Valuable training.

I’d ridden my mountain bike twice since returning from holiday and felt tired on the first occasion. Second time I was better but took it fairly easy on a 2 hour ride with nearly 1,500 feet of off road ascent. I want to do a much bigger ride in the next 2 weeks where I want to climb more than the height of Britain’s highest mountain on an almost exclusively off road route. Clearly I need to be on good form for this so I realised that I should make today’s ride one with a valuable training content. We had friends round last night and were up rather late but I seemed fine this morning. I got out around 10 am with the intention to ride some laps of our local hill, Healey Nab, in a fartlek (speed play) style. This training method is where you ride at a less than full out pace but intersperse the ride with flat out or much harder efforts. To get the best out of the ride, particularly to make you better able to recover from the big efforts, you’re supposed to ride continuously. I would start and finish with a gentle warm up and cool down.

The trails on the hill were damp rather than wet, despite the showery weather we’ve been having. After the warm up I had to climb to the top of the hill which meant putting in my first bigger effort. On a mountain bike it’s often impossible to take it easy on a section of trail. Just to keep going I was pushing the work level way up on the climb, including a short 100% climb in the wooded part before the summit. From the top I decided to put another tough section in by riding the top loop, which begins with a descent followed by a climb back to the top. I wasn’t giving it everything but did work hard to circulate in 2 minutes exactly, as I found from the app. Strava later. My best ever time of 1 minute 30 seconds can’t really be compared because it was achieved in dry conditions before the trees were felled. A new smoother surface has been laid on the climb but I think it causes the tyres to drag so probably costs time.

I rode a lap of the red graded trail to return me to the trail head but used a different ascent to my first climb. Some tree felling has damaged the surface a little and had me picking my way through fallen tree trunks. I then committed to a second fast lap of the top loop.

Until early 2020 the hill was capped with a plantation of mainly larch trees. Due to a disease know as Sudden Larch Death all the larch trees were felled. It looks as if tree work will continue because a new gravel surface has been laid on a track to give better access.

I felt as if I was trying harder on my second fast lap of the top loop and recorded 1 minute 59 seconds on my stopwatch. I didn’t know how this would compare to my first lap since I hadn’t timed that. It turned out that Strava agreed exactly with the stopwatch so I was one second quicker. Consistency is good but I’ll confess that I was slightly disappointed with my times and will just have to put it down to trail conditions.

On the first 2 downhills I used a testing section of trail which took me a while to improve my riding on. It appears lumpy at first but I realised that what causes the bike and rider difficulties is not the bumps but the dips. By keeping my upper body close to the bike and fairly horizontal I’ve found that I’m able to still absorb the bumps and lumps by compressing my arms and legs but can also push the bike down into the dips. By keeping the wheels in contact with the surface almost all the way it sooths out the section. If I stand higher on the bike I can’t push the bike down as well and find the bike leaving the ground over the dips to then slam into the following bump. I kept thinking about this on other parts of the downhill trails and it’s an improvement in my riding ability. I may not have perceived a problem had I not ridden this one short section of trail, which was only made in the spring of this year.

On my third visit to the trail head I chatted to Scott, who is the leader of the trail builders on Healey Nab. We agreed that hill looks great without the larch trees. Ferns are growing and new seedlings of oak and other native trees are establishing themselves. I used an unofficial off piste third descent. It used part of the climb as a downhill and has a natural rather than manmade feel to it. I had a good ride which didn’t completely exhaust me and I think I got some useful training, not just in terms of fitness but also in riding skills.

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