Our racing newbie, Andrew Kennedy, decided to join another 589 hardy souls and take on the ever popular SPAM Winter Challenge over the festive period. A fantastic opportunity to test out winter legs and also dabble in a new racing distance. Over to Andrew as he takes you through his chilly ride around the Salisbury plains...
"This was my first attempt at the long running SPAM winter challenge. I drove rather gingerly to the event with the car showing -2 degrees and no idea if the roads had been gritted. Much of the country had seen snow over the past 24 hours but there was only a bit of rain here with a dusting on the hills that was somewhere between snow and frost. I wore an old Odlo thermal base with an Endura mtb jersey over the top, bib shorts with cheap running tights and non-winter Thor Spectrum gloves. I know from experience that the tough gloves cope okay in the cold, my only problem was being too cold in the wait at the start and it was 20 minutes in before my core body temperature was enough to defrost my hands.
As an experiment I ran an action camera on my bars, set to take photos at intervals. This did not work particularly well as it got mucky and you can't see well enough to clean it, it also picked up too much flare from the low sun, due in part to its convex lens.
The 50km course (you could also choose 25km or 35km) as it turns out was very hilly! This came as a bit of a surprise as the MOD training area where I often ride is rather tame and quick rolling. Straight from the start you are on a category 4 climb and there are 5 more to come later on to rack up 950m of ascent. The course begins and ends on fire-road, dirty tarmac and grass but the entire middle half is on military tarmac as it passes through the former village of Imber.
I am not sure if the start was more relaxed than a typical xc race as I haven't enough experience as yet, although the length and width of the course should have meant that position was not so important. I felt that I had started well enough and felt good on the first climb. I was descending with caution which will obviously cost a couple of minutes over the whole course but I'm not fond of grass as a downhill surface! By about 10kms I felt I had lost control of my heart rate and bailed on a rideable climb. I'm not very pleased with myself about it (happened again on the last climb), but the lessons I have taken away are that walking didn't help with the high HR and I should probably change the Garmin screen so that it isn't even displayed.
Next up was the long road section which I didn't mind really, there were very few vehicles and you could run a good pace. I never found out if the white stuff on the surface was frost or salt, but it seemed to be safe enough near the middle of the road, and only a little icy on the borders. I hadn't clocked that many 'cross bikes at the start, they must have started further back, but after 15 minutes on the road they were streaming past, obviously playing to their strengths. We got back onto the rougher stuff for the last quarter before finishing on a tiny portion of the Erlestoke singletrack.
I gather that the turnout was 590 riders in all which is great to see and everyone seemed in good spirits. There were so many cakes on offer at the finish it was hard to choose [easy... one of each! - Ed], and I could definitely have gone for a burger as well if I wasn't expected home for lunch. I'm not sure if it counts as a race or not, but the winner was Ben Chapman of Corley Cycles in 1 hr 53 min 22 sec. Kim Little of Merida Racing was only 8 seconds behind. My time of 2hr 24min 8secs was at least within my outside target and by my reckoning I was 27% slower.
I was certainly glad to see the finish line but I was more beaten up than tired, and it wasn't even a technical course! Looking at some of the photos my shape on the bike is awful so I can tell I have a lot more work to do on the bike fit. My mental focus is not strong enough to maintain pace out on my own and I made very little use of the standing climb which is one of my strengths.
The usual thanks go out to the event organisers and marshals, and also to the guys who tried to help to start my car afterwards unfortunately it was going nowhere until the AA man arrived with his magic car starter. The next event there is the Erlestoke 12 on the 24th May, supported again by Charge bikes. Entries to go live soon on xcracer.com with the option of 6 or 12 hours of singletrack racing.
Full results are available here - SPAM Winter Challenge
If you have any advice for Andrew the please feel free to comment below, or why not follow his progress via twitter - @MTB_Akak