Adventures of the Cotic - A Quick Release holidays mountain bike race team

Monday, 10 December 2012

Essex Off Road Duathlon

Kirsty reports from her winter race scene that also involves running...
Its 6.00 on a Sunday morning.  Its cold, wet and muddy outside, and there are flood warnings across the country.  No-one in their right mind would even contemplate leaving the warmth of their duvet.  Anyone for duathlon?  Oh all right, go on then!!
I really enjoyed Sundays race.  I cant honestly say that the 8.30am start time appealed to me, but once Id actually hauled my a##e out of bed it was worth it, and I was rewarded with a beautifulsunrise en route to the start.
The event itself was well run with friendly marshals and a nice low-key atmosphere.  Granted the course wasnt technical, but the mud and bog made it suitably tough  and the event organisers seemed to accommodate the local flooding with minimal fuss, with changes required to run 1 to avoid the need for wetsuits (which I believe would technically make it a triathlon).  The venue is going to be used for the inaugural English Off-Road Duathlon champs next year, so lets hope the conditions are a little more favourable!
I had a decent warm up  10-15 minutes spin on the bike, sign in and rack the Cotic Soda, do a bit of a build, then bounce up and down on the start line to keep warm.  Not totally structured, but it seemed to work as I started the run strongly and put a clear gap between me and the rest of the girls right from the start.  Leading into transition 1 was a first for me!!  In transition, my hands were so cold that I struggled to get my spd shoes on and someone caught me up... I was not having that!!!  I jumped on my bike, regained the lead in the first 50 metres on the bike, and never looked back.  2 laps of muddy singletrack, boggy fields and gravel path.  Nothing technical, although the mud made it fairly hard-going.  Ease off towards the end, spin the legs out ready for the second run.
The second run was exactly the same course as the first.  Except it was harder, much harder.  My legs were drained after the bike loop, and I suddenly noticed the hill up to the finish!  Suck it up!
I was rewarded at the finish by 1st place, a cool medal and a chocolate brownie (thanks Matt!!).
Definitely a race I would do again.  And the best bit is, its finished by 10am  in plenty of time for Sunday lunch!!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Cotics cross the Pyrenees!

Coast to Coast... TransPyr Style - Matt reports from his & Ant's stage race earlier this year...

Whose crazy idea was this?!  Not that it matters, both Ant & I signed up to 8 days of mountain biking, 800km and 18,000m height gain- surely it can’t be that difficult!  Maybe it would turn out to be a nice 10 day holiday - dream on!

How do you prepare for such an event, especially in my case when I have never done anything like this before - what to expect, was I going to be able to cut it, have I done enough training?  All those questions and doubts running through your mind.  What were all those early morning rides with no food all about and those crazy training drills and those consecutive days of long rides (Sat Bristol to Southampton - 100m, followed by Sunday Somerset Gran Fondo Road Sportive- 112m with 2,500m of climbing) which Kate set (or should I blame that one on Kirsty), all Kate’s talk about ‘brain training’ or should I say ‘brain teasing’, well I was soon to find out why!?

TransPyr day 1 (one of the longest days) started with temperatures soaring and the worst cramp I had ever experienced.  When crossing the finish line it struck me (us) that this race was going to be about survival.  It must have been hot - even the native Spaniards were sheltering in the smallest amounts of shade.  At the end of the first day's racing recovery now really mattered - Carol was there with our recovery drinks and rice cakes at the ready.  [Interlude- yes for some crazy reason Carol came on holiday to support us both through the good times and the bad - thanks Carol very, very much appreciated- except dragging me out of bed at 6am every morning!]  A dip in the cold river and elevated legs back at the camper van, a Carol sandwich, followed by a spot of bike maintenance a shower and a hearty dinner did the trick - we really wished there was more time but this was how it was going to be & we had to get used to it!

Days 2-4 we continued riding - my body and brain kept going although by day 4 I was feeling the pressure- as Kirsty will tell you when I phoned her that night!  It felt like a race but were we really "racing"? - we had some longish stops at the feed stations, luckily cut short by Ant keeping us moving (thanks mate just what I needed a kick up the backside).

Day 5-7 with a few mechanicals behind us- a failed freehub (good job I had a spare wheel!) noticed at the end of the day whilst prepping for the next!  Training, recovery, maintenance, food, rest, sleep anything else to think about!  Oh and then there were the tyres... I have a reputation for being a wheel wrecker but this race was all about tyre wrecking.  The first one lasted about 2 days, the second lasted just a little bit less and then the third somehow managed to keep going - despite developing a bubble on the last day- toothpaste tube tyre boots were a godsend - although a knife to let the air out of the bubble was all required in this case- thanks to a local riders tip! Luckily it was only wheels that suffered and our Cotics kept going perfectly!

The race seemed to get easier (it didn't really) and it was not just because Kirsty came out to cheers us on and cheer me up!), my body was getting used to it and I was just learning to suck it up and we were both getting more into the racing mentality- hitting it hard after the last feed station drafting all the way making sure no one passed us and getting back as soon as possible- those extra hours back at base were a great help with the recovery.

Day 8 – ‘The Finale’: the race timing stopped at feed station two- mental note in race briefing- hit it hard, race heads on get to feed station two as quickly as possible- just like a cross country race!  Think we were 10th or 11th pair to get there, we finished ahead of quite a few teams who had consistently been finishing just before us.  I’m not sure that Ant appreciated me racing at breakneck pace that day (him coming from a 24hr hour endurance background) - but we worked as a team and achieved our goal.  The rest of the day was amazing, chill out riding, chatting to locals, negotiating ancient villages, coastal paths, a ferry crossing and a glass or two of bubbly followed by a dip in the Atlantic to complete the whole affair. 

In all, I would recommend the TransPyr to anyone... but beware what you are letting yourself in for!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tour of the Himalayas 2012


Ant and Rach headed out to the Himalayas in search of adventure and ended up with much more than they bargained for

Even though the cancellation of this year’s 24 hours of Adrenaline World Championships vindicated our decision not to race, after a big start to the season we both found ourselves without a suitable end to our racing year.  So, when the opportunity came to race for the England team in the KMT Tour of the Himalayas we both leapt at the chance.  

The competition is run to raise money for the Kaghan Memorial Trust in Pakistan.  The Trust was established in January 2006 in the aftermath of the earthquake in the area and provides education for local children at the Kaghan Memorial School.   International teams are invited to race alongside teams from Pakistan in a three-day stage race.  None of the stages are big in terms of miles but they all start up high and involve lots of climbing. Day one starts at 1600m and climbs to 3200m in just 14km, and day two tops out at a heady 4200m with 1600m of climbing.  Only day three promised to be a little kinder with minimal climbing, but all at above 3000m.  

Big scenery

In an attempt to get used to the altitude and make the most of the opportunity to experience more of Pakistan, we headed out 10 days ahead of the race.   Following an overnight flight and an 8 hour journey by road from Islamabad we arrived in the Kaghan Valley.  According to Google this journey should take 3 hours.  Google obviously does not account for landslides, broken roads, bridge-less river crossings and fallen boulders the size of houses.  

Valley roads
Up in the valley we joined Martin and Zuanna, two Slovakians running the training camp, seven riders from Pakistan and one Aussie.  The week was filled with lots of big riding.  Most of the riding was limited to jeep tracks which on the surface seems fairly mundane, however with the gradients and altitudes involved mundane it certainly was not.  Although climbs were measured in hours not minutes, it often didn’t really sink in how big the climbs were until you realised that it took you over an hour to come back down.   The scenery was stunning and we were lucky to have great weather all week.   Over the next few days we had the opportunity to ride all the stages of the race.  Although this was great to get a feel for what they were like and we were both pleased that we coped reasonably well with the altitude, it highlighted just how hard it would be trying to race on this terrain at these heights.  

Half way up the Babusar Pass
Aside from the riding we were putting in some serious training in curry eating, chai drinking and white-knuckled jeep riding and by the end of our first week out there we were exhausted.  In 7 days we’d ridden 350km and climbed over 8000m.  Realising that this wasn’t perhaps the best way to prepare for a stage race it was with great relief that there was a torrential thunderstorm that lasted all of the following day, (ashamedly) a fine excuse not to ride.  

Off roading
With the race due to start on the Friday, on Tuesday morning we headed back up the valley close to the school to meet the rest of the riders who had arrived overnight after an eventful journey from Islamabad in the storms.  After being out for a while there felt a real change in the atmosphere with the arrival of the other competitors, from biking holiday to international event.  The following day was sports day at the school which captured this new atmosphere.  We all headed down the hill to the school where we spent a day watching the races and, having been assigned to one of the four school houses, taking part in tug-of-wars and games of football with the kids.  The day was fantastic and brought home to us what the whole event was about.  Ant took his house allegiance very seriously and despite the obvious physical handicap put his heart and soul into the tug-of-war.  

Ant and his Wolf head gear
On the Thursday evening, with bikes and bottles prepped ahead of the race’s start the next morning, all the racers and organisers enjoyed another great curry together.  After dinner we gathered together for the rider briefing and pre-race ceremonies.  As Khurram, the race organiser, handed over to the Minister for Tourism and Sport it was obvious something was amiss.  With just 12 hours to go to the start of the race we were told that the organisers and Ministers had made the difficult decision to cancel the entire event.  Across Pakistan there had been a rise in demonstrations in support of Islam and against the West following the recent release of an anti-Islam amateur film.  Although demonstrations and anti-West feelings are not uncommon in Pakistan, the government had taken the unusual step to announce the Friday as a public holiday in order that people could peacefully show their love for the Prophet Mohammed.  It was because of this public holiday that the organisers could not guarantee our safety in the race.  Everyone was shocked and disappointed.  We had all come a long way and the organisers had worked so hard to bring the event together we couldn’t believe it had been cancelled so close to its start.  We were all unsure of what the actual risk to us actually was, after all we were miles away from anywhere half way up a mountain.  However, the race is a big deal in Pakistan, attracting much media interest, and so our presence in the country was no secret.

Sports day
We sat and mused this over for a couple of hours whilst the organisers discussed the situation further.  Then, at one in the morning, we were told to get our bags as we were being evacuated in the middle of the night back to the city.  There were fears that the violence would escalate after midday prayers on Friday so it was a case of leaving the valley now or never.  We quickly packed our bags and bikes and all left the valley in an armed police convoy an hour later with little idea of what the next few hours would bring.  The severity of the situation was brought home to us all when we stopped mid-journey for fuel and a loo break when the police shut down the whole road and secured the service station as we pulled over.  The journey back to Islamabad took just five hours compared to the eight on the way up, with every traffic light turned to green and traffic stopped for our convoy.  At 7am we pulled up into a secured area of Islamabad, into the Marriott hotel and stepped bleary eyed from the buses into a plush, air-conditioned reception area.  A massive contrast from the valley that we had left a few hours earlier, furthermore highlighting the importance of the work of the Kaghan Memorial Trust and the school.

Valley life
We stayed at the Marriott for the next couple of days in a complete bubble from what was going on outside.  Although there was indeed violence across Pakistan on the Friday, including just down the road from the hotel, the situation seemed to have settled by the weekend.  There was a surreal moment for us all whilst relaxing by the pool we could hear the sound of gunfire and see helicopters skimming the rooftops and the irony of staying in a American-owned hotel instead of riding to raise money for the Trust was not lost on us.  The event organisers pulled out all the stops and we flew home a few days earlier than planned and landed in Manchester just 72 hours after leaving the valley, the most surreal three days we think we’ll ever have. 

The Brits in Islamabad
Although there is the obvious disappointment of not getting to race we both had the most amazing time in Pakistan.  We rode in some of the most phenomenal scenery that either of us have ever seen, experienced a country of such contrasts in terms of wealth and opportunity, and were incredibly well looked after by the organisers throughout our stay.  It wasn’t the adventure that either of us thought we would have and it’s not one that either of us are likely ever to repeat.  Thanks to all who shared it with us.
The Kaghan Valley