Monday, 14 December 2015

I've never been so Cross.

It all started back in May when I took part in the Lovecross race which was part of the Tweedlove festival. Although an urban race around the streets of Peebles it gave me taste of things to come.

Little did I know back then, that I would go on to compete in another 11 cyclocross races over the next 7 months and enjoy every single one of them.

For those that don't know much about cyclocross here is the dictionary definition;

"a bicycle race over a cross-country course, featuring steep hills, turns, and sometimes muddy terrain, that occasionally requires a rider to carry the bicycle over fences and up stairs."

What this definition doesn't tell you is the complete lung and leg bursting effort that is generally required and the fantastically friendly atmosphere at every single event.

In August it was time for Haughcross over the bridge in Aberdour which I have previously blogged about in the August archive.

Next up was a trip to Fife and a great day out at Beveridge Park, the sun shone on this fine September day and it was toasty hot. The course was fast with a few good hills and tight corners.

The Battle at Balloch Castle was our next trip. As a non series race it too took on a slightly different format. When entering you had to sign up for either the A or B race. Alistair talked me into doing the A race. This like Haughcross was and hour long. I enjoyed the course but it was possibly my least favourite in retrospect, mostly due to the gravel. I am not yet confident on gravel and find it quite a formidable surface to ride on. Even with all my fire road practice I still squeal a lot of the time if my tyres slip and slide.

The weekend after Balloch was the first of the Scottish series events, this took place at Callendar Park near Falkirk. The format was the traditional 40 mins plus a lap, with the Juniors, Women and Vet 50+ all starting at the same time. The field was large, the womens field was one of the largest a Scottish Cross race has seen with nearly 50 of us on the start line.

I really loved the course at Callendar, it had a good mixture of fast and technical and for the first time included off camber switchbacks. In practice I was shockingly bad at them and was panicking at how I would do with all the other riders around me, but come race time I faired well and thankfully didn't manage to make a mess of them, much!

The third race in October was a non series again and took place next to the race circuit at Knockhill. It looked like it was going to be a wet and soggy day to start but thankfully the skies cleared in time for racing, although I was glad of my new birthday arm warmers. At first look on the warm up, I didn't think I was going to enjoy the course but as I raced I enjoyed it more and more. 

The last race in October took us up to Aberdeenshire and Knockburn Loch. We travelled up on the Saturday afternoon and stayed overnight in a Travel lodge, mostly so we could a a slightly longer sleep but also there was roadwork shenanigans happening on the Forth Road Bridge.

It was a chilly morning and we had to scrape the frost off the car windscreen but again the temperature rose slightly by the 11.30 start time. Lochore was one of the first races I watched Alistair in last year so I had a better idea of what to expect on this course. This course had a few tricky sections especially some off camber mud, but thankfully once again I managed round my laps without any mechanical problems or falling off.

At the beginning of November it was time to travel West and head for Strathclyde Country Park. The forecast was terrible and it was set to rain for pretty much the whole day. It had been raining for days beforehand also, so the course was extremely muddy. Until this point I had not been on too much mud as the weather had been kind, so was apprehensive about wether or not I could A) stay upright and B) have the strength to claw my way through it. I would be telling a fib if I said it wasn't hard work, my legs were bursting but thought it was a great course. I especially liked the single track through the woods.

Next was Lochore Meadows near Lochgelly. I had been told a few tales about this course. It was usually very muddy, it was very flat and incorporated a spiral that made you quite dizzy. This was another tough one as there was absolutely no respite, you just had to pedal all the time and pedal hard. This course definitely suited those roadies with millions of miles in there legs. It was quite different to the other courses but I still had fun. 

At the end of November we travelled to Plean outside Stirling. This was the worst weather I think I have possibly cycled in. It was extremely cold and started to snow before the start. Trying to stay warm even when cycling was difficult as the water falling from the sky and the water from the puddles were so very cold. I thought my hands and feet might fall off they were so cold. However poor Alistair was much worse and I thought he was hypothermic. It took us the rest of the day to try and warm up.

The last race of the series that we could compete in was at Irvine, this race also included the Scottish Champs. Again, I had been told many stories of Irvine, none of which were particularly good. Lots of sand and hills and generally a ten force gale coming in off the sea. My nerves only worsened after my warm up laps, this course had everything, off cambers, mud, sand, steep ups and downs and yes lots of wind. Up until this point I had never fallen off my cross bike in a race, but the big dipper and sand were to be my enemy that day. I lost a good few minutes having to pick myself up off the ground and detangle my bike from my still clipped in feet.

The last race of the series was just this weekend and it was on Mull, but as we both work Saturdays we could not make it. The series consists of 6 races in total but only 5 count towards the final points tally and you drop the lowest score. I only completed 5 so no points dropped. For much of the series I was lying in second place but I had a race in hand on most of the other ladies who were in the top 5. All would be decided by the race at Mull, and so at the end of it all I was placed 4th only 60 points behind the winner. 

I was overjoyed with this result considering that in April when I got my bike I had not really cycled with clipped feet, and could not get on and off my bike very quickly, never mind ride tricky off cambers, deep mud, sand, hills, single track and jump planks.

There are a few more races in the New Year but hopefully with some training next year I could do even better. I never thought I would love a sport as much as I used to enjoy my climbing, but cyclocross has so many elements that I love. It can be as competitive as you want it to be, it is so friendly and has something for everyone no matter what age and stage of life. It is a must try for any bike orientated person.

Here is a list of all my results;

Haughcross - non series - 3rd womens race.

Beveridge park - non series - 6th womans race

Balloch Castle - non series - 2nd vet woman

Callendar Park - series round 1 - 6th vet woman

Knockhill - non series - 1st vet 40 woman

Knockburn Loch - series round 2 - 2nd vet woman

Strathclyde - series round 3 - 3rd vet woman.

Lochore Meadows - series round 4 - 4th vet woman

Plean - non series - 2nd vet woman

Irvine - series round 5 - Scottish Champs - 3rd vet 40 woman.

Not bad for a first season even if I do say so myself.

All this of course could not be done without great support from Alistair and our friends Matt and Elisa who have helped with some handy coaching trips and our great Tuesday night training.

Here are a few shots from some great photographers. The lovely Anthony Robson took a few of these and I'm afraid I can't recall the others, oops. 

Peace x

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Tale of Two Weekends.

September was due to be one if the busiest months so far, with two big cycle events pencilled in on our calendar.

Last weekend's Galloway Gallop was going to be my first adventure cross event and a pre peaks event to test Alistair's legs. We had booked it way back at the beginning of the year and were really quite excited about it.

All the plans were in place. It was going to be an early start because it takes a few hours to get down to Kirroughtree and the race was due to start at 8am. At 68 miles it was going to be my longest cross ride to date and although slightly apprehensive was excited, despite the early start on a Sunday.

Alistair (chief mechanic) had the bikes prepped and ready, all spare tubes etc packed in saddlebags. I organised food and water and made a carb loaded dinner.

The parentals/dogsitters had arrived safely, we were good to go, or so we thought as we headed upstairs for a early nights sleep.

As we were both just drifting off into the land of nod, I heard a few rumblings coming from downstairs followed by my Mum rattling at the bedroom door and shouting at us to get up. "There's water all over the kitchen!! Get up, quickly."

Stumbling out of bed I flew downstairs and into the kitchen to find the floor covered in steaming hot water and the sound of water pouring out of somewhere, but where was still the big question. Somewhere deep behind the corner cupboard was the answer. "Shite, shite shite, towels we need towels."

I luckily now know where the stopcock is as we are in the middle of getting heating and a new bathroom. I came to my senses quickly and turned it off in the wall. The gushing subsided but was still coming out.

A panic call to the plumber and some more quick thinking from Alistair we turned off the new boiler and luckily the flow was stemmed, but not before it had caused some damage to the shop below.

When the panic and adrenaline rush had passed, it was pretty clear that we could not leave my parents to dog sit and deal with the aftermath, so we decided not to go to the Gallop.

We did go out for our own wee trot round our local trails, which was lovely even with my puncture and thumb staving incident!

Oh well, these things happen we got over our disappointment and looked ahead to Alstairs 9th 3 Peaks cyclocross race the following Sunday.

Again this required a 4am start as it is in Yorkshire and was a 9.30am start. Alisatir has told me many 3 Peaks stories so was pleased that I could go and watch him doing a race he is truly passionate about and see for myself the pure grit and determination required to complete this gruelling 38 mile cyclocross race.

The morning was very very misty as we drove down the St Marys loch road but thankfully cleared by the time we hit the M74. We got to Hellwith Bridge without incident and in plenty of time to park up have breakfast and catch our breathe.

At sign on there were many shouts of "Hey Ali" as many folk from Alistairs Yorkshire past came over to say hello and wish him well.

The start line was a bit of a mix up as many people were refusing to listen to the marshals about where the start line actually began. Eventually they set off, one huge mass of crazy riders all heading for the hills.

Bodhi and I jumped back in the car and headed for the second hill of the day at the Ribblehead Viaduct. We followed a line of cars and support riders all heading in the same direction. Parking up at the side of the road, I was getting excited to see my boy coming over the hill. Bodhi and I were in plenty time and walked towards the viaduct to find our spot, where we could pass water and supplements if needed.

As we walked up the path towards where the riders would emerge I heard someone shout my name. Turning around we saw Alistair, not on his bike and walking towards me!!! Oh no, what the hell!

He has been having a few problems with his back the last few weeks and nothing we have done has eased it. It did not take kindly to carrying a bike up a steep hill and completely packed in. The disappointment was clearly written all over his wee face. The race he had been looking forward to for so long was over.

We stayed to watch more of the event and soak up the atmosphere of this hugely popular event. Thankfully it was a beautifully blue sunny day and we shouted on a few of our friends who were also taking part.

Our dive home was slightly subdued, but it was great to go and get a taste of an event that I have heard so much about. We he try again? He says no, but we have all said never again at least once or twice in our lives.

 Balloon of Hope.

Ah Good boy.

 Floating hope and power lines.

Chatty Ali.

 Nervous Ali.

 Where's Wally, sorry Ali?

Plant X man, Crawford.

Ribblehaed Viaduct.

It's a sign.

Dejected and Ooh where's the sheep.

Crawford the machine.

Maddy the machine.

Almost finished coming off Pen-Y-Ghent.

Peace x
all photos by Caroline Harvey

Friday, 21 August 2015

Bring on the Bubbles.

Well I never thought I would be writing a blog post about becoming engaged but here it is!

Having being burned once before with the whole marriage business, I was, for a long time, a firm believer in the fact that I would never do that again, but it's funny how things turn out.

Having met Alistair almost a year ago, we have been fairly inseparable from the word go and quite quickly found ourselves living together and making future plans.

Now I suppose it is only when you meet the right person that your "never again" attitude might begin to change and for both of us this was definitely the case. I think the conversations started as a testing the water type thing over some wine one night and we both agreed that yes maybe marriage would be on the cards again. We both felt that making that commitment to each other was something that we wanted to do.

I have often spouted over the years that marriage is going out of fashion or doesn't really stand for anything these days as it's so easy to get divorced and many people enter into it without any foresight, but this time 22 years on from the last time I did it, it feels so much more special.

The actual proposal was made many weeks before the ring appeared and was in the kitchen and I was given a gorgeous bunch of carnations. This however we kept secret until we had gotten ourselves more organised.

After some searching around on the old internet we found a jeweller on Etsy who had a fabulous range of rings and so ordered one. This was a slight gamble, but when the ring arrived a week later we were relieved to find that it not only fitted but was as lovely as it looked on the website.

Our original plans were to leave it until October time when we have some days off planned and to go up North and do something to mark the occasion, but we were way too excited so changed our minds to "lets go do it now!"

We trundled off to the Co-op and bought a bottle of Moet (£10 off special deal) and headed up to the top of the local hill Lee Pen.

Thankfully it was a truly gorgeous Summer evening and so could sit out in our shorts and tee shirt and drink our bubbly and just soak up the moment. Even Bodhi chilled out when he realised that this was the end of his walk for a few minutes.

A phone call to my Mum from the top of the hill was made and to hear the surprise and delight in her voice was enough to get me tearing up again. It was a very happy moment for us all.

After consuming half a bottle each we thought we had better go get some dinner as lightweight Harvey was getting kind of drunk. Descending sober,without a dog, I can fall and break my wrist so was getting slightly nervous of getting down intact, but we did thankfully.

We popped Bdog back in the house then hurried round to the Traquair Arms for some food and more drink to celebrate.

It's been a hell of a quick year since I moved house but without a shadow of a doubt it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Who'd have thought I would find my soul mate living just a few doors down. It's a funny old world.

Bdog and the bubbles.

Family photo.


Bored now Mum.


Happy shadows.


All photos by Caroline Harvey.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Haughcross Cyclocross Race.

Yesterday saw me race in my first official cyclocross event at Silversands, Aberdour. It is a Summer event and not part of the Scottish Cyclocross Series. It is organised by James McCallum and sponsored by Ronde Bicycle Outfitters. The format for the day also differs from the Winter races. Yesterday saw 2 heats of mixed age categories then the top 50% from each of those races rode again in Final A and the bottom 50% in Final B.

Even the weather held, mostly.

We got up and away quite early so as to get a good parking spot so Bodhi wasn't ever too far away from us when he had to be left in the car, but it also gave us plenty of time to walk round the course and see exactly what I had let myself in for.

Alistair, being a seasoned pro at all this stuff, helped keep me calm as I seemed to be more anxious about this than I was of the marathon the previous week. Thankfully he has more confidence in my skills than I do and assured me that the course was not too technical.

I rode in the first heat at noon along with Alistair and Elisa. The race was for 40 mins plus a lap and I think was just under a mile per lap.

As we gathered at the start my stomach was churning and Elisa and I tried to reassure each other that it would all be ok, it was her very first race too.

The cyclocross ladies.

Two blows of the whistle and off we went, a mad dash for the first corner, I was doing ok but as I went round the corner I swear I heard what sounded like my tire blowing, so stopped to check it was ok. Rookie error! Don't stop, just keep going until something feels wrong or falls off as the masses quickly disappeared and I had a bit of catching up to do. I just started to pedal as fast as I could till I got back in amongst it and then settled in for the long haul.

After the first lap I seemed to get into a rhythm and tried to stick with that pace as best I could. I loved the top half of the course with the ramp and and a couple of sweeping corners. The bottom half was slightly trickier as there were tree slaloms, planks, and uphill and one hell of a head wind to contend with.

When I heard the commentator announce that 12 minutes had past I thought that I was never going to see the 40 mins through, but just dug in and tried to race as hard as I could. I and no idea where I was placed in the field but there was another female rider behind me and I just tried my best to stay in front of her as long as I could.

The final lap bell was a sweet sound to hear and was glad to cross the finish line having only been lapped by Alistair the once.

All we had to do after that was cheer on friends in the second heat and then wait around until 5pm and 6pm for our respective finals. It was a long wait but was needed as my legs felt rather tired with my efforts.

Even Bdog needed some rest on such a long day.

In the final I tried to get a better start so as not to have to work so hard to catch up. It was better and my confidence from the first race helped too. For most of the race I could not see any of the other few woman and the only people around or passing me were men, until at a section down near the trees you could see who was behind and I saw the girl that I had a good race previous with. Again not knowing where I was positioned in the field, my only goal was to try and stay in front for as long as I could. Alistair was being a great coach and shouting at me from the sidelines urging me to keep pedalling as hard as I could. My legs were on fire, my back ached but managed beyond even my expectations to stay ahead and cross the line before the lady in orange. I was well chuffed.

It was then time to watch Alistair's super fast final and Bodhi and I did our best to try and take photos and cheer him on.

In the end I managed to get 3rd place and was completely surprised.

Alistair has always said "It's only 40 minutes of pain but you'll enjoy it!" and I often thought "I'm sure I won't" but low and behold I did. The day was great and even if I had come further down the field I would have enjoyed it all the same, because although I was trying to stay ahead the competitive challenge was mostly with myself.

If you are at all looking for a new sport/challenge I recommend cyclocross as you not only get a great workout but you get to hang out with lots of really nice people too. Many riders ride for teams but I am not part of a team, so we made my own team name. Go team Rainbow Cloud!

Start line.

Up and over.


Go Ali D!

I see him coming.

Faster, faster.

3rd, yeah.


Peace x

All photographs by Caroline Harvey and Alistair Dow.