That’s the problem with getting older; recovery time. It’s a fine balance as if you go too hard in the week then come race day you’re smashed. If you don’t go hard enough then the body’s not quite ready for the abuse you’re going to be handing out. Heading to the last Notts and Derby cross race of the season I knew that the lead up week would need careful planning.
Eventually my plan was made: a hard ride at the start of the week, recovery and core mid week, rest day and then a commute on my cross bike. Add in just a couple of efforts to see if everything was OK and that was me sorted. Now for the bike. With the recent rainfall it was going to be be a muddy race so time to get those Limus tyres and 32 tooth cassette fitted as I had a feeling I was going to need them.
Race day arrived and the week had gone well with my schedule going without a hitch leaving the legs strong and me feeling chipper. My kit was laid out for a day that was cold but with no wind to speak of so a selection of base layers and warmers should cover all eventualities. The bike was stripped bare, race ready as there is no need to carry any extra weight when half a ton of mud stuck to your bike would soon be enough to deal with. Noting a 1pm start I opted for a later breakfast and banana as a mid morning snack which previously I’d found worked well for me. The car was loaded and good to go but, wait, essential listening was needed for the journey necessitating a quick download of favourite tracks and then we were properly set.
It was a 25 minute drive to Broxtowe giving some time to concentrate, focus, sharpen.
‘Draw your thoughts together, Andy. You know what’s on the cards, it’s going to hurt but ignore this and cope. Go beyond the pain as the more you focus on the pain the more it’ll hurt. Concentrate on the finish for then pain stops leaving just the euphoria. A hard start and those lactic blockers will kick in. Just 5 seconds after that and then the body will react and help you, it’s just a matter of coaxing it.’
It’s cold with the ground still sporting some frost in places and a sub zero temperature causing breath to hang in the air and my chest to tingle slightly. A quick run to sign on allows me to open the lungs and get the circulation going before the number is pinned on giving me some time on my hands so I take 5 minutes in the car before the off. The course is opened for a sighting lap which gives a feel for the course and conditions. I decide on a quick stop to drop the tyre pressure even more although the new tyres felt good and held their line well in the gloopy conditions. I take on a few quick deep efforts to increase heart rate and prepare for the sprint from the line. Rolling up to the pack for the start I notice everyone’s beginning to look a little cold but being warm now will mean overheating later. The race cackle and banter dies away upon the call from the front ‘THIRTY SECONDS’. Cross racing is generally a friendly affair but right at that point the tension starts to increase and is only released by the shrill whistle and the off.
It’s a tarmac sprint uphill which on this course is the only time you want more air pressure in the draggy tyres. However what drags at the start suddenly grips round the bend as the surface becomes broken. As with most of the races this season my start position could have been better but I get through a good part of the field quickly until the technical singletrack in the woods causes bottlenecks where seconds feel like minutes slipping away. I spot Tim from my local club and feel happy to pass him as he’s generally at a similar level to me.
The ground is tacky in places but the tyres are gripping albeit gathering crud, as the fallen leaves, hold the mud to the bike. What was a light bike on the start line soon takes on donkey cart properties. Two bikes and a pit crew would be a real game changer, lucky for some but not for me. The course opens up from single track into fields and as I hit a slight off camber near the pit area I can feel the front wheel is going, going, no holding……… nope gone! Landing in soft sticky mud only really hurts the ego and no harm is done, to me at least because when I grab my bike something’s not right. I roll into the pit area to find it is game over as the right hand shifter is hanging limply from the bars, I see Tim riding past me, along with others I’d previously passed. Half a lap lost, half a bloody lap. The lost seconds felt like hours with realisation dawning at not just the time wasted for the race but the whole week of prep. Quickly adrenaline and anger replace disappointment and frustrations as I consider that Pros ride with broken bones. I grabbed my bike, and got back on finding that it held a gear, that would ‘do’.’Front brakes? Pah over rated!’ With this level of mud less pressure is needed in the front tyre and with that it held a line if I used the rear brake to check what speed I might gather. Accepting these limitations the only real issue was that there was no right hand shifter to grab onto, just a stump. Lap one was complete ‘COME ON’. The fight was on to get a position or two back as I’d hoped for top 20 in category and I’d no idea how many places I’d lost. The more that aim ticked over and echoed round my mind the harder I pushed the pedals. I was gaining places back.
By lap 3 on parts of the course I could see Tim again, this wasn’t too bad. There didn’t seem much point in pitting when I could use the time,when carrying, to grab as much mud off the bike as possible. ‘Keep the wheels turning, get as much weight off the bike.’ As I shouldered the lump I could feel the extra effort from the previous lap starting to take it’s toll. As the adrenaline and anger, faded I could feel the legs getting heavier, or, the mud was getting thicker. A combination of both possibly. The cheers from friends spurred the legs calling for a race plan recap as I remembered the gel in my back pocket which needed to be taken now with 2 laps left by my reckoning. Gulping a mix of mud and gel had the right impact and with Tim in my sights on last lap I now had make it count. ‘Remember the feeling at the end, concentrate, ignore now. Fifteen minutes and it’ll be over.’ Torment between one’s mind, body, machine, and competition. Slowly the brain wins through and everything starts to feel sharper, crisper.
The bell rings out signalling the last lap and focus is regained thinking I can get another couple of places. Last lap battles, you gotta love them; wondering who has the most left. Chasing is easier as the goal is in front, you can see them slowly being reeled in. There is no respite though when you get on their wheel, as you have to hold it and make sure you save just a bit of strength to hit them hard when they have a weakness. It is important to break the mind. I see the last little ramp before the start/finish straight and think I can get up that. Most seem to push but with a clear run it’s rideable by my reckoning so that’s the moment to hit it but I still have keep in contact through the switchbacks in the last low part of the course then hit that slope full tilt, round and down then home. I keep left on the slope but with the lack of gears, heavy legs and the slope starting to thaw did for me or I am just plain beat. This lap that ramp wasn’t rideable and that place slipped away. Rolling over the mat for the last beep of the season I need a sit down. Sweat dripping from my helmet, blood oozing from my shin and one gear. My grin though is ear to ear. It’ll soon be September again, right?