Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Big Black Mountain Challenge

There are ideas, and then there are 'ideas'. There are silly ideas, like deciding to get on a train to Penzance one day on a whim and riding from Lands End to John O'Groats; there are stupid ideas, like going off for a ride one afternoon in Northern Californian bear country with no food or water, no map, no idea where you're going and without telling anyone; there are dangerous ideas, like riding up Snowdon in the dark at 4am on a February morning wearing lycra in a snow storm; and then there are those ideas which are just wrong. There's no excuse for them, they're just wrong.

The Big Black Mountain Challenge on Saturday was one such idea. It started off badly and just got worse. I knew it was a stupid idea - having cracked a rib just 6 days before at round 2 of the BMBS in Dalby Forest, the idea of walking 45km over the Black Mountains in South Wales probably wouldn't be high on many peoples list of convalescing activities. But there's a bigger picture to think of here, namely The Great TO DO.

So Tony and I set off on our epic walk at 8am Saturday morning. It started raining. Then it started raining harder. Then the wind picked up. Then the wind almost picked me up! Walking along the first ridge out of Llanthony was made difficult by the 60mph wind and miserable due to the torrential rain. 4 hours later the rain finally stopped - for half an hour, just enough time to dry out before the rain came again. And the wind picked up.

The day continued in this cycle of misery for nine and a half hours until with sore feet, knee pain and an aching rib it finally came to an end. I can't remember ever walking in such horrendous conditions for so long. It really was an epic day and with the exception of Tony's witty tales, comments and then hysterical laughter (see video), not one I particularly enjoyed. But it was a necessary evil for the task ahead. On The Great TO DO I'd have 5 more days of this (well, the mileage, hopefully not the weather. Please God, NOT the weather!)

It was a useful exercise though and I learnt a few important things - one such lesson is that if you have a cracked rib and try and walk 45km up and down the muddy Welsh Mountains in the pouring rain and highs winds carrying a heavy rucksack, it's going to hurt. More importantly though, is it's going to hurt more the following day. But at least I had a whole day free and lots of 8 week old Bernese Mountain Dog pups to cuddle to cheer me up.

If you want to see some great photos of this epic, or a video of just how bad it was, take a look at Tony's blog - Tales From The Rock. Oh, and feel free to buy one of the 178 miles of The Great TO DO (if you want to know more, you'll have to use the link to visit the web page - it's worth it though!)

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Go 'Til You Stop

The human body is an amazing thing. The capacity of the mind and body to work together just long enough to get through any given task will never cease to amaze me. The mind tells the body what it needs to do and how long for, gives it the strength to keep going, it even accounts for sleep (or sometimes lack of), factors in the temporary break in physical activity but keeps the body aware it hasn't finished just yet. The consequences of these types of events are never pretty though - often pushing yourself up to or beyond your physical limits.

Such an incident happened at the weekend. I was working on the second round of the British Mountain Bike Series up in Dalby Forest, Yorkshire. It was also a World Cup test event which added a slight bit of extra pressure to get everything spot on. I'd ridden the course first thing Thursday morning to get my bearings in the forest. To say it's the most technical cross-country course of the series is an understatement! Challenging and fun though and I was looking forward to actually racing on Sunday. Another practice ride on Friday on Olive the dekerf had me confident that I could clear all of the sections without a second thought.

The mistake I made though was not actually riding the course on my Ducati race bike that only turned up on Saturday morning. This was a grave error on my part and half way around the first lap on Sunday morning I hit the ground hard on a rooty drop-off section. After a long sit down I limped around to finish the lap, various body parts throbbing, and retreated to the back of my tent in pain. The ever insightful Martyn Salt approached and deduced very quickly from my abrupt single syllable answers to his concerned questions that I was far from alright but all I wanted was to be left alone to sob in peace and privacy.

A while later I reappeared in the arena with very few signs of the race ending dismount - just a graze or two on my legs. The large bruise on my hip, the graze on my backside, my throbbing right thigh and a pain in my ribs were invisible to the world. A limp gave it away slightly, as did the winces of pain every time I laughed or coughed. Still, there was work to be done for the rest of the event and I planned to just keep moving. Once I stopped, that would be it. And the anticipation of the morning after pain was motivation enough to get as much done on the day of the crash as possible.

Copious amounts of red wine helped me sleep on Sunday night. And here's the twist; Monday morning, although being the morning after, wasn't the end of the task. The plan had always been to stay on Monday and finish up. So I woke up a little stiffer than usual with some soreness in my neck, but actually rather surprised at the lack pain and ease of movement. Perhaps the crash hadn't been as bad as first imagined? Monday came and went and all the extra movement and walking hadn't made much of an impact on my aching bones. The task had finished, I had made it through, and made it home.

Tuesday is where it went wrong. Very, very wrong. My mind had finally told my body it could stop, relax and do what it needed to do to get back to normal. The excruciating pain I felt trying to get out of bed set the tone for the day - with every laugh, cough, sneeze and deep breath causing a sharp, almost unbearable pain in my rib. Even taking it easy didn't help as any core movement - getting off the sofa, bending down, standing up - causes a similar pain. I'm thinking cracked rib or muscle damage. Either way, there's no point going to hospital and there's nothing I can do except take it easy for a while. (And try not to laugh, cough, sneeze, breath too deeply or move.)

Sunday, 3 May 2009

What a Week or Two

This time last week I was still in Offenburg, Germany, having spent the day watching the second round of the Nissan UCI World Cup cross-country mountain bike racing. There's hope that the UK will have a round next year in Dalby Forest so a BC contingent and a few others, including me, tagged along to have a look and pick up some tips.

As it was a last minute thing, I ended up driving the 500 miles through France on Friday and driving back on Monday. An interesting experience but not one I would want to repeat any time soon. The weekend and the racing was inspiring though - seeing the worlds elite, especially Monsieur Absalon, really is something to behold. And I somehow managed to end up writing a report and taking some photos for XC Racer. Published at last! And there's some more photos up on my flickr account. I think this my favourite one of eventual winner Julien Absalon. (Check out the quad muscles!!) Julien Absalon

The rest of the week flew by with me playing at different jobs and trying to get through my long 'To Do' List. I haven't got very far yet.

And today I actually managed to ride Olive the Dekerf (and she was absolutely incredible once again) - I popped down to Swinley Forest for the Gorrick 100(km) enduro. It was the Gorrick 50 for me, just completing 3 laps of the fantastically fun 10 mile course. And incredibly I managed to win, although it wasn't a race, just a challenge. So let's say I was the first female to complete the 3 lap challenge - and received a rather nice trophy and Gore Bikewear cycling jersey for my efforts. At some point I'll write a race report.