Sunday, 17 August 2014

Off the radar

Well, the National Marathon Champs in May was my last blog and then all went quiet from me. It was at that time I got ill with a viral infection which took a long time to recover from. At first we had no idea what the problem was but the symptoms kept me off the bike: gastrointestinal pains, whole body aches, nausea and terrible lethargy. After a couple of weeks I had some blood tests and later an ECG because my heart beat became abnormal too. As any athlete knows it's hard not to train and compete, and with one of my big season goals looming, I decided to race the European Marathon Championships in Ireland as a test in early June. This was, in hindsight, a mistake and I should've thought more carefully about the decision. During the race I really suffered and some of my symptoms returned. I managed to coerce myself to the finish line and got within 10 seconds of the eventual race winner Theresa Huricova during the last km's. A Silver medal at the Euros isn't a bad result but it's no secret that I wanted to win, not least because I already have 3 Silver medals from 2011, 2012 and 2013! Now I have 4 consecutive Silver medals….will I ever break that cycle for the better!?

Ballyhoura Mountains, Ireland. The year I wanted to end my run of Silver European medals!

After the Euros we were due to fly directly to South Africa for the World Marathon Champs. Following much discussion we decided that I shouldn't go. This was very difficult and I spent many weeks thinking 'what if' but in my heart I knew it was the right thing to do. I spent my time in the Peak District, UK recovering and slowly building up my training, meanwhile Dave was with the other guys from the team in South Africa.

Medicinal Mountains: Selva Val Gardena

Once Dave returned from South Africa we headed straight off to the mountains, our first time this year and it was well overdue! We raced Dolomiti Superbike - a nostalgic race because it was my first ever international race in 2008 - and although I really suffered after the illness and lack of training I managed to take another victory making it a hat trick :)

Stunning Dolomites :)

Next stop was the 7 day Transalp and unlike previous years when I've raced the women's category, this year we decided I would race the mixed category with Ben Thomas (GBR). There are a couple of interviews (here and here) on so I won't go in to any detail now other than it was a great decision, Ben and I worked well together and it was brilliant training and preparation for my next goal: Leadville 100, USA.

Winning the Transalp in the mixed category (self-powered) has been one of my aims, achieving it was cool :)

Along with the Euros and the Worlds, Leadville was a pretty big season goal for me. Before the illness my aim was not only to win but also to knock some time off the current course record I set last year (7:17). Pleased with my form in the Transalp, I went to Colorado feeling that a new course record was possible.

A free upgrade to business meant things were really starting well! Now I always want champagne and bed when I fly ;)

We arrived in Breckenridge later than last year due to the timing of the Transalp, which was one week later. This was less than ideal preparation because it takes a long time to try to acclimatise to the altitude (3000+metres) where it's not only difficult to train but sleeping and even just breathing is laboured. After a few days riding awesome trails, eating great food and relaxing in one of the best coffee and cake cultures, we moved to Leadville to start our final preparations. We have such a great team of riders and staff, and I genuinely feel honoured to be part of it. We're all very professional in what we do but we have a lot of fun together and that's important. Spending time with guys is cool, I love it!

Mechanic Pete fooling around and playing the air guitar outside our Leadville house :)

Leadville 100 is a tough race for so many reasons but especially because of the altitude and length of the race, pacing is critical as is correct nutrition. If you get these two wrong then you will pay dearly in the latter half of the race. The 6:30am start is also something I find pretty challenging! At that time in the morning it's really cold, just a few degrees celsius. The start is fast and downhill and with the windchill really cold, so it's important to try to maintain muscle warmth because after the descent the first climb begins.

On the first climb it was important for me to stay at the pace I'd decided not to exceed so I let Alison Powers (National US road, crit and time trial champion) take a small lead. She had to stop to receive mechanical assistance from one of her team supporters at the bottom of Powerline - one of the fast, washed out descents. All was going well for me, I was eating and drinking according to my race plan and at the splits I was on schedule for a good time. It also seemed that teammate Kristian Hyneck was on for a new course record as he whooped passed me on his descent down columbine -  he was much further down than Alban was last year - and he had a good lead so I was really excited for him. That's one of the nice things about Leadville 100, you get to see the other riders descending and climbing Columbine and it's great to be able to shout and receive encouragement.

At the top of the longest and highest climb - Columbine is just below 4000m - I had between 2 and 3 minutes lead over Alison. I was feeling really good, and a million times better that at the same point last year. Descending Columbine is a test of nerve and skill - and it's also a little crazy! - because it's at this point that you are meeting oncoming traffic, all of whom are riding the best line up the mountain. Consequently the riders coming down have to take the less favourable lines on loose, off camber and at times rocky, steep tracks. This was where, unbeknown to me, Alison crashed and retired from the race, which was a great pity.

At 60 miles I was on for a good time and it was looking like I could shave some time off my course record, but on the inbound journey the wind picked up and I spent a long time riding in the wind alone. This put an end to my quest for a new record, as it did for the men too. The winning times were considerably slower in the men's (6:16) and the women's (7:23) race this year. So now it looks like I'll have to return again next year ;) Unfortunately Kristian ran out of gas and had to settle for 3rd place. Alban punctured early in the race and finished in 4th. Not so much good luck for our boys, so they too have to make the journey state side again in 2015!

Our team of supporters are as much a part of our success as we are and I'm truly grateful for all that they do for us: Leadville success goes also to Pete Felber, Dave Padfield, Dave Weins and Jeff Kerkove. Thanks a million guys! Angel King took all of the awesome Leadville photos, thanks Angel :) 

Big thanks also to our team sponsors: Ergon, Topeak, Canyon, SRM, Sram, Magura, DT Swiss, Rockshox, Continental, Northwave, Limar, Ritchey carbon and Look pedals. 

Also especially important are my personal sponsors: TORQ nutrition, Elete Electrolytes, Maloja, Compressport and Solestar