Saturday, October 26, 2013

3 Peaks 2013 (28th September) ride report

The night before the 3 Peaks is often one of my favourite camping trips of the year, not only is there a beautiful location but I am also surrounded (literally) by friends
This year was no exception as we arrived in the sunshine and I went out for a run whilst TSK thrashed his bike up and down the same road in the start of his furious Monsal Hill Climb training.

We eventually closed the doors on the corral campers at about 6:30 in favour of food and warmth over light conversation.

8 hours later we were awake for registration and porridge and last-minute faffing before the start and the start was its usual mix of chatting with friends, strangers and... turning around your front wheel.  We applauded those lost in their training for the 3 Peaks this year.  One man killed by a vehicle, another who fell whilst mountain biking in the Alps and away we went.  Andrew told me that dad had started right at the back so there was little point in me looking for him or waiting so I rushed off with everyone else, gradually slipping back through the ranks until we got to the bottom of Ingleborough.

There were still too many people around me though.  I slipped around behind slower riders when I normally would have ridden over obstacles in one go.  I felt tired as I started to walk and knew I wouldn't be on for a particularly fast time.  Still, the calf muscles felt OK going up Simon Fell.  There didn't seem to be many people around and I really couldn't figure out if it was a quiet year after last year' biblical weather; if I'd been extra slow on the bike or if I was ahead of the usual rush.  There didn't seem to be many behind me either though so I supposed I was just having a bad day.

At the top of Ingleborough I started to ride past slower riders with less bike handling experience, eventually settling in behind someone from Matlock who I knew would be OK.  Usual assistance provided to ladies travelling sideways on the top, using their bikes as a parachute rather than a sail.  At least the summit was rideable this year.

The descent felt kind of tough though and my legs started to cramp up on the way down.  I took on board large amounts of food and drink and headed on to Whernside, stuffing food in my face as I went.  I still hadn't had enough water and my leg cramps continued.  I stopped for a hug from Po before leaving the road then drank 3 cups of water at the bottom of the climb, explaining to the marshals that I was suffering from a chronic case of what we call, "Going out too fast".

The steep climb of Whernside was was long and hard but I just kept my head down and carried on going at the same speed all the way.

The wind got tougher and tougher and by the time I reached the ridge I could hardly stand, never mind ride my bike.  I tried and perfected riding along the edge of the footpath at around 20 degrees to vertical.  I leaned all my weight on the wind and prayed that it wouldn't drop and send me hurtling over the edge.  My prayers were answered until one extreme gust blew my front wheel (consider: with me still on it!) from underneath me.  Fortunately it only lifted a couple of inches before I managed to crash it back down to the ground - thankfully not onto a sharp rock.

When I had to get off to walk the steepest and rockiest sections I was fighting the wind every step.  My brain saying, "you shouldn't be working this hard just to stay upright".  I could feel the pain of exertion in my hips and in my ankles.  An extra hard gust blew me sideways again.  This time I struggled not to fall over my own feet and to make sure that my feet didn't land on or twist over any rocks.  I didn't dare hop from rock to rock for fear of being blown as far as Sellafield so I stumbled unceremoniously, stamping my feet down wherever there was clear space.

Deciding it was all a fucking joke, I chose to walk next to the stone wall - applying the engineering principles of boundary layer technology, in the ditch next to the path.  This ditch is around 8-10 inches deep and sometimes completely full of water.  Thankfully, given the summer we've had, it was empty and my feet stayed dry and relatively upright from thereon.  I later realised that not one single person had escaped being blown about on Ingleborough though I like to think that at 59kgs and 5'11" I had it harder than anyone.  I checked in at the top and started my tentative descent back down the hill - engaging my previous technique of riding sideways on the edge of the cliff.

I did the best I could to avoid both boulders and pedestrians - one of whom glared at me furiously as I was blown sideways towards him at 30 mph, clutching the brakes.  Thankfully we didn't engage anything more dangerous than an angry stare.

Maddie from Tod came hurtling past me, happy to be on the make after I'd caught her in the middle of two mechanical failures.  She promptly went over the handlebars and hit a rock.  Me and the chap alongside checked she was OK.  She seemed happy enough so we continued on, only later to find her at the fnish line, retired and in a sling.

The descent of Whernside was easy this year as the limestone steps were relatively dry and my mountain biking summer had given me a bit more enthusiasm for bridging drainage gaps.  When I did walk over one I got the heel cup of my shoe caught in it and my bike and I kept moving.  Thankfully the heel released before any Achilles related mishaps but it was a close-thing involving a lot of swearing and "Gah!!!". When I could I dived off the path and rode on the grass, doing battle with fell runners who were just as quick on foot.  When I asked if one was a fell runner he responded, "I'm not even sure if I'm human right now".

The bottom of the descent was as uneventful as it could be without any Alice in Wonderland mishaps (a few years ago I did fall down a rabbit hole - overstretching and cramping both calf muscles at once).

I reappeared with shaky panache at the bottom of Whernside feeling refreshed for the large liquid intake on the other side but restocking on Soya milk and the last energy bars to be sure.  I switched bikes, just to get the lower gears on Red because I knew I'd never make it up Nemesis hill (a short, sharp road climb) without a 30 tooth sprocket.  My ploy for riding a higher gear in races to build my strength did not apply to 5 hour long events.

I was surrounded by encouragement on the road section to Pen-Y-Ghent and two of us resorted to riding together - at least as far as nemesis hill.  All others passed me by with shouts of, "Come on, we've got to make the cut off".

I arrived at 1:50, with only 10 minutes to spare to cut off.  By the long corner, my legs had had it for riding and I got off and walked about 400m earlier than last time.  Far from being disappointing, this meant I could enjoy the encouragement from spectating Norton Wheelers and my team mates coming back down the hill, over an hour ahead of me.

I was surrounded by other walkers and gradually picked them off.  My marathon legs were clearly still managing something.

I checked with a descender to find out what the wind was like on the top.  "Not as bad as the others" he shouted over the roar.  "You're very kind" I said, not quite believing him but he was right and at least I was able to walk upright.

I checked in at the summit then stopped when I had turned around to add the windproof layer for the descent.  It's become a bit of a ritual for me.  By protecting the body from the cold, you protect the brain from the fuck up.  I picked my way across the hillside, open and grassy, way above where the walkers are taking the easiest line up through the rocks.

Somehow I managed to get myself very high up on a grassy bank and did have to make some quite impressive bike dumping manoeuvre to prevent myself from doing a 10 ft tumble head first but to be honest I can't remember the detail. No matter how inelegant, I just remember being chuffed I was still in one piece.

Gradually the riders coming up the hill became fewer and far between until there were no more.  My heart sank as I realised that my dad had DNF'd again.  I really didn't think he was that far behind me although I hadn't seen him all day either.  I was glad of the new surface on the path down Pen-Y-Ghent which rendered the descent 5 minutes faster than in previous years.  All the more frustrating that Pa hadn't made it onto the hill.

The crowds were still cheering when I came back down and TSK shouted, "your dad's quit" as I went past.  I didn't mind, I was too busy trying to shove an entire slab of Kendal Mint Cake into my mouth to get me up the last two climbs without cramping.

It didn't work and as I heard someone come up along side me I sprinted through cramp to try and make the pain be stop sooner, in favour of less pain for longer.  After that I pretty much resigned myself to free-wheeling the last 4 miles to the finish although thankfully the cramp released after half a mile and I was able to pedal again.  There was no racing for the finish line this year, just glad to be down alive.

When I got my result I wasn't very happy with it but then I realised later I managed 5:54 on a year where it was intensely windy.  My best result in 3 years and best result since I've been doing long events in Triathlon through the summer, or maybe I should quantify that with "since I have had a life-changing event every single summer for 3 years".

Ingleborough: 1:15:44 - my second fastest ascent since timing chips were brought in. (see previous comments about going off too fast)
Cold Coates (descent & flat) 23:22
Whernside 1:27:11 - third fastest since timing chips introduced
Ribblehead descent: 42:26 Despite impressions on the day - pretty slow
Pen-Y-Ghent top: 1:29:20 Where things went pear-shaped
Finish: 35:50 Third fastest time - though given the 5 minutes this took off my time in the last two years, I suggest I need a lobotomy to be able to descend PYG at the speed of my golden days sub5.5hr PBs.

Looking forwards to the next one already.

Lessons learned:
Pacing to the end
Don't fall asleep on the descents and think they're surprisingly easy.

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