26 August 2011

You can't beat a bit o' Bully

You probably don't know why I wrote that title. If you can't rememberJim Bowen saying that phrase at the end of 'Bullseye' every Sunday teatime, then you're probably of sound mind.  ...But it's a phrase that keeps ringing out in my head in the run-up to the 3 peaks each year.

The connection (in case you think I've just lost all my senses in a mire of Beetroot and Sardine fitness juice) is Bull Hill - my nearest hill - is the scene of a good 50% of my Three Peaks training.  It's a relatively small, fairly unspectacular mount of a hill, aspesially from most local vantage points, and you wouldn't see it as having any particular value for training, but it is absolutely perfect; and here's why:
  1. It's very near to home.
    Having something within jog-home distance means that I have to take no spares with me.  No pump, so spare tubes or tubs, no tools - just me, bike.  That in itself is significantly less faff.
  2. Bull Hill cross trainingIt is a very close simulant
    Somehow in a circuit up there of 12-14 minutes (depending on how well I'm going) it packs in so much of the 3 peaks it is uncanny.  We have
    • steep rideable bottom gear climb, 
    • uncomfortable gnarly descent
    • have-to-walk/scramble grassy bank
    • able-to-jog boggy moorland climb
    • grassy moorland fast, rutty descent
  3. Any colour you want as long as it's brownSomething comforting about the nasty boggy peaty stuff that is predictable.  I'm being polite to Bull Hill here, it's wet - it's always wet, even when it's dry, it's very wet.  At least you know in advance
  4. Repeat as Required
    With a 'lap' taking you that long, you can do an hour or as long as you want - the beauty of reps. 
I heartily recommend you find your own simulant like this so that Simon Fell doesn't come as a shock to your system on the last Sunday of every September.

If you want to take a look at the parcours,  then check out one of the many the GPS files I've uploaded to Garmin Connect... or read more Bull on Crossjunkies blog

Join Us

For the next three Fridays, (2nd, 9t and16th September) we'll be meeting up at the car park of the White Horse pub in Helmshore at 12:30 for an hour of peaty Bull Hillery.  Be there.  You can't beat a bit o' Bully.  More details on UK Cyclocross here

Fixed gear: A niche record to have a pop at

Richard Seipp contributed to this blog the other day - about his dedicated training for this year's race on a trip to the Lakes.  On the another blog post in the Team Here Come the Belgians blog, Richard's talking about the challenges of going for the fixed gear record in tis year's 3 Peaks cyclocross. Similar but significantly different to 'Shaggy' John Ross's singlespeed record from 2009, the fixed gear bike means no freewheeling option.

“What gear are you going to ride then?” This keeps me awake at nights at the moment. Too big a gear and I'll be on foot for all the off road that points upwards, and too small a gear and I'll be left way behind on the road. I trialled 42:18 and found it unmanageable offroad uphill. Today I've ridden 38:18 and that seems a little bit to easy. So somewhere in between I guess.

John Wyatt's 3 peaks fixed gear record of 4:52 set in 2006 seems well within Richard's grasp - his fitness is sound and he's an experienced fell runner.  Hear of how he aims to put down a better benchmark on the blog here

25 August 2011

Tubeless: The Holy Grail?

I had a bit of an online chat with Lee Shunburne today who'd read the Paul Oldham interview talking about - amongst other things - tubeless tyres for the 3 peaks. Lee and I go back a few years and he's one of those familiar faces at all the national trophy cyclocross events over the years. Paradoxically (to me!) he's never ridden the 3 peaks but will put that right in the next couple of years.

Lee's generously volunteered some hands-on experience with riding tubeless on a CX bike and it's a fascinating insight, backing up quite a bit of opinion that seems to be coming over from our enthusiastic 'cross cousins in the US.

From Lee himself:

"Just read the interview with Paul about the 3 Peaks, thought you might be interested to know how I've been getting on with tubeless for the Peak District rocks.

I got sick of constant pinch punctures at pressures that actually gave any grip, so thought I'd give it a go (been running tubeless on the MTB for a while so I had some of the kit already), my cx training wheels are bog-basic Open Pros with Vredestein Premiato tyres. I like the Premiatos as although they're narrow (34mm actually comes up as a 30) the tread pattern is the same as a Typhoon so it's good practice for racing. Anyway, I picked up a couple of proper Stans strips from nextdaytyres.com and fitted them along with some yellow spoke tape. Tyres went straight up and sat properly on the rim with a bit of soap suds on the bead. Half a scoop of Stans liquid shaken around inside and they sealed within about 10 minutes.

I've been running them at about 30 front 35 rear for a few weeks and have had no problems at all, bouncing them off rocks and roots pretty much with impunity. Grip is pretty good, particularly in comparison to others out with me who have to run 60-70 to prevent pinching! Ride quality is much improved over using a tube, more flexibilty and comfort.

I tried to go lower with pressure to see what it would be like on a standard cross course, but at 20-25 it was possible to unseat the bead slightly in corners and lose pressure. They're a narrow tyre though so I bet with something bigger like a Mud 2 you could go lower. The ride still isn't up to tub-quality, partly due to the pressure but mainly I suspect down to the stiffness of the sidewalls. And I'd say that I might have been lucky so far with the tyres, they're fairly fragile all in all so I might go for something tougher when these wear out. I'm using them well out of their design spec though so I can't complain!

So all in all I'd say for normal racing tubs still have a clear advantage, but for your mid-pack rider or those who can't be arsed with tubs then they're miles better than tubes. For the 3 Peaks they might just be the Holy Grail!"

I'm interested to see if he's right - it certainly makes sense when you hear about those sort of tyre pressures and no punctures. I'm sticking with tubulars for now though and will let others carry on with the research for me...!

22 August 2011

Richard Seipp exorcises those bike-carrying demons

From Hayfield in Derbyshire, Here Come the Belgians rider Richard Seipp is an experiences 3 peaks and general cycling / mountain / running / outdoor man and has contributed to this blog before.  Richard has sent me this very special training blog from his ... ahem ... "Family Holiday" in the Lake District.  Great reading, and starting to give me slight not-enough-hours-in-the-saddle nerves.... great stuff.

I wrote this a couple of days ago before I read Dave's train your weaknesses comments.

I've done the Peaks before, and I know that I can ride a bike well enough to ride all the descents and pass people, and I hold my own against my peer group on the road. I'm a better rider than I am at getting up those steep ascents on foot for sure.

This year my “training” has included bike riding of course, but the emphasis for the first time is to make sure that you folks don't leave me behind at twice my pace on those bits of the race where we don't ride bikes.

I drove up to the Lakes this week for a holiday with the family, only a few days, snatched between work commitments. I arrive in the Duddon Valley with my CX bike late afternoon. I say Hi to our friends and then head into the hills.

I ride, 400 yards from our accommodation, and then lift my bike towards my shoulder. Walna Scar Road. Once upon a time this may have been a road, but now the rumble tumble of boulders may be still as wide as a road, but from the Seathwaite side, it gives an enforced opportunity for practising the carry. A few hundred metres height over a good kilometre of rough.
I hang a right onto another bridleway. A Lakeland right of way marked on a map tells little of real life. At first I ride fast then the bridleway quickly becomes impassable on any kind of bike. Steep rocks, then wheel swallowing bog. Plenty of opportunity to practice jumping on and off the bike as the ground fluctuated between the ridable and not. I pass three walkers walking up towards. One says without prompt “Good luck with the 3 Peaks”. The drop back to Seathwaite is exhilarating, super technical in places, and of course fast.
Only a short loop, but more off than on the bike.

Next morning my wife asks me to go for a run, and I oblige. She jokingly says “I'll run, but you run with your bike.” When I've done the peaks before I've had to carry my bike, but I've never practised doing it. In fact I hated the carrying bits. No practised technique, only an awkwardness that reflected my refusal to see this as an important part of the whole. I didn't carry the entire 6 miles but I either ran alongside my steed or carried it, soon working out which method would best suit on race day. A tough little session, and of course my wife was quicker than me, but only just.

Next day I had a free, no obligations, so a big bike ride?

How many Cyclo-Cross riders complain of the pain of the ridable sections of the 3 peaks?Are you a regular Cyclo-Cross rider, a Mountain Bike rider, or a Road Cyclist? Chances are that you are.

And if so, what is your weakness? It's not riding a bike is it?

The previous afternoon we'd been for a walk with the kids up the Old Man of Coniston, we'd surveyed the clear panorama to the North. In the distance we see ScaFell Pike.

Our last day here. A lie in and then a pleasant lazy morning spent with friends and the family. I have a plan for the day. One that will not involve my bike. I suggest an itinerary for the day to my friends, but they all smile, and say they have other plans.

12pm, I am good to go. My computer mapping program gives a forecast time of 6 hours for running based on my fell running times. It would take more, I knew that. I won't give my actual route, as the value of which, via coniferous forest bashing,thigh deep bog stomping, knee deep tussocks and brambles is not worth repeating, but my calves were burning from the start, and that is a good thing.

Once into upper Eskdale I can see 600 metres above me the highest spot in England. Some folks are further up the hill,and Imagine them as competitors in a certain race. I start running hard. Steep rocky ground, changes to loose scree. My breathing is breathless. One by one, I reel them all in.

Once at Broad Stand it starts raining, I keep on running. Dare I say it the terrain a bit harder than the Yorkshire Dales has to offer, but it's always nice to have something in the head at a date in September to remind yourself that things have been worse. At the top of ScaFell Pike I spend a moment, in which a Euro Fighter magically does a roll, a couple of hundred feet over my head.

I don't roll off the Pike but I'm still fighting and pushing the speed. Down the hill, and back up the next rise. By Great End the farthest out point of the day the weather has turned rude. I keep running on to Esk Pike. Then I engage brain, and change my planned route slightly to avoid the distinct possibility of getting lost in the Lakeland mist and rain. Down Ore Gap and another non existent “footpath” takes me to the valley. Still running, though more than once the bog stops me dead. No one to race against now.

Once at the road I'm on the days Horton Helwith stretch of my route, only 4 miles left, though with no bike. I've never suffered on the last road section of the Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross. I did in the Lakes that day.

8 hours to the minute, 21 miles of running 5000 feet of ascent and descent and not a revolution peddled.

Looking forward with a wry smile to Simon Fell now.

Keep in contact with Richard via his Flickr Photos or follow him on Twitter

20 August 2011

Confused? You will be... First Time advice and conflicting opinions

The internet is barely 20 years old. In its infancy when I rode my first 3 peaks (in 1995), it certainly would be many years before people would turn to web pages.. then forums, then blogs, then Facebook / Twitter.. to find out more info about this race. Now it's a stunning mass (c.54,000 and rapidly growing) of Google results for the race if you type '3 peaks cyclocross'... so where do you turn for reliable information? How do we pick the niche opinion from the right choice for tyres, preparation, food, training, recces, etc etc?

There's obviously a few reliable sites and forums, and people will also know other people who have ridden the race and can chat to... but it's surprising at times how much conflicting opinion there is on all these things.

I'm going to throw a few of what regular readers of this blog would see as my common basics and a few that are a less common: My first-timer-friendly advice for the 3 peaks cyclocross.

1. Who are you??
Firstly, what's your background? What do you ride and how well do you do? Are you a regular 'cross racer, a Mountain bike rider, occasional off-roader, Sportive rider...? It's so obvious but how do you apply your background to getting the most out of this race?

What I'm basically getting at is the need to train your weaknesses - not your strengths. The chances are that you don't normally lug bikes up big mountains on your shoulder so a bit of that is an obvious thing to be trying out and getting used to. If you're a cycle commuter with little or no experience of racing then think of riding really fast for short bursts. If you are a mountain biker who lavishes in the comfort of a 120mm all mountain bike with fat tyres then ride your cross bike over really uncomfortable terrain. Do what you can to get out of your comfort zone and simulate this race.

2. Getting tyred of answering
If you're on clincher tyres, then Shwalbe Landcruiser 35mm or Maxxis Locust 35mm. Maximum PSI. Fit 35mm-40mm tubes NOT 28-35mm ones. Stretched tubes will PUNCTURE

If you're on tubulars, Tuffo T34 or Vittoria XG 34mm. Again, maximum PSI. Fill them with Latex (eg NoTubes) sealant and plenty of it.

Lots of reasons, but in essence and in no particular order:
  • TREAD: Grip isn't a real issue in this race
  • WIDE: Punctures wreck your race and you get mild comfort from the width
  • PRESSURE: Punctures wreck your race (again!) and rocks give punctures here, not your mamby pamby flints or thorns
Unless your an absolute whippet or you really know something I don't, then don't ride anything that varies from this. Tried and tested.

3. Eat, Drink, and you will be merry.
Drink and eat. Winners are never thirsty, and you will burn more calories than you can think possible. Whatever you can stomach that helps. Energy drinks are your friends - they provide nutrients and minerals that you will need like you have never needed them before. Get bottles handed up or carry a camelbak and take fluid at the two water holes to save carrying it before. The climb and descent of Penyghent is hard going enough on the body without you having to beg an apple from a passing walker. Cramp is also a killer and may well undo loads of hard work. Drink regularly and sensible fluids. (I use SiS Go and SiS PSP22 generally - check the proportions of powder to water - that is important to ensure you don't cramp).

4. Prepare for the worst
Carry what you'll need to get you to the next stop. I have cocked up several times with crap tools etc and know loads of other people who have... but you can prepare by knowing your bike is in tip top shape. Replace cables a bit before, brand new brake pads in case it's wet... check those bolts so you don't end up riding two and a half peaks with only a rear brake like some numpties.. :-) - be meticulous - you'll sleep better. Here's some real life bad news stories (there are many more)
  • Carrying spare tubes with valves too short for the rim
  • Carrying an emergency pump that inflates the tyre so badly you puncture again immediately
  • Not carrying a spare tube or pump (!!)
  • Not knowing how to split and re-link a broken chain
  • Jockey wheels / cranks / pedals / cleats / saddles / brakes "falling off"
  • Frames or Forks breaking (harsh I know, but check them before for cracks and ageing!)
  • Spare wheels not fitting bike or rubbing on brake pads etc.
  • Chains jumping on replacement wheels.
  • Saddle Bags (with tools) falling off (when later needed)
5. PMA
It can be a tough race on you for all sorts of reasons, but a positive mental attitude is the best ally in difficulty. It's once a year - if things aren't going well, just do everything in your power to get the best out of the day. Everyone's got an excuse or ten when they get to the finish line - just look forward to sharing yours but don't think about packing in.

17 August 2011

Paul Oldham: "The Race that Comes Back to the Bike Rider"

It came as some mild surprise to me when I heard shortly before entries closed that British Cyclocross Champion Paul Oldham was riding this year's three peaks. Rumours tend to do little for the reputation of this race... I've heard people say things along the lines that it 'blunts you for the real 'cross season' or it 'takes too much specialist training', so it was refreshing in a way to chat to Paul Oldham at the 3 peaks two years ago.

Paul was there in the capacity of support crew for his dad (Chris), who has raced the event plenty of times (a role reversal - Chris is normally Paul's pit man in the National Trophy races). When I asked Paul in 2009 why he wasn't riding, his answer was pleasantly understandable and frank: "Because I absolutely hate this race", he said. Far from being taken aback, I knew what he meant. Paul had soared as high as fourth at his best in the 'peaks and is a quality rider, but it's so specialist and off-the-beaten track, in cyclocross terms, that his 'inside the top ten' placings that would make most of us very happy, probably weren't doing it for Paul.

I spoke to Paul about this year's race; why he was back, and what his plans were. I started asking him the obvious question: Why was he back?

"I want to do the jersey proud" was his first reaction, "I think I'll be the first national [senior male] champion to start the 3 peaks in a very long time". That's an understatement - the last one to enter was either John Atkins (in the 1970s) or Nick Craig (When he was twice champion in the 1990s) - still - John was the last one to win the 3 peaks as national champion - in 1970. So is Paul going to Helwith Bridge to win?

"It's certainly a possibility. I think I'm capable of winning it if it goes well. 4th was my best in the past but I was a different rider then."

"It's a race that comes back to the bike rider" says Paul - speaking of the vicious start up Simon Fell onto the Ingleborough ridge. "Ingleborough's a runner's hill - and so is Whernside to an extent, but not so much. When you get to Penyghent, it definitely favours the rider".

Paul refers more directly to the opposition, by saying "Rob [Jebb] is bound to be at the front on Ingleborough but a gap on the road is going to be harder to keep this year [with a stronger field at the top end]. Craigy [Nick Craig] has had to chase on his own most years, but if Rob gets a gap on his own, people will eat into it if they ride hard".

So we chatted for a bit about the various scenarios - 3 minute gap at Ribblehead, 2 minutes etc... it starts to become a serious prospect that Paul - with his excellent mountain bike AND road experience could win the event this year.

"It's be nice but I'm not doing much special training" says Paul, playing it down in much the same way that everyone does, before adding, "you need to be doing loads of specialist training and I do what I can, but I have to gear my training towards the rest of the season - wearing the jersey is important this year so I don't want to put all my eggs in one basket".

It's a familiar but understandable explanation (but unfamiliar to me, who is happy to put eggs, bacon, fried bread, tomatoes etc all in the 3 peaks basket!). So what is Paul doing then, with this race on the horizon? "I'm doing a bit in the gym - there's a Jacobs Ladder thing that I go on for about 15 minutes [simulating a stiff walking climb], and a bit of hill work when I can fit it in".

It's refreshing that he's putting in a bit of specialist effort. But what about the bike?

"We've been expecting a delivery of bikes ready for disc brakes" says Paul - who rides and works for Hope, "We've made some reservoir adapters so we can get decent [hydraulic] brakes on, but the frames are late so it's looking like I'll be riding one of last year's Scott Addicts. They're dead light so will be great when you're carrying. Other than that the only special difference is the wheels and gears".

We chat for a bit about the gearing issue / choices... "it's hard, cause when you're going really well you don't have to think about low gears. The year I was 4th I rode 39-25 up Penyghent and overtook all the way up". Legend has it that he was indeed in 14th place at the start of the climb that year. "But you need a bail out if you're having a hard time".

And what about tyres, I ask. I know it's an obsession for us all...! "I'll probably ride [Schwalbe] Landcruisers, 'tubelessed up'. " - I was slightly taken aback - whilst tubeless is really an accepted norm in many MTB races, it's certainly not mainstream in cyclocross. "I never ride owt else off road - I love it" adds Paul... "and you can always put a tube in then just as quick as a tube if you get stuck". An interesting prospect - dying to see how he gets on with this on a 'cross bike (and slightly tempted myself now...!).

Finally, one big issue on my mind was this year's team prize (for the three highest placed riders in a team). "I think we're in with a good chance and it'll be close" says Paul, before I explain to him that Stuard Reid, of team favourites Wheelbase.co.uk / Cannondale will not be riding this season. "Oh - I think we could do it then if it all goes well - it'll be really close - we need Keith [Murray] to pull his finger out though!". It's a good point and meant in good spirits. Keith is a massively experienced rider in all disciplines and has had an amazing season time trialling this year, but has never quite fulfilled his potential in the 3 peaks - his time will come. If it comes this year, then Hope could be very hard to beat in the team competition.

"It'd be great for Hope" adds Paul. Hope have generously and consistently supported the prize list of the 3 peaks, so indeed it would. But not without a fight, eh?

Whatever happens in September, it's great to see the bike rider come back to 'the race that comes back to the bike rider' anyway - welcome back, Paul.

15 August 2011

2011 entries - some analysis

Just finally taken a good look through the 2011 entries and wanted to collate some thoughts / initial things that strike me.  In no particular order:

  1. It's Big
    Not really much surprises here but this year's entry looks huge and we should see a record number of starters in September. There's som ebig name first timers on there too, as well as a few welcome returns... which leads neatly on to:
  2. The first British National Cyclocross champ for a while.
    Paul Oldham will start the 2011 3 peaks cyclocross as the first current male senior champion since... (I'm struggling a bit here) ... ? Anyway - certainly the first senior male champ I can remember riding in recent history.  Louise Robinson is riding again and I think she was the last senior national champ to have ridden the 3 peaks in their national jersey.  
  3. More to play for at the top
    Aside from having some more very high quality riders than in recent years, it's also a bit muddier to predict who'll win the team prize this time round.  Team Wheelbase have won in some guise or other for every year but one in 2003, when Nick Craig, Dave Collins and Keith Murray squeezed them out.  The trio of Paul Oldham, Dave Collins and Keith Murray will give hope some good hope (geddit?) of that prize this year with Wheelbase lacking big hitter Stu Reid, who has counted in the 1st team for most of those years.  (Stu is having an operation on his shoulder and will miss the 'cross season).  Talking of shoulders...:
  4. Cold Shoulder
    Rob Jebb, who has been pretty good at the 3 peaks in the past took a very nasty tumble in one of the English Championship fell races (just down the road from me) and had two very painful hours getting his shoulder put back in at the same hospital I spent 2 painful hours getting my shoulder back in in April.  Suffice to say that a fit Rob Jebb may not have things all his way this year (his shoulder was dislocated just weeks before his 2009 defeat).  I'm sure the go very very very fast up Ingleborough strategy will be employed again though... but after eight wins it's not a done deal.  Nothing is.  Race on.
  5. Movers and Shakers
    There's a few people who have had potential for a while who have been flying in various forms this year - expect some stalwarts to suddenly move up the positions this year.
More to follow soon on the blog - sorry it's been quiet!