Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series Dorset Ultra

Dorset coast with Durdle Dor in the distance
I have mixed feelings for this event. So much so that I probably wouldn't do this particular event again and maybe not even an Endurance Life event again either.

Dramatic words to start off a race report, but that's how I'm feeling a day after sort-of completing the race (I'll get to the sort-of bit). It will take me a few days to write this up, so let's see if my views change as I type (they did).

Start at the start

I was up at 04:00, gone by 04:30 and arrived at the tranquil village of Lulworth on the Dorset coast at around 06:30. I was probably one of the first to arrive which meant I had first access to the toilets and first access to a lot of people milling around. I went back to the car to faff with my kit and eat whatever I brought with me (Quavers!?).

Returning at 07:00 I registered with the 'support' of 4 people who didn't seem to really know what they were doing. I asked whether I had to fill out an insurance form that was on one of the tables, and I was met with a shrug. Equally, I had the exact same shrug for what size t-shirt I wanted. Hmm.

The briefing was better and the guy promised that the navigation was obvious. What was really important to me was that a) all the mandatory items were never asked for, checked or even mentioned. And that b) this was a self-supported race and that only water and jelly beans would be provided on the course. Oh and I did like that we were asked to pick up one piece of rubbish along the route as a way of giving back to the local area.

Barefoot running

Whilst waiting for the start horn to fire us out into the first hill, an animated chap was smiling at me and made his way over, "You're brave doing this in them. Your Neos" he said pointing at the barefoot trail trainers that were on my feet. "I've done 40 miles in a set before, but I won't tell you how it ended".

I loved the coastline
If I wasn't sure whether to run in them before, I was now even less so after his comments. But I had heard that it has rained recently and the first leg of the race was only 12 miles and came back past the car so I always had the option to switch them out if I needed to. Also, running barefoot was in-line with my views that anything that makes something that's already absurdly difficult, even more difficult is to be only welcomed.

On the first 12 miles (which became more like 16), the rain had softened the ground enough to make running in the Neo's comfortable enough. Sure I felt every bit of the ups and downs of the hills, but overall I was flying along and happy.

Pity then that when I went past the car, the East side of Lulworth clearly hadn't gotten any rain and was solid hard-pack. No give, no comfort, just barefoot-to-ground contact for the next umpteen miles. Didn't help that the hills to the East were also a lot longer and steeper either.

Still, I did 50k in them and I would do it again. I do feel though that I would have been a lot faster in a more forgiving pair of shoes.

Ultra, but not the ultra I was meant to do

50km? Wait, the Dorset marathon was 27.2 mile / 43.8 km and the Ultra was 53.1 km.

West of Lulworth with softer trails
So how did I do 50?

Going back to the promise that the navigation was obvious, well, it wasn't. After the first check point I met a nice chap called Jerome. We got chatting and funnily enough, we both in some way have worked with Tesco. He knew where I worked, dunnhumby, (no one ever knows where I work) and so we spent a sunny morning chatting shop.

Following a long trail to the bottom of a hill with him we came to a T-junction with no signage. A few other runners had already gone ahead and were now out of site. This wasn't right. 3 of us were now at the T-junction with the same shared bad feeling. Yup, this must be wrong.

As we ran back up the hill we increasingly came across more runners who had also taken our route. We formed up in one pack and a check of a map confirmed that we had gone too far. There were probably around 40 of us. That's why I had done an extra 6km over the marathon distance.

But that doesn't explain why I didn't do more than the ultra distance though. Well, it didn't happen for
Caribbean blue waters
two reasons, 1) I was past the time limit for starting out from the last check point (I was annoyed for most of the run that I was 40 minutes behind on time) and 2) rather surreally, I was pacing a guy in to the finish line for him (he was doing the half) and I just carried on and finished too. It wasn't a concious decision, I had wanted to ask whether they would let me go out on the final loop, but the half-marathon runner just said "Go ahead" and so I did. And then when I got the medal at the end (I had to ask for one and whether I could have a Clif bar), it dawned that I hadn't actually finished. Totally weird to be honest.

The weather, the people and the scenery

For all the awkwardness I'm feeling around the event, I really couldn't fault the weather and the scenery. Simply breathtaking. I will endeavour to come back here one day for a walk with a decent camera.

The people were equally really nice and I think the shared grimaces of the hills brought us together. At one point, I was trading places for a good 5 miles with a chap called Julian. I would run ahead and then he would overtake as I took on water or food and then vice versa. Why we didn't run together I have no idea.

The course

A real beast. I generally love hills, but these were something else. Looking back, sat comfortably at work (on my lunch break, boss), I smile and remember the enormity of the challenge. But when I was there, at the bottom, or even at the top waiting to come down it was really hard work.

Checking the time when I roughly hit the marathon distance I came in at 05:55. My last marathon was 04:13 with 4,000 feet of climbing, I just wouldn't expect it to take another 1:40 to do an extra 2,000 feet.

Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series Dorset elevation

So why aren't I coming away really happy with the run?

I'm probably just getting old and grumpy. Writing this on Tuesday, 3 days after the event, I've calmed down about the navigational error and the lack of engagement from some of the support group at the start and finish. Still though, I'm mystified at the high cost of the event (£55) compared to other similarly supported events.

Overall it was a good day and yes, I probably would do it again. If only to actually finish what I was meant to do.

Garmin data for the nerds.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Trionium Bath Hilly Half

If you're based in the South of the UK and have not had the pleasure of running in a Trionium event, then I'd recommend you look into them. Ran by a patriotic Dr Rob, the events seem to combine hills, trails and carrots. And singing. I'm not around for the next event (the New Year's Day Knacker Cracker 10k), but I'm looking forward to their Leith Hill half marathon in March 2014. more on the Bath Hilly Half here.

The preparation for the half

  • Me: "Honey, where are my leg thingies?", "I had them on my last run", "No, why would I leave them somewhere on a run?". "Found them, they were rolled into a pair of shorts".
  • Honey: "Idiot".

As I've been doing more and more running and sporting events I decided to put all of my running crap in a single box so that it's all in the same place. This was a revelation of organisational genius to me and one of which I'm very proud. I just haven't quite gotten the hang of it yet.

The start

It was freezing at the Bath Racecourse. And apart from my nipples piercing into my folded arms, the registration was pretty simple. With my number installed onto my short leg (allowing for easy change of tops - another moment of sheer genius) I was ready. 30 minutes early. With my nipples growing ever more vicious I trundled back off to the car and stuffed myself silly with a Clif bar and some Haribo.

For some reason I had completely forgotten whether I needed any food for a half marathon. I've been doing so many different distances recently that I couldn't recall even the basics. I was even confused by whether to wear a vest and top, or just the top. In the end I settled for a vest, top and a light weather jacket (!?).

On the start line Dr Rob called out the race instructions, sang the traditional God Save our Queen and all the while stood there in his magnificent Union Jack running shorts.

And with a Mayoral count-down (no really), we were off. And off pretty fast for a hilly half marathon.

The pace, ping and the fine cadets

I checked my watch after a starting lap of the racecourse and noticed we were all collectively flying along at 04:10 per km. Pretty awesome. It didn't let up either and we rushed the first hill and descended down the other side.

And that's when my calf pinged and everything came to a stop. Bugger it. 4 km in and I'm stopping already.

For the next few hundred metres it was Stretch. Hobble. Stretch. Wobble. Make it to the flat bit and stretch proper. And that's when I met the Cadet twins.

  • Army cadet twin 1: (frightfully concerned) "Are you OK? There's a first aid station at the top of the hill"
  • Army cadet twin 2: (panic stricken and concerned) "Are you OK? There's a water station at the bottom of the hill"
  • Me: "Typical!" I joked, but they didn't laugh. "Thanks, but it's just a cramp lads, my calf just tightens up a lot. I'll be fine"
  • Army cadet twin 1 + 2: (now near critical fainting mass) "Hope you'll be OK" (I swear they were ready to pat me on the head for their comfort as well as mine) "there there, it'll be OK".
All credit to them and their support though. I gave them a nod each time I passed them and said thanks.

The painful bit

With other runners now coming back up the hill it was obvious that this was a 'down and up' turn on the hill. This was great because going back up the hill allows me to stretch my calf out with every other right step. I pathetically limped and lolloped down the hill and looked forward to the up. My calf was tighter than I expected and I had to power off with my left leg and dab with my right. I must have looked like I had one leg shorter than the other.

Garmin elevation chart
But the real pain for me is not going fast. I love attacking the hills and sprinting the downs. I want to feel alive, feel drained and know that I'm pushing myself as much as I can. Injury sucks.

It was however really nice to see lots of people out supporting us on the run. I tried to high-five a kid and I think she rejected the offer because I was partially limping. Clearly I wasn't putting in enough effort.

Dropped out of no where

After maybe 15 minutes the severe calf pain was subsiding, the hills were doing the trick. My calf was well stretched and I was able to take longer strides and take more impact on the right leg. And that's when the fire began building inside and I was going to drop th... "what the hell", from out of no where a lady shoots past and drops 5 of us. She smashed the downhill, full stride and no fear. YES! That's what I like to see! And naturally like the dog I am I gave chase smiling all the way :-)

I mustn't laugh, but I hadn't noticed a guy who had dropped
his shoe in the mud puddle until I saw the video (as above).

04:00 > for the mud fest
I caught her just before the next downhill and offered my praise and encouragement for a terrific show. And then, buoyed by the motivation and inspiration, I set off full stride for my own display. I was flying, hard bare-foot trail shoes booming on the ground as I zoomed past some unsuspecting fellow runners. I was alive and loving it. And then, and then well I realised I'd overdone it and there was a great wall of a hill ahead of me. Probably the biggest hill on the course too. Nice going Seanie. You tit.

I recovered with a cup of cold water at a water station, thanked the crew (always thank the crew) and made my way up the hill. The leg pain made its presence known again and never really went away at all during the entire event, but it was workable.

Second lap and barefoot musings

Second time around I was fine on the downs and I powered the up. But I did wonder how much my new trail shoes had affected my run and the ping.

I've worn bare-foot shoes for over a year now. I wear them to work and when out and about. I've done a few short runs in them as well. And because they were cheap, no sorry, that's an utter lie, because they looked awesome, I bought a pair of Vivobarefoot trail shoes (Amazon, £44.99). I'd ran 7 or 8 miles in them before and they performed well in both terms of comfort and trail grip. With the confidence they worked and by my reckoning a half marathon wasn't all that much more.

Vivobarefoot Neo Trail
I'm not sure how much they affected me, but my calves are still on fire two days later and I have a huge bruise on my right shin. Perhaps a little too much too soon? Well, legs, you better be ready because in two weeks you're doing an ultra with them!

I was also aware that I stuffed up my attire. I'm a cold weather person and I love running in the cold and yet I started with 3 layers? Next time, just bring the one layer and run faster. I ended up carrying my jacket around with me for most of the course.

Pinched from the Trionium Bath Hilly Half web page because it's so pretty

The course

Would I recommend this as a first time half marathon? Not at all, but if you've done a few then it's a hearty challenge. Trail shoes helped and so does a good washing machine. I didn't get that dirty, but I will need to hose down my shoes before I put them in the wash!

What's nice about the course is that it's rolling hills. It certainly wasn't technical or challenging nor difficult to navigate. Overall it was a straight forward race to run and only your fitness and effort affected how fast you went.

The supporters and the volunteer marshalls were all brilliant and it's worth saying thank you to them each time you pass by.

Highlights of the day

  • Great parking (it's a highlight when you're nearly 30)
  • Easy registration (I'm becoming such an old fart that this is a highlight)
  • The huge hill at the end (moar!)
  • The short and fast hill in the middle (I love these!)
  • The eye-wateringly fast descents (I really couldn't see for most of it)
  • The rolling English countryside views
  • The jester at the top of the hill (not completely sure whether he was apart of the organised run)
  • All of the Army lads and ladettes who supported us
  • Particularly the twins (I hope they've recovered)
  • Dr Rob and his to attention posture as he sang God Save the Queen (majestic)
  • The chunky medal at the end and the tech-tee with my name on the back
I'd happily run it again!

Garmin data for the geeks.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Midnight 30 Caesar's Camp Endurance Run


Back in the car and knowing I did my best
Well well well. I'm not even sure where to begin. This event is the longest, most technical and most challenging run I've ever done. I really enjoyed myself and learned a lot about running in the process (and myself), but boy was it tough.

Last week I ran the Greensands Marathon. A little shorter, ran during daylight and a higher elevation gain compared to the Midnight 30. What I initially considered to be two races that were complimentary to each other, as further steps on my long distance trail running foray, could not have been more wrong.

Even Henk, the Race Director, was rather different

The first words I heard from him was where he called someone a "F&£king prick". Followed shortly after with words to another gentlemen who had just ran 60 miles and needed to retire and go home on family business, "You f&£king pussy".

Henk is not your normal Race Director. He likes hard races, people who don't moan and complaining about the "f&£kers" who do. He's actually a really nice and quite a genuine guy, he just enjoys his swearing and doesn't like moaners, whiners, soft people or tasteful music.

It's sad that his was the last race as it's proving too difficult to keep getting the access to the site for the event every year. This year, even after he'd sent a confirmation email that all was going ahead, due to the filming of The Man from UNCLE his access was being pulled. Luckily, Henk, in his own words, "sucked a lot of cock" to make the event happen. Thanks Henk.

The line up

I sadly didn't really have the time or take the opportunity to meet and greet my fellow Midnight runners as much as I'd wanted to, but there were about 12 of us all in. A good few of us were ultra newbies too.

Some of the fellow Midnight runners

The course

I guess I could split it up into a few different experiences.
  • Steep up-hills with loose stones / rocks of sharp flint
  • Soft grounded single-track heathland (this was lovely)
  • Twisty paths (with seemingly more left turns than right)
  • Steep downhills (with a variety of finishes from rocky drops to mud-wrestling slop)
  • Combination of the above with a special 'trip hazard' dressing
This is what I could see

At one point I tripped at speed and was near horizontal with the ground. That was exhilarating and rather surprising. I tripped in the same place again in the next lap too! Overall I must have tripped about 15 times.

I also pulled a funny and nearly pulled my groin muscle too with an audible "No! No! No no no no! Not the splits" as I slid my way down a very steep and sloppy hill to the horror that my legs were ever widening. Thankfully a pitifully mustered jump brought them back together and saved me from a messy fall.

I also made a navigation error that cost me the fastest lap (I believe). I'd carried on following a trail when I should have climbed over a stile fence. I must have run for half a kilometre and it was actually quite unnerving by the time I realised I was definitely in the wrong. Finding yourself at the bottom of a steep hill with no visible signs of the path you should be on or any fellow runners. It's amazing how quickly things can see so alien and uncertain when the safety and ease of your marked course can't be found.

This was me at the start
The last section before the race HQ checkpoint was great. Nothing technical (though I still tripped once), low elevation difference and soft absorbing ground to run on. Pity it only lasted a kilometre or so.

The laps

The Midnight 30 did 3 laps of the course and by the second I knew it quite well. Which leads me to believe I must have been quite tired to make another (albeit) smaller navigation cock-up on the third lap.

Lap 1 was done in 1:37 and I loved it and felt great. I bombed it around and although the legs were still feeling the effort from the Greensands marathon, I still felt fresh enough to try another fast lap. Something I didn't expect were all the 50 and 100 milers to check that I was on the 30. Worried that some super-human was running the 100!

End of lap 2
Lap 2 started well and I was in first place until the half way mark, but quickly took a terrible turn for the worst after an ankle injury basically stopped me from running. Hills, up or down, had to be walked and I could barely shuffle along the flat. I wasn't sure of the damage and didn't want to risk my ankle. I hobbled into the HQ and after a tablet of some description, I was ready to go again. The second lap I believe took 2:01 in total.

Lap 3 was a mess. It took a good 4 miles for the tablet to kick in and those first miles were done at a walk in most places. I met up with a guy doing the 100 miler and we got chatting. It was he who had recommended the tablet at the HQ and I believe it was his lovely caring wife who provided it. It was a real insight to run / walk / hobble next to someone who had already done 70 miles.

At the end. Didn't mean
to look so shocked
Things turned downhill and all of a sudden my legs came back. The ankle pain was gone and in the 100 miler guys words later on "I took off really fast". I ran the rest of the route at a good pace and came in at 06:01. Lap 3 was a slow one at 2:23.

The finish

  • Call out my race number (47)
  • Have my race number scanned
  • Shake the hands of Henk, Nicky and the team (see, he is a nice guy)
  • Politely ask to sit down
  • Get offered a tea (win)
  • Be offered a mini Mars bar (double win)
  • Go put on warm clothes
  • Fin
  • Eat soup and jig to Henk's banjo music (see above)
  • Welcome back other runners
Looking out for other runners
(they run in from between the trees on the left)

There was no medal or pomp. I think the idea of this event is that you're there because you want to do it. Nothing else. I did get a tech t-shirt and a key-ring though!

What did I learn?

  • Bring paracetamol and ibuprofen (tablet and cream form) with me
  • I can turn around my negative mental attitude even when things are grim and slow
  • If my body is feeling good I could do more than 30 miles
  • I love running on single track
  • If I'm warm standing around with a t-shirt and a hoody, I'll be warm on the run with just a t-shirt
  • Bring water and leave the salts for a handheld
  • That I should stretch more often after races (I've learned that, I still haven't put it into practice!)
I'd love to do the event again, but sadly that won't be so. But it has given me the confidence that I can run further than 50km. I can run technical and challenging terrain and I have some mental robustness to keep on going.

I think I'll need them for my next run in December. The Coastal Trail Series Ultra in Dorset.

Garmin data for the nerds.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Greensands trail marathon - first timer

The Greensands marathon was my first trail marathon and what an event to start with.

4,000 odd feet of climbing, more puddles than you could hope to avoid and some horrible steps at around 25 miles to remind you that you're only human.

Start at the start

So what was the start like? Quite relaxed really. A little home spun too, but I like that. I picked up my race number with little fuss and settled in to people-watch around the room. Everyone was looking hardy and decked out with non-mainstream trail trainers, race belts and running club tops. I did wonder whether I was out of my depth for a second, but striking up a few conversations I realised they were all human. Ish.

It was also a great opportunity for a selfie with fellow noobie, Justin Bateman.

The six degrees of running

In a random field strung out in a line, I was stood next to Justin Bateman, who got me into this event, who was stood next to James Adams, who had gotten him into these events, who was stood next to Michael Carraz who had probably been helped into such events by him and then finally, who was stood next to Laurenda Tirepied, with whom I had met, but not met 'met', from the Trail Running and Ultra Marathons group on Google+. Which was cool, odd and unexpected.

The route

I'm not going to lie, I hadn't really done much research on this event. I'd run the Midsummer Munro this year, which was great, and in some way I just presumed that this event would be similar. But it wasn't. I hadn't expected such poor weather conditions, the really narrow sections or the areas darkened by trees. The endless puddles were impressive and the mud, having been churned up 100 times or more, was sloppy and slippery everywhere. But I appreciated the additional hardships. Running a course is great and all, but running a course in harder conditions is a hardier challenge (obviously) and there's something in my pea-brain that says that's better.

Anyway, it was uphill a lot. There were some down hill parts and I don't recall that many flat parts. Here's the elevation chart from my Garmin.

Yup, no flat bits in sight.

The hardest bit

  • There were a few miles, probably around the 17 - 20 mile mark where things just took forever
The best bits

  • The fact (that after a while) I couldn't care less about running through puddles and sloppy mud
  • The twisty and tight single-track running in places
  • The flat, fast and open final 1/4 mile

The Marshalls

Miserable weather. Brave St John's Ambulance crew
Admirable nutters. I know it's a crazy thing to pay to run around hill, but it's a truly great thing to stand in the same spot for 5/6 hours with a smile on your face and a positive persona cheering every runner on for free.

All credit to them and I hope they enjoyed themselves in some way. Though for the life of me I'm unsure what that could be. Free jelly babies after the race maybe?

Big thanks too to St John's. Hopefully no one was hurt, but it's nice to know they're around.

Medals, tea and bacon

My Grandad would be proud. He'd probably also have laughed at the abysmal showers. I would have had a better shower standing outside in the rain!

Overall I really enjoyed myself and I look forward to doing this and other Trionium events again.
This is a terrible photo

Garmin data for the nerds.

Monday, 16 September 2013

25 things you'll learn when running long distances at night

Running at night is fun
There's something very different when you run at night as when you run in the day. Obviously that's obvious, but I'll explain a little more because I didn't think it really possible that a collection of docile cows could frighten the daylights out of me. But they did.

It's all to do with the depth and field of your vision. Unless you have a light pointing at something and that something is within range of your light source, you're just not going to see it. I missed a turning on a long night run recently, one where during the day it was utterly obvious, but at night, I was utterly oblivious. I was even looking out for it too.

And I guess that's why the cow incident occurred. See, I was busy looking into the wandering gaze of a fox partially up a hill and to my right when what I should have been doing was looking at where I was going.

Presumably sensing that I should be doing just that, looking forward, I turned and looked into perhaps 8 pairs of eyes no more than a few metres from me. A docile collection of cows during the day, but in the night a ravenous haunting multi-eyed devil silently observing its prey. The chart highlights my heart-rate spiking (the ground was completely flat). The second spike was my bladders bite valve tapping me on my shoulder and my head torch illuminating it (yes, I have the mental robustness of a 3 year old).

25 things you'll learn when running at night

  1. It really is a lot of fun
  2. It's spookier than normal and everything is really quiet
  3. You hear noises you wouldn't usually here (I heard mice in the grass squeaking)
  4. You see shapes and reflections that aren't obvious or clear and reflections of creatures eyes (hence why the Cows scared the crap out of me)
  5. Your light source creates dancing shadows in front of you and if it's cold and you breath out, you're head torch will blind you
  6. If the moon is out, even just a bit and you haven't recently blinded yourself, you can still run quite happily along smooth roads or tracks with the light off or on very low
  7. After a while (2 hours+ for me) when you look at your hands with your head torch you see the pulses of the light source and it's a bit of a trip (I could just have been really tired)
  8. The angle of the light source is really important. You want to see right in front of your feet, but you also want the main beam going out in front of you
  9. With a strong head torch, as you run others they only see a bobbing light coming towards them and no body
  10. Cars will slow down because it's not obvious what you are (or they all did for me)
  11. Cover your head torch when a car approaches and get onto the side of the road
  12. Don't use the head torch on full beam when medium or dim settings will do (save your eyes and your batteries)
  13. Some bladder bite valves are luminous and when you look over your shoulder you can get a spook by coming face to face with what your brain is telling you is a massive glowing (brain-eating) bug
  14. You're slower, but as you get used to it you speed back up
  15. Adjusting the angle of your head torch whilst it's on your head is not the same as when it's in your hand
  16. You'll forget some of the settings of your head torch and at times the lights will go out whilst you faff (just remember to slow down as ...)
  17. ... you might trip at times
  18. Familiar tracks and routes appear different. I managed to miss a turn I've taken 50 times in the daylight, but completely missed it at night - with the head torch on full!
  19. Opening up food packets is so much easier, when you look at your hands you can actually see where that last pesky Haribo bear is in the packet
  20. It's probably going to be colder than it is during the day, wear layers and bring a weather-proof jacket
  21. You can't see your legs that easily - I had to look down to make sure they were still there (I was really tired)
  22. Cobwebs. Cobwebs everywhere. Equally in between trees and flying around amongst fields
  23. Your iPhone will take crap photos, don't even bother trying
  24. There's no one around at all. Apart from apparent, and frankly committed, car park enthusiasts
  25. When it's foggy, especially around rivers and lakes, you can't see jack. The light blinds you. It feels like you're running into a snow storm or a swarm of little flies (fun and something to laugh about until it becomes eerie and you shriek like a girl when all the excitement and tension hit a crescendo)

What will I change for my next run?

Not much really. So long as I've remembered to charge my batteries and I have the right clothing and the right amount of food and water for the distance, I wouldn't change a thing.

I will however be better prepared and hopefully won't replicate the spooks of my first long distance night run.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Fitting a Bushnell Eccentric Bottom Bracket

It's easier than you think. Firstly you're recommended to use grease, which other manufacturers say not to. Secondly, the design needs just a 4mm allen key and ideally a cone pin spanner to adjust (although other allen keys would do the trick too).

How to install a Bushnell EBB

Here are the instructions on how to install a Bushnell Eccentric Bottom Bracket right from the manufacturers website.

Why is grease important?

Personally, I used lots of high quality grease. And trust me, the grease was everywhere. My personal favourite grease (how sad, right?) and the one I've been using for over 10 years is the Exus E-G01 grease. It's really good stuff.

So the grease is really helpful because it allows the EBB to move around freely when you're adjusting it. Need to move a smidgen? Well the grease helps the EBB glide into place. It does work against you, but you just need to ensure you hold it once it's in the right place. I was a little surprised that the EBB moved in and out of the shell, but that's more to do with the beauty of the way it expands and contracts rather than a poor fit in the frame. Do it up a little bit to reduce the ease at which it can fall out.

Overall it took me 15 minutes to fit the EBB and that included removing the old one too.

Would I recommend it?

Definitely. Pricey for what it is, I got mine for £107.99 from Fat Birds, but it really was easy to fit, worked perfectly and I've had no complaints from it even thought my first ride was a tough 40 miler over 5,400 feet of climbing. Well chuffed with it.

Do note that there are two versions of the Bushnell. I seem to have paid for the expensive one, but got the cheaper and heavier one. They're the same design, just one's lighter than the other. Black is the good one, silver is the cheaper one.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

My Eccentric Bottom Bracket (EBB) slipped and it's my own damn fault

Put simply, I didn't follow some advice I'd been given. I'd added a very thin, I mean oh so very thin, layer of grease to the EBB shell before re-inserting the EBB on my Cannondale 29er trail and I paid for it.

I was 10km out on the trails and then my chain slipped. "Odd" I thought, but put it down to wet conditions and technical terrain requiring me to put a lot of torque through the cranks.

It happened again after a few km and then again and again and then it quite quickly got to the point that any level of high torque caused the chain to slip. So no more riding up hills for me and definitely no more trail riding either. Still, it was nice weather for a walk back to the car.

So what caused the EBB to slip?

Quite simply, I had added some grease in the shell and that was all that was needed for the EBB to move. So in future, I won't be adding any grease to the shell. Well in fact, in future I will be buying a Bushnell Eccentric Bottom Bracket and leaving the Cannondale version behind AND I won't be putting any grease in the shell. I've learnt my lesson, you should learn it too before it ruins any of your riding.

Bushnell Eccentric Bottom Bracket

This is how much grease I had added to the EBB shell. Trust me, don't add anything. Clean the shell so it shines and leave it at that.

Hope this post helps someone.

Monday, 20 May 2013

My thoughts on my Chris King 29er single speed wheels

Chris Bloody King wheels. The nerd in me is in love.

I've always wanted a set of Chris King wheels. I fell in love with Chris King components when I saw one of their headsets on a bike when I was first getting into riding. It looked like pure sexiness incarnate and sandwiched into a frame.

I've had a few of their headsets over the years and each time they've performed marvellously and I've never had any complaints. I've had an inset type too and that was great and looks the nuts. No love for the bike shop that fitted it with the wrong tool
however, but testament to the headset quality their monkey-wrenching didn't ruin the feel.

I have one of their bottom brackets too and again, they are sublime. I'm not sure what the reviews have said about them, but I've found it long lasting, light and it works well. Looks good too.

But, the wheels, well the hubs are where the real Chris King joy can be had.

Why did I buy Chris King wheels?

They are easily the most expensive wheels I've ever bought and they are easily more costly than an equivalent set of wheels from a competitor (DT Swiss being an obvious comparison), but they are Chris King.

So was it just the brand name? Well no, not at all. I would classify my purchasing habits as quality first and price second. I'm always looking for the absolute best components I can buy and I define best by the durability and reputation of the parts. So are Chris King parts better than DT parts? Probably or at least I personally have heard more good things about Chris King than I have DT. Did price affect my choice? Not really, I was lucky enough to have the money to spend as I saw fit.

So they have the reputation, but what is that reputation?

  • Engineering prowess
  • Angry bee noise
  • Hype
  • Expense
  • Status
That's my honest opinion of Chris King. DT hubs are probably just as good as Chris King, they are half the price and they would do the job, which is riding a single speed 29er around a local bike trail, perfectly well. Hell, even the hubs it replaced did a fine job.

But it's the emotional connection, the instant status when you can discuss Chris King wheels from an owners perspective to those who have yet to taste the "awesome".

It's perhaps pure marketing or luck on Chris King's behalf, but I've bought into the brand and, this is the most important part, it makes me happy.

Would I recommend them to someone else?

If you have the money, most definitely.

  • They are a work of art to look upon
  • They sound awesome whilst out on the trails
  • The engagement up and down hills is a wonder

If you don't have the money, then I'd look elsewhere. DT Swiss or even better, Hope. They do a fantastic wheelset for half the price of the Kings and Hope are another brand with legendary durability and they will probably be easier to maintain too.

Price is clearly the biggest barrier here.

What are they like to ride?

Beneficial. Confidence inspiring. Not as noisy as I'd thought.

Beneficial and Confidence inspiring
Riding up hills you feel the near instant engagement of the 72 points of engagement. It's the direct action from you applying pressure to the pedals that gives me the tingles. There's no major pedal movement before your power starts to turn the rear cog, it's just there straight away.

It's also great when you need to change your lead foot, because again the power is there as soon as you need it. I also found it helped me perform better tail whips too.

Not as noisy as I'd thought
For some reason I was expecting this hub to basically be like a can crushed against my tire and making a racket. But actually, it's quite quiet. Sure you can hear it, but the trail buzz and air / wind resistance blocks out most of it.

Where did I buy them from?

I had mine custom built from Clee Cycles in the UK. They were awesome. Helped with a few questions and the build was fantastic. The price was great too. Check their custom wheel building section out on their website Clee Cycles custom wheel builds.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Cannondale Trail SL 29ER 3 SS eccentric bottom bracket adjustment

First things first; to save anyone else the pain. If you want to adjust your EBB on your (lovely) Cannondale Trail SL 29ER, then you're going to need a set of small circlip pliers.

Now, I've always had a Park Tools set in my toolbox, but that was for the old self extracting bolts on Shimano and other branded cranks, but they were 2.2mm in diameter and that's way too big for the EBB. So if anything, spending today researching circlip pliers has taught me a thing or two.

What do you need to adjust the EBB?

Firstly. Go and buy a set of 44 11 J0 circlip pliers. There's probably no way you'll have a set of these in your mountain bike tool kit.

I bought the Knipex brand because they look like a good quality tool, but there's plenty of other brands available. They're even available through Amazon.

The tools you'll need to adjust the EBB

Here are the tools you'll need (in order they'll be used):

How to adjust the Cannondale EBB

The easy part
  1. Undo drive side 8mm crank bolt
  2. Using crank puller, remove cranks
  3. Undo 3mm silver allen key bolt on drive side
  4. Insert circlip pliers and remove circlip
  5. Remove washer
  6. Unscrew 4mm allen key bolt and take out
    1. Make sure you don't lose the circlip and bolt washer
  7. If you wish you can remove the bottom bracket too
It's likely the EBB wedges will be stuck (the hard part)
  1. Put a small flat headed screw driver / torx through the bolt 4mm hole and tap out the other wedge
  2. Repeat on the other side
    1. I had to bash mine pretty hard, but it did come out
    2. Spray with a threading solvent if it's really stuck and leave overnight
  3. The EBB will then slide out
Clean it up and put it back in
  1. Take it out, clean it up
  2. Clean the EBB shell so it's spotless (no need to add any grease)
  3. Put the EBB back in
  4. Do the 4mm bolt back up, but not all the way
  5. Add the washer and the circlip back in
  6. Put the bottom bracket back in
Now to adjust the EBB for desired chain tension
  1. Put the drive side crank back on (pushing it on by hand is fine at the moment)
  2. Hook the chain back around the chain ring and rear cog
  3. Adjust the bottom bracket position so that the chain is nearly taught (a bit of slack is encouraged)
  4. Poke a long 4mm allen key through your chainset and do up the 4mm bolt a little more
Final adjustments
  1. Remove the crank and do up the 4mm bolt to the recommended torque
  2. Add the 3mm bolt back in
  3. Tighten up the bottom bracket fully (you did clean and grease it right?)
  4. Add the cranks back on and tighten up the bolts
  5. Check to make sure the chain is still taught
  6. Fin
Overall this took me about an hour and I took my time to clean all of the parts and re-grease where needed too. It's important that you don't put too much grease, or any solvents / lubes etc in the EBB shell. Otherwise it will slip.


Here's the Cannondale EBB from the right (drive) side. You can easily see the circlip in the bore recess.

And here it is from the left side:

This is the EBB once it's out (and cleaned)

This is the bottom bracket that comes with the bike (UK)

Hope this has helped. I certainly wish I had read something like this before trying it!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

10 thoughts on how to survive a sportive

I'm still quite new to sportives; I've done maybe a handful. My first was a hilly 60 miles and from then on it's been 100 mile rides over varying types of terrain. All of them have been challenging, great training and very enjoyable.

Having recently done my first sportive of the year on Sunday, I thought I;d share a few points that if I had known before my first sportive, I probably would have enjoyed it all the more.

  1. Go steady. If you're riding 100 miles don't go off at warp speed. Ride your own ride. I average 15 - 16 mph over the 100 (hilly) miles and that's comfortable for me.
  2. Enjoy yourself. You poor bugger. You actually paid good money to put yourself through this, enjoy it and treat it as a day out with like-minded individuals.
  3. Bring a mobile phone, contact number for the sportive support team and some cash. I saw so many mechanicals at the weekend, but luckily they were all able to call the support team and let them know where they were because of their phone.
  4. Bring basics, such as tools, a spare inner tube and some warmer layers. Arm and leg warmers are great for these as they pack down well and they can make the world of difference. Unless your paying a lot of money for the event, don't expect there to be a support truck following your butt around the course.
  5. Be courteous, draft in turns. If you sit on someone's tail for a while do the right thing and spread the load. Take over and  give them a rest. Repeat as needed. Drafting can save a massive amount of energy!
  6. Make it social. Do say hello to other riders. We're all in the same boat and it's great to just get a nod from someone else. You might make some good chums, or better yet they might let you draft behind them.
  7. Prepare for the hills. Take it easy coming up to them and get the right gear in place. Stand up every now and then to shake off your arms and legs. Get back to it. Keep the rhythm smooth and don't shift your weight around too much.
  8. Arrive early for a good parking spot. Cyclists are early birds and to improve your chances of less stress, get there early for a good parking spot near the registration area. Makes life so much easier before and so much easier afterwards too.
  9. Bring your own food. They provide everything you need, but only after the first 25 miles or so, but before that you need to eat and stay hydrated. Bring a selection of your fav foods (and I'd recommend things that won't appear on the menu of the sportive) and make sure you have the energy needed for the first segment.
  10. Check your bike before you leave in the morning. Double check your gear too. Last thing you need is to get to the event and something's broken. The best way to test it too is to give it a ride. Bring extra tools if you don't have the time before you leave.
I'm sure there's easily more that could be added to that list too.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Recommended: dhb road and mountain bike clothes

I'd love to own a wardrobe of Assos gear. Something for every weather, style and fit. Nothing pongs and everything is easily accessible and still feels fresh when you put it on in on a cold morning. The reality of life however, means that my wardrobe is in fact an awkwardly shaped box on the floor of the spare room and it's all mainly cheap dhb gear from wiggle.co.uk. It pongs on occasion and it's certainly not fresh. But I still rate and recommend them and continue to buy more stuff too.

My first pair of mountain bike shorts was a pair of Pearil Izumi Pro's. They were £100 (in 2003) and they were amazing. I managed to eek use out of them until only a few years ago. Setting the bar so high so soon meant that anything else I bought was loose fitting, awkward to wear and didn't feel right whilst on the bike.

I tried Fox, other Pearl Izumi shorts and Royal. Nothing compared to spending good money for good quality.

Until I tried dhb. Now I don't work for them and there's no affiliation, but I'm so genuinely chuffed with the quality and value of their products that I wanted to share my views.

My dhb collection

I really like their stuff.

  • Bib tights
  • Bib shorts
  • Arm warmers
  • Summer socks
  • Thermal socks
  • Merino base layer
  • Long sleeved jersey
  • Waterproof
  • Phone wallet
My favourite piece of kit at the moment has to be my long sleeved jersey.

dhb Vaeon Roubaix Long Sleeve Jersey

Here's what I like about it
  • Great value. I'd expect this jersey to last a few years and per ride, we're talking less than £0.50. Which is great.
  • Snug fit. It's an odd material and cut in that it suited me as soon as I put it on. There was no bunching or re-adjusting. Sure it's tight, but it conforms more than it compresses.
  • Pockets for your needs. I personally don't use the pockets that often, but I've done a 100 miler with this jersey and have had all of my food, phone and arm warmers stashed in there. No discomfort and everything fitted fine.
  • It's not wind-proof, but it's wind-proof enough. Coupled with a base layer it's great for crisply cold mornings, but with a light vest underneath it it's great for Spring rides. Obviously it's not suited for Summer, but I appreciate it's versatility when you need to layer up.
  • Colours. Black is awesome. Red is even better!

A bit about Wiggle

I use to be all about chainreactioncycles.com. I grew up looking at MBUK and browsing the CRC adverts with their prices and small photos of the components I could only dream of. Then along came Wiggle and my first thought was 'they're are not as cheap as CRC'. Then something happened. CRC got worse, Wiggle got better and price wasn't the only differentiator. It was the service too. And CRC service has always been really good and everyone is really friendly, but wiggle run sportive events, they have their own brand of clothing which is brilliant (and suited to UK weather) and you get the sense that they're committed to the UK biking scene. Maybe CRC and other retailers do this too, I know Evans do, but Wiggle have captured the essence of the sport for me and my wallet too.

They also appeal to my running and swimming side too. Check them out: wiggle.co.uk

wiggle.co.uk/run | wiggle.co.uk/cycle | wiggle.co.uk/swim

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Wiggle Ups and Downs Epic 2013 sportive

My first sportive, which was along some of the same hills as this one, was long and hard. It was raining heavily and I remember just wanting to stand up all the time to get away from the constant butt chafe. It was torturous at times, but extremely satisfying. I finished the event barely coherent and coming off the bike I held onto it for dear life to stop me wobbling off into a group of horrified onlookers. But, I felt like an emperor. I just rode 60 miles. I hadn't known anyone to have ridden a similar distance. It was genuinely amazing to me.

Of course I looked like an idiot too, you know, without a waterproof jacket in torrential rain. All the sillier too for wearing summer shorts and no waterproof booties. I didn't even have full finger gloves. And I guess the poor preparation hasn't changed.

With little to no preparation I have only myself to blame

I've done a few 100 milers or century rides as they are sometimes known. But that was when I was riding as oft as I could. And at the time I was focused on getting a decent time at a half-Ironman as well. These days I can be seen, whilst still on a bike, at the local mountain bike centre on a single speed 29er. With a dog in toe and a time-limit of how much the mutt can maintain her interest levels. Certainly not suitable prep for a century, but surprisingly adequate coupled with a bit of will.

Shut up legs! And other quips
Is a famous quote from Jens Voight telling his legs to shut up and let him get on with racing. Now, I was certainly no where near that level of pain (or commitment), but it's one of the funny (read: taunting) signs that Wiggle put up along some of the harder climbs. It's a nice touch and brings a smile to my face whenever I see them. It also triggers social play with other riders in close proximity read it too and gasp out quips, cheers and laughs. It's a nice touch.

The hills
Maybe it's all the training from last year, but none of the hills defeated me. That first sportive? Well, they nearly all defeated me. Maybe it was because the serious hills were at either end. Perhaps the middle bit gave me the rest I needed? I can't remember the specific names, but a lot of the riders I was around had heard of them and they actually seemed worried. But, alas no. With not much training, I got through them fine.

And credit to a lot of other riders too. I only saw a handful of people walking up the hills. Good on them all!

The food
Wiggle do a great job of providing food. There are drinks too. Everything you need to get through the day. It gets a bit samey after a few stops, but it all goes down and keeps you going. I particularly like the jelly beans. OMG I love the jelly beans.

The service
Really nice people. Clearly they are riders themselves and they really want you to enjoy your day. It keeps me coming back.

The after event
It's just so busy. If you go with friends it must be brilliant. A chance to chill and laugh at the day, but for me as a loner biker (I have no friends who can even sit on a road bike), it's a little bit colder than I'd like. It's hard to socialise too when you're actually cold and you're walking around like John Wayne from all the butt . The weather affects your mood too as do the long queues for food and massages.

It's rare however that I stick around. I usually try and buy some food, but mainly I'm back to the car, partly strip and I'm off home. Usually via a food establishment. I deserve it I tell myself. A lot.

Other riders
I think this was the first time I hadn't seen an arsehole rider. Maybe I'm just cynical, but some riders are just dicks. But on this day, I didn't notice anyone doing anything stupid. No one was silly and not one person had a go at me for asking if they were OK when they stopped on a hill or if I saw them at the side of a road - a usual dick-ish thing that I hate (I'm only asking if you're OK dude, chill).

I even met a beautiful cyclist who had be so smitten that I took a wrong turn. In times past I would have been pretty embarrassed, but I just laughed it off and turned back around. I wished her well and dropped her on the climb. Eat that.

Actually no, she had a broken chain and whilst offering to help her, I mis-took the direction of travel. But it's an important part of the day. It's not a race. It's a sportive. It's meant to be a little social-able and it's meant to be fun. And you're meant to enjoy yourself too.

And I did enjoy myself

There were times where I was having to constantly massage my quads, where I had to stand on most of the climbs and when people were dropping me on the hills (which I hate, I'm a winner not a loser), but still, I was outside, in the somewhat Spring sun and doing what I love.

For £28 it's a great full day out and I would recommend it to anyone, beginners or vets, to give them a go.

Here's the Garmin data for anyone interested.

Check out a bunch of Wiggle and other branded cycling events.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Mountain biking with a Dalmation

So adorable. Also, intolerably gassy.
2 hours. That's how long you need to walk your Dalmatian (mine is about 1 years old) for them to be even slightly tired. 3 hours plus for a possibility of a quiet afternoon at home with the dog snoozing.

However, a few weeks back I hit on the idea of riding with the dog (she's running I've had to state several times in conversation). So now I can go for a one hour ride on local trails and then, as my wife puts it, I've broken the dog and I'm free to enjoy a quiet afternoon without noses and paws appearing all the time. Bliss.

I did build her up with a gentle 5km ride, but frankly she could have done that in her sleep. So I've upped it to 10km and added lots of hills for a real work-out.

And the side effect of course is that I'm not wasting lots of time walking around (boring!). I'm out on the trails and enjoying the sport I love. What's more, I then get to go home and clean and fettle my bike for hours. Clearly a perfect way to spend any day.

Things I've learned when riding with my Dalmatian

  • They have a tendency to change direction very quickly
  • They like being just ahead of you (test your brakes often)
  • My one wondered what my tires tasted like. Thus, she licked them. Mid-ride
  • You need to stop every now and then to give them time to sniff around and get some mental stimulation
  • You need to stop every now and then to give them time to pee and poop around
  • You should have a bowl of water ready for when they finish
  • In the UK climate, you may want to give your Dalmatian (or any short haired dog) a coat. I use a waterproof and fleece jacket and it keeps her snug
  • Dry your dog after a wet run. Mine shivers if she isn't thoroughly dry
  • Don't get too far away. My dog could see me on a straight fire-road, but still she decided to run off in the exact opposite direction to try and find me
  • Don't run too fast. 10 mph is good. More is fine in short sprints
  • I ease up on the fast descents. My dog tries to keep up and I think she'd do herself an injury if I pushed it
  • Don't ride / push it / make it all about you if the dog isn't feeling great. That's not cool

Monday, 14 January 2013

Twisted ankle and ultra-marathon hopes

Can you believe it?

This is the good photo, it's now much worse.
Also, my toes look really weird.
I was running in the pitch black for 2 hours without a light source and did I have any trouble? No.
I was running hills on and off road in wet conditions and did I have any trouble? No.
I was demonstrating a simple running technique to a new running friend, who thinks I'm awesome at running and did I have any trouble, well of course I did. I must have killed someone's mother with the family cat in a previous life to get this kind of Karma.

It's pretty bad and pretty purple too

Naturally when you twist / sprain your ankle, it's customary to grin and bear it (I'm British and I was with a pretty woman) and of course I continued to run another 5km. Smart huh?

So now it's swollen, it's purple, it's green and it hurts. Not a problem, I can rest up and it will heal and I'll be back up and running in no time.

But I was hoping to run a marathon and then an ultra-marathon

"I don't care" came the categorical response from the angel on my shoulder, "you shouldn't have ran the extra 5km and you certainly shouldn't risk any more damage to your ankle with an attempt at running a marathon, which I might add you haven't ran that distance in over 10 months".

For once the demon on the other shoulder agreed.

I was stupid for running the extra distance and I was stupid for thinking it would be OK. Take care of your feet, they're the only things that will keep you running.

Tips for when you sprain your ankle

  • Don't continue to run or walk on it
  • Rest it, ice it, compress it and elevate it (RICE)
  • Visit a doctor if the pain still continues, if your ankle or foot is at a funny angle or if you're worried (better to be safe than sorry)
  • Don't attempt any exercise
I wish I had followed my only advice more strictly. I don't think I would have been running the marathon, but I wouldn't be hobbling around or missing those training runs with the pretty woman :-)