every orifice. You'll repeatedly have to 'earth' your hands to prevent you 'earthing' your face.
So get our there and run, even if you're not a runner. Just going out for a jog, walk, wade and swim in your local woods will make you feel better than looking mournfully at your bike collection rusting in the corner, and is infinitely more human than going on Zwift. If you need someone to guide you through the process, we are available at ridiculously extortionate cost.
RIP Sharon Laws.
It was with deep sadness that we learned of the death of Sharon Laws on December 16th at the age of 43. We didn't really know Sharon, she was one of those elite athletes that would occasionally turn up at a mountain bike race from road or cyclo-cross and proceed to rip the legs off the cross-country purists. Maddie shared a start grid with Sharon a few times, and I would have met her when working registration at the Nationals and it's a damn shame that we won't see that happen again. Sharon's palmares and history in the sport is stunningly impressive and she crammed everything into an all too short and belated career, with a work ethic that puts us all to shame.
This isn't one of those call to arms, or demands that we all immediately get off the sofa and go for a ride in Sharon's name, it is just an acknowledgement that an outstanding member of the cycling community is no longer with us. If anything, it's an inspirational example of how you can achieve greatness in a sport without being on the British Cycling talent pathway since you were on a balance bike. If you get chance to read her story, I highly recommend it.
found this blog hiding in a file somewhere. better late than never?
As previously reported, Kevin Yim fell off his bike while pre-riding at Soggy One (2017), and turned his arm into a meccano set for the surgeons at Derriford Hospital to put back together again, which they duly did and now Kevin has all the titanium he ever requires. We're not sadists, we hate it when people fall off during our races, and spend the next week in all manner of critical incident debriefs, which is not the most romantic over dinner conversation a couple could have. I have no doubt that the sneery, sceptical critics would say something along the lines of "You must be used to people crashing by now!", but let's examine the evidence.
We've been organising mountain bike races for eight years or so now. If we ignore the National XC for the moment (because XC racers clearly aren't ready for our jelly) and look at the last couple of years of Soggy events, the figures stack up like this -
An average of 150 riders competed in each round of the Soggy Bottom and Summer Soggy Series. Since the winter of 2015, we have put on 10 regional MTB races, so 10 x 150 gives us 1500 bums on bikes. (Nice work SW racers BTW.) In these same regional races, we have records that indicate that four people had to attend hospital for a check over, and three were sent home with some paracetamol, and told to stop wasting the NHS's time. One, the aforementioned Kevin Yim, had to stay in for treatment and some proper drugs. I'm happy to be contacted by other riders who got home and realised that they'd broken their backs, but those are the figures as best we know them.
That gives us a figure of 0.2% of riders at these events needing to go to hospital for either treatment or a 'mummy kiss it better' intervention. With the incidence of injury at youth rugby, for example, somewhere in the region of fifty people across a similar number of participants, I reckon that we're doing pretty well. We used to quote a figure of 1% of racing MTBers requiring treatment when looking for first aid quotations, but in the spirit of beating your sat-nav's predicted arrival time, we love the challenge of beating the stats.
So Kevin, while you are recovering, you can rest east in the knowledge that you didn't fall off because of anything you did, or any fault with your bike, you were actually just knocked off by statistics.
Statistics are really useful in other aspects of XC. The once raging debate of the technicality of XC courses are a great example. The UCI guidelines state that XC courses should be 100% rideable. I reckon this must have been written somewhere without the level of rainfall in the UK, as I can think of many courses that had impossible sections for all the riders once the mud got hub depth, but the principle is a good one. So what percentage of riders do we think should be able to ride ALL the sections of the course, i.e. how many racers should be able to ride all the 'A' lines on a given circuit? 50%? 25%? 100%? In my head, as long as ONE racer in the field can successfully ride all the 'A' lines on a race circuit, then you have a course that is 100% rideable. If 75% + of riders can consistently ride the 'A' lines, then surely it's no longer an 'A' line worthy of the name?
We then have the awesome interface of people, statistics and fake news, which brings us the myth that was apparently circulating, of 200 people making complaints after the Newnham Nationals 2016. There were less than 600 people in total at the event, so more than 1 in 3 people complained about the event? And people believed this!? We actually received zero complaints, to our faces. If there were 200 cowardly custards complaining to their MP, the Daily Mail and British Cycling once they got home, I do wish they'd come over for a chat on the weekend. I'd have given them something to complain about!
So what's the big idea?
Every good party needs a crowd, and a big event field like Newnham Park needs an army of campers to fill it. South West mountain bikers are generally a fun bunch, and the cani-sport crowd need to have a sense of humour to tolerate being dragged by their four-legged friend at 20 MPH across a rutted field. Put the two groups together in an action packed Devon weekend, and what could possibly go wrong? Ladies, gents and doggies - we present The Newnham Bark.
So how will it work?
Don't be afraid to have a go at all the disciplines over the weekend. There will be cani-cross harnesses available for you to try, and if you have a functioning mountain bike you can have a crack at the fun category of the bike events too. Challenge yourself and do something different!
(All times are subject to fudge-factor alteration, but we HATE being late!)
Campsite opens at 5pm
Cani-sport self guided leg stretcher on the 5km course
Times are approximate, depending on entries
0800 Bikejoring/scootering time-trial
1000 Canicross 5km time-trial
1300-1500 Mountain bike course open for practice
1530 Stage One (Unofficial MTB Champs)
1800 Stages Two and Three (Unofficial MTB Champs)
0800 Bikejoring/scootering time-trial
1000 Canicross 5km time-trial
1200 Under 12s mountain bike race
1400 MTB XC race (including Unofficial MTB Champs Stage four)
Campsite closes at 1000
Newnham Park is a gorgeous place to spend a camping weekend, if you don't mind a bit of rough and ready, m'lady. There will be banks of portaloos, drinking water, a luxurious natural spa bath in the river, catering on site courtesy of Kerno Forno and a keg of beer on tap for the relaxed racers.
There are numerous eating out opportunities near to the park, and local takeaways are happy to deliver if you are that way inclined.
How do I enter?
The River of Life, as best I remember from my student days, is a metaphor of us being different people with different needs at different points on the wibbly-wobbly river that is our lives. We are physically the same body; maybe a bit fatter, maybe a bit slower but our needs, aspirations and outlook change as we are exposed to life’s events. I certainly no longer need several bottles of wine before a night on the tiles, and having recently heard an ex-girlfriend describe me as being ‘happy-go-lucky’, it’s pretty clear that I was emotionally a different person several years back upstream.
When we do something on the xcracer website, it always makes me chuckle to see our profile describe us as ‘prolific racers’, when in reality I can’t remember the last time we zip-tied on a bike race number. But that would have been an accurate description back around 2010, although I still don’t remember being happy-go-lucky. We’ve moved on, the sport has changed and our priorities lie elsewhere.
Those that have read any of the previous blogs will be aware of our Big Guns Challenge – the quest to beat our mate Keith in the bicep growing championship of the world. We’ve been doing this since October, and while there were some initial ‘beginner gains’ my body soon cottoned on to what I was doing and over-ruled every effort I made in a bid to stay exactly the same bloody size. While I was having delusions of intimidating adversaries with a flex of my mighty triceps, my body was clearly going to rely on the ability to out-run any predators and squeeze through tight spaces. But we are still getting stronger, and probably heavier, so I suspect that we have some impressive muscles that are defying the rules of nature and actually growing inwards.
You’ll probably also be aware of the kind of gym we use for our iron pumping. Bodylines in Plymouth has been the most intimidating place I’ve been since trying to get past the line of massive Welsh trannies outside a Dolly Parton concert. The tales of 50% of the gym users wearing offender tags is overstated, but they probably don’t have 2 ‘A’ levels to rub together between them, and are still the nicest bunch of people it has been our pleasure to share a squat rack with. At the back of Bodylines is the fabled boxing gym; just a small ring, a load of punch-bags and a box full of the worst smelling gloves and pads since my last 12 hour MTB race. We used to use the boxing gym for circuits occasionally but always scuttled out of there tugging our forelocks if anyone menacing-looking came in, yellow bellied, submissive weaklings that we are.
Then we were given some money for Xmas. I am sure the giver envisaged ‘something nice for the house’ being purchased, but there’s no pockets in a shroud and as givees, we’d rather blow the cash on life experiences as we drift aimlessly down our river. Maybe we should learn metaphoric paddling. Last winter we spent time and money learning to cross-country ski in Canada, with the aim that we get to such a level that we wouldn’t look like complete bell-ends next time we had a go. After Xmas we had a Horton meeting about our next bid for sporting fame and decided that it was clearly going to be boxing. Obviously. With our background of skinny ass endurance sport and dinosaur arms, boxing is a natural fit, isn’t it?
Our first lesson saw us lying on the floor exhausted after an hour, unable to hold our glasses of prosecco when we got home, which is a problem Rocky Balboa suffered from, but it was the most addictive thing I can remember since discovering my favourite adolescent ‘hobby’. Our house is now full of boxing gloves, pads, whey protein and hand wraps and throwing a decent punch combo is our Holy Grail. Imagine jumping on a MTB for the very first time, and within an hour of coaching you’d be able to nail a decent jump. In most sports there is a varying degree of buggering about and hours of frustration before you get to any level of feeling like you are actually doing the sport. You might hit a golf ball / tennis ball / football with the orgasmically satisfying noise of the sweet spot, that gorgeous ‘DONK!’ that means that the interface of body, bat and ball was bang on the money. But the chances are that the ball will then spin off into the near distance, nowhere near where you’d imagined it might go, cancelling out all the glory of the ‘DONK’. With boxing, we were throwing punches within minutes of the start of the lesson, and threw so many punches in the space of an hour that we actually started to get a decent strike rate of ‘DONK’s. When you get the range, your feet, the twist and strike just right it feels like you could punch through a wall, and if you don’t get it right you can have another go immediately rather than having to line up again, retrieve the ball or set anything up. You just keep on swinging.
A lot of it is down to Del, our instructor. For those that know what I mean, Del is a classic Janner and is actually Del junior, with Del senior (his father) also being a boxing coach. And they are bloody good, with the right level of encouragement and positive reinforcement that sees you push yourself beyond your usual limits and puking out of the window. They turn you into a complete puppy dog, and you strive for a positive comment like it is a Scooby snack. What started as ‘having a bit of a go’ has turned into an obsession and my latest long term ambition – to have an actual boxing match before the age of fifty. The choices at fifty are to either join the ranks of the grand-vets, or get in the ring for one last grand hurrah, death or glory, carry me out on a stretcher and tell my mum I did my best. I choose the latter. The river of life may turn into a river of blood, but what a way to go.
In the event organisation history of Fully Sussed, we can recall four events that had weather as bad as we witnessed at the first Soggy of 2017. One was at Woodbury Common- we had one hand on the keyboard / microphone, one hand holding down the EZ-up and a load of gun toting teenagers tramping about the place. One was in the Forest of Dean, where we also had a DoE expedition walk throught the course, but at least it kept the wild boar away, and the final one was a Welsh XC in Margam Park, where we had four days of rain, a river of water running under our tent and straight up the leg of my trousers. All these events had something else in common - hundreds of people turned up in a crazy example of shared hardship.
We're not really business people. We like riding our bikes, and enjoy designing MTB courses that make us smile, and we think are just the right level of fun. The course for Soggy One was dry as a bone, right up to Saturday, and we'd been obsessively raking, clearing and digging to make it as good as we could, which is hysterical when you look at the trench that remains there now. We despaired when we saw the weather forecast, did the usual 'I'm sure it'll change', 'they never get it right' and the classic 'Newnham is a little micro climate, it'll be fine', and oh boy, were we wrong.
But there is no accounting for the sheer British stiff upper lippedness. Anyone can ride in the summer, moaning about all the heat and the dust, but it takes a real British mountain bike warrior to go out and race in weather that you wouldn't put a milk bottle out in. Once you can feel your feet and fingers again, your kit and bike are clean, and you've applied special ointment to all the chafing, you can reflect on a real Bear Grylls effort, and look forward to changing every bearing and brake pad on your bike. I've read so many times about the inherent need in us all to express our inner caveman, the quest for adventure and excitement is the subject of endless blogs, and from the heroics at the weekend it would appear that this spirit is strong in the South West.
With us stepping away from British Cycling for 2017, there remained this notion that people would be put off racing by the lack of BC ranking points. What we'd forgotten is that BC points aren't Air Miles or Reward Card Points, you can't cash them in at the end of the season for some TUE drugs or free bullying, they are an antiquated system of rankings that have little relevance to the majority of MTBers who race their bikes for shits and giggles with hairy legs and baggy shorts. So the numbers were large, the mass start looked like New Years Day at the Primark sale, and even though we had to plough the toilets at the end of the day, good fun seemed to be had by all...
...with the possible exception of Kevin Yim! Kevin unfortunately fell foul to the final descent, and while we don't know the exact details of how he did it, it seems he fell down the bank before the 'A' line, and this was the result. It's not the big stuff that gets us, it's the little things that sneak up on you when you're thinking about something else. Get well soon, Kev, I hope you like turbo training.
Have a look at Snapper Chick's photos for evidence of just how filthy a day this was. We'll look back on this in July and laugh, right kids?
It'll be all change for Soggy Two. We've caused enough damage to that part of Newnham Park, so we'll head off to a whole new course, and some more new sections. If the rain carries on we'll introduce a kayak category.
Thanks to Certini Bicycle Company for supplying our e-mountain bike. I reckon we'll be seeing that again this year.
For the eight years since we started organising events, we have had a reasonable working relationship with the event department at British Cycling..relationship...relationship...relationship...
Well said, Prime Minister. Now go and snog Martine McCutcheon.
One of the great certainties of life, along with birth, death and some dodgy hairstyle choices along the way, is that The Stinger will be the hardest, muddiest and hopefully most fun events of the year. I reckon we could hold it in mid-Summer, in drought conditions and race day would still deliver mud up to our knicky-knacky-noos.
The Stinger is a tough event to organise, with lots of head scratching, incomprehensible doodling, and looking at each other in marital bafflement, but it's fun on the day and a total mystery to us about why it isn't MASSIVE! To be honest, using the word 'painful' on the event blurb may not be the wisest move, but at least it's honest.
Yet again, The Stinger 2017 proved to be all about the bike, and while there were some strong whippet-like running performances on the first 5km (Phil Dawber and Jack Forrest who has yet to do his GCSEs both breaking 21 minutes), the four laps of the bike loop took those slender leads, chewed them up and spat them out. There's no point coming in from the first 5km with a 30 second advantage over your rivals when you lose 5 minutes per lap on the bike. Fastest bike lap of the day was a blistering 15 minutes something by local rider Dexter Hurlock of team Kibosh, whose team tag-line is 'You ain't pro, bro' which I love and fully endorse. The next fastest was 90 seconds slower (by 14 year old Oli Allen of our own Pilgrim Flyers) so the rest were already losing at least 8 minutes over the bike leg. You've got to be Mobot Farah to make that sort of gap up, and no-one likes Quorn that much.
But that was at the sharp and pointy end of the race, populated by those with little body fat, lungs the size of a skip and a the resting heart rate of a hibernating polar bear. The rest of The Stinger heroes were battling their personal demons and the slip'n'slide descents rather than concerning themselves with executing a slick transition. Honourable mention goes to Shane Kerswill, who completed the full distance in a heroic 3 hours and 48 minutes, by which time most of you were showered and in the pub. Shane had his family waiting for him at the finish line (and waiting, and waiting...) and I bet that was the toughest carvery he ever earned.
Overall solo winner was Doug Hall, who was kind enough to tell us "As someone who's had the pleasure of racing off road multi sport pretty much everywhere, The Stinger 2017 was brilliant. Completely mental, but brilliant." That's the kind of vibe we were looking for, and at the same time keeping local trail shoe shops and bike mechanics in business.
Full results from 2017 can be downloaded here and follow the next link to all the event photos, courtesy of Tommy T from Complete Cycle Works. Next up for us is Round One of the Soggy Bottom Series, where we get to unveil some more of the new tracks we've made in Newnham Park. It's finally time for Brickin' It to meet the public!
As someone who has been fortunate, and fleet of foot, enough to win The Stinger on a few occasions (and trust me, you will be reminded of this incessantly on the day) I feel confident in passing on some tips on how to come away knackered, muddy and smug. So here is my guide on how to smash The Stinger in style.
1. Relax. It's not an Olympic qualification event, there are precious few bragging points, and within no time at all everyone, including yourself, will have forgotten it ever happended and moved on to the next event (hopefully Round 1 of the Soggy Bottom Series). So you can just relax and enjoy the personal challenge.
2. Sort your admin out. There is a fine line at a multi sport event between not having the right kit, and looking like you are packing for a fortnight away. You will not believe what people will carry into transition with them, and leave out in the rain for the duration of the event, so pack smart, and avoid the paralysis that ensues when you are looking at your transition kit mountain and can't find your lucky biking socks. You can run and bike in the same clothes, so you don't need a change of kit. You will be boiling hot from 2 minutes into the event, and will continue sweating for the next few hours so be bold and start cold. Don't run in a helmet or SPDs, that's just daft. Gloves should allow you to do up / undo your laces, so practice at home. You'll be out there for a couple of hours, tops, so you don't need a camelbak, just a bottle on your bike and a gel or similar for transition snack. If you can change tubes, carry tubes. If not, why bother? And the same applies to bike tools; if you can't fix it in your garage in the warm, you won't fix it mid race in the mud so don't weigh yourself down with tools. Travel light, move fast.
3. Practice. Practice putting your running shoes / biking shoes on quickly. Then practice again at the end of a run or bike ride when you are tired, stiff and confused. There are all sorts of gadgets that will help with transition, but none help as much as practice. Do it now.
Practice the bike course on the day. The course isn't overly technical, but the running whippets need to hold off the MTBers for as long as possible, and the MTBers have it all to do in the 20 km bike leg, so you all need to go as fast as your bravery will allow you . Go practice on the morning and commit as much of the course as possible to memory. The bike course will be open from 0930 ish on the day so get there early.
Practice transition on the day. Have a run around, run into the transition from the direction you will during the race and see how many strides it is to your bike. Trust me, you will run straight past it during the event, but at least you'll be close.
Have a look around the transition to make sure you know where you are going to enter and exit, and look at where The Stinger run is going to go, as your red mist will prevent you using your eyes during heavy breathing.
4. It ain't over 'til it's over. On one occasion, I didn't take the lead until the final downhill on The Stinger run, when the dude who had led all the way got cramp and I skipped past him in a sporting and supportive way. The shakedown in the event generally happens by the last lap of the bike, so don't panic and blow your doors too soon.
5. Pacing. All the mass of articles on this subject have always baffled me, because I always found pacing an event to be really simple - you just go as hard as you personally can until the nice man says "stop". We all have different cruising speeds, but you should defintely be blowing it out of your arse all the way round. There is only one response that you'll get to your "I think I could have gone harder" post-race comments, and don't expect it to be supportive. Go hard or go home, or choose your own cliche to that effect.
6. Patience. Results / photos / reports and all that will be available for you to analyse to death in the days after the event, so just wait patiently, don't hassle us, and say nice things about us when it all appears.
7. Bring some lunch cash. It's all change in the event catering at Newnham Park. With the Pickled Lemon Company having emigrated to Spain, and by the bizarre British double standards become ex-pats, rather than immigrants, we were short a caterer. So it's a welcome return for Rita and the legendary Portakabin bacon sandwich brigade. It'll be a simple post race menu, of the 'take it or leave it' variety, and not featuring any drinks that end in -achino. Expect home cooked food, Rita's winning smile, and some change from a fiver.
8. There is no such thing as a stupid question. Whatever it is, don't be afraid to ask us. Just don't be surprised when we share it with the world every time you come round to finish a lap.
9. Definitely do The Stinger run. Even if you are struggling to complete the bike laps, we are still happy for you to go out and wallow in the mud of The Stinger run. You will still get a result relative to the number of laps you completed, and you'll get the full experience of losing your trainers in a bog, which is what you came for after all?!
"Who is that over there talking to Sally Gunnell?" is something I've never heard said at a dinner party before, and it made me snort like a pig.
I had previously always sworn that the only way I'd go back to London would be to watch Plymouth Argyle play at Wembley or pick up our OBEs. But the opportunity to represent the wonderful Pilgrim Flyers and drink our weight in free champagne was too good to miss.
The initial phone call invite was so out of the blue, and the subsequent lack of contact so suspicious, that we started to think that it was some sort of bizarre hoax. On the train down to London, I still wondered if we were heading towards the UK Hunger Games; two unsuspecting numpties from each of the provinces enticed down to the capital to fight to the death in front of Judy Murray. Luckily, it was the real deal, we were housed in Hilton's finest Travelodge rip-off on Hyde Park, welcomed with a bottle of bubbly and free umbrella (useful when you come from Devon), and treated to a glacial speed taxi ride to the Grosevnor to remind us why we live in Devon.
After being ignored by the autograph hunters and snubbed by the paparazzi, we broke the World Record for the fastest crossing of a red carpet. The carpet is clearly designed to automatically repel anyone who hasn't been in Hello magazine, and we went up it like we'd been fired out of a cannon. Luckily for us, but not for anyone else, it meant that we were first to hit the free booze, and assuming we were just there as rent-a-crowd, proceeded towards alcohol poisoning and incoherence.
Once seated at our table, the traditional game of 'What's His Name?' started among us non-celebs, not helped by the fact that we were all rubbish at remembering names, the famous faces there present were B-list at best, and our brain cells were being rapidly pickled. Remember, we were just there as fodder, to politely applaud when the eventual winners were announced and then head off to find the nearest Wetherspoons and so avoiding spending £40 on a £5 bottle of wine. Dirty robbing Londoners.
When the Pilgrims were announced as winners of Grassroots Club of the Year, my stomach lurched. The reality of having to climb on to the stage and be interviewed hit home and images of Oliver Reed on the Russell Harty show flashed through my head. Maddie had made herself comfortable and taken her shoes off, but we eventually ambled up the steps to collect the trophy and garble some nonsense at a bemused gaggle of celebs. A swift round of backstage photos and interviews followed which made me wonder why they didn't just stick us all on roller skates and push us round to where they wanted us.
And on the evening went; we met some really nice 'grass-roots' people and some really rude 'celebs' who proceeded to talk loudly and play with their phones through most of the awards. (Kudos to Maddie who went over to tell them to 'shut up') The after-party turned out to be an opportunity to sell us massively expensive bottles of beer, and nowhere near as exciting as I thought it would be, given the presence of a load of footballers. Where's Wayne Rooney when you need him?
The magnesium flare of moments like this has thankfully burned out and we can get back to the important job of buggering about on bikes with a bunch of crazy kids. We are so proud of being part of the Pilgrim Flyers, but as the Wonder Stuff said, we're 'just two legs of the Groove Machine'. The award and the credit belongs to everyone who has abandoned the traditional cyclist "what's in it for me?" attitude and given their time for the club - the coaches, riders, parents and the vast amount of people who have had a positive influence on what we do.
Next up is our club Christmas Bash at Newnham Park. The rider who gets voted the Flyers' Flyer of the Year will get to take home the Pride of Sport trophy, and have their mother polish it. The coaches get to finish off the remaining bottle of bubbly, so everyone's a winner.