Sunday, 15 February 2015

Liam's 2014- Road Cycling Boredom and a Love of Redbull

Redbull, Spartans and Road Cycling Frustration

My 2014 started in the way of previous years. Lots of road cycling. Concentrating on doing the necessary to get up to race fitness and to finally nail that elusive 2nd Cat License. The mileage built up prior to a March training week on the island of Lanzarote. Having previously been out to Majorca for training I was really looking forward to a different environment for training.

I found Lanzarote fantastic for training. The Island is big enough and challenging enough for a week of riding although the strength of the wind can make rides a little sole destroying at times when you're on your own. There are some great climbs on the island to really test a rider and some beautiful scenery, particularly riding through Timanfaya park and the vineyards of La Geria.

I hired a bike (A Cinelli Xperience with an Alloy frame and 105 groupset) from Tommy's Bikes Costa Teguise for a reasonable price and of decent quality although it did need a replacement bottom bracket from the off. I wasn't too worried about an ultra-lightweight carbon bike having come from my heavy winter bike at home and used to lugging some weight up the climbs.

Team Colombia Kit
Teguise Market, March 2014 Lanzarote Training Camp with my Tommy's Bikes Costa Teguise Cinelli Xperience
In the space of 6 days of riding I averaged around 5 hours of riding a day and believe I must have hit at least 450 miles, maybe closer to 500 miles with a mixture of climbing days, intervals and just generally enjoying riding on the island. I'll definitely be back in future for some more training and possibly even the Lanzarote Ironman,

The rest of 2014 on the Bike Didn't go as Planned

Lanzarote was such a good experience and I felt strong going into my first races of the year but my first few races were blighted with some very bad luck. One lap into my first road race of the year there was a bad crash on a rather innocuous section of road and 15-20 riders went down directly in front of me. I was able to stop in time, carry my bike over the strewn bodies and set off with a small group in chase of the leading group of around 15 riders. By the end of the lap we had bridged the gap, only for the race to be stopped and eventually abandoned as the Air Ambulance was called out to deal with the initial crash.

A couple of weeks later in a Circuit Race at Victoria Park, Leamington Spa I was in about 5th wheel coming into the sprint when the race was halted due to a crash the lap before so I was starting to get a little frustrated.

A few weeks after that I was moving up the bunch and hit a pothole. Double wheel puncture and a 5 mile walk back to the headquarters for Liam.

By the time it came to the local Mallory Park series I was starting to question in my head whether I was up for racing. Mallory Park has always been in my blood every since I started racing there 10 years ago when 3rd and 4th Cats were grouped in with all Junior riders. We were racing alongside guys like Adam Blyth who was a very talented youth rider stepping up to senior racing (formerly with Team BMC and now with Orica Greenedge). But this year my fire had gone. I used to love the gung-ho approach to racing that Mallory had. A break would smash themselves into the ground, get caught by the main peloton and then another break would go again but it's a little more civilised now with much less high-octane attacking.

With my head starting to go I was thankful to have the upcoming Spartan Race events to prepare for

Becoming a Spartan

I had fallen into entering the full UK Spartan Race series for 2014 initially for a change and to support Jemma but I hadn't envisaged where it would all lead. Having lost my head cycling wise I knew I had to have something to focus on. My fitness from cycling I'd argue to be as good as it had even been but the question was would it transfer over to running and obstacle racing events?

I knew I needed to develop my running- If you can't run the distance there's no logic in trying to race and the nature of muddy obstacle course races means that 10km in the mud is like dramatically more when on trails and paths.

June 2014- Round Sheffield Run

To test my running I entered the inaugural Round Sheffield Run. A new concept for an event with short timed sections up to around 3.5 km in length followed by transition sections between. With some tough climbs to the edge of the Peak District and around Sheffield it proved to be a tough test. 
It got even tougher 2/3rds of the way in when overtaking a slower runner I slipped on an errant wet tree root and hit the deck, hurting my hip and knee. 

The fall cost me in time and momentum as my pace slowed but I finished in a respectable 35th place out of over 400 runners. Definitely not where I had expected to finish overall

35th Place in 1:28:13

August 2014 Spartan London Sprint and Super
The Spartan series was quickly upon us in August and having picked up a pair of Inov 8 X Talon 212's I felt ready to do battle. The Sprint on the Saturday was a great introduction with some great running sections, lots of hills (Which I love as a sadist) and some great obstacles. The terrain suited runners more than strongmen which was proved on the Sunday when I started 30 minutes behind the elite wave and was quickly picking off lots of runners from that wave showing that I genuinely could achieve my goal of running in the elite wave. The only downside was that the Inov 8 X Talons I'd longed to race in for so long ripped my feet to shreds thanks to a loose internal support band and by the end of the race my feet were in agony.

London Spartan Sprint 2014 - 52:44 
London Spartan Super 2014 - 1:33:25 

September 2014- Cambridge Sprint
For Cambridge I took the step up to racing the Elite wave after the previous weekend's adventures. I was still struggling with my feet but having padded down the soles of my feet with blister plasters and gone for a double sock option with my new Inov 8 Mudclaw 300 shoes which I'd bought worrying conditions would be like Pippinford the week before. As it turned out I could have raced the Cambridge course in a pair of road or my usual trail running shoes with little difficulty. The main challenge posed to many at Cambridge was a couple of 20 metre open water swims across the lake. This element I really enjoyed and hope Spartan add a few more of these in future. On each swim I easily managed to overtake a number of competitors which made up for the pan flat course not suiting my strengths. 

Being only 5km in length the race was over pretty quickly (39:51) and I was disappointed to get burpees at both the monkey bars (after the guy behind me caught me mid-swing near the end rung) and on the spear throw (Which I really need to work on for future success). 

Spartan Sprint Cambridge 2014- Lake Swim. 

Edinburgh Sprint 2014

A long weekend in Edinburgh was a great way to get away from it all and Edinburgh was my favourite event of the season. The course was awesome with a nice mile long wade along a stream to really sap the energy from the legs. I finished top 20 in the Elite wave so was pretty stoked by my performance and was starting to settle confidently into racing which wasn't bad for a skinny cyclist

Edinburgh Spartan Sprint 2014 43:43

Yorkshire Sprint 2014

We returned to Ellington Banks near Ripon, the scene of our initial Spartan initiation in 2013 as completely different athletes. Jemma now comfortable running the distance of a sprint and myself now a confident racer in the elite field. However I had spent the last week putting in a new garden fence at home- including using a heavy hammer drill and lifting lots of concrete blocks so my back was shot. 

I raced Yorkshire but not with the same strength and power as previous races. My back was hurting and by the end my bicep muscles were cramping up. I pushed myself and was suffering badly. I was down in 77th place as a result of my problems. 

Spartan Yorkshire Sprint 2014 Time- 43:07

Redbull Steeplechase 2014

Sometimes you see an event and think- That looks awesome. As I was planning to run the next weekend's Spartan Beast with Jemma at a slower pace than I'm used to I decided to use the Redbull Steeplechase as my "Beast".

Set around the Peak District hills with a start and finish in Castelton the Steeplechase is the running equivalent to a 'Devil Take the Hindmost' event in cycling with back markers dropping out of the race at various stages along the way.

Disappointingly I only made it half way before elimination but it was arguably the best run event I did in 2014. More marshalls than racers. Brass bands playing atop the main climbs to spur you on and a ridiculously low entry price of just £25 including an event hoodie. It must be on every competitive runners list to do when it's run again in 2016.

Spartan Beast- London UK October 2014

I'd always promised Jemma I would do everything possible to get her through the Beast. It was her target for 2014 and therefore I said I would sacrifice my race to get her through. I see plenty of personal trainers running with groups at events like Tough Mudder but I struggle myself with the concept having such a competitive streak so it was going to be a very different experience for me.

To help Jemma through I raced with a hydration pack on my back full of sports drink, gels and a few other sweet treats to get us through. It was always going to be a long day in the mud so we knew we needed to keep moving, fed and watered. Many of the racers we saw didn't seem to be taking this approach but our plan was to be prepared. After hearing stories from the previous weekend's Spartan World Championship win by Jon Albon we also put a Sharpie pen in the bag with some paper in case some form of mental challenge was thrown in to test us.

The Beast was tough. The weather had changed with a heavy deluge pre-race and the course was subsequently saturated to add further difficulty and every obstacle seemed to have been made harder. Swinging across to cold, wet metal monkey bars ripped up my hands, we were subjected to a 400 metre plus barb wire crawl and then were faced with carrying a tire for around a mile.

By the end the slower pace had meant I was shivering. I'd been cold from around midway and that cold was starting to get deep into my muscles. The course was a runners wet dream and I would have loved to race it but the Beast was my sacrifice race for Jemma's goals and after having dragged her out to Lanzarote whilst I headed out on my own training earlier in the year she definitely had earned my support.

October 2014- No Ego Mud Challenge

A last minute chance of a trip up to the Lake District gave us a chance to head up to the No Ego Mud Challenge. Being on wind-down now I used this as an opportunity to support some of the members of Team Muddy Race over the course of the event. Darting between groups of runners offering support and encouragement. The course was fantastic and one to provide a real challenge for elites and fun mud runners too and one I'd definitely return to in future.

Redbull Robin Hood - November 2014

Sometimes you se an advert for an event and think it's up your street. Living on the edge of Sherwood Forest means tales of Robin Hood are part of our local folklore and I have a fantastic forest to make the most of for running and cycling.

A brand new concept event- The Redbull Robin Hood promised an orienteering event with a difference. A friend actually described it as "Obstacle-teering". With a selection of checkpoints to locate and some with special medieval inspired challenges to conquer. It was a great event and at just a fiver to enter it was well worth a trip up to Sherwood Pines as I started to ease back into Winter training after a break.

November 2014- The Winter Beast

A short drive towards Melton Mowbray is one of our favourite local events. Run at Aylesford Equine Cross Country course The Beast and The Winter Beast offer a 5 or 10 mile double or quit race format over the cross country fences.

In Team Muddy race kit at The Winter Beast
My race started well with myself planning on completing the 10 mile distance but just a few miles in I was starting to suffer as though I had the onset of flu on it's way so had to duck out of the full distance and opted for the 5 mile option. I finished 4th in the 5 mile race although had I continued through to lap 2 I would have been in 3rd position so I was a little disappointed but it shows I have the potential to achieve a podium spot in future at an OCR. 

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