The perfect way to finish the season….a bit of championship Bling!

 

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My season finished on Sunday with the English National Duathlon Championships at Oulton Park.

Having achieved my goal for the year in Dublin in August by qualifying for World 70.3 Championships in South Africa 2018, I’d eased back in my training and came into this race feeling very relaxed. So relaxed in fact that I’d had a few too many drinks on Friday evening before the race with friends in our local. I’m not advocating this as pre race preparation and I’m certainly not suggesting that this led to my race result on Sunday, but every now and again its important to have a few drinks when the mood takes you.

I’ve always enjoyed racing at Oulton Park, partly because its really local and partly because the circuit is super smooth, giving me the confidence to attack it on the bike. It never ceases to surprise me though, just how much the undulating course takes out of the legs. By the 9th lap on the bike I’m always glad to see the back of Clay Hill for the final time (albeit there is still one last ascent on the 2nd run to deal with!)

This was an Erdinger Alkoholfrei sponsored event and so I went along early to help with handing out drinks to the Sprint competitors after the morning race. It was great to chat and share the finish line stories from everyone taking part. The highlight of my day, maybe even the highlight of my year in fact came towards the end of the morning just before I needed to go and start my race preparation. One of the final athletes to finish was an elderly gentlemen who came over to our bar, and whilst he stood there composing himself I asked him “Have you been racing duathlon for years?”. “No” came his reply. There was then a momentary pause before he continued “This is my first ever duathlon”. “ Would you mind telling me your age ?” I enquired. Again a pause and then he looked me squarely in the eyes and proudly confirmed he was 78 years old. He went on to confess that he’d been a bit wobbly on the bike, felt better running and that he’d definitely be back for more next year. I was truly blown away at his attitude and approach to life. Taking on new challenges is what life is about. He is a true inspiration. Looking at the results his name must be John Foord. I salute you, Sir.

I went into my race feeling very relaxed. I felt no pressure. I wanted to enjoy the race, avoid any incidents on the busy track whilst pushing hard on the bike and just see what I had left for the final run. As usual, I probably went too hard at the beginning. I can’t stop myself thinking that I’m 25 years old when the start gun goes off and I go chasing after all the young whippets. At Oulton Park it encourages this fool hardy behavior even more as it is a downhill start so after the first kilometer I realise I need to find a more sustainable rhythm. For a while I then appear to go backwards in the field, before settling down and running a solid 2nd lap. 33:56 is not my best time for 2 laps but it seemed to set me up well for the bike leg. I knew I needed to be lapping in under 7 minutes to knock out a good bike split and so as I came through the pit area each time I glanced at my garmin to see 6 something every lap. This was good. I took confidence from the numbers that reassured me that my body was accurately telling me I was working hard enough!

I came into T2 to find my area empty, bar one guy who arrived at the same time. He got out onto the run just ahead of me and I used him to pace myself into this difficult last leg. As we headed down hill towards the lake I went through my mental checklist. Shoulders relaxed, arms swinging freely, hands, keep them loose, core strong, hips forward, legs moving freely and calves nice and loose. Finally are those feet tapping away with a gentle mid foot strike? Yes, all was in order. Now, what about this fella in front of me, is he likely to be in my Age Group? It was hard to tell, so I told myself that he probably was and therefore I mustn’t let him get away from me. About a mile in the leading lady came flashing past me. She was really going well and I used her to close the gap on the fella ahead. I was now only 10 metres behind him and given that we were closing in on others ahead I felt we were moving pretty well. I didn’t need to be concerned about anyone coming up from behind. I felt a real catapult effect from the hairpin at the bottom end of the circuit and used this to cruise past him as we went up the first of the small hills on this backside of the circuit. Down the other we went went and I could sense him sitting in behind me so I prepared myself for a huge effort up Clay Hill. This is where I wanted to gain an advantage. I really dug deep, shortened my stride and pushed hard to the top. I felt I’d done the trick and more importantly I still felt good. The legs weren’t on the edge of collapsing. I was ok and so pushed on, rediscovering my rhythm. Only 800 metres to go and I was continuing to pass people. This felt good. I must surely have broken him. But then with 400m to go, he came past me. He was giving it everything and hed taken me by surprise. I responded and held him at about 5 metres. Could he sustain this? Not only sustain it, he stretched out down the final dip before carrying his speed into the last climb upto the finish. He beat me, fair and square. Well done, Mick Flaherty, you deserved your win.

I think I ended up with my fastest ever result here, 1:55:20 so great news for my FasterAfter50 mission!

I was delighted to pick up my silver medal, resplendent in full Erdinger blue kit ! Thanks for all your support again this year guys. It is hugely appreciated.

DLorOz-WsAAPxEk.jpg-largeIt was a real bonus to end the season with a championship medal after the frustrations earlier in the year and a great little birthday present to myself.

I think its now time for a break in Northern Spain.

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From Terror to Joy. The 60 minutes of a cyclocross race!

Its important to keep learning. Its important to keep taking ourselves out of our comfort zone. And its really important to keep doing it as we get older. Being the wrong side of 50 is no excuse for not experiencing the terror of not really knowing what you are getting yourself into.

Mold Cyclocross race

This happened for me yesterday. For a while I’ve been dreaming about doing some cyclocross racing, but not having a CX bike or even a mountain bike meant that it remained exactly as an idle dream. Most dreams remain just that because we don’t put a plan together to make it real.

So I bought a bike. A beautiful Merida carbon frame CX bike. I took it out a few times off road and loved the freedom and sense of adventure that it instilled in me. Next, I entered a race. North Wales CycloCross Group organise a series of races throughout the region each winter and the first in the new season took place yesterday in Mold. Mold is only about 15 miles away so I had no excuse.

I rocked up nice and early. Picked up my race numbers, got my bike out of the car and set off onto the field to have a bit of a warm up.

Oh dear. Within a couple of minutes I was experiencing total terror. Narrow woodland trails that could only be reached by heading down steep muddy slopes with 90 degree turns at the bottom. How was I going to control my bike down these? The answer was, I wasn’t. during my warm up laps I ended up in a heap more times than I can remember. I withdrew to the car park to get my thoughts together.

DLC50MgXcAAiLPq.jpg-largeIf pottering around slowly was creating challenges that were proving difficult then how would I cope in the heat of the race battle? I was very quickly realizing that riding offroad in deep mud was very different to my usual road cycling. I was way out of my comfort zone, deep in the land of the conscious incompetence and concerned that I may visit unconscious incompetence several times more before the day was out! But, heh I wanted a challenge. I wanted to test myself with some new stuff and it felt like I was being thrown in at the deep end, only this time it was deep mud rather than deep water.

In the hour leading upto the start I picked up a few tips from seasoned racers. “Take the air pressure in the tyres down as far as you dare as this will provide more traction through the sticky stuff” was the technical tip and “enjoy it” was the morale boosting tip. So I set off for the start with a simple goal. Enjoy doing something new.

The race began with a couple of laps around a field to stretch out the 120 riders before heading onto the narrow course. All went well around the field and then we were let loose on the brown stuff. The first 180 degree turn came up more quickly than I’d expected and in trying to get around I took out one competitor going into the corner, managed to stay upright myself for a couple of seconds before colliding with another wheel on the way out. I went down, bringing the wheels’ owner down on-top of me together with several other totally innocent, unlucky riders who just happened to be in the wrong place (ie in my vicinity ). We’d only gone a few hundred yards and I’d caused carnage. Luckily no one was hurt and more importantly nobody took much offence to my incompetence. After apologies all round and I was on my way again. Adrenalin was definitely pumping and we headed across the open field towards the next obstacle, a steep drop down a grassy bank. I think I got down this without incident before creating more mayhem on the next 180 turn. Crikey, this was the only the first part of the first lap and I hadn’t even got to the tricky technical wooded section yet. Simply surviving to tell the tale seemed like a more realistic goal at this stage.

Mold Cyclocross 2Somehow I got through the technical section without causing anymore damage to the other racers, but I did block the route a few times as I lost my balance and ended up in brambles and undergrowth. Once back out onto the open section we headed up hill and my strength became an advantage. I started to overtake people as the first lap ended and this gave me a bit of confidence. With confidence came the ability to assess what was happening. I broke the course down into sections, some of which I could attack full gas and others where I needed to take it steady. As the laps went by I also began to learn how to ride through the thick sticky mud. It needed to be attacked with a high cadence in a straight line. As each lap went by I went quicker and quicker and was definitely making my way through the field. 60 minutes went by in a flash and I could now hear the last lap bell. After a very tricky start I’d really enjoyed my debut at cyclocross and didn’t really want it to end.

I crossed the finish line, totally caked in mud, beaming from ear to ear. Cyclocross is such a buzz. I loved it. I’ll be back to do more of the series and can hopefully shake off my Captain Carnage reputation before the season is out!