Sunday, October 18, 2015

Essential gear for cold weather cycling

Over the past few weeks, temperatures in Sweden have dropped considerably and most mornings we are waking up to a thick layer of frost on the ground. Colder temperatures often drive cyclists to put away their bikes and opt for other training options, or to head indoors and sit on trainers or in spinning classes. But until the snow depth makes it impossible, I prefer to keep riding outdoors despite the sub-zero temps. Therefore proper clothing becomes very important, and in this post I've put together a list of my essential gear.

A GripGrab HeadGlove
I prefer the HeadGlove to other under helmet solutions because it is so versatile. The HeadGlove can be worn as a neck warmer, a hat, an under helmet layer (or even as a Ninja mask as my 8 year old showed me the other day). On cold days, I pull the HeadGlove down around my neck and then pull the back up over my head so it covers the entire back of my head, my ears and my neck under my chin. It is warm but thin so you don't even feel it under the helmet.

B X-Kross Sports Glasses
I've written a previous review of these glasses but they are fantastic for prescription wearers as your prescription lens sits inside the sports glass meaning that you never have to worry about scratches on the expensive part of the product. They are great for cold weather riding and I even have a pair of double insulated winter lenses which really cut down on the fogging. Note that the prescription lenses fog a lot less if treated with FogFree by Rodenstock

C Gore WINDSTOPPER Soft Shell Jacket
The second one of these that I've owned. Warm, breathable and very comfortable with high visibility color and lots of reflective tape. The arms zip off and can be stuffed in the back pockets turning the jacket into a vest if the temperatures happen to warm up.

D SKINS A200 Thermal Top (not shown)
Covered in one of our previous reviews, the A200 top is a comfortable long sleeve top that combines warmth and compression.

E GripGrab Hurricane Gloves
What can I say? These gloves are so warm that your fingers actually sweat if the mercury is above zero. Great grip and very good protection for your hands from cold temperatures and any potential injury as a result of falls. These are my go-to gloves when I no longer can have half-finger gloves due to cold.

F SKINS TRI400 Shorts
We have also covered these in a dedicated review but in terms of cold-weather cycling they are great because the shorts (and especially the chamois) are so thin, so when you start layering tights and/or wind pants over them you don't start to feel like you're sitting on a diaper while riding.

G SKINS A200 Thermal Tights
So warm and they feel great against your legs. These are perfect for temps approaching zero and can be used in combination with a windbreaking pant if temperatures get even lower.

H GripGrab Winter Cycling Sock
Thick, warm and very comfortable. These are like hiking socks for your bike. You need a bit of extra room in your cycling shoe for these, so if you're running shoes that just fit, you might have to look at another option, like a pair of merino wool socks.

I GripGrab Arctic Shoe Covers
This is the first and perhaps most important layer of defense against the cold. The first things that starts to get uncomfortable are your toes and fingers, so you've got to protect these as much as possible if your outdoor cycling is going to continue into November, December or even January. The Arctic shoe covers are like a wet suit for your feet. They are a job to get on due to the thick (4 mm) Neoprene but once you get them over your feet you are so glad you did. Cold simply cannot penetrate these in combination with a good pair of winter socks. They are also very durable and stand up well to both road and forest conditions. 
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Friday, October 16, 2015

RACE REPORT: Stockholm Half Marathon

For the 7th time, I ran Stockholm Half Marathon in September. This is an event which I really enjoy as it's such a lovely city to run around and the race is well supported. The weather is 'most often' good  too, except the first time I ran in 2008 when it was torrential rain!
The course is run through many inner city areas of Stockholm; Norrmalm, Vasastan, Kungsholmen, the Old Town and Södermalm. It's a great location for the start and finish being just outside the Royal Palace. If you pick your head up and look around during the race, you'll see many of Stockholm’s most famous landmarks and buildings; Karlberg’s Castle, City Hall, Royal Palace, Swedish Parliament and the Royal Opera House. This year the organisers modified the course in 2 places and I must say those improvements were a great success.
The organisers say it's a relatively flat course but I think they have not run in The Netherlands as this course has plenty of ups and downs in comparison to City Pier City:)
I had only really put in about a month of running training ahead of this year's event, having spent the majority of my time in 2015 concentrating on improving on the mountain bike for Cykelvasan. But all that base training on the bike helped and I had only to concentrate on getting the legs used to the distance. I'd run home from work in Uppsala and tried to spend the weekends with long runs and the weekdays with slow (painfully slow) base runs, still following my "run slow to race fast" strategy.
In summary, I felt good going into the race weekend and had the benefit this year of not carrying some kind of injury or niggle which I seem to subject myself too every beginning of September.

Race day arrived and I woke up with a 'thick head' and a blocked nose!!!! Aggghhhhhh Nooooooo! Where did this come from? I really hoped this would not hang around and disrupt what I was about to do. Arriving in Stockholm later in the day I was still far from 100% and standing in the starting pen on the bridge I was really starting to doubt whether me running this was such a good idea after all. I knew I shouldn't run if I was sick, but I was also telling myself that I could try the first couple of kms and walk back if it wasn't going to happen.

BANG! the gun went and we started running, for some reason my mind immediately said "you're following the 1:40 pace makers" and the body took off...where did that pre-race sickness feeling go? The adrenaline rush took over, my mind shut down and I settled into a metronomic pace behind the balloons...and soon into the underground world of the Klaratunnel with it's drumbeat of feet on asphalt and the beeping of runner watches as the kms went by.
Hanging onto the back of the pace makers, there was no need to check the watch for pace, a quick glance every now and then at the HR was all I took but I felt the body was ok. Km after km flew by and I spent the majority of time looking around at buildings and the supporters along the way.
Before I knew it we were passing through the parliament at 12km and were buffeted by the wind alongside the palace. The next few kms on Södermalm between 13-16km I always find the most boring of the race. Just a long straight road and not many people about but you know that at 17km the long hill comes into play and you hope to conserve enough energy for that. My thoughts are always to get there and see what happens. I was still in good shape as it approached but took a 'wobble' as we approached the 17km mark. Maybe it was the dextrose tablets that hit my stomach and I peaked. I don't really know.
I slurped down a couple of mugs of water and sport drink and recovered quick but I'd dropped the pace makers at the bottom of the hill. No matter, I ploughed on up the hill being cautious not to try and catch them up again here, kept a steady pace through the undulating streets of Södermalm before the steep downhill into Slussen. The finish is almost in sight from there.
For the first time in a number of years I crossed the line with no cramp together with a best half marathon time in 13years and a personal record on the course...and the pre-race feeling? gone :)

It was then all a matter of picking up my belongings, the race is SO well organised it's a fast and efficient process and head to the station to take the train south for a day with the family at Kolmården the next day. Skins RY400 tights were on and I looked forward to having fresh legs the next day.
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Friday, September 11, 2015

RACE REPORT: Cykelvasan 2015 (David's view)

Time passes so quickly and it's hard to believe Cykelvasan was almost 4 weeks ago and this report has remained unwritten whilst I've been busy switching schedule to prepare for Stockholm Half marathon! 
So here it is from my (David's) perspective.

Finally the weekend of Cykelvasan arrived and the weather Gods laid on a terrific plate of warm and dry weather both leading up to the event and much to our liking, on Saturday too! Jon, Andreas & myself traveled up to Sälen on the Friday afternoon for our overnight accommodation in Lindvallen. We learnt last year that staying in Mora would mean a VERY early start on a bus to get to the start line and that would be no fun. As such, it was a relatively relaxed morning wake up call at 7am to eat a leisurely breakfast and coast down to the start for my 08:50 start time. Jon & Andreas started a little later at 09:20 & 09:35 with Andreas fortunately being able to move his original time considerably earlier so we didn't have to wait hours for him in Mora.
 It was a chilly morning in the shadows, but the forecast said it was to be warm...and warm it was when you got moving. It's a fantastic feeling to stand there in the starting pen watching group after group setting off up the first hill towards Smågan knowing that with every group you're 5mins closer to your start. It wasn't long before I was one of those groups and as the start siren blew, off we went. The first hill wasn't as fearsome as I'd remembered the first year. Maybe it was the knowledge of how long it really was and the other being the hard work I'd put in whilst in Idre the 2 weeks previous helping the legs a lot.
I tagged onto the back of a wheel as the incline leveled off and we hit a pace which felt just between being comfortable and having to exert a little extra effort to maintain the pace. My tactic this year was not to work as hard as last and not have to push the pace for the entire 94km like previous. It certainly helped being amongst cyclists who moved at a similar pace to myself. Smågan whizzed by followed by Mångsbodarna. I was already 6mins ahead of last year's time and feeling good. The trails were dusty and dry and you were peddling through a fog of dust for many kms. I kept to my fluid & nutrition plan although I realised early the dust would cause me to drink more than what I was carrying with me. 

The new uphill section into Risberg was fantastic, a huge improvement on the long, boring asphalt road of the previous year. Between Risberg and Evertsberg I decided to push on and dropped the wheel(s) I'd been around the past 40kms. I wanted to be in some clear space if I could for the fast downhill section after Evertsberg as the road there is a tricky mix of gravel and small / medium stones. I grabbed a cup of drink in Evertsberg and had to immediately take evasive action through the drinks tent as a guy flipped over his handlebars right in front of me.."good timing fella"! Thankfully I didn't spill a drop but managed to throw a lot of the drink over my face in the rush to leave my cup behind...this would provide the perfect sticky base for the dust to adhere to later :)
I was now 14mins ahead of last year and pushed hard. Once again, the organisers had modified the track. Just like in Vasaloppet during the winter, the course took the tunnel in Vasslan and followed the winter track via Björnarvet and the famous Lundbäcksbackarna to the checkpoint in Oxberg. Again, a great improvement! 

18mins ahead in Oxberg, I was slicing time off last year all the way and the legs felt really good and strong. Hökberg, 25mins faster, Eldris 27mins ahead. Those final 8 or 9 kms I just decided to go all in as best I could and the final 2-3km I felt like I was flying. Whereas last year, the final 30kms I was struggling with cramp, this year there were no issues. I really owe that to a far better training plan for this year's race and the winter strength program at Form.

You're flying through Mora Park with the crowds cheering you on those last couple of kms and before you know it you've popped out onto the road in Mora with just the roundabout to navigate and that famous finish straight down to the goal.
"I fäders spår – för framtids segrar"

I was elated to not only beat last year's time, not only beat the 4hour mark, but to be 29mins faster than last years time and finish in 3:38:31 in position 1,424 (also 3,500 places better than 2014!).

Will I go back next year and try and go faster? Oh YEAH! ...but the organisers have again changed the manner in which you register for next year. There are only 6,800 places available to those whom have not completed 3 races or more in the past 6 years....gotta be VERY quick on 20th September to try and capture one of those.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

RACE REPORT: Kolmården Extreme

RAIN RAIN RAIN (I could go on!)

Jon and I had planned to do this race last year when we were looking back through the race calendar of events alternative to Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge. "It's the end of May, it'll be nice weather surely, we could make a weekend of it for the families," we thought. Well, it couldn't have been wetter (I'm sure!).

Early Saturday morning we arrived at the race centre hoping to setup early and not be rushed (raining). Dropped off the kayak (in the rain), put the transition boxes in the right spot (in the rain) but there was no coffee!! With plenty of time to spare, we jumped in the car and sped to Norrköping in search of a drive-through to grab 2 hot cups of caffeine to wake us. Plenty of time to get back to the kayaks although a short run was required to warm up and get there just on time.

Sitting on the water, the rain kept pouring.It was to be 12km of paddling in 2 sections separated by a short portage. Up the southern section of the lake to a buoy and return, short portage, then up the northern part of the lake and return. The wind was blowing from the south east so a relatively easy ride north and a pull against that wind on the return. Counting boats as they returned after rounding the buoys we were well placed in the 'sea-kayak' flotilla which was way behind all the surf-skis. There's such a difference in speed between the two types of boats you cannot compare time objectively.

From leaving the kayak after a short carry, it was a "200m" run (everything we were told was "about 200m" that day) - actually 1,1km run to the TA and a quick change to the running shoes. 

It was still raining and the first thing to liven the legs and raise the HR was a trek straight up the ski slope lift...harder now as it was very wet and slippery so finding your footing as well as driving forwards was a challenge. The 12km trail run was fun / wet and a good challenge, lots of sharp inclines and descents and the trail took you through some beautiful woodlands, affording you with some spectacular views back over the lake (when the rain stopped for a few minutes!). It's a pity the clouds descended when we reached the highest point and all we got was a white fog ahead of us. Returning to the TA, a 25km MTB section awaited and again the start was a long slog up the 'easier' ski slope to the left this time...I say easier, it was  like a river running down it from all the rain making it more slippy and muddy. Undeterred, we pressed on through some fine single track and forest roads. The course was awash with water everywhere making riding the puddles a concern, not knowing if there was a root, a rock or just a hole within them made the heart beart faster! It was also getting cold from being totally soaked through the entire day, riding slow you chilled, riding fast the wind chilled you more (even through a totally drenched windstopper as the wind chilled the fabric).

We finally finished to loud cheers from the families whom had braved the rain (for several hours the kids reminded of us for a long time). It's a great race and I think would be one to return to next year and hope for better weather!
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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Preparing for Cykelvasan

It's been a while since we've had the opportunity to train together due to our schedules and being into the long Swedish summer (we're still waiting!) vacations. Jon bought himself a new mountain bike and what better way to test it by hammering out 80kms through some previously uncharted forest roads and paths around Uppland. I've been looking at Google Maps for a while now trying to link individual sections together into a more consolidated route. I'd already been exploring some areas and was just hoping there were ways through others, otherwise we'd just plough on regardless and carry the bikes if necessary. I'm pleased to say the planning was good for an 80km route which first took us South towards Odensala / Märsta along some pleasant country roads free of any traffic, then East towards Arlanda turning into forests around the airport. As the weather had by then turned to heavy rain, we had a lot of puddles to navigate where you're never sure what's lurking under the surface. At one point we appeared right at the end of the runway amongst the landing lights, how awesome a shot that would've been to get a plane landing as we cycled past! 

The route then took us back north heading for the #77 before crossing it and heading north again through forests in the direction of Ösby. After bearing South West towards Fjällnora, there came the 'can we get through there?' part and the answer was thankfully YES after we made a slight detour for a private road and picked up Upplandsleden which was a mixture of ride-able and un-rideable single track (more geared for hiking than biking). Crossing a small bridge (Jon originally thought this crossing may be a raft we'd have to pull across on a rope!) we navigated around Eda, Lagga and then the final climb in the forest behind Olunda ridskolan. The weather was 'typically Swedish summer-esque' as was the forecast! 14C and cloudy to start, light drizzle, heavy rain, more heavy rain, then finally glorious sunshine for the last 10km! Awesome to get out and a long ride which with the exceptions of some lengthy climbs, mimicked the conditions of Cykelvasan pretty well. Think there'll be some more exploration of those forests east of the E4 in the weeks to come.

Train fun!
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Monday, July 6, 2015

RACE REPORT: Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge

Firstly...why do it?
After last year's race, Jon and I decided HÅEC2015 was not something for the 2015 calendar and we'd try other races such as Rock The Trail, Kolmården Extreme & Hofors Adventure Race. My wife (Nina) had then signed up for Nike womens 10km in Stockholm the same weekend of HÅEC so the family were all geared up for supporting her....but then disaster, she injured her knee and thus couldn't run :(
After returning from Kolmården, I had a little snooze on the sofa and upon waking, Nina's first words were, "I've found cheap accommodation in Åre, you should go do the race!". I gave it a couple of days further thought before finally signing up just 23 days prior to the start. I must admit, receiving emails from the HÅEC organisers in the weeks previous had started to increase my interest. Åre Extreme Challenge was my first ever attempt at a multisport race and ever since has been my favourite race one which has now kept me coming back since that first attempt in 2002.

I'd had what I consider to have been a good year so far with a 13 year best for me in the Den Haag half marathon, knocking almost 20 minutes off my previous Lidingöloppet MTB time, a personal best on my sprint test route & feeling strong in both Billingeracet & Kolmården Extreme so I felt that 23 days should be enough to be able to turn up and finish in HÅEC. I did however have to start thinking about getting hold of a white water helmet!...and there were coming lots of reports of a lot of snow up on Åreskutan!

The race:

For safety reasons, in the final few days leading up to the race,  the kayaking was moved to lake Åre due to high water levels in the river. I was looking forward to tackling the rapids again, the last time being 2003 and with a heavy and stable sea kayak this time, the river flow would've helped me downstream into Åre. As it was, it became a familiar 18km lake paddle and after the exploits of last year, that had the potential to be a big challenge. As it was, it was a bit bumpy to begin with, but as the morning progressed the wind subsided and the waves were nothing like the days leading up to the race. I took the option to stay out of trouble early on, there's no point getting amongst the surf-skis as they just fire past you like you're standing still or tip the owner in and you have a large piece of flotsam broadside across your bow. I hung with the folks paddling the sea kayaks trying to conserve as much energy going downwind before a long slog back up the lake, a 250m portage then up the river against the wind and flow before returning back to the beach. There are 2 sections where you have to carry your boat and on each I was telling myself that next year I go for a surf-ski. Carrying a 23kg boat on your shoulder / back was tough work for that distance!!!

I moved through the TA quickly thanks to some great preparation by Nina & Oliver who diligently got me sorted in a flash. Food stuffed in pockets, big slurp of drink, a high-five to my other children and I was off.  
The run has always been my least favourite part of the race. The initial 400m vertical climb up Tott lift sets the pulse racing and legs burning before turning at the top to head towards "lille skutan" before the final push to the top. This year there was snow above 1,000m, a lot of snow, more snow than ever and certainly a strange experience at the end of June. I set myself a metronomic pace going up, up, up and tried to enjoy the amazing views you are afforded up there. Climbing through the clouds, I found the final 200-300m of vertical tough going, but the moment I saw the radio mast come into view I got a spurt of energy knowing that it's all downhill (almost) from there to Huså. 
Photo: Jakob Edholm, ( / @eyeforaction)

This year it was very different on that descent due to the amount of snow on the mountain. It was shared with skiers, happy to continue their  passion for much longer than expected! Last year I took to sliding down the large snow field but this was constant and it was hard work as the snow grabbed your ankles BUT it was fun all the same. Where else could you get such an experience running crazy downhill often out of control on a huge bed of snow at the end of June!?! I must say the Swedes seem to be very good at running downhill in snow. There were times I felt I was going as fast as I could and was made to feel like I was standing still by some fearless Scandinavian ploughing through the white stuff! Soon enough though you hit the old mine road which takes you into the top of the slopes in Huså.
Another TA well organised. Even my late request for a "double-resolve" (I'd sucked my camelbak dry on the run as the mercury was rising and the sky was a brilliant blue) was handled quickly as I peeled off the running shoes and donned the MTB ones. A twinge of cramp slowed me a little but a quick stretch, a bit of banana, some bar shoved into the mouth and I was out onto the bike which I'd been looking forward too for the past 30-40 mins.

The course seemed drier than past years, or was it that I was getting better acquainted with the distances and not worrying so much about it? Or was it that all that water is still actually snow on the mountain! Knowing the bog was only 600-700m in length it felt much easier this year and to walk/run with the bike without the ground trying to swallow you and your bike up like previous years.
The track passes over the road between Huså & Åre 4 times on route and at 3 of those, the family were there screaming me on and giving me extra motivation. I did had to laugh hard at the final time as my eldest son was screaming at someone, "It's mountain biking, not walking with your bike!" there were a few people smiling at that one :)
I had my mind set on the fantastic downhill stretch from the marshes in Åre Björnen which didn't disappoint, before you approach Åre from the East, cycle around the back of Tott Hotel and then up, up, up the final climb towards the downhill track "Getrappet" which I then rode with the biggest smile on my face possible and let the bike fly where it could. From the bottom of Getrappet it was only 2 1/2 mins to the finish in the square. What a feeling to finish with people lining the roads in the sunshine and cheering you on those last few metres to where it felt like a big party was ongoing.
I knocked 1hr 8mins off the previous 2 years times which I was really pleased with. I already started thinking where I could knock yet another hour off next year....not in a sea kayak that's for sure!

A big thanks to Mats and Natasha for once again putting on a super event and all the fantastic support you receive from the volunteers and public out on the course. Thanks also to all our sponsors and those who help us, Form, GripGrab, Skins, Fairing, Frisörernapåtorget & Celsius. But a huge thanks goes to Nina and our children who not only persuaded me to compete, but made the long 7hr journey north, stayed patient throughout the day, helped me in the transitions and allow me to spend my free time doing something I thoroughly enjoy. 

If there are any words to continue to motivate me then they come from Oliver when he said, "I'm going to do Åre Extreme Challenge"...and I'll be right there with him in 10 years time when he's first eligible :)
You'll find some excellent pictures of the race posted on taken by Jakob Edholm, ( / Instagram: @eyeforaction) 

Here's a great film by Swedish Mountain Film ahead of the full program airing on Swedish national TV4 on 13th July 2015.

A great film from Swedish Mountain Film #håec15
Posted by Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge on Monday, 29 June 2015
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Sunday, July 5, 2015

RACE REPORT: Billingeracet 79km MTB

Next up, only a week after Lidingöloppet MTB I (David) headed south to Skövde to ride in Billingeracet, a 80km MTB race and the opening event of the Mitsubishi MTB Challenge 2015.

I had 3 reasons for doing this event. The first being my daughter competing in Nyköping with her cheerleading team which took both her and my wife away for the weekend (the boys did not want to go). As my wife's parents live in Skövde, the second reason was I could take the opportunity for my oldest son (8yrs) to compete in the nybörjare class race of Billingracet. The third was, I may as well cycle myself as I was there!

It was great to watch Oli line up in his race and try his absolute best against kids who were older and faster than him. A great experience for him taking 11th place from 46 finishers beaten only by 1 of his same age. The first 5 were out of sight and he hung onto the back of the second group. Took a crash which set him back a few places before the finish but got up and made it home. Very proud of the little lad. With his race on the top of he mountain and the start for mine at the bottom, I had to quickly roll down to be in position for my start.

Despite registering in "snabb motion" class, I for some reason was not allowed to enter that pen and had to  go to the back....with some 800 people already in front of me! With it being a mass start and no staggering of times, that was a lot of traffic ahead and it would be a big factor in the race.

The race starts on a lovely climb on asphalt up Billingen then turns into the forest and continues even steeper on trails wide enough for 2/3 bikes. I went quick off the start trying to make up as much ground as I could without sapping the legs too early but as soon as we hit the trail, the traffic stopped. As the steep hill progressed, people were falling as those ahead were stopping meaning no momentum and nowhere to go but feet down. I became quite frustrated at progress very early on. It then turned to single track, roots and mud, and still lots of bike trying to squeeze onto a narrow rail. After some kms, it widened to a nice section along the old railway, where I teamed up with 2 others to push the pace along and overtook a lot of other riders (they could of course have been doing the half race of Oglunda Runt!). Again the course turned back to some fine single-track and  a drinks station in Oglunda where many de-biked and took a rest before a long asphalt climb back onto the tracks again! Lot of people out of their houses cheering you on which was nice!

At half way of the race (or the finish of Oglunda runt) you pass close by the finish on Billingen then continue on some fine single track once again. It was here at 40km I inadvertently crashed the bike into a bush after loosing the front wheel from under me on a slippery root. No harm done but my frustration from earlier hadn't subsided, my mental state wasn't ideal for this race!
There followed lots of single track in Ryddskogen which upon reflection was really great but as I wasn't really enjoying myself at this time, I lost time. Was quick on the wider 'transport' paths but as my head was elsewhere I failed to think of stopping, reducing tyre pressure & clearing my thoughts and carrying on and just ploughed on regardless muttering under my breath.

The last 10 km is one long steady climb, with the final 4-5km being the steepest. First you handle a 150m vertical climb through the houses on asphalt, gravel and grass. When you think you're done you descend 50m vertical again then prepare yourself for the final 100m vertical climb up ''strupen' to the finish. 
It's certainly a tough finish and never having run the course before had no idea what I was to be facing. Passed a number of people on that last climb who were walking with nothing left in their legs. Knowing it was just this hill and then it's all done I pushed as hard as I could.

There are always some positives to take from any experience and my lessons learnt for the day were:
  • Arrive early at the start and give yourself a good chance of being in front of a lot of people prior to the single track which saves a lot of time.
  • Have the correct tire pressure for the conditions. Mine was too high but my mind was not clear enough in the race to think about it.
  • My Scott Spark would've been a better choice in the conditions.
  • Most importantly "it was a great training !"
Will I go back next year? If you asked me directly after the race it was a definite NO WAY....but never say never :)
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