Update: Racing, Not-racing, and more racing

It's been a while since I last sat down and worked up the motivation to write anything.  A six month old baby will do that for you.  I left off having just completed my first sprint triathlon, and entered my second.  Since then, I've done that second triathlon, a 50-mile cycle sportive (the 'not-racing' part), and as of last weekend, made my first foray into the world of cyclocross.

The triathlon was the PMA Racing Derby Sprint Triathlon, run out of the village of Etwall, out to the west of the city.  The swim was carnage - 25m pool and narrow lanes meant it was much more congested than at 33m Moorways two weeks earlier, especially since I seemed to have drawn a lane full of people who had massively over-estimated their ability when entering their predicted swim time (which determines the start order) on the entry form.  I had a couple of head-on collisions, which I'm pretty sure were with the same person from the next wave after mine.  Once my fault and once his, and probably both the result of frustration with the traffic.

Out of the pool (timestamps on Sarah's photos from poolside show I was within 15 seconds of my predicted time, just saying) and I think I was a bit more efficient through transition, aided by elastic laces and not bothering with either gloves or jersey, but hindered by getting a bit unsighted looking for my spot in the racks.  Unfortunately the timing mats were having a bit of a bad day, and a lot of us didn't get a full set of split times, so there's no definitive measure of how long it took.  I do know that I started the cycle leg a few seconds behind a female competitor who had been in my start wave and who I'd beaten out of the pool, so there's still work to do.

After the unwelcome shock of the first 500m or so being a reasonably steep uphill, I settled into the bike and my newly acquired aerobars.  In contrast to the City Tri's urban out-back-out-back course, here we had a single loop round quiet country roads to the west of Derby - well, quiet apart from the convoy of vintage tractors heading in the other direction half way round, which was a bit of a squeeze to get past on the narrow roads without giving up too much speed.

Through T2, and out onto the run - again with the not-entirely-welcome treat of two 45-degree grass slopes to climb to get off the playing fields and out onto the roads.  In the photo above I'm looking at the second of those climbs, hence the look of distress.  I did get into the swing of it, and was even able to smile for the finish line photo, but still too slow - the same lady from my start wave, who I'd repassed and gapped on the cycle, breezed past me a couple of minutes in to the run, and pulled a good five minutes on me by the finish line.  Some work to do over the winter.

(photos courtesy of the organisers and Sport Sunday photography)

The weekend after was the Cycle Derby Sportive - the 'not-racing' bit of the title, despite involving a marked course, a mass start, and timing chips.  I opted for the 50-mile variant, had a brief pang of regret at the start for not going for the 100-miler, but it was definitely the right call, as there was a lot of climbing involved.  Completed the course at an average of 15mph, including a few stops for food and for losing a contact lens half way round.  I carried a camera the whole way round without taking any pictures en-route, so here's one of the new Derby Velodrome at the start.

And finally, this weekend, I made my first foray into cyclocross with NDCXL at a very muddy Markeaton park.  Not terribly successfully - I fell off the back of the pack within about five minutes, then got passed by the under-23s and most of the ladies, and lapped twice by the leaders before the bell.  Then with the end in sight the rear-mech hanger snapped about a third of the way into the final lap, leaving me to carry back to the pits for a DNF.

I came home from my first triathlon, fired up the laptop and entered the second.  Having done the second, I've already got several pencilled into the diary for next year, and am currently trying to figure out a winter training routine to make myself faster.  Likewise, doing a 100-mile sportive is a definite goal for 2015.  As for 'cross, much as I wanted to like it, the jury's still out, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, I expected it to be difficult, and to be at the back of the field, but thought there'd be enough spread to give me someone to race against - as was the case with enduro, rally, and triathlon.  As it turned out, I'd need to make a massive improvement to even be at the back of the field.

Secondly, I felt a bit out of place.  Judging by the pits, about two-thirds of the field had turned up with two bikes, a petrol-powered jet-washer, and a helper to wash and service the bike they weren't riding so they could swap bikes each lap.  Most of the remaining third was people who couldn't find a helper but had still brought two bikes.  Two people didn't have a spare bike, but had left a spare pair of wheels in the pits - and one of them had also DNF'd with a broken rear mech hanger.  I had a box with a couple of tubes and a pump.

A bit of a post-DNF grump? Possibly.  As it turns out, I can't do either of the rounds in December anyway due to other commitments, so I've got until mid-January to decide whether I want to have another go.

New Wheels

(just not of the sort you might be expecting - well it does say 'mostly' motorcycles at the top, not 'only')

Strangely, having spent eight weeks in the US, travelling by motorcycle, truck, train, and car, I returned home really fired up about cycling.  The fact my last few days were spent in Portland, the self proclaimed "America's bicycle capital" contributed somewhat, but the thought actually originated somewhere back on the East Coast in the first week of the trip.

After a couple of weeks getting back into the swing of things, I dug out my ancient Claude Butler rigid mountain bike (which I've had since I was 16) from the back of the shed, stuck some slick tyres on it, and started riding the 15 miles (each way) to work and back as often as my legs and motivation could manage - which typically turned out to be twice a week.  I persisted until mid-September when it started getting a bit gloomy at 7:30am - I feel a bit too vulnerable on some of the country roads around here in the dark - then went back to using the Tenere every day.

The hybridised (bastardised?) MTB worked pretty well, but I had the yearning for something a bit faster - I could just about get the average speed into the mid-16s (mph), and thus the time down to about 55 minutes, but wasn't getting any further on MTB gearing and fat tyres.

I started looking at cyclocross bikes after a friend of mine got really into CX racing.  The idea appeals to the same part of me that thinks racing the Tenere is a good idea - it's not really made for serious dirt-riding compared to a smaller enduro bike, but it can cope with a lot, while being a lot better between the trails or for riding to work on.  A CX bike appears to me to have exactly the same attributes compared to a mountain bike.

The downside is that, while there are some very cheap new road bikes out there, the bottom end of the more niche CX market is about twice the price, and not really something I was going to be able to afford for a while after emptying my bank account into the US trip.  So I didn't really have any serious intentions of buying one. Then I happened to mention this to the aforementioned friend, who in turn happened to mention that, having upgraded to a more 'serious' bike for racing, his old Specialized Tricross had been relegated to winter hack duty, but that he would be prepared to part with it for a decent price.

A few weeks later, last weekend, I managed to pick it up, taking advantage of a weekend where we were visiting other friends to avoid making a special trip from Derby to South Wales.  I got it back home late on Sunday night, excited to have a new toy to play with, but with no opportunity to take it for a ride - at work all week, and dark in the evenings.  Then I noticed during the week that, with the clocks going back, it's now light again when I go to work.  That means it's pitch black when I normally leave, but I finish early on Fridays - and therefore could do both journeys in daylight.

So today I gave it its first outing, during which I mostly learnt that, while the bike may in theory be faster, the loss of fitness from not cycling for seven weeks more than cancels it out.  I also learnt that not eating enough lunch because the sandwich van didn't turn up to the office is A Bad Thing when you have to cycle 15 miles home in driving rain - I was even slower than on the outward leg, then completely ran out of energy about three miles from home.  Fortunately, there was cake when I eventually wobbled through the front door.

Better get some weekend winter training routes planned out.

"Why does it always rain on me, is it because I've gone out in public wearing man-tights?"

Some Nerdiness:

As of today, I have been to work 90 times since I got back from the US.  That breaks down as 18 times by bicycle, 71 times by motorcycle, and once in the truck.  The latter was in my first week back, and was such a good reminder of why commuting into a city on four wheels is stupid that I have not repeated it.  

My cycling frequency therefore stands at exactly 20%, or once a week on average.  It reached a high of 33% some time in September before it started getting dark at either end of the day.  It will decline further over the winter, but I'm interested to see how high I can get the whole-year average (to the end of June 2014).