6 months had passed since I lined up for a race, the World Marathon Championships in Italy in September, would my legs, lungs and heart remember what was required of them? I started this season in vast contrast to previous seasons, by British XC 1 last year I'd already done 2 stage races, Pretorian Bike Race and Andalucia Bike Race, so had over a week’s worth of racing in the legs. This year the British XC at Sherwood Pines would be my first race having opted to shorten what is usually a long season. I've not been sitting still over the winter though having trained harder than ever before, a week before this race I returned from my second training camp of 2019. Back in January I travelled to Sintra Portugal and through early March I was in the Canary Islands. I spent just over 2 weeks in Gran Canaria with coaching clients and friends logging in some big training with a mix of efforts, endurance miles and even some mountain biking. In total I trained for 74 hours on the bike during that camp.
With my focus on races in May and July I'd done very little training above threshold before the British XC so although I knew my fitness levels were good I wasn't sure what to expect. With cross country racing only appearing on my schedule once or twice this year it's a fun weekend rather than an objective. Appearing at Sherwood Pines was an opportunity to see some old friends, meet coaching clients, advertise the coaching business and team sponsors, test new equipment and blast away the cobwebs.
Race day dawned and with a 3.15 pm start it was a lot of waiting around but it gave me the chance to watch coaching clients perform and perform they did with podium results! Soon enough the nervous tension began to rise. I jumped on the rollers and followed the usual warm up routine, a ramp to start followed by several short high power efforts. Seeking some assurances of my fitness and power I’d completed a maximal effort power profile test the day before. A harder efforts than you'd usually experience the day before a race but fortunately the legs felt fresh and strong on the rollers as I warmed up on Sunday.
The elite men's race lined up ready to bolt from the gate. Crowds gathered to watch the action. The tension keeps rising… "The race will start anytime in the next 25 seconds"... Bang goes the gun, everyone shoots forward, I miss my pedal and go from the front to the back of the field. Not a great start. Once I'm clipped in the legs propel me up to speed without much complaint but heading out of the arena the front of the race is already disappearing. I've given myself work to do.
Sitting around 20th in the first bit of singletrack I bide my time and plan on sensibly picking my way forward. If there's something I bang on most to my coaching clients about its riding consistently, keeping it smooth, saving a little energy to last the race distance, looking after the bike, picking the right lines and making your moves at appropriate times. Others around me are completely anaerobic, riding recklessly, they'll either blow before the end of the race or crash out.
There's nothing technical about the course at Sherwood Pines, I’ve ridden local races with more challenging sections but at race pace it's pretty easy to lose time if you can't ride a section well or you start making mistakes. The rooty tight singletrack is the place to keep it smooth and the fireroad blasts in between is the place to make moves. Making my moves I'm digging deep bridging from group to group but I'm recovering quickly and am up in the top 10 by the end of the first lap.
Middle of the race I’m with the group and it’s more difficult to make progress. Last 2 laps and there's a group of 3 catching riders who are slowing, how far off the podium are we!!? My fiancée Pippa is in the feed zone and has been doing a great job of looking after me all weekend including handing up water bottles during the race. We botch the last bottle though, never mind, less weight to carry up the climbs.
Without knowing time gaps it's hard to properly commit but last lap there's just 2 of us making the pace. I'm not here to mess around so keep the pace high and eventually find myself alone in 7th place having dropped my compatriot. Last couple of kilometres left, keep it safe. Into the arena and towards the finish line. The commentator had clocked onto the fact I'm a marathon racer, I can carry on if I wish he says!! I always feel that way at the end of a cross country race, because I don't train for the shorter distance I don't quite have that explosive top end power but can carry on the pace I've been doing for hours more. It’s tempting to carry on as it's a fun course but I think it's time to collect some prize money and head home.
It felt great to be back on the race track after such a long winter and I had the most fun I’ve had in a cross country for a very long time. I’m motivated now to jump back into another big block of training ahead of my next race, the 4 Islands Stage Race in Croatia.