A big challenge, on a short circuit.

Each year I like to set myself some mountain biking challenges. It motivates me to work towards harder goals, which must be good for maintaining fitness. This year I’ve set only 2 challenges with the proviso that I can add others later. One is to ride over 100km, taking in 4 big hills in the form of Great Hill, Darwen Hill, Pendle Hill and Longridge Fell. The other is to complete 4 laps of a local circuit in less than an hour. On the app. Strava it has been set up as “Birkacre Race Route?” and I’ve vied for the honour of King of the Mountains with my rival “O”, whom I have never met. Currently he has the crown with a time of 14 minute 23 seconds, beating my time, set in damp conditions, of 14 minutes 32. A single lap is a different kettle of fish to 4 laps, needing more speed but less stamina. Today conditions are hard baked so I may never get a better chance. I had the slight worry, with children on holiday this week, that the trails would be busy with walkers so I got out early to give me the best chance. I hadn’t looked at Strava so I didn’t remember the KOM time as I warmed up on the way to the start of the circuit. I was intending to time my progress on the stopwatch anyway, which is just as well since I managed to stop Strava when I put the phone in my backpack so I have no actual record of the proceedings, apart from my own testimony. It’s a good job I have a good memory for figures.

The circuit begins with a fast descent which enters a country park. There’s a short, steep climb and after a cross country section is a manmade series of downhill berms and jumps. After passing a kids playground, where caution must be exercised, a longer, gentle climb returns you to the start. I started my watch and sped down the first part where I had to slow a little for 2 walkers with a dog. A fallen tree still blocks the first corner, which slowed me, but it’s easy enough to go round or hop over. A little later, when I’d picked up speed again, is a gloriously fast downhill section, which I’ve never ridden in the dry before. Into the park proper and I needed to slow for more walkers. I took it fairly easy on the steep climb, not wanting to tire myself early on, and headed for the banked corners and jumps. It’s a nice, if short, section and is well constructed. The fastest way down when the stopwatch is running is to cut some of the corners and use the berms as jumps. Down to the bottom of the park and I took a really fast corner carefully. At high speed on a gravel corner it’s not the place for sliding to the ground. I also didn’t want to reach the playground looking like a hooligan and having to jam the brakes on.

I made sure I kept it sensible on the long climb and completed the 2.47 miles in 14 minutes 32, which matched my previous best, as I discovered later. I think Strava would have given a shorter time by some seconds. The second lap went well and, feeling fresh still, I allowed myself to feel the effort a little bit more. A time of 14 minutes 21 would be my fastest of the day and would surely have given me the King of the Mountains title back if Strava hadn’t let me down.

I’ve often had a third lap syndrome occur. Maybe I’m relaxing too much into the ride and let my pace slip but this time I kept a good pace and felt the effort increasing without fatigue starting to slow me. 14 minutes 30 was a good time, I thought. I was also noticing the build up of walker traffic as the morning progressed and this was worse still on the final lap. I was clearly going to beat my 1 hour target but was determined not to relax on the final lap. I had a lock up and slide on the berms and think someone shouted at me, presumably to slow down, as I passed the play area. I worked it hard on the final climb and tried my best to sprint on the final short tarmac section to the finish. 14 minutes 29 was the result.

I was pleased to beat my 1 hour target with 57 minutes 52 but was even happier that my laps were so consistent. It may only have been the interaction with walkers that made any real difference in lap times. I seemed to increase the effort very well as I became more tired, to keep my speed constant. This is always the way to get the best out of yourself and ultimately get the fastest time. I may not ride multiple laps of this circuit again this year but with my Strava failure I need to get one really fast lap in to wrest the title back from “O”. I really enjoyed today’s challenge. Racing around the same circuit several times adds spice to a ride.

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