‘Cross diary 19: It’s training again

November 14, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Posted in cycling | 1 Comment
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Well. I’d been off work (and the bike) all week with sinusitis, and in a MASSIVE sulk as Sunday approached and I didn’t seem to be getting any better. But then on Saturday afternoon my fairy godmother appeared in the kitchen in a puff of WD40, dressed head to toe in Planet X kit. She waved a track pump at me and declared ‘You SHALL go to CX training with @sparkieturner and @crossjunkie!’ And miraculously, my head cleared, and I grinned like an idiot.

Sunday dawned beautiful, bright, and dry. I hefted my bike onto the car with the minimum of swearing, changed three times (longs? shorts & legwarmers? 3/4s?), and threw the rest of my cycling wardrobe into the back of the car (just in case). The boys hugged me distractedly, one eye on Charlie & Lola at all times.

Mark and Alan are keen to get women into ‘cross, and they’d rustled up a number of bright-eyed girls from Cycle Sport Pendle (CSP) for this session. Then there was @trio25, and me, and @waterrat77 and @millsphysio, who’d (impressively) got hold of CX bikes the week before and immediately entered Cyclists V. Harriers.

A bit of discussion about tyre pressure – and a mass letting-out of air – and we were off to practise remounts. Getting my leg over the saddle at slow speeds still eludes me, so I cheated and went straight to jog ‘n’ hop, which works, even if it’s not elegant. We then combined this with dismounting; everyone made a lot of progress very quickly, much to my dismay (avid readers will remember how many HOURS I spent falling off while practising this).

@crossjunkie got the sticks out and constructed a barrier, then videoed us all trying to coast up to it, dismount smoothly, hoik the bike up and over and leap back on without losing momentum. Here is @millsphysio, a complete newbie, doing it perfectly. I’m not jealous. Not at all.

We practised hoisting bikes onto shoulders without whacking fellow competitors in the face (my secret weapon, according to a video @spandelles took of me at Keighley), and running with them through the dog poo. There followed a discussion about shoulder bruises and the acceptability of sewing Joan Collins-style pads into your jersey. @crossjunkie said this was fine (it’s good enough for Rapha, anyhow) but if any of us put pipe lagging round the top tube he would disown us.

Then we were off for a ‘bimble’ (@sparkieturner’s word; it makes it sound so jolly and effortless, doesn’t it) through the woods. Towneley Park really is lovely, and even when your shoes are full of muddy water it’s a terrific place to ride your bike around. We picked up some pro tips on riding in the mud (weight back; stand up slightly; pull on the bars; pedal smoothly; be confident), judging lines (try going round the outside of churned up bits; standing water probably means there’s a hard bit underneath, so a good place to ride) and keeping your momentum up (when to get off and run; when to shoulder your bike, and when to push). We finished up with a bit of downhilling (the short sharp shock variety). Next time, we’re going to ride @crossjunkie’s CX loop, which has ‘everything’, apparently. Can’t wait.

Many thanks to Mark and Alan for this session, which was friendly, fun, unintimidating and packed with useful stuff. Everyone had made visible progress by the end, and we all left with grins on our faces. Brilliant.

  • CSP are running a women-only race as part of their CX event at Waddow Hall on 15 December. It would be brilliant to have as many women as possible entering, to support the event and show the demand for this kind of racing, so please circulate the details far and wide!
  • Thanks very much to Alan (@crossjunkie) for the photos and the video.
  • And here is @trio25‘s take on the training session.

‘Cross diary 15: MOAR racing

September 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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Another Sunday, another Yorkshire Points round. Our routine is improving; the car was packed and the bacon sandwiches consumed in record time. We set off, me already worrying about the MTBishness of the course, and @spandelles helpfully intoning ‘It cost me six Gs/ I crash it into trees…’) The satnav wanted to take us straight past the entrance to Home Farm but luckily @spandelles spotted the fluorescent, hand-inked arrow saying CYCLO-X and we bumped down the track. This venue was a bit different from the schools we’ve got used to: a blow up tent, a coffee concession in the back of a van, and two portaloos comprised the facilities. As usual, everyone was ridiculously jolly. My name was already on the list, which was too exciting for words. Primo reminded me to put him in the right age category this time. Oops. @ianstreet67 turned out to be standing right next to Segundo and Daddy. Great to meet you, Ian!

Primo and I rode round his course. There were BARRIERS! For the under 12s! Primo took them in his stride, of course. The usual mixture of pro-looking pre-teens with miniature SPDs and teeny kiddies on bikes with pink handlebar tassles lined up. One ten-year-old said to another, ‘Do you want a gel?’ After a lap of looking pretty unhappy with everything, Primo got going and did a great job, shouting out excitedly ‘I’m in gear FIVE!’ as he went downhill.

One of my resolutions from last week was to warm up properly this time, so I went and rode round the car park (=field) and practised jumping on and off for about 15 minutes. Then: the course recce. The first sections were great: barriers, gravelly climbs, lots of zigzags on the grass, up and down hill. Then the course disappeared into the woods. Mere words cannot convey the abject terror. A sheer descent on singletrack with a steep drop to one side; roots and fallen trunks and streams to vault; trees to dodge and enormous jolting LUMPS and BUMPS and then a WALL of a runup at the end. Ohmigod.

I compared falling-off-in-public-embarrassedly tales with a woman on the start line. The bloke next to me ventured, ‘I thought you did well, at Keighley.’ Aw. We were off up the hill, round the zigzags and down into the woods. I jumped off and slithered through the soil, gripping the bike for dear life, grasping at trees as I went down. People fell off all around me, to OOH!s and EEEH!s from spectators. One chap stood dejectedly with a severed crank in his hand. I got back on and gingerly foot-dabbed my way round, riding for a few feet here and there. The runup was actually a relief; at least I know how to shoulder my bike. I set it down at the top and leapt back on seamlessly, to the delighted cheers of my family. (I may have squeaked YESSS! at this point.)

As my natural tendency is to take it a bit easy, I concentrated on Trying Hard All The Time. Amazingly, this really worked. I passed a couple of people going up the zigzags, and held another chap off who threatened to pass me but faded on the climb. Hooray! (Of course they all passed me again in the woods, but hey.) I shot up little inclines and cornered fearlessly, doing SUFFERFACE the whole way round (though in the photos I look disappointingly like I have stick-on goggly eyes, one pointing up and one down). Along with my New Improved remounts, I suddenly felt like I was actually racing. Gosh. It was BRILLIANT.

So. This week felt like PROGRESS. I remembered to eat, which (predictably) made a massive difference; ALL my remounts were functional, even when I was dead tired; I tried as hard as I could nearly all the time. I drove home singing ‘Cy-clo-cross!’ to the tune of ‘Ho-lly-wood!’ and fell asleep in the bath.

[Read what @ianstreet67 made of his first cyclocross visit here. Includes some ace photos.]

‘Cross diary 14: I race. Again!

September 11, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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Well. I’ve had a full summer of denial, happily avoiding thinking about how I still can’t ride up or down banks, corner, get any speed up on grass, remount, or get my feet back into the pedals. No matter! The Yorkshire Points round is underway, so on a beautiful Sunday morning we filled the car with bicycles, tools, sandwiches, sun cream and children, and went off In Search Of Cross.

We found it at Oakbank School. The youth race was in full swing as we wandered up to look for the loo. Women from @sparkieturner’s CX training session accosted us delightedly, in between cheering on their boys. Primo was off at 11:30 in the under-10s; I signed up at the same time, fourth on the women/ vets list, briefly entertaining fantasies of riding round with only three rivals.

The under-10s rode round and round the playing field, parents chasing them on bikes yelling GO ON HAVE HIM! Hat tip to the mother who sprinted round the field twice at full tilt in flowered sundress and ballerinas. Primo did a brilliant job, charging up hills and grinding over grass with relentless energy and enthusiasm.

When he’d finished (‘I want a cross bike!’), I went off to recce the course. Ooh. A water crossing? Hmm… LOTS of mud and off-cambers and steep banks, then some zigzags with MORE mud, and more off-cambers, and a sheer descent with a turn at the bottom, and pavement and STEPS (hooray!) and downhill zigzags (help!) and more steep banks and more corners and then a bit of tearing across the grass. I’m exhausted just remembering it all.

I rode around feeling desperate for a while, then went back to the car for snacks. The woman parked next door was jolly: we rode down to the start together, laughing and comparing CX weaknesses, before she let slip she was Masters Downhill Mountain Bike World Champion (1999). We joked amiably with the other women on the start line, who were comparing tan lines and telling unconvincing tales of CX ineptitude.

They sent us off round the field first, to string us out before the woods. To be honest, the rest is a bit of a blur. The sun beat down. It was HOT. The first two laps were ghastly, but then I got into it, though I ran about a third of each lap, too scared to go uphill/ downhill/ round corners/ through mud/ you name it. Oof. I did two passable remounts, then my technique disintegrated and I spent the rest of the time stopping to climb back on. Bah.

At least I’m cooler about being lapped, now; I barely even wobble. One chap muttered ‘What the fook are you DOING?’ when I foot-dabbed on a corner, but everyone else was lovely. One guy said ‘Go on buddy!’ as he steamed past. A knot of riders zipped through, a woman shouting ‘You’re doing brilliantly! And even if you’re not, you look BEAUTIFUL!’ Someone yelled DIG IN! The boys rang their cowbells. People tried to take photographs round me. I could hear spectators talking about lunch as I staggered past. It would have been Zen-like, if I hadn’t been about to keel over.

Like last time, I didn’t know I’d finished. Above a certain HR, my brain just stops working. @spandelles congratulated me, and told me my dismount was terrific; my boys ate their sandwiches, unconcerned that Mummy had just nearly EXPIRED out there what with all the trying hard and everything.

So. In the best tradition of games of two halves, the round up.

Better than last time:

  • Tried A Bit Harder (@spandelles said I looked like I was actually racing this time, rather than just riding around)
  • Cornering
  • Dismounting
  • Getting lapped without shouting ‘Hoo!’
  • Didn’t fall off ONCE

Still v. poor:

  • Need to Try Much Harder
  • Combinations of things e.g. going up banks plus cornering
  • Riding in mud, or on pretty much any kind of terrain
  • Eating enough beforehand
  • Getting Back On (oh dear…)

We got a bit of intel on the next couple of fixtures. One is quite MTB-y, with woods and singletrack and stuff. Mmm. Should be fine then. Ha ha ha! The other is ‘basically haring around on the grass. They all go really fast, it’s terrifying.’ Sounds ideal…

See you next week. Hup hup!

[Proper British Cycling race report and preliminary results here. I’m in the pictures, too. Cake to anyone who can spot me.]

Massive THANK YOU to @spandelles who was pit crew, soigneur, childminder, moral support, satnav wrangler and chief-adjudicator-of-arguments-over-cowbells. You are brilliant.

‘Cross diary 11: I do a skills audit

May 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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Well. One thing about this rotten weather we’ve been having: it’s perfect for ‘cross. After a false start where I somehow managed to put my trainers on and go running instead, and another where I cycled straight past the park and went for a road ride (avid readers will realise just what this means about the scale of The Fear, that I’d go on a road ride as a displacement activity), not to mention being called a big Jessie by several people on Twitter, I FINALLY got myself and my bike out of the house and down to the park.

Todmorden Park 3

Of course, as soon as I was tearing across the soggy grass in the rain, breaking my legs up those stiff little climbs and getting sprayed with mud again, I couldn’t understand why I’d stayed away. At the end I swung my leg over the saddle a couple of times and was astonished to find I could still jump off. Maybe it really is like riding a bike.

The next time, I found a flat bit of grass and nervously tried remounting again. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that ‘remounting’ and ‘nervously’ don’t go too well together. But still. I managed to get back on while going along a couple of times, even if I was double dabbing (@crossjunkie is shaking his head, sadly). It’s got to be faster than stopping. The tyre tracks and mud ruts from Wednesday’s TodCross were still there, so I charged round after them, jumping on and off randomly. I didn’t fall off! And I only got my shorts caught on the back of the saddle once! Delighted, I practised cornering, riding round and round the war memorial. I toiled up the big hill at the back a couple of times, spitting expletives and scaring wagtails. At the hairpin turn onto the Infamous Cobbled Climb™, I got off. I could barely run up it, pushing the bike, my cleats skittering on the setts. Beyond belief.

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So. Work to do; but progress, too. I decided to do a CX skills audit:

Dismount: Not too bad

Remount: Almost functional

Riding on different surfaces

  • Grass: Fine
  • Mud: OK-ish
  • Gravel: Hmm
  • Sand: No opportunity to practise, so no doubt hopeless
  • Cobbles: Ha ha ha!

Going up steep banks: Not very good

Going down steep banks: Ditto

Cornering:

  • To the right: OK
  • To the left: Hopeless

Combinations of any of the above: Forget it

Braking with hands on hoods: You may laugh, but I couldn’t do this last year. Extremely proud that I can do it now

Shouldering bike: Very good (Really. I know. I’m as surprised as anyone.)

Bike wash: Even @spandelles approves, so must be doing something right
checklist

There’s a race coming up: 6 June, in Huddersfield. Come along, if you’re around, and heckle me. DOUBLE DAB! AMATEUR!

‘Cross diary 5: get (up) on it

November 1, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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Remounting. A word to chill the blood of the CX newbie. While dismounting is also scary (especially to those of us with no balance, coordination or bike-handling skills, who have been known to topple over while waiting at traffic lights), it is at least possible to break it down into steps: unclip right foot – stand on LH pedal – swing right leg over saddle – unclip left foot – jump off. Of course, this is just the beginning. My dismount at the moment is more of a semi-controlled tumble, gripping the bike to stay upright. Mostly I remember to unclip my left foot. It’s not exactly smooth.

But remounting… No matter how many YouTube videos you watch, there’s nothing to break down. One minute the gal or guy is running alongside her/ his bike, the next – hup – s/he is on the saddle and pedalling off. What happened there?

So here, for the benefit of other scaredy-cat noobs, is my collection of (mostly other people’s) wisdom on learning to remount. There are different options, depending on your general psychology and your bike handling skills:

Option 1: Softly softly catchee monkey.

I saw this demonstrated online and it looked like the answer.

  1. Walk alongside bike
  2. Sling leg over
  3. Little push with left toes
  4. Off you go.

Recommended for people who can control the bike at a slow speed. You guessed: not me then.

Option 2: Just do it.

  1. Push bike along and jog alongside it
  2. Leap onto saddle while going along.

Oh, hang on. How do I do that, again?

Option 3: Err… there is no option 3.

As I couldn’t do option (1), I had to work on improving my chances of option (2) happening. I was so worried about this that I put my bike on the turbo trainer and practised slinging my leg over the saddle, getting on with a little hop. It did help.

Then I went to the park. I put the RH pedal in a ready-to-pedal-off position, then walked alongside the bike and put my right leg over, connecting with the pedal immediately and pushing off as I was getting my bum onto the saddle. This helped me feel like I knew where the saddle was.

My first attempt to jump on ended up with me straddling the top tube. Too far forward, then. I walked along close to the bike, my arms at full stretch, bumping my hip against the saddle. Head up, shoulders down, try to relax, look forwards*. I ran with the bike (it is easier if you jog**) and thought about going forward and around the saddle, rather than up and over*. I counted one, two steps***, and jumped. It worked! Blimey! Partner happened to be looking at me rather than watching the boys circling the park at that point, and I heard him yell ‘WAHEEEY!’. Haha!

Then, of course, I immediately couldn’t do it again. I tried using positive psychology (stop trying to jump, and jump!).

I also used visualisation (that is, I visualised myself tweeting triumphantly about my success later on).

By the end, I probably got it right about three times out of every four. The other times I changed my mind at the last minute, or I didn’t get my leg up high enough, and tangled myself in the rear brakes. Once I ended up with my stomach on the saddle, Superman-style. But now I know I can do it, it’ll just be practice, won’t it? A lot of practice…

[Maybe the most important thing: it is REALLY tiring (both mentally and physically) practising this. So warm up, and maybe stretch, then get on with it. Don’t try it at the end of a long session of other stuff. Practise lots of times as soon as you have ‘got it’, to try and make it automatic. Stop once you are getting tired; I made a hash of it few times towards the end and started losing confidence. I did it one more time correctly, decided to quit while I was ahead, and went off to practise slaloming around goal posts instead.]

* all these are tips from this forum discussion.

** tip from a chap at training.

*** tip from @Psyclyst

Also see CJ Boom’s tips on remounting on her blog.

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