First proper race of the season, but maybe not the very best way for it to kick off! Unfortunately (...and now I think about it was probably self-inflicted...) my preparation for this race was not quite as ideal as I might have liked.

The first round of the Midlands XC series was always going to be a bit of a nervous race for me - having done my PGCE last year and not raced anywhere near as much as I would have liked, I wasn't really sure where I should be aiming myself in the placings. Or who my main rivals were or even how the race might go. I was aiming to turn up, have a go and see what happened.

So, with a decent winter of training under my belt I felt pretty good coming into the race.

Until the Thursday night beforehand.

Having eaten most of a slightly defrosted cake for dessert I went to bed. Around half 4 in the morning I woke with stomach cramps. This is unusual for me - not because of the stomach cramps, but because I don't generally wake up for anything in the night! Two hours of trying to walk it off, drinking peppermint tea and fruitlessly lying in bed didn't work, so I went to perform my normal morning routine. Goodbye partially defrosted dessert. With some a lot of force.

I spent Friday off work, either in bed trying to sleep off what I suspected was a minor stomach bug or frantically running to the bathroom. I bypassed training on Saturday in an attempt to fully recover. I felt well enough Sunday to race, and barring a hasty toilet visit on arrival to Sherwood, I was good to go!

The course that Sherwood Pines CC had managed to put together turned out to be a typical old-school Sherwood course, lots of twisty-turny pine forest singletrack, with some loooong fireroad segements, interspersed with some plasticene-like muddy sections. A couple of log hops kept things interesting (even if I did OTB at one point). The muddier sections made the log hops tougher as you just couldn't maintain the speed required to just hop them. A touch more control was needed, so while I had mud and wet tyres with me, I made the decision to race the Dugast Fast Bird tubular tyres for the first time this year. Exciting!
This was only the second race I had used them - I stuck them on my singlespeed for the UK Singlespeed Champs last year, but this was the first time racing a 'proper XC' race with them. I have to say that they were flawless during both warm up and the race. They stuck like glue to the ground, felt excellent and rolled quickly too. They did get a bit overwhelmed in the thicker mud patches on the course, but then to be fair, so would anything else!
I was also racing on the new ESI FIT CR grips too. These are very similar to the Fit XC grips, but rather than being based on the ExtraChunky/Chunky grips, they are thinner and lighter, being based on the Chunky/Racers Edge grips. It took me a little while to where exactly your hands want to sit on the grips, but I certainly had no complaints. A big thumbs up from me! I'm planning to do a full review of these soon, but for now I thought they were great! Spoiler Alert!

In line with a more pro-active approach to warming up this year I jumped on the turbo and did a full 20 minute warm up to get the blood moving, get myself mentally prepared and to start zoning into the race.


I had my usual Beet It beetroot shot (which has helped me in the past), a Pumpkin 9Bar as normal to get some easy food in my stomach and then set off to the start line with about (what I thought) was 10 minutes to go.

Turned out ... I can't read an email and had assumed the race went off at 2pm. It went off at 2.30pm! I stood around trying to keep warm, before lining up, waving goodbye to my lovely daughter and wife...


...and went off at the gunshot. Unfortunately my illness and consequent cooling down (post warm-up) had left me feeling somewhat underpowered and having allowed myself to get boxed in at the start of the race I didn't get a great start. I spent the first 20 minutes frantically trying to get my legs feeling good before I eventually started getting going.

The course seemed to ride well and it suited me too - which was annoying as I couldn't seem to get the power I wanted into the pedals. I didn't give in though, I kept the pressure on throughout the race and eventually pulled through as the 15th Expert to cross the line 1 hour and 47 minutes after the start.

Overall I was happy enough with the result bearing in mind my somewhat atrocious preparation, and now feel ready to properly attack the rest of the season. Next big race will be the National XC Series Round 1 at Pembrey, and I can't wait!

As usual, I can't thank my sponsors enough for the support they give me, allowing me to race for them so do give them a quick click and a visit - it'll be worth your while!
9bar
Chain-L
LV
Mike's Bikes
Beet It
Sussed Out Suspension
and ESIgrips!


And if you're interested in that sort of thing, here is some of the data from the race presented in some fantastic graphs and the suchlike!

TimeLaps
Roots and Rain
and Strava.

Also, as a reward for reading this far, here's a picture of Nathan being super excited that he's about to eat a 9bar: