The Wild Hills

The biggest race in South West Scotland, The Wild Hills, organised by the TLI and Dumfries CC, takes place this Saturday 13th April – Now in its tenth year, The Clubman caught up with race organiser, Dave Moss for his thoughts on the event’s continuing success and some advice for staying in contention on the road. (This blog post will be updated with photos from the race after the 13th)

Wild Hills 1994 - Whisky in the bidons?

Wild Hills 2004 – Whisky in the bidons?

Clubman – How long have you been organising the Wild Hills race?

Dave Moss – Well the oldest file I can find is from 2004, so it’s being going at least that long( 9yrs). It seems we had sponsorship from Scottish Leader Whiskey that year ! 30 finishers. This year we have over 75 riders competing.

Sprint for the 1995 winner

Sprint for the 2005 winner

Clubman – Why do you think the race has become so popular with riders?

Dave Moss – I suppose it’s because it encourages participation from all ages and abilities. Perhaps it’s the chaotic organisation that prevents it being taken too seriously and helps maintain a friendly atmosphere! Another factor might be that word has gotten around that Moniaive is actually not in the back of beyond, but fairly easy to get to from Ayrshire and Glasgow. The fact that it’s one big circuit rather than laps ( so you have to keep going if dropped ) and the long downhill finish seems to make everyone forget the pain they endured to get there.

Some Dumfries CC riders all smiles at the start 2009

Some Dumfries CC riders all smiles at the start 2009

Clubman – What memories of the Wild Hills do you have from over the years?

Dave Moss – Having to ask the riders who won! The large number of riders for whom it’s been their first race is a special satisfaction. The fact that some of Scotland’s top amateur riders return year after year is another plus.

Climb out of Moniaive - dig in!

Climb out of Moniaive – dig in!

Descent down towards Carsphairn

Descent down towards Carsphairn

Clubman – What advice would you give to riders on the road?

Dave Moss – Well there’s three crucial things to keep in mind. Number 1 There’s no point in attacking on the first climb as you will need the bigger, power riders to help you on the next 16 miles. If you are intending to attack do it from Dalry. There you will need to build up a substantial gap on the series of climbs if you’re going to hold it on the final downhill/ flat run in.

Ready to attack on the climb out of Dalry?

Ready to attack on the climb out of Dalry?

Get to the top of Corriedo and then a 4 mile downhill back into Moniaive

Get to the top of Corriedoo and then a 4 mile downhill back into Moniaive

Dave Moss – Secondly  – If you get dropped from one of the first groups, don’t ride it like a time trial, recover so you will be ready to get on the back of a faster group when they catch you.

And finally never give up! The course splits the field and there’s always riders to catch or ones who catch you who can race to the finish, and the prizes are distributed randomly, you might get one for 50th place!
UPDATE – The Race
The 13th turned out to be a dry day with good conditions for the route. One or to little scrapes aside, the route was as challenging as ever. The scratch group caught forward groups in smart time and as in many past encounters, the decisive attacks came on the climb out of Dalry. Congratulations to all the riders for providing an excellent race day.
Below is a little video with some interviews and photos.

Crossing The Winter

Today at mile 93 of our Club’s 3rd long run I drowned in a dark, lactic ocean. The winter is upon us and the road to full fitness will be long and lonely.

After a tanking cafe stop at the Clachan Inn, Dalry – 17.11.12

As I have said in previous posts, the Winter is not the end of cycling. The cycling continues but these cold, wet months are about training to maintain fitness, to rest a little and to prepare for next year. Also they are about weight. You might put on a few pounds or  take the opportunity to lose a kilo or two. Non cyclists are usually surprised when you say that the winter is a good time to lose weight.

Hunger but in a good way…and of course the caffeine!

Filling our boots before the slog over to Corriedoo

The common view is that weight can be lost in the summer when you’re more actively outdoors. But if you’re a cyclist trying to lose weight in the summer, you’re probably behind the rest of the riders in the club. The winter gives you control and a plan and a regime as does early spring. The summer is too busy a time for that kind of focus.

However the focus comes at a price since even with the social side of long club runs, your winter regime is essentially a lonely pursuit. The challenges are only for you and are only set by you. You can’t lie to yourself. Everything must be true and accurate.

our winter bikes – a means to an end…but what end?

On today’s long run which took us along the Solway coast, followed by the spectacular Loch Ken then over to St John’s of Dalry, I spoke to a few guys about their winter. Everyone does it differently but whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it solo. My personal preference is to cross train. This means running, turbo, club run and core. Like all my club mates I have a plan for the winter. I don’t share my targets with them. Why would I? Why would they? But isn’t it amazing how we pursue those targets religiously? There isn’t a cyclist who lies about their winter regime. Well…why lie to yourself?

Many years ago my old cycling mucker Ian handed me a tattered thick booklet. It was called ‘The Blue Book‘ by Peter Read. Here’s what a fellow cycling blogger said about it-

‘When I started turbo training I bought Peter Read’s “The Blue Book”. Peter is well known in cycling circles as a guru of turbo training and his books have been used for many years to good effect. I have only read The Blue Book and can vouch for the effectiveness of the sessions. As well as helping you plan your sessions there are specific sessions to help overcome your weanesses, be it top end speed, power, endurance, etc etc.’

He goes on to add some pretty good advice about the book, saying…

‘…keep the steady rides for the road and use the turbo for interval training, easy recovery sessions or for when the weather is really bad. For interval training, the turbo becomes a different beast, an instrument of torture known in some cycling circles as “The Rack”, but it is fabulously effective as such and if you have the means of measuring power output then you can accurately repeat sessions and measure progress. Boring? Never, especially when the figures tell you you are improving…’

Ian always impressed on me the positive aspects of turboing which has meant I still enjoy it. Lots of guys don’t (yet they still do as much as me). When you’re on your turbo it’s sad but true, even though it is a chariot of pain, it is without doubt, the bike of truth. Those intervals are measured to the exact second as are the pyramids. Cutting corners or poor efforts on the turbo do you no good.

sharing a joke with my cycling buddy Ian Harkness, the man who introduced me to the systematic torture of the body a.k.a the turbo!

Yet the turbo also means loneliness. Perhaps this is why a lot of guys buy themselves ipods or imagic turbos; there’s some company in music or a little animated cyclist smashing you on a simulation of the Galibier! I stopped using my ipod recently. My only company is the whirr of the back wheel and the digital clock crushing me relentlessly. The garage is a lonely place, killing yourself between the lawnmower and some old tiles. But it is also a place of self-determination and ambitions.

As I said at the top of this post, lactic got me today but as the boys pulled away, something made me keep on turning those pedals even though getting back on the group was futile. I’m not sure what it was: trying to reach towards something or was it keeping something at bay, the body’s pain? Irrespective of what it was, there’s no crisis, no plan changing. The lonely crossing of the winter will continue and who knows, next time I may well pull clear of the lactic kill zone!

Darkness Descending

That’s me lying in the ditch. It took me a year before I was ready to view this image. Easier now on the eye but still hard on the psyche. The look on Andrew Taylor’s face (centre) says it all about the situation. In the space of a few seconds my great passion for road cycling had left me undone. This post and the two which follow cover my calamitous crash back March 2011 and the story of a recovery which turned out to be different to the one I’d expected. 

The 5th March 2011. I managed Dumfries Cycling Club’s website and posted routes for our club runs. The route for the 5th was a reccy of the Wild Hills course, the premiere race in our cycling calendar. I had had what cyclists call ‘ a good winter.’ I’d worked hard on the turbo, watched my weight and maintained my cross-training with regular running. I was in good shape and confident.

Before we started riding, one of the boys mentioned that part of the route covered a road which had been a problem with road works. We decided to press on. Cyclists usually find a way to navigate difficult roads. The cycle to Moniaive was the usual winter run mode; some banter, some punctures and regrouping for guys drifting off the back.

We climbed out of Moniaive (direction Carsphairn) as a group with a couple of guys breaking away up the road, testing their legs after the winter’s hibernation. Cresting the climb the pace picked up for the lengthy descent. I remember being at the back as a large group was shaping into formation. This confidence I spoke of earlier made me power over to them. The same confident cyclist saw the road shelled with pot holes, loose grit and debris. Every few seconds a shout came of ‘holes!’ or ‘stones!’ The road narrowed and began to snake left and right. I looked at my computer – 25mph.

                                                    my tyre marks on the verge

I caught the verge and started riding along the grass. What should’ve happened was me righting myself back onto the tarmac or at least coming to an embarrassing halt. What actually happened was my front wheel found an irrigation ditch about 2 feet deep. The bike jarred into it and I was catapulted over the bars. So unexpected was this moment that I didn’t bring my arms out to break my fall. My head took the full impact, smashing against a rock in the ditch. I remember hearing the crack of bones and then a bizarre moment: I saw my arms float down beside me in slow motion like snow flakes.

I heard shouts as though they were somewhere offstage in a dream I was having. I coughed out blood and broken bits of teeth. Alastair was the first on the scene followed by the other boys. Looking back now I see that they knew how serious it was before I did. I was lying paralysed, asking to be put back on my bike. I needed to stretch my upper back and I’d be fine. They organised an ambulance, spoke to me calmly and discussed the right time to contact my wife.

Gradually, very gradually I sensed, lying in that bed of rocks and dirt that something monumental had happened. I tested my feet and toes, moving them slowly. I moved my fingers one by one. They all checked out. Why couldn’t the confident cyclist raise himself from that muddy hole? I was to find out the next day my upper back and 8 ribs were broken.

Dave Niblock, a fellow clubman sat by me on the cold moor road and spoke to me quietly, reassuring me as I held his hand.  He never asked to be relieved, never looked away, answered everything I asked. It was an act of great generosity on his part that I will never forget. Other guys showed the same spirit speaking to me encouragingly, keeping me conscious, alert and hopeful. I asked if my bike was okay – a pointless but nonetheless typical cyclist’s question. It didn’t have a scratch on it.

I lay in that ditch a long time, unable ot move. Everything, the sights and sounds of the natural world was above my eyeline. The world would be out of my view for the next four weeks.

Everyone was growing cold. A passing car stopped and offered some old sheets and blankets. Eventually the ambulance arrived. But the road was so bad they said that conveying me in an ambulance would only exacerbate my injuries. They called in an air ambulance. My sense of shame was huge, greater than my injuires at that time. I had spoiled the run for the boys and the medics had come a long way. These men had better things to do. I didn’t want to use a helicopter – keep that for someone who really needed help. My wife and daughter were waiting for me at home.

The paramedics offered me some morphine, a drug which would at first befriend then obstruct me in my quest to be ‘normal’ again.

After some delicate manoeuvring the air ambulance gathered me up. Strapped in, prone, we took off towards Dumfries Infirmary. Little did I realise then that it would take more than a helicopter to raise me fully from that irrigation ditch on the road to Carsphairn.

End of Part 1 (Thanks to John Andrew for the images and for the sensitivity to send them to me only when he knew I’d be ready to look).

The Long Miles

The thought of cycling 120 miles  and more probably sounds gruelling and a litttle crazy…well…it is!

The ‘early 20 boys’ – happy times before the chain gang!

For some reason I was never keen on racing or time trialling. However long distance cycling appealed to me. When I started on the road bike I thought it was important to get in lots of miles so I could improve my stamina for club runs.

As it happened there were a few guys in the club who loved doing long miles. Ian Harkness and Les Kerr had recently completed the legendary Paris Brest Paris Audax – 1200 kilommetres in no longer than 90 hours. Their stories of this event really charged my imagination; man and bike against the elements, falling asleep on their machines, night riding, a fabulous mass start and cheering crowds at the finish.

Ian suggested that before our Saturday club runs, we cycled 20 miles to build up my endurance. These early morning loops (sometimes taking in 30 miles) were and still are among my fondest times in cycling. We were joined by Alastair Johnson (another fan of the long miles) and some other cyclists. The joking and general banter filled up the hour of spinning. Then came the main club run giving me a total of cycling of 70 – 80 miles. We’d then sometimes stay out and add on some more miles and follow that with a 10k jog.

Ian encouraged me to check out the Audax calendar. Their website was an amazing thing to behold, a long list of long distance events (with jaw dropping distances) all wonderfully titled – The Nyctophobic, Border Castle Randonee and my favourite Etal-U-Can (which I actually completed)!

We chose a couple of events starting with a 160 kilometre event up in Strathaven then I graduated up to 200 kilometre rides. Riding an audax is a world in itself. An almost unimaginable range of bikes and recumbents, special little pens, on the road quizzes at key landmarks, collecting receipts, getting stamped at certain distances, cool badges posted to you after the event with your brevet card.

I had got myself a second bike, an all purpose Edinburgh Bicycle and Les lent me a good sized saddle bag. Thank god I fitted guards as most of the audaxes I cycled involved lots of rain! But I think my abiding memory of audaxes is cycling through the beautiful Scottish countryside and approaching various towns and the smells of those towns, the bakers mainly!

My sister in law has a favourite phrase ‘a bonny looking chooky’ – well on audaxes you definitely meet some bonny looking chookies. I remember one audaxer whom I saw on several events. He was like a dejected Bjorn Borg complete with head band and flowing locks. He never cycled with the bunch but beside us if that’s possible, a rider apart. There was another randonneur who was famed for his spotless bike. I never believed what I had heard until I saw him myself lifting his bike over puddles!

Another was a well known audax man perhaps its most famous exponent, George Berwick. He definitely had his own style. He never looked as though he showed up more like he’d just emerged from another long run. A tremendous athlete and cyclist.

These audaxes played a huge part in my early cycling life. There was so much to learn. When you’re at mile 80 and you know there’s another 45 miles to go, what do you do? Keep cycling! You learn so much about the psychology of cycling and the determination needed for endurance events. Ian, Alastair and I all felt the gruelling nature of these events but we relied on each other and the guys on the road with us to make it to the end and the food and hospitality at the HQ.

Stopping for something to eat was always a pleasure as you got the chance to talk to some of your fellow cyclists and have a good look at their bikes. Lunch needs a bit of thought though. On my first audax we stopped at the Green Cafe in Moniaive. I could’nt resist the carrot cake. When we re-commenced we had to immediately climb the leg breaking Dunreggan Brae. I remember thinking the Carrot Cake was a bad idea as I searched for my granny ring!

It was one of our club members, John Sturgeon (having himself completed the epic 1400 kilometre Edinburgh-London-Edinburgh with tremendous panache) who first posted on our forum about a new concept, the Sportive, several years ago. He encouraged our club members to try out this new, long distance endurance event.

Our club decided to try the nearest Sportive at that time which was over at Brampton. We cycled over for a reconnaissance, doing half the course and then cycling back; 135 miles in total. 130 of those miles were in dry conditions, the last 5 a torrential, Old Testament downpour. That’s long distance cycling for you.

We all gradually gravitated towards Sportives which were tremendous challenges, well organised, competitive and at times brutal and exacting. Despite all this they never had, for me, the idiosyncrasies and the sense of cycling community of the audax. In compiling this post I checked out the Audax site after many years of neglect. Happily it’s still going strong with wonderful event titles and info for those preparing for the 2015 Paris Brest Paris.

Earlier this year my wife and I having waved my daughter off at the airport, were driving down from Kilmarnock to Dumfries. Weaving along the roads the memories of audaxes came back to me. I remembered suddenly those roads round Dalmelington and Cumnock. The minute we were home I text my old audax buddy, Ian…the smells of the bakeries were coming back to me with the rainfall.