This evening’s race was Hallocross, whizzing around in the dark around the grounds of Craigmillar Castle. The course was great – and not muddy! A high-speed grassy descent after the line, then a long steady slog to return to almost exactly the same spot. A loong grassy straight lead into a forest section – sweeping side to side, up and down. The lap ended with a fast downhill on gravely path .. and then a corresponding climb back up. All very flow-y and rideable.

Riding in the dark was great. I had one torch which was pipe clamp’d to my handlebars, and another torch attached to my helmet with a bit of inner tube and some cable ties. A total of 520 lumens, for a total of £55, and it runs of AA batteries too. The darkness made the forest section really fun – it felt like flying through a tunnel.

I lost count of how many laps I did – I think probably six – and didn’t bother with my HRM (cos it was dark).

Over the last couple of days, I’d completely stripped down my bike to get all the mud out of it. I also switched to a new rear wheel which I’d built a while ago. Unfortunately, whilst I’d trued it, I hadn’t put enough tension on the spokes and on the ride to work some loosened off. So I had to nip home mid-afternoon to do a sub-15 minute wheel change .. moving tyre/tube, cassette and brake disc across between wheels. Fortunately, my bike worked fine during the race. There’s a moral there somewhere …

Mugdock results

Results for the race have just gone up (I wasn’t kidding about compulsively reloading the page).

I finished 52nd, which is seven places higher than last weekend. Nice progress! I completed six laps plus a half-lap following the start. Looking at the timing breakdown, I was in 49th at the end of lap two but it must’ve been that lap that I dropped back from the group I was with.

All in all, a pretty good result for race #2. Next race is going to be in Edinburgh for the Hallocross on the 31st October. I think I can only make one (Strathclyde Park) of the remaining five SCX races this season.

Cyclocross race #2: Mugdock Country Park

Another Sunday, another cyclocross race!

This weekend’s race was at Mugdock Coutry Park, north of Glasgow. The course was similar to last time – switchback ascents, muddy chutes, forest floor mudbaths and open meadows. Mud was every bit as bad as last time, although a slightly different character. Check out my mud connoisseur status.

I had arrived early, but with the race start delayed I passed the time in my car reading a kindle book on my phone. But by the time I got back to the start line there wasn’t enough time to reccy the course. In fact, there was barely enough time to locate where the start line was.

The starting gun went off, which got everyone’s attention, I made good progress up the hill and had a good number of riders behind me before we shuffled through the singletrack. There were three or four riders who suffered mechanicals off the line – I’m confused by that .. we were riding on a straight path?!

Last weekend, I learned that momentum is king in the mud. And so today I carried as much speed as possible into muddy sections – confident that I could handle the slips and slides. It worked great; I passed a few people that way.

Early on, I was following a group of riders but by the end of the first lap, I dropped off the back to ride my own race. I tried to cycle as much as possible – managing the steep chute on all but the last lap, and after a few attempts I figured out how to do the climb after the bridge (again, by carrying maximum momentum off the bridge to clear the initial deep mud). But there was plenty of running and pushing through the worst of the mud.

Towards the end of the race, I could see that I would be passed by the leaders on their bell lap. This suited me just fine! Last week, I’d cleared the line just before the leader and so had to do another lap. This weekend I cycled for 1h2m, compared with 1h15m last weekend.

This also meant that I came into the ‘arena’ following the top three (albeit lapped) and so arrived to roars and cheers and air horns. Woo! That gave me a bit of extra encouragement to push a bit harder on the last few bends. 🙂

I got absolutely caked in mud. I’ve figured why cross racers wear long leggings. It’s not to keep their legs warms. It’s so that they can peel the layers of mud off after the race is finished. My right shoe got a crack in it, and was chock full of mud by the end.

But the mud washes off, and now it’s over I’m pretty pleased with race #2. I learned a bunch of stuff in race #1 and played things better this time out. I’ve no idea where I finished though! Time to compulsively hit reload on the cyclocross website until the results appear.


Hurrah, the race results are up. I finished 59th out of 73 riders, which I count as pretty good for my first race. 🙂

I think I’ve figured out how to read the timings. The race start wasn’t at the same place as the finish line. From the start we did maybe 3/4 of a lap before reaching the line. I think the “Lap 0” time corresponds to crossing the finish line for the first time, ie. after ~10mins of cycling. My HRM said I was cycling for 1h15m so that tallies up with the timing sheet. It also tallies up with my memory of doing the first 2 laps quickly and then the remaining laps rather more slowly.

The fast guys are almost twice as fast as me. Ouch! Even if I’d done all my laps at the pace of my best lap, that’d only move me up the rankings by five places. If I could muster a 10% speed increase (something I’ve achieved before) then I’d perhaps finish ten places higher in 49th. But it’s all lower-order bit twiddling!

Starting at Cyclocross

Sunday’s race was my first cyclocross race. Here’s some thoughts and notes in case others are tempted to try it out.

I don’t own a ‘real’ cyclocross bike. Instead, I used my hardtail mountain bike, put on a set of narrow tyres and stripped off all bottle cages, lights etc. The rules for the Scottish Cyclocross series say that you can basically ride anything you like. The majority of people at the race were on cyclocross bikes, but there were quite a few other MTBs around. The race was a mudbath and lots of people suffered mechanicals when the mud/grass mix wrapped around their calliper brakes. My disc brakes didn’t have such problems! But my rear derailleur was a mess of vegetation by the end of the race.

The race venue itself was super busy, with cars overflowing into the country lane outside. I asked someone where the race registration was, paid my £12 race fee plus £3 for a day race license and in return got a number to safety-pin to my top and a timing chip to stick to my helmet. Before getting my bike out, I watched the start of the woman&vets race, figuring out what clothing to wear and how plastered by mud they were getting.

Back at the car, I got my bike together, drank a half bottle of juice and some raisins then headed to the course. After the previous race ended, the track was open for practise. I followed a bunch of riders round the first part of the course, but then my HRM told me I was waay overcooking it and so I backed off. It was useful having a sighting lap, but the course was pretty straightforward to ride (although hard to ride well) .. there’s no big surprise rock gardens unlike in mountainbike race courses.

I set up near the back of the starting grid and blasted up the hill with everyone else. Actually, I took it relatively easy on the first climb since I knew there’d be a logjam at the first singletrack and I had no places to lose. The logjam materialised, and the whole first section of singletrack was a processsion of pushing and sliding. Fortunately, the track opened out into fireroad which split up the field and it was freeflowing after that.

I got settled down, trying hard not to burn out too early. But it’s hard to get settled when the terrain changes so much. From the finish line, the first part of the lap was a steep ridable climb up to a mudbath on the hill, followed by a long run of hardpack. The middle part was narrow muddy singletrack through the woods, linked by a short fireroad to more woodland – wider but muddier and sloping. The final part of the lap started with a carry-yer-bike slippery steep hill, then a long drag up through a muddy meadow .. a mix of slurried pedalling and pushing when you ran short of momentum.

I quickly lost track of how many laps I’d done – probably 4 or 5 in total? I ran short of fuel in the second half of the race and slowed down a lot to make the end. Classic tale of overcooking it early on …

There was a great fun vibe around the track, with marshalls and spectators cheering. I had a couple of ‘battles’ with other riders, mostly because I managed to make some progress in the mud. However, I was too toasted to do the faster sections at speed so I’d lose all of my illgotten gains quickly! The other riders were really friendly, and I found quite a few who were similarly doing their first cyclocross race.

Tips and advice?

  • Treat your first race as an eye-opening hard training ride; anything else is a bonus
  • Momentum is king in the mud
  • On muddy downhills, keeping pedalling hard seems to help stability. Don’t understand why, but it worked.
  • Don’t overcook during the first few laps. (haha, like that’s ever going to happen).
  • Keep smiling and enjoying it!

Plean Cyclocross

Just back from my first cyclocross race at Plean, just outside Stirling. Finished it, which was my target, and was in awe at the speed of the other racers. The layout of the course was good – mix of hardpack, forest floor, one ‘carry up’ steep hill and one other steep hill which I managed to ride up, and a really fun long-and-fast downhill which started out hardpack and turned into a mud chute .. more like snowboarding than cycling.

So that was the layout of the course. However, it had rained heavily beforehand and turned most of the course into a mudbath. There was 2″ deep mud on most of the course, some bits ridable and some not. I was pretty pleased technicaly with how I fared, staying upright despite lots of slips and slides.

I think I was probably battling for last place overall – not sure until the results come out. I think I completed 5 laps, although I wasn’t really counting. On the sighting lap, my heartrate was 174bpm, higher than I’ve ever seen it. During the 1h15m I raced, my *average* heartrate was 162bpm .. and that includes a much slower second half to the race after I overcooked it. The leaders were pretty much twice as fast as I was. Jeez, and I thought I was a pretty good cyclist!

Cyclocross: Muddy, funny, recommended.

Edit: Here’s a better description of the sport of cyclocross.